James Rosenquist, I Love You with My Ford, 1961. Oil on canvas, 6 feet 10 3/4 inches x 7 feet 9 1/2 inches. Moderna Museet, Stockholm. © James Rosenquist/Licensed by VAGA, New York.
A friend, who had just sold some work, called from Europe the other day to ask me which mind-bogglingly expensive camera she should buy. She’s not a photographer, per se, but a conceptual artist who uses photography, and the question was—digital or analog? You may be wondering why she’d seek advice from me, who knows squat about photography, but she knew that wouldn’t keep me from having an opinion—which, of course, I did. I asked her to describe the qualities of each, and when she was finished, told her unequivocally that she should buy the analog Hasselblad. It was easy. Describing the Hasselblad she was animated, talking about dense blacks and whites, crispness, and Ansel Adams; when it came to digital not only was her voice flat, she even said, “I hate digital images.” But, she told me, everyone else—artists and professional photographers alike—had weighed in on the side of digital, saying that printing would be expensive and difficult with analog, and besides, no one uses it anymore. “So what?” I said, “It’s clear you want the Hasselblad, and you can only make great art if you love your instrument and are excited about what you can do with it.”
Meanwhile another friend, a student at a high-profile art college, reports being pushed toward installation, video, and performance, when all he wants to do is paint.
The problem with gearing everything toward what’s hot, what’s happening NOW, is that it’s NOW—when, hopefully, we’re making the art of the future. And while we can’t predict the future, we do know one thing: it won’t be anything like NOW.
So what do we have to go on? Fortunately, we’ve been created with the perfect internal barometer: our gut. Are we excited? Are we not excited? It will always tell us—unless, of course, we’ve been programmed to let our heads overrule its messages.
I interviewed James Rosenquist many years ago, who told me that when he was coming up it was all about Abstract Expressionism, and he could see that by the time he got good at it, it would be over. So he turned to what he knew best: sign painting. Was anyone else doing sign painting? No. Did he have any idea that anyone would be interested? No. But he was, and that was key.
Well, right now, THE THING is information-based art. Coupled with a sneering disdain for the visual, it’s been THE THING with curators and academicians for many years—at least as pervasive as AbEx was in Rosenquist’s student days. And while I don’t know that the next THING will be painting or analog photography, I don’t know that it won’t be, either.
However I DO know that in the hands of my two friends, painting and analog photography won't look anything like they did back in the day.
Today I got an email from my friend with the subject “No words.” The message:
Got it yesterday as planned!
She also send the link to this, from 2001, which I’d never seen, a French production by Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson: