Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In


May 8, 2009
Random shots below by artist Summer Zandrew, who accompanied me when I went to Chicago's
Me, refracted
Summer, self-portrait
May 5, 2009
I’m loving Chicago! Having a home town guy in the White House seems to have caused it to shed its Second City inferiority complex (which always drove me crazy) and stand proud. The only negative is the hysteria over the swine flu “epidemic,” which has schools closing and gatherings being cancelled. I’ve always washed my hands before meals—as my mom taught me to—and carried a little bottle of Purell with me to make it easier, silently marveling at my New York friends who’d get out of a taxi or the subway and sit down to dinner (and sometimes prepare food—yuck!) without doing so. Maybe the good side of this is that it will make everyone more conscious of something they should have been doing all along. Meanwhile I use my Purell more surreptitiously, because I don’t want to add to the fear-mongering, and am frequenting Mexican restaurants (so good in Chicago!), because they probably can use the business.

I thought Art Chicago was pretty boring—only a handful of really good galleries represented—but, to my surprise, loved the Antiques Fair a few floors below. Meanwhile the Olafur Eliasson exhibition at the MCA (through September 13th) has caused a lot of excitement—as I mentioned, so much better than at MoMA and PS 1—and the the pairing with the Buckminster Fuller show (through August 9th) is genius, because you can see the lineage. As I’ve no doubt mentioned before, Einar Thorsteinn, who works with Olafur (“helps me with models and helps me to think,” as Olafur said in his artist’s talk), was a protégé of Fuller, and so here you can look at Fuller’s models and then go downstairs and see how Olafur and Einar have taken off on them in their own models, made them more fanciful, and then elaborated on them in large works. There are also interpretations of Fuller’s work by sculptor Kenneth Snelson, which are gorgeous. I wish I had images to illustrate all of this, but I was only able to photograph Eliasson’s exhibition while accompanied by a representative of the MCA, and had not made an appointment to shoot the Fuller show.

Let me go off a little bit on this policy of no photography, which is shared by the Whitney (but not by MoMA), and the reason I didn’t write about Jenny Holzer’s show here, which I loved. Yes, I could have gotten images from the museum, but if they didn’t reflect my vision, I’d just be doing P.R. I could understand it in the old days, the concern that a lousy shot taken on someone’s Brownie could end up in a magazine as representative of the artist’s work, or that people would produce coffee mugs and T-shirts with a pirated image. But today, when the influence of print is lessening and word-of-mouth rules, why would you want to insist on stopping someone from taking a picture with her iPhone and emailing her excitement to all of her friends? As for artists, photography is a way of recording what is important to them—not some commercial photographer—ideas that they may want to incorporate into their own work. As we all know, major museum exhibitions have an influence on the art that comes after, and to limit that in any way seems counter-productive.

Museums seem to be catering more and more to the casual visitor while distancing themselves from artists. First there’s the entrance fee, which limits when you can see the work (in crowds on free night). I tried to get a friend who’s a professor of art in Iowa into MoMA on my press card with me, and was told she could come in for free if she had a group of students with her. But even if she were teaching in New York, doesn’t she have to see the show first, to decide if it’s something she wants to bring her students to? I know so many artists who choose to pass on major exhibitions because of the fee, and often if you find a good show, you want to see it more than once. In Chicago, no doubt, many artists can afford to join both the MCA and the Art Institute (or “INSTITVTE” as it reads on their Web site—yikes!), but in New York, with a plethora of major museums, cost becomes prohibitive. I propose that the New York museums get together on an “artist’s card” that would allow entrance to all the museums for a yearly fee of $125 or so. Verifying that someone is an artist is easier now than it was back in the day when I had to prove my professional status to the city in order to live in SoHo—it can be anyone who has a Web site featuring their work, or is featured on a gallery Web site. Such a policy would increase not only traffic but word-of-mouth.

That said, here are some random shots from the Eliasson exhibition:

Your eye activity field, 2009, oil on canvas (detail). Created for the MCA's lobby and atrium, this series of 300 canvases (approximately 6" x 14") represents the 300 nanometers of the color spectrum that can be seen by the human eye

Reimagine, 2002: spotlights cast shiftin, overlapping rectalinear patters across the gallery wall, creating an illusion of distance and depth.
Beauty, 1993: a spotlight shining obliquely through a curtain of fine mist.

From the model room
One-way colour tunnel, 2007 (detail)

One-way colour tunnel (detail) with view of Inverted Berlin sphere, 2005

Inverted Berlin sphere, 2005, with a detail of Multiple Grotto, 2004 (left), which incorporates elements of the model seen above.
Colour sphere embracer, 2005, colored glass rings suspended from the ceiling nestle inside one another while a motor simultaneously rotates each in a different direction.

May 1, 2009
I’m in Chicago, watching the sun rise over Lake Michigan, from the guest room in my friend Barbara’s apartment. It’s been a great trip, except yesterday my ex-husband had a nasty fall that landed him in the Evanston Hospital emergency room, and his wife told me that treatment was delayed (total time in hospital: 12 hours, with 45 minute to one hour waits between procedures) because the place was overrun with people worried that they had swine flu. I know the tendency to hysteria over possible disaster isn’t new to the human race, but we seem to have a collective memory that doesn’t go back even as far as three years ago, when the avian flu was going to kill us all. I remember that well because I have a friend in Paris whose girl friend is an epidemiologist, and in every other email he was urging me to stock up on quantities of Tamiflu. I preferred to keep my immune system up with a steady consumption of chocolate bars and red wine, which worked just fine. I also read Dr. Mercola, whose assessment turned out to be correct. Here’s what he has to say about swine flu.

Wednesday evening I went to the opening of the newest version of Olafur Eliasson’s survey exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art. At one point a museum video crew, collecting short interviews to use in fund-raising, approached and asked me to talk about my connection to the museum. At first I didn’t think I had anything to say, but then realized that my intense interest in Eliasson’s work began with the MCA and the Robert Irwin exhibition in 1976 that changed forever how I think about art. Irwin was Eliasson’s biggest influence as well, although I think it’s unlikely that he ever saw an actual work until fairly recently. This version of the traveling Eliasson survey show (next stop: Dallas) is the best exhibition of the many I’ve seen (I didn’t see the survey in San Francisco, however, and the curator there, Madeleine Grynstein, is now the director at the MCA). At the MCA the work has room to breathe, and I think Eliasson is at his best in vast enclosed spaces—the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern (below) being an example. I’m going back today to take pictures, which I’ll share.

Olafur Eliasson, weather project, Tate Modern, 2004.
April 22, 2009
I had to pay a speeding ticket yesterday—the first in my life—$335 to the town of Hoosick, New York. It required a money order, which I bought at the post office. I love small town life in that I could count on commiseration from the clerk and P.O. regulars as I reluctantly counted out my twenties. Mary, the head clerk, a gray-haired dumpling who you’d never take for a speed demon, topped me, though, saying that she’d gotten a $1000 ticket in Cambridge, NY. for 75 in a 55. It was her third ticket in New York State. My friend Robby, knowing that I’d taken that same route back and forth to Bennington at 80 mph for years, suggested I simply look upon it as a retroactive toll, or the price I must pay to join the rest of the human race.
April 19, 2009
Art Vent House Report #5: Easter, for the second year in a row, was celebrated at Kurt Andernach’s home, which he calls Somersault House, on the Athens/Catskill, NY border, so deep in the woods that it takes a high clearance vehicle, preferably with all-wheel drive, and a certain amount of intestinal fortitude to negotiate the seemingly endless narrow dirt roads that lead to it. Each time I go there (once, scarily, by myself, near midnight on a dark, snowy New Year’s Eve), I wonder if I’m really going to find it, and if not, how I’m going to get out.

Even if you didn’t know Kurt was German, the siting of his cottage in the forest would make you think of Hansel and Gretel, but then you go inside and the fairy tale feeling is complete. Both rustic and elegant, it could be Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother’s house—provided Grandma had exquisite taste and a penchant for Biedermeier furniture.

But finding such a house in the middle of the Catskill woods isn’t the only incongruity. The other is that Kurt is an architect, a designer of chic store interiors (such as those for Diane von Furstenberg and my favorite department store, Bon Marche in Paris) and blindingly white loft-like spaces. Obviously he has range. How many modernist architects do you know who proudly display a cuckoo clock?

One of the many distinctive aspects of Kurt’s house is that there are no screens—“How European,” a friend said. Yeah, except northern Europe doesn’t have insects (a Swiss friend once told me it was because they wouldn’t allow them) and this is New York State, where mosquitoes rule. Kurt, however, is uniquely oblivious—or impervious—to mosquitoes, and one summer evening I ate in his dining room largely untouched—even though the room was buzzing with them—because his dog, sitting next to me on the bench, was incredibly efficient in snapping the insects out of the air with his mouth.

The massive, elaborate antique furniture is from his family, and when I asked Kurt how he got it into the house he said, “Oh, it was easy. It came from Europe in a container, which was left on the main road, and I rented a U-Haul…” Clearly what’s easy for Kurt would be challenging for a normal person—he's also moved hundreds of rocks from the woods to form patios and walkways around his house. I hope to do a summer update on the extensively gardened exterior which, when everything is in bloom, is as magical as the interior.

Living room:

Upstairs office:
A corner of the kitchen, set for Easter brunch:

A corner of the dining room:

And bunnies!

Kurt now splits his time between his architectural practice and a storefront in on Main Street in Catskill, where he makes indoor/outdoor furniture to be marketed under the name Somersaultwoods. Solidly handcrafted in rustic Bavarian style without glue or screws—all joints are made by hand—his focus is on green technology for the materials and finishes.

April 17, 2009
How we all feel. This from artist Catherine Hamilton's Birdspot.
April 14, 2009

‘tis in ourselves that we are thus
or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to the which
our wills are gardeners: so that if we will plant
nettles, or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up
thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs, or
distract it with many, either to have it sterile
with idleness, or manured with industry, why, the
power and corrigible authority of this lies in ourwills.

(Shakespeare, Othello, Act 1, Scene 3)

Mind is the wielder of muscles. The force of a hammer blow depends on the energy applied; the power expressed by a man’s bodily instrument depends on his aggressive will and courage. The body is literally manufactured and sustained by the mind. Through pressure of instincts from past lives, strengths or weaknesses percolate gradually into human consciousness. They express as habits, which in turn manifest as a desirable or an undesirable body. Outward frailty has a mental origin; in a vicious cycle, the habit-bound body thwarts the mind. If the master allows himself to be commanded by a servant, the latter becomes autocratic; the mind is similarly enslaved by submitting to bodily dictation.

Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi, 1946.

So reading about the brain and how thoughts and experience can change its physical configuration (neuroplasticity), I wonder why stop with the brain? If the brain can change, why not the rest of the body?

I have not forgotten a long article I read in The New York Times more than ten years ago (now finally available through the miracle of online archiving), which describes how a person diagnosed with multiple personality disorder may have actual physical characteristics that come and go, depending on which personality is dominant:


For more than a century clinicians have occasionally reported isolated cases of dramatic biological changes in people with multiple personalities as they switched from one to another. These include the abrupt appearance and disappearance of rashes, welts, scars and other tissue wounds; switches in handwriting and handedness; epilepsy, allergies and color blindness that strike only when a given personality is in control of the body.


Today, using refined research techniques, scientists are bringing greater rigor to the study of multiple personalities and focusing on a search for the mechanisms that produce the varying physiological differences in each personality.


One of the problems for psychiatrists trying to treat patients with multiple personalities is that, depending which personality is in control, a patient can have drastically different reactions to a given psychiatric medication. For instance, it is almost always the case that one or several of the personalities of a given patient will be that of a child. And the differences in responses to drugs among the sub-personalities often parallel those ordinarily found when the same drug at the same dose is given to a child, rather than an adult.


[Also] …observation of vision differences…made by those treating multiple-personality cases. ''Many patients have told me they have a drawer full of eyeglasses at home, and they never are quite sure which to bring when they go out''….


Now what I need is to develop a personality that doesn't have spring allergies.

April 11, 2009
Art Vent House Report #4--Last week I dropped in on Reggie Madison, a longtime friend and painter I admire, who has eked out a home and studios (plural) in a crumbling industrial complex smack on the edge of the Hudson River in the village of Athens, NY. This is one of several industrial spaces he's "Reggified" since I've known him, and patrons of Club Helsinki in Great Barrington, MA, where he designed the interior, will recognize the the style--humorous conglomerations of objects only Reggie would choose, more of which can be found in his shop on Warren Street in Hudson. The building is so close to the water that inside it feels like an ocean liner, especially the living room with its narrow windows:

Reggie can make even knotty pine look exotic:

The entry way:

The music room:

A corner of the bathroom:

The upstairs studio:

The downstairs studio:

And outside, the Hudson, still bleak in early April: