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Joe Bradley



This will be a very un-politically correct piece of art criticism. The faint of heart are encouraged to stop reading now. That said, I was recently impressed to hear a New York artist criticize, with distinctly un-PC disdain, a fellow artist for producing work that was ‘not retarded enough’. ‘Retardation’ being the acme of advanced art and any un-self-conscious betrayals of earnest intelligence an act of philistinism, it is as if, over the course of the past five years, a kind of compulsory Dada has integrated itself into the fabric of a good deal of New York art-making. The higher the ‘durr’-factor, the better, apparently, the art. And with this exhibition at CANADA, entitled ‘Schmagoo Paintings’, Joe Bradley has thrown down the ‘durr’ gauntlet. Because it doesn’t get much more retarded than this.

Departing from the slightly less ‘durr’ primary-colour minimalist figures he showed at the Whitney Biennial this year, Bradley has produced an exhibition of seven mid-size ‘paintings’ on unprimed canvases (all works 2008). Six of the seven works bluntly feature stick figures, grease-pencil drawings which can be read as: a human figure, a fish in an open mouth, a cross, a Superman symbol, the number 23, and a line towards the bottom of a canvas (a deadpan mouth?) - while the seventh, titled Untitled (Schmutz Painting), bears nothing but the dirt from the floor upon which it was stretched. There is, incidentally, a lot of schmutz, for the same reason, on the other works as well.

One thing that can said about Bradley’s work is that it responds to the art-fair attention-span of our time. It can (and should) be consumed in no less than the time it takes to walk in, chortle, and walk out of the gallery. When Martin Barré (a very generous reference) did just as little with white canvases and black spray paint in the early 1960s, it was radical and even beautiful. But here and now with Bradley it is just plain dumb, though that is the point. Whether I, or anyone, likes it or dislikes it is actually beside the point. Which is also very much the point. This kind of work wields the uncanny ability to render all who enter its orbit complicit. It’s a kind of 2008 Lower East Side counterpart to Jeff Koons -  though rendered much more poorly. Squarely operating within a paradigm of post-sincerity - it is neither sincere or insincere, having transcended such issues - its mere existence acts as a cerebral black hole, engendering critical paralysis. Any possible reaction you may have to it has been foreseen and theoretically integrated into the work, such that reacting is vain. Whether you like it or not, you’re a fool. And if you profess indifference to it you’re likewise a fool, because such painterly antics require a stand that no one can make. It’s like a work of high modernist fiction - Borges, or Cortazar perhaps - in which you realize that you are part of the plot, but by the time you do - standing in front of the painting or reading this review - it’s too late.

Chris Sharp


Added by hillel23, 7 years ago

i just registered to frieze to leave this response and am missing last call on the night that America elected its first black president.

This is also the first time i have ever participated in blogging or whatever its called i am doing (and ive gotten some reviews myself that i considered writing essays in response to, fortunately for you and i non that i’ve been so offended by [i know this is flirting with self promotion, but im only trying to illustrate the intensity behind my interest in responding to this review]), as i have by this review.

I noticed something about gratuitous language, so in hopes of you posting this i am deleting alot of it from my immidiate thoughts after reading this… I am so confused, also angered, but more so i just dont——get it. Whoever wrote this grew up in a different place than me… I guess my interest in writing any of this is just to share my point of view/ a different point of view. Here it is…: “CHORTLE!!!!!!” This word was previously not a part of my vocabulary, so for anyone else as dumb as me here’s the definition i got off my MacBook Pros’ dashboard: ‘to laugh in a breathy, gleeful way…’ Maybe Chris Sharp would invent a sentence like this to help us understand the word better: “He chortled at his own pun”, maybe, an acquaintance of Chris’s one night overheard Chris telling a story at a party. Maybe, the night after the party the acquaintance is lying in bed with his partner and talking about the night before. Maybe that same sentence is told by the acquaintance to his partner as the concluding sentence to the section about chris sharp about the night before… Maybe…?  What i do know about that “example” sentence is that its the one my dashboard dictionary used after it defined the word (for my ignorant—-) for me.  Now that chortle exists in my repertoire, i’de imagine my first time using it sounded something like: “after i was done ——her, she chortled for hours” or maybe “when i walked into Joe Bradleys show at Canada i chortled for several hours, feeling as though the time i could spend with the paintings was endless. Every lap around the gallery seemed like a new experience. I would have never left but i was already a half hour late for my bar mitzvah and had i not showed up my parents would have never given me all the money i received as presents. So i left, i ended up not making it to my bar mitzvah because the second i walked out the door i found myself in a labarynth of confusion, each time i would turn a corner or choose a new direction, a new sensation would hit me. Walking down one corridor all that i could sense was doom, when i turned down the next i felt like i was giving birth, around the corner i understood what it felt like to be fully happy. These hallways and feelings seemed endless (and still are/can be). Until i came to this dead end. At it was a computer picking up a signal from the closest starbucks, I think. This Joe Bradley review was on the screen, i said something out loud, then chuckled, then i thought to myself: “Did i just chortle at my own pun?” (Then i wrote this.). Now that i have at least begun, i find myself chortling again. “Chortle” was not supposed to be the subject of this response, only its introduction…

The sentence where “chortle” appears in the review of bradleys show starts (and ends), “It can (and should) be consumed in no less than the time it takes to walk in, chortle(authors interjection:—-!?**#!@%^?~/?$!*?——!), and walk out of the gallery.” Holy moly!!!... “art critics (?)/ reviewers” who attempt at convincing their readers that there is a particular, exact, and /or singular way to “consume” art are… (well, i dont know what they are)..., But they’re not for me (or obama, or ladies, homosexuals, weirdos, good doers, charitable types, the righteous, thieves, assholes, derelicts, my siblings, parents, grandparents or anyone else i associate with).  Jeez!!!

i shoulda started with a table of contents, or put out a book of short stories. When reviewers need to prove how well informed or even worse, how well educated they are, only as a means of establishing their own credentials… or i guess in this case or any other i shouldnt assume why they would decide to include an obscure reference (Martin Barre) when the argument theyre making, theyre doing so with such self-confidence and gusto… Oh my god!!! seems like a perfect point to pat yourself on the back and remind all your readers how “(a very) generous (reference)” you are!!!! What the——!!!!!!

i didnt think i would be going on for so long, but i keep double checking the quotes ive used and only then finding even more offensive moments ... Had i understood this when i began I would have pursued a less ironic tone…. It would have read more like this: By mentioning Martin Barre (btw, the distinction should have been made between the french artist i assume the authors talking about and the much more famous guitarist of jethro tull, instead of assuming (or even worse, hoping) his audience is as “completely” informed as he is.

I do think artists benefit from an awareness of the history of their practice.  On the other hand,  although there can be and maybe even often are advantages to being well informed while viewing art, its not a prerequisite. As far as i have been able to understand, art can touch people who have never been fully, properly, academically introduced or exposed at all to it. Art is experienced by every/any person that approaches it, in a very personal way.

I dont understand why someone would include any reference points for such a hopeless and negative review, (aside from only protecting a seemingly dim confidence in his own words) it only encourages me to dissect an already questionable review with even more magnified lens and even more skepticism, unless he has the guts to open his conversation up and question himself (and me)... basically every artist in the last ...forever… I guess for the hell of it we can start with Josh Smith and all the rest of my peers and all the people we’ve ever looked up to, whether they still just be a pupil of the “dumb”-ness, a jester, stepbrother, cinderealla or the “answer”, like Christopher Wool, all depending as always on ones point of view , or even a prince like Ed Ruscha, or a king, even more accurately a dead dead brilliant egomaniacal boxed chested dude like picasso, or maybe a pervert like mike kelley, not to mention another retard who cant seem to do much more than doodles, raymond pettibon, now that i think of it that it also describes brice marde(?i)n pretty well too, There are certain handicapped and even mentally challenged artists i know that make work that looks like it (the dumbness) and at the same time their work often looks like “amazing, beautiful art”.  Whats that other guy from the “retard movement”...?.... Oh yeah, Paul Klee, I love imagining the hours Da Vinci spent drawing those grotesque faces or even thinking about warhols and lichtensteins cartoons, Malevich’s black squares , henry darger, i feel as though even in death he’s still trying to figure out if he drew his viviennes or if it was actually them that invented him, or brought him to life instead?... oh man! you know what the dumbest peice of art was ever: i forgot his name but he showed a urinal once and called it art. What about Bruce nauman, who about 50 years ago took a photo of himself as a fountain, spitting water out his mouth, and less than 10 years ago filmed his studio for months? or weeks? or days? at night cause he couldnt think of any good ideas for his art,  oh yeah then theres that erased de kooning drawing and some other dude who got psyched on that and stared at a different peice of paper for long enough until he felt dumb enough to call it art, This could go on forever, but i cant…. I cant imagine more amazing objects than the ones brancusi made… im running out of witty comments. Of all the dumb art ever made, endlessly, forever… The stuff that i see Joe Bradleys…. [    ]... When i was walking around Joe Bradleys show, the only artist that entered my head (this in know way is meant to challenge anybody whose brain goes elsewhere as they chortle through the show, on the contrary, you should all send your own thoughts here and we can make a book of what person in the universe pops into peoples headswhen they walk through joe bradleys show. Maybe we include 50-100 different peoples opinions…

it’ll start like this:
1. Martin Barre- Chris Sharp
2.Mark Rothko.  This is my reference point for joe bradleys show. I know their paintings dont look alike (so maybe martin barre is a better pick….?). But i cant help it. Joe Bradleys paintings are as or maybe as is the wrong word… Walking around Joe bradleys show all i can see is mark rothko (the man)
.... as i approach bradleys paintings, one after the other, mark rothko appears next to them…. Although, i’m in disbelief something about it makes too much sense. He says the same thing every time, he says, “Arent you happy i died?”. And just the same, as often as i see him, as often as he proposes that question, every single time, to my own horror and disbelief but without the slightest bit of doubt in my voice i answer him, “yeah, i am .”....  Sorry if i lost anyone towards the end . But i missed more than last call….Think about it: Obama is the new W. Bush and Joe Bradleys the new M. Rothko.

I guess its only art, so i’m just suggesting regardless of this or any other review, you should go see the show for yourself.

Dan Colen

Added by Aaron McMasters, 7 years ago

I haven’t seen the show, aside form the jpg, but I’m definitely saying that is ok - in a “New Criticism” kind of way - all things being equal and necessary. But you think this stuff will hold up by tomorrow? I’m willing to say no, but I could be wrong. These kinds of gestures need to be repeated ad nauseum (“for a long time” or “unto death” don’t bother looking it up on your macbook pro because I guarantee you the dictionary is totally inadequate for the job and anyways you should trust my definition as its totally my definition and anyways you probably don’t care but if you do I am preemting any commentary. Stop.).

If said gestures are not repeated, then we are to assume the seriousness of the artist is to be “called into question” as the pedants like to say (I said it bro) and I am in no way endorsing this work by calling out its possible lack of authenticity, or lack of inauthenticity or genral banality qua Koons, or Joe the artist, who also does banality, though maybe not so big, but who is referencing (in his mind) Duchamp, being a product of the academic canon (which I do call into question vis a vis cultural relativity or what Harold Bloom irritably calls the “School of Resentment” which in his defense is based on more reading than anyone who reads this has probably done).

His greatest works include:

Bloom singles out the following works for distinction:

  * Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West
  * William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying
  * The end of the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup
  * “Nearly all” of Hart Crane
  * Wallace Stevens’s Auroras of Autumn
  * Bud Powell’s performance of “Un Poco Loco”
  * “I Remember You” and “Parker’s Mood” as performed by Charlie Parker
  * “Byron the Light Bulb” from Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow

Which I think is a pretty good list, myself.

Now I’m not even drunk, but I think my point was that gestures are what they are (See Stella “what you see is what you see or Adobe et al “WYSIWYG”)

SO if you aren’t getting a chortle,guffaw or involuntary spasm from this work, I thin that is a totally normal response.

Especially now, where now is the present defined as a point in time or a generalized felling of nowness, where NOW is a feeling and though these gestures are NOW they also are so five minutes ago - (I haven’t been looking at the jpg)

But what if I go to the show at Canada? What will I see? The floor is nice and I am always kind of interested in Allen Street (incidentally I have a sign written in ballpoint pen on lined notebook paper that says “Allens” go home - which I did a google for and apparently that’s a slur - a gesture or “message” if you will.)

Now if I see a message of hate or hope or love or death or reference or referencing or allusion or intimation or tacit implication or analogy to “retardaire art,” then I will be doubly blessed with a feeling of banality deep fried in a vat of the banal (I’m hungry and somewhat irrational having stayed up all night doing nothing much as a way to go against the order of things, which brings me down - sorry to whatever).

But, too, the idea that if you protest, or protest too much or respond in any way, you only encourage it (see Ghostbusters, the good one) then it will merely slime you in a different way, not the way that you thought.

Which is to say art is dead, and also apparently alive, or undead.

So I see this show as a skeleton key, one which unlocks the door to more banal art, but also keeps the door from disintegrating into irrelevance.

You might ask yourself what that door is for. Certainly I havent found anything beyond the door to be very interesting, other than people, which brings me to “relational aesthetics,” which seems to be a buzzword for “wall for me to use and you to look at” or “food for thought” often as not.

But I find myself starving at art openings - surely more food would be better than beer? I can buy beer anywhere, but home cooking is better than any new old twist on Bueysian gestalt or happening or thing or rave pot-latch or jamboree or luau or feast or disco whatever.

But I’m not not knocking this work, because at the end of the day, I went to art school, and they don’t make intuitions like schools for no reason, just as a gesture, sort of a “give the retards something to do,” kind of activity relational-space.

Best Regards,

Aaron McMaster

Added by nolan, 6 years, 11 months ago

I thought of Paul Thek.

I loved this show, and yes, it made me laugh (chortle). The ‘smirk’ piece, the one in the photo - work of the year in my book.

I’m certainly not saying that everyone else needs to agree, I’m pretty sure we’re well beyond needing consensus, but man do I wish we were beyond these sorts of dismissals. The worst offense in the mind of a critic is the implication that his/her opinion doesn’t matter. (I don’t think I’m necessarily saying it doesn’t, I don’t think Joe or Mr. Colen are saying it doesn’t, but from all indications Chris Sharp believes it doesn’t.)

For the sake of brevity…

Added by Oliver Clothesoff, 6 years, 10 months ago

i saw this show and have been waiting to find a venue to express my opinion. Here goes: arrogant, lazy, self-indulgent. These qualities are not always bad if the work is interesting. In this case the works fails on all levels. 

I am afraid that Joe’s success is due to personal likeability in art world circles and little more. The day has come, thank goodness, where merely being popular is not good enough and making intentionally ‘dumb’ art is not smart.

Sorry, Joe. You need to work harder.

Added by severine, 6 years, 9 months ago

Chris Sharp’s review finally said what I, and many people I know (including a lot of artists), feel about these kinds of shrugging too-cool-to-care shows. His candor is refreshing and totally on target.

I have better things to do than ride the subway 1/2 an hour to Chinatown so Joe Bradley can chuckle at his adolescent inside-jokes and say fuck you! Don’t you?

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About this review

Published on 02/11/08
by Chris Sharp

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