Thursday, February 28, 2008

Gropius speaks

Walter Gropius from “The Theory and Organization of the Bauhaus” (1923)

…lately the artist has been misled by the fatal and arrogant fallacy, fostered by the state, that art is a profession which can be mastered by study. Schooling alone can never produce art!…Academic training, however, brought about the development of a great art-proletariat destined to social misery. For this art-proletariat, lulled into a dream of genius and enmeshed in artistic conceit, was being prepared for the ‘profession’ of architecture, painting, sculpture or graphic art, without being given the equipment of a real education….Lack of all vital connection with the life of the community led inevitably to barren esthetic speculation. The fundamental pedagogic mistake of the academy arose from its preoccupation with the idea of the individual genius and its discounting the value of commendable achievement on a less exalted level. Since the academy trained a myriad of minor talents in drawing and painting, of whom scarcely one in a thousand became a genuine architect or painter, the great mass of these individuals, fed on false hopes and trained as one-sided academicians, was condemned to a life of fruitless artistic activity. Unequipped to function successfully in the struggle for existence, they found themselves numbered among the social drones, useless, by virtue of their schooling, in the productive life of the nation.

It’s interesting to see how these words easily apply to our times as well. Eighty-five years later, we’ve gone through the industrial revolution, and the artistic revolution that was a response to it has institutionalized itself to the point that we’re back in the same old place, needing again to reassess how we approach art and aesthetics to meet a new set of requirements for a new age.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

In the February issue of Interview, in a long conversation with Ingrid Sischy during which she asks if he’d give up those days when no one was interested if he could, John Baldessari says:

I’ve been more of a slow starter….During the time I was in San Diego I had no audience, just a couple of friends who did art, and yet I made some of the most important work of my career then. If I’d been in New York, I might have gotten too much attention. I think there is value in being under the radar. And now I don’t care about the spotlight because I am who I am so it doesn’t really matter. So yeah, I think that long maturation process has been worthwhile….I’m obsessed with art, and I’ve always told my students that while you have to be talented, you also have to be obsessed with art, to the point that you’re going to do it no matter what. I’m very thankful I became an artist during a time when you didn’t make money [doing it]….

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Monday, February 25, 2008

Still cracked

The installation at the Tate Modern (below), Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth provides an excellent example of rhetoric standing in for, or justifying, the art. This is excerpted from the publicity material, which I suggest reading in toto just to get the full effect:

Salcedo is addressing a long legacy of racism and colonialism that underlies the modern world…” The history of racism,” Salcedo writes, “runs parallel to the history of modernity, and is its untold dark side”…. Our own time, Salcedo is keen to remind us, remains defined by the existence of a huge socially excluded underclass, in Western as well as post-colonial societies…”

Hullo, it’s a crack. A crack. A break in concrete. The artist’s intention does not change the experience, which happens to be one that leads to strange parental behavior. But if you insist on metaphor, it could represent any disparity—including the one between those who are willing to shell out $50 for a Duchamp T-shirt and those who aren’t.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

England: Day 8

The artist, Doris Salcedo, has titled it Shibboleth, but everyone in London just calls it "The Crack." Salcedo's long, fractured opening in the concrete floor of the vast Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern is the latest installation in the Unilever Series, and a non-event as far as this viewer is concerned, since it never gets wide enough to seem like any kind of real division or threat. Children like fitting themselves into it and waving for the camera, and when I was there parents were busy dipping babies into it, something my friend, Emily, pointed out they would never do if they came across a similar opening in a street or sidewalk. However the Duchamp, Man Ray, and Picabia show, installed in 13 rooms, was totally worth the visit. I liked the T-shirt, too, black with a white Duchamp spiral, but at £25, almost the equivalent of $50, I passed it over.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Serra and process

Richard Serra from a video interview at MoMA on NewArtTV: “There isn’t any big paradigm shift. What happens is work comes out of work, and if the paradigm shift occurs, it’s because a problem leads to a different solution that you could not have anticipated.” Serra explains that he began his studio practice, not by plotting out specific pieces, but by asking himself questions such as: “What does it mean to build something that has a fixed joint?” “What does it mean to balance something?…to counterbalance something?” When asked by a journalist how he sees his future work at this point in his career, Serra repeats, “Work comes out of work. I don’t anticipate work to come….I just want to work.”

Ah, more support for my contention that art springs not from the “idea” or “concept” (see Back from VSC 2/1 and Talking the talk or…2/3 and the discussion in the Comments) that so many students are encouraged to have in place before they begin, but from the work itself and the questions it raises. The danger is that a “concept” can easily become a closed circuit—with the work remaining simply an illustration of that concept—whereas a “question” is an open one. This is not to say that there’s no place for analysis, but it’s a different activity, not to be mistaken for the art.

At its best, art produces responses that can’t be quantified—that are sensed rather than understood. So if we’re after something that can’t be understood, or an answer we didn’t anticipate, intellect won’t help us, only intuition—and the work, our process, is the stage we set to allow intuition to unfold.

Similarly, when talking or writing about their work, artists often give so much information, or information extraneous to the experience, that it interferes with the reaction to it and cuts off the possibility of responses they may not have anticipated—you can torture yourself with examples of this also on NewArtTV such as Diana Thater saying, “My work is about, for the most part, learning and knowing through observation that observation is knowledge or intense observation produces knowledge….” Does that make you crazy to see her work or what?

This is why, when I’m king, along with abolishing the artists’ statement, I’ll also regulate wall text, which I’ve noticed museum visitors spend more time with than the work itself. It’s not that information about an exhibition shouldn’t exist, but best relegated to a special room near the exit, one to which visitors can only gain entrance after proving that they’ve actually looked at what’s on display by taking a short quiz.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

England: Day 1

Here signs along the road say “Thank you for driving carefully.” I like that, because it implies that you’re already driving carefully (see CAUTION, below). Positive reinforcement. Also the signs in the parking garages say, “Way out,” which is cooler than “Exit,” man. And regarding England’s current obsession with food and cooking, at Sainsbury’s, which isn’t a specialty store but an ordinary giant supermarket like Gristede’s or Price Chopper, we bought packaged sausage—“6 Scottish wild venison & red wine sausages, coarsely chopped, with fresh sage and redcurrant jelly” (two packages for roughly $7) and a package of wood pigeon breast fillets that the checkout guy—the checkout guy—suggested we sauté with some shallots and a red or port wine reduction.

No socks

Before I left New York, I stopped in at Ann Taylor to buy my favorite socks and found that they had none at all. The salespeople told me that socks were “out of season.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


I'm off to England, which means I may be posting sporadically through the end of the month--but maybe even more often than usual, who knows? I sure can pick my winter getaways, can't I? First upper Vermont, now the U. K. But anything's better than being thigh-high in slush.

Kara Walker, revisited

Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love closed at the Whitney Museum in New York on February 3rd. It can be seen at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles from March 2nd to June 8th.

Following are notes from a conversation I had while surveying the exhibition at the Whitney with J.P., a friend who I used to perform with at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, a black poet who makes a point of going beyond racial content in her work. As you'll see, the conversation is often contradictory and comes to no conclusion, but is presented here simply as fuel for discussion, which may be the biggest contribution of the exhibition itself.

C.D. & J.P.: Everything is, like the subject, black and white: the images, the message. There’s no subtlety.

J.P.: Is it possible that her early success made it difficult for her work to change and grow? The American culture reflects arrested adolescence. It’s the way an adolescent would view sexuality.

C.D.: It reminds me of the pictures of penises the boys in junior high used to draw on their desks.

J.P.: It appears she’s coming out of her own psychic distress. If her intent is to provoke, then she succeeds.

C.D.: But to what end? What are we supposed to do with the feelings she stirs up? Does she change anything?

J.P.: She signifies blackness to the audience who is seeing “the other.” In that way it reinforces the separation. On the other hand, she’s witnessing, testifying, bringing out what’s hidden. It’s compelling on a visual level, moves like a narrative. And she succeeds in throwing us back to that time, that moment. The figures are the same size as our bodies,

C.D.: Our shadows make us cutouts as well. We’re part of the piece.

J.P.: We’re the inheritors of these crimes. And we’re creating our own equally brutal history, with what we’re doing to the Iraqis, and to nature. And in art…look at Damien Hirst and his shark at the Met. Here’s a being that swam, lived, and worked—a creature greater than all of Damien Hirst’s parts, and one that’s not allowed peace in his death. Damien is like the devil, and his last name should be “hurts” rather than Hirst. The shark has no rights, it’s a commodity.

C.D.: Is racism Walker’s commodity?

J.P.: She is a product of this history.

C.D.: In one way or another, we are all the children of slavery. PC art allows people to get off too easily. If you’re black, the message reinforces feelings of victimization—while whites see this show or collect the work and therefore feel absolved of something, the way people in the Roman Catholic Church used to buy indulgences.

J.P.: This is her present experience, but she’s stating the same problem over and over. The most intimate moment is when you see the newspaper pictures of the senators from Mississippi, the white slave owners.

C.D.: They’re the most complex—and the true victims, because their psyches are twisted.

J.P.: Walker achieves something complex even though it feels simple. It works psychologically, and feels claustrophobic.

C.D.: After you spend time with it, the atmosphere is suffusing, suffocating; you can almost feel what it was like to be alive then. In that way it’s more powerful than I expected. However there are no deep or complex issues at work here; it’s simply a matter of the good guys and the bad guys, titillating images no matter who's behind them. I fear that art that relies on stereotype works on base emotions and ultimately only reinforces the differences.

I’m more interested in art that doesn’t borrow energy from sensationalism but has power on its own. We'll know that the art world has overcome its innate sexism and racism when the Whitney, MoMA, or the Guggenheim features a black female artist whose work has nothing to do with gender or race.
If you saw the exhibition—or even if you didn’t, since a no-show by an art-interested New Yorker is a statement in itself—please post a long or short review as a Comment below.
Holland Cotter in The New York Times

Christian Viveros-Faune in The Village Voice

Howard Halle in Time Out New York

Jerry Saltz in New York, republished on ArtNet

Hilton Als in The New Yorker (profile)

475 Kent, update II

Please sign this online petition to Mayor Bloomberg to help get the ousted artists back into their homes and workspaces:

Sunday, February 10, 2008

475 Kent, update

Even if the building were unsafe, for the Fire Department to come on a frigid Sunday evening and suddenly order everyone out of their homes and into the streets, seems cruel, unusual, and inhumane. What, didn't they know that morning? Or on the previous Friday? And were people really safer on the streets in sub-freezing temperatures than in a building, any building? This has happened before, but often the landlord was behind it. Not here, which makes one wonder what's really going on. And where is Mr. Art, Mayor Bloomberg?

Here's the follow-up from The New York Times.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

In the galleries: February

Robert Zandviliet at Peter Blum
Yesterday, anticipating a round of gallery-going in Chelsea, I was actually excited, which caused me to think perhaps I’d stayed much too long in the country. Surprisingly, my emotion was justified. After seeing shows in almost 20 galleries, I came away with the feeling that things were changing, that something new was stirring that could bode well for the future. Of course there was still plenty of the academic post-conceptual mumbo jumbo that’s tormented us for the last God-knows-how-many years (Luis Gispert’s lurid video at Mary Boone could be its apotheosis), but it was countered by a lot of abstract painting that looked new, fresh, and light-hearted, by artists who appear to be taking their art-making seriously. For a change. Beauty and formal concerns seem to be in, irony is out. I hope I’m not speaking too soon when I say, whew! It’s been a long haul.

Juan Usle at Cheim & Read
Often a theme emerges during a day in Chelsea, and this time it might be called “Casual Abstraction.” Now we’ve had a lot of painting that looks as if the artist isn’t trying because he/she can’t paint, doesn’t care, and art is a stupid endeavor anyway (such as Josh Smith at Luhring Augustine last year with the press release about how his “anti-art aesthetic intentionally defies the rules of artistic convention in an ironic and informed manner”), which is very different from the work I saw yesterday where the artist knows how to paint and does care, but wants it to look spontaneous and effortless, as if it “just happened.” Such as:

Chris Martin at Mitchell-Innes & Nash
Dutch artist Robert Zandvliet at Peter Blum (through 2/23), Spanish artist Juan Usle at Cheim & Read (through 3/15) and of course Chris Martin, who got such a big play in The New York Times, at Mitchell-Innes & Nash. I can’t say I loved all of the work in all of the shows, but there were some standouts and best of all, seeing it made me want to go home and paint.

There was also a healthy dose of geometric abstraction sprinkled about in group shows too (unfortunately the one at McKenzie Fine Art, which included work by Ann Pibal and Don Voisine, has since closed), such as Marjorie Welish’s paintings at Zieher-Smith (through 2/23) and an especially lovely solo show by Danish painter Leif Kath at Elizabeth Harris (through 3/8).

Leif Kath at Elizabeth Harris
And although my former dealer, Betty Cuningham, has always loved the realist landscapes of Rackstraw Downs, I never got it until this show (through 3/12) where the installation is as much a part of the work as the painting. It was also fun to see my fave blog The Sartorialist at Danziger Projects and to see which photographs he chose to feature.

Of course there will always be shows where the emperor has no clothes, but rarely so literally as at the Winkleman Gallery where Christopher K. Ho has depicted the owner in sculpture au naturel (ended 2/9). It would be nice if his nudity made the art dealer seem vulnerable, but alas, Winkleman is just too buff for that, so it’s more like art dealer as sex god, a double whammy.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Richard Prince, revisited

What did you think of the Richard Prince show?

It was a one-liner.



That’s what I thought.

Here’s what some other people thought:

Now I’d like to know what you thought. I see it as an opportunity to test how much the powers that be in the art world actually represent us. Write a review in the Comments, Amazon-style, with one to five stars, and your evaluation, such as “It was great! It sucked!” and then—the most important part—why. It can be as long or short as you want, and you can use your name, a nickname, or be anonymous. I also hope you'll identify your relationship to the art world—artist, curator, writer, teacher, arts administrator, student, gallerist (horrible word—I prefer “gallerista” or “galleristo” myself), observer or whatever. And I’ve noticed how, on Amazon, not having read the book often doesn’t deter people from reviewing it. Same here; if you're an art-interested New Yorker and didn’t get there—after all, it was up for a third of a year--your reason for skipping/avoiding/forgetting it is valid because I’m not sure we get a true picture if we only query only those who were interested enough to go.

Make sure your comment registers and that you see the “Your comment has been saved” banner. If not, type in the code words and click again.

And feel free to pass this on to students, friends, whomever, anyone you think would like to weigh in.

Thanks! And then check back to see what's been written.


Actually I found the visitors to the Guggenheim, on the very last day of the show, way more interesting than the art. Such as this father and his art student daughter from Australia:

And this family from Croatia. Either they're the coolest people in Croatia or everyone there is cool:


As one whose account number was once repeated back to her by an automated customer service voice prompt as "F-U-F-U-I-8-U!!!" this site, which tells you how to circumvent all that and get to a real person, is the answer to my prayers:

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Talking the talk or....

It’s always gratifying to have one’s beliefs confirmed, especially by the likes of Jasper Johns. Following yesterday’s post and comments about the relative necessity of artists being able to articulate what their work means (I think that’s what critics are for—why do their job for them?) comes a piece in today's New York Times about the upcoming exhibition at the Met organized around his gray paintings, about which Johns says, “Yes, gray is important to me. But I don’t tend to think of it as separate from the rest of my work” and explains his relationship to the tradition of monochromatic painting by stating, “I was trying to do something else.” A good press release that does not make. I’ve met Johns and found him, as he’s known to be, distinctly unresponsive in conversation. But does that mean he's any less an artist? Sometimes people choose a visual means of expression because words are not their strong point. Johns’s reticence, however, may be seen as a matter of choice rather than the result of simple inhibition when, at the end of the article, he’s quoted as saying, “To me…self description is a calamity.” You can’t get more emphatic than that.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Back from VSC

Visiting with 25 or so artists last week at the Vermont Studio Center, I found that part of my job there--besides eating as much bread, butter, and dessert as possible--was to poke holes in some closely-held art world tenets:

Artworks must be consistent for a final review, to show a dealer, or for an exhibition. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. I’m not sure where this reverence for sameness came from. Even though its usefulness has been flagrantly disproven by two of the most famous artists of our time, Louise Bourgeois and Gerhard Richter, it persists among young artists who are afraid to experiment because their job, as they see it, is to produce a “body of work” with a singular character. Sometimes I have to remind them that what looks like a big difference to the artist is negligible to the viewer, and that their work is unified simply by being theirs. But even if the leaps were huge, so what? While I’ve never been to an exhibition where observers complained that the work was too diverse, I’ve been to plenty where it was criticized for being too similar.

You have to have a concept in mind—and be able to articulate it—before you can start working. This belief stops many people from making art before they even begin. Ideas come from the process, not the other way around. It’s about starting somewhere, anywhere, and seeing where it leads. The starting point can be a concept, but as such it’s just another tool, a means to the end. If you know the outcome before you do the work, why bother?

After it’s finished, the artist should be able to explain what the work is about and why he/she did it. I have to admit that I had no idea what my work meant or could mean—to me or anyone—until I read the reviews. And while other people have contributed many interpretations, all of which feel valid, if you ask me what my current work is about I really have no clue. Where did it come from? I don’t know; it just happened. In his New York Times obituary Roy Lichtenstein was quoted as saying “I don’t think artists like myself have the faintest idea what we’re doing…”

When I’m king, along with regulating how early in the season stores can start flogging for Christmas and changing the term “ice pellets” back to “sleet,” I’m going to outlaw artist’s statements.