Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In


October 30, 2010
Lest you think the country is all about jeans and fleece--that's the weekenders. The locals are fashion forward even as they tackle their chores. This is my adorable neighbor, Arianna LaBosco, as I caught her decked out for the raking and pruning detail:

October 23, 2010
Thoughts are so onerous. I’m envious of birds that can flit around without having to think about stuff all the time. I mean maybe they think about stuff, but it’s important stuff, like where to find the next worm. As humans our heads are filled with…filler. Thoughts that serve no practical purpose. Nature could have at least provided us with an on/off switch. Oh there’s sleep, of course, which can, as Shakespeare so beautifully put it, knit up the raveled sleeve of care, but that only lasts until we wake up and are again at our own mercy.

Meditate, they say. Well I have, forever. There’s a great misunderstanding about meditation, as it’s generally perceived to be a state without thought, and I’m here to tell you the bad news—that thoughts are inevitable, and no matter how much you meditate, they keep on coming, like waves on the sea. What you learn from meditation is not to be attached to them. You get a thought, wave it bye-bye, and are on to the next thought. You learn that, while the act of thinking isn’t optional, the content is. Great! All that practice to finally realize that our thoughts are absolutely meaningless, and the beliefs we once held so dear are simply thoughts we think more consistently than others. Trust me, it was much more fun when I took the shit my mind made up seriously. 

So now what?  I’ve lived long enough to know that, outside of the occasional glass of red wine and a complete dependence on chocolate, drugs are not the answer; further, I just can’t get into golf, and Sudoku makes my head hurt.

This is why I am an artist. Because art is language without words, communication that’s capable of skipping over the thinking part and going straight to feeling mode. This is why I hate artists’ statements, because they’re an attempt to add a rational motive to something that, when it’s at its best, is irrational. And this is also why I lean toward abstract, or rather, non-representational, art, because it’s mediation-free; with few indications of how one is expected to respond, it just is what it is. While I didn't start out with an intention—I was simply doing what I was doing—I  realize now that for the last few years I’ve been experimenting with recognizable images, to see if I can create a non-directed, abstract experience while still using pictures, if that makes any sense, which I hope it doesn’t. Fuck, I think I just wrote an artists’ statement.

Where I End and You Begin, 2007, oil on panel, 12" x 18".
October 12, 2010
I have no doubt that “The Social Network” will become a classic, the defining film of an era. Somehow the producers managed to make a gripping story about something inherently static—people sitting behind computers—that’s brilliantly executed and acted. However I still don’t understand how it’s legal to fictionalize the experiences of living persons—put words into their mouths as it were, without their permission. Bad enough that we have to live with our own histories, without having also to contend with the fallout from those created by others (nevertheless, I’ve decided to give Hollywood full rights to my life story, as long as I am played by Penelope Cruz).

It amused me that “The Social Network” ended with a Beatles song, “Baby You’re a Rich Man,” because throughout (having just read the Beatles’ biography described in the post below) I was thinking about the similarities between the Facebook story and the Beatles’ trajectory—guys in their early 20s, misfits in their own way, who engendered social/cultural phenomena on a scale so new and massive it would have been impossible to predict, creating situations (and legal problems) no one had dealt with before. Both had forward-thinking mentors (Facebook’s Sean Parker, formerly of Napster, was the Beatles’ Brian Epstein and George Martin rolled into one), and both found it necessary to fire a founding member of the team who was also a good friend because he couldn’t keep up with the vision—and both did it in a nasty, cowardly manner. In the film, Parker delivers the final blow to Eduardo Saverin, whose business school mentality was a drag on the program. Like Saverin, the Beatles’ Pete Best (who was also the band heartthrob) was there from the beginning, chosen originally because he owned a drum kit—a big consideration in those lean days—and could keep a beat. Further Best’s mum was the band’s den mother who, in the club she established in the basement of her Liverpool home, gave them some of their earliest performance opportunities. Yet when the Beatles decided Best’s leaden style was holding them back (wanting to replace him with Ringo, the best drummer on the scene) they left it to Brian Epstein do the deed.

There’s also another issue here—that of stolen ideas.  I’m not saying Mark Zuckerberg shouldn’t have compensated the others, but he’s right when he says, effectively, that they would not have made Facebook what it was. There is the idea, and the doing something with the idea, two different things entirely. I participated in a symposium at the Guggenheim on the occasion of The Gates, when an artist stood up and complained, bitterly, that Christo and Jeanne-Claude had stolen her idea. She didn’t get much support from the audience, who recognized that orange flags were only part of the project (and I remember thinking that someone who was so embroiled in wrongs from the past, would never have the open spirit needed to negotiate its ultimate realization). I have had ideas stolen—or let’s say “adapted”—several times. It isn’t pleasant, but it goes with the creative territory.  Once a visiting artist where I was teaching (who had even complained in his lecture about his dearth of ideas) blatantly “adapted” a graduate students's concept.  As he walked out the door after the critique, her studio mate predicted, “You’re going to see these in Chelsea in a year and a half,” and it happened, right on schedule. While I was furious, my student not so flapped, and in the end I said to her, “Don’t worry, while you’re going to have many more new ideas, he’s not.”

And he hasn’t.

By the same token, when someone accuses a Christo (or George Harrison or Coldplay) of “artistic theft” it seems especially silly, because these are people who clearly have come up with so many ideas, it seems unlikely that they’d intentionally stoop to stealing.  But it could happen--here’s an example of a similarity that cropped up between artists who are, for all intents and purposes, equals. You can be the judge.

And, as I mentioned in a previous post, two artists can, without any contact at all, come up with almost exactly the same thing—the example I gave was the paintings I did without ever having seen those by Alighiero e Boetti.

Oh well, it all makes for a good story.


October 2, 2010
I find I have taken an inadvertent vacation from my blog—not for any particular reason, I just didn’t have any thoughts or opinions, which anyone who has known me for longer than five minutes will find difficult to believe. It happens rarely, but it does happen.

I did go to the Chelsea gallery openings and saw some shows I enjoyed (Joan Snyder, Judy Pfaff, and Jane Rosen) and others I thought were ridiculous (best left unsaid), as well as Gerhard Richter at the Drawing Center in SoHo, which I didn’t love but, regardless, found surprisingly inspiring. I bought the catalogue and when I came back to my studio, all I wanted to do was draw.

I also discovered a new art material: PanPastels.  A while ago, out of the blue, the company sent me some samples to try, and I recently unearthed them. They call them “painting pastels,” and the colors, which are highly pigmented, come in little pots like rouge and are not overly dusty, so it’s like painting, but without the muss and fuss. I love that I can just up and leave the drawing board and when I come back hours later my brushes haven’t gone stiff, and nothing has dried up. They can be purchased in individual colors ($5.14 each at Dick Blick) and in sets, and my only complaint is that the sets don’t really contain what I want (you have to order a set of 20 to get one that contains orange!) and if they do there are duplicates (Payne’s Gray appears in both the gray and the blue sets of five each).  But it’s a small quibble, and every day I compulsively order more. 

Drawing, 9/30/10, graphite and pastel on paper, 9" x 12"

I also became completely hooked on a book—a fascinating, in-depth (875 pages), and completely annotated biography of
Lou Reed on my roof, in a chair by Phillippe Starck. Photo by Christian Coigny for Vitra, ca. sometime in the 90s 
September 17, 2010
Since Terry Perk is here from England to edit, with cinematographer Erica Spizz, our short film about the collaboration between Olafur Eliasson and Einar Thorsteinn, this is a good moment to post some photos from Olafur's Berlin show--his first--at the Martin Gropius-Bau exhibition hall. 

The Model Room, reinstalled:

A room of fog that changes colors:

September 6, 2010

Doris Salcedo, Shibboleth (2008), Tate Modern, London

Thanks for the thoughtful comments on the post below, and if you didn’t read them before, please do. They are all worth reprinting, but here are two snippets:

“beebe” said: The problem at this point is systemic. Having somewhat recently gone through an MFA program, the main focus was on the statement--talking about the work, weaving a skein of bullshit around the work. The language surrounding the work and your inevitable defense of the language (and, secondarily of course, the work) is more important than actively making better work.

From “CAP”: Even critics want to take their cue from the artist's best intentions, in advancing an interpretation or assessment. But this really reflects a lack of confidence in an historical framework and personal intuition. The critic turns to intention to skirt thornier issues of style and form….

Whenever I bring up artist’s statements, it seems to touch a nerve.  And rarely, if ever, have I gotten a comment in their defense (such as “I love artist’s statements!” “Once I read one, I can't wait to read more!”) yet they persist—like the weather, everyone talks about them but no one actually does anything.

There are several issues at play here. “Thi Bui” who doesn’t like “self-absorbed or insincere statements either” asks, however, “why don't we care about where the work comes from, or what the artist is trying to do?”

We don’t care because it has nothing to do with the experience of the work. Like music, the beauty of visual art—emphasis on the word visual—is its ability to communicate through non-verbal means, and is therefore more about sensation than thought. The delight is in its mystery, which by its nature defies explanation. If we want to communicate messages, writing is a better vehicle.

Also, any statement that tells us what a work is about or what the artist intends, limits the interpretation—in effect it pre-digests the experience so that it's hard to see it through any other lens. My favorite example is Doris Salcedo’s (2008) installation, 
the “crack” at the Tate Modern that I wrote about with relish in two blog posts. On its own, the piece was quite powerful; recalling fault lines or dry riverbeds, it threatened our sense of stability and security, brought to mind all manner of social and physical separations and divisions, the unknown beneath our feet, the feeling that nothing is permanent, nothing is forever, that there are forces bigger than ourselves….and I’m just getting started. But once you become aware that Salcedo sees her work as “addressing a long legacy of racism and colonialism that underlies the modern world…” the whole thing goes flat, suddenly no more than a grandiose illustration of a lofty and banal idea.

Artists work from instinct, and may not be aware of the various possibilities of experience and interpretation that the work makes available. Interpretation is the work of philosophers and critics, and as an artist I’ve learned more about what my work “means” by reading about it than I did through the thoroughly intuitive process of making it.

The problem is that curators and critics are also relying on biography, intention, and social content to interpret art and justify it. When I wrote my article about Anne Truitt for Art in America, I devoted a portion of the article and several blog posts (see label for Anne Truitt) to the way the curator insisted on interpreting Truitt’s work through biography in the most elementary way—while acknowledging that “Truitt herself was reticent to make fully explicit the connections she nevertheless acknowledged between her life and art.” I came to the conclusion that the curator, who was a graduate of a curatorial program, simply did not know any other way to assess art.

However there is another way: observation
the act of looking at and experiencing the work and, as CAP points out, having confidence in our personal intuition.

What’s there is there, right in front of you, and what’s not there is….not.

Photo: Carol Diehl (2008)
September 6, 2010
I guess I’m out of it if I have to read about viral video in the Timeseven Glenn Beck is ahead of me here.  But if I missed The Gregory Brothers “Auto-Tune the News” on You Tube, maybe you did too. When I was awake last night, unable to sleep at 3:00 a.m., this had me laughing out loud.

September 2, 2010

An interactive film by Chris Milk

Featuring "We Used To Wait" by Arcade Fire

A merging of art and technology that doesn’t require any kind of “statement.” Click on The Wilderness Downtown and follow the instruction. You may need the Google Chrome browser for this, but it’s worth it—actually I like Google Chrome, and find its single address/search box very handy.

Prepare to be blown away.