Thursday, May 29, 2008

John Weber

Robert Mangold, Imperfect Cirlce #2, 1973

Lucio Pozzi emailed me his honest and poignant memorial (below) to John Weber, who died this week at the age of 76. An early champion of minimal and conceptual artists such as Sol LeWitt, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, Fred Sandback, Carl Andre, Richard Artschwager, Robert Mangold, Dan Flavin, and Robert Smithson, Weber and his SoHo gallery had an historic impact.
Weber, however, was no dogmatist. I remember the first time I saw Lucio’s work, many years before we became friends. It was in 1976 and I, a young artist, had recently moved to New York to work at Artforum, eager to trade Chicago’s Imagist tropism for the fresh air of Lewitt, Ryman, and Martin. One day I trudged up the stairs to Weber’s minimalist temple to find the walls lined with work of a sort that could not have been more outré for the times: tiny, tender, watercolor landscapes. As I recall, I laughed out loud. Suddenly I saw that New York’s mindset was as narrow as Chicago’s, and that my task was not to follow the artists I admired, but to create my own aesthetic. In that one liberating moment, Lucio (by way of John) gave me permission to do anything I wanted.
Lucio Pozzi:
Barbardos, 11 January 1972, watercolor on paper, 11.5 x 23.1"
NY State, 1971, watercolor on paper, 8.7 x 15.5"
Three years ago, John included my work in an exhibition he curated at a local gallery of artists, including Kelly and Artschwager, who had moved their studios from New York to the Hudson River Valley area, and it was inspiring to be in the company of such early heroes.
* * *
John represented me in his gallery for more than twenty years. His loyalty to the artists he worked with was sustained through the vagaries of the market and the changing fortunes of art. He was one of the great forces enlivening the artistic culture of the second half of the Twentieth Century. Having trained first at the Dayton Institute of Art, he started working at the Martha Jackson Gallery and then moved to the Dwan Galley in New York until, after the closing of the latter, he opened a gallery in his own name. He believed that a gallery owner could not only exhibit art but should also participate in the formation of artistic discourse. The influence of Sol Lewitt was absorbed by him in terms of always relying not on mere visuality but also on visual language and context. Hearing John lecture, especially about art of the sixties and seventies, was an experience of consideration and scholarly depth.
His gallery was the training ground for innumerable dealers and curators, among them Angela Westwater, Jeffrey Deitch, Amy Baker Sandback, Susanna Singer, Naomi Spector. Several younger dealers and curators in the US and Europe have told me how they still now learn from his approach to the art of his times. His yearly Summer Invitational exhibition inevitably raised controversy because he exhibited art that often contradicted the very canons of the regular artists of his gallery. He had guts of a kind that few now allow themselves to have. The list of artists who found in his gallery the springboard for their career is too long to enumerate. What was exceptional was how he continued to exhibit them even when their market was in a lull. He stubbornly defended what they were doing, and lost money in exhibiting them, because he was convinced of their thought and practice. I remember how many times I objected to some of the art he showed and with how much patience and insistence he would try to convince me to change my mind.
John was both a rationalist and a romantic. The contradictions of his character ran deep into his soul. Raised virtually as an orphan he had no sponsors funding his gallery. He was generous but also was able to hurt himself and others. In matters of money and policy he often shot himself in the foot, losing important allies for trivial reasons. John risked greatly on an idea but then managed to diminish its potential by stranding himself almost as if by distraction in its practical implementation. Or else he would panic about a financial mishap and twist and turn it as if survival was at stake. Some people had no patience with this and lost sight of the grandeur of his vision and how he nonetheless acted as one of the few great prompters of visual culture.
He has died in a very modest apartment in Hudson NY, practically a pauper, supported by family and charitable friends, surrounded by some of the art of his past. Always running after debts and organizational problems, he had never managed to assemble the collection he had dreamed of. During the last years he had emphysema and walked around carrying his oxygen tank on the back to allow himself to breathe. His eyesight was failing but he found the energy until the very last to curate some exceptional shows of unexpected art in the Hudson area and in the city. Two years ago, he came to visit my studio in Hudson. It was a mess because I had moved so much stuff there and had found no time to rearrange it. In a pile, he saw a little painting of a few years ago, made of subtle low contrast values, thus not easily decipherable by a weakened eye. He stunned me by identifying it and remembering exactly when it was made and exhibited.
He appeared at my last exhibition at BCB Art in Hudson, smiling his charming smile and friendly and attentive as always, despite the effort it must have cost him to come to the gallery. Last month, I interviewed him briefly to write a short article about him for an Italian magazine, knowing how proud he was to have been to the first to present artists from that country who then had proceeded to great appreciation by the artworld. He couldn't get up from the bed, but managed to answer brilliantly to all my questions.
Farewell, Johnny boy.

Lucio Pozzi

Lucio Pozzi, Central Horizon, 2005

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Billy and me

The perfect illustration contributed by reader Sid Garrison [via] [via]

Why don't you try actually listening to Billy Joel? His technique of songwriting is classically based and quite clever. You might find that you enjoy those ingenious 'earworms'.

After my post of yesterday, Anonymous, in the comments, makes a reasonable enough request, however I’m afraid I can never have a relationship with Billy, musical or otherwise, after he revealed himself in “Just The Way You Are” to be a passive/aggressive control freak.

Let’s analyze the lyrics:

Don’t go changing, to try and please me
You never let me down before
Don’t imagine you’re too familiar
And I don’t see you anymore
I wouldn’t leave you in times of trouble
We never could have come this far
I took the good times, I’ll take the bad times
I’ll take you just the way you are.

Sounds good, huh? Well this is just where he ropes you in because then he says:

Don’t go trying some new fashion
Don’t change the color of your hair
You always have my unspoken passion
Although I might not seem to care

What’s the message here? Don’t be creative? Stay your dowdy old self? I have a feeling this guy is jealous, afraid you might be too attractive to other men. And further (at least he lets you know this up front), he’s withholding. What fun, may I ask, is “unspoken passion” with a guy who “might not seem to care”? What’s in this for me?

But it gets worse.

I don’t want clever conversation
I never want to work that hard
I just want someone I can talk to
I want you just the way you are.

Oh great! Dumb yourself down for this guy who, since he views interesting conversation as hard work, may not be all that smart himself. Further, he just wants someone he can talk to—not someone who talks back. I suggest he get a cocker spaniel.

I need to know that you’ll always be
The same old someone that I knew
What will it take ‘til you believe in me
The way that I believe in you?

He wants you to be “the same old someone”? That’s appealing. And what will it take for you to believe in him? How about the freedom to change and grow, bleach your hair, join the Peace Corps, gain weight, lose weight, get a tattoo or another degree, and be whomever you want, whenever you want. How about the assurance that it’s not all about him?

I said I love you, and that’s forever
And this I promise from the heart
I could not love you any better
I love you just the way you are.

Girls, forewarned is forearmed. If you meet a guy who says this is his favorite song, run!

And lest you be thinking I don’t have a soft side, I leave you with this:

Who kicked a hole in the sky so the heavens would cry over me?
Who stole the soul from the sun in a world come apart at the seams?
Let there be love...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Earworms and economics

Okay, I got over being tormented by Billy Joel, and this is how, although it’s not a perfect cure—more like the musical equivalent of Methadone, where I still have the addiction but have shifted to something that at least allows me to function. For those who also have repetitive music syndrome, otherwise known as an earworm, it’s worth a go. Otherwise watch it at your peril:

Having, for the most part, recovered my attention span, I read the June issue of Harper’s, which I recommend, first for the immensely readable and dismaying essay, “Our Phony Economy” by Jonathan Rowe, delivered to the Senate Commerce Committee on March 12th, where he explains that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the figure by which the health of our economy is measured, is based entirely on expenditure, irrespective of the reasons for that expenditure, nor is it balanced by healthy advances in other areas.

…Find out what is growing and the effects. Tell us what the growth is in concrete terms. Then we can begin to say whether it has been good.

The failure to do this is insane. It is an insanity embedded in political debate and in media reportage, and it leads to fallacy in many directions. We hear, for instance, that efforts to address climate changes will hurt “the economy.” Does that mean if we clean up the air we will spend less money treating asthma in young kids? The atmosphere is part of the economy too—the real economy…if we burn more gas, the expenditure gets added to the GDP…but there is no corresponding subtraction for the toll this burning takes on the thermostatic and buffering functions the atmosphere provides. (Nor is there a subtraction for the oil we take out of the ground.) Yet if we burn less gas, and thus maintain the crucial functions of the atmosphere
[as well as, I will add, obviating the need for extra expenditure by future generations to cope with the damage], we say “the economy” has suffered, even though the real economy has been enhanced.

By this reasoning, I suppose, a disaster like Katrina could be considered an economic “windfall” (haha) because the GDP measures only the expenditure made to clean it up, not the toll on human life. This is what’s wrong with everything in this country, and how we got to over-valuing the GDP in historical terms, as Rowe tells the story, is a lesson in how almost everything happens—not by edict, but something harder to reverse: the accretion of small assumptions which then become taken for granted.

Also in Harper’s is a discussion, by Gary Greenberg, of five books on neuroscience, which I’m discovering is a special interest of mine, as I’m always trying to figure out how much of “me” is “me,” and how much is governed by chemistry, biology and (something Greenberg doesn’t touch on) media influence.

Because finally, in addition to the well-known “Harper’s Index,” on the last page there’s “Findings” which catalogues in similar deadpan manner the results of various scientific studies. One of them is the horrifying statistic that “as much as one-quarter of Earth’s beach sand is now made of plastic.”

This takes me back to where I began, with the realization that fully one-quarter of my mental capacity is taken up with musical plastic, in the form of commercial music that has seeped in over the years. It’s frightening to consider that in addition to Billy Joel, who I never actually listened to, I can call up the music and lyrics of almost every musical ever written (a genre I actively loathe), as well as the entire catalogue of the Eagles. And we haven’t even gotten to the tyranny of Christmas music. Don’t get me started.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


There can be no more posts until this certain Billy Joel song leaves my head, where it has been since Thursday. This is what I get for shopping at PriceChopper instead of the Coop, where the music doesn’t interfere with normal brain function. Don’t ask me what song it is, because if I tell, you risk being similarly afflicted. Condolences, however, are accepted.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Scarier than "Jaws"... this TV relic from 1956 [via C-Monster via Edward Lifson] where Charles and Ray Eames introduce their Lounge Chair on NBC. It’s interesting to consider that the media at the time knew that it was an historic moment, and treated it as such. The scary part, though, is the gender dance that takes place as the glamorous presenter, Arlene Francis, tries to play up to a dimpled and hunky Charles by belittling his wife, Ray. While Charles makes several valiant attempts to acknowledge Ray as a full co-designer, Ray knows better than to insist, and ultimately both succumb to their assigned roles.

We can gloat, but things may not have changed so much in the last 50 years. It wasn’t reported that I know of, but in 2005 Christo startled the international press (and Mayor Bloomberg) assembled in the Metropolitan Museum’s Sackler Wing, by beginning his part of the press conference for The Gates with a fiery blast at The New York Times for not equally acknowledging Jeanne-Claude. Even after that, while most allusions are to “artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude,” there’s still the occasional Times article that refers to “The Gates” as “Christo’s project” or “dreamed up by Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude.” One veteran news reporter told me he didn’t ascribe it to sexism as much as a decision made by headline writers because Jeanne-Claude’s name is so long. Perhaps. But if they’d been writing about, say, Simon and Garfunkel would they leave off Garfunkel for brevity’s sake? Or refer to them as “Simon, and his partner, Garfunkel?” Don’t think so.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The brain, age & creativity

I’m citing this article from today's NY Times, Older Brain Really May Be a Wiser Brain because I like the image, above, by Yarek Waszul, and also it confirms, as I always suspected, that the reason we can’t immediately bring a fact or name to mind as we grow older, is because there’s just so much in there. This is because, the article says, with age we develop a gradual widening of attention, an ability to take in more of the information available to us, and therefore may be distracted by seemingly extraneous points a younger person might overlook.

"Such tendencies can yield big advantages in the real world, where it's not always clear what information is important, or will become important."
“It may be that distractibility is not a bad thing,” said Shelley H. Carson, a psychology researcher at Harvard, whose work was cited in the book (Progress in Brain Research), “It may increase the amount of information available to the conscious mind.”
The article also suggests that creative people exhibit this wide attention span throughout their lives, and that a “reduced ability to filter and set priorities…could contribute to original thinking.”

This explains why, in seventh grade, I was never able to get over Mrs. Kluver’s coiled, movie queen hair and bulbous high-healed shoes to actually concentrate on what she was saying. Obviously I knew what was important even then.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Devils and shoes

This is me, confronting my demons on the psychoanalytic couch that’s the centerpiece of Jude Tallichet’s show at Sara Meltzer. Cast in bronze and looking seductively comfy when it’s really hard—very hard—and scratchy, it’s the perfect metaphor. I’m not into back-stories, but that this is a replica of the couch from her late psychiatrist father-in-law’s office adds another poignant layer. I love Jude’s work because it’s conceptual yet meticulously rendered, as well as simultaneously deep and funny—like her. Also her friends have the best shoes. Here’s a little photo essay from Friday's opening:

Friday, May 16, 2008

Train story

Yesterday I went to see the Murakami show at the Brooklyn Museum with Judy Fox. On the ride back she told me about the time she spaced out on the subway and missed her stop. Finding herself at the end of the line, she jumped out, ran upstairs, over the bridge, and downstairs in time to catch the train as it came around to go uptown again, and when the doors opened she leapt in and sat down right next to…her purse.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Happy art day

Yesterday I went to Chelsea and liked everything I saw. No, I haven't started writing fiction. Am I getting soft in the head? Or did I die and wake up in art heaven? I first had an inkling of this in February, but it seemed too good to be true. Now, like someone who’s been through a series of bad relationships and finds it difficult to trust again, I’m tentatively allowing myself to be gently optimistic.

The last ten or more years have been tough on artists who take their work seriously. It's been challenging to persevere in a world that didn’t seem to value quality—to extend the analogy, like giving excellent love to someone who could care less. And in my other vocation, as an art writer, I’d go months without seeing anything that inspired me to put time and energy into writing about it. Now it’s hard to pick and choose and, in my enthusiasm, I may have taken on more than I can handle.

Also yesterday began and ended with a rethinking of artists I had previously written off (I love having my mind changed in a positive way; it's like yoga for the brain). The first was Rebecca Horn at Sean Kelly, whose glorious, light, oversize paintings on paper completely obliterated memories of the tower of rusted steel on the beach in Barcelona that prejudiced me. Also Walton Ford at Kasmin, whose new work has more weight and subtlety, with a new substance of concept that matches his technique. Then, as I was leaving Chelsea, I was drawn through Luhring Augustine’s open door by the energy of giant gestural grisaille abstractions by Christopher Wool, an artist whose work I’d previously only tolerated.

Flammen springen aus dem Herzen (Flames Burst out of the Heart), 2005
pencil, colored pen, acrylic, and Carmigniano on paper
paper: 71 5/8 x 59 1/8 inches (182 x 150 cm)
framed: 81 1/2 x 68 3/4 inches (207 x 174 cm)
©Rebecca Horn, Courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York

Also this contemplative installation with water and reflection:

REBECCA HORN Cinema vérité (The Snake's Ghost), 2008
steel, copper, motor, water and projected lightdimensions variable
© Rebecca Horn, Courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York

In between there were Rory Donaldson’s photographs at Winkleman, and Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe’s beautiful paintings at Alexander Gray. I can show one here, but, like most everything, they don’t sing in reproduction as they do in person:

JEREMY GILBERT-ROLFE, Thought in a Garden, oil on linen 86" x 38" x 1 1/4"

And Ann Pibal's rigorous yet quirky paintings at Max Protetch:

ANN PIBAL, Aerie, 2008, acrylic on aluminum, 44" x 66"

Word on the street after the opening of Geometry as Image at Robert Miller, was that it wasn’t a great show. That was also my take, but viewing it without a hundred million other people surging around me it was a pleasure, especially circumnavigating the Kenneth Snelson sculpture and seeing how it sets up Fred Sandback-like planes that are there and not there.

My hardy, gallery-going companion, Catherine Hamilton, and I struggled up in the elevator (friendly elevator guy, though, it helps) and down long hallways to the Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery for an excellent group show with a fascinating slow-time video piece by John Gerrard and yet another beautiful Olafur Eliasson lamp (I know Olafur works with a studio full of people—I’ve been there—but I’m beginning to think he had himself cloned a long time ago; he has another double museum show opening in and near Barcelona in June), and then to Tanya Bonakdar to have fun playing on a stringed instrument he had a hand in conceiving, on which you can make circular drawings to take home.

Dodcheron by Olafur Eliasson at Bryce Wolfowitz Gallery

I didn’t even finish seeing everything on my list. But there's still tomorrow and Friday, with friends' openings: Greg Drasler at Betty Cuningham, and Jude Tallichet at Sara Meltzer.

Off the Chelsea path, other work I liked a lot: Tomma Abts at the New Museum and Gert and Uwe Tobias at Team Gallery, 83 Grand in SoHo.

Update from Friday: The Milton Resnick show at Cheim & Read is spectacular. Before this, I only knew his more monochromatic work, but these earlier paintings represent the best of abstract expressionism. Also Thomas Zummer at Frederiecke Taylor.

I spent two full afternoons in Chelsea and still things slipped through the cracks that I now must go back to see, including Mark Di Suvero at Paula Cooper.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

See? Artists can have fun. These are two examples--only slightly wine-induced--from an impromptu wee-hours collaboration last night in David Humphrey’s studio, drawings contributed to equally by Larry Gipe, Carrie Seid, David, and myself. It’s only in the cold light of day I see how cleverly David managed to make each one look like a David Humphrey.

David Humphrey, Sno Boy (2002), acrylic on canvas, 60 X 72 inches.
Congratulations to David on winning the Rome Prize.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

From bleak to bliss

Friday night I went to David Cohen’s Review Panel at the National Academy Museum to hear Cohen, R.C. Baker, Carly Berwick, and Peter Plagens discuss the Whitney Biennial.

The most interesting thing about it was how uninterested the panelists were. Baker happened to mention that he hadn’t read Berwick’s feature-length article in New York magazine, none of the panelists had seen the installations or performances in the Whitney’s adjunct space at the Armory, and I’m guessing they also didn’t bone up by reading about the artists on the Whitney’s Web site, since it seems unlikely that anyone could encounter the verbiage I cited and refrain from commenting on it.

I’m not as interested in the Biennial as I am in the phenomenon of its dwindling cachet. On her blog, Joanne Mattera asks, “What if they gave a Biennial and nobody went?” That may already have happened.

Past Biennials, at least, generated controversy and discussion, which is always good for art, while the universal reaction to this one is shrugged shoulders.

Reasons given by the panel revolved around the Biennial’s abject subject matter and “bleak” atmosphere (“try bland,” the woman behind me muttered) and competition with art fairs. To my mind, however, it’s more about a segment of the art world that’s lost touch with its purpose and audience, and signifies a definitive break between idea-based art, as promoted by many art schools, and practice-based art—that which evolves from a more intuitive long-term exploration (where “work comes out of work” as Richard Serra has put it and I more recently heard Julie Mehretu say) as well as being grounded in visual experience.

When did we lose the “visual” in “visual art”? It's a long story, that goes back to suspicions about “beauty” that emerged during the 20th century, but I think there’s another component that comes out of my observations as a teacher--which is that many attending art school and going into the art professions today are not driven by an interest in things visual as much as they are in experiencing a creativity and autonomy (and lack of rigor, I might add snarkily) they don’t see offered by other professions. Add to this the “gathering tsunami of newly rich, clueless collectors infatuated with bright, neatly-made vision-free art” (as Michael Kimmelman put it in his review of the 2006 Biennial) and you get the current Biennial and art fair scene.

However I’m optimistic when I think about the enthusiastic responses Olafur Eliasson at MoMA and PS1 is generating, and how much intelligent, visually satisfying art I’ve seen this season in Chelsea galleries, of all places, by mid-career artists as well as new faces, much of it based on loose variations of pattern and geometric abstraction: Chris Martin, Juan Usle, Dan Walsh, Ann Pibal, Roberto Juarez, Thomas Nozkowski, Valerie Jaudon (this list is off the top of my head, so I may have left out some important examples).
When I mention this in conversation, people say it has to do with the economy, with buyers wanting to invest in substance, to which I say that the decision to show this work was made at least a year ago, at the height of market frenzy and long before it was clear that the economy was going to tank. Not only that, it seems unlikely that all the dealers got together and decided to push geometric abstraction as their winning ticket.

To me, it’s symbolic of an important cultural shift, one that includes, yes, Obama. How do I make that leap? I keep going back to something my son, Matt, surmised and which I wrote about in January, that 2007 signified the cultural beginning of the new century, much in the way the Sixties, as we indentify it, really began in 1964. We’re over the negativity, fear mongering, hype, and anti-humanistic values of the last century. We want intelligence, substance, inspiration, and HOPE. We no longer want to be told what’s good for us, we know what’s good for us, and given a choice, we’ll choose that which uplifts us. Keep that thought.

Roberto Juarez, Whale (2008), at Charles Cowles Gallery through May 17th.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The minimalist's daughter

Anne Truitt, Valley Forge, 1962

As a child I had to fight for abstraction (“It’s a besign!” I’d insist to the teachers who challenged me). But everything’s relative. The other night my friend, Alexandra Truitt, daughter of the late sculptor, Anne Truitt, told me that, filled as the family home was with work by Frankenthaler, Morris Louis and Noland, she was nine before she realized paintings could also be pictures. Of things.

She described living in Japan (where her father was bureau chief for Newsweek) and excitedly bringing a book of paintings by Keane, which she’d found at school, to her horrified parents at the dining table:

This was her next crush:

Sakamoto Kyu

I guess there’s no such thing as a “normal” childhood.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Leonard and me

Everyone says the print media is suffering from competition with the Internet, and I agree, not for the reasons usually cited but, compared with the Internet where you're in control of content, magazines are depressing—calculated to make readers feel inadequate in ways that only retail therapy can alleviate, thereby selling ads. Vogue makes me feel I’m not young or thin enough, Vanity Fair that I’m not rich or fucked up enough, and New York that I’m not New York-y enough (have you been to all the new tapas bars? well I have, nyah nyah). Then a friend gave me an old copy (Nov. ’07) of Shambhala Sun magazine, and that made me feel even worse because if I, a meditator from way back, haven’t attained the inner peace Shambhala Sun is promulgating, I can’t blame it on circumstance: it’s totally my fault. Obviously I’m not trying hard enough—or I’m trying too hard not to try. Either way…

BUT (surprise, surprise!) Shambhala Sun has ads for things that can make it all better, which made me realize that anything can be commodified, even doing nothing.

So I could buy incense, spend $99 to $149 on a meditation timer, take any number of expensive workshops or maybe what I need is a buckwheat-filled meditation cushion with a memory foam insert (I did not make this up)—price undisclosed. Then there’s a series of articles about people who are just too good to be true: so calm, realized and serene that they’re totally boring and by comparison, despite meditation, my life seems complex, convoluted, and so full of drama that it could be the next installment of "Gossip Girl"—and it’s all my fault. One of the articles was a profile of Leonard Cohen, a 40-year student of Buddhist meditation. He used to be screwed up but now, older and wiser, “nothing unsettles him” and he’s worried that his songs are now “too cheerful.” I wonder if he has memory foam.

I once had an affair with a poet who had only one CD; it was by Leonard Cohen and had "Suzanne" on it. I mean I like Leonard Cohen and everything but…it was a short affair.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Olafur Eliasson: Spatial Vibration

These are drawings made through the use of a "string-based instrument that gives visual manifestation to sound waves and harmonics" developed by Olafur Eliasson and members of his studio. Visitors are invited to make their own drawings at the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery (521 W. 21st, NYC 10011), between 4 & 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday through June 7th. More about it here.

I wonder what Prince's version of "Creep" would look like?