Wednesday, June 13, 2012

britto-whining will not make you britto

 britto's azul, @ time warner center until october 2012


writer natalie o'neill has an interesting piece in the miami new times, on miami artist romero britto. on the surface the well researched article seems to offer an unbiased account, yet from the start, one can sense a rhetorical undercurrent that betrays o'neill neutrality:
The artist pulls out a black magic marker and quickly scribbles the cartoonish face of a girl. Then he dunks a paintbrush in red and makes a single dot on her mouth. The mark will signal to his assistants — who do the painting for him — the intended color of her lips.The whole creative process takes him two and a half minutes. When the painting is completed by his low-wage workers, it will sell for about $30,000.
detail-loading & rhetorical innuendo (in color above) aside, o'neill should know that "creative process" cannot be measured in "real time," not since duchamp, not after kosuth. low-wage workers? the norm these days (the art market is, well, a market). the description above fits best (none other than) start-artist jeff koons. do you really believe he made this glossy cutesy himself?

 jef koons, elephant, 2003

koons has dozen of assistants & subcontractors. why not britto?

britto, teddy bear, 2005

start-artists like demian hirst, jean-michel otoniel, kris martin, pae white, etc, simply have other craftspeople execute their work for them. jorge pardo has openly declared: "i don't think that art gets made with your hand." as a matter of fact, there is a name for this trend: nonmaking art. what's going on? as maximization of production shrinks real time, time by default becomes much more valuable than labor itself, which is why labor has to be outsourced (a consequence of the industrial revolution, only more acute as a phenomenon under financial capitalism's grip on profit's maximization). in other words, koons and britto will soon be the rule.

back to o'neill. she is dealing with a slippery thesis. by the capitalist book, britto is an enviable financial success* (let's call this the hard fact). now, is he a good artist? o'neill takes an easy normative route: "good" or "bad" will be determined by artworld's consensus. she has no clue that such consensus is dependent on the art market. let's put it differently: do you expect "art experts" (who are a part of the artmarket) to arthoodicate art outside the system? o'neill's dutifully follows the lead. her title: "charm trumps talent," speaks for itself. but there is a stubborn problem: with so many people attracted to his work, how do you convincingly explain "charm"? unless one beefsup "charm" with "luck?"
Nycander sent the company's distributor, Michel Roux, to Miami to meet Britto and offer him a job: Design a pop art-inspired bottle of vodka for the mammoth corporation. The ad, which featured a large red heart, ran in 60 publications worldwide and made him an overnight celebrity. The value of his paintings — which had sold for $5,000 to $20,000 — would double in just a year. So would his sales.
o'neill concludes: "Britto, it seemed, was simply at the right place at the right time. And soon luck would knock again."

 britto's own mao, 2009

what does "right place at the right time" mean? in retrospect, any body's success can be attributed to being at the right place and the right time. c'mon, 99% of americans are not "in the right place at the right time" while the 1% is. we're all in the same gunk! what kind of eduction is this?

the search for the magic bullet can make you look elsewhere. let's give a shot at "culture" (that sociological cipher):
In Miami, a place that's still grasping for a cultural identity, Britto patterns have spread like a Skittles-colored virus. They can be found in virtually every crevice of Miami-Dade: at Sun Life Stadium, the Shops at Midtown, Miami Children's Museum, and Dadeland Station. You can see them from causeways and expressways. Car dealerships sell Britto-designed Mini Coopers. Workers at Miami International Airport wear Britto uniforms. Tourists on Lincoln Road shop for Britto luggage, dishes, high heels — even yarmulkes.
wait a second: the people who purchase and install brittos are not your average poor &/or unemployed, migrants or exiles. they're developers! people who buy brittos at his lincoln rd. boutique are well off, which automatically excludes a good percentage of miami from "culture." that britto's designs have spread may have much -and little- to do with "cultural identity" (whatever that means). worse yet, how can o'neill define "cultural identity" in a multicultural place? grasping miami's cultural identity is as banal a task as grasping miami humidity.

let me suggest the unthinkable: perhaps britto's work has a real appeal? (more of this later). 

then, o'neill moves into the quick sands of expert authority: she cites critic ricardo pau-llosa, who calls britto's work "phony baloney and hideous crap," a trivial opinion in perfect synch with "just about every respected artist, museum curator, and art professor in the country." so? (i doubt that o'neill can literally pull this bit of empirical datum).
Not one art publication has critiqued Britto's work. Nor has a respected museum purchased his art. Pulitzer Prize-nominated art critic and New York Magazine columnist Jerry Saltz has an almost physical reaction to Britto's work. "Oh my God is he unoriginal," Saltz says. "It's sentimental, obvious, and empty. Let me put it this way: No one in the art world would say this is good."
(jerry saltz is such a friend of big & empty gestures). let's bite the bullet: how many (good) artists are not mentioned in publications or purchased by museums? we agree with übercritic saltz that britto's designs are "obvious," but so is the state of pop culture in general, i.e., popular music, hollywood movies, tv, politics, and lots of critic-ok'd "contemporary art." even art criticism has become "obvious"!*

o'neill's list of complaints against britto now take a different turn. gallerist anthony spinello protests: 
(britto's work) It makes me cringe (...) at some point, it just becomes grotesque... I don't think it represents contemporary art in Miami at all"
"contemporary art," as used here by spinello, is a redundant platitude. no one has an argument that doesn't beg the question to exclude britto from "contemporary."
 let's see:  

^^if contemporary means current, britto is -trivially- contemporary.
^^if contemporary means arthoodication, then britto is contemporary (since his arthoodication works via publicity, powerful celebrities, foundations, collectors, etc).
^^why can there not be "bad" contemporary art? i see plenty of it all year round in reputed national and international art fairs.

how does "dislike" turn into "phobia"? britto is not only mediocre. he's ruining other artists' prospects of success(?). photographer john gynell bemoans: "There are so many good artists out there (...) why does this guy have a monopoly over our public art space?"

gynell is hallucinating: miami art in public places has a long list of artists and projects (britto is not listed). with all the chases, jpmorgans, atts & fpls of america, i'll pass on this one. 

 carmen, 1991

finally it's time for a personality test: what if britto's fame could be attributed to "charisma"? 
Britto is a marketing wizard, says art consultant Alan Bamberger. "People have confused the artist with his charisma," he says. "They are buying his personality. And for somebody like Romero Britto, that's very convenient."
i'm not so sure. american banks are, by definition, the market's wizards' wizards and people don't like them much these days, which makes bamberger's hasty inference as strong as our banks' genuine interest in the general public. how can you definitively tell that people from all over come to purchase britto's designs because of his charisma?

capitalism 101: britto is a brand name, that's what people want. 

o'neill now moves to the hard fact: britto is loved by the masses. what does that say? masses love a lot of crap. possibly, but that misses the point. when it comes to consumption, we're the masses! could it be that the experts just don't get it? britto is not a fine artist. you've used the wrong glasses to judge him. he is just a good designer. what makes a good design? style, originality & selling power.

 britto, landshark stadium, miami, 2008

britto's designs are everywhere because they sell.** his paintings are sought worldwide (i've seen brittos in sao paulo & LA & new york airports, and in different upscale miami apartments). he makes 12 million a year? that's selling power. britto has a visible mark, which is already imitated and appropriated! (i know of pseudoartists in miami that make a living imitating britto's style). originality? you don't have to be a pollock to be original.** aren't taco bell and pollo tropical original? well, britto is a recognizable brandname. why not give him all that?

britto is not the monster. brittophobia and other forms of britto-whining ad hominems only reflect & reinforce our own post-capitalist neurosis. britto is an apt designer that has made miami his home. i commend that he stayed in the city way before the miami explosion and found a niche. let go. miami is not any uglier because of britto. it's ugly because of poor design: no tree-shade, few parks, cookie-cutter developments, un-pedestrian streets, poor infrastructure, social ghettoization, homelessness, etc, etc.

what all these art whiners should do is find ways to succeed doing what they do best. show resilience. you'd be surprised. even whiners can make it. 

*the definition for "success" is circular, i.e., you know it as long as it sells, though britto's goods have passed the replicability-effectiveness-cost test. **no matter how seemingly complicated, any successful style (way of doing things) will always be reproduced. want a BIG example? china.


kevinarrow said...

Nice post.
Important to consider "why does this guy have a monopoly over our public art space?"
He has a monopoly over witless and gullible developers.
The majority of his projects are on private property or were given to municipalities for free or little money. It is odd that this "hometown hero" is not represented in a single public museums collection. Why? Because the work is the aesthetic and intellectual equivalent of single ply toilet tissue paper left in the rain.

Anonymous said...

We tend to blame others for our own shortcomings. Britto doesn't bother me on the least.
Natalia Bermudez

Feminista said...

Good post, Triff. I'm not fan of Britto's work but I can agree with a lot of what you say. Now, being a designer is not exactly being an artist? How do you separate the two?

Arlene Ellis said...

Triff, do you have any articles that discuss the distinction between art and design?

Alfredo said...

The message being 'better to love what is' ? Britto is. Why can't there be complaint about 'what is' ? Is it so banal to do so ?
Should the 'bungled and botched' not be able to repudiate the purchasing power that brings Britto to our lives ? There are other things they praise the rich for. Mostly for paying taxes for our municipalities...but I digress. It seems these critics are just voicing the opinion of the people who cannot make a statement due to their credit limit at Macy's. The poor OR rich who choose NOT to buy a Britto.
The market needs no defense, as professor Triff stated a couple of blogs back concerning art critique. Britto = Markets. The market, however, has to hear the voices of indignation from people who dislike the Brittos of the world..why the heck not ?...or perhaps they are too sensitive to open dialogue.
The Britto Stock holders should welcome such talks, the markets love nothing more than further attention to boost sales. You're Welcome Romero !

Anonymous said...

Well done Triff.

Alfredo Triff said...

thanks, kevin. agree with some of your points, though i prefer to address "being collected by museums" as being arthoodicated by the artsystem. obviously he's not.

thanks, natalia.

Alfredo Triff said...

feminista: "fine art" is a loaded term with lots of history & artmarket static. since britto bypassed the system, he doesn't care for that. that. o'neill's use of "commercial artist" is Ok. the problem is that "commercial artist" does not address important aspects of britto's work.

arlene: i have a couple of things in archive under "design." take a look. thanks for visiting girl.

alfredo, that's a nice angle. thanks.

thanks, erika.

kevinarrow said...

@ Arlene Ellis regarding Art and Design, I recommend the book of essay's edited by Alex Coles called DESIGN AND ART

I am in the middle of it right now and find it very informative.

swampthing said...

if i bleed while making someone else's art, i will add a drop to the sweat already on the work. take two dior dresses, marilyn monroe wore only one, which would you prefer to fondle. clue: one is worthless.

Anonymous said...

Post Modern Art market is the same as collecting Sports cards you need a check list. Once your name is in the list you will be bought by collectors
Jose Bedia, Tomas Sanchez, Kcho , ETC ETC ETC ad infinitum.