Monday, November 2, 2009

Mat Gleason Coagula Interview Part II

Continuing a four part interview with Mat Gleason of Coagula Art Journal.

(Click here for Part One.)

JW: You've said in the past that artists often don't understand their own work until years after the fact. At best, then, an artist's statement is a curious artifact of self-delusion. That's fine with me, as I've never liked the damned things. But do you think your assessment is in conflict with the conventional wisdom that artists should know what their work is about and communicate that meaning clearly in each piece?

MG: You are really hitting my hot-button issues. Here is what they will never tell you in art school: IF you tell a curator what your work means and they want it to mean something else, you just art statemented yourself out of a show. Curators and collectors and critics and gallery people, most of these folks are smart. Someone told me about a famous artist whose secret to success was letting people at openings finish his thoughts as he started discussing his work and then agreeing with them.

JW: To follow up, do you see it as a copout when an artist makes work that is open to interpretation, oblique, mysterious or mystical?

MG: Absolutely, and that is the flip side of the coin. I operate at the extremes, so the extreme pinhead is to be avoided in his desire to control the context of his work, but just as fiercely we have to call the bullshitters out when they walk into the art world and say that their splash of acrylic shit represents eternity. And it is harder to critique these self-anointed mystics, inscrutable conceptualists and "beauty" adherents than those with a solid game plan that is pompous. The pomposity of the vague and aloof is a tougher con to "out"" in my business. Luckily, it has a trend cycle that we are kind of far from at the moment, so there is less of that going on.

JW: To paraphrase a line in Baudelaire's "Hymn to Beauty," "Beauty rules everything, yet remains unanswerable." Do you have your own definition of beauty and do you believe that beauty is important in art?

MG: I got a better line from a better poet as a retort: "With the lights out, it's less dangerous."Seriously, the lesson to be learned over the next 10 years is how not to be seduced. Look at all the propaganda about beauty in art... Dave Hickey is 70, this art world movement championing beauty is the visual manifestation of an atheist flower-power aesthetic toking its final joint. With that said, I am interested in raw beauty, which is my aesthetic as a punk rock fossil, but as a springboard from which to create something, not an end in itself.

To be continued.

Tomorrow, in Part Three, Mat explains why "screeds of passion" and "raging proclamations" work for him, takes us behind the scenes of Coagula's hottest story ever, and observes that telling it like it is doesn't win medals.

Issue #100 of Coagula Art Journal will be viewable November 10, online at

Rothko Chapel photo via Houston Press.

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