Photo Synthesissy

I’ve had it up to my aperture with the Photo Synthesis feature by Colin Westerbeck that appears each week in the West magazine that’s inserted into my Sunday L.A. Times. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a full-page column anchored by a piece of shutterbuggery that’s representative of some current gallery exhibit in town.

My main beef? There’s two actually. First the photography is almost always decidedly unengaging — as if the selections are actually selected based on an ability to disinterest the reader. Second, said “art” is almost always decidedly dolled up with a hearty dollop of intellectual esoteric artus-fartus coolwhip dressing, which only serves to further disconnect me.

If there’s anything intriguing about this staple it’s the ironic translation loss from print to internet: the online version of a magazine feature on photo exhibitry doesn’t include the photo it features. You can find an incomplete stable of Westerbeck’s previous Photo Synthesis pieces online on the L.A. Times website… but they’re missing the photos he prattles on about. Such as this one from September. I remember that picture because of its lack of reference. In one side of the image some branches of an evergreen crawl into the frame; in the middle is this blank space of blue sky and across it was a hint of a mountainous ridgeline. Westerbeck somehow lauds it as an iconic image of the “big sky” west, but it could’ve been taken somewhere in the Great Smoky Mountains and frankly comes across as little more than a disposable snapshot, something that could have been a result of the camera slipping from the photographer’s grasp at the moment he tried to make a different image altogether.

This week Westerbeck is up to his usual stuff, making something out of a nothing image (at right) by John Baldessari rather inefficiently and obviously titled “Face (with Red Nose): Plus Four Alternate Noses” that’s in the “Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images” exhibition designed by Baldessari and currently on display at the L.A. County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Late preface time: Until this Magritte show got some press last week with a feature in the Times on Baldessari and how he’d envisioned the thing, I’d never heard of the dude and perhaps that speaks volumes to my ignorance of the art world, which I’m only too proud to admit. Indeed, I do not know much in the realm of art be it classic or contemporary, conceptual or expressionistic or abstract or any of the other of its myriad schools, disciplines or whatever the hell you want to call them. I just know what I like and what I don’t. And I rarely like anything Westerbeck gives me, and certainly I have a healthy disdain for the puffery he blows about it.

From Westerbeck this week:

Baldessari in the 1980s painted circles over faces in the news photographs or old movie stills in his work. The noses here are a variation on that idea, with different colors so the viewer can imagine the subject in different moods (red for dangerous, blue for hopeful, etc.).

He’s kidding, right? And I love the “etc.” As if it’s a given that his readers know what the remaining three colored noses represent. I guess green is for envious and yellow is for cowardice and orange is for… uh, scurvy? Got it. How’s this for a pallette: color it all bullshit. But it gets better. Westerbeck admits the thing’s a piece of crap, but that just makes it all the more relevant:

It’s all pretty crude, and intentionally so. The photo reproduction is grainy, the painting amateurish; even the moods are color-coded clichés.

Crude + Grainy + Amateurish + Cliché = BRILLIANT!

And just in case after all that I still had left even the slightest sliver of interest in going to see the LACMA exhibit, Westerbeck has to go and give me Baldessari’s own words about what art should be:

He likes pictures that are “dumb,” [Baldessari] says. Art should be “mute and stupid and not about parading… virtuosity.”

You go Baldy… and take Westerbeck’s praise of your dumb art with you.