Tuesday, January 25, 2022

"Jesus of Western Avenue"

     What is art? I used to have a little pat definition I liked to trot out: that art is something extraordinary in execution, concept, or impact. Both a John Singer Sargent painting and a bobblehead doll are portraits. But the first is art while the latter is kitsch because of Sargent's gorgeous technique. It isn't what he does—convey the human image—but how he does it.
     For the second, concept, consider Duchamp's "Fountain"—a urinal presented as art in 1917. That is also art, while an actual urinal in a restroom is not, because of the radical idea behind Duchamps provocation (that anything can be art, ironically).
     As for the last, impact, think of Christo's "Running Fence." I can't vouch for the execution, the skill with which he draped the orange fabric. And it was the same idea he had been flogging for 50 years: wrap something. 
     But to see it, in Central Park, was powerful. That's also art.
     When I went to the opening of Tony Fitzpatrick's show "Jesus of Western Avenue" at the Cleve Carney Museum in Glen Ellyn, way back in the middle of October, a fourth definition came to me.
Tony Fitzpatrick
     Which is ironic, because I really didn't go for the paintings/drawings/ collages, fabulous as they are, with their colorful birds set against explosions of words and logos and tidbits, like a cloud of memories scattershot out of Tony's restless mind. I've seen those, at other galleries, heck, in Tony's studio, being made. I went because he's a friend, and friends show up for that kind of thing.
     It was only looking at the paintings in the museum that something struck me. You kinda have to be here, in front of the work. They just aren't the same in reproduction.  The colors are the same. The images, the same. But in reproduction they lack the depth—part of his designs are ephemera, logos and bits of found design, layered upon the surface. Reproductions are close, but no cigar.
     So that's another definition of art: something that can't be reproduced, not without losing a vital quality. You've no doubt seen bits of Michelangelo's ceiling of the Sistine Chapel—God touching Adam's finger maybe. Photos. But unless you fly to Rome, go to the Vatican, shuffle into the Sistine Chapel and look up, you really haven't seen it. Not at all. To compare the two, is like comparing a recipe to a sonnet.
     Not that I'm comparing Michelangelo with Tony Fitzpatrick: Tony would be the first to shoot me a what-the-fuck? glance for that. Though Tony was very busy during COVID, despite some health concerns of his own, and the good news is the work isn't any the worse for it. If anything, it's better, more luminous, more stunning. I meant to write something about it, but the media jumped in quicker than I could, and there didn't seem much point in my leaping up and joining in the applause. 
     But the show closes Jan. 31. So you've got a few days still. And Tony says it's his last museum show, though I'm not sure I believe him. "You mean when the Art Institute asks, you'll say 'No'?" is how I put it. Better late than never. I do have a duty, as a reporter, in my alert-people-to-stuff mode, that it's still up, and if you haven't seen it, and can go, you might want to. Because seeing it reproduced isn't the same.


  1. Luminous, yes. That's the perfect word for his work. It has a unique richness to my eye, actually like Bruegel or Bosch: you can look and look and see more, see smaller things as you go further in. The hypnotic quality that is often there reminds me of another local boy, Ivan Albright, whose work I can stare into for long stretches. As for Mr. Fitzpatrick, can't wait for the Art Institute to "ask."

  2. I do want to. After seeing an article last week about the show closing, I wondered if I might go. Alas, given the state of the world, this is going to be joining a long list of things that I've wanted to do that I won't be doing.

    While I'm not questioning the idea that "Reproductions are close, but no cigar," I gotta say that the full-page image atop the blog today verges on being a candy cigar, so to speak. Except I mean that in a good way...

  3. Agreed. Seeing the reproductions just makes you want to stand in front of the real thing. For me it is Van Gogh and Monet. At age nine, during the few months I lived in NYC, my mother took me to the Met and the Modern. The Starry Night was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. The most important things on my "must see" list are the museums in the Netherlands and France to stand in front of as many Van Gogh, Monet and other impressionist paintings as possible.

    1. My visit to the Musée d'Orsay remains one of the highlights of my life, and I’m down at the “I know what I like” level of art appreciation. But some genius is undeniable even to the unsophisticated.

    2. Coey , this is not art but its something I want you to see , and hear. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGfrKnqfsrs

    3. Yes, some of those were definitely too close together to be fireworks. The person who recorded this is very brave or very stupid.

    4. That's where I live. Recorded new year's eve 2022.

    5. Yes, I made the connection. That is why I commented as I did.


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