Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In
March 15, 2013
Exactly 37 years ago, on the Ides of March, I moved from Chicago to New York to work as John Coplans’ assistant at Artforum. At the CAA convention in Chicago a couple of months before, manning the booth for The New Art Examiner, I met Coplans and asked him to let me know if he heard of a job in New York. Mind you, I had no intention of moving anywhere; I said it because I wanted to appear worldlier than my young, green, Midwestern self. I wanted to see what it would feel like to be someone who would actually say things like that.
So when Coplans called and offered me the job I was stunned. He also gave me only three days to decide and ten days to get myself there. My children were in Chicago, living with my husband—how could I leave? But my artist friends were insistent. At the time Artforum was the sun that rose and set on the art world; it was like being invited to Oz by the Wizard himself. A creature of the suburbs and married at 19, I didn't know New York, had never been to the museums and galleries I’d read about, so decided that if I could find a place to stay, I’d go for a couple of months and treat it like a work/study program. Coplans could always find another assistant.
When I called Spanish artist Àngels Ribé, who’d spent time in Chicago, and asked if she knew of an apartment, she said she was looking for a roommate. It seemed meant to be—except Àngels lived on the Bowery. My friend, Barry Holden, had visited her there, so I asked him, “Aren’t there like bums and stuff on the Bowery?” “Oh no,” he said, “it’s been gentrified. There are galleries and boutiques all up and down.” (This was 1976.)
My friends who worked at the Museum of Contemporary Art packed my stereo system like art and I took it on the plane with me, along with my suitcases (those were the days!). When the taxi dropped me off in front of 331 Bowery, Àngels didn’t answer my ring, and as I waited, my boxes attracted the curiosity of the denizens of the street who surrounded me. I looked around for the galleries and boutiques but didn’t see any. Maybe they were on the next block. I tried to drag my belongings into the ground-floor shop but the owner wasn’t having it. Could I use the door that entered into the hallway? “It doesn’t work,” he said, “hasn’t since the fire.” When was the fire? “Last Thursday.”
Finally Àngels came bouncing down the street in the company of one of (I found out later) a string of handsome boy friends, and they helped me take my things upstairs. The next day, having stepped over a drunk on the floor of our foyer, I took the subway to the Artforum offices on Madison Avenue. When later I asked Coplans why he gave me so little time to make the move, he said, “I knew if I gave you more, you wouldn’t come.” And when, after having searched the Bowery from one end to the other, I asked Barry about the galleries and boutiques, he said, “I knew if I told you the truth, you wouldn’t go.”
JOHN COPLANS, Self portrait, (SP 8 88), Front Hand Pinched,1988, photograph, ed. 12, circa 52x64cm
July 20, 2011
I’m not hiding, I’m in Barcelona, where the weather is blissfully temperate, even cool, and since seeing the Àngels Ribé retrospective (1969-84) at the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA), I have been thinking about the current state of conceptual art. What struck me most about the Ribé show was how consciously visual the work is, offering a kind of formal satisfaction that’s lacking in similar work today. But that shouldn’t be surprising when you remember that the pioneers of conceptual art such as Ribé and her contemporaries like Vito Acconci, Hannah Wilke, Gordon Matta-Clark, and Robert Morris were extending the visual art tradition into the conceptual, whereas today the whole idea of conceptual art is so taken for granted that it becomes its own starting place, often more sociological, political and anthropological than, well, there’s no other word for it—artistic.
Ribé’s work is also varied—photographs, video, sculpture, installation—and very much about not “the body,” but specifically her body, how it—and she—relates to space and the world. There is a kind of innocence, purity and lack of self-consciousness about work that isn’t trying to prove or illustrate anything, and that clearly wasn’t made for commercial consumption. And how long has it been since we’ve seen art that was personal without being confessional?
Laberint (Labyrinth), 1969, is made of curtains of PVC, in a color and idea that eerily anticipates Olafur Eliasson.
Ribé and Fred Sandback were working with some of the same concepts at the same time. Here, in 3 points 1, 1970, there is just one line of string, while the other sides of the triangle are formed by its shadow.
From the video Triangle, 1978.
From the video, Amagueu les nines qui passen els lladrés, 1977.