Saturday, August 25, 2012

David Sipress in The New Yorker

If Reuters financial writer Felix Salmon can engage in art criticism I feel qualified to comment on a major but under-reported trend contributing to our lackluster economy: NO ONE WANTS TO PAY FOR LABOR. Corporate profits are at their highest, wages are at their lowest. If we can get away with it, we want people to work for next to nothing, or for free. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe if you work, if you're making a contribution to another person’s income, you should be paid commensurately.

I’ve read endless articles about how Walmart doesn’t pay a living wage, forcing employees to apply for food stamps, with universities following suit in their use of adjuncts. A friend in England works in an America designer outlet store that brings in over £400,000 a week (that’s $600,000 to you and me) where the ten or so employees make just over minimum wage. Et cetera, et cetera. What about the art world?

Now that it’s almost fall, my in-box is littered with “opportunities” for people with “excellent writing and editing skills” who are proficient in basic HTML, Excel, Quickbooks and PhotoShop to work as interns without compensation—for artists, bloggers, and galleries who are presumably profiting (or intending to profit) from their enterprises.

Now I’m a really interesting person with lots of life experience; a younger person could learn a lot just by being around me and participating in what I do—perhaps more than they could learn in school.  There’s a ton of work that needs to be done here that someone else could do and I, like many artists, am not exactly rolling in dough. Nevertheless, if someone’s going to put in hours toward my wellbeing, doing what I tell them to do, I feel honor-bound to pay them—especially if it’s QuickBooks, for god’s sake.

Since I doubt that my colleagues advertising for interns are in the Tea Party camp, I'm wondering how being a socially compassionate liberal fits with taking advantage of a climate that presumes people should work for free. Just wondering.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

I received this remembrance of Herb Vogel by email from Lucio Pozzi. The Vogels, who I’d known for some time, introduced me to Lucio back in the early 90’s, when I ran into them all having lunch at Jerry’s Restaurant in SoHo. Since then Lucio has been a friend and important figure in my life. In 2008 I posted Lucio's memories of art dealer John Weber, along with this watercolor, one of my favorites:

Lucio Pozzi, Barbardos, 11 January 1972, watercolor on paper, 11.5 x 23.1"

For a few years I lived under a giant skylight in a windowless, basement level, nineteenth century former police truck repair garage on Mulberry Street. There, the city was far away. I slept on a convertible couch or, during my daughter's visiting nights, she on the bed and I on a futon on the floor.
>     Certain summer afternoons Herbie would ring my bell, unannounced. He was wearing checkered shorts, an old pair of sandals and a light non-descript shirt. Despite his having undergone skin cancer surgery a few times on his face, he never wore a hat. With his left hand he would carry a translucent plastic bag full of water in which swam a few rare fishes picked up in the store a block away from me. With his right he held a large paper shopping bag containing a couple of wrapped rectangular works of art. The Uptown subway stop was around the corner.
>     He knew he had to wait for me to run up the ramp to open the door. The familiarity of our greetings were as precious as the years of our friendship and collaboration. No hugs, shouts or laughter, just a glass of water, and the tangible pleasure of sitting around the worktable, plain talk about family and then words about the art of other artists and mine. When theoretical considerations would arise, Herbie was very quick in situating them in simple words in the history of contemporary discourse. Nothing escaped his passionate attention.
>     It was hopeless on my part to ask whom the works in the bag were by or to see them. Only once he showed me a half-dozen drawings by Joseph Beuys he was particularly proud of having secured.
>     On my walls he could see the many ventures I was engaged in - perhaps on the left a large oil painting containing human figures, in the center some plywood geometric polychrome acrylic cutouts, to the right a photograph mounted on tinted canvas. On a nearby table there could have been a landscape watercolor and a dotted gouache texture on paper.
>     His quick eye wandered in the space while chatting, like a fox exploring the night. He would then have me open the flat files of recent works on paper. When a group attracted his attention he took it all. Occasionally he also chose a small piece on canvas or on wood.
>     Sometimes I disagreed about the relevance or quality of what he chose. His respect for the artist had him listen with grace, but we often ended up by his taking what he wanted and me adding what I preferred. Now that the works he had selected are shown to me by the museums that acquired them, I am stunned by how his eye and mind saw beyond my perception of my own work. I would say he was always right. As evening approached he would exit wearing a faint smile, that of a cat who had just savored a good fish meal. And I was left energized.
>     The art would have to fit the shopping bag, or if too large I would deliver it at home. On those occasions he and Dorothy either offered me an Entenmann's cake and tea or, especially after walking had become difficult for Herbie, I would be invited at the diner across the street. He was very particular about food. Never salad, no wine, yes to chopped chicken liver and ice cream.
>     Often Dorothy also came to the studio, but on those occasions the visit would be arranged ahead of time. We would dine in my neighborhood. Dorothy shared with her husband a fastidious concern for the correct handling of the artworks. She also is extremely thorough in cataloguing the collection. While looking at art, her comments would be drier than his, always very pragmatic, to the point, no flattery, few words being better than many. The discussions preceding their final agreement on what was being seen enhanced the conversations.--Lucio Pozzi

Photo via Washington Post

Monday, August 13, 2012

Distracted about abstraction

A few days ago I was cranky and didn’t know why. Then, during an impromptu Skype studio visit with Terry in England, he observed that the structure in my paintings is fading into the background and the gesture is becoming dominant. How scary is that?  Very scary, it turns out. I realize that I always trusted the structure to carry the “meaning” in my intentionally “meaningless” work (are you still with me?) and the gesture was the lively little cheerleading team that gave it edge and life. Thirty years pass this way—happily, I might add—until I wake up to find that the gesture is parading about as the main character and, to make it worse, I’m all too aware that “gesture” is simply a euphemism for “scribbles.”  Now I happen to love my scribbles; I think they’re some of the best scribbles out there.  But they’re scribbles.  Is it possible that anyone else could love them as much as I do?

About the same time I run into Molly Howitt in the parking lot at the Co-op. Molly was a ceramics student when I was teaching painting at Bennington, and I made it a point to collect as much of her output as possible—paying her for some, but not being above poking around in the reject pile outside the studio for others.  I remember once fighting with another faculty member over who was going to buy the bowl we were supposed to be critiquing—I won, and still love it.  Molly has been doing a million other things since, all worthy, but no ceramics. When I bring this up for the 100th time (I can be annoying), Molly says, “I loved the process, it’s just that I wasn’t doing anything special.”

And true; her work was very simple. However it had an elegance that distinguished it from all other handmade pots, most of which look, to me (apologies, ceramicists out there!) excruciatingly alike.  Molly brightened when I told her this; maybe she’ll actually do it.

Then I went home to my scribbles, appreciating for the first time, how much courage it must have taken to be Cy Twombly

Carol Diehl, Althaea, 2012, ink & pencil on panel, 12" x 14" 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The REAL reason Jeffrey Deitch should go....

Swingeing London by Richard Hamilton, 1968-9, showing Rolling Stone Mick Jagger in the back of a police car. © Estate of Richard Hamilton.

Other than making my own, it’s nearly impossible for me to care about art in August. This is when nature is at it’s fullest, and very hard to compete with. Besides, it’s too hot. I mean, who the fuck cares? I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these days, the best art comes out of cities like Berlin, New York, and London—as opposed to Paris and Rome—places where you need art to improve on things. Places where, if you didn’t have art, you might go crazy. In the recent documentary, Gerhard Richter calls Cologne, where he lives, an ugly city.  But maybe he needs that. Maybe Cologne is the perfect foil.

It’s never too hot for gossip and controversy, however, and right now L.A.’s MOCA is providing us with a steady stream of both. Today the L.A. Times published an article in defense of Director Jeffrey Deitch, who recently fired—or allowed the Board of Trustees to fire—long-time curator Paul Schimmel resulting in great art world sturm und drang (see post below as well). Unfortunately, the “defenders” quoted in the article are hardly financially disinterested: Aaron Rose, who co-curated “Art in the Streets” at MOCA with Deitch, and Shepard Fairey, who has been hired by Deitch to create a graphic identity for the museum. Under those circumstances, what can they be expected to say? That Deitch is full of shit?

This article and, really, everything that’s been written about the situation, makes it sound as if the issues are (blah blah, I’m so tired of it) celebrity-driven “pop” culture, intended to introduce a “new” audience and bring in crowds, versus “serious” programming, which is, ipso facto, “old culture,” for aficionados only, and crushingly boring. Yet there is a middle ground, as exemplified by the Tate Modern and the Centre Pompidou, which somehow manage to attract the world's largest audiences for contemporary art, without sacrificing rigor. And MoMA is packed.

On Deitch-as-curator, my feelings are mixed. By all accounts, “Art in the Streets” was great and I'm sorry it didn't travel to the Brooklyn Museum, as planned. Nor do I have an aversion to the idea of a disco-themed exhibition, done properly. I’m also a big fan of Shepard Fairey, and if I could hire him to create my graphic identity, I would. But to choose to mount not only a Dennis Hopper exhibition, but a James Dean theme show, curated by James Franco, while cancelling mid-stream those of Jack Goldstein and Richard Hamilton—two historic but under-recognized artists whose work would fit perfectly into the MOCA agenda—seems unconscionable. Oh, and did I mention the upcoming Jeff Koons retrospective? Now there’s an artist who needs more attention….

However, none of this means anything. Deitch was hired to be a director, not curator, and the real reason he should go is that he’s proved to be a terrible manager. This whole debacle is a P.R. nightmare of his making. Basically, a director’s job is to create good will and faith in the museum, inside and out, in addition to raising the money to keep it going. It is important that donors feel confident that the museum is being run well, is going to last, and that they‘re not contributing to a vanity project of the principle donor, in this case, Eli Broad. It would seem now that the only direction the museum can take to regain credibility and confidence is to dump Deitch, tell Broad to step back, hire a strong director, and start fresh.