Young-artist shows often only hint at emerging talent
New York — Selecting artists for a national new-talent or emerging-artists exhibition is a monumental undertaking. It also carries tremendous responsibilities - especially if the selection is made by an important museum curator and is displayed in a major museum.
The impact such an exhibition can have on younger artists looking for direction is considerable. Critics and curators who do not travel a great deal will draw conclusions about the direction American art is taking from such a show. And it is bound to have some influence on dealers and collectors as well.
With so much riding on the result, it behooves those responsible for these selections to go to as many parts of the country as possible, and to see as much art as possible. But it's just as important that their attitudes toward art be broad and open, and that they do not hold narrowly doctrinaire notions about what constitutes art.
This is crucial, since the art of the talented young often seems aberrational , overly idiosyncratic, or just plain reactionary to older art professionals (who, ironically, tend to be wild and woolly modernists in their approach) - and so can easily be misunderstood and misjudged by them. Clever youngsters with an eye on easy success can adopt fashionable styles, or concoct subtle or outrageous forms that reflect current ideals of ''originality'' or relevancy. And extraordinarily talented and creative younger artists working within less sensational or ''original'' forms can easily be dismissed as unimaginative or culturally irrelevant.
And that isn't all. It's easy to resent or to fear brilliance and true originality in the very young, and (perhaps unconsciously) to lend support only to those whose work does not threaten one's most cherished beliefs and ideals.
I make an issue of this because of the continuing narrowness of all such exhibitions I have seen. Not one, despite months or perhaps a year of careful and dedicated looking at art in dozens of regional centers, museums, and art schools - and the study of thousands of slides and photographs - has represented more than 40 to 60 percent of the full spectrum of excellent new art that can be seen in New York and around the United States. It wouldn't be so serious if this were only occasionally true, but the fact that it is always true disturbs me, and I think calls for a bit of soul-searching.
I do not question the ability or the good faith of those who select what is to be included in these shows. Almost without exception, they do travel far and wide and look at an unbelievable amount of art, and their selections are generally excellent. No, it's not what they include that I object to, but what they leave out.
There's so much excellent art being produced today that cannot be categorized. By and large, our talented younger artists accept this and proceed to do whatever stirs their creative spirits. They generally do not divide themselves into ''progressive'' and ''reactionary'' camps as did the artists of older generations.
Altogether too many art professionals, however, still divide artists into these two categories. And for them to do so while judging the young is a distortion of the way most younger artists see themselves and their art. To apply such divisive and exclusionary standards to exhibitions of promising younger artists is to attempt to visit the prejudices and dogmas of the older generations upon the younger.
''New Perspectives in American Art: 1983 Exxon National Exhibition,'' on view at the Guggenheim Museum here, is a good case in point. Although excellent in itself, and the result of extensive traveling and looking on the part of Diane Waldman, who organized it, it barely hints at the full range and depth of the actual ''new perspectives'' coming to the fore in American art.
Walking around the roughly 100 works by 11 artists on display, I could hardly believe that they represented the same dynamic and bursting-with-life younger generation of American artists whose work I see every day. Individually, I liked what I saw, but collectively, it just didn't add up to very much.
Of the 11 artists chosen, 8 are men and 3 are women. Five are represented by paintings, 4 by three-dimensional constructions, and 2 by photographs. Although each artist has his or her own very distinctive style - and they range from the purely abstract to the imaginatively photographic - they all strike the same rather detached note of good taste and caution. There's no doubt this is a handsome and even an excellent show, but I'm afraid it reflects one person's attitudes and sensibilities more than it does those of our emerging generation of American artists.
Moving from the general to the specific, I particularly liked the constructions by Julie Cohen and Michael C. McMillen, both of whom, I suspect, have very bright futures. I was also taken by Whit Ingram's works on paper and mixed-media hangings, Tom Lieber's paintings, Steve Duane Dennie's photographs, and Pegan Brooke's paintings. Bruce Cohen's paintings, on the other hand, struck me as a bit too precious, and Aaron Karp's, interesting but thin.
At the Guggenheim Museum through Nov. 27.