Wednesday, July 18, 2012

On MOCA, Deitch, disco, dildos and more....

After ranting about the Art Institute of Chicago’s restaurant choices: the reservations-only, pretentiously-named Terzo Piano, which provides “signature cuisine” for the 1%, or the downstairs Museum Café, with pizza, burgers, and plastic dinnerware for the rest of us plebes, I was pleased to read this quote, in The New Yorker’s recent profile of Tate Modern director Nick Serota:  “We did a survey of about forty artists before we began….We thought that if we could make spaces in which artists liked to show their work, then the public would also respond to them—we wanted spaces that the public would feel comfortable in. For example, it was a very deliberate decision to make this [the café] a good restaurant, but not a high-end one.”

Meanwhile all of the artist members—John Baldessari, Catherine Opie, Barbara Kruger, and Ed Ruscha—of the board of directors at L.A.’s MOCA have quit.

“To live with my conscience, I just had to do it." Baldessari said in an interview Thursday after emailing his decision to MOCA. He said his reasons include the recent ouster of respected chief curator Paul Schimmel and news this week that the pop-cultural slant the museum has taken under director Jeffrey Deitch will continue with an exhibition on disco music's influence on art and culture.
“When I heard about that disco show I had to read it twice. At first I thought 'this is a joke' but I realized, no, this is serious. That just reaffirmed my decision.

“That disco show” refers to an upcoming exhibition—no date yet set—that will examine the supposed cultural impact of disco music on art, fashion and music. It will be co-curated (who is the other curator? Deitch?) by James Murphy of the band, LCD Soundsystem, which broke up last year at the peak of its massive success because, Murphy said, "It was living a life that nobody would live forever."

Although I’ve been a huge LCD Soundsystem fan and will probably regret for the rest of my life not having seen them live, I want to point out that James Murphy was in grammar school during the disco era while, to borrow a phrase from one of LCD’s best songs, I was there.

I was there and disco was not anything artists were interested in. In fact, it was a pejorative word. Disco was AM radio, the boroughs, and secretaries on their nights off, when we were into punk, New Wave, ska, and funk. Studio 54, Warhol and Bianca, was stuff we read about in the Post gossip columns, and besides, Warhol was old by then, in his middle 40s, a veritable éminence grise—while we had CBGB, Danceteria, Area (where the theme changed every month), the Pyramid, 8BC and, in its marvelous decrepitude, the World. No one had any desire to go above 14th Street or wear a polyester suit. My record collection didn’t include Donna Summer, Barry White, the Bee Gees or the Jacksons but James Brown, George Clinton, Parliament-Funkadelic, Blondie, the Velvet Underground, the English Beat, the Sex  Pistols, the Clash, and the Dead Kennedys. I loved “Saturday Night Fever” but it didn’t have anything to do with me. I put on the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” to get myself up and out the door to work.

It was also a time when artists and writers called the shots in the art world—not businessmen.

My concern about the disco show isn’t the pop culture aspect, but that it could end up being a simplification rather than a clarification of history, a glamorized, homogenized, Mad Men-esque perspective of a complex time.  We have only Deitch’s track record so far to go on: by all accounts his 2011 “Art in the Streets” was the show of the year (that I didn’t see it is another big regret, as Street Art is a major interest of mine), while his current James Dean exhibition, curated by James Franco, as well as his first venture, photographs by Dennis Hopper, seem to have been critical flops. And the now infamous Marina Abramovic performance/dinner, was simply appalling.

A bigger issue, however, is the way the firing (framed as a “resignation”) of Paul Schimmel was handled—by the head of the board of directors, yet—and that it may signal the complete takeover of museums, like everything else, by self-interested moneymen (be sure to read more here). It also seems as if the artist members of the board were left in the dark, which alone would be reason to quit.  

Of course if the director curates, the museum doesn’t have to pay a curator—which is a good thing, because Deitch and Broad will have a hard time finding a decent curator who will work for them after this.

At the same time, it’s important to be open to change, and who knows? Maybe the disco show will be great.

It makes me think of other famous art world walkouts like (I wasn’t there) when Sidney Janis introduced Pop Art with his international “New Realists” exhibition (among the 54 artists shown: Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist, George Segal, Richard Lindner, Wayne Thiebaud, Jim Dine, Robert Indiana, Tom Wesselmann, George Segal, Yves Klein, Arman,  and Christo) prompting a dramatic exodus from the gallery by AbExer’s Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, Philip Guston and Robert Motherwell (only de Kooning stayed on).

And when I came from Chicago to work at Artforum in 1976, smoke was still hovering from the Lynda Benglis scandal, over an ad for which she posed nude with a gold-plated dildo, an event that caused Contributing Editors Rosalind Krauss and Annette Michelson to quit and three others, Lawrence Alloway, Max Kozloff, Joseph Masheck, to write a letter to the editor, then John Coplans, protesting this “object of extreme vulgarity”—which just looks funny now.

I refuse to make predictions. Back in the day, an acquaintance from Australia told me about a band called the Bee Gees, who were “really great” and I said, “With a stupid name like that, they won’t get anywhere.” 

Update 7/22/12: Another POV here. 7/23/12 Roberta Smith on the debacle here. Even more here. This is almost as good as Downton Abbey. And now Rob Storr weighs in.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Good art, good people

·           Gerhard Richter, S. with Child, 1995, Oil on canvas, 41 cm x 36 cm, Catalogue Raisonné: 827-2

             took a mental health hiatus from my blog, but now I’m back. [Also had to delete a previous post, where the foundation that represents the estate of the artist I rhapsodized about complained about the accuracy of the info I copied and pasted from the museum press release—and were also annoyed that I’d included a Wikipedia link they said contained wrong info. Huh? Seems it might be easier to edit Wikipedia than to ask me to remove the link but hey, as it’s my only complaint in 475 posts, I can handle it!].

Anyway, there’s nothing more likely to get me going than reading stupid stuff about art and artists—like this article, “Good Art, Bad People” by Charles McGrath in the Times, which cites examples to bolster the stereotypical idea that artists are more deranged than the rest of the population. I think articles like these are written so the authors can assuage their egos with the excuse, “I coulda been a contender if I weren’t so fucking nice.” Because we think about stuff so much (artists are, at their core, analytical, always wondering, “how could this be different?”) it’s possible we may be less likely than others to conform to superficial societal norms, but I refuse to make further generalizations (I remember someone once telling me that I couldn’t be a “real” artist because my studio was “too neat”—although there’d be no problem with that at the moment). I’ve known a lot of artists—yes, even great ones—some of whom were totally agreeable (no one is nicer than Ellsworth Kelly) and others who were utterly horrid. Like the rest of the population.

Can good people make good art? Or to make it a little harder: Can good people make great art? The answer here might seem to be equally self-evident. There are countless artists who seemingly lead decent, morally upstanding lives, who don’t beat their wives, slur the Jews, or even cheat on their taxes. There are many more of these, one wants to say, than of the other sort, the Wagners, Rimbauds, Byrons, et al., who are the exception rather than the rule. And yet the creation of truly great art requires a degree of concentration, commitment, dedication, and preoccupation — of selfishness, in a word — that sets that artist apart and makes him not an outlaw, exactly, but a law unto himself.

Great artists tend to live for their art more than for others. This is why the biographies of so many writers in the 20th century who were otherwise reasonably good people, or not monstrous certainly (think of Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Bellow, Yates, Agee, to take a few almost at random), are strewn with broken marriages and neglected or under-appreciated children.
Yadda, yadda, yadda. McGrath “wants to say” this is the case because an article about kind, generous, thoughtful, sober artists would be totally boring. Also, notice he may be a bit out of touch, as his famous examples are from the last-century or before, when divorce was difficult and alcohol flowed. These days, successful artists are more likely to be super-functional, careerist and businesslike, than dissolute. No one has time to be a drunk.
Meanwhile, if the image presented in the film, “Gerhard Richter Painting” is true, then the world’s most famous living painter is a real sweetie-pie, who has said, “I have painted my family so frequently because they are the ones who touch me the most.”

That’s a quote from the wall text at the recent Beaubourgretrospective, which I saw recently, and this is as good an excuse as any to post a few more. *

On classicism:

The classical is what holds me together.
It is that which gives me form.
It is the order that I do not have to attack.
It is something that tames my chaos or holds it together so that I can continue to exist, that was never a question for me, which is essential for life.

On chance:

Letting a thing come, rather than creating it.

On abstraction:

Horrible, gaudy sketches, sentimental things, functioning through the association of ideas, anachronistic, ambiguous, practically pseudo-psychodramatic and therefore unintelligible, without meaning or logic, if indeed there must be any.

I pursue no objectives, no system, no tendency; I have no programme, no style, no direction. I like the indefinite, the boundless. I like continual uncertainty.

* Note: I’ve taken some editorial liberties with the rather clumsily translated English text, eliminating some excess “that”s and a “really” (hard to imagine Richter saying “really” in any language) and choosing “touch” (in the French translation, it was touchant) over “affect” as in his family being the ones who touched/affected him the most.