Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In


December 11, 2007

How many people notice, upon leaving the Kara Walker exhibition at the Whitney, that there's another show equally rooted in racial stereotypes outside?

December 11, 2007
It was reported in the New York Times Sunday that with their pay-what-you-will system, Radiohead sold 1.2 million downloads of their new album, In Rainbows, grossing somewhere between one and five million dollars. The article suggests, with some skepticism, that this could be a new business model. I had a friend who, in the eighties, worked in a California restaurant where the diners were asked to leave whatever amount they thought the meal was worth. She said they consistently overpaid.
December 9, 2007
The weird thing was that after seeing so much Chinese art at the beginning of my Chelsea tour (see "It's all Chinese" below), everything else began to look Chinese too. Ross Bleckner’s Chinese red flower swirls:

Cy Twombly’s splash blossoms, also Chinese red, were like blown-up brush paintings, and I'm amazed that I never before made the association between Pat Steir’s drip paintings and Oriental screens:

And Charles Ray’s farmer? Definitely Chinese:
December 8, 2007
Su Xinping (Stux)

This week, pounding the sidewalks of Chelsea, it became more and more evident that the Chinese takeover of the art world is complete. First stop was the group show at the vast Arario Gallery (521 West 21st with three other branches are in Korea and Beijing) followed by another across the street at Stux. While there’s no means of presentation here that’s particularly new—the Asians are riffing on Western contemporary art in a big way—it’s oddly refreshing. They bring, however, more than just exotica to the mix. While Westerners appreciate traditional Asian painting and sculpture for its beauty, at the same time it's opaque, a foreign language. By adopting Western tropes, these younger Asian artists are working with a visual code we understand, and one that allows their personal sensibilities to shine through. In writing classes I taught in the graduate program at SVA, where many of the students are Asian, I made a practice of encouraging foreign students to forget about using correct grammar and simply concentrate on expressing their thoughts and feelings. The results were charming and illuminating—and because of their heartfelt nature—surprisingly literary. The students told me they could express personal insights and observations in English that would be unimaginable within the confines and traditions of their native languages.

However the same Warholian and Duchampian ideas that the Asians find so liberating have been recycling in the West now for more than thirty years, to the point that they have become mechanical and rote. Pushed in art school to do work that looks “relevant,” students imitate what they see in galleries, which is work generated by artists who were imitating what they saw in galleries ten years before, which is work those artists saw in galleries ten years before that, so by now it’s all so denatured and watered down that it looks like the souvenir shop version of the original impulse.

Perhaps its time for us to take up brush painting.
December 4, 2007

More from my friend, Einar (click label below for other posts), here with his newest configuration. He tells me a few (around 14) stars or stellated polyhedrons are known in geometry, the earliest being those of German mathematician, astronomer, and astrologer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630).

Einar first discovered Kepler's stars in the Kepler Museum in Weil der Stadt, Germany in 1973. That, along with meeting Buckminster Fuller in 1975, was the beginning of his involvement with geometry. When I asked how long this project took he said, "I've been working on geometry since 1973 and cannot figure out how much of this third of a century it took to finally define the Thorsteinn Star. Maybe it was the fine Brieselang air..." -- referring to the village outside Berlin where he and Manuela live.

I wanted to know more, and when I looked up Kepler I found this image, which I suggested to Einar looked a lot like him. True, Kepler's nose is much longer, as Einar immediately pointed out, and his eyes are brown, not blue. But what I see isn't a superficial commonality as much as a mischievous glint in the eye and look of deep inner satisfaction.

For more information on stellation and facetting, Einar suggests Guy Inchbald’s website:
November 30, 2007
I have a confession to make to Philip Glass: I’ve been taking him for granted. Never mind that some of my most thrilling musical moments have been at live Glass performances, I simply have not kept up and never think of playing his music while I’m working. That changed when I suddenly decided to more thoroughly investigate the contents of my iTunes by going through it alphabetically, which meant that I was just as likely to be listening to a College Art Association lecture or French poetry as Gorillaz. One of things that surfaced in my experiment was the piano opening of Glassworks (1982) and I was surprised at how beautiful it was after not hearing it all these years. That rediscovery coincided with an article by Alex Ross in the November 5th issue of The New Yorker on new works by Glass. Ross points out that the hullabaloo over Steve Reich’s 70th birthday was substantially greater than that over Glass’s, and notes that much of the problem with Glass’s credibility among intellectuals is that he writes faster than most of us can listen (“I just got sick of him,” my friend Maria said when I told her what I was writing about). Well on Ross’s advice I bought (from Amazon, it’s not down-loadable) Glass’s Eighth Symphony (2005), and have found it very listenable and not at all predictable and repetitious as I expected (“It’s a dirty job,” a rock musician friend once said when I played him Music with Changing Parts, “but somebody has to do it”). Much of the Eighth Symphony sounds like a Wagner/Glass mash-up or Wagner if he wasn’t always portending something, and had listened to a lot of Philip Glass. Glass also portends, but it’s a slow build and more about the journey than the payoff. In alphabetical order on my iTunes what comes after the Eighth Symphony is Passages (1990), Glass’s collaboration with Ravi Shankar, and rediscovering that as well has been delightful--parts that remind me of the other-worldly trill of the wood thrush, along with sections that are surprisingly Paul Winter-ish. However if I’m going to continue to play Glass I have to be careful to make a separate playlist for him because if I stay on the alphabetical track what comes after Philip is the Pixies, and that’s a tough transition.

Then there was the week my iPod got a mind of its own and refused to play anything but Oasis …but that’s another story.
November 28, 2007
I've been working on my GREEN painting for an hour or so this morning--after months, it's almost finished--(you can follow the whole torturous story if you click on the "Painting" label below) and I love it so much I can't stop looking at it. I was about to write, "Isn't life weird?" until I remembered my old boy friend, Claude, saying, "Compared with what?"
November 27, 2007
There are people in the world who spend much of their time conjuring up geometric forms no one has used before. One such person is my previously-mentioned friend, Einar Thorsteinn, whose configurations often appear in Olafur Eliasson’s work. Einar just sent me these photos (click to enlarge) of himself in Olafur’s studio, working with one of his latest, which has the working title of “MoMA Joint” because it’s intended for use in Olafur’s upcoming survey exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. Einar suggests that the stackable form can have other, more practical applications, such as being cast in concrete for the walls of a house, where the openings could become windows.

The level of rigor Einar contributes to Olafur's work was what I found lacking in the wire sculptures in Antony Gormley’s recent show at Sean Kelly (up through December 1st). I want to like Gormley’s work because I’ve never forgotten the first piece I saw of his in 1991--entitled Field, it consisted of 35,000 handmade clay figures assembled on the gallery floor, all of whom seemed to be beseeching me. With overtones of war and poverty—even though those issues weren’t addressed directly, or perhaps because they weren’t—it was quite moving.

However these current sculptures of Gormley's seem rather lackadaisical--as if they haven't made up their minds whether to be tight and geometric or loose and organic, but hover uncomfortably in-between--and his glassed-in room filled with steam needs some additonal aspect to make it more than....a glassed-in room filled with steam. It’s a lot of technology for not a lot of impact. When an artist puts that much effort and expense into building something, our expectations rise accordingly—whereas Robert Irwin gets a lot more mileage out of a mere piece of scrim.