Monday, October 22, 2007

Less is more

Friday night Scott and I drove through the rain to the opening of the Anselm Kiefer exhibition at Mass MoCA. Of course, in the official remarks, as with the Serras, the talk was about how big and heavy everything is, and how hard the show was to install. Compared to the rest of modern life where dams and skyscrapers are built and we take for granted that most accomplishments require work, any kind of effort in the art world is made out to be a big deal. However among the overweight and oversize pieces is a painting (around 9’ x 24’) in the first gallery that’s truly magnificent—a charred landscape entitled Aperiatur Terra Germinet Salvatorum, it makes good use of Kiefer’s predilection for a crowded rush to the vanishing point at the horizon line—until you turn a corner into the other gallery and see three more that are almost identical. With each iteration, the paintings’ overall power and presence is diminished to the point that they, sadly, nearly cancel each other out.

Kiefer stayed in Germany as a form of political protest, refusing to enter the United States while Iraq War continues as, it was noted in the remarks, his mentor, Joseph Beuys, would not travel here during the Vietnam War.

Then yesterday Roberto took me to see a film at the Chatham (NY) film festival, about Ellsworth Kelly, a nearby resident, who goes about art and life with such ease, sureness, elegance, and restraint that it makes a lot of other art look like so much huffing and puffing. With the exception of the Maysles documentaries about Christo and Jeanne-Claude, I usually find films about artists annoying, as they are often made with an exaggerated sense of awe. But this film, even though conventionally conceived and therefore dotted with commentary by the usual art world talking heads, is quite moving, and conveys enormous insight into Kelly and his work. It shows his process as non-theoretical, purely intuitive, and his intention as—his word, and one Kiefer would no doubt also employ—spiritual. Kelly is where I started as a young artist, the subject of the first art book I ever bought. Later, in one of my little-known side jobs, producing photographs for print ads for Vitra where I got famous people to sit in famous chairs, the photographer, Christian Coigny, and I traveled to Kelly’s airplane hanger-like studio in Spencertown. Kelly was most gracious, taking me on a tour of his studio, showing me the model for his upcoming retrospective at the Guggenheim as well as treasures accumulated over the years—I have a vivid memory of a beautiful, small triangular drawing he bought from Agnes Martin in the early days to help her get by—before taking us to lunch. Seeing the film caused me think about my early ambitions for art, how important it was/is to me for it to be life affirming and enhancing. If I’m going to bring a new image into the world, let it be one that makes it a better place. Kelly did not attend the premiere because he was “in his studio painting” as the presenter put it, and my guess is that at 84, he has no need for any more fuss being made over him.

Kelly, by the way, is one artist who's made some great green paintings:

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