Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In


January 25, 2008
How do I love my iPod? Let me count the ways. And I’m grateful for my GPS, too. Even though its performance is uneven, I cannot forget that it has extracted me more than once from driving hell (otherwise known as Boston). But yesterday they both let me down. At the same time. It was a long drive through the frozen tundra of upper Vermont to the Vermont Studio Center (VSC) in Johnson, which is even north of Burlington, if that’s possible, when my iPod began playing music from a band I swear I’ve never heard (lyrics: “Shut your mouth. Shut your mouth. Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth”—sound familiar to anyone?), while the readout said something else entirely. It was supposedly on shuffle and it would say it was playing, say, Air or Kasabian, when it was really just this one band, and not a great one at that. I might have written before about the time my iPod insisted on playing nothing but Oasis, the entire repertoire, until it got a grip on itself and went back to normal, but to think that a machine could share one of my obsessions only made me feel more affectionately toward it. This new quirk, however, just seemed perverse. Especially since, at the same time, my GPS, which had successfully gotten me through the twists and turns of Rutland, was now telling me in no uncertain terms to STAY RIGHT, TURN RIGHT!!! on Route 109 when I thought I should keep going on Route 100. Really, having a GPS is like being married (“I SAID TURN RIGHT, DAMMIT!”) except it doesn’t get upset if I stop at a red light I could have gotten through on the yellow, or choose a parking spot that’s not the absolute closest one to where we’re going. Anyway, I was 99% certain I was headed in the right direction—the analog technology I consulted (a map) confirmed it, plus my car has a built-in compass, plus I’d been there before—but nagging doubt stayed with me as I put fifty plus miles between me and Route 109, fifty plus miles of winding mountain roads, icy uninhabited flats and signs that said things like, “Moose crossing next 8 miles.” I went through the town of “Irasville” (surely I’d remember that name if I’d been there before, wouldn’t I?), and past The Church of the Crucified One (now there’s a place that could use a corporate sponsored name-change). Not to speak of a chocolate shop that turned out to be an outlet for “seconds” and “over-runs”—I’m addicted to chocolate, but not that addicted. It was only when I went through Stowe, and Route 100 met Route 15 at a restaurant called “Wok ‘n Roll,” (which I did remember), that I knew I was home free. Meanwhile my iPod…well, I haven’t turned it on yet this morning but I’m hoping it’s come to its senses.

Sculptor Judith Shea, who I know from when we were Senior Critics at Penn together, gave the lecture here at VSC last night and I give mine tonight. The temperature on this sunny morning is –5 degrees, and since the kitchen is out of herbal tea, I’m drinking simply hot water, the way the Chinese do, and it’s an extremely effective warmer-upper. Tomorrow I begin five days of studio visits, every half hour or so, from 8:30 to noon.

Judith Shea, Icon, 2003-4, wood and bronze, 62 x 16 x 13". Photo by ruy sanchez blanco.
January 21, 2008

For a MySpace story with a happier ending, see son Matt's account in Black Book of one girl's whoosh from Savannah art student to the glam life with David LaChapelle.
January 21, 2008
I just read the piece in The New Yorker (January 21, 2008) about the 13-year-old who committed suicide after her neighbors made up a phony MySpace identity with which to harass her. It’s a truly horrifying story, and I hope I’m in no way belittling the tragedy when I confess that one of the things that sticks in my mind is the families lived on Waterford Crystal Drive. A residential street named after a product. Is this yet another trend that has completely passed me by? While I live in places with numbered streets or names such as Prospect, Grove, and Elm, are there people out there living the high life on Gucci Bag Place while their poorer neighbors stick it out in Ben-Gay Alley? Could be—after all, were we paying attention when our stadiums and arenas, which used to bear the names of notables and presidents, assumed corporate monikers? That was around the time the word “consumer” replaced “citizen” in the parlance and “patients” became “clients”—which should have told us something. (“Sleet” also became “ice pellets” in official weather jargon, and I’m not sure how this plays into the corporate scheme of things except that “ice pellets” sounds a lot scarier, and being frightened of the weather supposedly generates business for the news industry.) This street-naming trend, however, could have advantages for people who presently have less than attractive addresses, like my friend who lives on Cronk Road, a name that real estate brokers see as a deficit. There are a lot of dogs on Cronk Road, so maybe they could get it changed—with, no doubt, a subsidy for repaving—to, say, Purina Parkway. That has a certain ring, don’t you think?
January 17, 2008
Because I was ranting earlier (on December 27th, to be precise) about how tired I am of stories, particularly in The New Yorker, about dysfunctional relationships that never go anywhere, when they publish one worth reading, I feel it’s my duty to mention it. The story is Wakefield, by E. L. Doctorow, and it’s in the January 14th issue. Satisfyingly long, it is indeed about a dysfunctional relationship, and it makes me wonder if all those other dysfunctional relationships just weren’t dysfunctional enough to be truly interesting. This one really makes you squirm, and that’s all I’ll say about it.
January 14, 2008
The New Museum, 235 Bowery

When, in 1976, John Coplans, then the editor of Artforum, asked me to come to New York and be his assistant, my Chicago artist friends acted as if I’d been invited to Oz by the Wizard himself. It was completely inadvertent. I met John at the CAA convention in Chicago, where I was representing The New Art Examiner, and said, “If you ever hear of a job in New York, let me know.” I’d never thought of moving, and even at that moment it didn’t occur to me as a possibility; the words came out of my mouth, true, but probably because I wanted to see what it felt like to say it, and to give the impression of someone who might actually do such a thing, someone much older and more worldly than me. So two weeks later when John called and offered me the job I was completely unprepared, but with my friends egging me on, I called Angels Ribe, an artist from Barcelona who had lived for a time in Chicago, and asked if she knew of a place where I could live. When she said she was looking for a roommate, it seemed ordained. Except that Angels lived on the Bowery. I vaguely remembered the Bowery from one of my few previous trips to New York and asked Barry Holden, who had just come back from visiting Angels, “Aren’t there like bums and stuff there?” “Oh no,” Barry said, “the Bowery’s been gentrified. There are galleries and boutiques all up and down.”

Needless to say it was a bit of a shock when I got out of the taxi from the airport and there were no galleries and boutiques to be seen, and for several months after I assumed they were on a part of the Bowery I hadn’t been to yet. But I adjusted the way humans can--even girls from the suburbs--to armies of cockroaches and stepping over drunken bodies in the foyer. Do I miss it? What? Do I miss the stench, the filth, the crime, and the pathetic display of humanity I saw every day? No. Would I want my kids to live that way? Hardly. However there was something exhilarating about living on that gritty frontier of Manhattan: we felt courageous, like pioneers, we were in it together, and it was home. That last fact was cinched for me only a few days after I moved, when I was walking down Bowery carrying my portfolio and passed two bums, one of whom nudged the other and said, “She’s an artist.” Hardly anyone in Chicago, employed or otherwise, knew what that was.
Photo is by Christopher Dawson, from the New Museum website

January 12, 2008
Topping my list of favorite end-of-the year lists is Henri Art Magazine’s compilation of the five biggest art world evils, which you can see by clicking here.
January 11, 2008
Now that we’re into 2008, I’m thinking about how son Matt, a culture critic, has suggested that 2007 was really the first year of the 21st century—much in the way 1964, with the advent of the Beatles and protests against the Vietnam War, was the true start of the Sixties, as we know it.

2007 was the year when certain key issues that had previously been on the fringes entered mass consciousness: when it became generally agreed that Bush & Co. are whack and the war in Iraq is a disaster, that universal health care is a necessity rather than a subversive idea, that the pharmaceutical companies don’t have our best interests at heart, and finally, and maybe too late, that what’s happening in the environment is something to be taken seriously. Mass market phenoms such as The Secret and The Da Vinci Code indicate a new hunger for spiritual meaning and a general mistrust of the status quo. 2007 marked the year the Internet became embedded in every area of modern life: corporate publishing now has to compete with blogs, and Radiohead’s much promulgated decision to release their new album on the Internet was no small event. With the demise of the music industry, music is better than ever—because the Internet has taken information and art out of the gatekeeper’s hands and now the audience is calling the shots.

Except in the world of visual art, which seems to have gone backwards, and where everything looks like a retread. 2007 marked the complete takeover of the money people, the year that auctions and art fairs prevailed over gallery exhibitions, the year after which you really can’t get in the door without an MFA. The gatekeepers are everywhere and more powerful than ever. There has to be something new out there, roiling beneath the surface, but what is it? And would we recognize it if we saw it?
January 6, 2008

Doing research for a catalog essay, I came across this interesting bit of art history from the days when you didn’t need thousands of dollars for an MFA to join the ranks of the art world:

Before he was a painter, Robert Ryman was a jazz musician who studied music in his native Nashville and played in an army reserve band during the Korean War. He moved to New York in 1952 to study with jazz pianist Lennie Tristano. To support himself, Ryman took odd jobs, one of them as a guard at MoMA, and in 1953, during his first year there, started painting. In 1955 Ryman made what he considers his earliest professional work, a largely monochromatic piece entitled Orange Painting, and his first exhibition was a staff show at MoMA. Other employees, with whom he became friends. were Sol Lewitt, Robert Mangold, and Dan Flavin.

I also learned that Flavin, who previously studied for the priesthood, began making sketches for sculptures incorporating lights during another stint as a guard at the American Museum of Natural History, and that Jackson Pollock once manned the turnstile at the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, which later became the Guggenheim.

Forget grad school, this guard thing sounds pretty hot--maybe all that's necessary to come up with ideas for great art is to be exposed to a bunch of it while having a lot of time on your hands.