Bill Cunningham New York (2011); Between The Folds (2008)
When I was thinking about what I meant about "art of out times" I began to think about other art forms that seem to capture the aspirations of their times and place. The importance of cathedral building and alter piece painting to Medieval Europe. The massive canvases of 18th century history paintings and 19th century Hudson school. the quasi-scientific studies of clouds by the Impressionists, the efforts by early abstract artists to pierce the viel of vision and see the universal orders that underlie our world. Mid-Century American Modernists desire to make visible the emotional turbulence of freedom. I began by thinking about the shape of our times and art's place within that moment. New York is central to a global art world, but that art world is just a small corner of the enormous flows of creative production taking place right now.
Opening Day Art Basel (2010); Star Wars exhibition in Philidelphia
Powhida joked (I think he was joking), that "You're clearly right movies are the art form of our time if I'm making them." That is the only argument I can see that Vaughan has made for contemporary art. It is a solipsistic logic; that art must be made by an artist. Taken further it means, just as Powhida suggests, that anything an artist makes is art (a joke I like making when serving sandwiches, or leaving the wash room to some poor soul who has the misfortune of waiting to go in after me). Individual genius is not the halmark of our time, it is a hold over. Additionally it is a damaging hold over. As a lens for looking for value, it is blinding. Within the antique frame of artistic greatness those who would justify a list of "great post war art" can, legitimately (within the logic of greatness), claim that great post war art is an almost entirely white male enterprise. Art is not a mater of individual geniuses and a small elite of taste makers. It is the one of the ways we project our our values to the world, as artists, as collectors, but also as nations and, increasingly, as a developing global society.
2011 marks the year the population of the world reaches 7 billion. That is double the number of people alive the day I was born. For the first time in history mor of those people live in cities than live in rural settlements. In 25 years the worlds population is expected to peak somewhere around 9 billion and by then 75% of us will live in cities. This is the deciding condition of our time. This is why I chose to place movies within a continuum, with contemporary art on one end and architecture at the other. With art we experience intimately, as a one on one interaction with an object in space (this is how we look at contemporary paintings too), vs the totally public domain of of our day today interactions architecture.
Georg Simmel; George Lucas
Alan Mitchell, emailed to tell me about the German sociologist Georg Simmel's 1903 essay, The Metropolis and Mental Life. In it Simmel wrote about the experience of modern city life in the most perfect of cinematographic terms, "“the rapid crowding of changing images, the sharp discontinuity in the grasp of a single glance, and the unexpectedness of onrushing impressions.” If I were a better writer that is exactly how I would have describe the unique experience of watching movies in the theater. That it stands in the center of a continuum, where intimacy and publicness are constantly mixing. We are alone in the dark, but we are with a crowd. We are viewing faces at extreme close ups from hundreds of feet away at the center of a crowded theater. That we are doing this together is a key part of the experience, and while Vaughan caracterizes theater audiences as "captive," that couldn't be further the truth.
We have all kinds of opportunities to watch movies however we want - on our TVs with our families, alone in bed with a lap top, on the subway with a iPhone or Game Boy, we choose to crowd together at theaters, and that choice is the most important aspect of the experience. In her book, Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacob takes special aim at the modernist desire to make private pleasure public:
"Togetherness" is a fittingly nauseating term for an old ideal in planning theory. This idea is that if anything is shared among people, much should be shared. "Togetherness," apparently a spiritual resource of the new suburbs, works destructively in cities. The requirement that much shall be shared drive city people apart.When the choice becomes one of forced togetherness, people either become "exceedingly choosy as to who their neighbors are" or, Jacobs observed, "settle for lack of contact." Movie theaters are places we choose to go to To anonymously watch among equally anonymous strangers. We don't care who we are sitting next to as long as they don't have a child, BO, or a conversation on their phone (I talk at the movies, as does my sister and father, so I rarely take aim at those who need to whisper about what just happened). But we clearly like the unique mix of publicness and annonimity. (If we didn't we would have stopped going as soon as we had TVs, or VCRs, or Cable, or HDTV, or 3DHD...)
Rem Koolhaas totally gets it; Zaha Hadis doesn't
There is nothing apperently high-minded about why we go to the movies, but that is not to say that movies are constructed and consumed for only the most apparent and base reasons Vaughan and others focus on. In Delirious New York Rem Koolhaas writes about the architecture of entertainment that proceeded film, and "the self-defeating laws that govern entertainment: it can only skirt the surface of myth, only hint at the anxieties accumulated in the collective unconscious." Which is to say any individual structure. He was writing about amusement parks, movie theaters, in contrast, renew themselves every few days with a never ending stream of new releases each skirting myth and playing on anxieties in new ways. Koolhaas writes of the intent of the architects of the fantastic, that "it is the explicit ambition of devises to turn provincialism of the masses into cosmopolitanism."
The key, as I tried to make clear in my original argument, is not innovation. If individual films are innovative they are, like all art, innovative within strange and contradictory feedback loops. Between audiences, Movie-makers, taste-makers, moral watch-dogs, government censors... on and on, The "technologies of the fantastic" (Koolhaas' term) test our desires for myth and our willingness to look out our anxieties. All art forms have outer limits, that they work within, push against and break with. No artist no matter how radical works without restraint. Vaughan argues that entertainment is the sole intention of movie makers, but as Koolhaas makes clear, that is anything but a straightforward and simple intention. Entertainment is less puritanical than enlightenment, but just as convoluted. To again update Koolhaas' observations on the architecture of amusement, in a world "obsessed by Progress" movies attack "the problem of Pleasure, often with the same technological means."
Revenge of the Sith (2005): Spiral Jetty (1970)