Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In


July 6, 2009
Just back from Iceland, I segued into being so absorbed with painting that I don’t want to stop even to eat or go to the bathroom. But I know that soon enough I’ll be back to my normal self, wanting to share the images and thoughts from the trip that have been percolating in my head since returning. For an Icelandic art experience in New York, I recommend spending contemplative time with Finnbogi Petursson's beautiful installations involving sound, light and water at Sean Kelly. I became interested in Finnbogi's work on my first trip to Iceland in 2004, and was lucky enough to see the other half of the show last Saturday at i8 Gallery in Reykjavik.

Just to give you an idea, here's an earlier piece: Finnbogi Petursson, Elements, Water, Earth (2005), courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery.
And for something to read, this is Jerry Saltz writing about the state of the art world through the lens of the Venice Biennale (“Entropy in Venice”—could not be better named). These are issues I’ve been grumbling about for years, so it’s gratifying to find those opinions shared, and so succinctly summed up. You can read the whole thing on Artnet:

Venice is the perfect place for a phase of art to die. No other city on earth embraces entropy quite like this magical floating mall. There are now more than 100 biennales around the world (most of them put together by the same 25 celebrity curators, drawing from the same pool of 100 or so artists); Venice is often called "the most important" of them. The main show of the 53rd Venice Biennale, June 7-Nov. 22, 2009, is the work of Daniel Birnbaum, a well-respected 46-year-old Swedish critic and curator. His "Making Worlds," held in the Palazzo delle Esposizioni delle Biennale and in the magnificent Arsenale, attains an enervating inertia of exhibitions and brings us to a terminal state of what we’ll call "the curator problem."

Birnbaum’s show, containing the work of 90-plus artists, doesn’t offend or go off the rails. Rather, it looks pretty much the way these sorts of big international group shows and cattle calls now look; it includes the artists that these sorts of shows now include. It’s full of the reflexive conceptualism that artists everywhere now produce because other artists everywhere produce it (and because curators curate it). Almost all of this art comments on art, institutions or modernism. Basically, curators seem to love video, text, explanations, things that are "about" something, art that references Warhol or Prince, or that makes sense; they seem to hate painting, things that don’t make sense or that involve overt materiality, physicality, color or strangeness.

Any critic who says this, of course, is accused of conservatism, of wishing for a return to painting. I’m not for or against video -- or any medium or style, for that matter. Nor am I wishing for a return to painting, which can never come back because it never went away. (That said, it’s hard to imagine anything more conservative today than an institutional critique. That sort of work is the establishment.) My beef is with the experience that "Making Worlds" produces. It’s just another esthetically familiar feedback cycle: impersonal, administratively adept, highly professionalized, formally generic, mildly gregarious, esthetically familiar, totally knowing, cookie-cutter. It is time we broke out of that enervated loop.
June 29, 2009

To get in the mood for my trip, I watched the video Screaming Masterpiece, a survey of Icelandic music in which Barði Jóhannsson, of the band Bang Gang, answers the question: “Why is Icelandic music so special?” For a country whose largest city is about the size of Akron, OH, and where they speak a language shared by no other, it produces an amazing amount of great music. Barði says it’s because “all the bands that are any good know that their music won’t be played on the radio and that they won’t sell more than 200 albums in Iceland, so they make music just as they please.”
June 24, 2009
The Blue Lagoon, January 2004

I'm off to Iceland on Friday for a whirlwind trip with Erica and Terry to shoot background landscape for our film about Olafur Eliasson and Einar Thorsteinn's collaboration, returning after July 1st. But before that, tomorrow, I'm going to Finnbogi Petursson's opening (friend of Olafur and Einar, whose work I've seen in Iceland) at Sean Kelly Gallery, and then to see John Kelly's Paved Paradise Redux: the Art of Joni Mitchell at the Abron Arts Center at the Henry Street Settlement, which runs through Saturday. John is an extraordinary singer/actor/dancer (and artist whose exhibition of self-portraits is up until the 27th at Alexander Gray), and this particular performance, which he's done for many years, has almost a cult following.

This will be my fourth trip to Iceland since 2004, and my first in summer with its almost 24-hour light (and hopefully sun--it's been raining there as much as it has here). We plan to end up at/in the Blue Lagoon (above) where the water is so hot it doesn't make any difference what the weather is doing.
June 21, 2009
Division Street, Great Barrington, MA

It’s Sunday, so a sermon is in order. This was sent to me by Father Ralph Peterson, who I met at Olafur Eliasson’s event at Bard, and whose interest in art includes having brought the Louise Nevelson-designed chapel at St. Peter’s in NYC’s CitiCorp Building into being. These are excerpts from a sermon given by Canon John Simons at the installation of the Rt. Reverend Dennis Drainville as the Twelfth Bishop of Anglican Diocese of Quebec. Although it’s been unfashionable of late to think that art should be anything more than information or even to make value judgments (I’ve been accused of wanting art to be “good for its audience,” as if that were silly, when the alternative is to waste time on the stupid or mediocre) I like the expectation put forth here, that it “enlarge the boundaries of the self.” BTW I believe in any and all religions, and none.

Human beings are by nature spiritual beings, created by God to receive the Holy Spirit. The evidence of this receptivity is that we cannot be human unless we live ecstatically. In other words, each of us lives by participating in a larger reality than our particular location and perspective, than our particular consciousness, and, conversely, each of us, enriched by that larger world, adds his and her unique sensibility to it.....

Our spiritual potential is given a particular inflection in everyday life through music and literature. We all know what it is like to be moved by a poem or a novel, or any other work of art, for that matter. An aesthetic work enables its audience to enter and explore a different way of seeing something, a different way of feeling about the world, or, a way of feeling that is already ours, but which we may have repressed. To appreciate a literary work, for example, is not simply to be informed about the author’s point of view. It is to feel the sense of things expressed in the work.

You enter into the characters, so that it seems as if it were your own heart beating beneath their clothing. Hence literature, music and art do not isolate us in egocentric desire or self-pity; rather, they invite us to actualize our capacity to love, that is, to abandon our self-preoccupation, to stand outside ourselves and within the world as experienced by others. This is what love does, and what art fosters. It enlarges the boundaries of the self.
June 14, 2009
Regarding the post below, Robby Baier's comment to Scott on Facebook:

I love your place. Such artistic order. Carol's Blog reminded me of a story about my friend Peter in Stuttgart. I was staying with him about 4 years ago and was struck by how impeccably the place was organized. He doesn't have your artistic sense so it was just super neat and very clean. When we left in the morning, after the beds were made, the dishes cleaned and put away, the sink wiped down with a fresh, dry rag (who wants those unsightly stains on the stainless steel?), he stopped in the doorway and turned around one last time to make sure everything was in place. Sharing with me that he "doesn't like it when things are too perfect", he went back inside and took a coat off of one of the hooks by the door, walked over to the couch and tossed the coat on the armrest. Not happy with the way the coat had fallen, he picked it up again and threw it a second time. Ahhhh. Now, for him, the place was imbued with just an air of the casual.

Note to manically tidy self: go downstairs and throw some magazines around.
June 11, 2009
Art Vent House Report #6:

Scott Cole is often mentioned in my posts, sometimes as Scott Who Knows Everything, as he’s frustratingly multi-accomplished. Musician, painter, and chef (Scott owns
When I’m there I’m always taking pictures and the only challenge is editing—basically you can point the camera anywhere and get a beautiful vignette. For instance you can guess what vantage point I took this from. But really, isn’t this just the world’s sexiest toothbrush?

You get the feeling that it's all intentional, but not too intentional, and that there's a sense of humor behind everything:

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s Scott, preparing the dinner he made last night for a few friends, in his kitchen which, except for the black cat lurking nearby, is white and innocent:

As is the upstairs bathroom:

The dining room:

Master bedroom:
A corner of an upstairs guest room:

Because it fit him perfectly, I gave Scott this kimono, which was made for my uncle when he served in China during World War II. He wore it once for Halloween, then hung it on the wall:

And outside, the hand-carved pickets on the fence that came with the house. Even they tell a story:

June 5, 2009
This photo, which I took in Pittsfield, MA and posted last year, pretty much sums up how I feel about public art. Not that public art can’t be good, but that it rarely is, because too much rote thinking is involved on the part of the artists, as well as those who commission it. Artists make art that looks like what they think public art—especially sculpture—should look like, and selection committees select it, without a lot of thought to site or placement. It’s hard to compete with nature—usually the environment would look a whole lot better without it (although I’m a big fan of her paintings, the pile of rust by Rebecca Horn that despoils Barcelona’s beautiful beach is a perfect example, and the Frank Gehry fish that lurks nearby, isn't much better).

I was back in Pittsfield today, at the Berkshire Medical Center (for an MRI on my foot which, of course, was completely cured by the fact that I was going for an MRI—just the way a snuffly, crying baby turns into a smiling picture of health the minute you enter the pediatrician’s office) where this sculpture caught my attention. Although I’d go for something a little more comforting and calming for a medical center—incorporating a water feature perhaps, or vegetation (it would be a great place for some surprise topiary)—the sculpture itself is not so bad, and its sleek lines and mirrored surface contrast nicely with the traditional architecture of the building behind it. But what’s with the sign at the bottom? What’s the point of installing something if you’re going to overwhelm any redeeming qualities it might have with a tacky sign? Who’s thinking here?

So I’m driving home, ranting to myself about how I’ll gladly add public sculpture to the list of things (museum wall text, artists statements, children’s music) that I plan to outlaw when king, when I see this—unmarked, unattributed, and perfectly at home in its environment—and am reminded, as with the Kinderhook snow sculpture I came across last winter, that the human artistic impulse has a place outside after all, just best, perhaps, when it’s not institutionalized.

But let's be positive. Send me examples of public art you think works. Or even better, we could compile a best and worst list.