Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In


February 23, 2008

The artist, Doris Salcedo, has titled it Shibboleth, but everyone in London just calls it "The Crack." Salcedo's long, fractured opening in the concrete floor of the vast Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern is the latest installation in the Unilever Series, and a non-event as far as this viewer is concerned, since it never gets wide enough to seem like any kind of real division or threat. Children like fitting themselves into it and waving for the camera, and when I was there parents were busy dipping babies into it, something my friend, Emily, pointed out they would never do if they came across a similar opening in a street or sidewalk. However the Duchamp, Man Ray, and Picabia show, installed in 13 rooms, was totally worth the visit. I liked the T-shirt, too, black with a white Duchamp spiral, but at £25, almost the equivalent of $50, I passed it over.
February 19, 2008

Richard Serra from a video interview at MoMA on NewArtTV: “There isn’t any big paradigm shift. What happens is work comes out of work, and if the paradigm shift occurs, it’s because a problem leads to a different solution that you could not have anticipated.” Serra explains that he began his studio practice, not by plotting out specific pieces, but by asking himself questions such as: “What does it mean to build something that has a fixed joint?” “What does it mean to balance something?…to counterbalance something?” When asked by a journalist how he sees his future work at this point in his career, Serra repeats, “Work comes out of work. I don’t anticipate work to come….I just want to work.”

Ah, more support for my contention that art springs not from the “idea” or “concept” (see Back from VSC 2/1 and Talking the talk or…2/3 and the discussion in the Comments) that so many students are encouraged to have in place before they begin, but from the work itself and the questions it raises. The danger is that a “concept” can easily become a closed circuit—with the work remaining simply an illustration of that concept—whereas a “question” is an open one. This is not to say that there’s no place for analysis, but it’s a different activity, not to be mistaken for the art.

At its best, art produces responses that can’t be quantified—that are sensed rather than understood. So if we’re after something that can’t be understood, or an answer we didn’t anticipate, intellect won’t help us, only intuition—and the work, our process, is the stage we set to allow intuition to unfold.

Similarly, when talking or writing about their work, artists often give so much information, or information extraneous to the experience, that it interferes with the reaction to it and cuts off the possibility of responses they may not have anticipated—you can torture yourself with examples of this also on NewArtTV such as Diana Thater saying, “My work is about, for the most part, learning and knowing through observation that observation is knowledge or intense observation produces knowledge….” Does that make you crazy to see her work or what?

This is why, when I’m king, along with abolishing the artists’ statement, I’ll also regulate wall text, which I’ve noticed museum visitors spend more time with than the work itself. It’s not that information about an exhibition shouldn’t exist, but best relegated to a special room near the exit, one to which visitors can only gain entrance after proving that they’ve actually looked at what’s on display by taking a short quiz.
February 16, 2008

Here signs along the road say “Thank you for driving carefully.” I like that, because it implies that you’re already driving carefully (see CAUTION, below). Positive reinforcement. Also the signs in the parking garages say, “Way out,” which is cooler than “Exit,” man. And regarding England’s current obsession with food and cooking, at Sainsbury’s, which isn’t a specialty store but an ordinary giant supermarket like Gristede’s or Price Chopper, we bought packaged sausage—“6 Scottish wild venison & red wine sausages, coarsely chopped, with fresh sage and redcurrant jelly” (two packages for roughly $7) and a package of wood pigeon breast fillets that the checkout guy—the checkout guy—suggested we sauté with some shallots and a red or port wine reduction.
February 16, 2008
Before I left New York, I stopped in at Ann Taylor to buy my favorite socks and found that they had none at all. The salespeople told me that socks were “out of season.”
February 13, 2008
I'm off to England, which means I may be posting sporadically through the end of the month--but maybe even more often than usual, who knows? I sure can pick my winter getaways, can't I? First upper Vermont, now the U. K. But anything's better than being thigh-high in slush.
February 13, 2008

Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love closed at the Whitney Museum in New York on February 3rd. It can be seen at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles from March 2nd to June 8th.

Following are notes from a conversation I had while surveying the exhibition at the Whitney with J.P., a friend who I used to perform with at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, a black poet who makes a point of going beyond racial content in her work. As you'll see, the conversation is often contradictory and comes to no conclusion, but is presented here simply as fuel for discussion, which may be the biggest contribution of the exhibition itself.

C.D. & J.P.: Everything is, like the subject, black and white: the images, the message. There’s no subtlety.

J.P.: Is it possible that her early success made it difficult for her work to change and grow? The American culture reflects arrested adolescence. It’s the way an adolescent would view sexuality.

C.D.: It reminds me of the pictures of penises the boys in junior high used to draw on their desks.

J.P.: It appears she’s coming out of her own psychic distress. If her intent is to provoke, then she succeeds.

C.D.: But to what end? What are we supposed to do with the feelings she stirs up? Does she change anything?

J.P.: She signifies blackness to the audience who is seeing “the other.” In that way it reinforces the separation. On the other hand, she’s witnessing, testifying, bringing out what’s hidden. It’s compelling on a visual level, moves like a narrative. And she succeeds in throwing us back to that time, that moment. The figures are the same size as our bodies,

C.D.: Our shadows make us cutouts as well. We’re part of the piece.

J.P.: We’re the inheritors of these crimes. And we’re creating our own equally brutal history, with what we’re doing to the Iraqis, and to nature. And in art…look at Damien Hirst and his shark at the Met. Here’s a being that swam, lived, and worked—a creature greater than all of Damien Hirst’s parts, and one that’s not allowed peace in his death. Damien is like the devil, and his last name should be “hurts” rather than Hirst. The shark has no rights, it’s a commodity.

C.D.: Is racism Walker’s commodity?

J.P.: She is a product of this history.

C.D.: In one way or another, we are all the children of slavery. PC art allows people to get off too easily. If you’re black, the message reinforces feelings of victimization—while whites see this show or collect the work and therefore feel absolved of something, the way people in the Roman Catholic Church used to buy indulgences.

J.P.: This is her present experience, but she’s stating the same problem over and over. The most intimate moment is when you see the newspaper pictures of the senators from Mississippi, the white slave owners.

C.D.: They’re the most complex—and the true victims, because their psyches are twisted.

J.P.: Walker achieves something complex even though it feels simple. It works psychologically, and feels claustrophobic.

C.D.: After you spend time with it, the atmosphere is suffusing, suffocating; you can almost feel what it was like to be alive then. In that way it’s more powerful than I expected. However there are no deep or complex issues at work here; it’s simply a matter of the good guys and the bad guys, titillating images no matter who's behind them. I fear that art that relies on stereotype works on base emotions and ultimately only reinforces the differences.

I’m more interested in art that doesn’t borrow energy from sensationalism but has power on its own. We'll know that the art world has overcome its innate sexism and racism when the Whitney, MoMA, or the Guggenheim features a black female artist whose work has nothing to do with gender or race.
If you saw the exhibition—or even if you didn’t, since a no-show by an art-interested New Yorker is a statement in itself—please post a long or short review as a Comment below.
Holland Cotter in The New York Times

Christian Viveros-Faune in The Village Voice

Howard Halle in Time Out New York

Jerry Saltz in New York, republished on ArtNet

Hilton Als in The New Yorker (profile)
February 13, 2008
Please sign this online petition to Mayor Bloomberg to help get the ousted artists back into their homes and workspaces:
February 10, 2008
Even if the building were unsafe, for the Fire Department to come on a frigid Sunday evening and suddenly order everyone out of their homes and into the streets, seems cruel, unusual, and inhumane. What, didn't they know that morning? Or on the previous Friday? And were people really safer on the streets in sub-freezing temperatures than in a building, any building? This has happened before, but often the landlord was behind it. Not here, which makes one wonder what's really going on. And where is Mr. Art, Mayor Bloomberg?

Here's the follow-up from The New York Times.