Sunday, December 12, 2021

On art writing--yesterday and today

The other day, during a studio visit, the discussion turned to the sad state of art criticism, and I had to admit that my enthusiasm for writing about art for any venue has waned—and this has to do with a change in the attitudes of editors and, I guess, publishers, where the trust and freedom (as well as resources) allowed to writers in earlier times no longer exists. Consider that in the ‘90s, writing for Art and Antiques, I could just go interview an artist who interested me and see what happened, make it into something, a story not necessarily tied to a particular event. Or I’d have an idea, like ask four artists how they happened on the singular artistic vehicles that defined their work—Nam June Paik, James Rosenquist, Louise Nevelson, George Segal—and just go for it. Later, I wrote for Art In America where, in 1999, with an agreement but no particular deadline, I could follow Robert Irwin around for the whole year it took to grasp and distill his philosophy into a cover story that Jenny Moore of the Chinati Foundation told me not long ago she uses to introduce visitors to his work. Then, in 2004, there was another fabulous six months visiting Olafur Eliasson’s studio in Berlin and seeing as much of his work as possible in England, Iceland, Norway, and Germany (mostly paid for by the magazine)—following his ground-breaking installation at the Tate Modern that put the artist and the museum on the map. This was long before Olafur had any survey exhibitions, and given that his work consisted of one-offs that could only be evaluated in person, a comprehensive article could not be written otherwise. Now, it’s not only financial restrictions that intervene. An article must be scheduled for a particular issue, but to get even that far, you must submit a proposal outlining in advance what you’re planning to say. Well, I don’t write to express what I already think. I write to find out what I think. So f*ck it. The following is a piece I did on Louise Bourgeois for Art and Antiques in 1995, which started in a serendipitous way. Louise hated interviews, so the minute I arrived with my tape recorder, she tried to put me off by saying I should get a particular book about her that included a number of quotations and come back and ask her about them. In one of the more satisfying moments of my writing life, I sat down, unzipped my backpack, and pulling out the list of quotes I’d prepared in just that way, asked, “Shall we begin?” After that we were friends, and the article became a true collaboration. MEMORY AND MEANING: LOUISE BOURGEOIS REFLECTS ON YESTERDAY AND TODAY