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Garner called in the spring of 1989 and told Richard there was a young artist he'd like him to work with, and that the artist would be arriving in Santa Barbara in a day or two. "Do what he wants" was Garner's instruction. Martin Beck, a heady young intellectual painter from Vienna, Austria, arrived on schedule. He'd just finished working with Garner at his New York workshop. Richard had also been busy, so when Death Valley, not printmaking, was on Beck's mind, they headed out for adventure and inspiration.
On the way there they stopped and visited a California prehistory site where discoveries of early man had been found. At the site's tourist/research trailer they bought an old four- wheeler's map and embarked on an off-road trip. The highest and lowest points of the desert were their directive. Not wanting the highway to be their route, they set off along a dry river bed to get the feel of Richard's small Toyota 4x4 truck over sand and rock. Using the guide, they picked a two-day route traversing a restricted government area. After a long day of slow travel over less than a road, they reached a small desert oasis complete with natural spring and a large shade tree. They washed in and drank from the spring, only to read later that night that the military suspected radio activity in the area and advised against drinking the water. Martin and Richard slept in an abandoned desert rat shack nearby.
A few years and a few projects later, Martin came up with his conceptual work, the Favorite Painters series, produced in Santa Barbara with Richard:
The Favorite Painter Series
The Favorite Painter Series is based on a statistic that was elaborated by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and was first published in his book "La distinction. Critique sociale du jugement". Part of the investigation was a questionnaire in which people were asked to pick one or more favorite painters out of a list of 12 painters from different historical epochs. The book and especially this statistic showed that there is a very decisive relation between social class and taste, in this case that there is a very distinctive difference in what people from different social backgrounds consider as their favorite painters (Goya, e.g., is a painter whom 31% of the upper classes consider as one of their favorite painters, but only 16% of the lower classes; whereas in the case of Raffael it is just the other way around, or Van Gogh is just as popular in the upper classes as he is in the lower classes). But the statistic reflects not only preferences in taste but also a connection between education, information, background, etc. (what constructs social class) and the construction of an idea of what art should represent or what art should be.
In the Favorite Painter Series I transformed this statistic into bar graphs which appear like what we usually call abstract geometric compositions. The idea was to use this specific aesthetic that is more than others historically constructed on the idea of purity, transcendence and emptiness and load this system of art production with information about social determined taste. It therefore can be read as a critique of this - as the statistic shows - exclusive way of art production.
Each favorite Painter print is determined by two different colors which are picked by a personal association to the palette of the specific painters, e.g. yellow and blue for Van Gogh. The horizontal axis represents 100% of the people. The percentages of people who consider the painter as one of their favorite determines the length of the colored bar starting on the left of the print, the second color represents the rest. The vertical axis is divided into three sections which represent from the top to the bottom upper, middle and lower classes.
--Pierre Bourdieu, La distinction. Critique sociale du jugement, Paris 1979
Martin Beck (Austrian, American)
Born 1963, Bludenz, Austria
Lives and works in New York, NY
Martin Beck is a conceptual artist whose sculpture, painting, video and writing works often recycle historical modern discourses on art, design, architecture and other disciplines into installations that confront avant-garde ideology. Graphic works on paper are frequently a vital part of his exhibitions.
Beck's solo exhibitions and collaborative works have had an international audience for more than twenty years. Recent venues include Approx.13 Hours, at castillo/corrales, in Paris, France, as well as Martin Beck: Program, at Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, in 2014, and Last Night, at Kunsthaus Glarus, Glarus, Switzerland, in 2013.
Martin Beck has actively exhibited and created projects across Europe, Canada and the United States. He often collaborates with fellow New York artist/curator Julie Ault on projects.