For the past four years I've read everything that Erik Wenzel has written. It came with the territory as his editor, but I was reading his work on his blog Art or Idiocy? long before I sought him out to write for ArtSlant: Chicago. As an artist himself, Erik's writing can make you look at artwork differently, or consider it in a new way. He always had opinions that were well backed up, even if you didn't agree with them. In an era where writing on art is becoming more "art writing," more and more like simple P.R., all about who's-showing-what-where-and-for-how-much, Erik had actual ideas about work and opinions, even if they were ones people didn't want to hear. Erik will soon leave for Europe and Chicago will be poorer for the loss.
On the occasion of his departure, I thought I would select some of his best articles on ArtSlant, from most recent to earliest. Click on the title in bold to read the whole article.
1) PRODUCT(YELLOW) - An artist project setting itself up as encouraging social good also sets itself up to be nearly unsailable critically, but Erik draws out the problematics of Kay Rosen's GO DO GOOD. Quote: "GO DO GOOD is not so much an artwork; it’s an initiative, which is to say it’s a marketing campaign. It seems like it might have been more effective if the money spent on promoting this campaign just went directly to public schools and community centers, but what good is doing a good deed if no one knows you’re a do-gooder?"
2) Dead Center - What's the danger of using art to revitalize a flagging downtown area? Erik points them out: "So it is basically what most philanthropy has evolved into today: not an enterprise where the support of culture is the goal, but where the support of culture is a means to an end, the true purpose being to develop business and make a profit."
3) Smooth Jazz - Christopher Wool's [seen at left] exhibition in Chicago provides an opportunity to reflect on the continued challenges of abstract painting: "Is this any different than classic Abstract Expressionism from the 1950s?" The thoughts here link directly to "Color Me Rad."
4) Color Me Rad - The major traveling exhibition "Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1916" comes to Chicago and Erik visits it during the packed opening. Erik highlights a View of Notre-Dame contrary to the star of the show, Bathers by a River, [seen below] bringing in his unique insights as an artist linking up Matisse with current art production. Quote: "And [the works in "Radical Invention"] are so good that they reach the point of still posing a serious challenge to artists of today. A challenge that even in the best works of Peter Doig, Luc Tuymans, Dana Schutz, Amy Sillman (and on) has gone unanswered."
5) Parting is such sweet sorrow - The DePaul University Art Museum puts on a show of work slated for deaccession allowing Erik to dig into the politics of when a museum sells artwork, "Can you imagine such a blatant honesty coming from the Art Institute?"
6) Agreggatar - It's not art but this is a hilarious review of Avatar where Erik finds all of the sources James Cameron recycled to make the movie: "It’s the “greenest” movie in that sense, since it is entirely composed of post-consumer waste."
7) Do Not Upstage Professor Battcock - A solid review for Joseph Grigely's exhibition of Gregory Battcock's [Mr. Battcock seen at right] archive but more remarkably the Smithsonian Archives of American Art read this review and got in touch with Grigely about the archive, which was hitherto unknown to them.
8) Erik Wenzel's Confession - A list of thirty-nine verbs powered the show "39 Verbs" causing Erik to seek forgiveness from an actual Catholic priest: "What is something I feel genuinely guilty and troubled about? I’m incredibly judgmental about art. '[F]orgive me for hating most of the art that I see,' I confessed. I know, that is really lame, but it’s also true and it troubles my soul. The reply, 'nothing 2 4give…. all matter of taste.'"
9) Constellation Prizes - In 2009, Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art staged a painting exhibition drawn from their collection. This article is a good overview of Erik's ideas on painting and what still seems relevant and what doesn't. Quote: "There are always moves to be made, especially in regards to one’s context, situation and position." By the way, the Magritte painting of the fish people keeps on reappearing.
10) Gray/Grey - I always found David Schutter's austere gray paintings very difficult to approach, but this article from Erik opened them up just a little for me. Especially helpful is his insight as a former student of Schutter's.