Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Bush-League

So Josh Reichmann, the new boss at Luminous Landscape, continues to interview and profile photographers that he has some personal connection to.

Don't get me wrong, I really like Canada. I have lived there many pleasant years of my life, and I visit often. It is a good place to be.

But. Canada is not a large country, nor is it a country which punches above its weight class artistically. The National Film Board of Canada has long been subsidizing the film industry, and encouraging a hilariously awful style. You can recognize an NFB film almost instantly, and that's not a good thing. I do not know if broader ham-fisted government intervention has likewise damaged the other arts, but I do know that Canada has produced a large number of 3rd rate authors to go with their 3rd rate filmmakers. I dare say there's a large supply of 3rd rate painters and photographers to go with them.

It is not so much that everyone in Canada is awful.

The trouble is that if you're talented and ambitious, Canada in general, and Toronto specifically, is someplace that you leave. There isn't a critical mass of support and audience there, so even if you are a great painter, and you can find a gallerist who "gets" your work, they're still not going to show it because there isn't an audience. There's too much milquetoast government sponsored, safe, avant-garde-in-1963 art lying around, or something.

There's probably something to be said here about what constitutes a critical mass for the creation of Really Good Art. Whatever the number is, it seems to be enormous. It seems to need enough room in several senses to enable a lot of really awful work, as well.

Now, it's not universal. There have been a handful of truly great writers in Canada, who remained in Canada. Occasionally an artist will depart Canada for more fertile lands, but then return home having made their nut in New York or wherever. And so on.

Still, if you're going to poke around among your artistic friends to see if anyone knows someone who's any good, what you're going to find is bush-league yahoos, even if you're in Toronto. It's going to be a bit like performing this same exercise in Duluth, or in El Paso, or in Bellingham, WA.

16 comments:

  1. Comedy gold. I think you found your m├ętier.

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  2. Mr Molitor, speaking as a Canadian and a resident of Toronto, I would like to politely disagree with your assessment of the Canadian art world, hilarious though it was. The fact that you cite the National Film Board, which had its heyday in the 1960s, says something about your familiarity with the contemporary Canadian art scene. And yes, “Canada has produced a large number of 3rd rate authors to go with their 3rd rate filmmakers,” but we could say the same of the US, couldn’t we? Or France, for that matter.

    But as for Mr Reichmann’s new wave over at Luminous Landscape, I couldn’t agree more. Who are these people? How can anyone think what they are doing is interesting? Listen, I exhibited some photographs in Toronto between 2008 and 2011, which were well received (by my friends, anyway.) In fact, some of my friends’ friends probably know some of Mr Reichmann’s friends (or at least their friends.) He might as well interview me!

    In any case, I continue to enjoy your perspective on photos and stuff, even if you are (merely) in Bellingham, and thus cannot possibly be of any consequence in the real world of Art. Keep up the good work!

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    1. Thank you! Not to argue too fervently with your point of view, but I will note that Bellingham, WA, a town somewhat smaller than Toronto but probably more infested with artists, is included in the list at the end on purpose.

      I live there.

      I assume that there are some superb artists living here, and on about 1 or 2 days a year on average, I imagine myself one of them. But, they are impossible to *find* here, because they wisely remain under cover.

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  3. Yep, so far the bush leagues have not been very encouraging for the future LuLa. Waiting to see what Kevin comes up on his own. While under his leadership, it had some bumps, but I thought it was just starting to get some legs of its own, without the shadow of Michael Reichmann.

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  4. Down with Canadian artists! And Duluth artists, who are like Canadians with shitty health plans. I suppose I'll go over to Lula and see what the fuss is about...

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  5. Okay, back from checking it out. To me it actually seems somewhat interesting. It's not presented in a super-coherent fashion, with the style all over the place, but I still rank it above most of the other stuff I've seen on the site. The guy (Mark) can clearly take a photo. The Tri-X cow photo and the hanging clothes are both absolutely gorgeous, tone wise. A lot of the other stuff, I don't know, I might need to see it in another context, like a series.

    Edit: Here is his website, where to me it makes more sense: https://www.mark-sommerfeld.com

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    1. Sommerfeld is just the third one of the batch Josh has covered so far. Like the others, he's not actually terrible, but he's not a standout either.

      Sommerfeld has mastered a lot of the tropes of contemporary art photography ("here's a picture of an arm!") but isn't actually great at it. His sequencing is simplistic, his ideas are sort of dopey. Which, you know, doesn't mean that he's not going to do just fine. There's lots of dopey stuff out there and some of it does pretty well. But, he's not exactly rising above the horde of MFA students hustling around out there with Sad Projects of this sort or the other.

      As for the film, I have been coy in other contexts, but I am of the opinion that Sommerfeld is outright lying, there. Neither the Tri-X nor the Porta photographs in any way resemble my understanding of those emulsions. I think he's writing down film names as a tic because that's what Artists Use, and in fact is shooting everything digital.

      But, that said, anything is possible. Manifestly, the last stage was digital, so, with the power of Photoshop or whatever it could all have started out as oil paintings for all we know.

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    2. I doubt he is lying about the film. That makes zero sense. He clearly indicates when he uses digital, from a Pentax 645z to an iPhone. But of course it's scanned in some way. And yes, on the internet no one knows you are a dog. There usually is some level of dog trust.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Internet,_nobody_knows_you%27re_a_dog

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  6. This analysis, along with its accompanying dismissal, could fairly be applied to most places not New York, LA, London, Paris, Berlin, etc. My city of residence, Portland (no not the one in Maine), would not fair particularly well under such a test. But doesn’t it assume that all creative works produced by Canadians is both made exclusively in Canada and distributed solely for consumption by Canadians? I don’t think that either of them it true. Put differently, is geography the best and true measure of the creative impact of any place?

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    1. That is exactly correct. The places where one finds emerging talent that is actually in the process of emerging (as opposed to hiding out, being rejected, or resting in its old age on its laurels) are very very few and far between.

      But you're right, geography isn't a great indicator. I happen to know, slightly, a fairly good handful of photographers who I consider to have produced really excellent work. I know of, without having had any contact, another somewhat larger batch.

      Zero of these artists have I created a connection with through my "local" connections. I have not asked my Artist Friends in Bellingham if they know any good photographers, because I know they answer: They think they do, but they are wrong.

      In fact, photographers I think of as "good" are all over the place, but in many cases their neighbors and friends are probably almost if not completely unaware of their ability.

      The way you find good work is that you dig through vast piles of bad work, and the way you contact those artists is by contacting them directly after you find their work.

      If you want instead to be plugged in to a personal network that actually contains a lot of interesting artists, go to NYC, LA, Paris, Berlin, etc. The short list. There's still a lot of crap, but everyone who's young, interesting, and energetic is already there.

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    2. "everyone who's young, interesting, and energetic is already there"

      You've heard of gentrification?

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    3. I certainly have! I live between Vancouver and Seattle, in one of the Top 100 Places To Live!

      The young, energetic, and interesting certainly do have a tough time finding living space, but even today they seem to manage it in NYC. I suspect they all actually live in Jersey, but maintain PO Boxes in New York, and ride a lot of trains.

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    4. Can you name any, or this this more of a hunch?

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    5. Err, I am not sure what you're asking. The single level of reply is probably throwing me off. Do you mean the young, talented, energetic hustlers?

      By definition, really, we only know about them after they have risen to some level of success or notoriety, no? So, I can name any number of successful artists and note that they Arose, almost invariably, in one of an astoundingly short list of metro areas.

      I can also name any number of artists local to Bellingham who are producing mediocre, safe, "art" and showing it at local coffee shops and whatnot.

      But that does only sort of, at best, triangulate on this mythical population in New York, I guess?

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  7. In fact, photographers I think of as "good" are all over the place, but in many cases their neighbors and friends are probably almost if not completely unaware of their ability.

    Or, more likely, to the extent their neighbors and friends are aware of their photography, they don't much like or understand it, because "good" photos are often more than just pretty pictures.

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  8. Any Nation that can bring us THE RED GREEN SHOW deserves our admiration. High Culture and artistic perfection that mirrors the nation well.

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