Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In


June 10, 2008
This picture is from my steamy bike ride this morning. And if you're a newcomer to my blog, you may want to read my post from last summer, about a time when my experience with poppies went beyond the visual.

Photo: Carol Diehl, 2008
June 9, 2008
I wasn’t going to write about Hillary or elaborate on my Sex and the City “review” below (brevity, as well as cleanliness, is next to godliness in my book) until a friend forwarded me this Judith Warner blog post, and I realized that my credentials as a feminist were in question because I didn’t vote for Hillary and I liked “Sex and the City.”

Warner: Is it a coincidence that the bubbling idiocy of “Sex and the City,” the movie, exploded upon the cultural scene at the exact same time Hillary’s campaign imploded? Literally, of course, it is. Figuratively, I’m not so sure, And before I set off an avalanche of emails explaining why Hillary deserved to lose, I want to make one point clear: I am not talking about the outcome of her candidacy—mistakes were made, and she faced a formidable opponent in Barack Obama—but rather about the climate in which her campaign was conducted. The zeitgeist in which Hillary floundered and “Sex” is now flourishing.

Warner bolsters her view by providing a link to an inflammatory video montage of footage, mostly from Fox News, of both men and women making crude, stupid, sexist remarks. Believe me, I’m not saying that sexism has been eradicated. But isn’t this what we expect from Fox? And isn’t it more indicative of the right-wing mentality than bias among Democratic voters? Instead I agree with Ariana Huffington, who wrote about Clinton’s campaign as a “historic triumph” for women, and Gail Collins, in the Times, who reiterated the theme saying:

Nobody is ever again going to question whether it’s possible for a woman to go toe-to-toe with the toughest male candidate in a race for president of the United States. Or whether a woman could be strong enough to serve as commander-in-chief.

What surprised me about the campaign was not how endemic the sexism was, but how little gender had to do with it. Clinton lost, and only by a small margin, to a black man whose name is only one consonant away from one we associate with terrorism. She lost because Barack Obama ran a tighter campaign, showed the courage of his convictions, and was better at reading the mood of an electorate that was weary of polarizing politics. But in spite of that, I’m convinced that if Clinton hadn’t made the fatal mistake of voting for the Iraq war, she’d be the Democratic contender right now.

But back to Warner who goes after “Sex and the City” (not without a little male-bashing in her description of Charlotte’s husband as an “adoring troglodyte…so short, so bald”) and concludes:

“Sex and the City” is the perfect movie for our allegedly ever-so-promising post-feminist era, when “angry” is out and Restalyne is in, and virtually all our country’s most powerful women look younger now than they did 20 years ago. Oh lighten up, I can hear you say. Don’t get your knickers in a twist. Earnestness is so unattractive in a woman.

Funny, I was going to say that. How did she know? Perhaps because inappropriate earnestness, the inability to get a joke, isn’t attractive in anyone. I mean—tell me if I’m missing something huge here—I thought “Sex and the City” was a satire. For all the talk of Labels with a capital L, those fantastical over-the-top clothes were designed by Patricia Field, whose boutique I remember from the East Village in the Eighties where she used outfit drag queens. And how can you take seriously a story in which the love interest is called Mr. Big? C’mon, is that not hilarious?

So, far from the paean to consumerism the hyper-serious commenters on Warner’s blog thought the film was (if many of them actually saw it, which I doubt), I got the opposite message—such as, don’t get so involved in your wedding plans that you forget about the guy. But the film could just have easily been about Forgiveness—there was a lot of that going on—and, of course, let’s not leave out Loyalty. And what how about how women in their forties and even—gasp!—fifties can hang out, be lusty, and have fun?

Then there’s Anthony Lane in The New Yorker who complains about, of all things, too much schmaltz. He also doesn’t understand how Miranda, a lawyer, can drop everything and to fly to Mexico to support her friend (hello, it’s a fantasy, all right, but hardly one that’s “posing as a slice of modern life” any more than Sasha Baron Cohen expected us to believe Borat was really from Kazakhstan). Lane gets into a twitch about the little dog who humps everything—and he’s right, it was awful, which is just what was so great about it. But why would a hetero guy over forty, who admits he “never was sure how funny the TV series was meant to be” take on the film in the first place? It seems Lane violated his maxim of “Whenever possible, see the film in the company of ordinary beings” and went to a critics’ screening, where he took notes on every instance of political incorrectness (he had to write fast). He should have seen it with some gay friends and instead of rushing home to transcribe those notes, spent the rest of the evening driving around with the top down, listening to the Scissor Sisters.

June 5, 2008
I hated every minute of it. I think it's one of the best movies I've ever seen.
June 3, 2008
I hardly ever recall my dreams, but when I do they’re almost always the same. Except for the ones where I’m in a public place without my clothes, or suddenly remember I have a kitten or baby I’ve forgotten to take care of (they’re always okay, I just feel this terrible guilt), all of my dreams are travel dreams where I can’t get somewhere, can’t find my luggage, etc. I thought when that dream finally came true that I wouldn’t have it anymore but that didn’t happen (yes, I really was in the airport outside Reykjavik at 6:30 a.m., unable to find Einar’s phone number or my luggage, running across the tundra after the only bus of the day that was leaving without me…). In last night’s dream I was lurching from car to car on a futuristic train trying to find my luggage, clutching a gigantic zip-lock plastic bag stuffed with hundreds of tiny bottles of toiletries to my chest. The “stewardesses,” all in a gaggle talking about their dates of the night before, were no help. At one point I found myself walking through the empty observation car as we were passing Niagara Falls and next to the rushing water was a giant screen duplicating the scene, as if it were a rock concert. All of this was no doubt triggered by reading an article in an old (April 28) TIME magazine, about Richard Branson and his revolutionary plans for Virgin Airlines (where I’m a regular), one of which is to end the “Sisyphean tyranny of the cart” by offering choices (which you pay for, of course) from a computer screen, brought to you whenever you want. Wow, I think, what a great idea, until I realize that if I did get that plastic-wrapped $12 turkey sandwich, most likely it wouldn’t be appetizing enough to eat, so what to do with it? Perhaps use it as a neck support as I nap, hoping I won’t dream.

P.S. The Iceland story ended happily. Einar, sensing something was up, rang me, I found my luggage, and the beautiful blond bus dispatcher took it upon herself to arrange for a driver to take me to Einar’s outpost, about 25 minutes away (cost: $16)—where breakfast was waiting. It was almost worth it to find out how caring people could be to a stranded stranger in a far-flung place.

Photo: Carol Diehl, Iceland 2006
June 2, 2008
Robert C. Morgan wrote this in response to Lucio Pozzi’s letter (in my last post):

It has been said that [John] exhibited works by Hans Haacke six times before anything sold, and nearly the same for Daniel Buren. Such loyalty to noncommercial artists is unheard of in today clamoring marketplace, but much to John's credit that he was willing to stand by these highly acclaimed artists….His loyalty to those he believed in was central to his character.

John was a kind of old-style European gallerist, who understood connoisseurship and the value of art apart from money. While one might argue that in the end, this may not have worked in his favor, one cannot deny his strength of character, his core of understanding art through feeling, and his sincerity in championing artists he believed in, many of whom transformed the history of contemporary art.

It’s sad that someone who had such an influence should have been forgotten at the end of his life. When John curated the local show I was in, it seemed to me that some of the people associated with the gallery were clueless about his contribution, treating him like just some old guy. Yet we would never have understood the value of the artists Weber promoted had he not gathered them in one place and been so steadfast in his support. Critics such as Rosenberg and Greenberg are alive in the histories, but the role of art dealers in forming what we know as contemporary art goes largely unrecorded. John was among those who had a talent for spotting art that might otherwise been overlooked and were willing to nurture it until the rest of the world took notice.

Here’s Roberta Smith’s respectful obit and Charlie Finch’s boorish one. The truth, I suspect, lies somewhere in-between.
May 29, 2008
Robert Mangold, Imperfect Cirlce #2, 1973

Lucio Pozzi:
Barbardos, 11 January 1972, watercolor on paper, 11.5 x 23.1"
NY State, 1971, watercolor on paper, 8.7 x 15.5"
Three years ago, John included my work in an exhibition he curated at a local gallery of artists, including Kelly and Artschwager, who had moved their studios from New York to the Hudson River Valley area, and it was inspiring to be in the company of such early heroes.
* * *
John represented me in his gallery for more than twenty years. His loyalty to the artists he worked with was sustained through the vagaries of the market and the changing fortunes of art. He was one of the great forces enlivening the artistic culture of the second half of the Twentieth Century. Having trained first at the Dayton Institute of Art, he started working at the Martha Jackson Gallery and then moved to the Dwan Galley in New York until, after the closing of the latter, he opened a gallery in his own name. He believed that a gallery owner could not only exhibit art but should also participate in the formation of artistic discourse. The influence of Sol Lewitt was absorbed by him in terms of always relying not on mere visuality but also on visual language and context. Hearing John lecture, especially about art of the sixties and seventies, was an experience of consideration and scholarly depth.
His gallery was the training ground for innumerable dealers and curators, among them Angela Westwater, Jeffrey Deitch, Amy Baker Sandback, Susanna Singer, Naomi Spector. Several younger dealers and curators in the US and Europe have told me how they still now learn from his approach to the art of his times. His yearly Summer Invitational exhibition inevitably raised controversy because he exhibited art that often contradicted the very canons of the regular artists of his gallery. He had guts of a kind that few now allow themselves to have. The list of artists who found in his gallery the springboard for their career is too long to enumerate. What was exceptional was how he continued to exhibit them even when their market was in a lull. He stubbornly defended what they were doing, and lost money in exhibiting them, because he was convinced of their thought and practice. I remember how many times I objected to some of the art he showed and with how much patience and insistence he would try to convince me to change my mind.
John was both a rationalist and a romantic. The contradictions of his character ran deep into his soul. Raised virtually as an orphan he had no sponsors funding his gallery. He was generous but also was able to hurt himself and others. In matters of money and policy he often shot himself in the foot, losing important allies for trivial reasons. John risked greatly on an idea but then managed to diminish its potential by stranding himself almost as if by distraction in its practical implementation. Or else he would panic about a financial mishap and twist and turn it as if survival was at stake. Some people had no patience with this and lost sight of the grandeur of his vision and how he nonetheless acted as one of the few great prompters of visual culture.
He has died in a very modest apartment in Hudson NY, practically a pauper, supported by family and charitable friends, surrounded by some of the art of his past. Always running after debts and organizational problems, he had never managed to assemble the collection he had dreamed of. During the last years he had emphysema and walked around carrying his oxygen tank on the back to allow himself to breathe. His eyesight was failing but he found the energy until the very last to curate some exceptional shows of unexpected art in the Hudson area and in the city. Two years ago, he came to visit my studio in Hudson. It was a mess because I had moved so much stuff there and had found no time to rearrange it. In a pile, he saw a little painting of a few years ago, made of subtle low contrast values, thus not easily decipherable by a weakened eye. He stunned me by identifying it and remembering exactly when it was made and exhibited.
He appeared at my last exhibition at BCB Art in Hudson, smiling his charming smile and friendly and attentive as always, despite the effort it must have cost him to come to the gallery. Last month, I interviewed him briefly to write a short article about him for an Italian magazine, knowing how proud he was to have been to the first to present artists from that country who then had proceeded to great appreciation by the artworld. He couldn't get up from the bed, but managed to answer brilliantly to all my questions.
Farewell, Johnny boy.

Lucio Pozzi

Lucio Pozzi, Central Horizon, 2005
May 28, 2008

The perfect illustration contributed by reader Sid Garrison [via] [via]

Why don't you try actually listening to Billy Joel? His technique of songwriting is classically based and quite clever. You might find that you enjoy those ingenious 'earworms'.

After my post of yesterday, Anonymous, in the comments, makes a reasonable enough request, however I’m afraid I can never have a relationship with Billy, musical or otherwise, after he revealed himself in “Just The Way You Are” to be a passive/aggressive control freak.

Let’s analyze the lyrics:

Don’t go changing, to try and please me
You never let me down before
Don’t imagine you’re too familiar
And I don’t see you anymore
I wouldn’t leave you in times of trouble
We never could have come this far
I took the good times, I’ll take the bad times
I’ll take you just the way you are.

Sounds good, huh? Well this is just where he ropes you in because then he says:

Don’t go trying some new fashion
Don’t change the color of your hair
You always have my unspoken passion
Although I might not seem to care

What’s the message here? Don’t be creative? Stay your dowdy old self? I have a feeling this guy is jealous, afraid you might be too attractive to other men. And further (at least he lets you know this up front), he’s withholding. What fun, may I ask, is “unspoken passion” with a guy who “might not seem to care”? What’s in this for me?

But it gets worse.

I don’t want clever conversation
I never want to work that hard
I just want someone I can talk to
I want you just the way you are.

Oh great! Dumb yourself down for this guy who, since he views interesting conversation as hard work, may not be all that smart himself. Further, he just wants someone he can talk to—not someone who talks back. I suggest he get a cocker spaniel.

I need to know that you’ll always be
The same old someone that I knew
What will it take ‘til you believe in me
The way that I believe in you?

He wants you to be “the same old someone”? That’s appealing. And what will it take for you to believe in him? How about the freedom to change and grow, bleach your hair, join the Peace Corps, gain weight, lose weight, get a tattoo or another degree, and be whomever you want, whenever you want. How about the assurance that it’s not all about him?

I said I love you, and that’s forever
And this I promise from the heart
I could not love you any better
I love you just the way you are.

Girls, forewarned is forearmed. If you meet a guy who says this is his favorite song, run!

And lest you be thinking I don’t have a soft side, I leave you with this:

Who kicked a hole in the sky so the heavens would cry over me?
Who stole the soul from the sun in a world come apart at the seams?
Let there be love...
May 27, 2008
Okay, I got over being tormented by Billy Joel, and this is how, although it’s not a perfect cure—more like the musical equivalent of Methadone, where I still have the addiction but have shifted to something that at least allows me to function. For those who also have repetitive music syndrome, otherwise known as an earworm, it’s worth a go. Otherwise watch it at your peril:

Having, for the most part, recovered my attention span, I read the June issue of Harper’s, which I recommend, first for the immensely readable and dismaying essay, “Our Phony Economy” by Jonathan Rowe, delivered to the Senate Commerce Committee on March 12th, where he explains that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the figure by which the health of our economy is measured, is based entirely on expenditure, irrespective of the reasons for that expenditure, nor is it balanced by healthy advances in other areas.

…Find out what is growing and the effects. Tell us what the growth is in concrete terms. Then we can begin to say whether it has been good.

The failure to do this is insane. It is an insanity embedded in political debate and in media reportage, and it leads to fallacy in many directions. We hear, for instance, that efforts to address climate changes will hurt “the economy.” Does that mean if we clean up the air we will spend less money treating asthma in young kids? The atmosphere is part of the economy too—the real economy…if we burn more gas, the expenditure gets added to the GDP…but there is no corresponding subtraction for the toll this burning takes on the thermostatic and buffering functions the atmosphere provides. (Nor is there a subtraction for the oil we take out of the ground.) Yet if we burn less gas, and thus maintain the crucial functions of the atmosphere
[as well as, I will add, obviating the need for extra expenditure by future generations to cope with the damage], we say “the economy” has suffered, even though the real economy has been enhanced.

By this reasoning, I suppose, a disaster like Katrina could be considered an economic “windfall” (haha) because the GDP measures only the expenditure made to clean it up, not the toll on human life. This is what’s wrong with everything in this country, and how we got to over-valuing the GDP in historical terms, as Rowe tells the story, is a lesson in how almost everything happens—not by edict, but something harder to reverse: the accretion of small assumptions which then become taken for granted.

Also in Harper’s is a discussion, by Gary Greenberg, of five books on neuroscience, which I’m discovering is a special interest of mine, as I’m always trying to figure out how much of “me” is “me,” and how much is governed by chemistry, biology and (something Greenberg doesn’t touch on) media influence.

Because finally, in addition to the well-known “Harper’s Index,” on the last page there’s “Findings” which catalogues in similar deadpan manner the results of various scientific studies. One of them is the horrifying statistic that “as much as one-quarter of Earth’s beach sand is now made of plastic.”

This takes me back to where I began, with the realization that fully one-quarter of my mental capacity is taken up with musical plastic, in the form of commercial music that has seeped in over the years. It’s frightening to consider that in addition to Billy Joel, who I never actually listened to, I can call up the music and lyrics of almost every musical ever written (a genre I actively loathe), as well as the entire catalogue of the Eagles. And we haven’t even gotten to the tyranny of Christmas music. Don’t get me started.