Quality or Quantity: Choose Your Poison by Chris Robinson

Chris Robinson. Visual Arts editor, Jasper Magazine  


It’s summer. The heat has finally hit, kids are home, and everybody feels just a little bit lazy. There have been several good events – hope you had the opportunity to see Philip Mullen’s exhibit at 701 CCA and hear his thoughts about the work. David Furchgott juried 701’s SC Biennial 2013 competitive exhibition and gave a talk, “Swimming Against the Current,” about the difficulties and complexity of being and succeeding as an artist today.


There are some good and interesting shows at the Columbia Museum of Art, and it is very encouraging that the museum seems to be embracing a responsibility to exhibit, educate, and inform the public about contemporary art. There is a wonderful, intimate exhibit of Pablo Picasso’s prints from the Weatherspoon Art Museum collection in Greensboro, North Carolina. The exhibit overview describes Picasso as the most influential artist of the twentieth century. I guess it is a function of who is being influenced and have to admit Picasso for a broader public but would certainly choose Duchamp for the development of the visual arts in general. Duchamp at the beginning of the twentieth century exemplified and predicted every major movement that would follow in the next sixty years, and most successful artists revere his role in contemporary art.


The Steven Naifeh exhibit has a great, powerful, and decorative feel to it but recapitulates concepts of sixty years (Al Held, Sol LeWitt, Frank Stella) and a few millennia (the latter influences noted in the exhibit) past. The work is clean, carefully crafted, geometrically appealing, and exemplifies another popular South Carolina star. After preparation, money and luck play a big role in artistic success.


I continue to lament how few people really look at art. The First Thursday on Main continues to be an attractive social event but begs for both some innovation and artistic refinement. One of the first things I look for in a good show is some element of consistency, both in the content and quality of the work. So many are either ill-advised or hard-pressed to mount an exhibition with a critical mass of those two things.


When I first joined the University of South Carolina, I was encouraged to exhibit frequently – publish or perish – and we seem to have assigned an asset to the idea of production and frequency, often to the detriment of quality and idea. Marcia Tucker of the Whitney and New Museum once advised me to be careful what and how frequently one exhibits – naive or poor quality work can never be retracted. It seems we are at a time when some good, careful, and creative thought – as opposed to continued cluttering – would benefit all. Picasso was unusually prolific, Duchamp just the opposite. Choose your poison.