Eric Schmid - Krbbr - Triest - September 29 - October 9, 2020
One thing you can say about Eric Schmid, he sure as shit provokes a conversation. It's rarely wholly laudatory, but when I consider all the shows I've put in the Kritic's Korner because I can't find anything worth talking about it makes me value the "Schmid phenomenon" in a way I haven't in a while. Krbbr is, obviously, a reference to Michael Krebber, specifically this show. The pieces are four blank canvases, three with children's Mickey Mouse blankets hanging over them, one with the show's flyer hanging over it. At first, when Eric emailed me telling me about the show I thought that was all that was going on, a show aping Krebber's paintings without any... paint. There's more to it, even if there's still some irony in the press release's invocation of art as craftsmanship, but first, since I was thinking about Krebber before I saw the show, let's talk about Krebber.
Everyone knows Krebber is a good artist, but I take issue with his whole disaffected cultural bricolage dandyism thing. That's fine for him, to judge an artist for ideological flaws is to assume that ideological purity exists (it doesn't) or that an artist's ideology is of central importance to an engagement with art (it isn't). As with most artistic movements and scenes of the 20th and 21st centuries, the excesses and blind spots of the era only become clear in hindsight when the next generation comes along and tries to copy their work, but it's a decade or two later so the context has shifted and in any case they're just copying so naturally it's not going to come out well. What struck me in some Krebber material that I reviewed was that his meta-contextual thrift store flaneur aestheticism serves not to expand or comment on artistic context but to negate it. Alien Hybrid Creatures, mostly a catalogue of nice book covers, generates its content through the eclecticism of the selections, but by doing so ignores the realities of the production of the nice book covers themselves. Such ignorance begs a question, asked tongue-in-cheek: If artists can't do anything except cry about the impossibility of creation in the contemporary world, why don't graphic designers have a problem? Some, but far from all, of the problem lies with art students loving Krebber. At some time in the last 30 years art became entirely self-aware; it apprehended itself as a limited, self-contained context and couldn't look away. After recognizing the art world as a bubble, a sector of artists became obsessed with tracing the reflection of that bubble, which instead of critiquing the limitations of context only reduces art to context. Not art for art's sake, art for the art world's sake. The mistake is that art isn't hampered by its contextual limitations. Rather, art is only possible by virtue of its limitations, which should be understood rather than fought. This leads to another irony of the press release: Krebber, who denies being anything more than a simple workman like a cook in the kitchen, is all the more thoroughly defined and controlled by the contextual norms of the art world by his ceaseless resistance to them. As a last example, in his lecture Puberty in Painting he mentions Kafka's story Josefine the Singer, or the Mouse People, and how Oswald Weiner wanted to stage a performance of the story but abandoned it because Josefine isn't a dandy, which is what they were interested in. Instead she's an artist, and a bad one, who can't sing well, with a bad temper, and so by his reference to Josefine discards the ideal of the artist. But what about Kafka, was he an artist?
The show isn't about Krebber though, or it is, in the bluntly literal way that an art show is ever "about" anything. But Eric doesn't ascribe to Krebber's artist as dandyist individual perspective, so the show's also about the mathematical topology textbooks sitting on the shelf on the opposite wall.* In a phrase, the show is about the Neorat (Neorationalism) vs. Libmat (Libidinal Materialism) philosophical schism, which is, as always, a false schism. One can live without paying attention to reason just as much as one can live without paying attention to one's material bodily needs. To assert one as truth and the other as falsehood is absurd. Whether one thinks idealist forms or materially existent things are ontologically prior is ultimately a question of personal taste, because whether one is predisposed to logic or emotion isn't a conscious decision. But we're not talking about life or philosophy, we're talking about art, and art is clearly predisposed to the material experience of emotion. How could it not be? What few cases there are of attempts at rational art are "failures" in the sense that none of them succeed in making the logical side of art more important than the immanent experience of them. Off the top of my head: European Serialist composers systematized nothing about composition and probably broke with the norms of the Western musical tradition more fully than their less systematic American counterparts, there's a Borges essay where he refutes Poe's claim that he wrote "The Raven" completely logically, asserting that "raven" is the most euphonious name of a bird and therefore the logical choice, etc. In fact, more so than these historical examples, this show may be the closest one has ever come to a completely rational form of art, in that the show itself is manifestly devoid of content outside of its intellectual reference points, but in succeeding rationally fails entirely on the level of art. This is, perhaps, the key to the mystery of Eric Schmid, someone who thinks formally and categorically on a truly impressive level but with such single-minded obsession that he has no room left for qualitative judgment. As a result he fails to recognize that a reference as a signifier in art only serves to signify a reference, which on its own is empty. Qualitative judgment, criticality, is the third position that dialectically bridges the rational and the material. Art is certainly not logical, but it's not a purely emotional phenomenon either. An affective response to a contemporary artwork is inherently contingent on one's understanding of the current status of the art world. This contextual criterion is what Krebber is captivated by, what owns him by right of his compulsive subversion of it. Navigating context nevertheless requires a delicacy and sense of timing that Schmid seems to lack, but ironically it's the blunt lack of nuance that gives his work its peculiar, if I may say so, appeal.
*There's a vintage Dieter Roth poster in the back of the room for some reason, but as far as I can tell the show isn't about that.