Is it the End of Art or the End of Critic Donald Kuspit?

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Is It The End of Art or the End of Critic Donald Kuspit?

By art critic Edward Goldman
Art Talk airs every Tuesday at 6:44pm on 89.9FM KCRW

There are always plenty of mediocre and, sometimes, simply bad exhibitions but it's an art critic's job hazard to see both. Usually I am quite capable of shaking off the--pardon the mixed metaphor--unpleasant aftertaste of having seen such an exhibition. But this time I encountered one so bad that it hurts. The exhibition, "California New Old Masters," was curated by Donald Kuspit, the well-known art historian, philosopher and critic, whose latest book The End of Art has stirred up some controversy. He claims that the rampant irony of post-modern art, combined with its obsessive navel-gazing, has turned it into a suffocatingly hermetic and an almost irrelevant enterprise. Kuspit feels that it's time to return to the values of the Old Masters and to learn from their techniques. He is right as far as the education in American art schools is concerned, where self-expression and thinking about art is valued and praised over the necessity to learn the basic skills and craft of artmaking.

This exhibition opened in January at the relatively new Gallery C in Hermosa Beach, and has attracted, not surprisingly, some press coverage thanks to Kuspit's high profile. Let me tell you, it's been quite some time since I've seen so muddled an exhibition. There are a few good artworks, a number of indifferent ones, and then plenty of the embarrassingly bad. I am sorry for the few good artists who agreed to participate in this curatorial fly-by-night self-indulgence. The haunting landscapes by the late James Doolin hang next to the contrived quasi-mythological pastiche by Ron Pastucha. The enigmatic virtuoso trompe l'oeil paintings by Ron Rizk are forced to share the same room with the laughably kitschy bronze nudes by Benjamin Bryce Kelley. And the list goes on but, if I want to walk the streets of this city without bodyguards, I'd better stop here.

Purportedly, Donald Kuspit presents the artists who in their works have restored "human interest," which has been "banned from art" for quite a long time. But that argument is undermined by the very examples of the artworks he presents in this exhibition. The exhibition catalogue ponderously juxtaposes works by no less than Goya and Titian, among others, with the futile attempts by some local artists to evoke the grand subjects, as found in the art of the Old Masters.

Reading the catalogue's essay by Donald Kuspit, I was turned off by its convoluted, often indecipherable language. This is the critic who thinks deep thoughts about art, and then talks and writes about it, but I'm afraid he doesn't look at art. And if he does, he definitely doesn't see it. This indifferently installed exhibition conveys the sense that the person in charge of the presentation, unfortunately, is not blessed with a good eye. It's difficult to believe that this celebrity curator spent enough time doing an in-depth study of the sprawling California art scene. So many good artists are not included, while a number of the participating artists have much better works than those that were chosen for this exhibition. Go figure.

"California New Old Masters"
Through March 26
Gallery C
1225 Hermosa Avenue
Hermosa Beach