Thursday, November 27, 2014

Ferguson, Missouri: Mia Leonin

Ferguson, you’re the Missouri I’ve always known,
the Missouri I was white enough to see from a safe distance –
Michael Brown shot and left for dead.
Missouri, your are the mid-west with a southern twang, home of Jim
the slave and his author Mark Twain, the betwixt and between of you,
the border-state brutality of you lives on.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

could satan be forgiven? (a mind experiment)

alFreDo tRifF

first, i count on god's omnibenevolence!

1. repentance implies change (regret of past wrongs), which is implicit in the notion of being. being is not what it is and it is what it is not (a sartrean lemma). satan hasn't changed, presumably, because he chooses not to. his "fall" rests on this premise.

2. as sartre puts it, "l'existence précède l'essence" (existence precedes essence), identity is what one finds as one lives. existence happens in time and time is change.

as we know satan is (what else?) satanic. but one cannot invoke satan's "nature" to cause satan's identity because that begs the question on satan's nature. if as it seems one's identity is what one finds as one lives, then identity cannot be transparent to itself (that why we make such poor judges of our own character), instead, identity brings forth a constant perplexity (yes, satan was as astonished at his fall as any repenting petty criminal).

let's keep in mind that satan has a prehistory: lucifer. & this prehistory would have to be rejected to rule out the above possibility (for this prehistory is what precedes his nature).

3. satan's prehistory includes lucifer's life up to the moment of the fall. what follows is satan's --still ongoing-- life. though lucifer and satan are qualitatively different, they are, numerically, one and the same.

so, if the change from lucifer to satan is possible, a change from satan into what-comes-next is possible. change is unavoidable. 

4. even in the heart-of-evil there's space for guilt (implied by satan's free will). guilt is a prelinguistic fact, it lies between advisability & obligation.

5. surely, satan's willful avoidance of the good seems to perpetuate his nature. in a sense, he constantly negates his old self (lucifer). why? i venture: out of contempt (his plan was defeated) and self-destruction (the memory of that second of lucidity before the fall must weigh heavily on him).

nonetheless, satan could entertain a different future for himself.

6. a possible repentance takes a "reversal" from his primeval rebellious act. although satan cannot become lucifer, since time & history cannot be undone, one can only speculate that this repentant angel who-was-once-satan wishes no more of his past. he's content with god's forgiveness ... even in oblivion.

7. it's not god's business to meddle into one's retraction as long as it is genuine. this is principled since the beginning of time. one may dispute satan's capacity for change, but if he is free, no one can rule out the possibility of satan's repentance.  

note: this mind experiment does not necessarily reflect the beliefs of the author.

Friday, October 31, 2014

last night's panel

photo adrienne vonmlates
the panel was on fire. i wished i'd been a panelist. being a moderator is like having your hands tied (smilet).

Monday, October 27, 2014

What are the limits of ownership? This Thursday @ 7pm @ MDC Wolfson Campus

As moderator of this panel discussion, I’d like to explore Weiwei’s smashing of an ancient urn in a performance (and Caminero’s subsequent smashing of Weiwei’s property @ PAMM).

It harks back to Weiwei’s own performativity principle: “... by shattering it we can create a new way to look at what is valuable.” Weiwei is on to something: The Western aesthetic tradition defended by Kant, Schiller, Hegel, the Romantics, and then performance art, allows for “actions” which call attention to broader political issues.

However, Maximo Caminero’s “action” @PAMM wasn’t considered as valid as Weiwei’s. Does ownership supervenes cultural patrimony? Is it public perception? i.e., Weiwei’s entitlement as political “enfant terrible” of Chinese’s contemporary art? Is there not a cultural-patrimony argument to be made against Weiwei? Recently, theorist Boris Groys suggests that art activism is a way out of what he calls “total aesthetization.” 

Is Weiwei’s “action” a form of art activism? Is it a blatant form of political anarchism? Or is it a bombastic bluff?

Panelists: Nina Johnson Milewski (Gallery Diet), Babacar M'Bow (director of MOCA), Maximo Caminero (artist). 


Monday, October 13, 2014

Boris Groys: In times of total aestheticization art is useless, so, become an art activist

aLfRedO tRifF

Professor Boris Groys' warm defense of art activism for e-flux. 
The phenomenon of art activism is central to our time because it is a new phenomenon—quite different from the phenomenon of critical art that became familiar to us during recent decades. Art activists do not want to merely criticize the art system or the general political and social conditions under which this system functions. Rather, they want to change these conditions by means of art—not so much inside the art system but outside it, in reality itself. 
The sentence is red is the kind one tries to avoid writing (if one can). "central" and "new" are as close as day and night.

Art activism has gotten a lot of rap from curators recently. Why? In times of political crisis it can be arthoodicated as art's next great white hope. This is precisely Groys' thesis. He tries hard: this is a long piece with interesting detours here and there. The general argument could be sketched as a simple syllogism:

1- things need to be changed. 2- activists like to change things, 3-artists can be also activists, so, art activists can change things.

... but some artists could care less for activism and surely some activists don't particularly care for art.
Art activists try to change living conditions in economically underdeveloped areas, raise ecological concerns, offer access to culture and education for the populations of poor countries and regions, attract attention to the plight of illegal immigrants, improve the conditions of people working in art institutions, and so forth. 
Commendable paragraph, but see that it really belongs in the activist department.

(Groys' "useful"/"useless" gaffe)

Let's move to Groys' art department:
Art activists do want to be useful, to change the world, to make the world a better place—but at the same time, they do not want to cease being artists. And this is the point where theoretical, political, and even purely practical problems arise. 
Be "useful"? How lame. From the paragraph one gets this implication that artists cannot "change the world," but Groys doesn't make it look as if he actually believes it. The idea is to present it as a received misconception:
In our society, art is traditionally seen as useless. So it seems that this quasi-ontological uselessness infects art activism and dooms it to failure. At the same time, art is seen as ultimately celebrating and aestheticizing the status quo—and thus undermining our will to change it.
Whose "tradition"? Modernity? If this was true, why is art so important for the pre- and post-revolutionary european nobility (and ruling classes of early Twentieth Century?)

1- As per Groys' "quasi-ontological" point (in red) above, a reference to Kantian aesthetics, is as obscure as Xenu. Kant's hypothesis is not about art being "useless" but purposeless.

2- This characterization of art as "useless" makes me think of an old reductive reading of Marx's base/superstructure hierarchy in his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, i.e.,  art, religion, etc, are simply byproducts of any society's economic base.

3- What celebrates the status quo is not art, but the art market.

((what definition of "useless" Groys refers to, we'll never know))

4- How about this oversimplified presentation of French aesthetics?
Our contemporary notion of art and art aestheticization has its roots in the French Revolution—in the decisions that were made by the French revolutionary government concerning the objects that this government inherited from the Old Regime.
If Groys is right, what to make of Diderot's pre-revolutionary critical writings from 1759-1769 contra French rococo? or Jean Baptiste du Bos' highly influential treatise attempting to grasp the entire enterprise of Western art? Groys assumes he can "cut" history's continuum with a theorist knife, as if historic causation begins at the moment of the cut.

 And he needs a "clean" cut circa 1789, if his "aestheticization" is to have a revolutionary flavor to it.
There is no doubt that we are living in a time of total aestheticization. This fact is often interpreted as a sign that we have reached a state after the end of history, or a state of total exhaustion.
Indeed, there's exhaustion (of over-theorizing!).

And how will the feeble masses of the world get out of this "state of total exhaustion"?
Using the lessons of modern and contemporary art, we are able to totally aestheticize the world—i.e., to see it as being already a corpse—without being necessarily situated at the end of history or at the end of our vital forces. One can aestheticize the world—and at the same time act within it.
"Total aestheticization" is claptrap. Groys' Hegelian impulsion falls short of empirical evidence (theoretical meanderings can set the best theorist an unexpected trap).

What jumps for attention here is how theoretically convenient it is for Groys to simultaneously totalize and exceptionalize.

I'm sorry to spoil professor Groys' show:  One doesn't pretend to "change the world" by making art installations and then hoping to get collected by the very people you condemn or by cheering the art-troop base of curators and artists (who else reads e-flux? the sans-papiers? Wall street investors?).

Groys' exhortation is as bland as farmed tilapia.

Which brings me to the beginning: if art is useless why are global billionaires running to Art Basel?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

quentin meillassoux's dicey theocracy

aLfrEdo tRifF

i found this sentence is an essay entitled "Potentiality and Virtuality," by french philosopher quentin meillassoux*:
... It is possible rationally to envisage that the constants (of nature) could effectively change for no reason whatsoever.
rationally? sure, but not everything that is rational needs to be possible. anyhow,

meillassoux is referring to david hume's so-called "problem,"i.e., our knowledge of contingent truths can only be grounded in our experience, but the principle of the uniformity of nature is buttressed in by inductive evidence, and the only way to justify our inductive apparatus rests on empty redundant uniformity: things have been this way so far. once you free coercion from necessity, anything can happen. meillassoux is excited with the prospect: "(it) leads us to envisage a contingency so radical that it would incorporate all the conceivable futures of the present laws." basically, anything can happen in the next 5 hours.    

so, meillassoux 1- presents his view of hume's problem, (above, in red) which amounts to dropping real necessity in favor of logical necessity. 2- leibniz's Principle of Sufficient Reason is turned upside down, vacated of its "metaphysical exigency of persistence." instead of the principle offering the best reason for the actual world, it only plays by the rules of logical possibilities (in leibnizian: anything is possible, provided that is not self-contradictory).

next, meillassoux uses the mallarmean metaphor coup de dés, to suggest that universal laws are equivalent to a loaded universal die (the implication is that laws obey a "hidden necessity"). suppose a set of possibilities where a throw of a die settles the issue: "face" means that laws are contingent. since the result is always the same, the die must be loaded. then, he uses cantor's theorem to suggest that there is no way to choose from a supposed set of stable constants vs. a set of contingencies.

there are two options: 1- a weak version, that is unable to demonstrate real necessity but that such presupposition of necessity is of no use to support the stability of the world. 2- a strong speculative version that maintains the contingency of such laws. this meillassoux calls the NON-ALL. 

how does it work?

axiomatically! but this is not enough. you cannot do science with deduction alone, induction is essential for scientific hypotheses, which is already limited (rationally) from meillassoux's doxa.

meillassoux is calling the shots (like a theós) positing what he refers to as "detotalizing the possible" or "... liberating time from all legal subordination" whatever that means.

from these super-decisions we get "potentiality," i.e., "non-actualized cases of an indexed set of possibilities under the condition of a given law" and "virtuality, " i.e., "the property of every set of cases of emerging within a becoming which is not dominated by any pre-constituted totality of possibles." **

big words, posited with theocratic authority (all, in the name of conceivability).

but wait, laws don't change every instant.

why not? according to meillassoux, if laws don't change capriciously, this is a proof that "the persistence of the universe seems consequentially to break all laws of probability."

is this kosher?

leibniz again: probabilities don't happen in a vacuum. probabilities are in the universe, not outside it.

if physical laws seem permanent it is because permanence (i.e., order, centrality, objectivity, explanation, prediction, necessity or counterfactuality) is also a condition of this set of ALL probabilities.

as alfred whitehead tried so hard to argue against hume, maybe the reason there is such a persistence in things is a proof of at least one law: causation.

true, leibniz's Principle of Sufficient Reason has been attacked in numerous ways, which we cannot explain here.

meillasoux wants the principle to support the "logical exigency of consistency."

in other words, logical possibility. so, the only support of causality in philosophy is reason. but this deflationary view of reality leaves us frailly svelte: reason and only reason.

what is real if reality cannot limit reason in any way?

here is another meillassouxianism: "The refusal of the Principle of Sufficient Reason is not a refusal of reason, but the discovery of the power of chaos." but what is chaos exactly? a definition of chaos appears in After Finitude, p. 64: "... nothing would seem impossible, not even unthinkable." meillassoux is sort of going back to the cartesian mistake on conceivability, i.e., everything that is conceivable is possible (by the way, meillassoux has hinted at the idea of creation ex nihilo).

are there any limits against this meillassouxian futuristic chaos?

i propose a few prospects: noether’s theorem, pauli’s exclusion principle, einstein’s relativity, lorentz transformations.

none of which may be of interest for meillassoux; he has hinted at a devaluation of the empirical sciences a style of neo-rationalism also proposed by his teacher badiou.
The persistence of the laws of the universe seems consequently to break all laws of probability: for if the laws are effectively contingent, it seems that they must frequently manifest such contingencies.
i take meillassoux coup de dés to suggest that there is a first throw all throws have to measure against, i.e., the big bang.

let's take an alternative route: suppose that in 2514 water turns into waTTer (i.e., a yellowish piss-like liquid that needs to be purified for human use). the bizarre shift brings the world economy to the brink of collapse. suddenly, in 2516 it all goes back to pre-waTTer status: h20! since the w-shift (as they call it) happens every two years, physicists suddenly make room for hypotheses in super-string theory, accommodating w-shift as so farhidden properties in dark matter, which by now are quite paradigmatic (this is more or less goodman's "grue" paradox).

(to be continued)

* laws are connected with lots of other things, such as counterfactual conditionals, causality, generality and necessity, etc. first, a law cannot be just a regularity because some regularities are accidental. so, whether something is a law cannot be an feature of it. rather, something is a law when it is part of a systematic account of the world. laws must be comprehensive, not detached members, dangling alone, unrelated to the rest of the laws. systematicity points to elegance, order, universality, centrality, objectivity, explanation and prediction, necessity or counterfactuality. ** are you a humean? then your universe is composed of discrete events, which are not connected to one another. imagine we cut a sausage into endless discrete bits. a consequence is that the idea of necessity is in the head. how? force of habit. on the other hand, science is only interested in phenomena. this means that science is interested in regularities of observable phenomena. the humean retorts that there are no laws behind the regularities. from meillassoux's essay, one gathers he agrees with hume that the fact that there are no necessary connections imply there are no laws.

Friday, September 19, 2014

the facebookian oxymoron: how to avoid self-surveillance

social media self-surveillance, 
mixed economy of uncontrolled data release, 
meta-techniques of analysis, display and presentation, 
a new form of secrecy?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

have you met the facebookian?

aLfReDo tRifF

did you know about this facebook experiment?
But the new era has brought some controversy with it. Professor Hancock was a co-author of the Facebook study in which the social network quietly manipulated the news feeds of nearly 700,000 people to learn how the changes affected their emotions. When the research was published in June, the outrage was immediate.
here's the study.
In an academic paper published in conjunction with two university researchers, the company reported that, for one week in January 2012, it had altered the number of positive and negative posts in the news feeds of 689,003 randomly selected users to see what effect the changes had on the tone of the posts the recipients then wrote.
the findings? 
(...) moods were contagious. The people who saw more positive posts responded by writing more positive posts. Similarly, seeing more negative content prompted the viewers to be more negative in their own posts.
this is nothing new. ortega y gasset makes a ditto point in his 1930 socio-political treatise revolt of the masses.

to simplify it for our epoch, let's introduce the facebookian, a new social species. paraphrasing ortega-gasset:
...his/her perfection is not substantial to himself/herself, he/she has a fictitious character... that's why he/she needs of others, seeking in them the confirmation of the idea he/she has of him/herself.
facebookians, in so far as they dwell the facebook/bubble, lack purpose, they --how to put it?-- drift along, which means their interaction emerges as massive thumbs-up enthused threadings, easily teased with whatever gewgwas. facebookians are average but insist in having their opinions considered. however, they're generally unwilling to accept the presumptions that underlie the marketplace of opinions.

their cogitations are like word-appetites.

let's add this caveat: not all facebook users are facebookians. some may use the platform to serve particular interests and resist (even subvert) its intended flow (but even this notion can be slippery).

don't take ortega as putting down facebookians' intellectual abilities, they are not simpleminded at all!
he/she has more intellectual capacity than in any previous epoch, but that capacity works for little, for in reality, they simply close in and refuse to use it. only he/she is capable of putting together such mix of banalities with an audacity that can only be described as ingenuous... it's not that the average person thinks to be exceptional, on the contrary, the average person imposes his/her right to averageness to all! (chapter 8)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

work hard to win the front, just before losing the rear

aLfRedO tRifF

i have to admit i'm a fan of yves klein's art. there is something unique about his messed up theology, his outlandish cerebration, his ability to reinterpret, reinvent and re-appropriate avant-garde mannerisms that's very telling of his time.

i also enjoy klein's perverted sense of humor. true, he may have pursued his art with an obliged dose of [avant-garde] "seriousness", but one would surely miss a great deal in klein's "actions" if one is looking for a pellucid correspondence between what he said and what he did -or what he did and what he meant.

so, i was baffled when, in recapping some of the existing literature on klein, i found benjamin buchloh's Klein and Poses, an article for artforum international (Vol. 33, Summer 1995). buchloh’s tone betrays ideological ressentiment:
The property claim and the administrative, legalistic approach are a measure both of his mania and of the misery to which the neo-avant-garde would advance in postwar Paris (and by no means would he be the last in the decrepitude of his art).
according to buchloh, there is a moment, after WWII, when the avant-garde could've (as in the munchausen paradox) pulled itself from its straps out of the swamp of late-capitalism: the neo-avant-garde was born!

buchloh's discussion conflates “ought” with “is” in matters of art-making. art history (as well as capitalism) has its black swans, no matter how much one milks that 20th century epochal seism known as the sacred cow, revising and reinterpreting it, in order to accommodate one's ideological paraphernalia. 
The dubious distinction of having claimed a natural phenomenon (the blue chroma of pigment, or of the sky) as private property, a brand name, and of legalizing this preposterous pretense by a signature or by the quest for a patent, is Yves Klein's. The property claim and the administrative, legalistic approach are a measure both of his mania and of the misery to which the neo-avant-garde would advance in postwar Paris (and by no means would he be the last in the decrepitude of his art). 
precisely! "inventing" certain chroma of blue pigment makes perfect sense in post world-war-two, when capitalism and technology was being driven by a new manic administrative, legalistic approach and incipient shortermism.

klein's gesture is akin to manzoni's merda d'artista:

As with Marcel Duchamp (whose legacy Klein pilfered freely, with no concern at all for the property rights of earlier avant-garde paradigms), it has sometimes been difficult not to resent the messenger for delivering the message (…) While Duchamp announced his decision to abandon art in favor of chess only late in his career (while clandestinely elaborating one of the most important works of the postwar period), Klein would from the start insist on an alternate public persona, identifying himself with a non-artistic activity.
who? duchamp, Mr. appropriator, inventor of the objet trouvé?

in which art-constitution (of a development as manifold as the avant-garde) is buchloh's "breach of morals" stipulated? 

buchloh's "who-copies-who" account reminds me of the derrida/searle debate, over the nature of "serious/unserious." so, duchamp's public-"serious" announcement of abandoning art for chess gets the german critic's blessing; not so klein's "unserious" announcement after -as buchloh puts it- "his plans for a career in judo failed."

& who cares?

i do however agree with buchloh here:
Klein is the quintessential disenfranchised European male artist of the postwar period: images of him (accompanied by a pompier) searing a "virgin" canvas with a giant gas-torch, or harassing nude models as they smear themselves with blue paint to become "living brushes" before a gaping audience, secure him a place in an art history of protagonists desperate to resuscitate the lost tools and torments of artistic virility.
and here:
For they had in mind the needs of a specific segment of France's postwar reconstruction culture: the art world's elitist bourgeois consumers, whose political leanings seem to have oscillated between a nostalgic royalism and authoritarian, antidemocratic impulses eventually absorbed by Gaullism.
and isn't "oscillation," the art-making predicament par excellence during much of the twentieth and early-twenty-first century?

i get it, buchloh is mad about klein's style of "not pretending to pretend."
Klein's ostentatious association with Rosicrucianism and with the writings of its 19th-century popularizer Max Heindel (which he acquired by mail order from the Rosicrucian headquarters in Oceanside, California), as well as his subsequent induction as a knight in the order of Saint Sebastian, have an analogue in Beuys' alignment with the anthropasophy of Rudolf Steiner.
as if symbolists, expressionists and other twentieth-century avant-garde avatars (like mondrian) did not?
Klein as haunted by a paranoid fear of the predecessor: wherever evidence of continuity or contact between his work and some earlier example was irrefutable, he effaced his traces, renewing claims for originality and authenticity that manifestly contradicted the actual conditions of his painterly practice as production and as design. Duchamp's rotoreliefs, Jean Dubuffet's eponges, Man Ray's rayo-grams, Ellsworth Kelly's monochrome paintings, Robert Rauschenberg's blueprints from 1949-51, all resurface in Klein’s opus, covered in a homogenizing layer of IKB, and with an average delay of about ten years. 

buchloh's detailed account of klein's ethical/aesthetic violations misses the point. without "sampling" there would be no hip-hop (are the DJ's from the hood to blame for recording companies' ponderous "legalistic and administrative" system?).

buchloh, the rigorous and superb critic of the neo-avantgarde cannot understand that art is an endless playing of inventions and reinventions, appropriations and re-appropriations?
Klein’s shrill claims of originality are almost a standard condition in the responses of the neo-avant-garde to its predecessors. He is almost unique, however, in his capacity to reinvest strategies and concepts of the historical avant-garde, from Duchamp through Ray to Rodchenko, with irrationality, a dimension of metaphysics, and a rabidly affirmed claim for the validity of cult and ritual, be it that of the genius artist or of the spectatorial experience.
what is to be learned from klein according to buchloh?
Among the lessons to be learned from Klein is that not a single semiotic “revolution” of the avant-garde - neither the readymade nor the monochrome, neither non-compositionality nor the indexical procedure - is secured by its own radicality, or protected against subsequent operations of recoding and reinvestment with myth. 

paradoxically, the german critic now gives klein more than any poseur would've  expected: how can a charlatan teach the avant-garde on revolutionary issues such as "radicality" or "reinvestment of myths"?

buchloh's veiled ambivalence with klein only reveals ressentiment, which at this point can be defined as theory's pyrrhic drive:

work hard to win the front, just before losing the rear

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fountain is, and is not, a urinal

alfRedO tRifF

I've been reading Robert Hopkins' essay "Speaking Through Silence," on conceptual art.* I take issue with this paragraph:
While I might appreciate, say the audacity of Fountain on seeing it, my experience is not altered by my awareness of that feature. The urinal looks the same whether I'm engaging with audacity or not (...) The idea is that for other art, sense experience plays the role of medium of appreciation; whereas for conceptual art it provides nothing more than means of access to the work.
I take the last sentence. So, according to Hopkins, whereas my sense of horror is the medium of appreciation to Caravaggio's Judith Beheading Holofernes,

 the same feeling cannot apply in the case of Puto (2007), by Michael Rees.

Why is the "means to access(ing)" my horror NOT a sort of "medium of appreciation"?

Hopkins obsesses too much with the urinal and overlooks Fountain. He takes them to be exactly the same. They are not: Fountain is, and is not, a urinal.

My statement in red is not a logical proposition. Take it as aesthetic amplification. Ready-making automatically turns something into something else.** This act of investing instant "artness" (on urinals, or anything for that matter) is described in this letter sent to the Blind Man by Duchamp himself:
Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under a new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object.
For Hopkins Caravaggio makes you feel more, instead of just, differently than Duchamp.*** For example, in A Propos of Readymades, Duchamp's goes for elimination of the experience (i.e., the dissolving of aesthetic sense):
(...) I want very much to establish is that the choice of these "readymades" was never dictated by aesthetic delectation.This choice was based on a reaction of visual indifference with at the same time a total absence of good or bad taste – in fact a complete anesthesia.
I don't know about Hopkins, but I when see Fountain I don't see a urinal. I see instant coffee. 
*"Speaking Through Silence," in Philosophy and Conceptual Art, by Peter Goldie, Elisabeth Schellekens (Oxford University Press: 2007). p. 56-58. **Remember Russell's famous 5 Minutes Hypothesis?  ***Keep in mind that different styles may demand different analyses. The ways in which we apprehend objects though conceptual cerebration is different from that of more traditional forms of representation. Piero Manzoni's Merda d'artista is not apprehended in the same way than Monet's Déjeuner sur l'herbe.

Monday, August 18, 2014

why pamela druckerman (a native miamian) still deserves credit for her inane article about miami for the new york times

alFreDo tRiFf

from the ny times, written by ex-patriate miamian pamela druckerman:
MIAMI even has a homegrown dialect. Young Latinos — regardless of whether they even know Spanish — speak English with a Spanish twang. To non-Miamians, they sound like extremely fluent immigrants. Phillip M. Carter, a linguist at Florida International University, says that when young born-and-bred Miamians visit the rest of America, or even Boca Raton, people often ask them what country they’re from. “Miami English” is also proof that a city can be international but not cosmopolitan. People typically don’t realize they’re speaking a dialect unless they leave Miami, Mr. Carter says.
are young latinos to blame for speaking english with a spanish twang?

does druckerman know that english is considered a pluricentric language. i.e., language and ethnic identity are essentially divergent? if so, english is more like a heterogeneous socio-phonetic universe than a prosodic safe-zone.

what is the english language if not an amazing pottage of germanic, french, latin, greek, and whatnot?

and what, if not ethnic bias, would predispose an american from elsewhere, listening to a native miamian speaker, to assume that she/he is from a different country?

druckerman is happy to cash in her appeal to authority by a linguist at FIU by the name of phillip carter, whose pseudo-academic dictum is as thin as air:
“Miami English” is also proof that a city can be international but not cosmopolitan.
here's the meaning of "cosmopolitan":
1. Pertinent or common to the whole world: an issue of cosmopolitan import.
2. Having constituent elements from all over the world or from many different parts of the world: the ancient and cosmopolitan societies of Syria and Egypt.
3. So sophisticated as to be at home in all parts of the world or conversant with many spheres of interest: a cosmopolitan traveler.
would you expect modigliani, kandinsky, rilke, max ernst & joyce (all foreigners) to speak french in the 1920's with a piccardian twang?

oh, but 1920's paris is the paradigm of "cosmopolitan."

what is this distinction between "international" and "cosmopolitan" that doesn't beg the question on ethnicity?

and with "cosmopolitan" and "international" being so close, why is miami still not "cosmopolitan"?

i bet druckerman favors definition #3 above: miami lacks sophistication.


at this point, druckerman offers a no-brainer: miami's inequality.
Most locals also don’t seem bothered that Miami is one of America’s most unequal cities, with lots of very poor people living close to rich ones. Miami’s have-nots are easy to ignore, since — if they’re not cleaning your house or parking your car — you just drive past them.
it's clear that in most cosmopolitan cities, rich and poor live pretty close. next, i'll gloss over druckerman's unwarranted inferences & vapid satire. however, she has a point: miami has lots of poor people.

but that nothing to do with cosmopolitanism. for instance, oxnard-thousand oaks-ventura, california, population 822,000 (with a 72% of well-to-do whites), is the sixth most affluent city in america, but does that make it a cosmopolitan destination?

since druckerman cannot successfully establish the rich/cosmopolitan connection, she is left with an even worse conjecture:

miami is --generally-- stupid.
And while there are some thinkers scattered around town, Miami is overrun with lawyers, jewelry designers and personal trainers, all trying to sell services to one another.
while druckerman conveys very little cogitation in her article, we should marvel that this native miamian can write such a goofy piece for one of the best world's newspapers (and get away with it).

go girl! 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

if being a young farmer in america makes no sense, my diet automatically becomes a political issue


being a young farmer in america makes no sense. that's bern smith's conclusion in his article for the nytimes. 
The dirty secret of the food movement is that the much-celebrated small-scale farmer isn’t making a living. After the tools are put away, we head out to second and third jobs to keep our farms afloat. Ninety-one percent of all farm households rely on multiple sources of income.
a sobering statistics. when over dinner, people praise the merits of organic or slow food, rarely the discussion veers from the aesthetic merits & flavor & nutrition of the food to who grows the food.  
On top of that, we’re now competing with nonprofit farms. Released from the yoke of profit, farms like Growing Power in Milwaukee and Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., are doing some of the most innovative work in the farming sector, but neither is subject to the iron heel of the free market. Growing Power alone received over $6.8 million in grants over the last five years, and its produce is now available in Walgreens stores. Stone Barns was started with a $30 million grant from David Rockefeller. How’s a young farmer to compete with that?
we're generally blind to our food provenance. is it ignorance, bad faith or both?
... in urban areas, supporting your local farmer may actually mean buying produce from former hedge fund managers or tax lawyers who have quit the rat race to get some dirt under their fingernails. We call it hobby farming, where recreational “farms” are allowed to sell their products at the same farmers’ markets as commercial farms. It’s all about property taxes, not food production. As Forbes magazine suggested to its readers in its 2012 Investment Guide, now is the time to “farm like a billionaire,” because even a small amount of retail sales — as low as $500 a year in New Jersey — allows landowners to harvest more tax breaks than tomatoes.
(forbes' suggestion makes my skin crawl)
It’s not the food movement’s fault that we’ve been left behind. It has turned food into one of the defining issues of our generation. But now it’s time for farmers to shape our own agenda. We need to fight for loan forgiveness for college grads who pursue agriculture; programs to turn farmers from tenants into landowners; guaranteed affordable health care; and shifting subsidies from factory farms to family farms. 
if what smith discusses is true, we have a big problem. we need not just good food, but more sustainable farming. food production should not destroy the very planet we're trying to feed. of course we understand the adaptability of the market, a three-pointed vector that includes agribusiness, factory farming & the so called intensive crop farming (and the problems associated with water conservation, pollution, food prices, government subsidies, etc).

smith's article hits me with its factual force. i feel i've lowered my guard & once you lower your guard you become an accomplice (incidentally, complicity is more widespread than we're prepared to accept: see it as a befuddlement between seudo-enlightenment and social anomie).

what's the meaning of "slow" or "organic" if it's produced from the top down & financed by big farm?

in the last few years our food has gotten better, people are changing eating habits, but the food message is coming from the wrong source. 90% of independent farmers don't have the means to underwrite the the food publicity ads we urbanites read.

this is the picture: america's urban poor are hooked to junk, which leaves the dwindling middle class and the rich full access to "better" food (let's assume now that some of our better food comes from big farm and their interests posing as "sustainable"). by the way, the mantra that better food is not necessarily more expensive is a discussion the poor will not understand as long as they are socially conditioned to eat poorly. the asymmetry in food consumption reflects the chronic dysfunction of our system.

so, i'm prepared to connect two apparently disparate vectors: if being a young farmer in america makes no sense anymore, my diet automatically becomes a political issue.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

coming back to ugliness (that underrated aesthetic currency)

aLfRedO tRifF

in our last post we explored the possibility that ugliness has been left out from aesthetic discourse.

then, we find this source:

jiang feng (above) was very unhappy with his offspring's facial features. he suspected foul play, but a DNA test proved him wrong. then, he found out that his wife had spent $100,000 in plastic surgery on her face before they had met. jiang divorced her and sued her on the ground of false pretenses.

(i don't care if the story is a fabrication. imagine it as a thought experiment).

how about jian's offspring? are they to blame for expressing their parents' genotype? are these kinds as "ugly" as jiang paints them to be?

is "ugly" essential or conventional?

one could imagine jiang's grown up daughter protesting his dad's aesthetic dogmatism: dad why am i responsible that your trait for "pretty" was recessive? 

wittgenstein's idea of Familienähnlichkeit makes "ugly" conventional. in jiang's case it's fifty-fifty genetic. phenotypic resemblance is like a lotto (there are plenty of examples of "pretty" offspring from "ugly" parents).

publicity campaign for arno, brazil

wittgenstein seems to suggest that "ugly" & "pretty" are just family types. they acquire aesthetic relevance within their type recurrence and accepted conventions. comparing the two, "ugly" ends up as a deviation from accepted conventions.

indeed, but the problem is that "deviation" (a custom established by usage) already begs the question on convention! yeah, in the end "pretty" wins. an expedite solution, but in this case, i'm not satisfied with wittgenstein's answer (the pretty/ugly struggle needs to happen at a more essential level).

it goes way back to plato, the master of form: in the symposium, socrates suggests that eros & ugliness don't get along (aischron is translated as shameless). can "ugly" be reformed?

german philosopher karl rosenkranz, a disciple of hegel, has a whole treatise devoted to hässlichen.

for rosenkranz, ugliness can be: 1- a lack of form (what beauty optimally possesses), 2- an incorrect representation: i.e., illness, deformation, etc, 3- as a moral lack of self-determination or freedom, i.e., (carrying the burden of formal dependence). beauty is independent of ugliness, but not the other way around. (as a result, ugliness generally depends on beauty). aesthetics has made ugliness a slave of beauty.

how could "ugly" become nonradically itself? by giving up its past, i.e., the very notes that stereotype its form. and here one can really fall for a travesty, that is to say, ugly becoming non-ugly.     

what if ugliness' -so-called- form was an axiological fraud?
the ugly duchess, quentin massys 1525-30
above renaissance painter quentin massys' alleged portrait of margaret countess of tyrol, the ugly duchess, in all its ugly-glory. massys revels in the duchess' purported facial unpleasingness (she probably suffered from paget's disease).

rosenkranz comes to the rescue:

can the duchess break free from ugliness' bondage? only by giving up its familial nexus with beauty. 

but how?

(to be continued)

Monday, July 28, 2014

when it comes to damien hirst julian spalding is all over the place

alFrEDo tRiFf

critic julian spalding drops the bomb in a recent article for the dailymail. 
 I had dared to say what many of my colleagues secretly think: Con Art, the so-called Conceptual Art movement, is little more than a money-spinning con, rather like the emperor’s new clothes. That goes for the ‘artist’ Carl Andre who sold a stack of bricks for £2,297. It goes for Marcel Duchamp, whose old ‘urinal’ was bought by the Tate for $500,000 (about £300,000). It goes for Tracey Emin’s grubby old bed. And, of course, it goes for Damien Hirst.
against-the-grainess is always stimulating. but to prove that con art = conceptual art? 

dumping hirst with duchamp implicitly demotes duchamp at the level of a "con," but conning conceptual art (i.e., that the concept behind the object is more important than its instantiation) is not, by far, enough to convince anybody. i don't know where spalding wants to go with this, but since conceptual art goes back to early 20th century and has three incarnations, one would assume he should discuss (and provide) a historical argument (none of it here).

never mind, with the audience stunned at the critic's courageous declaration, it's time to his thesis:
But why is it art? ‘Because it makes you feel something.’ When I asked what it makes them feel, most referred me to the guidebook explanations. What quickly becomes apparent is that it is like a religion.
(i have my doubts with "feel" as a reliable aesthetic broker) the reason is that different people normally offer different responses to a given stimulus. on the other hand, as vague as it is, explaining one's feelings is a start. do i seem a little impatient? let's give spalding his time.
I found out what propels people, many of whom rarely visit art galleries, to queue for 60 minutes for this marketing circus. ‘Is it art?’ I asked and pointed at a shark preserved in formaldehyde, a wall of dots, and flies feasting on a dead cow’s head.
"i found out what propels people"?

when i read this i think of actual empirical evidence. do you picture spalding polling, i.e., taking the time to furnish each person in line to see hirst's exhibit with a scripted quiz and then proceed to tabulate the responses for this article?
Everyone is strangely committed to the cult of Hirst – but few can articulate what is fantastic about a soggy, sad-looking shark, preserved in a vitrine with all the menace of a sagging sofa. 
spalding's ad hominem is not doing the best job at explaining why hirst' "art" is really not art. even if vitriol has its place -19th century french and british critics like barbey d'aurevilly & wilde used it sparingly. yet, the critic should (for the sake of his own argument) try to keep his/her bias in check.    

Created by a Turner Prize winning artist, the dead tiger shark, grandly named The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living, should be one of the great artworks of the last century, yet most visitors spent less than three seconds looking at it. 
and so many visitors could equally -totally- ignore this mondrian,

or this rothko,

which doesn't suggest that there's a problem with the paintings -nor for that matter with the people's lack of attention. people go to museums for different reasons: to see and be seen, to partake of so called culture, to validate their taste or distaste, etc. standing in front of a painting is as fuzzy as a politician averring his honesty.

in fact, with a lot of modern art, one must develop predispositions to understand what one sees. for instance, one may need different abstract glasses for the mondrian and the rothko above (they belong in different styles).

let's come back to spalding:
Traditionally, in exhibitions of ‘real art’, visitors cluster around the paintings or sculptures while the rest of the gallery is empty. The Hirst exhibition is another matter. People mill about like unmagnetised iron filings. Why? Nobody is engaged. One enormous spot painting is half hidden behind a formaldehyde-preserved cow. Smaller vitrines containing skulls are dumped on the floor at random.  
once again, betting on people's "attention" to discuss aesthetic evaluations is -at best- chancy.
But it is the rotting cow head, called A Thousand Years, that I can’t bear to look at. Blood trickles out of it, swarms of flies feast on it and the horrific stench is pumped into the gallery. ‘It’s very macabre,’ says Craig Thurlby. What an understatement. ‘I interpret the flies and cow as life and death, so I guess it has meaning and stuff,’ says Craig.
is spalding not begging the question of whether hirst is a con artist by appealing to his own feelings to establish the very conclusion he's set out to prove? it's like saying: "the reason i hate your work is because of the way it makes me feel."

in parenthesis, why should one eschew the macabre?

can you smell the rot & hear the hellish quavering inside this boschian nightmare?

i expected much more. i've read spalding's the eclipse of art and found his arguments against contemporary art quite interesting. here he's just cerebrating in circles.

at some point, the critic explores a promising angle:
I’ve long believed him to be a money-hungry charlatan but as the richest living artist at the age of 46, he must be doing something right.
then he misses his opportunity with this platitude:
It was at Goldsmiths that he met Charles Saatchi, who would propel him from chancer to millionaire before they parted company in 2003 after a disagreement over the way Hirst’s works were staged at Saatchi’s gallery. Around that time, Hirst admitted: ‘I can’t wait to get into a position to make really bad art and get away with it.’ Which raises the question: is he consciously playing us for fools?
what's spalding's point really? we get a philippic against conceptual art buttressed on what? "feel"? people's attention? the macabre?

spalding is all over the place & hirst is just a cog in the machine!

(to be continued)

Friday, July 11, 2014

"culture is like oil in the ground" -- stefan simchowitz

image, via vulture


i find this article on art space, on collector, producer, maverick & arthoodicator stefan simchowitz.

remember, what we're after here is oil in the ground. we'll find it soon.

as with all myths, there is always a "before" and "after"

(...) you had the emergence of small galleries, expert writers and critics, academics, curators, and small groups of artists—many of them emigrants escaping the bleak landscape of Europe—that led to the expansion of the art business, both demographically and geographically. And over a 60-year period, as dealers like Leo Castelli guided artists’ prices to grow in a linear fashion, art was given its value by the people who wrote about it in journals and more traditional media.
Then the Internet occurs, you have the browser, and in 2006 you have the emergence of what is essentially the mainstream social media, and you begin to see the distribution of imagery and artworks begin to expand online at the same time that you see the rapid expansion of the art business, because essentially there’s much less friction for the spectator to experience the artwork. More people see the art, more people can consume it and engage with it, and, more importantly, many more people have started taking and sharing photos and describing what they’re seeing.
"when the internet occurs, you have the browser." could one assume a more blatant reduction? you smell simchowitz's spielerisch rap from afar. but let's not fight over peanuts. art has become a "cultural spectacle" not because of the internet, but because of the market. the market is the source, the internet one of its conduits.

here's the proof, coming from "the source":
I think that when it comes to art and culture, as opposed to having singular authorities that define it, you have what you could call amplification nodules—people who for some reason have cultural integrity and a following that they address through a social-media structure. And it’s not so much about speaking to a mass of 10,000 people, but rather being followed by key decision-makers, players, and collectors in that network.
"amplification nodules," "key decision makers, players, in that network"? now simchowitz just contradicted his not-so-naive initial point on the power of Internet & social media's massive aggregations in shaping contemporary art's reception. do "amplification nodules" get amplified through social media or in the private innards of the system?

this is why simchowitz calls himself "cultural entrepreneur".

more importantly, will he be able to reverse his aporia? that is to say, convincing us that his denial, i,e.:
I think art advisory is very banal in that it generally simply involves someone who has access to several rich people and who, relative to those rich people, has slightly better taste.
is actually what happens.

as expected, now comes a deception disguised as know-how:
(...) there are a lot of people who are trying to do what I am doing because I have done very well, and there are outsized returns. But people who think, “Gee, I can buy a piece of art from a gallery for $5,000 and sell it for $25,000” don’t understand the complexity of thinking necessary to get to this position. It requires research, knowledge of the canon, knowledge of the past.
really? "the canon,"? "the past"?

could there be something else, for doing "very well"?
I’ve managed to build an extraordinary following in the art market that is very unique. I work with Sean Parker, Steve Tisch, Orlando Bloom, Guy Starkman, Enrique Murciano, and Rob Rankin, who is the head of investment banking at Deutsche Bank worldwide.  I think you need a very widely distributed clientele, with everyone from the very rich to people who need to stretch to buy an artwork. 
c'mon stefan. you are a very successful flipper. you have enviable market connections. in fact, by part-to-whole mereological extension, you are the market!  

which is why you can render this canonical definition of culture as (gosh, could one think of a more obviously non-renewable, non-biodiverse source than) petroleum?
You have to think of culture like it’s oil in the ground: it needs to be mined, refined, and it needs to be distributed.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

concerning nicholas powers' article for the indypendent: wrong! art "guidelines" suck

aLfRedO tRifF

critic, poet and professor nicholas powers writes for the indypendent about kara walker's A Subtlety, an imposing 40-foot tall sculpture made out of 80 tons of sugar! @ the soon-to-be-demolished Domino Sugar Refinery in williamsburg, brooklyn.

he opens with a critical salvo:
"You are recreating the very racism this art is supposed to critique," I yelled. The visitors lowered their cameras. Just seconds ago, they had been aiming their lenses at the sculpture of a 40-foot tall, nude black female sphinx. Many posed under its ass; some laughed and pointed at its vulva. As I watched their joking, my thoughts spun and I walked into the crowd, turned to face them and began yelling. It wasn’t my rage, it was our rage. In early June, I went to the exhibit. The anxiety increased when I saw the factory — in line, nearly everyone was white. The alarm rang louder.
powers feels these (white) folks were not getting it. by "it" i mean the idea, message, content, that walker's A Subtlety implies.
The "alarm" is a reflex most minorities have, it's a rising anxiety that signals you are surrounded by people too privileged to know they're hurting you. Or who would not care if they did. It can beep quietly.
point taken. what powers refers to rings true. he's right to feel upset. but things get more complicated when powers revises his own feelings:
Anger shot up my body like a hot thermometer. Face flushed, I walked to the Mammy sphinx. Couples posed in front of it, smiling as others took their photos. So here it was, an artwork about how Black people’s pain was transformed into money was a tourist attraction for them. A few weeks ago, I had gone to the 9/11 museum and no one, absolutely no one, posed for smiling pictures in front of the wreckage. 
if the science of psychology makes any sense, a feeling is a lingering response to a stimulus. if so, one should take into account that different contexts (artworks?) elicit different responses. how could powers prevent a person's misinterpretation? (& is not any mis-interpretation an interpretation?) more technical, but not less fitting, how could one accurately attribute a certain behavioral disposition to a supposed mental state?

i think a more "subtle" point is that walker's sculpture evinces asymptotic layers, which make for a variety of responses. for example, this mammy is actually white. what i'm saying is that walker "whitefaces" black, a daring inversion, which ultimately honors the piece's title. why does powers miss walker's conceptual "teasing"? another asymptotic layer is that in the space of analogical histories sweet/sugar plantations becomes bitter/slave trade --this latter analogy is observed by powers.

now it's time for history:
I caught the eye of the few people of color, we talked and shook our heads at the jokey antics of white visitors. We felt invisible, and our history was too. It stung us and we wanted to leave. I forced myself to go the backside of the statue and saw there what I expected to see, white visitors making obscene poses in front of the ass and vulva of the "Subtlety." A heavy sigh fell out me. "Don't they see that this is about rape?" I muttered as another visitor stuck out his tongue. What is the responsibility of the artist?
one thing is to "feel" invisible (i.e., not being considered present) and another to imply that that automatically renders one's whole history invisible. why does powers have to assume this self-centered, emotivist, conclusion? i can agree that the piece is about rape, but certainly it's not solely about rape. it can't be. this is an artwork (not a history of a people, which can only be partly, limitedly conveyed by the piece). and this mammy doesn't look defeated or miserable by her long, painful history. in fact, A Subtlety presents us with a riddle: for example, the mystery behind her hermetic & proud sensuality.

an artwork's meaning --by definition-- cannot be univocal, otherwise it wouldn't "mean" anymore. if meaning is transparent we wouldn't have to negotiate for consensus anymore, provide valid reasons, etc, which is precisely (luckily!) what powers does in his engaging piece.  

so, what's really going on?
Something snapped. I strode to the front, turned around and yelled at the crowd that when they objectify the sculpture’s sexual parts and pose in front of it like tourists they are recreating the very racism the art was supposed to critique. I yelled that this was our history and that many of us were angry and sad that it was a site of pornographic jokes. 
powers was right to feel angry at some stupid white people & what he did was even necessary. this is what good art is supposed to do, to elicit discussions --and learning.

now, what follows is baloney:
People are going to bring prejudices and racial entitlement into the space. Duh. Instead of challenging the racial power dynamics of white supremacy, Walker and Creative Time, in their naivety or arrogance, I don't know which, simply made the Domino Sugar Factory a safe place for it. Thanks for nothing, Ms. Walker!
"thanks for nothing ms. walker?" from rightful indignation, powers now -ironically- shifts to self-pity. in other words, not only he has "unveiled" walker's "intentions," but expects art to become a didactic medium to challenge (racial stereotypes?). the "walker & creative time" binity --as if they were a Co. is a despairing ad hominem. and why is walker to blame because some white folks (or some black people, let's not rule out that possibility, though powers didn't witness it) don't get it?

it gets worse:
(...) but the sad thing is that thousands of visitors are still seeing a sculpture that symbolizes the history of racial violence with no guidelines on how to interpret it. 
which "guidelines"? who would construct and provide such criteria? the sponsors? the curators? powers?

and what is the distance separating "guidelines" from, say, mild censorship, even zdhanovism?  

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

is ugliness a form?

aLfReDo tRifF

artist seth alverson, good find!

these are difficult, courageous, paintings. the subject matter is, how to put it? ugly.

precisely. and what's "ugly"?

"it just is" one would declare. & here's the redundancy. one resorts to this nugacious bit automatically. but we shouldn't treat ugliness like a fact. the depiction of a "deformed" hand doesn't refer to a fact.

still, it's a hand: "... the terminal part of the human arm located below the forearm, used for grasping and holding and consisting of the wrist, palm, four fingers, and an opposable thumb." or this: "... a prehensile, multi-fingered extremity located at the end of an arm or forelimb of primates such as humans, chimpanzees, monkeys, and lemurs." alverson's hand has six fingers.

polydactyly is defined as a congenital anomaly. but how anomalous is a condition that becomes regular? the wikipedia entry congenital disorder acknowledges: "most people have one or more minor physical anomalies if examined carefully." alverson's images waver between normal & abnormal.

below, alverson's painting of a face.
smashed face (2013)

we don't know if "smashed" is literal or dyslogistic. obviously, alverson's art dwells in the teratological, but smashed face is not really "smashed." methinks the title conveys alverson's own legerdemain. i.e., in the set of all "normal" faces, this one appears "as if" smashed (an important point if we want to understand ugliness, as if beauty and ugliness were structurally related).

the face above is not crushed by a blow --or accident. its wrinkled guise is less offensive and more incongruous, a ridiculous "soft" face (after a while you feel like kissing it). in that sense, alverson's smashed face is not "normal".

normality requires consensus, facts (generally) don't.

for the sake of argument, imagine smashed face as the norm in twin earth. what then? twin earth people's faces are all "smashed" & they don't have any problem with it. their "normal" is just at variance with ours on earth.  

kant analyzes ugliness in his aesthetic theory. i just want to present some quick ideas (the yellow is my interjection into kant's text).
In order to decide whether or not something is beautiful (ugly). we do not relate the representation by means of understanding to the object for cognition, but rather relate it by means of the imagination (perhaps combined with the understanding) to the subject and its feeling of pleasure or displeasure.  (CoJ, 203)
"by means of the imagination" already suggests that ugliness is not a fact, but this needs qualification. kant's exposition is quite nuanced. we should see his third critique as part of a larger project which includes his two previous critiques. when we say "this is ugly" we are not expressing a fact (i.e., ugliness is not epistemic), neither are we expressing a moral sentiment (i.e., "ugliness" cannot be subsumed under a moral concept such as "evil"). so, aesthetic pleasure consists in this attunement (Stimmung) between imagination & understanding.

when i call something ugly, i feel disgust? and believe my feeling can be justified, but my justification is not empirically irrevocable; someone else could feel something different and still claim she is right (this, according to kant, is structural to the judgment of taste). am i not implicitly appealing to a prejudging standard am not aware of? (this is a variation of the cultural relativist argument applied to taste). kant avoids the relativist pitfall by an interesting conceptual transaction: though judgments of taste are particular their reach appears universal.

(is the taste of clos de los 7 from mendoza, argentina, just a subjective property?)

besides, art can show something ugly in a beautiful light. how?
The art of sculpture, too, has excluded from its creations any direct presentation of ugly objects, since in its products art is almost confused with nature. Instead it has permitted [ugly objects] to be presented by an allegory -- e.g., death ([by] a beautiful genius) or a warlike spirit ([by] Mars) -- or by attributes that come across as likable, and hence has permitted them only to be presented indirectly and by means of an interpretation of reason rather than presented for a merely aesthetic power of judgment. (CoJ, 178)
as per the subject of disgust (in german, Ekel) oft associated with ugliness, kant explains:
(...) There is only one kind of ugliness that cannot be presented in conformity with nature without obliterating all aesthetic liking and hence artistic beauty: that ugliness which arouses disgust. For in that strange sensation, which rests on nothing but imagination, the object is presented as if it insisted, as it were, on our enjoying it even though that is just what we are forcefully resisting; and hence the artistic presentation of the object is no longer distinguished in our sensation from the nature of this object itself, so that it cannot possibly be considered beautiful.  (CoJ, 172)

the image above is ugly (beauty gets botched by exaggeration). is it disgusting?

((can too much of beauty become ugly?))

the shot above is not a painting. the subject appears as posing, though that's not crucial to save kant's point about "nature". art, according to kant must have "finality" (Zweckmäsigkeit). in #45 of CoJ, under the subtitle fine art is an art, so far as it has at the same time the appearance of being nature kant explains that art has the intention of producing something intended to be "accompanied by pleasure" (could it be accompanied by ugliness?). he takes pain to elucidate the interplay between art and nature:
... hence the finality in the product of fine art, intentional though it may be, must not have the appearance of being intentional, i.e., fine art must be clothed with the aspect of nature although we recognize it to be art.  
here's kant again (with a bit of my help in yellow):
If the object is presented as a product of art, and is as such to be declared beautiful (think ugly instead), then seeing that art always presupposes an end in the cause (and its causality) a thing of what the thing is intended to be must first of all be laid at its basis. (CoJ, 173).
the impression of finality (as form) on the faculty of cognition amounts to the very feeling of pleasure itself, the subject's cognitive activity is the "causality". of course, there's a lot more, only we don't have the time. this is just a sketch.

going back to the form

one would think that to understand ugliness we have to address beauty, or at least opposites in plato's theory of forms "ugliness" is a contrary to "beauty" in protagoras,

useless foot (2014)

is "ugly" a lesser beautiful form? do i need to understand beauty to apprehend ugliness? if X is non-beautiful, X doesn't have to be ugly (one doesn't necessarily contain the other).

christian theology doesn't admit of ugliness in heaven.

well, plato really never solved the riddle.