COMMENTARY: 1962 – The Changing of the Avant-Garde

 

Andy Warhol, 1962

“As disturbing as it was, we continued with the Pop generation, which in the meantime has made its own reputation.”

-Sidney Janis, American gallerist, 1896-1989

*Update: Richard Bledsoe will be offline for an extended period due to an unexpected medical situation. I am Richard’s wife, Michele Bledsoe – and for the interim I will act as his hands and eyes. 

The following is a section from a major work-in-progress about art and culture Richard is writing. 

1962 was the end of the Modern Art era. Much like the Salon des Refusés ushered in the Modern Era in 1863, it was another art show that gave evidence of a definitive shift in the culture.

The influences had been gathering for years, before coming together in a definitive event. In this case the tipping point was an art show located in a temporarily rented store front – a pop-up gallery, we would say these days.

The International Exhibition of the New Realists opened on October 31, organized by New York City gallerist Sidney Janis. With this show, the Postmodern era had arrived.

International Exhibition of the New Realists, 1962

We’ve come to call it Pop art, the opening gambit of the generational shift in art and culture the Janis show encapsulated. It featured future superstars Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claus Oldenburg, Yves Kline, Christo, and many others.

The reigning dominant critic Clement Greenberg’s grip has slipped. His preference for abstraction had dominated the 1950s art world. After the exile of representational art, it was back with a vengeance, but also with a twist.

Pop art was easy to like. On the surface it was bright and playful; instant gratification art. It aspired not to inspire, but to be ironic. The recognizable imagery depicted was coming not directly from life, but was reproduced from the filtered and stylized presentations of industrial mass media: advertising, Hollywood, newspapers, comic books and television. From its inception, The Postmodern era was informed by the illusions, distortions, and manipulations these mediums employed.  Postmodernism is very useful for those who have something to hide.

But back in 1962, it was a scary Halloween for Janis’s existing stable of abstract expressionist studs. Some of the biggest names in Modern painting quit his gallery after the audacious show. Departing artists Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Philip Guston, and Adolph Gottlieb had struggled for decades in obscurity before the agendas inflicted on the art world turned in their favor. For a brief time, they were the pinnacle. But in the early 1960s a new set of ideas was rising.

The art on display in The New Realists show was not just another variation on Modernist priorities, another facet of Modernism’s typical fragmentation. The new way was basically a repudiation of everything the aging Modernists thought they stood for.

I select this Janis show as the Postmodern starting point because of its consequences. The changing of the guard was plain for all to see in the tempest in a teapot scale of the art world. The Action painters were driven to take action, but it was already too late.

Displaced: Philip Guston, Jimmy Ernst, Seymour H. Knox, Jr., Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, and Mark Rothko

Advertisements

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED: Vintage Music Reviews-Rudimentary Peni “Cacophony”

*Update: Richard Bledsoe will be offline for an extended period due to an unexpected medical situation. I am Richard’s wife, Michele Bledsoe – and for the interim I will act as his hands and eyes. 

A few years ago, Richard used to write for the punk ‘zine AZKAOS. This was one of the vintage music reviews he contributed from 2010.

Rudimentary Peni “Cacophony” Album Cover Art by Nick Blinko

.

Rudimentary PeniCacophony

1989

Outer Himalayan Records

.

And then the matter of that phonograph record…It must mean something; whether animal noises deceptively like human speech, or the speech of some hidden, night-haunting human being decayed to a state not much above that of lower animals.

  -H. P. Lovecraft   

.   

Does genius lead to madness, or is the other way around? Mental illness in reality is usually a drab and frustrating situation. The romantic cliché of the brilliant lunatic persists though, supported by the occasional rise and fall of some inspired martyr; there is some truth to the template. When an inventive mind gets caught up in a wave of mania, astonishing creations can occur.

The Rudimentary Peni album Cacophony feels maniacal, as if it were recorded at the height of some delusional frenzy. A rare hardcore punk concept album, an obsessive riff on horror pulp author H.P. Lovecraft, it captures that writer’s atmosphere of melodramatic creepiness. The recording seems like an organic whole; songs blend into one another, connected by snippets of dialogue and sound effects, racing along at breakneck speed. It is one of those records to be played in its entirety, to better appreciate the story arc.

Rudimentary Peni (named for a biology class definition of clitorises) grew out of the busy London anarcho-punk scene nurtured by the musical collective Crass. RP’s front man Nick Blinko is the songwriter, guitarist and singer; he also produces the horror vacui outsider art that illustrates the albums-teeming landscapes of grimacing faces, skulls and religious icons. Blinko could be a character out of a Lovecraft work-a talented outsider whose mind was broken by the pursuit of arcane knowledge. Diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, Blinko has spent some time institutionalized for his condition.

.

Nick Blinko Artwork 

 

Despite the burdens of Blinko’s mental state, and all the growling death rock themes explored, Cacophony is a rollicking, playful album, bursting with excitement at its own inventiveness. The lyrics echo Lovecraft’s quaint verbose style in a manner that is both tribute and satire. The content veers between Lovecraft’s biography, his works, and more oblique rants. The original vinyl fortunately came with a 6 page lyric sheet, because the elaborate, articulate poetry Blinko wrote is often buried in layers of distortion and noise, or is barely intelligible. Blinko produces literally dozens of accents in his vocals-he chants, mutters, shrieks, hisses, croons and babbles; it’s an amazing theatrical performance. “Things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl,” he croaks in one interlude. Some pieces are nothing but sounds-chattering teeth, rude squishy noises, wheezing or screaming; others are little collages of tombstone inscriptions or buzzing alien voices.

The music swings between tight little punk gems and ominous droning soundscapes. The catchy hardcore passages throughout the album suggest Zen Arcade vintage Husker Du. In “The Only Child, ” about a bad seed murderous little girl, the delivery is a snarling Exploited style stomp; “Arkham Hearse” swings with a Sex Pistols sneer. “Dream City” warbles like the Buzzcocks: “The weedy old spires like veins in marble/The old gold domes/were just ancestral homes/The citadels of yore with their broken bronze bells/ tottering towers/shadowy staircases/spiral like ammonites…”

Rudimentary Peni, despite some hiatuses, continue to release albums, though nothing has ever topped this perfect storm of cult influences. Cacophony works on many levels-it ranges from being sinister and aggressive to being literate and tongue in cheek. It presents horror with mighty impact but doesn’t take itself too seriously. This highly personal and entertaining experimental album is a neglected masterpiece.

More Nick Blinko Artwork