Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In


February 9, 2008
Robert Zandviliet at Peter Blum
Yesterday, anticipating a round of gallery-going in Chelsea, I was actually excited, which caused me to think perhaps I’d stayed much too long in the country. Surprisingly, my emotion was justified. After seeing shows in almost 20 galleries, I came away with the feeling that things were changing, that something new was stirring that could bode well for the future. Of course there was still plenty of the academic post-conceptual mumbo jumbo that’s tormented us for the last God-knows-how-many years (Luis Gispert’s lurid video at Mary Boone could be its apotheosis), but it was countered by a lot of abstract painting that looked new, fresh, and light-hearted, by artists who appear to be taking their art-making seriously. For a change. Beauty and formal concerns seem to be in, irony is out. I hope I’m not speaking too soon when I say, whew! It’s been a long haul.

Juan Usle at Cheim & Read
Often a theme emerges during a day in Chelsea, and this time it might be called “Casual Abstraction.” Now we’ve had a lot of painting that looks as if the artist isn’t trying because he/she can’t paint, doesn’t care, and art is a stupid endeavor anyway (such as
Chris Martin at Mitchell-Innes & Nash
Dutch artist Robert Zandvliet at Peter Blum (through 2/23), Spanish artist Juan Usle at Cheim & Read (through 3/15) and of course Chris Martin, who got such a big play in The New York Times, at Mitchell-Innes & Nash. I can’t say I loved all of the work in all of the shows, but there were some standouts and best of all, seeing it made me want to go home and paint.

There was also a healthy dose of geometric abstraction sprinkled about in group shows too (unfortunately the one at McKenzie Fine Art, which included work by Ann Pibal and Don Voisine, has since closed), such as Marjorie Welish’s paintings at Zieher-Smith (through 2/23) and an especially lovely solo show by Danish painter Leif Kath at Elizabeth Harris (through 3/8).

Leif Kath at Elizabeth Harris
And although my former dealer, The Sartorialist at Danziger Projects and to see which photographs he chose to feature.

Of course there will always be shows where the emperor has no clothes, but rarely so literally as at the Winkleman Gallery where Christopher K. Ho has depicted the owner in sculpture au naturel (ended 2/9). It would be nice if his nudity made the art dealer seem vulnerable, but alas, Winkleman is just too buff for that, so it’s more like art dealer as sex god, a double whammy.

February 6, 2008

What did you think of the Richard Prince show?

It was a one-liner.



That’s what I thought.

Here’s what some other people thought:

Now I’d like to know what you thought. I see it as an opportunity to test how much the powers that be in the art world actually represent us. Write a review in the Comments, Amazon-style, with one to five stars, and your evaluation, such as “It was great! It sucked!” and then—the most important part—why. It can be as long or short as you want, and you can use your name, a nickname, or be anonymous. I also hope you'll identify your relationship to the art world—artist, curator, writer, teacher, arts administrator, student, gallerist (horrible word—I prefer “gallerista” or “galleristo” myself), observer or whatever. And I’ve noticed how, on Amazon, not having read the book often doesn’t deter people from reviewing it. Same here; if you're an art-interested New Yorker and didn’t get there—after all, it was up for a third of a year--your reason for skipping/avoiding/forgetting it is valid because I’m not sure we get a true picture if we only query only those who were interested enough to go.

Make sure your comment registers and that you see the “Your comment has been saved” banner. If not, type in the code words and click again.

And feel free to pass this on to students, friends, whomever, anyone you think would like to weigh in.

Thanks! And then check back to see what's been written.


Actually I found the visitors to the Guggenheim, on the very last day of the show, way more interesting than the art. Such as this father and his art student daughter from Australia:

And this family from Croatia. Either they're the coolest people in Croatia or everyone there is cool:

February 6, 2008
As one whose account number was once repeated back to her by an automated customer service voice prompt as "F-U-F-U-I-8-U!!!" this site, which tells you how to circumvent all that and get to a real person, is the answer to my prayers:
February 3, 2008

It’s always gratifying to have one’s beliefs confirmed, especially by the likes of Jasper Johns. Following yesterday’s post and comments about the relative necessity of artists being able to articulate what their work means (I think that’s what critics are for—why do their job for them?) comes a piece in today's New York Times about the upcoming exhibition at the Met organized around his gray paintings, about which Johns says, “Yes, gray is important to me. But I don’t tend to think of it as separate from the rest of my work” and explains his relationship to the tradition of monochromatic painting by stating, “I was trying to do something else.” A good press release that does not make. I’ve met Johns and found him, as he’s known to be, distinctly unresponsive in conversation. But does that mean he's any less an artist? Sometimes people choose a visual means of expression because words are not their strong point. Johns’s reticence, however, may be seen as a matter of choice rather than the result of simple inhibition when, at the end of the article, he’s quoted as saying, “To me…self description is a calamity.” You can’t get more emphatic than that.
February 1, 2008

Visiting with 25 or so artists last week at the Vermont Studio Center, I found that part of my job there--besides eating as much bread, butter, and dessert as possible--was to poke holes in some closely-held art world tenets:

Artworks must be consistent for a final review, to show a dealer, or for an exhibition. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. I’m not sure where this reverence for sameness came from. Even though its usefulness has been flagrantly disproven by two of the most famous artists of our time, Louise Bourgeois and Gerhard Richter, it persists among young artists who are afraid to experiment because their job, as they see it, is to produce a “body of work” with a singular character. Sometimes I have to remind them that what looks like a big difference to the artist is negligible to the viewer, and that their work is unified simply by being theirs. But even if the leaps were huge, so what? While I’ve never been to an exhibition where observers complained that the work was too diverse, I’ve been to plenty where it was criticized for being too similar.

You have to have a concept in mind—and be able to articulate it—before you can start working. This belief stops many people from making art before they even begin. Ideas come from the process, not the other way around. It’s about starting somewhere, anywhere, and seeing where it leads. The starting point can be a concept, but as such it’s just another tool, a means to the end. If you know the outcome before you do the work, why bother?

After it’s finished, the artist should be able to explain what the work is about and why he/she did it. I have to admit that I had no idea what my work meant or could mean—to me or anyone—until I read the reviews. And while other people have contributed many interpretations, all of which feel valid, if you ask me what my current work is about I really have no clue. Where did it come from? I don’t know; it just happened. In his New York Times obituary Roy Lichtenstein was quoted as saying “I don’t think artists like myself have the faintest idea what we’re doing…”

When I’m king, along with regulating how early in the season stores can start flogging for Christmas and changing the term “ice pellets” back to “sleet,” I’m going to outlaw artist’s statements.
January 28, 2008
This week in The New Yorker (January 28, 2008) Calvin Tomkins writes about John Currin and his pornographic paintings, a new group to be exhibited in London at the Sadie Coles gallery in March. It made me think of Currin’s show around this time last year at Gagosian uptown, which I went to see only at the last minute. While many people I respect, including Peter Schjeldahl, have long thought that Currin is an important artist, I never got it. When once, in conversation, Schjeldahl mentioned how much he admired Currin’s technical ability, I began wonder have we, in the art world, such low expectations that ability comes as a surprise? In the field of illustration it’s a given—you can’t get in the door without it—and to compound the problem for me, Currin’s style has always seemed uncomfortably close to that of illustrator C.F. Payne who, having worked for TIME and Rolling Stone, is now doing the back covers of Reader’s Digest and threatening to turn into the Norman Rockwell of our time.

I believe execution is only one component of painting, and important only to the degree that it supports the content. God knows, painters with great technical ability have been using it in the service of poor image choices since the beginning of painting. Ideally, in painting or any form of art, execution and concept should merge so completely that we’re no longer aware of either; we’re not thinking, “How did he do that?” or “What a cool idea!” but are one with an experience that goes beyond words, beyond thinking.

Therefore Currin’s technique didn’t interest me because his content didn’t interest me; I found it cynical, mannered, and soul-less in the extreme. And when I read that this most recent show was “long on pornography,” getting on the Lex to see it began to seem even more like an effort not worth undertaking. Am I anti-porn? Not necessarily, although it’s not an active part of my life, and whatever prurient interest it may once have held has been dulled by the sheer amount of it in galleries. That, plus the waves of porn-derived art that seem to hit, every few years, the schools in which I occasionally teach, have left me pretty porn-ed out. I feel about porn the way I do about Christmas music, which is that over-exposure has rendered me incapable of mustering any response whatsoever.

So the Currin exhibition had three strikes against it—besides being Currin, it was uptown and pornographic—until I read a short panegyric by Schjeldahl in The New Yorker, accompanied by a tiny reproduction of a straight-forward portrait of the artist’s young son, one of two such paintings in the exhibition, which Schjeldahl described simply as “ravishing.” It was enough to get me on the subway.

And it was worth it. The two small paintings, interspersed inexplicably among graphically sexual ones (since I don’t believe in psychoanalyzing artists or attempting to guess their intentions, I’m not going to comment on this bizarre aspect of the exhibition), were painted with all the attention and tenderness of Chardin, and indescribably beautiful. Taking up the challenge in the artists’ adage that the hardest subjects to paint are sunsets and babies, Currin’s skill enabled him to avoid the obvious trap of sentimentality; far from sappy, these paintings are lovingly observed and alive with all of the aching delight of parenthood. They were enough to make me swallow my words and admit to myself (and now, finally, to Schjeldahl) that Currin is, or rather can be, a wonderful painter.
Time changes things in weird ways, so now the truly radical act is to paint something close to your heart—in this case, your infant son. I’m reminded of a conversation between Gerhard Richter and Rob Storr, the curator of Richter’s 2002 exhibition at MoMA, as it was recorded in Art in America:

RS: There is another body of work which is perhaps more surprising than the landscapes in certain ways—the paintings you made in 1995 of your wife and young child. These are very unexpected paintings.

GR: Maybe because there are so many of them.

RS: Both the number and the subject.

GR: The subject? Because there are children in the painting?

RS: Yes

GR: I can’t quite understand why this should be so extraordinary.

RS: It’s unexpected because it seems very private.

GR: Very private, yes. The only difference is that I have become more shameless. I am not as ashamed anymore, and I am not afraid anymore. My fears have abated somewhat. I don’t feel as if I have to behave properly. Somehow I finally understood that I am allowed to do what I want.

I’m not suggesting that everyone go out and start painting their kids—that would be awful. But I am saying that forms of art other than those recognized by the academicized avant garde may still be relevant, and that there are more possibilities for content than that derived from the media, a trend that has gone on at least twenty-five years too long. It just happens that I’m reading Alex Ross’s The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, and came across a quote from composer Morton Feldman who said something like, “What looks radical may be conservative and what seems conservative may be radical” (I’ve lost the exact reference and will correct it when I find it). And this paragraph (p.354):

“Everything begins in mystique and ends in politics,” wrote the French poet Charles Peguy in 1910. Morton Feldman, the maverick modernist who loved Sibelius, applied this epigram to twentieth century music, describing how grandiose ideas are made ordinary with the passage of time and become fodder for a power struggle among ideologues and pedants. “Unfortunately for most people who pursue art, ideas become their opium,” Feldman said, “There’s no security to be one’s self.”
January 28, 2008
One poet to another: "It's as if Mary Oliver has an epiphany every time she walks out the door...."
January 26, 2008
The gestapo tactics that are being used against artists in New York are inexcusable (and, sadly, this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened in Brooklyn) all while Mayor Bloomberg looks the other way. Complete coverage on Edward Winkleman's blog.