Saturday, December 29, 2007


In an unusually touching piece in this week’s New York magazine (Dec. 24-31), entitled “Love Underground,” four couples describe, in their own words, how they met in the subway—and it reminded me again (see below) of how agents and publishers may not be in touch with what the public wants to read and, of course, I AM. Many years ago I wrote a proposal for a book of interviews with couples entitled How They Met. I’d been collecting the stories for some time, my favorite being about how University of Iowa graduate student, Matt, got to spend time with Jude, the aloof and glamorous New York artist and professor, when he accidentally cut off the tip of this finger in the sculpture studio and she, who was supervising the studio, accompanied him to the hospital. He said "it was totally worth it to have this beautiful woman with me in the ambulance, rubbing my chest" (they’ve been together now for many years, and BTW his finger got sewed together and is fine).

Anyway, I wrote up the proposal, got on the subway, and dropped it off at 5:00 at the office of a legendary literary agent. She called at 9:00 the next morning (I was still asleep and, at first, thought it was my aunt calling) to say she was interested in representing the project on the condition that I’d be willing to change it to interviews with celebrities. I was not. That wasn’t my idea at all. Who cares how celebrities meet? My interest was in real people—I saw myself as a collector of oral histories, the Studs Terkel of modern romance, spreading hope among the lovelorn.

Less than two years later I was walking by a bookstore in the Village and there it was in the window, How They Met, interviews with celebrities such as Walter Matthau, Robertson Davies, Jay Leno, Daniel Dinkins, and Carly Simon, published just in time for Valentine’s Day. I just checked, and you can buy it on for $1.00. Not exactly a bestseller. (However I remember once reading, perhaps in Rolling Stone, that when Carly Simon and James Taylor first met at a party they went immediately into the bathroom to fuck—if it’s in the book, that story alone might make it worthwhile. But do we really care how Mrs. Matthau met Mr. Matthau?)

I can’t do the book now because it’s such a good idea that, completely independently, the New York Times took it up and the “Vows” column on the wedding page, is one of their most popular. However if anyone wants to comment and tell me how they met, I’m all ears.
The photo is from the NY Magazine article, of Mitchell Ratchick and Suzanna Ko.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas is over

No, this isn't a Paul McCarthy, but the aftermath of our Christmas cake. After taking this photo, Roberto threw it away. He couldn't bear to eat the head.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Even though the heading was "I still want it all," when I sent this out as an ecard a few years ago, most of my friends thought it was an antique image I found somewhere and didn't get that it was me. But it is me, with my brother, John, probably at Wanamaker's in Philadelphia. My father took the photo and did the lettering. That's a terrifying grip Santa has on my arm.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

More about seeing

In the latest issue of The New Yorker (December 24 & 31) there’s a cartoon by Michael Maslin of two toddlers in a playroom, and as their mothers approach, one says to the other, “Here they come—act infantile.” It reminded me of a conversation I had with Judy Fox, where we were talking about drawing being all about observation (but then, isn’t everything?), and I said I thought we underestimate children’s abilities, that if they were shown more sophisticated ways of seeing their world they’d be able to represent it. I was thinking about how my father, an engineer, taught me to draw in perspective when I was five. My early talents lay with music, and artistically speaking, I don’t think I was particularly precocious—yet as soon as my father pointed the concept out to me, I could draw it. Judy told me that when she was little, she drew stick figures because she thought that’s what she was supposed to do. Then one day in school when her friends were wondering what adults looked like naked, she volunteered that she’d seen a naked adult and proceeded to draw them a picture—with such graphically detailed breasts, nipples, belly button, and pubic hair that it was immediately confiscated by the teacher. Ultimately Judy grew up to be a sculptor of naked people, but at the time she took the wiser course and went back to stick figures.

Judy's sculptural installation, Snow White and the Seven Sins, was seen in New York this fall at P.P.O.W. and will be exhibited at Ace Gallery in Beverly Hills in the upcoming months, dates to be determined.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Everything you always wanted to know about Art Basel/Miami but were afraid to ask

For all five of us who didn't go to Art Basel/Miami, Joanne Mattera has posted a complete review with pictures and comments on her blog that feels almost like being there--minus the sore feet and champagne.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

More winter brights

While I'm on the subject, I could not resist posting this photo I took on my first trip to Reykjavik, where they have the most sophisticated sense of winter fashion:

Winter brights

Scott introduced me to The Sartorialist fashion blog, and now I’m an addict, because it doesn’t feature fashionistas but people the world over, young and old, who have created their own style of dressing. Therefore I was inspired to take this picture of the gentleman who sat down across from me in the Coop café the other day, who I’d noticed a number of times before because of his charmingly colorful garb. Neither hippie-ish nor gypsy-ish, his elaborate use of bright color only enhances his thoroughly distinguished look. It turns out he’s an Irishman named John ffrench (the correct Norman spelling), and a ceramicist who uses a lot of color in his work. It must run in the family. ffrench told me his wife buys his clothes, while his daughter, Crispina, is well-known in the Berkshires for her colorful fashions made of recycled fabric.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sign of the times

Leaving the Whitney Museum the other day, we were in the mood for a quick cup of soup. The coffee shop that used to be in the same block was gone. Walking down Madison we passed a number of upscale restaurants, but no place where you could sit and simply get a bite--until 15 blocks later the Viand coffee shop appeared, looking like a complete anachronism amidst all the the steel and glass glitz. It reminded me of a piece the late Glen Seator did in 1999, where he inserted a full-scale replica of a check-cashing joint into the facade of Gagosian's Beverly Hills gallery. At the time Michael Duncan in Art in America saw it as "rather obvious social commentary" saying that "the contrast between the high-tone gallery and the low-rent check-cashing store seemed too much of an insider art world joke." Now the joke's on us when we can't get a cup of soup.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Kara's brother

How many people notice, upon leaving the Kara Walker exhibition at the Whitney, that there's another show equally rooted in racial stereotypes outside?

It's up to you

It was reported in the New York Times Sunday that with their pay-what-you-will system, Radiohead sold 1.2 million downloads of their new album, In Rainbows, grossing somewhere between one and five million dollars. The article suggests, with some skepticism, that this could be a new business model. I had a friend who, in the eighties, worked in a California restaurant where the diners were asked to leave whatever amount they thought the meal was worth. She said they consistently overpaid.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

It's really all Chinese

The weird thing was that after seeing so much Chinese art at the beginning of my Chelsea tour (see "It's all Chinese" below), everything else began to look Chinese too. Ross Bleckner’s Chinese red flower swirls:

Cy Twombly’s splash blossoms, also Chinese red, were like blown-up brush paintings, and I'm amazed that I never before made the association between Pat Steir’s drip paintings and Oriental screens:

And Charles Ray’s farmer? Definitely Chinese:

Saturday, December 8, 2007

It's all Chinese

Su Xinping (Stux)

This week, pounding the sidewalks of Chelsea, it became more and more evident that the Chinese takeover of the art world is complete. First stop was the group show at the vast Arario Gallery (521 West 21st with three other branches are in Korea and Beijing) followed by another across the street at Stux. While there’s no means of presentation here that’s particularly new—the Asians are riffing on Western contemporary art in a big way—it’s oddly refreshing. They bring, however, more than just exotica to the mix. While Westerners appreciate traditional Asian painting and sculpture for its beauty, at the same time it's opaque, a foreign language. By adopting Western tropes, these younger Asian artists are working with a visual code we understand, and one that allows their personal sensibilities to shine through. In writing classes I taught in the graduate program at SVA, where many of the students are Asian, I made a practice of encouraging foreign students to forget about using correct grammar and simply concentrate on expressing their thoughts and feelings. The results were charming and illuminating—and because of their heartfelt nature—surprisingly literary. The students told me they could express personal insights and observations in English that would be unimaginable within the confines and traditions of their native languages.

However the same Warholian and Duchampian ideas that the Asians find so liberating have been recycling in the West now for more than thirty years, to the point that they have become mechanical and rote. Pushed in art school to do work that looks “relevant,” students imitate what they see in galleries, which is work generated by artists who were imitating what they saw in galleries ten years before, which is work those artists saw in galleries ten years before that, so by now it’s all so denatured and watered down that it looks like the souvenir shop version of the original impulse.

Perhaps its time for us to take up brush painting.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Thorsteinn's Star

More from my friend, Einar (click label below for other posts), here with his newest configuration. He tells me a few (around 14) stars or stellated polyhedrons are known in geometry, the earliest being those of German mathematician, astronomer, and astrologer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630).

Einar first discovered Kepler's stars in the Kepler Museum in Weil der Stadt, Germany in 1973. That, along with meeting Buckminster Fuller in 1975, was the beginning of his involvement with geometry. When I asked how long this project took he said, "I've been working on geometry since 1973 and cannot figure out how much of this third of a century it took to finally define the Thorsteinn Star. Maybe it was the fine Brieselang air..." -- referring to the village outside Berlin where he and Manuela live.

I wanted to know more, and when I looked up Kepler I found this image, which I suggested to Einar looked a lot like him. True, Kepler's nose is much longer, as Einar immediately pointed out, and his eyes are brown, not blue. But what I see isn't a superficial commonality as much as a mischievous glint in the eye and look of deep inner satisfaction.

For more information on stellation and facetting, Einar suggests Guy Inchbald’s website:

Friday, November 30, 2007

Glass works

I have a confession to make to Philip Glass: I’ve been taking him for granted. Never mind that some of my most thrilling musical moments have been at live Glass performances, I simply have not kept up and never think of playing his music while I’m working. That changed when I suddenly decided to more thoroughly investigate the contents of my iTunes by going through it alphabetically, which meant that I was just as likely to be listening to a College Art Association lecture or French poetry as Gorillaz. One of things that surfaced in my experiment was the piano opening of Glassworks (1982) and I was surprised at how beautiful it was after not hearing it all these years. That rediscovery coincided with an article by Alex Ross in the November 5th issue of The New Yorker on new works by Glass. Ross points out that the hullabaloo over Steve Reich’s 70th birthday was substantially greater than that over Glass’s, and notes that much of the problem with Glass’s credibility among intellectuals is that he writes faster than most of us can listen (“I just got sick of him,” my friend Maria said when I told her what I was writing about). Well on Ross’s advice I bought (from Amazon, it’s not down-loadable) Glass’s Eighth Symphony (2005), and have found it very listenable and not at all predictable and repetitious as I expected (“It’s a dirty job,” a rock musician friend once said when I played him Music with Changing Parts, “but somebody has to do it”). Much of the Eighth Symphony sounds like a Wagner/Glass mash-up or Wagner if he wasn’t always portending something, and had listened to a lot of Philip Glass. Glass also portends, but it’s a slow build and more about the journey than the payoff. In alphabetical order on my iTunes what comes after the Eighth Symphony is Passages (1990), Glass’s collaboration with Ravi Shankar, and rediscovering that as well has been delightful--parts that remind me of the other-worldly trill of the wood thrush, along with sections that are surprisingly Paul Winter-ish. However if I’m going to continue to play Glass I have to be careful to make a separate playlist for him because if I stay on the alphabetical track what comes after Philip is the Pixies, and that’s a tough transition.

Then there was the week my iPod got a mind of its own and refused to play anything but Oasis …but that’s another story.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Satisfied studio day

I've been working on my GREEN painting for an hour or so this morning--after months, it's almost finished--(you can follow the whole torturous story if you click on the "Painting" label below) and I love it so much I can't stop looking at it. I was about to write, "Isn't life weird?" until I remembered my old boy friend, Claude, saying, "Compared with what?"

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Form and fog

There are people in the world who spend much of their time conjuring up geometric forms no one has used before. One such person is my previously-mentioned friend, Einar Thorsteinn, whose configurations often appear in Olafur Eliasson’s work. Einar just sent me these photos (click to enlarge) of himself in Olafur’s studio, working with one of his latest, which has the working title of “MoMA Joint” because it’s intended for use in Olafur’s upcoming survey exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. Einar suggests that the stackable form can have other, more practical applications, such as being cast in concrete for the walls of a house, where the openings could become windows.

The level of rigor Einar contributes to Olafur's work was what I found lacking in the wire sculptures in Antony Gormley’s recent show at Sean Kelly (up through December 1st). I want to like Gormley’s work because I’ve never forgotten the first piece I saw of his in 1991--entitled Field, it consisted of 35,000 handmade clay figures assembled on the gallery floor, all of whom seemed to be beseeching me. With overtones of war and poverty—even though those issues weren’t addressed directly, or perhaps because they weren’t—it was quite moving.

However these current sculptures of Gormley's seem rather lackadaisical--as if they haven't made up their minds whether to be tight and geometric or loose and organic, but hover uncomfortably in-between--and his glassed-in room filled with steam needs some additonal aspect to make it more than....a glassed-in room filled with steam. It’s a lot of technology for not a lot of impact. When an artist puts that much effort and expense into building something, our expectations rise accordingly—whereas Robert Irwin gets a lot more mileage out of a mere piece of scrim.


Light fantastic addendum

From a comment (thank you!) under my post below, “Light Fantastic” about Jenny Holzer’s projection piece at Mass MoCA, I learned that you can access a live feed from it here, which is very cool. And before you go see the actual piece, you might want to check that site, because last weekend friends made the trip from Catskill, NY, only to find out that it wasn’t working that day.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Comfort info

My father was an engineer who not only was able to fix anything, he could answer almost any technical question, and did--so thoroughly that you didn’t want to ask him something like, “How do televisions work?” if you had somewhere to go later. Because my brother is the same way, I grew up thinking these were universal male traits, only to be sadly disappointed when I reached adulthood. Now that my brother is only available by email (although full of wisdom should I ask) there's no one around—like here in this room—who can give me the answers I want right now. That’s why I find reading Rule the Web, by Mark Frauenfelder, oddly comforting, the way other people might feel eating an apple pie that tastes just like their mother's. Basically the book tells you everything you ever wanted to know about using the Internet, with the information presented in the form of questions organized around various topics (Searching and Browsing, Shopping and Selling, Media and Entertainment, etc.). Like my father, Frauenfelder is careful not to make you feel stupid if you don’t already know the answer, and I'm guessing that there’s stuff in here even my brother doesn’t know. Anyway, I just started reading it and already I found a former colleague’s telephone number on (I long ago gave up using telephone books or directory assistance, but those online white pages are often inadequate) and ordered a year’s worth of Vanity Fair on eBay (who knew they sold magazine subscriptions?) for $7.99.

And I'll add my own tip, too new for Frauenfelder's book:, a not-for-profit site that makes it easy to take your land address off retailer's lists and bring an end to the pounds of unwanted catalogs that come in the mail every day.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Turkey and Gorillaz

One thing to be grateful for in our wacked-out world is that music is better than ever. So forget the parade, the biggest cultural event of my Thanksgiving Day will be listening to Gorillaz' D-Sides, the just-released double compilation of B-sides, remixes, and extra tracks, guaranteed to make you dance around the house no matter how grey it is outside. Listen to the gorgeous Hong Kong here, where Damon Albarn croons David Bowie-style (“you swallow me, I’m just a pill on your tongue”) accompanied by a Chinese harp. I read that he recorded it in Hong Kong, too.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Fine lines

In the post below about Jenny Holzer, I noted that the artist underwrote some of the costs of the exhibition, which on the face of it seems laudatory and in this case, where Mass MoCA was brought up short by the Buchel debacle, it no doubt is. However what kind of precedent does it set? An article in the New York Times today, entitled "Museums Solicit Dealers’ Largess," focuses on the now common practice of galleries contributing to the exhibition costs of publicly funded museums when their artists are featured, yet another example of commerce having an influence on the art we see.

Light fantastic

An unexpected outcome of the Buchel debacle (say “Buchel debacle” ten times) at Mass MoCA, is that the institution now has the best exhibition in its decade-long history: Jenny Holzer’s first interior light projection project in the U.S. Entitled, appropriately, Projections, it'll be on view for nearly a year. Director Joe Thompson told us last night at the opening that Holzer called and asked, “Is there anything I can do to help?” volunteering to step in and even offering to cover the cost of very expensive projection equipment--with lamps so bright, Thompson said, that they could even project on the mountains that surround the museum. Here Holzer's signature light projections fill Mass MoCA's humongous main gallery, playing over walls, ceilings, floors and visitors, who can flop on giant grey beanbags and take it all in. When the art world was small, it was possible for artists to see everything of importance and react to it in one way or another. Now that it’s global and dispersed, no one can see everything and we’re going in a million different directions at once. That could be good—who knows?—but it limits the conversation. Therefore I think works such as this, which can be experienced by thousands, or even millions, of people, are the most significant for our culture--and this is the most exciting I’ve seen since Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s The Gates and Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project at the Tate Modern.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

More Time out for Time Out

The other day at the Metro North station a six-year-old boy was pointing out a little splat of throw-up on the platform to anyone and everyone and I thought, “That must be the editor of Time Out/New York.”

How did I miss this one in my house-tidying phase? The “Animal Issue—From Awwww to Ewwww” (Sept. 27-Oct. 3) with such features as:

Beastly Does it—Betcha can’t guess which animal species has the biggest johnson of all!

Varmint District—Roaches, rats, pigeons and squirrels: How do they spend their time?

Pest Side Story—Squeamish types, you’ll love this, we promise! Keep a barf bag handy.

I am not making this up! Are there really no more artists, musicians, dancers, poets, film makers or fashion designers left in the city to write about? I guess not. It’s all developers and rats.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Old and cool, new and cool

Today, going to the city, I finally listened to music again after not wanting to disturb the memory of the casual, slightly unplugged Yo La Tengo concert at Mass MoCA Saturday night. Yo La Tengo, who I first heard at Maxwell’s in Hoboken around the time of their inception in 1984, may have the best career of any band—steady and long-lasting—while the music, which runs the gamut from mellow to hard rock, is changing and experimental. They were among the first of the cool indie bands—it’s possible they invented the genre—and are still as cool and indie as ever, with a whole new audience of teenage fans. The opener, however, a Vermont folkie who goes by the name of Dredd Foole, was dread-full (he set himself up for that). His off-key yowling sent me fleeing to the lobby for tea and a very satisfying chocolate mousse. I’ve heard some of the worst openers ever at Mass MoCA, which is sad when you think about how many excellent musicians there are in the area. I also wish they’d give more thought to the music they blast to indicate, along with the house lights, that the show is over—it can be a shock to the system when you’re in a Yo La Tengo haze.

Then today was the last day of the Asian Art Fair. Son Matt has just returned from accompanying his friend, British DJ Adam Freeland, on a tour of China, and reports that Shanghai is the cultural capital of the universe, with architecture that looks like Blade Runner times ten and the most stylishly dressed women anywhere. The Asian Art Fair, a particularly manageable pier show, convinced me that the vogue for Asian, especially Chinese, art is more than a fad. A deft merging of old images and ideas with new sensibilities and media, much of the work was light and—gasp!—aesthetic, compared with Western art, which seems destined to drown in a dreary sea of academic conceptualism.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Time Out for Time Out

I’m throwing out old magazines, and just couldn’t let this go unmentioned before consigning it to recycling—the Sex issue of Time Out/New York (Oct. 5-12), which, if you missed it (and you’re lucky if you did) is like a Mad Magazine spoof of a listings magazine as edited by Larry Flynt. It has suggestions on where to go and what to do if you want all your orifices filled at once or fantasize about being raped, and the magazine paid for a staffer to go to a legal brothel in Reno and report on his experience. And I just wanted to know what time the Whitney opened! Really, sex hasn’t seemed this disgusting since I was ten. The editor later said, “If you do a sex issue and no one cancels, you’re probably not doing your job,” the idea being that if you’re not into porn you’re a prude, and he’s just as happy to have all prudes cancel. What I want to know is, where is feminism now that we need it?

I’ve been able to find additional reasons to cancel my subscription, however, one being that it comes a week too late, and another is the stupidest review of anything I ever read (in the Oct. 18-24 issue, which I’m also tossing)—Mike Wolf’s review of Radiohead’s In Rainbows where he devotes the first two thirds to a rehash of the band’s decision to release the album on their own (totally old news by then) and when he finally gets down to the music says, “Admittedly, I’m not a big Radiohead fan, though the group’s ongoing ability to make cryptically sweet alternative rock is admirable” and “it’s safe to say that Radiohead fans, an unwavering lot, will be satisfied with both the music and the near-certainty that they each paid a fair amount for the artist’s work.” If he dislikes the music and wants to subject it to a critique, fair’s fair. But this is akin to an editor assigning a writer who doesn’t like raw fish to review a Japanese restaurant…“Those who like sushi would probably enjoy the iku-tama but I’m not into that sort of thing, so I’ll give it one star”—or how about a book review that reads, “I’m completely bored by murder mysteries, but if I weren’t I’m guessing Robert Ludlam’s new thriller would be a page-turner…”

On the other hand perhaps I should be glad, because it opens up whole new possibilities for art writing such as, “Personally I dislike overwrought gestural paintings by Saatchi-promoted British artists, but those who don’t will relish Marlene Dumas’s upcoming retrospective at MoMA”…I think I’ll try it.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Bunnies and Baselitzes

In New York magazine this week (Nov. 12) is an article about art advisor Kim Heirston who, it says, has “helped old money and new get into the market.” It describes how, “In recent years, she’s put her clients’ money—and her own—in such emerging artists as Piotr Uklanski, Urs Fischer, and Ugo Rondinone. Over the mantel of her art-stuffed, all-white living room is a purple metallic ‘tinfoil’ painting by Anselm Reyle….Today she’s long on Baselitz. ‘Almost all of my clients have one or two Baldessaris in their collections,’ she says… ‘Most of my clients have a Ruscha…’ And, of course, she’s tried to make everyone buy a Reyle.”

Hmmm. The article suggests that the value of Heirston’s Reyle has gone from $10,000 to $600,000 in two years. Is there no conflict of interest in collecting and trying to get other people to buy the same artists, thereby raising the value of your holdings? (Oh, Carol, you’re so old-fashioned…conflict of interest? Nobody cares about that anymore!) I also thought a good art advisor helped clients develop their tastes, but here, where everyone owns the same thing, taste doesn’t seem to be an issue. Someone likened the current art market to the Dutch tulip craze of the late 16th century, where outlandish speculation in tulips and bulbs caused huge numbers of people to lose their shirts. It used to be that the price of art was relative to its influence on other artists, its value to the culture, something that was determined over time. Back in the day—oh, say, a decade ago—it took ten years for an artist’s work to reach the auction houses. But in this speeded up market—and it is a “market,” no longer a “scene”— the only measure is hype. It reminds me of when I was a little kid and my friends and I exchanged trading cards. I’ll give you two kittens for a bunny. Three for a Baselitz.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Mots trouves

Writing articles about Marisol and Louise Nevelson (as I have recently for Art in America--although when they’ll be published is anyone’s guess), both of whom based their work on scavenged materials, made me realize that one of the things that made art in New York so rich during the sixties, seventies and eighties was that the artists lived in the industrial neighborhoods of SoHo and Tribeca, where tons of free stuff—the refuse of manufacturing concerns—was available on the street every night. Artists use what is at hand, and with that in mind I turned to what’s most plentiful in my life at the moment—spam. My friend, Carol Gingles, was the one who came up with the idea of writing poems with spam, so now, instead of opening Outlook with a sense of dread, I think, “Oh boy, maybe I have some spam! I hope it has the word ‘penis’ in it.”

For those who missed the open mic in Housatonic last night, here is my first effort:

Market investor alert
Home based business opportunity
Users to create
Interpersonal divide

I was looking for you
We will lead you to your new sexual life
Sex can
End the annoying obesity now
Quick, grab this
The students he’s seen
Use such tools
All with the goal of
Credit points

I may be mad but I’m not mistaken
Don’t miss out on your chance to become
A real penis
And go across campus
Explaining constructions to a living pig
Most appropriate
Quality replicas
Give her a satisfying smile every time you fuck

Monday, November 5, 2007

More definitions

Again, I'm always looking for more distinctions so we can sort through the plethora of art out there and begin to make the judgments that have been so lacking. I found a quote from this 2007 lecture written by Walter Darby Bannard on gallery owner Edward Winkleman's blog, and the complete text is available on WDB's archive. "Art is condensed life." I love that.

Art is condensed life. The artist works his materials against immediate circumstances and applies what he has in his head against what he has already done, reaching down to the extraordinary harmonic integrity of life itself to fashion something that is narrow, safe, permanent, and which deliberately circumvents transitory utility in order to create a dynamic equivalent of life itself. Art comes from a place that’s deeper than words and ideas and things. It goes out to the same place in the viewer. The work itself is the point of contact, the spark that jumps between the poles. It yields a special kind of recognition and pleasure, but does not submit to rational explanation.

Every artist tries to bring that core experience to the surface encoded in his or her art, but few succeed. After all we’re not talking about “art” but great art. Great art is what drives this enterprise. If it were not for great art, we would not be sitting here. Mediocre art and bad art are something else…Most art is just surface noise. The world is jammed with this stuff.

Once we accept that there is such a thing as good art and bad art and that art has value for us then we are forced to conclude that the judgments we make about it are not individual exercises of taste, but functions of how well we get what the art has.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Decisions, decisions

Each year when it comes time for Art Basel/Miami, I make plans to go, don’t go, while it’s on I’m glad I didn’t, and when my friends come back with tales of fun, fun, fun, wish I had. This year is no different. I was invited to be part of an art performance that involved making a drawing in public and ultimately declined, thinking that I would feel like a performing seal. My decision was bolstered by a quote in last week’s (Nov. 5) New York magazine from Chuck Close who said: "I hate art fairs. I think that for an artist to go to an art fair, it’s like taking a cow on a guided tour of a slaughterhouse. You know that sort of thing goes on, but you don’t want to see it."

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?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ridiculous studio day

I couldn’t stand the green, so I stained everything alizarin yellow . Now there’s a color you really can’t get rid of. I must be out of my mind. And what am I doing with a giant tube of alizarin yellow anyway? Did I buy this thing? It’s like having a bomb in the bottom of my paint drawer.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Not so bad studio day

The painting is slowly, painfully, improving, but it’s still GREEN—even though I’ve spent all day adding lots of other colors to it. That’s because green swallows every color that touches it. Painters, take a look at your once-white bristle brushes. Have you ever noticed that they’re all GREEN? If they aren’t, it’s only because you were smart enough never to use green in the first place.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Better studio day

I got up this morning and the painting didn’t look so bad, although it was still green.

A friend, a personal trainer by profession, wanted to know what it meant to have a “bad studio day” and I found it hard to explain, which got me wondering if there’s any other field where you can so often feel as if you’ve never done this thing before. I asked Scott, who's both an artist and chef, if he’s ever experienced it in the kitchen, and he said, “No.” Do trial lawyers ever suddenly feel as if they’ve never been in a courtroom? I doubt it. Roberto describes it as one of those moments when he begins to wonder, “How did I get this job, anyway?”

So there you are and you know nothing. And even though other artists are aware of how profoundly depressing it is, they’ll gleefully tell you—and you’ll tell everyone else as long as you’re not going through it—that it’s an exciting place to be and means your art isn’t stagnant, but growing and developing. Thanks a bunch.

So Richard came over and declared the painting “a good beginning” and pointed out where it “needs work”—i.e. most of it—although, of course, he couldn’t be specific as to what that work would look like. He described painting as “an accumulation of accidents,” and suggested that whether they turn out to be happy ones or not is sometimes just a matter of luck. I still think it's all about degree of interest, of how invested I am in seeing the final image, but now that it's become a challenge, I'm getting more interested.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bad studio day

This latest painting is just bad, a mishmash. I was on such a roll, now sent to the depths. I think it’s because I started it before the last one was finished. There was just picky stuff to do, with lots of drying time in-between, so I thought, start another one, why not? Except that for me, good paintings come from wanting to see something realized so badly that I’ll do whatever it takes. To start one too soon is like starting a new love affair before the old one is finished.

Richard, who I went to see to console myself, said—without having seen it—that the problem with this painting is that it’s green. He’s right. How often do you see a good green painting?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sometimes the right things happen to the right people

Joan Snyder has always gone against the grain, refusing to modify her expression to suit anyone but herself. Therefore she has given us some of the most emotionally direct paintings ever, some of the darkest as well as some of the most exuberant, some of the ugliest and some of the most lyrically beautiful. She scrawled words into the thick paint of her canvases long before text in paintings was in vogue, and has unabashedly expressed a decidedly feminine perspective in all of its anger, grief, joy and wrenching vulnerability. I was shown her work by an instructor at the beginning of my life as a painter and it has acted as a constant reminder that personal authenticity in art is everything. We met about twenty years later when Betty Cuningham was considering me for a show at Hirschl & Adler and brought Joan to my studio. Since then I’ve written about her work for Art in America, and later wrote a catalog essay. She’s one of the most sure, energetic, intelligent and dedicated of artists, always searching and changing, and with each exhibition pushes the envelope even further. Joan says it all, does it all, and deserves to be recognized by the MacArthur Foundation for her courage.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Not rocket science

The best and worst aspect of art is that it isn’t quantifiable. Spending time with astronautical engineers as I did a few weeks ago at M.I.T., I found myself envious of the fact that they work within a meritocracy. No doubt politics and ego show up wherever there are people, but when you get right down to it, a rocket either flies or it doesn’t—unlike the art world where things fly because someone says it does and gets enough people to agree, where things fly one day and not the next, and where hedge fund managers and advertising executives, in bed with the institutions, are often in charge of determining what flies and what doesn’t.

This has got to be one of the least interesting epochs in the history of art—not just because of the money-grubbers, but because the art world has become infused with people who are not really interested in art. They’re interested instead in novelty, in the idea of being creative and expressive in a way that’s not too taxing, and leading a cool life where they can sleep late and go to a lot of parties. Add that to a seemingly insatiable art market, and you’ve got a situation where almost anything can fly, at least for a minute.

Worth quoting from here is Raphael Rubenstein’s in-depth review in Art in America of the traveling exhibition, “High Times, Hard Times, New York Painting 1967-1975” (curated by Katie Siegel with David Reed, shown at the National Academy Museum in New York last winter, now touring Europe):

That victory is fleeting and artistic canons subject to drastic revision seem such obvious facts as to hardly need stating, but for some time the deciders of the art world have appeared to feel that their authority is both eternal and infallible. There’s been an assumption on their part, usually unspoken but detectable in the total assurance with which art institutions and markets function, that no deserving artist, living or dead, is now being overlooked. (The correlative is that every currently celebrated artist is one for the ages.)….Another factor that reinforces the long-term confidence of today’s tastemakers is the enormous level of investment—financial, social, and intellectual—in the work of most successful artists. When so many people and institutions have so much at stake, when capital and contemporary art are so deeply intertwined, it seems that nothing short of some unimaginable total artistic revolution, or a catastrophic global recession, could upset the status quo.

Rubenstein concludes:

I’ll leave it to readers to decide what is the legacy of this work, and whether to “possibility and openness” of that heady era expired circa 1975. Instead, I’ll close with a few comments on the issue of who is in “Hard Times, High Times” and who isn’t. Reviewing the show in The New York Times, Roberta Smith took Siegel and Reed to task for passing over the artists who, in her view, dominated the period—Frank Stella, Brice Marden, Robert Mangold and Robert Ryman. Without them, Smith wrote, the show was like a “time capsule from a time that didn’t quite exist.” This seems to me to be a complete misunderstanding of Siegel and Reed’s project. The aim of “Hard Times, High Times” is not to reflect the standard version of New York painting 1967-75 but rather to recover a lost history, to bring back into public view works long unseen, often painted by artists who have been long overlooked…

Serious historians long ago ditched the “great men” and “great events” approach to their discipline…[and] we have learned that there is just as much historical truth to be learned at the margins of power, in the facts of everyday life, in slow, nearly invisible long-term movements, as in palaces and parliaments. “Hard Times, High Times” significantly alters how we view painting during a nine-year period; as an instance of historical revision, it offers a powerful model for anyone who isn’t satisfied with the versions of our recent culture as offered, with clockwork regularity, by Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and MoMA.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The war on us

Last night I didn’t have dinner before leaving the city, and with my blood sugar plummeting and gas tank nearly empty, I stopped at a Cumberland Farms in Millerton, NY. Shuttling as I do between New York and the Berkshires, I live in a bubble that excludes malls, box stores, and most of the trappings of modern America including obesity. Nearly blinded by the fluorescent lights and unaccustomed to the glitter of row upon row of processed foods, it took me at least 15 minutes to find something in the store that I would eat—an orange, finally, and some over-salted cashews. The person behind the counter was literally a mound of flesh with a face—a teenage girl who must have weighed 300 pounds. As she lumbered away I heard her say, “I’m tired,” to no one in particular. When I went outside to pump gas, a pickup pulled up and another human mountain, a teenage boy this time, extracted himself from the truck and waddled toward the store to buy poison marketed as food. The march against the war is on Tuesday in New York. The next one should be against Doritos.

San Francisco Chronicle, August 26, 2007
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, July 10, 2007

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Olafur Eliasson

September 5th was the opening of Olafur Eliasson’s mid-career survey at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and I wasn’t there, mostly because I couldn’t bear to leave my little corner of Berkshire heaven. I’m not ready for the art world season to start, not just yet. God was, and is, rewarding us with the most fabulous weather and I’m convinced no art or art-related event could match the perfection of an early evening dip in the cool and tranquil Green River. Besides, Einar and Manuela came here on their way back to Iceland and then Berlin, with a full report.

Olafur, I predict, is on his way to establishing himself as a household name, and when the show travels to the Museum of Modern Art and P.S. 1 in April, and later the Dallas Museum of Art, I’ll be curious to see how he handles the media blitz that’s sure to follow. Up until now, he’s managed to remain aloof and keep the emphasis focused on the art—with the exception of Cynthia Zarin’s profile in The New Yorker (November 13, 2006--not yet available online).

Zarin is a New Yorker staff writer, and it seemed as if she didn’t have a sufficient art background and did little research, depending almost entirely on her interviews for information. A friend’s comment was “When you’re an expert, you always find something wrong” but I disagree. I mean, this is The New Yorker, which I expect to query the experts or, at the very least, read what’s been written about the subject. Because I thought of The New Yorker as a standard, discovering that it was fallible was a crisis of faith, like that moment in childhood when you first discover your parents could be wrong. The worst part was that this jumble of mis-emphasis and misinformation was held together with a gloss of the sharp and engaging writing for which The New Yorker is justly renowned, but which I now see as simply style. For instance Zarin absolutely nailed it when she described Olafur as having, “the slightly crumpled look of a shop teacher at a progressive school” but treated the work itself as nothing more than a by-product of his personality.

This was the gist of my letter to the magazine, which was not published:

To the editor:

Because I feel the magazine and its readers are capable of looking at issues in depth, I was sorry that the profile by Cynthia Zarin about the artist Olafur Eliasson concentrated on his personality and process rather than the art and the philosophy behind it—and without sufficient description of the art, you have no idea why such attention is being given to it. It is especially necessary in the case of Eliasson’s work because, since most of his work is temporary and not reproducible, the number of people who have actually seen it is small.

Zarin mentions Eliasson’s relationship to the artists “Robert Irwin and James Turrell and the idea of ‘seeing yourself seeing’” but does not explain this concept or describe how it plays out in the actual work. Later she notes that Eliasson was “deeply affected by the work of the phenomenologist philosophers, especially Edmund Husserl—with their emphasis on the individual experience of reality—and by Lawrence Wechsler’s biography of Robert Irwin,
Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees—without going into any greater detail or telling us what it was about the Wechsler book that so affected Eliasson. The questions Eliasson is seen asking himself are presented more as musings than essential to an overarching philosophical inquiry.

In discussing Eliasson’s
Weather Project at the Tate Modern, Zarin does not mention how, in the wake of its extraordinary success, the Tate wanted to extend its run and Eliasson refused—an act that, given the artist’s consuming interest in the context of art, including that which comes before and after its installation—can be considered as much a part of the piece as its mist, mirrors, and light.

Zarin makes a case for differentiating Eliasson from his predecessors Irwin and Turrell by stating that, “Like them, he is interested in light, to which he adds a preoccupation with what he calls ‘the intersection of nature, science, and human perception.’” She goes on to say that “unlike those artists, who tend to draw the viewer’s attention to natural phenomena—Turrell’s ‘sky spaces, for example, showcase the open sky—Eliasson consistently uses mechanical artifice to create his effects….” This is absolutely not true. The work of Irwin and Turrell pioneered this “intersection of nature, science, and human perception,” making it possible for Eliasson to expand upon it, which Eliasson fully acknowledges. Further, Irwin and Turrell have done plenty of work using only mechanical means (the effect of light on scrim, to name just one example), just as Eliasson is equally involved in working with natural phenomena—as seen in a later paragraph where he says, “I want to plant flowering trees around the pool. For one week in May the petals will drop and cover the water.”

In an art world short on meaningful dialogue, where personality and process often masquerade as art, the subject of Olafur Eliasson and his work offers a unique opportunity to marry the personal with the profound and present a significant discussion on the nature of art. Since I’m sure it will be a long while before Eliasson’s work is again discussed so thoroughly in these pages, I regret that the opportunity was missed.


Carol Diehl

How can you write about Robert Irwin and not be aware of his scrim pieces? Or, for that matter, about Eliasson and not know he'd turned rivers green? I could have gone on, to comment on how Zarin says, “Eliasson invites comparison to Buckminster Fuller, with whom he shares an interest in the aesthetics and the utility of mathematic forms,” without saying where this influence comes from: his collaboration with Einar Thorsteinn, who was Fuller’s protégé. Although the stamp of Einar’s geometry is visible throughout Olafur’s work and they frequently share exhibition credit, Einar was not available for an interview when Zarin visited the he goes unmentioned? Not that Einar minded; he often says he likes “being famous for not being famous.” But it skews the picture to leave him out of an article that’s almost entirely about Olafur’s collaborative process.

There’s more but I’ll stop. If the article had been written by Calvin Tomkins (author of Duchamp, one of the best art biographies ever) or Peter Schjeldahl (who doesn’t write profiles, but if he did…) I’d be jealous. But that’s how I want to feel when I read The New Yorker.

There. At least I’ve gotten this one off my chest, where it’s been sitting since November. Too bad I didn’t have a blog then, so I could have responded in the moment. And to read a spot-on critique of another New Yorker article (on Paul McCartney, who seems to be showing up in all of my posts, and I haven’t even heard his new album), along with a riveting exchange with its author, go to

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Free art for all!

I received this in the mail, handwritten on a postcard. Included with it was a blank 5 x 7 card, a photograph of two adorable little girls, and a self-addressed stamped envelope:

Dear Carol,

Last year our oldest daughter, Ellora (then 4) asked “if she and her sister (Twyla 1 yrs. old) could have some art for their bedroom." So for their birthdays (5 & 2) I wrote to 7 artist [sic] and asked them to send them a card (these now framed and hanging in their room). As Ellora’s 6th birthday is approaching, she asked “if they could get some more art for their birthdays.” If at all possible will you do something on the enclosed blank card and mail it back for them.

Thank you,
Mark Daley

I do not know Mark Daley unless, perhaps, he was once a graduate student of mine. The envelope was sent to me c/o the School of Visual Arts.

Then a friend received this letter out of the blue from the New York Studio School:

Dear Mr. X,

The New York Studio School is pleased to announce its Annual Fall Benefit. On October 25th, 2007, we will host this event at the beautifully restored Prince George Ballroom in New York City. This is the most important fundraiser for the School and is regularly attended by important collectors, artists, and other prominent figures in the New York City art world.

Enclosed please find a blank canvas on which we invite you to create a work of art that we hope you will donate to the Benefit. If you prefer, please contribute a piece of work of equivalent size (11” x 14”). Ideally we’re looking for drawings, paintings, or sculpture. Donated work will be sold for the benefit of NYSS and all proceeds from the sale of work will go directly to support the School.

Donated works must be postmarked or hand-delivered to the School by August 31st, 2007 and will be featured on the School’s web site at Please note that submission of your work indicates that you give NYSS permission to reproduce it on the website and in any promotional materials related to the sale of the work.

…By way of thanks, we would like to invite all contributing artists to join us on October 25th to enjoy cocktails and hors d’oeuvres and see the work at the event….

Artists are always being asked to contribute to this or that, but this is something new. A blank canvas? What do people think? That artists have a special conduit to God, and art just spews out of us without any effort? Would they ask their dentist to clean their teeth for nothing? Or have I been missing out on free dental hygiene all these years because I simply didn't know to ask? Well I have a wedding coming up, of very dear friends, and some beautiful fabric I’ve been saving—I think I’ll send it to Marc Jacobs and ask if he’ll run me up a little something. And Paul McCartney—he was so cooperative about the yoga eye exercise video below—I’ll ask him to write a song just for Jeanette and Erica, and if he agrees to come and perform it at the reception, we’ll give him dinner. It’s the least I can do to help make the wedding really special.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Really seeing

Okay, so I don’t wear glasses. Although my whole family has worn them, I never have, except intermittently, when doctors tried to pressure me into it because of an astigmatism, or told me I was at that age. I can already hear my friends groaning, because they’ve heard this from me so many times before, but I believe that glasses are much more widely prescribed than necessary—yet another stupid industry that uses too much plastic—and if you’d just look up from your computer or book and focus afar every few minutes and do yoga eye exercises every day, you won't need reading glasses (I do the exercises before getting out of bed in the morning or, as readers know, when I inadvertently find myself in the same room with performance art). I’ve discovered, however, that this is waaay too much trouble for most people, the ones who are groaning right this minute, but I’m going to plunge ahead regardless. Sometimes, when tired or under a lot of stress, I might not see so well, maybe even for a week or two, but then it normalizes. Sometimes, early in the morning or late at night, things are fuzzy, so I just don’t bother to read, or I use a magnifying glass. But most of the time—with plenty of light—I can read the names in a phonebook or the ingredients on a vitamin bottle. And I’m doing very exacting work with painting right now (unless of course, I put on a pair of glasses and discover that I’ve been an expressionist all along). So because my friends won’t take it from me, I’ve asked Paul McCartney to do a little yoga eye exercise demo and put it on YouTube. Here it is:

To read: Jacob Lieberman, Take Off Your Glasses and See