Thursday, March 25, 2010

To re-perform or not to re-perform? More about Marina.

While I was bobbing about in the Caribbean last week, I didn’t think even once about Marina Abramović. But now that I’m back, the show at MoMA is on my mind again, mainly because it’s unforgettable. I feel only admiration and awe for this woman who was sitting in that chair when I left, remained there while I was away doing new things, meeting new people, and is still stationed there in yogic-like silence. Her performance is a profound experience that should not be missed.

Because I believe Abramović is such an important artist and this is such an important moment in art, I’m sorry to say that the rest of the exhibition fell flat and has brought me to the conclusion that “re-performance,” as Abramović calls it, does not work. Nothing upstairs comes near to producing the indescribable jolt you feel when you see Abramović in the Atrium, holding the space with the primal force that emanates from her being.

“Re-performances” are artifacts, and artifacts are bloodless things. A few years ago I was visiting the Chicago History Museum when I unexpectedly came across an exhibit of paraphernalia from the 1968 protests at the Democratic National Convention, with several vitrines dedicated to items from the anti-war campaign of Eugene McCarthy. Well, in 1968 I was very young, very pregnant, and co-chairman of press for the Chicago office of the youth-dominated campaign. The items laid out under glass with their little placards were buttons I’d worn, posters I’d helped produce, handouts I’d had a part in writing. The effect was spooky—looking at it made me feel like Rip Van Winkle. But what was most clear was that these objects, which once carried so much energy and meaning, were dead.

In the same way I found the re-performances and documentation in the rest of the exhibition tedious—because I’m not as interested in history as I am in art. And not just art per se; I go to a place like MoMA to have an experience of art, like the one in the Atrium.

When confronted with “stand-ins” the mind begins to wander…Who are these people? Do they get paid? How much? Are they still glad they signed on?...whereas Marina Abramović occupies her performances with her commitment, personal preparation and endurance; she embodies her own idea, so that everything you think about her is still within context of the piece. It’s not just about two naked people in a doorway, it’s the artist choosing to expose herself in that way and that energy particular to her, the rare charisma that has been developed and infused through her work.

Further, the whole idea of performance art has to do with spontaneity, the interaction not only with a person, but a specific and fleeting moment in time. It has a certain urgency that cannot be recreated, any more than you can successfully replicate a painting by Picasso or Matisse. Art as a primary experience requires the primary players.

This was especially brought home to me when my friend, Alexandra (who saw one re-performer start sobbing and another faint while she was there), asked how meaningful it would be if someone were to try to recreate John and Yoko’s famous bed-in for peace.

Not very.

From the Web. Copyright may apply.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Spring vacation

I rarely enjoy reading interviews; I’ve written them from time to time, when asked, but in general I consider them a low form of journalism, kind of a cop-out, especially when art is the topic at hand. The interviewer is usually intimidated by the subject, and the questions are rarely more probing than, “Where were you born?” I did write one for Mike Glier’s Along a Long Line (see sidebar), a book about his global painting project, which I think is good only because Mike’s words about himself and his work are more interesting than anyone else’s about him could be.

However friend and artist colleague, Roberto Juarez, has published another interview with Mike, this time in Bomb magazine online, which goes even more deeply into what it means to be an artist, and specifically a painter. Rarely is painting discussed with such perception and thoughtfulness on the parts of both the interviewer and the interviewee. I recommend printing it out and enjoying it while I’m away for the next week or so, frolicking near one of the places on Mike’s longitudinal journey, which he so aptly interpreted in paint. Enjoy!

Mike Glier, January 26, 2008, Haulover Bay, (St. John, VI), oil on aluminum, 24" x 30". Gerald Peters Gallery.

Throw away your Janson!

It's all here in this music video for a song called "70 Million"--made by a group called l'Ogre, for the French band, Hold Your Horses:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Looking for art in all the wrong places

A friend recently experienced culture shock, coming back from a month of meditation in India and going to the Armory Show at the piers while still jet-lagged. “There’s such a contrast between the vital, natural, creative impulse that is India, and the intellectual constraint of Western art, “she said. “There the creative, intellectual, and spiritual are all of a piece, where here we tease them apart. Indian art is raw; Western European art is processed, an intellectual product.”

I haven’t been to India, but I have been to Egypt, where the soft pastels of the clothing and painted clay houses, the graceful sails of the feluccas on the Nile, were one with the sandy, palm-treed landscape, each vista more breathtaking than the last, every aspect harmonious. The way the shopkeepers in the Aswan market laid out their wares was as artful as any installation I’d ever seen. Beauty seemed as natural as breathing.

And beauty, I’m convinced, is as necessary to healthy life as clean air, water, and food, yet we in the West pretend that it’s a luxury. The only way we acknowledge beauty’s importance is by punishing criminals by depriving them of it. Prison wouldn’t be prison if cells had brightly colored walls and inmates wore attractive uniforms— “Jil Sander for Attica" would not fly.

Even the environments we create for people to live and work in (and supposedly get well in, just look at our hospitals—we won’t even speak of the food) are equally aesthetically barren. Every time I drive through mall heaven in the towns outside Boston, or on Long Island or…anywhere, I go into shock.

So back at the piers, there’s an inescapable irony in paying $30 to look at art—try to find beauty—in the most inhospitable of situations: crowded, hot, claustrophobic, everything squished in. Another friend says she likes Ikea better—“at least they give you a green line to follow.”

From the Armory Show: Keltie Ferris, He-She, 2010, oil, acrylic, oil pastel & sprayed paint on canvas, 80x60"
Horton Gallery, New York. Photo: Mark Woods

Meanwhile, a real armory on Park Avenue, intended for storing military equipment and built at a time (1861) when beauty was still a priority, makes a much better backdrop for art, which is why I prefer the ADAA (Art Dealers Association of America) Art Show, this year concurrent with the ones at the piers. Not edgy, you say? Okay with me. At least I can breathe.

…and visit with John Kelly, who’s artist-in-residence in this lavishly decorated monument to war that’s being turned into an alternative art space. Dancer, singer, actor, writer, painter (my review of his recent show at Alexander Gray was in the November Art in America), John is one of the most charismatic performers ever, the proof being that he can make even cabaret (a musical genre I loathe, right up there with musical theater) into a thrilling experience. I’m such a fan! John will be channeling Joni Mitchell in performance in Usdan Gallery at Bennington College at 9:00 this Friday evening.

John Kelly

The Armory Studio

However if the backdrop makes the art, it does not make the music. Forgoing dinner with friends, I had high hopes for Animal Collective and Danny Berger in the rotunda at the Guggenheim last Thursday, but hardly the “kinetic, psychedelic environment” promised by the press release, it turned out to be totally anemic. It’s as if they weren’t even trying. I, like others, expected a concert, but instead it was arty computerized electronic plinking that could barely be heard over the conversations of the milling crowd, who also rarely glanced up at Berger’s vapid projections. Unlike Jenny Holzer’s project last year on the exterior of the building, it was a great opportunity, piddled away. (Vanity Fair agrees.)

My desire for sound and light, however, was more than satisfied the next night, when I bought a single ticket to hear Muse and the Silversun Pickups (who you must know by now are my favorite band) at that most unaesthetic of venues, Madison Square Garden. No doubt the show cost a gazillion dollars and took months to prepare—and Muse is definitely OTT, no subtlety there—but I was primed. It wasn’t Art, so they had to deliver. At the end I was getting hugs from sweaty, 20-year-old guys (“You like Muse? Let me give you a hug!). Totally worth it

Muse at Madison Square Garden 3/5/10

Thursday, March 4, 2010


© estate of anne truitt via the Washington Post

I’m about to descend into Armory madness. For reading material I hope you’ll turn to my article on Anne Truitt in the March Art in America.