Tuesday I participated in the Second Annual Fourth Wall Panel Review as part of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ (PAFA) graduate program. The idea was to invite an artist (James Hyde), a curator (Robert Cozzolino), and a critic (I was wearing my critic hat) to publicly view and discuss the anonymous digital images and written statements of nearly thirty MFA thesis students in the program (a lily-livered few declined to participate) and narrow it down to the three we found most competitive for the kinds of professional opportunities—grants, residencies, exhibitions, teaching positions, etc.—that are determined in this way. It provided the students, attendees from other area institutions, and the general public, with fly-on-the-wall insight into this otherwise secret process.
For three hours we sat with our backs to the audience facing the screen on which the images were projected. The panel differed from others I’ve been on in that there were fewer artists (30 as opposed to several hundred) with more slides each (10), and instead of simply dismissing those we weren’t interested in, we discussed our reasons for doing so. We also took the artist’s statements into account where normally, at least the panels I’ve been on, if they’re considered at all, it’s only to make distinctions at the very end.
Shall we digress onto the subject of artists’ statements? Oh, why not. So I ask: why is it that every time I’m in a situation like this, my colleagues and I unanimously agree that the concept of artists’ statements is ridiculous, yet this relatively new invention persists in being seen as an essential aspect of the artist’s promotional package? Further, statements often work against the artist. As the director of a not-for-profit gallery once told me, “Often we’ll find an artist we like and then read the statement and say ‘no way.’”
The PAFA statements were no exception, containing the usual damning phrases: “My work is about…” “I want to make…” “I am trying to….” By allowing such statements to pass, art schools give the impression that once students are out in the world, we’re going to be interested in them. No one has told them that we’re not interested in the slightest; we don’t care what they think, feel, or want to do. We see tons of stuff, all day, every day, and it’s their job to stand out from the crowd, to make us take notice whether we want to or not. I try to imagine a similar situation in another, more rigorous field—such as a filmmaker attempting to get backing by writing: “I want to make a film about….. Ever since I was a small child I’ve been fascinated by …...”
Fortunately, so we didn’t come off as total curmudgeons, there was one statement that not only piqued our interest, but shed light on the artist’s obliquely rendered subject matter:
My flight is at 10:00 in the morning, which is good because I can wake up at 6:00, catch the trolley by 6:45, then catch the train to the airport, and hopefully be there by 8:30. If the flight were earlier then I’d have to find a friend to drive me because public transit doesn’t start until 5 and it takes about 2 or 3 hours to get there. I have to remember to bring my phone charger. When I wake up I have to put it in my bag. I have to make sure everything I need can fit into a carry on bag, I can’t afford to check it and they ALWAYS lose my bag. A friend of mine checked his bag and they lost it for months, he had to call them everyday about it until they paid him some money. I have to make sure the machines can see everything that is in my bag and on me. I can’t have too many clothes. One pair of pants only. I don’t have to pack my jacket I can wear it even though its too warm. I can’t have too much change or metal stuff in my pocket because it will take too long to empty my pockets before I go through the metal detectors. I seem to always think I have to take my money out of my pockets. I haven’t shaved in a while I wonder if they’ll search me, I hope I don’t miss my flight. I have to make sure I fill my water bottle up when I get there and not before. This one time they changed me to another flight that was already boarding in a different terminal, but to get there I had to go through security again, but my water bottle was full, so they made me go empty it and wait in line again. I had to run to catch the plane. I’ve never connected where it was landing before. I hope they over booked the flight. I’ll volunteer for a free round trip. (Jordan Graw)
The panel was initially proposed by PAFA faculty member and curator of the Arcadia University Art Gallery, Richard Torchia, who told me that the students, to their credit, forwent having a catalog in order to fund this event. There were no prizes involved, just the honor of being chosen. Although we were almost, but not quite, as straightforward as we’d be in a closed panel, the students took it well, and afterward we all went out for drinks.
In the context of Marina Abramović (see posts below), my friend Alexandra sent me this link to a 20-minute documentary about the Marathon Monks of Japan--or you can read about them here.
Why do people take on such disciplines? Why does Abramović? Alexandra notes that regardless of the methods used to achieve a certain level of consciousness, everyone who does it says the same thing—that it’s a state of mind beyond differentiation, beyond the self, where it’s clear that we are all one.
So even though the Marathon Monks are celebrities in their country, hopefully by the time they get there, they’re beyond caring.
I’m off to New York, Philadelphia, and California (LA and Stanford) with the Berkshires interspersed, until the end of the month. I cannot predict blogability, will just have to see.
Note: All this time I've been curious about Abramović's "re-performers," and today this in the Times where, because it's the news media, the emphasis is on the negative (improper touching) and only briefly discusses what the performers are getting out of the experience, much apparently positive.
I also didn’t get William Kentridge—but only because I hadn’t yet seen the MoMA retrospective, having been put off by the overwhelming hype (he’s definitely the artist of the year) which is not a good excuse. I left awed, especially by the miniature theater representation. I’m still kicking myself for not seeing “The Nose” (I hated the name—have got to revise my attitude), which my smarter friends told me was an amazing theatre experience. Sometimes things are famous for a reason.
Next was the Whitney Biennial, which has to be the blandest yet. After the bustling scene at MoMA, the Whitney seemed tired, wan, past its prime (there was a time when it was the other way around). Yes, there was a desultory queue to get in—it was Good Friday after all—but the galleries themselves were hardly crowded, the visitors wandering around with a “Why am I here?” look on their faces. I am, however, pleased to report that the video has been installed in such a way that it doesn’t distract from the static pieces and, unlike previously, I can’t have fun with the publicity material: this year the descriptions of art and artists are sensible, even readable. There’s no blurb for Charles Ray, however—did he request that there not be one, or have they just not gotten around to it?
I also went to the National Academy Museum’s annual invitational exhibition, and am beginning to feel that the whole survey show concept is so last century (or maybe the one before that—this is the 185th for the NAM). Perhaps the “Biennial problem,” its loss of relevance with each permutation, has not only to do with the Whitney’s choices, but that if one is seeking a true art experience, any exhibition where the work isn’t related through some over-arching theme feels increasingly like a waste of time.
The Biennial is the subject of David Cohen’s usually perky Review Panel on April 23rd, and I’m curious to see if three interesting critics (Roberta Smith, Christian Viveros-Faune, and
Svetlana Alpers) can be interesting enough to make the subject of uninteresting art interesting.
Each of Marina Abramović’s performances is an exercise that brings her to a more realized place, a stepping stone to becoming the person she is, the woman whose great personal presence dominates the Atrium at MoMA even though she’s just sitting there in silence. It is to her credit that this performance (and I believe all of her performances) cannot be successfully replicated; she embodies her work.
Nowhere was this more clear than when an artist sent me a picture of herself, dressed as Abramović and sitting across from her, which she apparently did for an entire day, calling it an “intervention.” Next to Abramović, the copy-cat artist looks like a rag doll [don’t let me go off too much, but that endeavor smacked of the over-indulgence of art school, where “commenting” on art is often allowed to serve as art, no doubt because doing something original is just too hard]. In the same way, actors in bio-pics, no matter how accomplished, are rarely able to convey fully the power of the personalities they are portraying.
I’m curious to know what others’ experience is with the Abramović exhibition. Do you think “re-preformance” works?
Olafur Eliasson, The Weather Project, 2004, Tate Modern, London
I haven’t been to India, but I have been to Egypt, where the soft pastels of the clothing and painted clay houses, the graceful sails of the feluccas on the Nile, were one with the sandy, palm-treed landscape, each vista more breathtaking than the last, every aspect harmonious. The way the shopkeepers in the Aswan market laid out their wares was as artful as any installation I’d ever seen. Beauty seemed as natural as breathing.
And beauty, I’m convinced, is as necessary to healthy life as clean air, water, and food, yet we in the West pretend that it’s a luxury. The only way we acknowledge beauty’s importance is by punishing criminals by depriving them of it. Prison wouldn’t be prison if cells had brightly colored walls and inmates wore attractive uniforms— “Jil Sander for Attica" would not fly.
Even the environments we create for people to live and work in (and supposedly get well in, just look at our hospitals—we won’t even speak of the food) are equally aesthetically barren. Every time I drive through mall heaven in the towns outside Boston, or on Long Island or…anywhere, I go into shock.
So back at the piers, there’s an inescapable irony in paying $30 to look at art—try to find beauty—in the most inhospitable of situations: crowded, hot, claustrophobic, everything squished in. Another friend says she likes Ikea better—“at least they give you a green line to follow.”
From the Armory Show: Keltie Ferris, He-She, 2010, oil, acrylic, oil pastel & sprayed paint on canvas, 80x60"
Courtesy Horton Gallery, New York. Photo: Mark Woods
Meanwhile, a real armory on Park Avenue, intended for storing military equipment and built at a time (1861) when beauty was still a priority, makes a much better backdrop for art, which is why I prefer the ADAA (Art Dealers Association of America) Art Show, this year concurrent with the ones at the piers. Not edgy, you say? Okay with me. At least I can breathe.
…and visit with John Kelly, who’s artist-in-residence in this lavishly decorated monument to war that’s being turned into an alternative art space. Dancer, singer, actor, writer, painter (my review of his recent show at Alexander Gray was in the November Art in America), John is one of the most charismatic performers ever, the proof being that he can make even cabaret (a musical genre I loathe, right up there with musical theater) into a thrilling experience. I’m such a fan! John will be channeling Joni Mitchell in performance in Usdan Gallery at Bennington College at 9:00 this Friday evening.
The Armory Studio
My desire for sound and light, however, was more than satisfied the next night, when I bought a single ticket to hear Muse and the Silversun Pickups (who you must know by now are my favorite band) at that most unaesthetic of venues, Madison Square Garden. No doubt the show cost a gazillion dollars and took months to prepare—and Muse is definitely OTT, no subtlety there—but I was primed. It wasn’t Art, so they had to deliver. At the end I was getting hugs from sweaty, 20-year-old guys (“You like Muse? Let me give you a hug!). Totally worth it