Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In

Homes and Gardens

Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In

July 31, 2008
At the moment I couldn't care less about art. This is why:

Near Bennington, VT:

New Lebanon, NY:

Mt. Washington, MA:

July 6, 2008
Welcome to Art Vent's new Home and Garden section. I took these pictures last week at Roberto Juarez's home and studio in Canaan, NY, as he was getting ready to go with me to Home Depot (or, as we call it, "Home Despot") in Catskill, where I needed to return basement windows that were the wrong size, and he was shopping for a garden umbrella. We artists lead a glamorous life here in the country.

Roberto's house is special, though, because it's so Roberto--artful, yet hardly calculated or precious; he shares it with David, two cats, and various friends who add their own touches as they come and go. A sprawling cement block edifice set on four bucolic acres, it was built around 1979 as a day care facility that later turned into a medical center. Because it's so solidly built, the basement was, at one time, designated the emergency shelter for the neighborhood. His friend, architect Kimberly Ackert, was responsible for the renovation and making the industrial building livable.

Below is Roberto's studio as seen through the front window, with reflections of daylilies. He seems to live in a micro-climate where everything grows bigger and better, like the vegetables in Woody Allen's Sleeper. From my perch, not that far away but on the side of a mountain, it seems positively tropical.

Inside the studio. Note the artistic display of this week's Netflix:

The "brush room":

The office:

A corner of the kitchen:

Another corner of the kitchen:

You can't see it here, but one of the things Roberto and I found we have in common--after meeting while teaching at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown the summer before last and realizing that we'd been in the same place at the same time practically our entire lives--is that each of us has a pink ceiling over our kitchen.
The living area:
Roberto sees his house as a laboratory, a place for objects to look at and enjoy, and which may later be reflected in his paintings. The corduroy quilt, above, he found ten years ago in Miami when it was 100 degrees out, and kept until it found its rightful place.
Some things, however, are just passing through. Below, getting ready for the tag sale. Roberto's friend, Peter Kennard, laid the stone floor:
Master bedroom:

This quilt is from Ralph Lauren. How does Roberto get away with it?--in my house it would look totally tacky. More proof that context is everything.

The vegetable garden, made with branches from the surrounding woods, is the work of part-time resident Mark Tambella, who is an artist, production designer at La Mama, and generally gifted when it comes to food and cars:

David made the moss and rock garden near the stream:

So we had our shopping outing in Catskill. I returned my windows, but--arrgh!--Home Depot didn't have the replacement size and I had to order them, contenting myself with a few new dish towels, bought later in Hudson. Roberto, however, got not only his garden umbrella but scored this gazebo, on sale for $199. Again, it's all about context. Roberto is ecstatic, and waxes on about its Josef Hoffmann-esque lines. I can't go nearly that far, but nestled under the trees near the burbling stream, it's quite divine.

July 19, 2007
I took time out from
July 6, 2007

Alexandra and her Saarinen Womb chair (see Making it hers, below) reminded me of another modernist icon, the geodesic dome, specifically the house my friend, Einar Thorsteinn, designed and took me to see last October when he and his wife, Manuela, gave me a tour of what they called “alternative Iceland”—as if all of Iceland isn’t “alternative.” Einar, who was a protégé of Buckminster Fuller, is an architect, mathematician, designer, and artist, who I met at Olafur Eliasson’s studio in Berlin when I was researching my Art in America article about Olafur. Einar collaborated with Olafur on his second show in New York, and is the muse behind Olafur’s elaborate geometry. His numerous side projects include working on the design of a mobile moon station for NASA and, looking ahead to a time when the earth could become uninhabitable, making plans for a domed city for Iceland—at the presentation for Olafur’s upcoming survey show at MoMA, the curator described Einar as a “visionary”. Einar tells me Einstein’s theories have been long superseded by one Burkhard Heim, and I have the feeling that me talking to Einar about Einstein is like someone who’s just discovered art talking to me about Andy Goldsworthy.

Our road trip to the Icelandic hinterlands had to be put off for a day because of high winds that made it impossible to drive, apparently not an unusual occurrence. But the next morning dawned sunny and glorious. My previous two trips to Iceland were in the winter when sun was hardly an issue, but this time I was glad I brought sunglasses, which Einar explained you need in Iceland because the sun comes at you from a very low angle and is therefore always in your eyes. The sun’s lowness also creates long shadows, which lends extra drama to the already dramatic moss and lava-rocked landscape.

The domed house, near the village of Hella (108 km from Reykjavik and close to the Ring Road) is visible from the road, appearing as a curiously regular grassy hill with windows in it. Getting closer you can see that inside the dome is a house and a garden—the earth and grass covers the house part, keeping it warm no doubt, while the glass over the garden makes for a greenhouse-like micro-climate. What’s funny is that the façade of the house inside the dome is hardly contemporary, but like a traditional Icelandic abode. With its painted red siding and white trim around the lace-curtained windows, it reflects the decorating tastes of its inhabitant, a woman in her seventies with a passion for gardening and tchotchkes—the place is rife with cement gnomes, while a reproduction of Michelangelo’s David graces the exterior garden.

Einar tells me that his purist architect friends aren’t amused by the incongruity, but he thinks its great, as do I. As with Alexandra and her Womb chair, it demonstrates that the owner is not making a style statement, but loves it for its own sake. This is Einar on top:

June 25, 2007
Ever since I’ve known her—a long time—my friend, Alexandra, has wanted a Saarinen Womb Chair, the chair she grew up with, grew up in, as she puts it—and I’ve always had trouble picturing this icon of modern design in Alexandra’s house, a profusion of pillows, overstuffed couches, art, artifacts from her travels, lap blankets, lap dogs, and so on. Each time I go there I come back feeling that my environment, with its uncluttered surfaces, leather and chrome is too ascetic—and Alexandra says that after visiting me she’s overwhelmed with the desire to go home and throw everything out. Well yesterday I went to see her and there it was, the Womb Chair, in her living room next to the colonial fireplace. And, as you can see, it fits in perfectly. I wonder if Saarinen anticipated needlepoint bunnies.

May 14, 2007
I bought four of the most perfect white ceramic coffee mugs at David Mellor’s in London, had friends tote them back to the States when I couldn’t fit them into my luggage, used them for two years, and then a couple of months ago one of them disappeared. I looked everywhere, asked everyone who had been in the house, even searched my next-door neighbor’s kitchen where I might have taken it for tea. How could a mug just disappear? Then, the other day at my desk while talking to Scott on the phone, I swiveled around and saw it sitting in plain sight on top of a tub of gesso on a shelf in my studio.

I’m an artist. Aren’t I supposed to be observant?

Or how about this? I’m sitting at the counter in the brand-new kitchen of the house I’ve lived in for now, oh, at least half a year, on the phone again, when I happen to look at the bank of drawers across from me and notice—for the first time—that the handles are asymmetrical. Instead of placing them in even rows, the carpenter put the handles on the wider middle drawers higher than those on the smaller drawers next to them. Could it really be that he did that? And could it really be that I never saw it before? It makes no sense. But what really makes no sense is that this thing I didn’t even notice for six months is now driving me crazy.

The human propensity to see what we expect to see rather than what’s really there is supposedly a normal phenomenon and even has a name: “inattentional blindness.” Magicians depend on it. But when I find it in myself it’s disorienting, as if the world I think I’m in, and the one I’m really in are alternate universes.

In the art world there’s “inattentional blindness” in that people often don’t experience more than what they think they’re supposed to, based on what they’ve been told the art is about. Whenever I go to a museum I’m struck by how many more people are gathered around the wall text than the art itself. When they finally turn to the art, viewing it has turned into a game (like the inverse of “What’s Wrong With this Picture?”) of finding in it what the writer of the wall text was talking about. Any possibility of another experience is lost.

My favorite example of art world “inattentional blindness”—or maybe just fatheadedness—has to do with an altercation I had once with another visitor in James Turrell’s roofless room at PS1-MoMA. Entitled Meeting, the installation was inspired by Turrell’s lifelong involvement with the Quaker faith, and if you’ve visited it you know that you sit on benches around the perimeter to take in the changing sky exposed above. There’s no placard that says you shouldn’t talk, but for most people, even children, the place itself inspires a blissful silence that’s punctuated only by incongruous city sounds from the street you’ve forgotten is below. That day was no different. The fifteen or so visitors were hushed—except for the guy next to me who could not stop whispering to his companion. Psssz, psssz, psssz. It was making me nuts. What could be so important that he had to talk about it just then? Psssz, psssz, psssz. I was annoyed, first with him and then with myself for being annoyed. Psssz, psssz, psssz. Unable to take it anymore I tapped him on the knee and whispered as gently as I could, “This piece is about silence.” He shut up for the next twenty minutes or so but must have been seething the whole time because as he got up to leave he leaned over me and hissed, “This piece isn’t about silence, it’s about light.”