Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In


February 16, 2013

At the CAA: A lively, meaty panel on “Art Criticism and Social Media” chaired by Phyllis Tuchman, with Walter Robinson, Sarah Douglas, Lindsay Pollock, and Barry Schwabsky, where Walter Robinson tweeted throughout, looking up only to ask, “What was the question?”  (I thought it was a hilarious commentary on the topic, although some stuffier members of the audience got their knickers in a bunch about it)…Facebook was compared to a modern day equivalent of the Cedar Bar, but happily more egalitarian and less sexist…one questioner lamented that art criticism doesn’t pay, to which Barry Schwabsky commented that it is a counter to economic rationale, was never really a true profession but something people do because they can’t help themselves….another asked how she could get traffic to her “small blog.” The most prominent Facebooker in the audience generously suggested that she post it on his page (anything that gets attention he leaves it up, otherwise, he takes it down) and there was some discussion of tweets, etc. but no one mentioned CONTENT, which is the way things really happen. You can tweet until kingdom come, but if it’s not interesting, no one will read it, whereas if it is, you can be re-tweeted into history—which is the beauty of the Internet.

Again, in another panel, more talk about the “how” rather than the “why” or “what”—this is where I want to start screaming, in Donald Trump fashion, “CONTENT, CONTENT, CONTENT!”—but Lindsay Pollock did address the importance of editors. So much writing on the Web, even when pretty good, lacks cohesion and focus. The irony is that the content that's written with the most thought and care—that in art magazines—gets the least distribution and dies an early death if it’s not archived online.  

I walked past a booth flaking a “low residency PhD,” which tempted me for a moment, thinking how much fun it could be to go from no degree to a PhD and study theory and philosophy in an organized way, but immediately scotched the idea when I attempted another panel that opened with an incomprehensible presentation by a chaired Harvard professor, a specialist in African and African-American art who, among other flubs, could not correctly pronounce “Basquiat” or “Cote d’Ivoire” (“Bas-kee-yay” and “Coot Deever”—eek!).

The CAA job mill was humming, as usual, with interviewees scurrying about or sitting on the floor at the Hilton making last-minute touch-ups to their resumes, but—you read it here—I give the art school bubble another 10 years, maybe only five. With the move from professorships to low-paying adjunct positions, it’s unlikely students will put up with high tuition rates when the only jobs they can expect at graduation pay next-to-nothing and offer neither benefits nor security. At least there will be no need to complain anymore about the academization of art—the academies will simply kill themselves.

Beyond the Hilton there was art to see: speaking of Basquiat (that’s “Bas-kee-yat”), a humongous museum-style show at Gagosian, Suzan Frecon’s lovely Tantric-like studies at David Zwirner, the sumptuous Boetti embroideries at Gladstone, and a sign of progress at Gavin Brownwhere, at the artists’ request, there were NO press releases available. Hooray!

Suzan Frecon
for a large painting – (malachite color), 2007
Watercolor on old Indian ledger paper
Framed: 15 3/4 x 18 1/2 inches (40.01 x 46.99 cm)
Paper: 9 3/4 x 12 1/2 inches (24.8 x 31.8 cm)
February 6, 2013

Art began with religion. Only recently in human history have allusions (other than cynical) to spirituality in art become an anathema among, by artist Altoon Sultan, and another video.

January 22, 2013

Thinking about, as we were, satisfying uses of MoMA’s Atrium, Wolfgang Laib’s large piece, Pollen from Hazelnut, with its lovely wispy edges, was installed today (up through March 11th). Although it was put on the calendar over a year ago, it comes at the right psychological moment: the perfect antidote to Martha Rosler’s garage sale (see below), it’s a harbinger of spring at winter’s darkest moment, embodying a spirit of optimism many people feel about 2013. No photos from MoMA are yet available, but at least the iPhone captures the glow. (You can read my cover story on Laib's work, Art in America, 2001, here.)

January 15, 2013

Happy 2013! I haven’t thought of a thing to Vent about after a month of mental housecleaning in the form of daily kundalini yoga and meditation at Golden Bridge Yogain L.A. Then last night, a friend told me about a friend of hers, a filmmaker who, frightened of giving a museum talk, discovered beta-blockers—and what my friend, who hadn’t heard about them, considered an exciting breakthrough, I saw as a missed opportunity.

So the filmmaker took the beta-blockers, and what she gained was a successful museum talk, which is now over, and the knowledge that if she has a problem, she can take a pill. But what if she’d seen it as a challenge she could train for and conquer? She might have gained confidence and skills she could draw on for the rest of her life.

(I see curators stumbling through presentations, and I think, get a coach! This is part of your job, why not get good at it? In fact the museums would benefit if they regarded this as an integral part of job training.)

My friend, Hugeutte, was 52 when she decided to overcome her lifelong fear of driving a car. The driving teacher warned her that few first-timers over 30 can become good drivers, but was willing to give her a test drive. Huguette performed well on the test drive, took lessons, and later said, “I know I’ll be a better painter for having learned to drive.”

I have no problem speaking in public—in fact I love it—but it was not always thus. My first experience was when I was 24, working on a political campaign and being interviewed by telephone for a radio show, which resulted in what seemed like an eternity, but was no doubt only seconds of terrifying dead time. I remember watching my co-workers in the office with their ears to the radio listening to.…nothing. And while I later became a slam poet who, a friend said, only needed a stage, microphone, and an audience of 200 to feel entirely comfortable, I did harbor a secret public performance phobia: the piano.

I started playing when I was five and in the middle of my first recital at seven or eight – I remember a white hall and a big black shiny grand piano – I went blank. My teacher had to run and get the music, and I was mortified. Despite 20 more years of rigorous classical training, only my neighbors* knew I could play. My teacher, Lili Simon, who studied at the Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest with Bartok (his picture was next to the piano), used to pile her family and neighbors onto the couch in the living room when I played, but it was hopeless. Then 15 years ago, a friend who knew of my secret ability, asked me to play at her wedding—an utterly horrific suggestion, which I immediately refused. Fortunately, however, by that time I had done enough personal growth work to recognize that the fear was a signal that, if I was to continue to grow, I had to do it. Eek! Valerie Dillon, a concert pianist turned art dealer who lived nearby in SoHo, offered me a key to her loft and daily use of her Steinway grand. “The only antidote to stage fright,” she said, “is practice.” I played an hour a day for at least six weeks until that Chopin mazurka and two pieces by Bach felt as if they were part of my DNA. Needless to say the wedding went off smoothly, but was almost an anti-climax, because by that time I could have done it in my sleep.

But all this is trifling compared to my friend, Wylie Goodman, who took a leave from her job with the New York City Parks Department and is now completing a six-month bicycling and Couchsurfingtour of Asia on her own. Do you think there was no fear there? I saw her just before she left, after months of training and preparation, when the reality hit her and she asked, “Am I out of my fucking mind?”

This is one of my favorite Wylie anecdotes from Facebook:

(November 12, 2012) And now for today's feel-good story: two 11 or 12-year-old boys started biking alongside me, as kids often do here, yelling "hello" or "where are you from?" when one started singing, "Hey, sexy lady!" I did a double take, stopped riding, called out, "wait!" – and pulled out my iPhone with its downloaded "Gangnam Style" song. We all smiled and started doing the move. At that moment, I felt like the coolest 48-year-old white lady in Vietnam.

Wylie, saying goodbye to bicycle #1, January 10, 2013 in Cambodia

* As young marrieds, my ex-husband and I used to play the Haydn Trumpet Concerto (he on the trumpet, me playing the orchestral part on the piano) in our Evanston courtyard apartment. One day I ran into one of my neighbors who said, “I thought of you the other night. We went to the Chicago Symphony and they performed the Haydn Trumpet Concerto—it was great, except they left out the part where he yells at her about the time.”