Monday, October 24, 2016

Modern Post Mortem

I am back from my most recent excursion, the Fall Modernism show in Palm Springs.

Unfortunately, for the second week in a row, a show failed to fire for me.

Of course there are a thousand reasons one can glom on to when business is stinky and I can point to a few easy excuses.

The show might be too early in the season, it is dwarfed in the local community by the ever popular Spring show, there weren't enough exhibitors to whet the local or Los Angeles appetites, election tsuris, yadda yadda.

The more probable reason, at least in my case, is that my material is losing its traction with the new generation.

The reality is that I have always been a very reluctant modernist. When I first started doing modernism shows, at the Santa Monica Civic twenty or so years ago, all sorts of styles comfortably fell under the rubric of twentieth century design, including art nouveau, art deco, moderne, arts and crafts, WPA, psychedelia, punk and post modern.

Things have changed. They have become much more parochial. The window of acceptability has shrunk to a narrow crevice located somewhere between MadMen and Kardashian. Nouveau and even deco are dead in the market as are arts and crafts and the wonderful WPA era. Nothing pre 1950.

All of the stuff I actually liked is now as popular as a fart in church. Ethnographic is out, Historical is out. Clutter is of course out. What are we left with? Sort of a machine made space Calvinism.

Walking through the shops was like walking through a cookie cutter jungle of extruded plastic jelly donuts. The worst of fifties pottery, in the favored hues of avocado and ochre, stand across from a tapestry of blotchy bad abstract canvases and vividly enameled copper plates. Oppressive.

With the exception of some very expensive and truly wonderful furniture by Art Carpenter, I saw nothing that resonated with my design sense at the shops. They seem to be selling a certain look by the pound. But the pieces themselves, to my admittedly prejudiced and jaundiced eye, looked quite undistinguished.

I have sold what I think is the best of the best of design, at least of what I could afford, since I first started selling and collecting art in the mid 1970's. Design of any kind.

My philosophy was always that great design fit together, regardless of the era in which it was conceived or executed.

I have sold Natzler and Beato, Maloof and Nakashima, along with Sargent, Redmond and Reynolds.

While I have always kept a foot in both the classic and modern worlds, I have also skewed a little more Flintstones than Jetsons. And always favored craftsmen who knew how to use their brushes and tools over the pure conceptualists.

My day is waning. People simply don't care anymore.

They don't get taught about history, art or design in schools, they buy their mass marketed furnishings at mass marketed stores like Walmart and Ikea and as long as they have ample gruel and a permanent connection to the cyberhive and television, they are happy. Feathering the nest appears to be a relic of the past.

In addition pedigree and authorship seems to be out. The needle has swung from collectable to purely decorative. Not necessarily a bad thing but terrible for my business model. Gary Breitwieser told me twenty years ago; the era of connoisseurship is ending. He was right.

I worked in Palm Springs for two years in the early nineties, doing redevelopment work. I went to boarding school on top of the mountain, had one of my greatest personal sports victories at the Stadium soccer field. But the Palm Springs I loved, the Desert Inn, twenties era rancho-spanish Palm Springs, is now a thing of the past.

Lovely old red tile structures are now boarded up and awaiting their inevitable execution, supplanted by the crushing wave of Space Age Retro. I felt the same sick feeling in Barcelona really, liking the Gaudi but sad for the beautiful baroque buildings that met their end in its onslaught.

I had an older gentleman walk into my booth and question why I had a colored woodblock by Gustave Baumann on the wall? "That's the past," he told me. "We have to look to the future."

Ready and willing to receive the clarion signal from space and future, comrade. It's the present that scares the shit out of me.

Postscript - My friend Gary called and told me to chillax. He reminded me that I have had a great six months (I have.) I have been on the road without stopping for a solid month and I am toast. Even if the long term fundamentals are dismal, life is good and I need to stfu.


Jon Harwood said...

Just an idea from my stream of consciousness: I wonder if the loss of interest in the past connects to the so called information revolution. That is the fire hose of the internet is pumping a mighty stream of BS 24/7, television has occupied more and more of the time left by the internet and nearly everyone's job requires extra training and classes either to stay current with the present profession or to prepare for a new one when the current job disappears due to "innovation". Work Harder Work Faster to Compete in the Global Economy (sucker). There is a frenetic quality to the present that I don't remember from a few decade back. No pause, no reflection, no depth of thought, no awareness whatsoever of the past. All that is left is: Work Harder Work Faster to Compete in the Global Economy (sucker).

Anonymous said...

I read your blast which mirrored my sentiments to a tee. Did you happen to watch Sixty Minutes last night?
Here is a link to the segment which had me so depressed afterward, all I could think about was the fact
that my time had come and gone. Never felt so out of touch with the "here and now." Not that I would want
to be in touch with this internetmaniacism but there is little alternative. We are now among the disenfranchised
old... Thought: I should just cash in my chips and find a quiet place to chew my old cud in solitude, blessed
or otherwise. It's hard, though, part of me wants to be up on everything and be a part of the world. We are becoming passe. It is difficult to
absorb and accept. I've always thought of myself as being, current, witty, pithy, hip, and bangin' it. Come to
find I was left behind when people started tweeting. I haven't even a clue about snapchatting, don't want
to think of hashtags, (the hash I like, I smoke from time to time, or the corned beef kind I often buy in a can
to make a quick meal of it and be on to what's next), or any of that newfangled social media junk. Just wait.
They will all turn into the walking dead after the next large Zap from the hackers which brings down all
of that stuff in a milli and then what will they do as they sit frazzled and fearful of the real world in front of
them-their bank accounts frozen or stolen, their communication lines absolved of a multitude of sins in the
name of meaning, and their friends too far away electronically for images, and one hundred and forty character
connections to synapse. Then they will have to face us to find out what to do with themselves.

Meanwhile, I shuddered when I read that Tom Hayden had passed away at 76 this morning. Great guy
who fought the good fight. RIP...

Watch this twelve minutes if you dare. The Influencers: http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/topics/60-minutes/

Anonymous said...

When you read from the internet, there is no need for books.
When your art is created by the computer, there is no need for paintbrushes.
When your news comes from blogs, there is no need for newspapers.
When you are young, there is no need for old.