Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In


August 5, 2008
Tonight at our local open mic, I'll read this tour de force by poet Lynn Emanuel, who I met at the MacDowell Colony many moons ago, and have remained an ardent fan.
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Right now as I am talking to you and as you are being talked to, without letup, it is becoming clear that gertrude stein has hijacked me and that this feeling that you are having now as you read this, that this is what it feels like to be inside gertrude stein. This is what it feels like to be a huge type-- writer in a dress. Yes, I feel we have gotten inside gertrude stein, and of course it is dark inside the enormous gertrude, it is like being locked up in a refrigerator lit only by a smiling rind of cheese. Being inside gertrude is like being inside a monument made of a cloud which is always moving across the sky which is also always moving. Gertrude is a huge gal- leon of cloud anchored to the ground by one small tether, yes, I see it down there, do you see that tiny snail glued to the tackboard of the landscape? That is alice. So, I am inside gertrude; we belong to each other, she and I, and it is so won- derful because I have always been a thin woman inside of whom a big woman is screaming to get out, and she's out now and if a river could type this is how it would sound, pure and complicated and enormous. Now we are lilting across the countryside, and we are talking, and if the wind could type it would sound like this, ongoing and repetitious, abstracting and stylizing everything, like our famous haircut painted by Picasso. Because when you are inside our haircut you under- stand that all the flotsam and jetsam of hairdo have been cleared away (like the forests from the New World) so that the skull can show through grinning and feasting on the alarm it has created. I am now, alarmingly, inside gertrude's head and I am thinking that I may only be a thought she has had when she imagined that she and alice were dead and gone and someone had to carry on the work of being gertrude stein, and so I am receiving, from beyond the grave, radioactive isotopes of her genius saying, take up my work, become gertrude stein.

Because someone must be gertrude stein, someone must save us from the literalists and realists, and narratives of the beginning and end, someone must be a river that can type. And why not I? Gertrude is insisting on the fact that while I am a subgenius, weighing one hundred five pounds, and living in a small town with an enormous furry male husband who is always in his Cadillac Eldorado driving off to sell something to people who do not deserve the bad luck of this mer- chandise in their lives--that these facts would not be a prob- lem for gertrude stein. Gertrude and I feel that, for instance, in Patriarchal Poetry when (like an avalanche that can type) she is burying the patriarchy, still there persists a sense of con- descending affection. So, while I'm a thin, heterosexual sub- genius, nevertheless gertrude has chosen me as her tool, just as she chose the patriarchy as a tool for ending the patriarchy. And because I have become her tool, now, in a sense, gertrude is inside me. It's tough. Having gertrude inside me is like having swallowed an ocean liner that can type, and, while I feel like a very small coat closet with a bear in it, gertrude and I feel that I must tell you that gertrude does not care. She is using me to get her message across, to say, I am lost, I am beset by literalists and narratives of the beginning and middle and end, help me. And so, yes, I say, yes, I am here, gertrude, because we feel, gertrude and I, that there is real urgency in our voice (like a sob that can type) and that things are very bad for her because she is lost, beset by the literalists and realists, her own enormousness crushing her and we must find her and take her into ourselves, even though I am the least likely of saviors and have been chosen perhaps as a last resort, yes, definitely, gertrude is saying to me, you are the least likely of saviors, you are my last choice and my last resort.

From: Then Suddenly--, by Lynn Emanuel, 1999, University of Pittsburgh Press.
July 31, 2008
At the moment I couldn't care less about art. This is why:

Near Bennington, VT:

New Lebanon, NY:

Mt. Washington, MA:

July 26, 2008
In a June news story that lasted about two minutes, Coldplay were accused of stealing a tune from a rock band named Creaky Boards for their new album—as if Coldplay didn’t have enough songs in their repertoire that they had to nick them. The story was nipped in the bud when Coldplay responded that lead singer Chris Martin was in London the night that he was allegedly seen in New York at a Creaky Boards gig, and that the album, Viva la Vida, on which the offending song appeared, had been demoed months before. While I know ideas do get ripped off, and I’ve actually had them ripped off (a book and an article, and blatantly), I also know that two people can come up with efforts that are spookily similar.

My direct experience with the zeitgeist was when Frank Del Deo, my dealer at Hirshl & Adler Modern (now at Knoedler), asked me—this was around 1995—if I knew the work of Italian artist Alighiero e Boetti (1940-94). I didn’t, but sought out his work and when I found it, it was like looking at myself. And, of course, now, I'm a big fan.

Which is Carol's and which is Alighiero's? Okay, mine is on the top and his is on the bottom. And while mine is painted, his is embroidered. But still....

July 22, 2008
Mungo Thomson, Drum Kit Drawing (Keith Moon 4), John Connolly Gallery, NY.

My plan for my next life has always been to come back as a drummer in a rock band, however it’s been severely compromised since I’ve found out, through my friend and neighbor, Robby Baier of Melodrome, that drummers are the butt of rock musician jokes. One of my favorite pastimes is to listen in on the shoptalk of other professions—especially their in-jokes, and I even once thought of doing a book based on them, except the only one I’ve ever been able to remember is about how dermatologists have only one prescription:

If it’s closed, open it. If it’s open, close it. If it’s wet, dry it. If it’s dry, wet it. And in every case use cortisone.

And I’ve been told that in the orchestral and opera world it’s violists and tenors who don’t get no respect, but then it was a baritone who told me that.

Interestingly, the drummer jokes also involve pizza, as in:

What’s the difference between a drummer and a pizza?
A pizza can feed a family of four.

How do you make a drummer’s car go faster?
Take the pizza sign off the top.

How do you get a drummer off your porch?
Pay him.

However, according to Robby, there’s something even worse than being a drummer, and that’s a folkie, something I never aspired to be.

How many folk singers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
One to screw it in and six to sing about how great the old one was.

What’s a folksinger without a girl friend?

What happens when a folk singer wins the lottery?
He gets to play a lot more gigs.

But even the folk world has its hierarchy, with banjo players at the bottom:

What’s perfect pitch?
Being able to throw a banjo ten feet into the garbage can.

What happens when a banjo player leaves his car in a bad neighborhood?
He comes back and it’s filled with banjoes.

And back to rock musicians, there’s this one; no doubt the drummers getting back:

How many lead singers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
One to put it in and wait for the world to revolve around him.

I only dimly remember once hearing a joke about an artist, having something to do with real estate and outhouses. Curious, I looked up “artist jokes” on the Web, and found a bunch but they weren’t very funny. Except for this one:

How many performance artists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
I don’t know. I left.
July 19, 2008
Bruce Nauman, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (Window or Wall Sign), neon, 1967.

There’s an interview on Catherine Spaeth’s blog with blogger Ed Winkleman, where he says, “I don’t have much interest in anti-formalist conceptualism…I have seen tons of conceptual art that doesn’t raise the bar for formalism…my idea of conceptual art is that it must be compelling visually.”

Agreed. And I’ll add that to be compelling visually, art must also be compelling conceptually. We’re in a new century, and it’s time we stopped categorizing art by medium—photography, painting, sculpture, video, installation, and so on, with conceptual art in another category. To succeed, all art must be conceptual, just as it must address formally its reason for being considered visual art.

The test is in how well the conceptual and the formal elements are synthesized—to the point that the ultimate experience of the art is about neither, but something else entirely.

Of course the wonderful thing about art is that it operates in a realm beyond language, so we may not be able to explain the concept—in fact it may be better if we can’t, because if it can be grasped fully in words, then the execution has no role other than that of illustration. Further, the best art may engage numerous concepts, which may or may not have been intended by the artist.

[And BTW, unless I’m doing graduate crits, I’m not interested in the “artist’s intention.” The experience is the experience, and what the artist was trying to do is of no value. This is why artists’ statements are irrelevant and, in fact, if not on a par with the art, can detract from it.]

So while we can’t define concept—or “content” as we’ve become accustomed to calling it—we know when it’s there and when it’s not. We can tell when abstraction crosses the line and becomes simply “design.” We know when realism is about rendering rather than something bigger, or when “concept” turns out to be no more than novelty.

The last century was about experimentation with media—as well as what could be done without it. But we’re over that. We’re over being excited about something just because it’s video, or because the artist figured out how to make something out of bat shit, and we’ve discovered that painting is still interesting because it’s the most plastic, and therefore most expressive of materials. Now that the toolbox has been opened and found to hold every possibility, the question is, in service to what? And how do we evaluate the results?

My garden, at the moment, is very visually compelling--and edible. Now if I could just plant a little concept...

July 17, 2008
Claes Oldenburg, Hamburger, 1962, lithographic crayon on paper, 14" x 17", Museum of Modern Art.

My friend, Jane Sigal, wrote a delightful piece in Wednesday's Times about how hamburgers are becoming the gourmet dish of choice among chefs in France—and that the French want to eat them with a knife and fork. The funny thing is, I told her this morning, that I've had more hamburgers (three) in the past month than in the last 20 years. What precipitated this unprecedented consumption was being at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton (not exactly known for its feats of gastronomy—having dinner there is how you get a table for the concert) when my friend, Scott, a chef among other things, ordered a burger and I realized it was only smart to get the plate most likely to be prepared best. It was surprisingly delicious. Of course (eew! white bread!) I didn't eat the bun. Another tasty burger followed at a barbecue, and then last week, when starving at Mass MoCA before the Beth Orton concert, I ate one—gasp!—bun and all, and it was superb.

Before I'm lambasted by vegetarians and others pointing out how our penchant for beef is destroying the planet, I know, I know. Philosophically, I'm there. Because of that I've given vegetarianism my best try a number of times, with all the attendant righteousness and attention to protein grams. And I'll admit that after the first three days of my foray into macrobiotics, strangers were assuming my 13-years-younger boy friend and I were the same age. However I now believe that while some people are meant to be vegetarians, others aren't—there are even theories that base this on blood type—and I'm just not. A few days without animal protein and I wilt.

So no longer holier-than-thou, I'm eating hamburgers. And when Jane admitted today that she'd never cooked one, I proffered my method (the chutzpah!), learned from my mother:

Shape ground chuck (grass-fed, of course) into ½ pound patties, not too thick because they puff up, but not so thin that they'll overcook. Put a layer of salt in the bottom of an iron skillet and let it get really hot before adding the patties. Cook on one side until there's a crust, then turn and cook on the other. DO NOT turn them more than once. DO NOT try to flatten them with a spatula or pierce them in any way that would cause the juices to run out. DO serve them with fresh corn-on-the-cob cooked in boiling, unsalted water for THREE MINUTES and NO MORE (my Midwestern orientation kicks in here).

Bon appetit!

P.S. Son Matt, a culture critic who's always ahead of the curve, wrote this about where to find the best burgers in LA.
July 11, 2008
When I told Joanne Mattera that I was methodically cleaning my paintings and storage area, and she suggested I write about it, saying that storage is an issue for artists over the age of 35. Yep, the older you get, the more you have. And if being a painter of large paintings is bad, think about sculptors, yikes! These paintings have been so many places—from the pristine, climate-controlled warehouses of the Sidney Janis and Hirschl & Adler galleries, to grime-encrusted cubicles in the dark, scary labyrinth that is Chelsea Mini Storage, to the barn studio I got kicked out of with hardly any notice and rented a room from a friend in my apartment house to sleep so I could use my bedroom for storage, to the studio I shared with an amateur pornographer (who I thought was just a local businessman with an interest in photography until I found spread beaver shots next to the phone) where later a renovation took place in the gallery downstairs and every inch of everything in my workplace was coated with sheetrock dust for three months (when I complained, the owner—a New York art world impresario—asked why I didn’t just go on vacation until it was over), to the quaint mill studio attached to an auto repair garage where there was almost no heat and all the spiders of the western world convened…to here, my airy, clean, newly-renovated third floor atelier, with skylights and mountain views and nearly, but not quite, enough room for everything.

It speaks to the durability of oil paintings on canvas that they’ve survived being moved by everyone from professional art handlers (including one cross-country company with the encouraging slogan, “Every time an artwork is moved it dies a little”) to the likes of my handyman in the back of his pickup truck—with only one serious mishap, a slice from a box-cutter that was, fortunately, in the hands of a pro with insurance.

Compared to some of my friends (such as Lucio Pozzi, whose storage area looks like a branch of Costco) I don’t have that much. But I believe an artist’s own history is his/her greatest resource, and have kept to my practice of hanging onto the paintings where I made the most significant changes. However when you add those to my collection of half-baked paintings just waiting to get the new layer that will make them masterpieces (I don’t give up on anything), it adds up to a lot of stuff, especially for a person who, in the rest of her life, likes to keep stuff to a minimum.

So I’ve hired a teenager. Every day Leah comes for an hour or two (she has another job washing lettuce for her farmer father who, she tells me, outfitted a household washing machine to dry greens on the spin cycle) and together we unwrap the paintings, vacuum the backs, damp wipe the faces, re-wrap them in glassine, and clean the cardboard dividers. That’s the hard part, getting all that cardboard clean, but I’m too ecological (or cheap) to buy more, and besides, have no idea where to get 4 x 8 sheets here in the country now that the mills have closed. So there we are, Leah and me, down on the floor, scrubbing the cardboard with damp rags (actually microfiber Miracle Cloths, one of the all-time great inventions, up there with Velcro and Post-its). She likes the part where we throw all the old plastic sheeting and unsalvageable cardboard out the third floor window to the driveway below and says she can’t wait until someone asks her what she’s doing this summer so she can say, “Washing cardboard.” Me too.
July 6, 2008
Welcome to Art Vent's new Home and Garden section. I took these pictures last week at Roberto Juarez's home and studio in Canaan, NY, as he was getting ready to go with me to Home Depot (or, as we call it, "Home Despot") in Catskill, where I needed to return basement windows that were the wrong size, and he was shopping for a garden umbrella. We artists lead a glamorous life here in the country.

Roberto's house is special, though, because it's so Roberto--artful, yet hardly calculated or precious; he shares it with David, two cats, and various friends who add their own touches as they come and go. A sprawling cement block edifice set on four bucolic acres, it was built around 1979 as a day care facility that later turned into a medical center. Because it's so solidly built, the basement was, at one time, designated the emergency shelter for the neighborhood. His friend, architect Kimberly Ackert, was responsible for the renovation and making the industrial building livable.

Below is Roberto's studio as seen through the front window, with reflections of daylilies. He seems to live in a micro-climate where everything grows bigger and better, like the vegetables in Woody Allen's Sleeper. From my perch, not that far away but on the side of a mountain, it seems positively tropical.

Inside the studio. Note the artistic display of this week's Netflix:

The "brush room":

The office:

A corner of the kitchen:

Another corner of the kitchen:

You can't see it here, but one of the things Roberto and I found we have in common--after meeting while teaching at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown the summer before last and realizing that we'd been in the same place at the same time practically our entire lives--is that each of us has a pink ceiling over our kitchen.
The living area:
Roberto sees his house as a laboratory, a place for objects to look at and enjoy, and which may later be reflected in his paintings. The corduroy quilt, above, he found ten years ago in Miami when it was 100 degrees out, and kept until it found its rightful place.
Some things, however, are just passing through. Below, getting ready for the tag sale. Roberto's friend, Peter Kennard, laid the stone floor:
Master bedroom:

This quilt is from Ralph Lauren. How does Roberto get away with it?--in my house it would look totally tacky. More proof that context is everything.

The vegetable garden, made with branches from the surrounding woods, is the work of part-time resident Mark Tambella, who is an artist, production designer at La Mama, and generally gifted when it comes to food and cars:

David made the moss and rock garden near the stream:

So we had our shopping outing in Catskill. I returned my windows, but--arrgh!--Home Depot didn't have the replacement size and I had to order them, contenting myself with a few new dish towels, bought later in Hudson. Roberto, however, got not only his garden umbrella but scored this gazebo, on sale for $199. Again, it's all about context. Roberto is ecstatic, and waxes on about its Josef Hoffmann-esque lines. I can't go nearly that far, but nestled under the trees near the burbling stream, it's quite divine.