Thursday, September 27, 2007


" extraordinary broker between Europe and America, high and low, old and new, insider and outsider. // However, this role did little to advance [Alfonso] Ossorio's artistic career, for 'serious" artists are not supposed to be impresarios."
--from "Ossorio's Fortunes" by Harry Cooper

So while waiting for Mom's gums to be roto-rootered (don't ask), I read Jim Carroll's FORCED ENTRIES: THE DOWNTOWN DIARIES: 1971-1973. One of the snappiest memoir writers I've experienced, this Jim Carroll.

Anyway, he had a brilliant riff in there entitled "The Art of Using" (Pp. 31-33) which, in my non-humble view, should be required reading for all those who use appropriation/collage as part of their methods to create their art (I implicate moiself in this) -- that is, appropriation beyond the normative appropriation upon which all art relies, of course. Required reading, indeedy, which includes this excerpt:

"...the act of creating the piece and the finished work become one and the same ... the subject and object meet, as the sky and sea meet to form the line of horizon, the point of reflection."

The problem with many works of appropriation is when they mostly rely on process as the point of the work. Here's a test -- would you return to a work over and over again? As with Jim Carroll, I can return frequently to the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock and the lunch poems of Frank O'Hara. If you won't do that with a work despite how much it first interested you in your first perusal (and, indeed, EVEN interested you specifically because of its process), I think that shows a lot of about the work's power...or lack thereof.


Relatedly, recent snailmail brought an art monograph by one of the most undeservedly underrated 20th century artists, ALFONSO OSSORIO: MASTERWORKS FROM THE COLLECTION OF THE ROBERT U. OSSORIO FOUNDATION. Ossorio (1916-1990), an early supporter of Jackson Pollock and Jean Dubuffet, was a poet and artist whose greatest achievements resulted from his invention of montage-in-plastic technique. He called his works "congregations."

"Congregations" is an apt term as his mixed-media sculptures/paintings, while bespeaking the lushness of abstract expressionism, also speaks of "fetishes, reliquaries, and icons" -- to quote Harry Cooper, Curator of Modern Art at the Fogg Art Museum. Cooper adds, "Next to congregations, Rauschenberg's combines seem almost restrained; Ossorio's work instead calls to mind that of such obsessive semi-outsiders as Jess, Jensen, Arman, and Samaras, who continue to challenge canons of taste, whether modern or postmodern. The congregations are Ossorio's effort to bring unity to the multiplicity of his own identity by fusing a vast catalogue of found and altered objects into stunning wholes."

If you wish, you can google Ossorio to find out more about him. But I have a point to make about him, for which I need to first quote from an interview of him printed in the monograph; he says:

"I know what I am trying to do. Which is that in the first place one must change the rules of the medium as far as is necessary to express what one wants. I have been using things that are as disparate as possible. They're not the normal things of a work of art. Matter does continue to exist and have another function when you use it differently. It just doesn't disappear and die. If you want to do what [Clyfford] Still did, which is to eliminate as much as possible, you are left with the individual and his very personal suffering. Each artist has to do it in his way. I mix these things into a new homogenous and cooperative field of activity. That goes for the object, it goes for the technique you use--which is probably plastic, the obvious means today of contemporary use. It doesn't mean it can't be done with just oil and turpentine and pigment colors."

So, here's an artist who used found material to create his works, and yet came up with something very personal. Jim Carroll again: "the subject and object meet, as the sky and sea meet to form the line of horizon, the point of reflection."

And technique. If you care to research Ossorio's works, you'll see that in painting he can be masterful (check out "Beachcomber" 1953). But when you then go to his "congregations," you'll see how visually he creates something similarly lush and layered as his paintings, but by using other (found) material than traditional (historical?) paint on canvas.

And if Poetry is energy, an experience, an engagement -- do we think it can be only captured by verse? Perhaps someone who seems to be doing something OTHER than a particular art form are actually not diluting that form but making it, dare I say, purer? What exactly is purity's lineage?


Last but not least, why is Ossorio still "obscure"? Cooper answers this question with, frankly, the same answer I've heard from others. Ye who are invested in identity-pigeonholing, read this as to why a brilliant artist is ignored, and consider its implications:

"'The absence of a label for his work sets him beyond the pale, outside the hierarchy, and our elect-electors disapprove.' Those words, written in 1961 about Alfonso Ossorio by Michel Tapie (himself a great maker of labels), are as true today as they were then....Ossorio has still not received either the public or scholarly attention he deserives. It is worth asking why.

For Tapie, the reason was that Ossorio injected a scandalous degree of conscious control 'both in message and structure' into the heart of abstract expressionism, a movement that reveled in the unconscious. Another factor may have been Ossorio's nationality, which was no easier to pinpoint than his art. Born in 1916 in Manila of Spanish-Chinese-Filipino descent, Ossorio was sent to boarding schools in England and the U.S., attended Harvard (1934-38), and lived in six different states, Paris and the Philippines before settling in the U.S. in 1952 'with all the passion of a convert.' And unlike the immigrant artist who sensed that an American identity would be helpful in the postwar era and that old-world trapping should therefore be shed, Ossorio neither changed his name nor hid his deep knowledge of art, which stretched across eras and borders, from Southeast Asia through Europe and England to the U.S. and Mexico. Finally, Ossorio was both independently wealthy and openly gay, two more strikes against him in a society that still believed in the myth of the macho creator."


Elsewhere in FORCED ENTRIES (I say elsewhere cause I can't be bothered to go looking it up and citing page numbers for chrissakes I'm blogging and it's past midnight), Jim Carroll says something about how "chance" methodology actually can be cowardly. I get that. Totally get that. And I speak as one who consciously revels in chance methodologies.

But then again, I don't believe in coincidences. I believe in synchronicity(ies).

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