Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In


October 29, 2007
No time, off to the city again, but the comments that are collecting on Verbatim, below, are more interesting than anything I'd write anyway.
October 27, 2007
Yesterday, on 57th Street, I witnessed an exchange between a gallery director who had never heard of a Barcelona chair and a collector couple from out-of-town who didn’t know the names of the artists whose work they own (“We also have quite a few prints…one’s by a Schwartz maybe? We bought them from that gallery down the street, I can’t remember the name…” “PaceWildenstein?” “Yes, that’s it.”).

The paintings the couple was considering, to be flanked by the aforesaid Barcelona chairs in a 15' x 30' hallway, were priced from $35,000 to $65,000. The gallery director introduced the artist by saying, “He died last January. He’s not exactly famous but pretty well-known.”

She might have said, “This artist, who died last January, was prominent in the sixties and seventies and has been rediscovered after a recent show about that era at the National Academy Museum…” but then why am I quibbling?

“This is a horizontal painting?”
“Yes, but you can hang it vertically if you want.”
October 23, 2007

I have a writing deadline, and a bike ride on this warm autumn morning seemed like just the thing. As my ride stretched from one hour into two, I found myself circling the cemetery, where I hadn’t been for awhile, and noticed something I never had before—gravestones decorated for Halloween:

They made for some curious combinations of imagery....

At first I thought it was too weird, but in the end I was quite moved, especially by the graves of babies who may never have seen a Halloween, or too few…

and I thought how fortunate my neighbors are to have this way of expressing their feelings, one that might not be open to those of us who, I often think, are just too schooled in cool.

October 22, 2007
Friday night Scott and I drove through the rain to the opening of the Anselm Kiefer exhibition at Mass MoCA. Of course, in the official remarks, as with the Serras, the talk was about how big and heavy everything is, and how hard the show was to install. Compared to the rest of modern life where dams and skyscrapers are built and we take for granted that most accomplishments require work, any kind of effort in the art world is made out to be a big deal. However among the overweight and oversize pieces is a painting (around 9’ x 24’) in the first gallery that’s truly magnificent—a charred landscape entitled Aperiatur Terra Germinet Salvatorum, it makes good use of Kiefer’s predilection for a crowded rush to the vanishing point at the horizon line—until you turn a corner into the other gallery and see three more that are almost identical. With each iteration, the paintings’ overall power and presence is diminished to the point that they, sadly, nearly cancel each other out.

Kiefer stayed in Germany as a form of political protest, refusing to enter the United States while Iraq War continues as, it was noted in the remarks, his mentor, Joseph Beuys, would not travel here during the Vietnam War.

Then yesterday Roberto took me to see a film at the Chatham (NY) film festival, about Ellsworth Kelly, a nearby resident, who goes about art and life with such ease, sureness, elegance, and restraint that it makes a lot of other art look like so much huffing and puffing. With the exception of the Maysles documentaries about Christo and Jeanne-Claude, I usually find films about artists annoying, as they are often made with an exaggerated sense of awe. But this film, even though conventionally conceived and therefore dotted with commentary by the usual art world talking heads, is quite moving, and conveys enormous insight into Kelly and his work. It shows his process as non-theoretical, purely intuitive, and his intention as—his word, and one Kiefer would no doubt also employ—spiritual. Kelly is where I started as a young artist, the subject of the first art book I ever bought. Later, in one of my little-known side jobs, producing photographs for print ads for Vitra where I got famous people to sit in famous chairs, the photographer, Christian Coigny, and I traveled to Kelly’s airplane hanger-like studio in Spencertown. Kelly was most gracious, taking me on a tour of his studio, showing me the model for his upcoming retrospective at the Guggenheim as well as treasures accumulated over the years—I have a vivid memory of a beautiful, small triangular drawing he bought from Agnes Martin in the early days to help her get by—before taking us to lunch. Seeing the film caused me think about my early ambitions for art, how important it was/is to me for it to be life affirming and enhancing. If I’m going to bring a new image into the world, let it be one that makes it a better place. Kelly did not attend the premiere because he was “in his studio painting” as the presenter put it, and my guess is that at 84, he has no need for any more fuss being made over him.

Kelly, by the way, is one artist who's made some great green paintings:

October 18, 2007
You know Damien Hirst’s “painting” that has a surface of dead flies? Well obviously he got the idea from sneaking into my studio at night, because it’s fly heaven here. Before I built the studio, when it was a dark uninsulated attic that the previous owners never entered except for the purpose of adding to The Biggest Pile of Stuff No One Would Ever Want, the fly population was dense. I assumed that after the renovation the insects would be so blinded by the bright white of the sheetrocked walls that they'd be unable to procreate. But no-o-o-o, autumn came around again and suddenly they’re everywhere. At first I had a “live and let live” attitude toward them, but lately I’ve gotten aggressive and am putting my orange Philippe Starck fly swatter (probably the only thing you can buy at Moss for $13) to the test. It reminds me of my friend, Coco, from whom I rented a bug-filled cottage for many years, who used to say, “I start out the summer Albert Schweitzer and end it Genghis Khan.”
October 16, 2007
Roberto and I were seriously considering visiting our friend,
October 12, 2007
Yesterday I inadvertently went to an art performance. I had plans with a friend for lunch, and he suggested meeting uptown where someone he knew was doing a performance in the lobby of a corporate office building. On the way, I passed another lobby where they were presenting a new car. The car was roped off and next to it, in tight pants and high heels, was a lovely blond woman whose job was to stand there, and by her silent presence, bring attention to the vehicle. I don’t know what kind of bubble I’ve been in, but I didn’t realize these things were still being done in 2007, at least in aware places like New York, and I wondered how she felt being decoration for a car and what she thought about while she stood there. Moving along I found the lobby where the performance was supposed to be, and not seeing anything going on, approached a young, beautiful Asian woman, standing alone behind a counter, who turned out to be the artist. She told me her theme was money laundering, and asked if I wanted her to wipe the bills from my wallet with scented disposable wipes she’d had specially packaged for the occasion. I demurred and instead watched a brief video that featured a bacteriologist talking about the concentration of germs on money. Then my friend arrived and she asked him if he had any money she could clean. He produced a twenty and after wiping it, she waved it in the air to dry. She told us she’d “laundered” over $13,000 so far, and produced a questionnaire, which my friend filled out, about his money habits, if he was afraid of germs, etc. My friend was obviously enjoying himself, which was hardly surprising—her wide smile, dark eyes and flirtatious manner were impossible to resist—and I began to ask myself how different the “performance” would be if the person behind the counter were some grizzled old guy, if anyone would even bother investigating it to see what was going on, and then I wondered, what would it be like if it were some grizzled old guy and he wasn’t set up behind a counter in a pristine office building but behind a cardboard box on the corner of 57th and Sixth. I thought, too, about Kara Walker’s images based on racism and sexism, and how a grizzled old guy—especially a grizzled old white guy—would have a hard time getting away with that as well. Then we raced through the rain to Mangia, where I had roast lamb and beet salad, and realized that, if I’m to continue to increase my understanding of art, I have to spend a lot more time in the city.
October 9, 2007
Have I been whining a lot? I guess so, because today Roberto came over and said he didn’t think my painting was as bad as he'd expected. He said the color was good, that the alizarin yellow turned out to be great as underpainting—but that I’m painting what I want to see rather than what’s really there. His exact words were, “It’s naïve, but not in a good way.” Only a true friend would say that. Of course, I knew he was right; I was just hoping that I could fool him the way I was trying to fool myself into thinking this painting was Gerhard Richter-esque when it’s really more like Maurice Sendak, minus the Wild Things.

I’d hoped for a happy ending—I was committed to the idea that a painting blog should be inspirational—but instead I’m going to take Roberto’s advice, retire this thing for a while and start another. And this time I’ll try not to be so histrionic about it.

Meanwhile there’s Jeanette and Erica’s wedding and an article to write for Art in America on the Marisol show that’s up at Neuhoff Edelman Gallery (41 West 57th) until October 27th. The great thing about having two vocations is that it makes for very productive procrastination: I do some of my best painting when I’m supposed to be writing and, conversely, having a deadline gives me a great excuse not to paint.

My reviews of Myron Stout and Jo Baer are in this month’s (October) Art in America.