My direct experience with the zeitgeist was when Frank Del Deo, my dealer at Hirshl & Adler Modern (now at Knoedler), asked me—this was around 1995—if I knew the work of Italian artist Alighiero e Boetti (1940-94). I didn’t, but sought out his work and when I found it, it was like looking at myself. And, of course, now, I'm a big fan.
Which is Carol's and which is Alighiero's? Okay, mine is on the top and his is on the bottom. And while mine is painted, his is embroidered. But still....
If it’s closed, open it. If it’s open, close it. If it’s wet, dry it. If it’s dry, wet it. And in every case use cortisone.
And I’ve been told that in the orchestral and opera world it’s violists and tenors who don’t get no respect, but then it was a baritone who told me that.
Interestingly, the drummer jokes also involve pizza, as in:
What’s the difference between a drummer and a pizza?
A pizza can feed a family of four.
How do you make a drummer’s car go faster?
Take the pizza sign off the top.
How do you get a drummer off your porch?
However, according to Robby, there’s something even worse than being a drummer, and that’s a folkie, something I never aspired to be.
How many folk singers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
One to screw it in and six to sing about how great the old one was.
What’s a folksinger without a girl friend?
What happens when a folk singer wins the lottery?
He gets to play a lot more gigs.
But even the folk world has its hierarchy, with banjo players at the bottom:
What’s perfect pitch?
Being able to throw a banjo ten feet into the garbage can.
What happens when a banjo player leaves his car in a bad neighborhood?
He comes back and it’s filled with banjoes.
And back to rock musicians, there’s this one; no doubt the drummers getting back:
How many lead singers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
One to put it in and wait for the world to revolve around him.
I only dimly remember once hearing a joke about an artist, having something to do with real estate and outhouses. Curious, I looked up “artist jokes” on the Web, and found a bunch but they weren’t very funny. Except for this one:
How many performance artists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
I don’t know. I left.
Agreed. And I’ll add that to be compelling visually, art must also be compelling conceptually. We’re in a new century, and it’s time we stopped categorizing art by medium—photography, painting, sculpture, video, installation, and so on, with conceptual art in another category. To succeed, all art must be conceptual, just as it must address formally its reason for being considered visual art.
The test is in how well the conceptual and the formal elements are synthesized—to the point that the ultimate experience of the art is about neither, but something else entirely.
Of course the wonderful thing about art is that it operates in a realm beyond language, so we may not be able to explain the concept—in fact it may be better if we can’t, because if it can be grasped fully in words, then the execution has no role other than that of illustration. Further, the best art may engage numerous concepts, which may or may not have been intended by the artist.
[And BTW, unless I’m doing graduate crits, I’m not interested in the “artist’s intention.” The experience is the experience, and what the artist was trying to do is of no value. This is why artists’ statements are irrelevant and, in fact, if not on a par with the art, can detract from it.]
So while we can’t define concept—or “content” as we’ve become accustomed to calling it—we know when it’s there and when it’s not. We can tell when abstraction crosses the line and becomes simply “design.” We know when realism is about rendering rather than something bigger, or when “concept” turns out to be no more than novelty.
The last century was about experimentation with media—as well as what could be done without it. But we’re over that. We’re over being excited about something just because it’s video, or because the artist figured out how to make something out of bat shit, and we’ve discovered that painting is still interesting because it’s the most plastic, and therefore most expressive of materials. Now that the toolbox has been opened and found to hold every possibility, the question is, in service to what? And how do we evaluate the results?
My garden, at the moment, is very visually compelling--and edible. Now if I could just plant a little concept...
Before I'm lambasted by vegetarians and others pointing out how our penchant for beef is destroying the planet, I know, I know. Philosophically, I'm there. Because of that I've given vegetarianism my best try a number of times, with all the attendant righteousness and attention to protein grams. And I'll admit that after the first three days of my foray into macrobiotics, strangers were assuming my 13-years-younger boy friend and I were the same age. However I now believe that while some people are meant to be vegetarians, others aren't—there are even theories that base this on blood type—and I'm just not. A few days without animal protein and I wilt.
So no longer holier-than-thou, I'm eating hamburgers. And when Jane admitted today that she'd never cooked one, I proffered my method (the chutzpah!), learned from my mother:
P.S. Son Matt, a culture critic who's always ahead of the curve, wrote this about where to find the best burgers in LA.
It speaks to the durability of oil paintings on canvas that they’ve survived being moved by everyone from professional art handlers (including one cross-country company with the encouraging slogan, “Every time an artwork is moved it dies a little”) to the likes of my handyman in the back of his pickup truck—with only one serious mishap, a slice from a box-cutter that was, fortunately, in the hands of a pro with insurance.
Compared to some of my friends (such as Lucio Pozzi, whose storage area looks like a branch of Costco) I don’t have that much. But I believe an artist’s own history is his/her greatest resource, and have kept to my practice of hanging onto the paintings where I made the most significant changes. However when you add those to my collection of half-baked paintings just waiting to get the new layer that will make them masterpieces (I don’t give up on anything), it adds up to a lot of stuff, especially for a person who, in the rest of her life, likes to keep stuff to a minimum.
So I’ve hired a teenager. Every day Leah comes for an hour or two (she has another job washing lettuce for her farmer father who, she tells me, outfitted a household washing machine to dry greens on the spin cycle) and together we unwrap the paintings, vacuum the backs, damp wipe the faces, re-wrap them in glassine, and clean the cardboard dividers. That’s the hard part, getting all that cardboard clean, but I’m too ecological (or cheap) to buy more, and besides, have no idea where to get 4 x 8 sheets here in the country now that the mills have closed. So there we are, Leah and me, down on the floor, scrubbing the cardboard with damp rags (actually microfiber Miracle Cloths, one of the all-time great inventions, up there with Velcro and Post-its). She likes the part where we throw all the old plastic sheeting and unsalvageable cardboard out the third floor window to the driveway below and says she can’t wait until someone asks her what she’s doing this summer so she can say, “Washing cardboard.” Me too.
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":
A corner of the kitchen:
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.