Elena Berriolo, Drawing for The Silo, 2010; courtesy Raphael Rubinstein

The Silo Must Be Built

Raphael Rubinstein

With the posting of short texts about artist and farmer Gianfranco Baruchello and Mexican psychosexual painter Julio Galán on June 16, 2010, poet and art critic Raphael Rubinstein officially established The Silo, a “personal, revisionist ‘dictionary’” of art since 1960. Each month since, Rubinstein has added another handful of eloquent and informative entries on contemporary art’s lost, forgotten and unfashionable. We can only expect the store of The Silo, recently supported by a Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant, to increase in 2011. Art Lies asked Rubinstein to offer some thoughts on his project, art criticism and the phenomenon of blogging. – KM

In a lecture at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, a few years ago I suggested that art critics could be divided into three categories: 1) Surfer Critics who want to ride the first wave, discover new artists, take the risk that their flashy pronouncements will result in an embarrassing wipeout or prove to be incredibly prescient; 2) Beachcomber Critics who wait for consensus to develop, let the market and other critics act as filters, pick up the driftwood that makes it past the breakers by writing about artists who are already considered canonical; and 3) Deep-Sea Diver Critics who go looking where others haven’t ventured, hoping to surface with barnacle-encrusted finds that will turn out to be valuable. If at times in the past I’ve tried surfing and beachcombing, my current preference, as my blog The Silo probably makes clear, is for deep-sea diving.

Like most things in the world, The Silo is overdetermined, subject to multiple factors. One is the frustration of having my agenda as a critic set by what museums and galleries happen to be showing at any given moment. That art critics write chiefly about the art that is being exhibited (because that’s what critics are looking at, because that’s what editors prefer) may seem an obvious and unproblematic fact, but it is also a limiting one because it automatically excludes all the work not currently being presented. In other words, it means that although a critic is theoretically free to take whatever position she or he wishes, it can only be, under these circumstances, a position on the art that is currently circulating through the market and museum system. For a long time I have wanted to find a venue where I could write about artists whether or not their work was being shown in museums and mainstream galleries. Eventually I realized that the only way this could happen was if I created the venue myself.

Every history of art must leave things out. But the avowedly exclusionary account of recent decades presented in the book Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism (Thames & Hudson, 2005), and the underlying assumption of its authors that art and artists they deem irrelevant to their particular teleology can simply be ignored, seems to me and many others as an ideological position that is no longer sustainable. I don’t deny that art and art criticism of the modern era drew vitality from exclusionary, self-selecting strategies, but such stances don’t seem appropriate or useful today. What’s needed, instead, is a work of recovery, an opening of doors long closed. In fact, this work of recovery has been under way for some time, by adventurous critics, curators and gallery owners. I think, for instance, of critic/independent curator Michael Duncan in Los Angeles or New York art dealer Mitchell Algus, who has been practicing courageous deep-sea exploration for more than a decade (currently as Algus Greenspon Gallery), rescuing dozens of bodies of work by unfairly overlooked artists such as Nicholas Krushenick and Gene Beery.

Screengrab from The Silo (Thesilo.raphaelrubinstein.com); January 24, 2011; courtesy The Silo

Screengrab from The Silo (Thesilo.raphaelrubinstein.com); January 26, 2011; courtesy The Silo

Another overdetermining factor shaping The Silo is my love of browsing through old art magazines, picking up obscure exhibition catalogues and artist’s books, and hearing tales from friends of forgotten artists. I sometimes think I started this project simply to make use of the stray publications weighing down my shelves and the trivia about the art world of yesterday filling up my mind. A lot of that trivia—which is not always so trivial—concerns European art of the 1960s and ’70s. Because these were the decades when the consensus in the U.S. art world was that nothing of interest was happening in Europe, there are still many artists for Americans to discover (and for the rest of the world to remember). The inclusion in The Silo of Italian and French artists such as Gianfranco Baruchello, Jean-Michel Sanejouand and Maya Sachweh (and the many more to come) reflects this history.

The Silo isn’t only about unearthing artists who never gained attention in the United States. I’m also intent on writing about artists who were well known, even famous, only a few years ago but have slipped from public consciousness—for instance, Julio Galán and Jonathan Borofsky. My decision to write about these artists is the direct result of my experience teaching in MFA programs where I continually find students making work without being aware of its antecedents.

None of these factors—not my wish to set my own agenda, or challenge exclusionary accounts of recent art history, or make use of my store of art-world arcana, or my art-school encounters with unconscious influence—would have been able to determine anything without the Web. My realization (a little belated, perhaps) that I was living in the midst of a revolutionary moment in the history of publishing is what finally compelled me to launch The Silo. Blogging offers you the freedom to write about whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want, and maybe even find some readers! Who could resist this combination?

I wasn’t thinking of Situationist forerunner Ivan Chtcheglov’s legendary slogan “The hacienda must be built” when I launched The Silo last summer. In fact, the site’s architectural-agricultural name and hand-drawn logo were suggested by my wife, Elena Berriolo, who took her inspiration from an actual abandoned silo in rural Pennsylvania. (The other indispensable collaborator on The Silo is artist Daniel Wiener, who is responsible for the site’s elegant design.) A tower full of nutritious stuff stored away for future needs seemed like a great metaphor for what I intended to do. But as I sat down to respond to this invitation from Art Lies, the phrase “the silo must be built” suddenly flashed out at me. In his 1953 manifesto of post-surrealist urban topography, Chtcheglov insisted there was a “catalyzing power” in a city’s “ghosts,” in “dated images”; when Guy Debord looked back at the early ’50s origins of Situationism a few years later, he dreamed that by retracing “the passage of a few people through a rather brief period of time” he could counter the society of spectacle. My hope, in restoring to a kind of visibility these bodies of work that have been silted over, is to encourage art viewers, including me, to think more geologically and to take energy from the new meanings that emerge under our feet.

To explore the current contents of The Silo please click here.


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