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."