Tuesday, July 31, 2007


This morning I reminded Madeline, my neighbor, to “take turds to work” and then wondered if this was the first time anyone ever said that. I speculate about these things sometimes, like if I’m grilling lamb heart for lunch, I think about how far I might have to go to find someone else engaged in that activity at that very moment. Surely out of my village, but out of my state? Don’t know. Anyway, I liked thinking that the phrase was completely original and, of course, Mady understood what I was talking about because I’ve been bugging her about this for a couple of days now—asking her to take the droppings from the floor of the back porch to the vet where she works so they can identify the animal for us and we can figure out a way to get it/them to go elsewhere. The droppings are black and oval—too big for mice, and it doesn’t look like bat doo-doo to me, but then what would I know about bat doo-doo? Stanley, our handyman, says rats, but he’ll say anything to get us going. Marjorie, Mady’s mom, suggested it could be chipmunks, however they’d have to be crawling on the porch ceiling to make this kind of mess and we don’t know if chipmunks do that (this was after my dream). Mady, however, is so into animals she doesn’t even think it’s gross that this stuff everywhere.

Now if I were an enterprising art student, I’d be busy figuring out ways to incorporate this copious material from my everyday life into paintings or sculpture. Fortunately, I’m not.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Oil paint

At dinner the other night, two very accomplished painters who work with acrylic paint were discussing my use of oil as if it were some weird, cultish activity (which is pretty much how I feel about watercolor).

The properties of oil paint are both overrated and underrated. Overrated by the well-meaning people you meet at parties who, wanting to make small talk and having just learned that you're an artist, ask if you use "oils" before wanting to know if you do landscapes, portraits, or “abstracts” – to which I could answer “yes” to all.

It's indeed challenging to work in a medium where every color has its own texture, opacity, sheen, and drying time (all of which differ from brand to brand, and the drying time from day to day)—but equally challenging to achieve nuance in acrylic, which dries in a flash and where the colors are uniform.

The problem is not with either medium, but with trying to make oils do what acrylics do (thereby creating mud), or trying to make acrylics do what oil does so much better (which results in a dead flatness).

I’ve always used oil paint but now, newly engaged in the process of rendering recognizable images, I’m fascinated with how much it allows me to get away with (a lot, sometimes) and how little I can get away with (not much, sometimes). It’s like some wildly inconsistent parent—one day I can do no wrong and the next day, nothing right.

Today it slapped my hand and told me to go write on my blog.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I had a dream last night where I was staying with an older woman who was a resident at an art colony in NYC (everyone staying there, however, said it was "just like being in Italy") and Terry and Traer came to visit and on the way had picked up a kangaroo in a cage, which Traer was very excited about. A chipmunk, crawling across the ceiling, was so startled at the sight of the kangaroo he let go and fell--splat!--dead on the floor.

I shouldn't have re-read my last Neo Rauch post before going to bed.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Wild Style

Ah, the irony…graffiti writers, the outlaws of yore, are being officially honored at a SummerStage event in Central Park on Sunday, with the screening of Charlie Ahearn’s film, Wild Style, and performances by early hip-hop’s greats. All that's missing is an opening address by Mayor Koch. However while it’s being billed as a 25th anniversary celebration, 1982, the date of Ahearn’s film, actually marks the beginning of the decline of a movement that started in the seventies. I always admired the graffiti artists for their self-taught aesthetic and such intense passion for their art that they were willing to risk their lives for it. What artists could you say that about today?

So now hip-hop has been consumed into the culture as a full-fledged musical genre, and we have legions of artists whose adolescent cartoon-y style has its roots in graffiti. But what I don’t understand is the lingering popularity of oversize droopy-butt pants, which were never a turn-on in the first place. That this style has stayed in vogue continuously for thirty years must constitute some kind of record in contemporary fashion. It also means that kids today are into the same clothing their dads wore…now that’s revolutionary.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Joan’s comment about my Lemon Verbena looking like marijuana (see Summer, below), made me think about my last encounter with the herb, sometime in the late eighties. My boy friend, Jeff, and I had been to an opening where we had a few tokes (remember, it was the eighties) and went back to the loft to wait for Carlo McCormick who was going to come by to see Jeff’s new paintings. The next thing I knew it was morning, and I was lying on my back on the bed—not just fully dressed, but with my jacket and shoes on and the strap of my bag still over my shoulder. Jeff was stretched out next to me, in his jacket and shoes as well. Later Carlo said he rang the buzzer several times and then phoned—the phone being on the table right next to my head.

I didn’t try anything more mind altering than green tea until ten years ago, when my friend, Tim, and I read a memorable article in Harper’s entitled “Opium Made Easy” by Michael Pollan about poppies. The gist of the article is that all poppies are the same, but their legality depends on where they’re grown and what you do with them. In the article, Pollan gives a recipe for making a tea with dried poppies. He must have made it sound very attractive, because Tim and I immediately went to the Flower District to acquire some. I recall thinking that the sales people in the shop would be on to us if we came in and only asked for dried poppies, so I took a few other things to the cash register, including some ribbon for gift-wrapping that I still have. It reminded me of the old Lenny Bruce routine about a kid buying model airplane glue, that goes something like…I’ll take this and, um, this and this and uh, oh yeah, fifty tubes of airplane glue.

Back at Tim’s Gramercy Park apartment we chopped up the poppies, boiled them according to Pollan’s recipe, and drank the brew. I don’t remember what it tasted like, but the effect was great, really subtle; I felt more concentrated and centered than ever before. Tim, an opera singer with a beautiful, rich baritone, rehearsed while I sat on the couch, hearing each sound with enormous clarity. After a while I remembered that I was having ten people for dinner in an hour and had better leave. It really wasn’t quite as bad as it sounds, because I was having the food delivered from a local Moroccan restaurant, but still, it was ten people for dinner and would go off much better if I were actually there.

The effect out on the street, with the sun and the crowds of people on the sidewalk was not so subtle, but somehow I made it home, proceeded with the dinner party, and may have successfully fooled my guests into thinking I was normal. The great thing about having that many people for dinner is that no one really notices if you don’t talk much. In the middle of it I sneaked into the studio to call Tim. “I am so sick,” I said. “Really?” Tim sounded surprised, “I’m fine.” Ten minutes later he called back.“ I am so sick.” For the next twelve hours, through the night and into the next day, we called each other to report on the state of our nausea, which finally, slowly, dissipated.

These days, of course, if we wanted something to make us really sick, we wouldn’t have to go through the awkwardness of confronting an actual salesperson, but could buy our poppies online. Just for the hell of it, I Googled “dried poppies” and the first site that came up had this to say:

Rest assured you have found the dried poppy seeds you are looking for! …we sell the most saught (sic) after and popular poppy pods available…The poppy has a truly unique past for a flower with the way it will always remind us of WW2, with the poem Flanders Fields and its use was found dating back almost 3,000 years where poppies have been found in Egyptian tombs…

Yikes! What are they drinking?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Back to Einstein

…When he gave a speech to an international relations group, in which he denounced arms-control compromises and advocated complete disarmament, his audience seemed to treat him as celebrity entertainment. “The propertied classes here (in America) seize upon anything that might provide ammunition in the struggle against boredom,” he noted in his diary.

Sounds like what Peter Schjeldahl, in his article about the Venice Bienale (The New Yorker, June 25, 2007) so aptly describes as, “our money-fevered, intellectually disheveled global art world”--where the propertied classes are not only arming themselves against boredom, but making pots of money in an unregulated market characterized by a lot of mutual hand-washing. The editorial about Damien Hirst's shark at the Met in today's Times says it all. I guess one shark deserves another--except we're the losers.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


I took time out from Einstein to read The Massachusetts Gardener’s Companion from cover to cover. When I bought my house, I hoped I’d become obsessed with gardening (I feel I can always use another obsession, especially one that includes exercise and being outdoors) but couldn’t know until I did it. My mother was a gardener by profession—studied horticulture in college, worked for gardeners and florists—but as a child I was just annoyed that our garage smelled like manure. The only thing I learned from her is that Pachysandra is a hardy ground cover that spreads easily; she brought it with her when we moved from Philadelphia to Chicago. Oh, and she thought Swiss chard was food for the gods. When I was ten I couldn’t understand how anyone could rhapsodize over a vegetable, but I do now that I grow my own. So this thing that people have been doing forever to sustain themselves is a new miracle for me: you put seeds into the ground, soon they’re little green dots, and then—presto!—salad. Call it the city person’s fascination with free food. And now that I hardly ever have to go to the store, I have more time to paint.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


I was recently at the Cape, swimming at Long Pond in Wellfleet, and it reminded me of my first summer there, when Carroll Janis and I took a house on Gull Pond next door to Noam Chomsky. I’m a girl from the suburbs—what do I know?—and turned the car around in their driveway. Literally I backed in and pulled out, slowly—I certainly didn’t screech out, as if screeching were possible on sand and stone, or even the equivalent. Anyway, that afternoon, Chomsky’s wife came and knocked on our screen door. We came out and she said, “Hello, I’m Carol” and I said, “Hello, I’m Carol,” and Carroll said, “Hello, I’m Carroll.” It was not a good beginning. She told us that I’d ruined their driveway, and that it would take several tons of stones to repair. Carroll said his sons would be coming up next week, was there any way we could sift them out? She said no. We went back and forth like this for a while, and then Noam came out and we all went over to the driveway, which didn’t seem so bad to us, but then it wasn’t our driveway. We stood there in silence, looking down at the ruts, until finally the world’s greatest linguist shook his head and said, “Well, that’s life.”

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Rauch redux

Roberto said he thought my post on Neo Rauch was…um, abrupt, while Lise labeled it “snarky.” Good! It was my way of expressing total exhaustion with rampant hype and mediocrity—and a simple counterpoint to the link I provided to Roberta Smith’s thorough and extremely intelligent review in the Times. However after being pressed by Roberto to further analyze my antipathy, I’ll say that Rauch’s painting application isn’t interesting enough on its own to engage me, and the subject matter is the same obscure nuance-free semi-apocalyptic story told over and over again, which is about as exciting as being cornered by someone who insists on recounting his dream to you in minute detail.…and then it was winter and the soldier was trudging through the snow with an artist’s palette that turned into a snake and then businessmen in green coats with hockey sticks were flying through the air and a man came walking by with casts on his legs except they weren’t casts but giant tongue-depressors and before we could barbecue the bear the volcano erupted and, oh, I didn’t tell you about how I opened my suitcase and it was full of bones and…and…” See? You’re already asleep.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Up to page 384

One evening in Berlin, Einstein and his wife were at a dinner party when a guest expressed a belief in astrology. Einstein ridiculed the notion as pure superstition.

How scientific is that, I wonder, to hold a strong opinion about something with which you’ve had no direct experience? From Einstein, yet. But that’s modern science: if it doesn’t fit the paradigms they've made up, then it can’t be possible. Hence the medical profession’s skepticism about homeopathy and acupuncture, and why it chooses to forget that Jung used astrology in his practice. During Nixon’s trip to China in the seventies, photographers sent back images from China showing patients with needles stuck in them smiling and waving during surgery. Did it change the practice of anesthesia? Not a bit. And then there are those people who, on the basis of no empirical evidence whatsoever, apparently believe that hot air blown from a machine actually dries your hands.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Travel tip

Photo: Carol Diehl, Iceland, 2006
When I wrote the post below, I assumed that the siding on the house inside the dome was not wood but metal, like that on so many of the houses in Iceland where wood is scarce. Einar wrote to correct me, adding this bit of Icelandic humor: "What do you do when you get lost in the Icelandic woods? Stand up."

Making it hers, Part II

Alexandra and her Saarinen Womb chair (see Making it hers, below) reminded me of another modernist icon, the geodesic dome, specifically the house my friend, Einar Thorsteinn, designed and took me to see last October when he and his wife, Manuela, gave me a tour of what they called “alternative Iceland”—as if all of Iceland isn’t “alternative.” Einar, who was a protégé of Buckminster Fuller, is an architect, mathematician, designer, and artist, who I met at Olafur Eliasson’s studio in Berlin when I was researching my Art in America article about Olafur. Einar collaborated with Olafur on his second show in New York, and is the muse behind Olafur’s elaborate geometry. His numerous side projects include working on the design of a mobile moon station for NASA and, looking ahead to a time when the earth could become uninhabitable, making plans for a domed city for Iceland—at the presentation for Olafur’s upcoming survey show at MoMA, the curator described Einar as a “visionary”. Einar tells me Einstein’s theories have been long superseded by one Burkhard Heim, and I have the feeling that me talking to Einar about Einstein is like someone who’s just discovered art talking to me about Andy Goldsworthy.

Our road trip to the Icelandic hinterlands had to be put off for a day because of high winds that made it impossible to drive, apparently not an unusual occurrence. But the next morning dawned sunny and glorious. My previous two trips to Iceland were in the winter when sun was hardly an issue, but this time I was glad I brought sunglasses, which Einar explained you need in Iceland because the sun comes at you from a very low angle and is therefore always in your eyes. The sun’s lowness also creates long shadows, which lends extra drama to the already dramatic moss and lava-rocked landscape.

The domed house, near the village of Hella (108 km from Reykjavik and close to the Ring Road) is visible from the road, appearing as a curiously regular grassy hill with windows in it. Getting closer you can see that inside the dome is a house and a garden—the earth and grass covers the house part, keeping it warm no doubt, while the glass over the garden makes for a greenhouse-like micro-climate. What’s funny is that the façade of the house inside the dome is hardly contemporary, but like a traditional Icelandic abode. With its painted red siding and white trim around the lace-curtained windows, it reflects the decorating tastes of its inhabitant, a woman in her seventies with a passion for gardening and tchotchkes—the place is rife with cement gnomes, while a reproduction of Michelangelo’s David graces the exterior garden.

Einar tells me that his purist architect friends aren’t amused by the incongruity, but he thinks its great, as do I. As with Alexandra and her Womb chair, it demonstrates that the owner is not making a style statement, but loves it for its own sake. This is Einar on top:

Monday, July 2, 2007

Neo Rauch at the Met

I have absolutely no opinion about Neo Rauch, which is unusual because I have opinions about everything. I don't feel my life has been particularly enhanced by seeing this exhibition, nor do I sense any negative impact. I found it kind of boring, but did not resent the time it put between me and lunch. The ceilings in the gallery were way too low, though.