Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In
Finally, a little soundtrack (play here) for this Icelandic theme by Skúli Sverrisson (thanks to Nina Hubbs Zurier).
All images © 2011 Goddur
All images: Guðmundur Oddur Magnússon, 2010.
Thanks to reader, Sid Garrison, for linking me with Guðmundur Oddur Magnússon and these incredible photos. Goddur, as he is called, is a professor at the Iceland Academy of the Arts, as is my former SVA grad student, Hulda Stefánsdóttir. Hulda and Sigur Ros were responsible for my original interest in Iceland, and I’m grateful to Olafur Eliasson and Art in America for getting me there for my first visit in 2004.
Also Hulda sent me this link to a live feed from the volcano.
Which comes first, the artist or the landscape? I remember being profoundly disappointed when I went to Aix-en-Provence and discovered that the countryside looked exactly like a Cezanne. Damn! He just painted what was in front of him--although he did elaborate a bit on Mount St. Victoire, which was punier than I expected. And Venice looks just like Canaletto, Paris like that rainy day Caillebotte at the Art Institute in Chicago I've always loved, and while I haven't been to China, a friend told me that the mountains and mist look just like--Chinese paintings. So now that I live on the edge of the Hudson River Valley I think a lot about the painters of the Hudson River School and how they, too, were painting just what was in front of them. Or were they? Perhaps I see it the way I see it because I've been shown it through their eyes.
I thought about this a lot on our trip to
I get annoyed when people apologize for photographs, but this is the best I have of the cliff line with waterfalls at Þingvellir, taken around 11:00 at night with an overcast sky. At least you get the idea. I haven't yet got the hang of taking photographs in Iceland, but it's something I look forward to working on.
Readers of this blog know how passionate I am about keeping the art experience free from any interference that attempts to interpret the work for viewers or bombard them with information that gives the impression that art is about, well, information. This is a philosophy I share with Robert Irwin and Olafur, who was greatly influenced by Irwin (did I get the idea from them or was I attracted to them because of it?—another question that can never be answered). No wonder I’m so comfortable in
The only sign I saw at Gulfoss, one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland. The cloverleaf symbol indicates an official site of natural or historic interest.
And now I’m off to
Erica noted that everyone walks slowly to the point where, if we concentrated on it, the people on Reykjavik’s main shopping street appeared to be moving in slow motion. They are also quiet spoken, but at the same focused and deliberate. Is this because their sense of time is so unlike ours? In Iceland, rather than moving through time, you are suspended in it, and indeed we were told that the Vikings didn’t divide the year into months but gave each day its own name. I loved that it was light all the time, although the landscape seems less dramatic (if that’s possible) in summer because the light is more diffused. When I was in Iceland in the fall, the sun hovered just above the horizon, always in your eyes and casting long shadows from even the smallest rocks. Last week there was an hour or so of twilight around midnight and then, with a change that was more sensation than visually perceptible (something a photograph, for instance, could not capture), it would shift to dawn. In the space of a few minutes I’d go from anticipating more of the evening ahead to feeling as if I’d been up all night and wanting to go to sleep. There was also a different pattern of activity—more people out on Reykjavik’s streets at midnight on Saturday than at any time during the day.
Landscape at Þingvellir, with flowers for scale
Gullfoss: if you look carefully, you can see people standing on the top of the ridge
Venice is the perfect place for a phase of art to die. No other city on earth embraces entropy quite like this magical floating mall. There are now more than 100 biennales around the world (most of them put together by the same 25 celebrity curators, drawing from the same pool of 100 or so artists); Venice is often called "the most important" of them. The main show of the 53rd Venice Biennale, June 7-Nov. 22, 2009, is the work of Daniel Birnbaum, a well-respected 46-year-old Swedish critic and curator. His "Making Worlds," held in the Palazzo delle Esposizioni delle Biennale and in the magnificent Arsenale, attains an enervating inertia of exhibitions and brings us to a terminal state of what we’ll call "the curator problem."
Birnbaum’s show, containing the work of 90-plus artists, doesn’t offend or go off the rails. Rather, it looks pretty much the way these sorts of big international group shows and cattle calls now look; it includes the artists that these sorts of shows now include. It’s full of the reflexive conceptualism that artists everywhere now produce because other artists everywhere produce it (and because curators curate it). Almost all of this art comments on art, institutions or modernism. Basically, curators seem to love video, text, explanations, things that are "about" something, art that references Warhol or Prince, or that makes sense; they seem to hate painting, things that don’t make sense or that involve overt materiality, physicality, color or strangeness.
Any critic who says this, of course, is accused of conservatism, of wishing for a return to painting. I’m not for or against video -- or any medium or style, for that matter. Nor am I wishing for a return to painting, which can never come back because it never went away. (That said, it’s hard to imagine anything more conservative today than an institutional critique. That sort of work is the establishment.) My beef is with the experience that "Making Worlds" produces. It’s just another esthetically familiar feedback cycle: impersonal, administratively adept, highly professionalized, formally generic, mildly gregarious, esthetically familiar, totally knowing, cookie-cutter. It is time we broke out of that enervated loop.