Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In
August 13, 2012
A few days ago I was cranky and didn’t know why. Then, during an impromptu Skype studio visit with Terry in England, he observed that the structure in my paintings is fading into the background and the gesture is becoming dominant. How scary is that? Very scary, it turns out. I realize that I always trusted the structure to carry the “meaning” in my intentionally “meaningless” work (are you still with me?) and the gesture was the lively little cheerleading team that gave it edge and life. Thirty years pass this way—happily, I might add—until I wake up to find that the gesture is parading about as the main character and, to make it worse, I’m all too aware that “gesture” is simply a euphemism for “scribbles.” Now I happen to love my scribbles; I think they’re some of the best scribbles out there. But they’re scribbles. Is it possible that anyone else could love them as much as I do?
About the same time I run into Molly Howitt in the parking lot at the Co-op. Molly was a ceramics student when I was teaching painting at Bennington, and I made it a point to collect as much of her output as possible—paying her for some, but not being above poking around in the reject pile outside the studio for others. I remember once fighting with another faculty member over who was going to buy the bowl we were supposed to be critiquing—I won, and still love it. Molly has been doing a million other things since, all worthy, but no ceramics. When I bring this up for the 100th time (I can be annoying), Molly says, “I loved the process, it’s just that I wasn’t doing anything special.”
And true; her work was very simple. However it had an elegance that distinguished it from all other handmade pots, most of which look, to me (apologies, ceramicists out there!) excruciatingly alike. Molly brightened when I told her this; maybe she’ll actually do it.
Then I went home to my scribbles, appreciating for the first time, how much courage it must have taken to be Cy Twombly.
Carol Diehl, Althaea, 2012, ink & pencil on panel, 12" x 14"
October 19, 2011
I could not agree more with Roberta Smith’s strongly worded review of Gabriel Orozco’s show at Marian Goodman, which ended Saturday (note: the images look better online than they did in person). My thoughts exactly: a case of an artist who can do wonderful things (his drawings on money and tickets being some of my favorite artworks ever), churning out stuff for the marketplace to the point that I wonder if he even knows who he is anymore. But then you have to feel sorry for anyone who shows while de Kooning is on at MoMA, and has to stand up to the inevitable comparisons.
Willem de Kooning. Pink Angels. c. 1945. Oil and charcoal on canvas, 52 x 40" (132.1 x 101.6 cm). Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation, Los Angeles. © 2011 The Willem de Kooning Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
I didn’t see how the de Kooning retrospective could live up to the hype but it did—it was energizing and inspiring, even though some of the selected pieces (especially from the artist’s late period) weren’t the best examples, not to to speak of the pedestrian installation. Is it really necessary to group all of the “woman” paintings together in a row? At MoMA, chronology wins out over aesthetics, as if we’re all art historians for whom it’s important to compare similar paintings side-by-side. Big square rooms, white walls, everything lined up in order…hey, it’s the 21st century! How about a little originality? And also is it necessary to show SO MUCH work at one time? I know that’s a silly question since the whole idea of a blockbuster is to cram in as much as possible—and to hell with selection. Why show three black –and-white paintings when you can get ten? The result, no matter how great the artist, can be overwhelm and overkill, and it’s to de Kooning’s credit that he survives it here.
Willem de Kooning, Woman I, 1950-52. Oil on canvas, 6' 3 7/8" x 58" (192.7 x 147.3 cm). MoMA Purchase. © 2011 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
[Can we imagine Orozco choosing not to work for nine months? Caring enough not to work for nine months?]
It’s impossible to look at de Kooning and not think of all the other artists (Pollock, Gorky, Kline, etc.) he was bouncing off of, who were working in similar ways, and to recognize how—when a group is working on the same idea, if separately—they push each other to outdo each other and develop it collectively. The downside is that the pressure to adhere to a movement or style can be very confining (I know this from personal experience, having been an abstract artist in Chicago where the Imagists held such sway that the only option was to move to New York)—however it made me think that the complete freedom we have today may be the one of the reasons so little truly great art is being produced.
Leaving the exhibition we walked down the stairs to the first floor where a massive Twombly was hung over the information desk, edge-to-edge scrawls of white crayon on a uniform gray ground. My friend and I had once shared an experience at the Clark Institute with one of Monet’s cathedral paintings, which started out appearing to be almost entirely abstract—but as we looked, the sun seemed to come out and illuminate the façade until we could see its sculptural detail clearly. Similarly here, gazing at the Twombly, the fairly regular, overall pattern of loops began to form themselves into clouds, and the painting took on the unexpected illusion of movement and depth. Gorgeous.
I’ve been back to the Clark since, wanting to see the Monet in the same way again, but it resisted. By now you’d think I would have learned the folly of trying to recreate peak experiences.
Cy Twombly. Untitled. 1970. Oil-based house paint and crayon on canvas. 13' 3 3/8" x 21' 1/8" (405 x 640.3 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest and The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection (both by exchange). (C) 2011 Cy Twombly