Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In

Matt Freedman

Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In

May 23, 2013
Matt Freedman, Dead Man's Hand, epoxy and cards, 2013.

I’ve started writing this post a million times, but there’s no good way to begin. Okay, there’s an exhibition at Studio 10 in Bushwick by my beloved friend, Matt Freedman, who’s been strenuously treated for a rare form of cancer since the fall. The show, in Matt’s ironic, funny, touching, and self-deprecating way, is about his experience, and although heartbreaking, it’s not depressing. It’s just Matt, and art. Not art meant for the walls of the 1%, not art to further a career, not art meant to make a pithy statement about the human condition or to show off craft, but art made because Matt is an artist and this is how he processes the events of his life. If you want to know what art really is, this is it.

The title of the exhibition is “The Devil Tricked Me,” and indeed we could say the devil tricked all of us who know Matt, who has not a mean bone in his body. In the more than 20 years I’ve known him, I can’t remember hearing him say anything against anyone. Wickedly smart and without a shred of guile (two characteristics that often don’t go together), Matt's conversation tends toward humorous, gently ironic observation—as does his writing and art—and here he is observing himself face-to-face with mortality and his heroic attempts to thwart it. The 13 objects, all depicting folk admonitions of bad luck—broken mirrors, “three on a match,” stepping on a crack in the sidewalk—were made, for obvious reasons, without a lot of attention to craft. Yet nothing could be more heart wrenching than Matt’s pile of open and slightly crushed umbrellas, those fragile objects made to protect us that can so often fail. And the rainbow-colored ladder, which we must walk under, could be a stairway to heaven or, as I prefer to think of it, a way out, the escape route back to normal life.

Along with the exhibition are reproductions, for sale, of the journal with sketches Matt made during his extreme treatment. Again, I can only read a little bit each day, but it’s a way of keeping Matt in my thoughts. As his friends, we won’t let the devil trick us—having Matt in our lives is some of the best luck we’ll ever have. We love you, Matt!

Update: And here, a detailed and eloquent review of the show by Thomas Mitchell.

September 14, 2009


Thursday night a bunch of us ran around like madmen in the rain to as many Chelsea openings as we could squeeze into the two-hour window. I wanted my socks knocked off but alas, they were not. (No doubt 21st century art will look very different from 20th century art, but no one seems to have figured it out yet.)

William Blake at the Morgan Library

Friday, however, Roberto had the brilliant idea of spending the day, also rainy, at the Morgan Library where William Blake’s World: A New Heaven is Begun had just opened (runs through January 3rd). The exhibition is gorgeous, with wall text even I approve of: Blake’s poems and descriptions of his images. Fortunately there were few enough visitors that I could quietly speak the poems to myself, which is how I most enjoy poetry and its cadence. There were also illuminated medieval manuscripts from the collection, where the text follows the back story of a prayer book that was cut up and pieces sold, only to be discovered later and re-inserted into the original. Without Roberto’s prodding I would’ve skipped the show of acquisitions since 2004, small gems from various eras chosen with a discerning curatorial eye (or, no doubt “eyes” – the curators aren’t credited). Contemporary highlights were Mary Frank’s owl, a black presence with spread wings that hovers across the top of an otherwise blank white paper, a Jim Dine drawing of wrenches from 2000 that’s absolutely beautiful (I haven’t lost my mind, it really is), a sweet little James Siena and a small, stunning Stephen Antonakos painting of an interrupted red circle on a bright blue background—none of which I can post because, here again, photographs were prohibited, and there was no press material at the front desk (they said it was “too soon” for the Blake) nor anyone available to talk to.

We had a posh lunch in the paneled and high-ceilinged dining room (under the self-important gaze of Mr. Morgan’s portrait) where I enjoyed a tower of perfectly pan-seared rainbow trout, Nick had the Apre Fronte ravioli (whatever that is), and Roberto feasted delicately on the lunch special that was inspired by the medieval manuscript exhibition: tiny roasted legs of quail with a watercress and red grape salad and an aperitif of iced mead, which tasted of honey and flowers.


I love it when artists do stuff just for the sake of doing it, and I’m actually happier crammed into a scruffy walk-up loft with 100 people drinking warm beer than in Mr. Morgan’s rarified dining room. So Friday night, still in the rain, I negotiated the long desolate streets of Long Island City to attend one of Matt Freedman’s projects, “Twin Twin III, Artists Edition” on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

Matt, an old friend, has a rumpled disarming manner and genuinely seems to think he doesn’t know anybody or do anything when, in fact, he knows everyone and is always working on a gazillion quirky projects, none of which—like the “Iron Artist” event he arranged at PS 1 in 2006—ever promises the remotest possibility of remuneration. Another friend, who he doesn’t know, described Matt as “a Williamsburg fixture” which I thought sounded too static. Matt suggested “dynamic presence” or “moving target” but said anything was fine as long as it wasn’t “local artist.”

The idea behind “Twin Twin” came from being so bombarded with images by the media after September 11th that anything that was long, narrow, rectangular and there were two of began to bear a creepy resemblance to the World Trade Center buildings. Previous shows consisted of a collection of everyday objects and pieces he’d modeled, but for this third iteration it seemed natural to Matt, whose projects are often contingent on the contributions of others, to open it up to 50 or so artist friends (my contribution was a pair of found champagne glasses gilded with “2001”). The result, as it was installed in Kate Teale's Big & Small/Casual Gallery (up for only three days), was a hodge-podge, darkly funny and unnerving.

Matt in a photograph from the 2006 Pierogi edition:

And Kate’s niece, Rose, at the opening, inadvertently surrounded by many “twin towers.”

Photo by David Henderson

Afterward we went to have barbecue at a nearby bar where the cook alternately doled out dollar bills to make change and arranged spare ribs ($10) on paper plates without removing his latex gloves, and I had to protect my portion from the big dog that was under the table. The ribs were delicious.


Saturday evening it was not raining (much), and I was back in the Berkshires for the opening of a group show, “The Great Impression,” at Geoffrey Young’s gallery in Great Barrington. Geoff is a writer, poet, publisher (poetry and art criticism, including anthologies by Jerry Saltz and Peter Schjeldahl), and onetime professor who has operated out of this small, second floor space for as long as I’ve been coming to the Berkshires. Open Thursday through Saturday five and a half months a year, it’s a real gallery, in the sense that Geoff actually does sell work, but it’s usually small and affordable, often unframed, tacked up on the wall. Also Geoff can be haphazard about his mailing list (if you get dropped off it, don’t take it personally) and updating his Web site (it’s current now, but last month when I was in one of his shows, a friend called and said, “The opening is Sunday, not Friday, and you’re not in it” to which I suggested she check the date—2008). But while Geoff is happy to do business, it’s not really the point—which is, as far as I can tell, to have a good time and stimulate intellectual foment in these bucolic parts. And that he does very well. He’s a master at mixing things up—well-known artists, such as Jim Shaw and James Siena, known and not-so-known area artists, and discoveries from New York and elsewhere. Where and how Geoff finds artists seems to be his secret, but his eye is sure, and with every show there’s at least one happy surprise. He opens his rambling art-filled Victorian home to the out-of-towners and everyone gathers there after dinner to play ping-pong and talk about art in a way that never seems to happen in the city.

For dinner we went downstairs on Railroad Street to Allium, a restaurant that doesn’t quite live up to its pretentions—or price—but the company made up for it. And I have to admit the maple pot de crème was amazing.

From the show:

Cary Smith, New Graphite, Small Drawing #8, 2009, 12" x 11'

Erick Johnson, Untitled (PP78). 2008, Gouache on paper, 8.5" x 11".

August 22, 2008
This from Matt Freedman:
I was pleased to see the Lost Puppy pop up on your blog (below), Carol, especially in the context of a post about art storage, self respect, and need for artists to devise schemes to defend their art. The Lost Puppy's only reason for being, as a matter of fact, is to address all those issues. That you snagged it off the Internet on a whim speaks volumes about either the power of chance or your supernatural curatorial eye. Perhaps both. The Puppy was made for artist Adam Simon's Fine Art Adoption Network (FAAN), which he created in cooperation with Art In General. It's a website designed to put artists together with art lovers who lack the means to buy art. Basically the artist posts an image of a piece he or she is interested in giving away. Visitors to the site who like the piece can write the artist and enter into an online conversation with them. If the artist deems the potential collector worthy, they work out a mutually agreeable means of transferring the piece from the artist to the collector. The idea for the project began when Adam realized he could no longer afford to keep a large old painting in storage. It was a good painting, but there was no one around to buy it. Why not find a collector who had the same interest in art that a "regular collector" does, except without the money? The work would be saved, a person who loved art would have a piece they liked, the art world would grow in size and diversity, and the artist would have one less headache in the studio. Everything would be ideal, except of course, the artist would still be broke. Nothing is perfect. Anyway the idea caught on and now FAAN is a pretty thriving operation. It's a brilliant project, I think, and I was eager to join, but my own contribution, the Lost Puppy, was not kicking around the studio taking up space. In fact, it was made specifically to be given away. No one ever said I was practical. I liked the idea of giving work away, but it was the relationship between the giver and the taker that fascinated me more than the opportunity to unload stuff. One of the half-joking objections made to Adam as he was organizing FAAN was that he was simply giving artists the opportunity to learn that they couldn't even give their work away, and I too was drawn to the idea that at its bottom what was really being conducted was a test of the desirability of the work itself. Putting a monetary value on a piece changes it into a commodity—with all the market-driven forces at work outside of its pure appeal coming into effect in determining whether or not someone decides to acquire it. Taking away any monetary value laid it bare, so I felt I had to make a piece that literally begged to be taken in. What could be more desirable than a lost puppy, with big eyes, floppy ears and a crooked tail? Nature designed them to be adorable as a survival mechanism after all. At any rate, it worked and the Puppy was wooed by many suitors, finally ending up with a class of fifth graders in Canada, whose own cuteness worked as a kind of reverse lever on me, prying loose the Puppy after much backing and forthing. It's in a case at the school now, I hear, with a broken ear that the teacher repaired. As long as a work of art resides with the artist, it can be protected; after it leaves the studio it has to fend for itself. I remember back in 1999 Santiago Calatrava was asked to design a time capsule for the Museum of Natural History that would not be opened for 1,000 years. Various schemes where considered to ensure that it fulfilled its function; should the capsule be so big and strong it could never break? Should it be buried deep in the ground to protect it with the hope it would someday be rediscovered? As I recall, in the end Calatrava said the best defense the capsule could have against its own destruction would be that people would value it and take care of it for the 1,000 years of its life, and the best way to ensure that was to make it as beautiful as possible: beauty as survival mechanism. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder of course—sleek swoopy time capsule or lumpy Puppy, take your pick. In the end, we can only defend our art for so long; sooner or later, somebody else has to care too. c

I think it was Lost Puppy’s innate appeal that prompted me to choose it to represent Matt’s art when writing about the care of artworks. A fine example of purpose inherent in the work—hurrah! Needs no explanation. What I didn’t realize until now is that the article I chose to link to when mentioning Louise Bourgeois—one I wrote for Art & Antiques years ago—about the garden sculpture her father collected, is on the same theme. Protected by their value as art, the sculptures survived only until their material—lead—became worth even more when melted down to make bullets for World War II.
August 21, 2008
Yesterday my team of teenage assistants, led by the industrious Leah, helped me to complete the cleaning and reorganization of my painting storage, and it feels as if the studio can finally breathe—although now that everything’s so tidy it hardly looks like a project that would take weeks to do. I found it interesting that when, at Joanne Mattera’s suggestion, I wrote my first post about it, people were moved to comment, underscoring what an issue storage is for artists. Then, as I was sharing my elation at putting this task behind me with my friend, sculptor Matt Freedman, he commented that, “taking care of your work is a way of acknowledging your commitment to it, of being respectful toward it”—something I’d never thought about—and that “conservatorship is the final act of assessing a work’s value.” He was reminded of an anecdote I told him many years ago, about Louise Bourgeois pounding a table and saying, “We must defend our art!” That was in a different context completely—after I’d told her how I’d managed to keep a sexist contributor’s blurb about me from being published—but it works here as well. Yes, we must defend our work. Because if we don’t, who will?
Matt Freedman, Lost Puppy, 2006.
May 18, 2008
This is me, confronting my demons on the psychoanalytic couch that’s the centerpiece of Jude Tallichet’s show at Sara Meltzer. Cast in bronze and looking seductively comfy when it’s really hard—very hard—and scratchy, it’s the perfect metaphor. I’m not into back-stories, but that this is a replica of the couch from her late psychiatrist father-in-law’s office adds another poignant layer. I love Jude’s work because it’s conceptual yet meticulously rendered, as well as simultaneously deep and funny—like her. Also her friends have the best shoes. Here’s a little photo essay from Friday's opening: