Saturday, February 26, 2011

Laurel Nakadate at PS1

It has been ever thus: men, especially those of a certain age, become unhinged at the sight of a young woman in her underwear. We know and accept this, always with the hope, however, that this derangement won't interfere with their professionalism. Compared with how Monica Lewinsky and her thong affected history, an art exhibition is a minor event—yet Klaus Biesenbach, who organized  Laurel Nakadate’s “Only the Lonely” at PS 1 (through August 8) and Ken Johnson who reviewed it enthusiastically in yesterday’s Times (but is still wondering if Christian Marclay’s brilliant  The Clock could be just a “stunt,” see post below), might have considered that they were not thinking entirely with their heads.
            While she also exhibited videos (such as one I found particularly mean-spirited, of herself dancing like Britney Spears in front of desperately lonely men), most annoying is 365 Days: A Catalogue of Tears (2010), where Nakadate worked up a state of sadness for a portion of each day, and then photographed herself—posing in her undies and often topless—before, after or during the shedding of supposedly real tears.  Johnson asks, sensibly enough, “Since she is a fit and attractive woman in her mid-30s who has an M.F.A. from Yale and is now enjoying this retrospective, you might wonder what she has to be so lachrymose about,“ but then backtracks by saying, “A more sympathetic view is that she has been tapping into a river of grief and loneliness running under the surface of American life.” Now there’s a sentence that begs for amplification and justification: just what “river of grief and loneliness” is Johnson talking about anyway? And why the requirement to be sympathetic?
            In her work, this poor girl who has so much she must force herself to feel unhappy every day, makes a mockery of real sadness.  While writing this I’ve been talking with a good friend whose aunt just died, and who is attempting to comfort his beloved 92-year-old grandparents. Do we want to see the pictures? Try glamorizing that scenario.
            Despite its weak theme, the installation is impressive: framed in white and hung gallery-style in symmetrical rows that march toward an archway, these richly colored photographs turn the high-ceilinged rooms into a semblance of a Renaissance palace, streamlined for the 21st century. What’s really sad is that without Nakadate moping in them, most of the images could stand on their own. It’s pathetic that, given the times, artists feel the necessity to overlay perfectly good photography with art school conceits. Plus, whatever happened to subtlety? There are more evocative ways to convey sadness than the cliché of someone in tears.
            The other really sad part is that if Nakadate were to have made herself happy every day, the results might actually have been interesting—but “happy,” unfortunately, is not very arty.
            My conclusion is that this girl needs a job! Her next “performance” should be one where she photographs herself 365 days a year working in a convenience store. Marina Abramovic she is not.

Installation view, Laurel Nakadate "Only the Lonely," courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, PS1.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Christian Marclay's "The Clock"

By now, unless you’ve been vacationing in Tahiti, you know about—or have seen, judging by the lines—Christian Marclay’s video The Clock (at Paula Cooper Gallery, closing today), and that it’s a 24-hour compendium of thousands of clips from films of all kinds, having to do with time and, like a clock, matching real time.

I was concerned that The Clock’s extreme popularity might interfere with its status as high art—like those (most of whom hadn’t seen it) who clucked their tongues and referred to Olafur Eliasson’s weather project at the Tate Modern, which drew thousands, as “spectacle”. The s-word is right up there with other art world pejoratives like “decorative” and “entertainment.” God forbid we should enjoy ourselves.

However the response to The Clock was not only nearly unanimous, but effusively enthusiastic, which makes it an epic moment for art. The only person I’ve even heard of who had a measured reaction was critic Ken_Johnson who, after staying just a few minutes, wrote on Jerry Saltz’s Facebook page that it made him “agitated” but thought it could be a “brilliant gimmick carried out with great care.”

“Gimmick”—forgot that that one.

After taking up Saltz’s challenge (Saltz offered Johnson $25 an hour to view it for 2 ½ hours), Johnson wrote:

marclay's wit and cleverness are immense, and the execution is unimpeachably polished. philosophically there is plenty to talk about: real time vs. fictive time; time as a construct; modern, bureaucratically regimented, machine time and human freedom. the possibility of escaping time. time vs. eternity. but i have the feeling that the mandate to fill out 24 hours of clock time -- however impressively fulfilled -- produced something kind of impersonal. is it a work of soul stirring art, the product of a prophetic visionary? or an amazing stunt?

And oh yeah, another s-word: “stunt.”

My response was, if it’s a stunt, let’s have more! And impersonal? I found it anything but. Just as interesting as the experience of watching it was what happened after. Once when I was there, the gallery was closing for the day. Everyone knew it was going to close but stayed glued to their seats while 6:00 came, then 6:01…6:02...6:03. At 6:04 the gallery assistants came into the room and started moving about apologetically and gently turning up the lights, as if it was the end of yoga class and we were all still in savasana. Walking out into the brightness I heard one assistant ask another, “What time are you coming in tomorrow?” And she answered, “4:00” – not normally a weighty exchange, but in this context my sense of their lives took on extra dimension. Out on the street every sound—cars and trucks rushing by, distant sirens, splashing tires—was amplified, meaningful, portentous. On the bus, everyone was a star, or someone with a motive, but also people for whom I felt increased interest and empathy. I had things to do, places to go, but just wanted to walk the city; after focusing on time for several hours, time had become meaningless.


More…the issue of Art in America with my 2003 cover story on Marclay on the gallery desk made me feel especially connected…see this from the BBCread also Roberta Smith, Jerry Saltz, David Cohen. and especially music critic Ben Ratliff, who noted that The Clock made “the minutes crawl and the hours fly.” Marclay is an absolute master of editing and continuity. At one point a clip from “Frankenstein,” which was written by Mary Shelley, segues into one from “Lolita,” with Shelley Winters. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Getting out....

I received this email recently from an accomplished artist who has, of late, been concentrating on other things:

So, is it me, or does most of the art that is celebrated these days look exactly the same? As if it had all been done by the same artist. To me a lot of it looks like oversize candy wrappers leaning against a wall. Colorful. Disposable. Ultimately leaving no trace on my heart or imagination. Really gets me down.

Your talk of staying current and in touch with things momentarily sank my heart as the only thing I am current with is my son's happy success at potty training (and we are happy!). Reading about how you made work on zero time was a welcome relief. I look forward when I can find my way back to that part of myself again.....

If she’s indeed serious about reclaiming her artistic path, and wants my advice, it’s GET OUT OF THE HOUSE! Take little Javier and run to the big city, go to the museums, and check out the galleries (especially Christian Marclay’s video installation The Clock, now at Paula Cooper—for which you’ll probably need a babysitter, but it’s worth it).  Push his stroller through the slush in the East Village.

It’s a lot of work, but kids are portable. I have a friend who lives an hour and 45 minutes outside London, but when she wants to see something, she packs up her three-year-old and the world’s biggest one-year old and gets on the train—last summer toted them to an outdoor rock concert in London on her own. The only thing worse than having to trundle kids around is staying home.

Often what happens to people who have been out of the loop for a while, is that when they finally make the effort to go out and see art, they’re disappointed; they try it again a couple of times, conclude that what they’ve seen is representative, that it all looks the same—and don’t go back, after which, often, there’s no going back. If you’re not in the loop, it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking that your work is more interesting, more current, more of a discovery than it really is.

The fact is that it takes a LOT of looking at art to find ANYTHING that’s really great. You just have to keep going and going and going until it pays off. But even when it isn’t great, it’s the seeing and evaluating, seeing and evaluating, that keeps you sharp, in the moment, so when you do get started again, you won’t be a throwback but an extension of the conversation.

Really, it’s called professionalism, and I’m always surprised at the number of artists who feel they can do without it—yet it always shows up in their work. We cherish this romantic view of artists as loners who, if they will just dig deeply enough into their souls, can come up with gold. But the truth is, all those people who simply want to express themselves make work that all looks the same.  Maybe some people can just splat themselves out there and be interesting, but it’s rare.  Having the idea or the emotion is one thing; being able to successfully develop the language to put it over is another.

In an interview with Paul Klein, Michael Darling, Chief Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago talks about the “idea of an artist being some kind of advanced visual or perceptual researcher… comparable to advanced researchers in, say, medicine or maybe mathematics or physics… [who can] uniquely contribute to [the] tradition and push it forward in a new way.”

In this, Darling is underscoring the seriousness of the pursuit. His emphasis on wanting to see something “new” may disgruntle some, but I don’t think he’s talking about new modes of art as much as new expressions.  If he were to substitute the unfashionable word “original,” it might go down more easily.  

It could be a form as traditional as landscape painting, a blob of bronze…or an earthwork, video or dance. Whatever it is, I want to see something I haven’t seen before, and I’ve seen a lot. I want to be surprised.


Note to students: While I’m emphasizing background here, don’t make the mistake of thinking that your work should look anything like what you see in the galleries. By the time it gets to Chelsea, it’s over. You’re doing the art of the future, and we don’t know what that looks like. Sorry, there are no guidelines; you have to figure it out on your own.

Aki wonders how some of that shit gets into the galleries; I'm mystified too.