Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ex-son-in-law

The art world keeps us perpetual children in that we never lose that “back-to-school” feeling as we look forward to September’s first openings with both dread and excitement. Do you have your clothes laid out?

Anne Truitt, Pith, 1969

This season, however, got an early start with Glenn Beck’s debut as an art critic, which would be hilarious if there weren’t those out there who take him seriously. But why do we need Glenn Beck when we have our own Charlie Finch, who approaches his subjects with similar breathy astonishment and twisted logic? Consider his passive-aggressive Artnet piece (entitled “Mother-in-law”) on the late Anne Truitt’s upcoming survey at the Hirshhorn, where he mixes grudging admiration for her work (“The Hirshhorn retrospective should vault her into a special pantheon of her own, one which she occupied in privacy during her own life and in public now that her work belongs to the world”), with obvious glee at finally having an opportunity to get back at the bitch.

Anne Truitt, Hardcastle, 1962

Not to speak of being sexist while pretending to be critical of those who were. But I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Finch starts out by saying, “She was the driest, most detached person I had yet encountered, so removed that she toasted us young newlyweds at our reception by remarking that ‘it is like watching them go down Niagara Falls in a barrel.’" Hmmm. Far from being detached and removed, it sounds as if Truitt was nothing but present and prescient, feeling as any parent might on the occasion of her daughter being married to this guy.

In true Glenn Beck-like fashion, the revengeful son-in-law randomly weaves together biographical non sequiturs to make Truitt sound like a nut job: “She was obsessed with Alexander the Great, kept a picture of her Indian guru, whom she had never met, on her kitchen wall, and, at one point, conspired with other powerful Washington wives to drug their husbands’ cocktails with LSD in order to end the Vietnam War, though this plot was probably never realized.” Oooh! A picture of a guru on her wall! That she’d never met! As for the LSD plot, I’d like to see it properly footnoted. And God help me if some future biographer ever finds out how many books I’ve read on Elizabeth I.

Or how, in the studio, “she was painstaking to a fault” (to a fault?) and that one sculpture “marks the beginning of a self-enforced calm” as if she was barely able to keep the lid on.

Anne Truitt, Bloomsday, 1962

Finch’s sexism can be found in the order of things: “In the politics of art, she had helped Morris Louis' widow unroll his canvases, enjoyed a collaborative relationship with Kenneth Noland and was championed as an original by Clement Greenberg.” How differently these examples would read in reverse.

And here: “In addition to her large and adoring family, Anne was also the product of some especially fecund friends, in the thinking sense….” She was the product? Can you imagine saying that Donald Judd (or any male artist) was the product of his adoring family and, by implication, his obviously smarter friends? Or mentioning that he had helped unroll a peer’s canvases as a major life detail?

And finally there’s the insistence on tying the work with the personality and minimizing it by association with bits of biographical trivia as in “each is also a tribute to a specific relationship in her life” or that a certain sky-blue sculpture “represents a certain innocence and clothing color worn by the daughter I married” –this of a an artist who wrote in her memoir Daybook (published in 1982 and still in print) that it was “an essence rather than objects that held me, so I find it is only the abstract part of my experience that is real for me “(p.164) and that she wished “to set color free for its own sake” (p.89).

Loose biographical interpretation (which, in the art world, can sometimes be as fanciful as Beck’s diatribe) is cheap art criticism, the fall-back of critics and curators who don’t know any other way (how about observation?) to approach a work of art. For in the end what’s important is not how it got there, but what it is.

Anne Truitt in her Washington studio, 1962 (all images from annetruitt.org)

9 comments:

Daniel Wiener said...

I liked Anne and her work. I met her a few times in the early 80's

The origin of the "LSD in the cocktails" rumor comes from Timothy Leary.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Pinchot_Meyer

Thanks
Daniel

Joanne Mattera said...

Finch's opinions are what the are, but his sexism is appalling. People are afraid to ruffle Finch's feathers. You're not. You RULE!

Victoria Webb said...

Too bad you had to spend time on 're-alignment'. Sexism in art reviews simply shouldn't exist in 2009.

CAP said...

So how many books have you read on Elizabeth I?

Carol Diehl said...

Actually I WAS Elizabeth I in a former life.

EAGEAGEAG said...

Finch is a piece of work.

radioisfree said...

not sure glenn beck should be allowed to comment on ANYTHING! he would likely tell us to all point guns to our heads (if we had one) and end our misery. oh, to be young,perfect, and republican.

Anonymous said...

Finch has got another sexist review up now in which he keeps calling the artist by her first name and says she should give up before she loses her mind. So patronizing. Artnet has gone so downhill.

Anonymous said...

gee, you sure have a tin ear.

if finch had first said Greenberg loved her and ended with she helped unroll Morris Louis canvases, that you would like better?

this text is what we call an "original essay," with plenty of fascinating detail and no little feeling about its subject.