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Paul Kremer invited me to Mark Flood’s Party-Tyme studio on North Main St. last week to see some new paintings he was about to ship to New York. Flood was in Austin, filming a movie (what else!), and with typical generosity, had loaned Kremer his space, a former quinceañera reception hall and dress shop, to work in for a month.

Kremer is a graphic designer. His most well-known project, Great Art in Ugly Rooms, curates famous works into crummy apartments and laundromats via the magic of Photoshop. He’s been working on making his art less virtual: this time last year he realized Great Art in Ugly Rooms as a show of digital prints on canvas at The Brandon in Houston. Now, under Flood’s tutelage, he’s getting his hands dirty: painting, and painting big.

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Kremer’s new paintings are hand-painted with a workmanlike, unfussy neatness. No paint-flinging, scumbling, or canoodling. Bold and graphic (as befits a former web artist) the emaphasis is almost entirely on the image, not the manufacturing process.

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The images combine Swedish modern kitchen towels and a nostalgia for four-color process printing, heavy on unnaturally vivid tomato and cyan. Many create the illusion of overlapping shapes through Josef Albers-style color interactions, as if Kremer had pasted sheets of transparent colored film onto his canvases.

What was startling about Kremer’s new work was its speed and breezy lack of introspection. In three weeks, with no sign of struggle, he had produced dozens of large-scale paintings, framed and ready to hang, and a suite of attendant works on paper. This was no mystic kiva or ego-boxing ring: it was simply a painting factory, a temporary workshop set up to produce a run of objects based on Kremer’s designs.

Kremer is the latest Houston artist to suddenly develop an instant body of paintings for the New York market, following Flood’s “if you paint it, they will come” career path: Chris Cascio’s drug maps, and Lane Hagood’s black snake paintings have all been shown at DJ/Curator Peter Makebish‘s gallery in the past year.

The ease of it is hard to swallow. In Flood and Kremer’s world, art isn’t hard: paintings are just big flat things you hang on the wall, and sell to rich people who don’t look too hard. It’s wonderfully freeing at the same time disheartening to us romantics who want every piece of art to be either treasure or trash, but it recognizes a basic, obvious truth we willfully ignore: there’s a lot of room for OK.

Salon Zürcher opening, New York

Salon Zürcher opening, New York

Some of Paul Kremer’s new paintings are on view at Zürcher Gallery, 33 Bleecker St. NYC, as part of Salon Zürcher, a “mini art fair that seeks to represent an emerging art world inside and outside of New York”,  from March 2-8

 

 

 

 

 

 

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34 Responses

  1. Dear Bill Davenport​,

    I like you. But please, for Glasstire​’s sake: Try Harder. You should know better. Your disregard for the history of Houston’s underground community is uncouth. You forgot about i love you baby​ already? It’s not an an “instant body of paintings” if one thinks longer than one executes.

    Christopher Cascio​ has been producing those paintings for galleries long before you took notice. Your sly inclusion of each human’s former/current other interests is tacky. One in the know reads this and senses your bitterness. I understand that you are a critic. But please TRY HARDER.

  2. Bill Davenport

    Bitterness is, like Superfund sites, an environmental hazard of living in Texas. When one sees others being handed opportunities one has struggled unsuccessfully for, bitterness is entirely natural and appropriate. So what? It doesn’t keep me from accurately judging Kremer’s works. They’re interesting precisely for their graphic, slightly retro, affectless cheeriness. The most interesting thing about my studio visit with Kremer was the novelty of seeing New York style studio production happening in Houston.

    I mention Kremer’s work as a graphic designer not as a put-down (as if being a graphic designer was a crime!) but because his paintings’ imagery and methodology draws heavily from pre-digital graphic design, making Kremer’s work in that field totally relevant to a discussion of both his current painting and of Great Art in Ugly Rooms.

    Kremer’s new works are an instant body of painting not only because they were made quickly, but because Kremer has no history of exhibiting paintings, and certainly not paintings anything like these. Ditto the other artists I mention. I’ve followed Chris Cascio’s work since he was a student, and it has strenuously avoided painting by any means necessary- printing, obsessive collage, sculpture – anything but paint on canvas. His recent embrace of paint is so abrupt and devout that could be seen as sarcastic capitulation. I haven’t seen any of Lane Hagood’s black snake paintings in person, but the relentless repetition is strikingly unlike the abject, introspective imagery that has characterized his work up to now.

    Kremer’s involvement with Flood in the collective activities of I Love You Baby is indeed relevant- it too was an instance of the use of painting as vehicle for social bonding, notable for its casual disregard for the weighty pretensions traditionally attached to flat painted objects. That attitude was shockingly freeing then, as it is now in its new incarnation in Flood’s and Kremer’s recent paintings, even more so because it has been cleaned of I Love You Baby’s half-serious painterly shit-smearing.

    1. I’m with Bill. Shallowness has become de rigeur and hip. Judging from the photos, this body of work is good looking and very saleable. But the possibility of an interior voice has been amputated from the artistic agenda. I didn’t hear bitterness, just courage to tell it like it is.

    2. Bill,

      Thank you for taking time to reply in a thoughtful manner. I’m not going to get into it any deeper than I already have but wanted you to know that I read it, understand where you are coming from, and look forward to better writing from you going forward. Let’s take a step out of the 20th Century, and ride on our hoverboards (holding hands) right through the great big double-wide doors of the 21st Century.

      Sincerely,
      Russell Etchen

  3. I wish there were a “like” button for comments.

    While painting remains the undead, and of course, a suitable medium… it has to justify itself, as a painting-in the verb sense more than the object. (I say this as an art-baby, and a painter.)

    I’m Googling I Love You Baby right now.

  4. David H

    Whether you’re accurate or not the bitter “I’m a failed artist hear me roar” tone that permeates everything you have a hand in is absolutely unproductive and an ominous dark cloud over the already clouded landscape that is glasstire.
    With that said here are a few problematic aspects of your studio visit review:

    -To write a review of a studio visit is an unfair and a severely sophomoric low blow. It is unprecedented for a reason, and a man of your age should have a slightly more professional approach when it comes to dealing with the bitterness you so happily (and sadly) cling on to.

    -If you actually acknowledged all areas of and genuinely followed either lane hagood’s or Chris cascio’s career, I think your jaded view of both artists as ones who made work to fit within the New York context would be without merit. To marginalize both artists ny shows as market driven forays is misleading and self serving.
    Cascio first displayed paintings like the ones at Makebish months before at hcc. It is also worth noting that painting in the traditional sense of the word has been part of his repertoire consistently throughout his career. One need only casually pay attention.
    Hagood has employed repetition time and time again and I’m shocked that you would argue that making a room full of reiterations is contrary to his typical mode of operation. His show at the Joanna a few years back exemplifies his consistent use of repetition as a compositional format within the frame that also has a tendency to extend itself into how he manages a gallery installation.

    – it is also striking that you find it so novel that a New York “factory style” studio exists within houston. I would argue that houston is no different than anywhere else in that it is filled with artists who latch onto some novel, or seemingly novel quality and exploit it as a way of standing out and in some instances, engaging the market. Because the market is not large here does not mean artists don’t engage in the same career modes that artists in other cities fall into. To think otherwise is incredibly naive and I’m sure if you weren’t trying to organize your information in a way that serves your agenda you could easily apply your “factory” logic to studios in Houston and elsewhere.

    finally I’ll part by saying I hope in the future you can attempt to attain some kind of objectivity with what you have to say…or don’t. It really gets down to whether you want to accept the opportunity in front of you to be taken seriously or you want to continue to be looked at as a joke.

  5. Arel

    I completely agree that the dismissive tone that is the punchline of almost every one of Bill’s reviews is both unproductive and does a disservice to the Houston arts community. There is a difference between being an art critic and using one’s platform to dash out snarky comments from on high. That is not to say that all arts writing much be pandering, lionizing laudation. In fact, I would say the art criticism I find most effective has the author’s personal proclivities take a back seat, and instead focusing on engaging with the work in its context—geographically, art historically, and within the artist’s body of work.

    Instead what we get here are gestures towards contextualization with none of the actual work, comparisons that seem unfounded, and reaching assumptions instead of thoughtful examination.

    Even looking through Bill’s reviews are a list of descriptions and adjectives that smack of lazy writing and judgmental assumptions that cloud a true evaluation of the work (even when he claims to like it).
    http://glasstire.com/2015/03/01/someone-in-texas-loves-you/

    “Not that they were great, few things are, but the artists were trying: it wasn’t the same old crap, or at least it was in new bottles.” Later, “solid, if unexciting”

    http://glasstire.com/2015/01/14/in-the-caverns-of-your-mind-ian-james-at-self-actualization-gallery/

    “bland photographs” “The visual parts of James show seem incomplete and tragic” “It was pathetic, unexpectedly sincere, and embarrassing.”

    http://glasstire.com/2014/10/08/bad-art-by-good-people-the-texas-sculpture-group/

    “There. That’s done. I’m not saying that many of the works on display would not have been better left in their shipping crates, but whether dogs or divas, I’m glad they were here.”

    Or even the cynicism of commenting “So, no more big groups shows at the Art League?” on his own news story of Art League becoming W.A.G.E certified, cementing their commitment to supporting artists. Why the snark for an objectively GOOD thing for artists, which was clearly explained at a symposium where he was in attendance?

    It’s okay to not like shows. It’s okay to not like artists. It’s okay to not like art. But if Glasstire continues to become Bill Davenport immediately dismissing shows he doesn’t care for, or more often, doesn’t take the time to understand, it’s not really doing much for anyone, besides giving him smug satisfaction.

    1. Terry Mahaffey

      Regarding your wish that a critic should “let their personal proclivities take a back seat,” if I may quote the Brooklyn critic Benjamin Sutton: “Only an artist who is profoundly confused about the purpose of criticism, which is by its very nature complicated and subjective, could want reviews of [their] exhibitions to be simple and objective. Those types of reviews exist; they’re called press releases.”

  6. Bill. I have been following Chris’s work since he was a student, too. I bought a piece of his student work right out of his studio at UH. It was a painting.

    As for Lane Hagood’s “relentless repetition is strikingly unlike the abject, introspective imagery that has characterized his work up to now,” he included a room full of fairly repetitious black snake paintings in his show at the Joanna in 2011 (you can see a photo here: http://www.thegreatgodpanisdead.com/2011/02/lane-hagood-at-joanna.html). They look pretty similar (but smaller) than the ones he’s doing now.

    Will all these artists (Kremer included), the main difference between their work now and in the past is that it’s on average a little bigger now. That does seem to reflect the influence of Mark Flood.

    1. “With all these artists…” Damn I need an editor. By the way, for what it’s worth, I prefer bad reviews to good ones. But I wanted to get the facts straight.

  7. In Defense of Criticality

    I am so bewildered and disheartened by all of these comments. There is such a dearth of actual criticism in the art world at large and Houston is no exception – I for one (except I do not think I am the only one…) THANK Bill Davenport for his critical thinking, knowledge, insight, and just damn good writing.

    The commenters here seem far more bitter and resentful of art criticism than they claim Davenport is about the work in question. The vitriol spewed in this comments section includes (among a shocking amount of name-calling and personal jabs) a call for Davenport to “try harder.” Davenport’s review befits the work it assesses. Why would the onus not equally be on the artist to try harder? As Davenport appropriately described this body of work is without struggle and without introspection, which I am not entirely sure the artist would disagree with, and which is okay (but, the point being, just “okay”) – art is and can be many things, and Kremer’s recent work is certainly indicative of and symptomatic of the current artistic climate. To be so defensive and aggressive towards Davenport for simply calling a spade a spade is “sophomoric” indeed. I don’t know what these commenters think art criticism is all about and what a critic’s job fundamentally is, but it is most certainly not “unfair” for a critic to write a review of a studio visit – that is his job! If an artist invites a critic to his studio, s/he opens themselves up to conversation, to opinions, to criticism, and s/he should expect that the critic might write something about his/her work. Perhaps the most ironically defensive comment launched at Davenport is to claim that he is not objective. Maybe it is natural (and in a different context noble) that friends and spouses would chime in to defend their mentors, bosses, or loved ones, but objective that is most definitely not.

    Houston is fortunate to have Glasstire and the writers they employ. Mr. Davenport, I hope you keep up your snarky good work.

    1. Attach your name to your words, please. And try to break your paragraphs up. And work out your conversational manner. TL;DR as the kids say. If you can’t own up to your words, you don’t get to play along. PEACE.

  8. As an artist, I welcome all comers in the way of art critique from the “my way or the highway” art proff., to the “I love it (No I don’t really)” gallery curator types, to the “that’s really nice sonny” eighty year old gallery patron. Some worth can be found for an artist and viewers of art in even the art critique from a bum on the street. This fight for relevance can be brutal. I simply say relax and enjoy the art. By the way, I happen to like dish towel art patterns painted on stark white canvas in a 4 tone process…Who doesn’t? Tongue place lightly in cheek….

  9. david mcgee

    Well!!! Bill your right!!! Its all very interesting,and kids stop pledging allegiancewhen your feelings get hurt

  10. Charlie Parka

    Perhaps Kremer spent too much time looking at Matisse’s cutouts and decided painting them as fast as he could would be a challenge? As for holding hands Russel, perhaps too much hand-holding has led to such works that try to make Koons level cash in a flash without regard to content, work, thought, and historicity. Our age of atemporality allows that anyone can cross over from one arena to another to become a printer, painter, sculptor, or installation artist. This does not mean they should. That being said, what was the source material that generated these office space paintings, besides the obvious graphic design experience? Is this the culmination of sketches, computer drawings, nightmares, random number generated color by numbers? Where is the introspection?

    1. Maybe Kremer will reveal that this was all a publicity ploy…

      Thanks, Charlie Parka, for speaking about the actual work itself. I think Bill was doing it a service by calling it “OK.”

  11. Sorry for being so mean, y’all. I’m just being me. I don’t expect anyone to understand. But if you have a problem with me, personally, please email me here: russelletchen@gmail.com … I’m down for a discussion across time. I mean, sometimes you just have to express your frustrations. Because to bottle them up is too much. I mean, we’re online in the world. Times are changing. <3

  12. Cut to a drawing, and a hand with brush moving rapidly across the surface of the paper. “If I don’t draw for a while I get really crazy. I start feeling really depressed, suicidal.” These are Crumb’s first words in the film, delivered in a quiet, distant voice. “But sometimes when I’m drawing I feel suicidal too.”

    “What are you trying to get at in your work?” someone, presumably Zwigoff, asks off-mic.

    “JESUS,” Crumb says, suddenly animated. “I don’t know.”

    Robert Crumb’s drawings are unflinching in their taut, sweaty grotesquerie, but the man himself flinches—he laughs nervously, stutters, cringes, equivocates.

    He continues. “I don’t work in conscious messages. I can’t do that. It has to be something that I’m revealing to myself when I’m doing it, which is hard to explain. Which means that while I’m doing it I don’t know exactly what it’s about. You just have to have the courage or the… to take that chance. What’s gonna come out of this? I’ve enjoyed drawing, that’s all. It’s a deeply ingrained habit, and it’s all because of my brother Charles.”

  13. “A lot of artwork is really unconscious. 90% of my work is unconscious production. But then, I have to make it understandable to the public at large. So I have to go back… take unconscious production… try to figure a way to put it in a conscious modality so somebody can get something out of it. Now, it might only be to put in kind of a bracket where just they say, “I hate it.” Well, that’s at least a response. That’s at least saying, “I politically disagree with this worldview.” But that at least raises a dialectic.” –Mike Kelley, 2004

  14. Charlie Parka

    Kremer’s paintings are so far from Crumb they could be a parallel dimension in which the unconscious is less interesting than a pineapple Jello salad.
    I agree that art is mostly unconscious, that the really powerful products come from deep pools, which can only be reached through introspection, and release of the ego. Many studies in neuroscience have pointed to the fact that the motor action of the body can be decided upon by the mind up to ten seconds before the signal is received by the hand. These works seem to be the same signal sent over and over, from the same square centimeter of mind hoping to become something incredible, but only becoming paint on paper and canvas. I appreciate the union of web design, and other electronic landscapes with the physical, I just wish these were more potent. Artists who make this transition from digital to physical that score high with success are the painter Kim Owens (Dallas), the printmaker Ken Hale (Austin), and the photographers Ted Kincaid (CA) and Leigh Merrill (Dallas). I think hese artists and their labor deserve the notice, and financial applause of the art grabbing community.

  15. what a waste

    Maybe it’s not a problem that one writer on Glasstire has such an ossified style that we know what his post will say before reading it. Bill’s particular brand of crotchety is even regarded affectionately, probably because we’ve been conditioned to pick off the layer of “that’s just Bill” before trying to actually get info about the work. It’s like a treasure hunt for the insights he does often tuck under there…

    Bill’s incisiveness can be insightful. He probably is working really hard. He does get out and around to see stuff. He has been an active part of local scenes for a long time. He has done awesome stuff around town that makes this place more interesting…so I don’t know if Bill needs to try harder, but Glasstire does.

    Because it is a problem that as editor, Bill has driven off, rewritten, or bitter-spanked rounds of writers either who either can’t be heard through or just don’t care to deal with his narrow filter:
    triple snark, extra dismissive, indulgently defeatist, unchecked just-come-to-expect-it-on-Glasstire racism and sexism, and either cluelessness about interesting stuff by younger artists, or, if clued in, creepy enthusiasm for their failure…

    I agree that context is missing in a lot of these reviews, and in its absence is often just an extra helping of the above.

    Apparently that’s all cool coming from one token jerk – which I mean in the Bill style of saying something mean, but meaning that it is actually worth consideration. Maybe that fits some people’s definition of “criticality.” Or maybe after having been served a soft diet of snark passing as criticism by our largest arts writing platform for years, that’s all they can chew.

    But is this really all that Texas’s online arts writing platform is for?

    Glasstire has, already, right here and now:
    – an established position with a large audience
    – funding that they actually use to pay writers
    – a platform to reflect whats happening here
    – an active comments section that does host meaningful dialog

    Glasstire is positioned to push our region’s writing, work and community forward by reflecting it more broadly and by digging into it deeper.

    But it doesn’t, because many people capable of informed criticism do not want deal with Bill.

    What a waste of writers with diverse points of view who are clued in to what’s up in our region, are informed by current conversations in contemporary art, are piloting interesting approaches to writing about it, and who are in need of a paying platform. What a shame that a lot of work here doesn’t get coverage unless it can be easily pelted with predictable snark. What a shame that when Glasstire does step up to fight larger battles, it’s already discredited because of its default bitterness.

    What a waste that such a well positioned platform chooses to occupy such a narrow, repetitive, predictable rut, conditioning us to accept “that’s just Glasstire.”

  16. Bill Davenport

    Thanks to all the commenters! It’s fun to get the issues out in the open. On my side, I concede some sour grapes, and the possibility that I over-generalized about Lane Hagood, having missed the Joanna show Robert Boyd mentions.

    But it’s always a surprise what puts people on the prod. I didn’t, after all, trash Kremer’s work; I didn’t even fault it for being blithe and commercial, which, in the hands of Flood and his minions, becomes almost a manifesto. I said I found its “breezy lack of introspection” both shocking, and freeing.

    I’m also enthusiastic about Texas artists who “suddenly develop an instant body of paintings for the New York market.” Nothing wrong with that. This phrase is only a critique if you believe art must be the slow, painful distillation of sublime genius, which I don’t. I live in the 21st century, not the 19th, like some commenters.

    Unlike some commenters, I also assume that the artists themselves know what they’re doing. I know for a fact Flood does, and I’m crediting Cascio, Hagood, and Kremer with some sense. They know full well that the New York art market has everything to do with these works; to pretend otherwise would be stupid, and they’re not stupid. Talking about the market for this work IS to talk about its content. Part of the project is reverse exploitation, countering the typical situation where New Yorkers go cherry picking in Texas.

    I’ll get over to Jeremy DePrez’s Houston show next week. I’ve got him in the same file cabinet with Flood, Kremer et al., but a different folder. From what I’ve seen in the past, I’m expecting the same noncommittal (IMTIAGW)* abstraction, but tinged with effortful awkwardness and sensuous physicality more akin to Jonathan Ryan Storm or Geoff Hippenstiel, two other Texas painters making New York forays in many of the same venues as Kremer. But we’ll see.

    *I Mean That In A Good Way

    1. I read these reviews, and then the comments, in order to learn about the arena of insanity that I’ve committed to called Art. When I read your comments, Bill, I am shocked by your unabashed candor, and freed up to then jump up and down and scream “WHHEE!” The permission to say and believe- when based on a personal rationale derived from experience and education- is critical to personal growth. And without personal growth, our art becomes … something that Davenport will nail us on, and rightly so.
      But reading these comments are an education within themselves. It’s like Facebook on meth cooked up in a lab at Parsons. So many people are competing to be considered the coolest; so many throw around obscure references that we may or may not get, depending on just how cool we really are… and completely avoid the fact that the yakkity all has nothing at all to do with the content of the original review. It’s a beautiful thing.

  17. and remember, we are now, what we have experienced thus far. after finishing my degree in art history and photography I was seduced by NYC and the different avenues it offered as means of expression. the dj/curator comment is Not an insult to me, however, the way it was written was almost as naive as someone who never crossed parallels between the two mediums, Painting and Music. I was a Dj a producer, and for 6 yrs now, Ive been a gallerist. Paralleling worlds, it’s not so hard to tell, painting and music go hand in hand. Tell a story, a painting will sing when it’s solved. It took me 20 yrs, an entire book of stories, to be what I am and where I am today.

  18. the New York market is only a small part of the art community, and I think you’re giving it too much thought . none of these artists are really making work to fit the ‘ny market’. most of my collectors acquiring paintings from these artists are from other countries, and the ones from New York are buying for the love of art, and are involved in film, music, and they are collectors that like to know the artists and be involved, enthusiastic, and have a very strong confident identity of what they like. I have witnessed a very strong belief within the artists of Houston to be sincere, moralistic, and extremely rooted to their craft.

  19. Welp, this is chock-full of overly-generalized statements (and what better fodder for “contemporary art” questions) …

    Bill is shrewd (and mean as a snake), but he keeps some of us on our toes. Good practice, all-in-all…

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