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A few rambling Saturday morning-in-my-warmest-robe-and-slippers-tea-drinking thoughts (its gettin chilly in Texas finally)…

Lately, I persistantly find myself thinking about notions of vertical and horizontal. Roughly speaking, these
polar opposite forces, energies, or directions indicate important orientations
in epochs, art, and psyche. The horizontal could be thought of referring to
earth, peers, the animal realm; the vertical as human, heaven, hierarchy, and
the spiritual. The former obviously has left and right poles; the latter ascends and descends. Each motion is rich with allegorical significance, each necessary, though individuals and cultures tend to pick preferred modes.

Of
course the obvious symbol of these forces is the cross. The “Swiss” cross shows
them in harmonious balance (Beuys consciously used this cross to embody his overarching
balancing impulse; of east and west, male and female, earth and sky). beuys.jpgThe
typical Christian cross emphasizes the vertical, extending it while diminishing
the horizontal – not a difficult interpretation to extrapolate there.
Fascinatingly, in kinesiological muscle testing, subjects
shown the equilateral cross demonstrate a “strong” response. On the other hand,
those shown the vertical, Christian cross invariably show a weak response –
original sin is embodied in the symbol stared at through the service, and worn
around the neck, reminding your system that power exists elsewhere. Symbol’s
power resides more than simply in the mind, but actually in the body itself.

So,
the emphasis through most of recorded history is on distinctly vertical
relationships – subservience that is, say, to father, king, lord, God, and country. Overall, modernity (broadly speaking, from the Renaissance on) could be defined by an increasing obsession with the horizontal. One could posit this
culminated in the 60’s, when any and all vertical relationships were wholly discounted
in favor of horizontal equality, at all levels. This impulse flowered as civil
rights, gay rights, women’s rights, on and on – all very good things. However, a
baby or two got thrown out with the bathwater – think of the collapse into chaos
of not only “living experiment” communes, where everybody shared toothbrushes
and mates; but also college campuses, where for most intents and purposes having
a president is a pretty useful thing. We
need positive vertical relationships and hierarchies – male and female, political, spiritual, philosophical. We need admirably responsible fathers, mothers, leaders and authorities, as much as we need the solidarity of peers. Instead, now we’ve possibly witnessed some whiplash effect from the 60's, of not only plastic ranch owner Ronnie Reagan, but worse, his deviously fascistic
neo-con progeny and their pawn, Dubya, who for 8 years have attempted (fairly
successfully) to completely undermine our nation’s founding recognition of the essential assertion of the horizontal, in favor of domineering, vertical, control-obsessed
power. When the culture doesn’t have developed, authentic relationships and participants on both
axes (up, down, left and right,) things go off the rails in one way or another.

 

Malevich cross

 

Art
is often a place where the polarities find some workable harmony, even as they reflect larger cultural shifts and biases (speaking of, the sixties saw some art that
went pretty overboard toward one pole or another.) Not only in the works
themselves, but also in the contexts and discourses that surround them. In it we can
sometimes see the working out of a more balanced approach, however fitful. Maybe the
skyrocketing importance/value being placed on art in our time is partly due to there being a certain (largely unconcious) recognition that art can serve this function,
due to its now fundamentally critical/philosophical role; also its (potential) freedom from dogmatic polemics. This is not to diminsh its more purely soulful/expressive modes, when necessary, darker mythic psychic stores get opened back up to the light. I wish that more art
would live up to this promise, and that more people showing art would
understand this.

Many gallerists (in North Texas especially) seem convinced that art is still some primarily elevated decorative
outlet, to help the nouveau riche to stylishly appoint their homes. Lots of shiny, nice, pastel, discrete. And too
many artists seem willing to follow along, needing to make a buck to pay for
that MFA. Hey, we all need to make a living. I just wish that so many of the heroic advances made by artists in the last 30 years didn't seem so generally anathema here.

Art around these parts feels really top heavy. There's an emphasis on the museums, with tonier and tonier galleries continuing to open monthly, but a real dearth of DIY, grassroots art activity happening. There was a time when galleries were founded by art-aware individuals, in funky hole-in-wall spaces with water stains and baseboards, only in time building toward these giant pristine White Cubes. In the process, the owners actually learned something about art, and brought up some artists with them. Now, the people with money to build white cubes and join the global art party, are filling them with negligible kitsch geared to sell sell sell. Others have gone into debt to build their cubes, and can't risk the gamble of a show that might or might not sell.

Even so, there are some shining lights here, and activity of almost any kind is intrinsically a good thing. I just don't see that much that really inspires here, or that feels that inspired. I don't see the bold gestures and glorious mistakes one would like to. Houston sounds better from the reports I hear and read about. But I have hopes for us still. Come on – lets get more horizontal, Dallas. Hmm- I'm not sure that sounds quite right…

also by Titus OBrien
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2 Responses

  1. David O

    My vertical gallery is scary, scary like Christianity, authority, and crosses and stuff. Be afeeared.

    Chris Chappell’s Pre-Conceptualite paintings are more wonderful than you can imagine, although not at all Marxist/Feminist/Egalitarian. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

    This Friday.

    austinfigurativegallery.com

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