Monday, October 29, 2007

No time, off to the city again, but the comments that are collecting on Verbatim, below, are more interesting than anything I'd write anyway.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


Yesterday, on 57th Street, I witnessed an exchange between a gallery director who had never heard of a Barcelona chair and a collector couple from out-of-town who didn’t know the names of the artists whose work they own (“We also have quite a few prints…one’s by a Schwartz maybe? We bought them from that gallery down the street, I can’t remember the name…” “PaceWildenstein?” “Yes, that’s it.”).

The paintings the couple was considering, to be flanked by the aforesaid Barcelona chairs in a 15' x 30' hallway, were priced from $35,000 to $65,000. The gallery director introduced the artist by saying, “He died last January. He’s not exactly famous but pretty well-known.”

She might have said, “This artist, who died last January, was prominent in the sixties and seventies and has been rediscovered after a recent show about that era at the National Academy Museum…” but then why am I quibbling?

“This is a horizontal painting?”
“Yes, but you can hang it vertically if you want.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


I have a writing deadline, and a bike ride on this warm autumn morning seemed like just the thing. As my ride stretched from one hour into two, I found myself circling the cemetery, where I hadn’t been for awhile, and noticed something I never had before—gravestones decorated for Halloween:

They made for some curious combinations of imagery....

At first I thought it was too weird, but in the end I was quite moved, especially by the graves of babies who may never have seen a Halloween, or too few…

and I thought how fortunate my neighbors are to have this way of expressing their feelings, one that might not be open to those of us who, I often think, are just too schooled in cool.

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:

Thursday, October 18, 2007


You know Damien Hirst’s “painting” that has a surface of dead flies? Well obviously he got the idea from sneaking into my studio at night, because it’s fly heaven here. Before I built the studio, when it was a dark uninsulated attic that the previous owners never entered except for the purpose of adding to The Biggest Pile of Stuff No One Would Ever Want, the fly population was dense. I assumed that after the renovation the insects would be so blinded by the bright white of the sheetrocked walls that they'd be unable to procreate. But no-o-o-o, autumn came around again and suddenly they’re everywhere. At first I had a “live and let live” attitude toward them, but lately I’ve gotten aggressive and am putting my orange Philippe Starck fly swatter (probably the only thing you can buy at Moss for $13) to the test. It reminds me of my friend, Coco, from whom I rented a bug-filled cottage for many years, who used to say, “I start out the summer Albert Schweitzer and end it Genghis Khan.”

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Roberto and I were seriously considering visiting our friend, Mike Glier, in Ecuador until I got an email from Mike this morning from his new digs, which he described as “camp…with tarantulas,” and suggested we read his latest blog post before rushing off to buy plane tickets. I wanted to support Mike in the second phase of his venture in plein air painting along the longitude on which he lives (the first was the Arctic) but can say I have sufficiently chickened out and will continue, instead, to commune with the bats on my back porch instead of those in the wild, and paint palm trees from photographs rather than life. To mark my decision (Roberto, who may be more intrepid than I, can make his own) I polished off a good part of a bar of Ecuadorian chocolate. I admire Mike for sticking it out, although I’d also admire him if he just said fuck it, and finished off his project in the Bahamas. But while there’s something to be said for being flexible and knowing one’s limits, no doubt there’s more to be learned from stretching them. It’s probably all my fault for encouraging Mike to start a blog, without which we’d be none the wiser. You can read about his adventures here:

Friday, October 12, 2007


Yesterday I inadvertently went to an art performance. I had plans with a friend for lunch, and he suggested meeting uptown where someone he knew was doing a performance in the lobby of a corporate office building. On the way, I passed another lobby where they were presenting a new car. The car was roped off and next to it, in tight pants and high heels, was a lovely blond woman whose job was to stand there, and by her silent presence, bring attention to the vehicle. I don’t know what kind of bubble I’ve been in, but I didn’t realize these things were still being done in 2007, at least in aware places like New York, and I wondered how she felt being decoration for a car and what she thought about while she stood there. Moving along I found the lobby where the performance was supposed to be, and not seeing anything going on, approached a young, beautiful Asian woman, standing alone behind a counter, who turned out to be the artist. She told me her theme was money laundering, and asked if I wanted her to wipe the bills from my wallet with scented disposable wipes she’d had specially packaged for the occasion. I demurred and instead watched a brief video that featured a bacteriologist talking about the concentration of germs on money. Then my friend arrived and she asked him if he had any money she could clean. He produced a twenty and after wiping it, she waved it in the air to dry. She told us she’d “laundered” over $13,000 so far, and produced a questionnaire, which my friend filled out, about his money habits, if he was afraid of germs, etc. My friend was obviously enjoying himself, which was hardly surprising—her wide smile, dark eyes and flirtatious manner were impossible to resist—and I began to ask myself how different the “performance” would be if the person behind the counter were some grizzled old guy, if anyone would even bother investigating it to see what was going on, and then I wondered, what would it be like if it were some grizzled old guy and he wasn’t set up behind a counter in a pristine office building but behind a cardboard box on the corner of 57th and Sixth. I thought, too, about Kara Walker’s images based on racism and sexism, and how a grizzled old guy—especially a grizzled old white guy—would have a hard time getting away with that as well. Then we raced through the rain to Mangia, where I had roast lamb and beet salad, and realized that, if I’m to continue to increase my understanding of art, I have to spend a lot more time in the city.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Tough love studio day

Have I been whining a lot? I guess so, because today Roberto came over and said he didn’t think my painting was as bad as he'd expected. He said the color was good, that the alizarin yellow turned out to be great as underpainting—but that I’m painting what I want to see rather than what’s really there. His exact words were, “It’s naïve, but not in a good way.” Only a true friend would say that. Of course, I knew he was right; I was just hoping that I could fool him the way I was trying to fool myself into thinking this painting was Gerhard Richter-esque when it’s really more like Maurice Sendak, minus the Wild Things.

I’d hoped for a happy ending—I was committed to the idea that a painting blog should be inspirational—but instead I’m going to take Roberto’s advice, retire this thing for a while and start another. And this time I’ll try not to be so histrionic about it.

Meanwhile there’s Jeanette and Erica’s wedding and an article to write for Art in America on the Marisol show that’s up at Neuhoff Edelman Gallery (41 West 57th) until October 27th. The great thing about having two vocations is that it makes for very productive procrastination: I do some of my best painting when I’m supposed to be writing and, conversely, having a deadline gives me a great excuse not to paint.

My reviews of Myron Stout and Jo Baer are in this month’s (October) Art in America.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Grey studio day

I don’t know if it’s a talent, like perfect pitch, or an acquired skill, but I can easily mix any color I need—except grey, which is the color I’ve wanted this painting to be all along. "That’s because," Ann said this afternoon, "there’s no such thing as grey; there’s only green, blue or violet." Now she tells me! Is this one of those things, like Santa Claus and snipe hunts, that everyone else found out about in second grade, and no one clued me in on? Obviously all those labels on paint are just a joke, and when someone comes into, say, Pearl Paint and actually purchases a tube of Holbein Grey of Grey, the salespeople are cracking up behind the cash registers. Well I’m nothing if not determined, so I looked up “mixing grey oil” on Google, and up came a bunch of sites that are obviously perpetuating the myth. But I fooled them! I took all of the colors mentioned on all of the sites and mixed them together and got...GREEN.


It’s clear that one of the reasons for our art malaise is that we have no definitions for art and, in fact, resist any discussion about what our expectations of art are. I wrote about this in a piece called The Wow for Review in 1999, and now, re-reading it find, sadly, that it hasn’t lost currency for being nine years old. In a further effort to define art in our times—for an article or book, I don’t know yet—I’m delving into what others are writing and have written and will collect what I find here.

I'm currently purusing the second volume (1815-1900) of Art in Theory: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. This, found on pp. 17-18 is a snippet of Originality and Genius by Arthur Shopenhauer (1788-1860) from The World as Will and Representation:

Whilst science, following the restless and unstable stream of the fourfold forms of reasons or grounds and consequents, is with every end it attains again and again directed farther, and can never find an ultimate goal or complete satisfaction, any more than by running we can reach the place where the clouds touch the horizon; art, on the contrary, is everywhere at its goal. For it plucks the object of its contemplation from the stream of the world’s course, and holds it isolated before it. This particular thing, which in that stream was an infinitesimal part, becomes for art a representative of the whole, and equivalent of the infinitely many in space and time. It therefore pauses at this particular thing; it stops the wheel of time; for it the relations vanish; its object is only the essential, the Idea. We can therefore define it accurately as the way of considering things independently of the principle of sufficient reason….

Friday, October 5, 2007

The middle of the night

I’m just back from the city, where all artists talk about is how much they hate the art they see. I’m just as guilty as anyone else, and explaining the situation over Indian lunch to a friend who’s a food writer, I asked her to imagine how she’d feel if all of a sudden no one cared about what food tasted like or how it was presented, but only wanted to know about celebrity chefs, who’s eating at what restaurants, and the outrageous prices they’re paying for their meals.

So I went to bed with this art malaise swirling around in my head and by the time I woke up at 4:00 a.m. I’d decided to throw it all over and become a Buddhist nun. I already have short hair, and the idea of wearing sensible shoes and hanging out with Pema Chodron was very appealing. Then I remembered, from my hippie days, a place called Findhorn in Scotland, which is said to have such great spiritual energy that plants there grow to enormous size. The Scots have great accents, a good sense of humor, nationalized medicine and probably less severe weather than I’d find at Pema’s abbey in Nova Scotia, so I thought, perfect, I’ll move there. After deciding to buy a small cottage and spend the rest of my days raising cucumbers the size of kayaks, I roused myself out of bed, went to look up Findhorn on the Web and found—quel surprise!—that Findhorn has been commodified like everything else. “Experience Week—Seven days that can change your life” is required for entry, and costs, on a sliding scale, L365 to L505 (that’s at least $730 to $1010 to you and me) for a program that includes a work component. You can also take guest workshops with the likes of Caroline Myss and James Finley, who are on a New Age circuit where the same ten or fifteen names pop up no matter where on the planet you are—just as you can go to any art fair or museum in the world and see the work of the same ten or fifteen artists. The regimented daily schedule at Findhorn reminded me of when I was ten and at Camp Toowendawee, where the only thing I liked was being away from my parents.

Since I have no parents to bug me here I've decided to stay put for the time being, even if it means I have to finish my painting. If I want McSpirituality I can always drive up the road to Kripalu, where the vegetarian cafeteria meal has recently gone from $10 to $18, and to grow bigger vegetables in this hot, dry October, I’ll buy a sprinkler.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Goodbye to the middlemen

New Yorker music critic Alex Ross reported on his blog this morning that Radiohead, “the monumentally great English rock quintet” is bypassing record labels and on October 10th will offer their long-awaited album, In Rainbows, from a dedicated Web site on a pay-what-you-like basis. Ross billed this as “The death of popular music (as we know it)” but it could be a rebirth, similar to the revolution that happened in the eighties when Soundscan (the technology that records CD sales) was instituted and it was suddenly discovered that the best-selling album wasn’t by the over-hyped Michael Jackson but a little-known band from Georgia named R.E.M.

It’s too bad the unique character of visual art prevents it from being democratically disbursed, but instead is controlled by such a tight web of self-interest that we have no idea what people would find valuable if they had any say—if they could “vote” with the equivalent of a $9.99 download.

On the other hand, if I had to pay Radiohead what I thought their music was worth, I'd be broke.

Meanwhile the September 28th blog post of gallery owner (I refuse to use the term “gallerist”) Edward Winkleman poses the question: “Is there too much art?” (If you asked that about music, the answer would have to be “Yes, so much good music I can’t get to it all.”) The problem, however, isn’t a surfeit of art per se, but of inconsequential art marketed as great art. Is there too much art in Venice?