DOWNTOWN 500 MAGAZINE PRESENTS
LOREN JAMES MUNK
ART BRUT ARTIST FROM
SINCE ESTABLISHING HIS STUDIO IN NEW YORK IN 1979, THE PAINTER LOREN MUNK HAS CONSTANTLY PURSUED A COMMITMENT TO PAINTING AND THE ARTISTIC COMMUNITY.
CONCEPTUAL STREET WORKS IN THE EARLY 1980’S LEAD TO HIS ARREST BY THE NEW YORK CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT.
THE SUBSEQUENT NOTORIETY CONTRIBUTED TO A STRING OF SUCCESSFUL EXHIBITIONS OF PAINTINGS IN SOHO AND INTERNATIONALLY. HIS UNIQUE AND INNOVATIVE USE OF MATERIALS SUCH AS MIRROR, GOLD-LEAF AND GLASS MOSAIC AFFIRMED HIM AS A FOUNDING FORCE OF KITSCH ART AND A LEADING MEMBER OF NEW YORK NEO-EXPRESSIONISM.
AS A MEANS OF ENTERING THE CRITICAL AND THEORETICAL DISCOURSE, MUNK CREATED THE PERSONA JAMES KALM IN THE MID 90-IES. PUBLISHING HUNDREDS OF ESSAYS AND REVIEWS UNDER THIS PSEUDONYM, MOST NOTABLY IN THE BROOKLYN RAIL, MUNK BECAME FASCINATED WITH THE HISTORY AND ASSOCIATIONS OF THE NEW YORK ART WORLD. THESE DEVELOPMENTS LED TO A REASSESSMENT, AND THE CURRENT SERIES OF WORKS, WHICH AESTHETICIZE ART HISTORY AND DOCUMENT THE LOCAL ART COMMUNITY.
YOUTUBE’S KALM REPORT EXEMPLIFIES MUNK’S BLURRING OF CRITICISM, Historical DOCUMENTATION, JOURNALISM, AND PERFORMANCE ART AND BEGAN A NEW MODE OF ART REPORTAGE ON THE INTERNET.
DOWNTOWN 500 ZINE WELCOMES LOREN JAMES MUNK IN OUR CREW. HE HAS MANY LEGENDS TO TELL, HERE YOU ARE WE HAVE SPOKEN TO HIM.
DT 500 ZINE: – Loren James, we are enjoying your videos. You know much about art brut movement or the outsider art, we appreciate this idea too, and we are really curious about your story?
LOREN JAMES: – I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and baptized as a Mormon. My mother remarried when I was eleven and moved the family to Idaho. In 1968, I ran away for a month to be a hippy in Height-Ashbury, San Francisco. In 1972 I joined the US Army as a medic and was stationed in West Germany for 2 1/2 years. During that time, I visited as many art galleries and museums as I could. Returning from Europe, I visited New York for a week and decided that I needed to live here if I wanted to be an artist.
DT 500 ZINE: – the right place to be for an artist soul for sure… and how did it go?
LOREN JAMES: – As a child in grammar school, I was disciplined continuously for spending all my time looking out the window. Even at that young age, I thought that the world outside represented fun, freedom. A place where one could do what he/she wanted, and be the kind of person he/she dreamed of My earliest drawings and paintings were ways for me to create that outside or inside the world where I could be free.
DT 500 ZINE: – …it should be influencing your personality, shouldn’t it?
LOREN JAMES: – I have a split personality. First is Loren Munk, the severe painter, husband and family man. Loren is so engaged in the work of painting and its history that he ignores most of what’s going on around him to concentrate on the work in the studio. Munk doesn’t have time for the social climbing and schmoozing that is essential for building a career in the New York art scene. The other personality is James Kalm. James is gregarious, outgoing , and spends all his time meeting and talking with artists, going to galleries and museums videoing, commenting, writing and, in general, being a gadfly. (This interview is probably with James?)
In the late 1930′ early 40s during WWII, Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) was trying to make his name as a painter in Paris. He worked in his family’s successful wine business. Like many of the most avant-garde artists of his day (Paul Klee, Max Ernst, Wassily Kandinsky) he appreciated and started collecting children’s art. He also became intrigued with artworks by psychiatric patients he’d seen documented by Dr. Hans Prinzhornh in his 1921 book Bildnerei der Geisteskranken (Artistry of the Mentally Ill). In 1945 Dubuffet made a tour of Germany and Switzerland visiting psychiatric hospitals. He amassed a collection of works from this visit, and in 1948 he started the Compagnie de l’Art Brut. He enlists the support of many important Surrealists and art critics like André Breton, Jean Paulhan, and Michel Tapié who had championed the horizons of creativity that were opened up by Freud’s studies of the subconscious. Having seen the unprecedented destruction of World War II firsthand, Dubuffet reasoned that if this was the product of “Civilized Man” and the most highly evolved and scientifically advanced nations on Earth, then there was something wrong with this version of “progress.”
” He further reasoned that perhaps there was a more primordial “raw” vision of humanity that could only be tapped by individuals who were somehow outside “culture.” These individuals were untouched by the colonizing forces of the art world, the academy, and the art market.”
The Compagnie de l’Art Brut collection was exhibited in Paris, and a permanent location sought, but due to lack of funding and Debuffet’s high standards, it became impossible. In 1951 the Collection was shipped to the artist Alfonso Ossorio’s estate on Long Island, New York where it stayed for the next ten years. During that time it was visited by many of the most well-known members of the New York art world including Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning. In 1962, the collection was shipped back to Paris, and the Compagnie de l’Art Brut is reformed. Eventually, a permanent home for the group was found in Lausanne, Switzerland. In 1976 the Château de Beaulieu was opened to the public, and it now houses the works of hundreds of Art Brut and Outsider Artists.
” The idea of Art Brut is essential because it seeks a point of escape or resistance to contemporary man’s predicament of living in a world that is controlled by forces and technology that are inhuman.”
DT 500 ZINE: – Fine Art vs. Art Brut? What do you think about Art Brut Legitimation?
LOREN JAMES: – Again this is a tricky question. Initially, Dubuffet had a very rigid definition of what real “Art Brut” was. To simplify, it falls into three categories:
– First, the schizophrenic, mentally ill, or “mad artist” realm (this includes the criminally insane).
– Second, the innocent, simple-minded, unspoiled, unskilled, or uneducated artist.
– Third, the mediumistic, or the artist who’s directed by higher forces, spirit guides, or even GOD.
” The most crusial quality to all these categories is that the artists have somehow avoided any contact or influence of the “civilized” art world. They have no formal art training in technique or history, and they have no desire to sell or make money from their work so much of it is done in secret. They don’t see it as a profession.”
LOREN JAMES: – As the history of Art Brut unraveled, these standards became very complicated and hard to follow. Eventually, Dubuffet had to formulate other categories that he termed “Neuve Invention” as an ancillary concept to Art Brut. Around 1972 author Roger Cardinal writes Outsider Art which popularizes the term “Outsider artist.” His book includes some different tendencies and artistic types. To mention a few other types of “Outsider Art” that Dubuffet sought to distinguish from Art Brut were: Folk Art, Naïve Art, Primitive Art (anthropologically designated), and commercial art. Ironically, if you understand what it means to actually be an Art Brute artist, you’re probably too well-educated and informed to really be one.
” Art Brut also had a strong influence on the avant-garde art of the period both in Europe and the US. Many artists were looking for a way past the overly literary and intellectualized works of the Surrealists and the rigorous abstractions of the Neo-Plastic movements. This reaction manifested itself worldwide with the return to colorful, primitive, and mythical figuration.”
DT 50 ZINE: – Who are your fave artists?
LOREN JAMES: – I’ve always been fascinated by what it means to be a human being and all its variances. Today we are faced with incredible social, governmental, economic, and technical challenges. These forces are trying to subjugate our energies and lives. Somehow, we’ve become trapped between totalitarian socialistic government power on the one hand, and corporate interests seeking to turn us into mindless consumers on the other.
” These governmental and commercial forces are exploiting our information and selling us a fantasy world of crap. Guy Debord postulated this in his 1967 book Society of the Spectacle. This “Spectacle” is a vast, ubiquitous ideology that assimilates and exploits every new trend and idea. It crushes anything that doesn’t conform. It’s TV, newspapers, government propaganda, advertisements, Hollywood movies, popular music, party politics and, recently, the internet. ”
DT 500 ZINE: – How can some resist?
LOREN JAMES: – To resist this “Society of the Spectacle,” people need to get away from the prepackaged commercial culture being pushed down our throats.
“They need to recognize the “cultural industry” and realize that consuming its products will have the same effect on their minds as eating junk food has on their bodies. They need a detox from commercial junk and balance their cultural diet with “raw art.” “
DT 500 ZINE: – RAPTURE!
LOREN JAMES: – When I’m on the streets on my bike, I’m looking for things that challenge the status quo. One must keep one’s eyes and ears open. If I see something alternative or surprising, I make a note. The artists I consider intriguing are too numerous to count, but a few that fall into the “Outsider” category might include: Alfred Jensen, Robert Flood, Thomas Trosch, Adolf Wöfli, Benjamin Franklin Perkins, Malcolm McKesson, and Norman Rockwell. My favourite places I go to see Art Brut or “Outsider Art”:
DT 500 ZINE: – what would you put forward?
LOREN JAMES: – I hope that perhaps thinking like Dubuffet, seeking a more primal human level of perception, we can resist the totalitarian ideology of the “Spectacle.” Art Brut seems like one place where people can create “outside” this bubble of ideology. It may not be possible to honestly resist the “Spectacle”, but if we can at least “see” and start to understand the “Spectacle,” we have a starting point to contest their control.
DT 50 ZINE: – tell us more about your unique content?
LOREN JAMES: – As I stated above, you must be untouched by the culture’s influences to be a real Art Brut artist. Because I’ve been highly trained in technique and history, I’ve decided to go in the opposite direction. That is, to go into the belly of the beast (the art world itself) and use its own communities, language, and history as the subject of my practice. My inspiration is the ontology of art and what it means to be an artist today.
DT 500 ZINE: – What is your work on the go?
LOREN JAMES: – Because I encountered my first “fine art” in the early 1970s while in the army in Germany, I’m fascinated with the period of European art history just before and after World War II. It’s instructive to study how the Avant-Garde reconstituted itself after being annihilated by both the National Socialists and the Soviet Socialists. This is the period when New York became the centre of the art world, supplanting Paris. I’m working on a timeline painting that shows how art movements like Art Brut spawned other European avant-garde movements like the COBRA, The Letterists, Art Informel and the Situationists International. Seeing how an artist like Asger Jorn moved from one group to another and changed art history is inspiring and enlightening.
DT 500 ZINE: – What does your work focus on?
LOREN JAMES: – My practice focuses on the art community, its neighbourhoods, galleries, people, places, events, and concepts that have formed art history. Much of this is done through mapping parts of New York and other cities and flowcharts depicting the progression of people, movements, and ideas.
“For the last two years, I’ve been working on a huge map plotting the history of SoHo, a neighbourhood at the centre of the art world for fifteen years, and is now mostly boutiques and lifestyle stores.”
DT 500 ZINE: – What do you want to achieve, your ambitions?
LOREN JAMES: – I’d like to earn a little place in the big picture of art history, and I’d also like to encourage artists to realize that they are part of a community, a tribe. This tribe has its own history, customs, and legacy.
“An artist’s value to the tribe is what he/she can do to support and keep it vital and vibrant. To do this, an artist has to be engaged and aware of what other members of the tribe are doing and support them.”
DT 500 ZINE: -Tell us more about the place you live in today?
LOREN JAMES: – I live in the Red Hook district of Brooklyn.
“When we moved here in the early 1980s, it was a disaster zone. If you took a taxi from Manhattan and wanted to go home to Brooklyn, you’d be taken to the base of the Brooklyn Bridge and told to get out. The drivers would say they’d never go into Brooklyn; it was too dangerous. “
DT 500 ZINE: – a different story today…
LOREN JAMES: – Now, it’s the trendiest and most expensive borough in the City. Many young artists are in Brooklyn, and I like to tour Williamsburg and Bushwick on my bike to see what’s happening. Also, Smith Street is below Atlantic Ave. Has become a destination for foodies, with plenty of great restaurants and bars. But best of all, it works here in my studio.
DT 500 ZINE: – THANX, LOREN JAMES
Interviewed by Downtown 500