Thursday, May 28, 2009

My friend Erica’s 3-year-old dog, Bella, never chewed a book before now. Interesting that she should choose Temple Grandin’s Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior for her first literary meal.

Photo by Erica Spizz

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Brushes goes legit

I have a love/hate relationship with my iPhone. On the one hand it’s like the limb I never knew I'd been missing, but when it breaks down…well, it’s only broken down once in the eight months or so I’ve had it, but having gone through three or four iPods on one warranty, I’m not optimistic. So last Thursday I was in Grand Central Station withdrawing money from the brand-new Chase ATMs (they’re supposed to be touch-sensitive but you have to stab at each choice at least ten times—designed to sense frustration levels rather than fingertip heat, they only work when you’re ready to smash the screen) and it dispensed $100 when I’d clearly pressed the $200 indicator (never, never will I withdraw money again without getting—and keeping—the receipt). I tried immediately to call the number on the wall, but my iPhone said “No Service.” I walked outside, and still “No Service.” I tried a pay phone on the street (they still have them) but the Chase rep couldn’t hear me. When, an hour later, I finally got through on my land line, I found out that Chase had—whew!—only deducted $100. But then I had to go to the Apple Store for two hours, go get my computer and bring it back for another two hours, after which I had a brand new iPhone with all my data intact...except the apps. Once you’ve purchased an app you can download it again for free, but any un-backed-up app data will be lost.

Lost! It was a crushing moment because then and only then did I realize that my true métier isn’t actual but virtual painting with the iPhone app called Brushes, and the masterpieces I’d made with it were gone forever. I love my Brushes “paintings”—really paintings over photos, just like Gerhard Richter—but have had to reluctantly acknowledge that yet again, the thing I do best has no material application. I thought they’d make great Iris prints, so emailed them off to a friend who has a gallery and does such things, but she was not impressed. That may change, however, and Brushes may yet become respectable, because it turns out that this week’s New Yorker cover by Jorge Columbo was done on an iPhone with Brushes. You can see it here, with a step-by-step video of how he drew it (makes it look easier, though, because it doesn’t include the “undos”)

Here are two of mine, which I was smart enough to save:

Monday, May 25, 2009

Younger than Jesus at the New Museum

It’s touchy when a member of one generation attempts to criticize the work of a younger one, and easy to assume that the oldsters don't get it because they’ve become out-of-touch fuddy-duddies—like those hoary old Abstract Expressionists who, with the exception of de Kooning, quit the Sidney Janis Gallery en masse after the first showing of Pop Art. However the difference is that historical youthful insurgencies represented a striking break from the past, where here the under-thirty-three-year-olds, at least as selected for the New Museum's "Younger than Jesus" survey, are making watered-down facsimiles of the work of their elders such as Paul McCarthy, Mike Kelley, Jason Rhoades, and Jessica Stockholder (along with a living, breathing woman sleeping in a bed on the gallery floor, an idea that seems more than 50 years too late)—the result of overactive graduate programs worldwide that have caused so-called rebellion to become codified and unchanging for the last decade and more. The parlance is almost incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t been indoctrinated, and those who are familiar with the buzzwords may not be willing to play the guessing game (or read the wall text) to find out what the experience is supposed to be about.

With few exceptions (the one for me being Cyprien Gaillard’s 30-minute video Desniansky Raion—fueled by the electro-pop music of Koudlam, it’s a hypnotic ballet of images of social devastation wreaked by public housing) much of "Younger than Jesus" looks like an extreme version of Show and Tell (if anyone does actually make something, it's with tongue implanted in cheek) which might not be surprising for an age-group raised on praise. As one of my graduate students at SVA put it, “Everything we did was put up on the refrigerator.” MFA programs have continued the praise game—or at least the encouragement game—because to discourage a student would be to cut off a significant source of revenue.

Clip from Cyprien Gaillard's Desniansky Raion

Through its music we know that this generation has verve, energy, and innovation to burn, coming up in the world at a time when technology has not only extended music-making capability, but liberated music distribution from the corporate stranglehold—while visual art remains filtered and controlled by institutions driven by agendas that have little to do with quality. The lowered bar and limited lens has to be discouraging to those twenty-something visual artists who have something new and valid to contribute (some of whom—like Kehinde Wiley—may, gasp, still take painting seriously). Historically art has tended to thrive when real estate prices are low (New York’s Downtown scene in the eighties, the more recent migration of artists to low-rent Berlin), so if we’re lucky, the economic downturn will result in increased opportunities for artists to take things into their own hands.

I’m not sure what—other than a sensationalist marketing tool—the reference to Jesus is all about, but another comparison might be “older than Artemisia Gentileschi” –who made this painting at 16:
Susanna and Her Elders (1610) Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

On Facebook today I updated my status, saying that I "will never learn not to paint in my good clothes," to which Dennis Kardon commented: "didn't hurt Basquiat, though don't start shooting up as well."

It reminded me of being a guest at a dinner following the opening of the 1984 “New Expressionists” show at the Sidney Janis Gallery, when Basquiat was refused entrance to the Russian Tea Room because of his paint-spattered clothing. He slipped away and returned a little while later wearing clean pants and the world’s most expensive Armani jacket, after which he was politely admitted. A class act.

Jean-Michel Basquiat in his studio, 1985, photograph by Lizzie Himmel.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Even more Olafur

Saturday I drove to Bard College for the opening of Olafur Eliasson’s first permanent outdoor installation in this country. Entitled The parliament of reality, the piece consists of a circular cement island in the center of a moat-like pond, accessed by a bridge enclosed by arches of steel latticework. The pond is ringed with plantings of wild grasses that will take 2-3 years to fill in, and 24 trees, whose branches, when they grow out in 5 years or so, will ultimately form a unified circle. The trees also produce blossoms which, hopefully, will coat the pond with yellow petals each May. With seating in the form of massive local rocks, the idea is that it will become a place for meeting, discussion, and performance. At the moment the constructed elements dominate, and it takes some imagination to picture what it will be like when the trees, for instance, are higher than the latticed roof of the walkway. Without the vegetation it seems like the bare bones of something yet to be realized, as did Robert Irwin’s Getty Garden when I saw it in its earliest stages.

Middle photo: Photo: Olafur Eliasson Studio

The latticework pattern mimics that of the ripples in the pond. Did he know it would do that?

The Eliasson installation is adjacent to the Frank Gehry designed Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, a building I love for its quality of lightness and insubstantiality, heightened on this overcast day so that the roof of the building seemed to merge with the sky.

Sadly, this lyrical dance of wing-like curves and light ends abruptly with the rear of the building, which is as square and clunky as the back of any urban theater. Although I've been to the Fisher Center several times, I'm never prepared for the nasty slap of reality that awaits me as I walk around it to my parked car. I want to believe in the fairy tale.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Music Scrooge

I don’t believe in children’s music—which doesn’t mean I don’t believe in children engaging with music, just that I don’t know why children should be subjected to music that not only talks down to them, is irritating to the adults around them. “They like it,” you’ll hear parents say by way of justifying this annoying genre (they like TV and junk food, too, if you give them enough of it) but trust me, children like any and ALL music, even—and especially—your music, if you give them the chance. I wouldn’t read them books I didn’t enjoy with illustrations I didn’t like either.

I can also tell you that their father and I brought two sons into functioning adulthood without any of that crap—and it’s something they’ve continually thanked us for.

Although Matt's the music professional, my most vivid early memories of my children and music have to do with his younger brother, Adam, probably because of the dark winter when Adam was two and had pneumonia, which meant long weeks inside with just mom and the stereo. He spent hours dancing to the Beatles in front of the speakers, identifying which side of the album he wanted to hear by pointing to the cut or whole apple illustrated on the label. Among his other favorites were Bob Marley's “I shot the sheriff but I didn’t shoot the dead tree” and Paul McCartney’s “Man on the Rug." I remember trying to tear him away from Elton John’s "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" when we were late for a doctor appointment, by promising that we’d listen to the radio in the car. He was screaming “Yellow Brick Road! Yellow Brick Road!” as I carried him out and once in the car, insisted on hearing it there. I tried to explain that the radio played what it wanted, not what we wanted, but lost all credibility when I turned it on to find it playing—of course—“Yellow Brick Road.”

This all comes to mind as I’ve recently been spending much delightful time with various friends’ toddlers, loving the way 1-4 year olds are so trustingly imitative while remaining true to their emerging personalities—a combination that’s often hilarious. Then this morning Cary Smith sent me the link to this video of Thom Yorke singing the Radiohead classic “Weird Fishes” with orchestra (wait for the sound to start)…

…after which I found this, and it cracks me up:

Don't skip over the song links to the music videos above, each one better than the next, ending with Elton John accompanied by Muppets, the Sesame Street album being a big exception to my rule—because I enjoyed it. Happy parents, I always think, make for happy children. And why not give them something that enriches not only their present, but future life?

Sunday, May 10, 2009


I’m about to quote something from a magazine I never thought I’d quote from— Psychology Today—one of a number of liberal-ish, pseudo-intellectual (I haven’t used that term since high school) magazines that promise much and ultimately leave you feeling empty, of which The Utne Reader is a prime example. Among PT’s many annoying qualities is that it employs those byte-sized fillers with cutesy graphics that magazine people (including those at TIME and New York) seem to think are all our Internet-addled heads can handle. (Here one is “What do you do to prevent nodding off at the wheel? 54% Park and walk around, 52% turn on music, 5% Drive faster, etc.) When will magazines stop trying to compete with the Web and get that if we’re going to sit down and read, we want something to read. In-depth articles, analysis, criticism, investigative reporting, photojournalism—these are all things magazines do well that the Internet can’t. The New Yorker has had that formula down for years, and because of it is increasingly relevant. But I rant, when my intention was to point out something I liked. This from the October 2008 issue of PT (disclaimer: I found it in the acupuncturist’s office) by Hara Estroff Marano in an article about style in an issue about style (the Editor’s Note is entitled Clothes Encounters—pul-lease!—whoops, there I go again):

…style is optimism made visible. Style presumes you are a person of interest, that the world is a place of interest, that life is worth making the effort for….

As the speed of all our transactions increases, we need fast ways of transmitting information about ourselves without losing authenticity; we have less and less time to make our mark in other, more leisurely ways of knowing. Style, like a perfectly-fitting book jacket, evokes the substance within by way of the surface. It makes an authentic visual impression in a world that otherwise strips people of identity. There was a time when style was a luxury. Today it is a necessity.

Yes, because finally, in the 21st century, it appears that “style” is becoming the new “fashion.” And hooray for that! Starting with the vogue for unusual children’s names (which make it easier to be found on the Internet), individuality is key—when everyone used to think that in the “future” (which we happen to be living in) we’d all be running around like so many Spocks in identical silver tights.

Anyway, just thinking about style being “optimism made visible” cheers me up, as do the new, soft, white organic cotton pajamas (with wooden buttons!) I’m wearing while stuck at home with the nasty cold I’ve had since Chicago. The interesting thing is that while I know I have style (although am less concerned about making an impression than pleasing myself—no one can see me in my pajamas), I want a different style. I want to be funky, like my friend, Jude, but over the years have had to come to terms with the fact that I’m simply not funky. Just the way I want to be an expressionist painter and must reconcile myself to being…me. Oh well.

Friday, May 8, 2009

More Olafur

Random shots below by artist Summer Zandrew, who accompanied me when I went to Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art to take pictures of the Olafur Eliasson survey. Again I stress the importance of being allowed to take photographs of art—Olafur’s especially because it’s created with interaction in mind, and in an age where every single person who enters a museum is carrying a camera, photography is one of the vital ways we interact with our environment.

Me, refracted
Summer, self-portrait

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Report from Chicago

I’m loving Chicago! Having a home town guy in the White House seems to have caused it to shed its Second City inferiority complex (which always drove me crazy) and stand proud. The only negative is the hysteria over the swine flu “epidemic,” which has schools closing and gatherings being cancelled. I’ve always washed my hands before meals—as my mom taught me to—and carried a little bottle of Purell with me to make it easier, silently marveling at my New York friends who’d get out of a taxi or the subway and sit down to dinner (and sometimes prepare food—yuck!) without doing so. Maybe the good side of this is that it will make everyone more conscious of something they should have been doing all along. Meanwhile I use my Purell more surreptitiously, because I don’t want to add to the fear-mongering, and am frequenting Mexican restaurants (so good in Chicago!), because they probably can use the business.

I thought Art Chicago was pretty boring—only a handful of really good galleries represented—but, to my surprise, loved the Antiques Fair a few floors below. Meanwhile the Olafur Eliasson exhibition at the MCA (through September 13th) has caused a lot of excitement—as I mentioned, so much better than at MoMA and PS 1—and the the pairing with the Buckminster Fuller show (through August 9th) is genius, because you can see the lineage. As I’ve no doubt mentioned before, Einar Thorsteinn, who works with Olafur (“helps me with models and helps me to think,” as Olafur said in his artist’s talk), was a protégé of Fuller, and so here you can look at Fuller’s models and then go downstairs and see how Olafur and Einar have taken off on them in their own models, made them more fanciful, and then elaborated on them in large works. There are also interpretations of Fuller’s work by sculptor Kenneth Snelson, which are gorgeous. I wish I had images to illustrate all of this, but I was only able to photograph Eliasson’s exhibition while accompanied by a representative of the MCA, and had not made an appointment to shoot the Fuller show.

Let me go off a little bit on this policy of no photography, which is shared by the Whitney (but not by MoMA), and the reason I didn’t write about Jenny Holzer’s show here, which I loved. Yes, I could have gotten images from the museum, but if they didn’t reflect my vision, I’d just be doing P.R. I could understand it in the old days, the concern that a lousy shot taken on someone’s Brownie could end up in a magazine as representative of the artist’s work, or that people would produce coffee mugs and T-shirts with a pirated image. But today, when the influence of print is lessening and word-of-mouth rules, why would you want to insist on stopping someone from taking a picture with her iPhone and emailing her excitement to all of her friends? As for artists, photography is a way of recording what is important to them—not some commercial photographer—ideas that they may want to incorporate into their own work. As we all know, major museum exhibitions have an influence on the art that comes after, and to limit that in any way seems counter-productive.

Museums seem to be catering more and more to the casual visitor while distancing themselves from artists. First there’s the entrance fee, which limits when you can see the work (in crowds on free night). I tried to get a friend who’s a professor of art in Iowa into MoMA on my press card with me, and was told she could come in for free if she had a group of students with her. But even if she were teaching in New York, doesn’t she have to see the show first, to decide if it’s something she wants to bring her students to? I know so many artists who choose to pass on major exhibitions because of the fee, and often if you find a good show, you want to see it more than once. In Chicago, no doubt, many artists can afford to join both the MCA and the Art Institute (or “INSTITVTE” as it reads on their Web site—yikes!), but in New York, with a plethora of major museums, cost becomes prohibitive. I propose that the New York museums get together on an “artist’s card” that would allow entrance to all the museums for a yearly fee of $125 or so. Verifying that someone is an artist is easier now than it was back in the day when I had to prove my professional status to the city in order to live in SoHo—it can be anyone who has a Web site featuring their work, or is featured on a gallery Web site. Such a policy would increase not only traffic but word-of-mouth.

That said, here are some random shots from the Eliasson exhibition:

Your eye activity field, 2009, oil on canvas (detail). Created for the MCA's lobby and atrium, this series of 300 canvases (approximately 6" x 14") represents the 300 nanometers of the color spectrum that can be seen by the human eye

Reimagine, 2002: spotlights cast shiftin, overlapping rectalinear patters across the gallery wall, creating an illusion of distance and depth.
Beauty, 1993: a spotlight shining obliquely through a curtain of fine mist.

From the model room
One-way colour tunnel, 2007 (detail)

One-way colour tunnel (detail) with view of Inverted Berlin sphere, 2005

Inverted Berlin sphere, 2005, with a detail of Multiple Grotto, 2004 (left), which incorporates elements of the model seen above.
Colour sphere embracer, 2005, colored glass rings suspended from the ceiling nestle inside one another while a motor simultaneously rotates each in a different direction.

Friday, May 1, 2009


I’m in Chicago, watching the sun rise over Lake Michigan, from the guest room in my friend Barbara’s apartment. It’s been a great trip, except yesterday my ex-husband had a nasty fall that landed him in the Evanston Hospital emergency room, and his wife told me that treatment was delayed (total time in hospital: 12 hours, with 45 minute to one hour waits between procedures) because the place was overrun with people worried that they had swine flu. I know the tendency to hysteria over possible disaster isn’t new to the human race, but we seem to have a collective memory that doesn’t go back even as far as three years ago, when the avian flu was going to kill us all. I remember that well because I have a friend in Paris whose girl friend is an epidemiologist, and in every other email he was urging me to stock up on quantities of Tamiflu. I preferred to keep my immune system up with a steady consumption of chocolate bars and red wine, which worked just fine. I also read Dr. Mercola, whose assessment turned out to be correct. Here’s what he has to say about swine flu.

Wednesday evening I went to the opening of the newest version of Olafur Eliasson’s survey exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art. At one point a museum video crew, collecting short interviews to use in fund-raising, approached and asked me to talk about my connection to the museum. At first I didn’t think I had anything to say, but then realized that my intense interest in Eliasson’s work began with the MCA and the Robert Irwin exhibition in 1976 that changed forever how I think about art. Irwin was Eliasson’s biggest influence as well, although I think it’s unlikely that he ever saw an actual work until fairly recently. This version of the traveling Eliasson survey show (next stop: Dallas) is the best exhibition of the many I’ve seen (I didn’t see the survey in San Francisco, however, and the curator there, Madeleine Grynstein, is now the director at the MCA). At the MCA the work has room to breathe, and I think Eliasson is at his best in vast enclosed spaces—the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern (below) being an example. I’m going back today to take pictures, which I’ll share.

Olafur Eliasson, weather project, Tate Modern, 2004.