Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In


Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In

April 8, 2009
I'm not a Letterman fan, and thought I was waaay over being amused by GWB's gaffes, but I want to share anything that makes me laugh until I cry, and this, sent to me by Cary Smith is hilarious. That we now have a real president also helps.
January 11, 2009
I really will finish my post about how bored I am with art, but right now I'm too bored to even think about it. What I am excited about is that there are only 9 days left of the Bush regime--hooray! It was fun to be in the capitol pre-inauguration, and these storefronts on M Street in Georgetown reflect the enthusiasm with which all of Washington is greeting our new president:

December 15, 2008
My houseguest, Einar, happened to find in a pile of magazines, an issue of TIME I’d saved for him, the Mind and Body Special Issue: The Brain, a User’s Guide of January, 2007. Looking through it he commented that not only were some of the ideas out-of-date, the entire magazine, from typeface to illustrations to advertisements, looked as if it was not two years but two decades old—a startling example how quickly things are changing. He also found this prescient article by historian Richard Brookhiser entitled “What’s a Resume Got to Do with It?” about one Barack Obama, the then “freshest face in the early lineup of presidential candidates,” which concludes:

Statesmanship is an art, which means that there is always room for inspiration, and for grace. We are right to look for a record of pre-eminent ability when we can find it. But the basic doctrine of republican government, that all men are created equal, can be a surprise bonus for some leaders, as well as a guarantee of rights for all of us. Sometimes greatness appears in unlikely places, even in ordinary pols from Illinois.

My friend, Valerye, sent me this:

November 9, 2008
Shepard Fairey for MoveOn

Growing up in the fifties in a family who Liked Ike, what it meant to be an American was clear to me. America’s history was my family’s history—our forbears came to this country to escape religious persecution in France and England, my Quaker ancestors overcame their pacifism to fight against slavery in the Civil War, my grandfather’s first cousin led the U.S. Naval forces during the Normandy invasion in World War II. Americans were the good guys, the liberators, defenders of human rights. When I said the Pledge of Allegiance every day in my public school, there was a little stir in my childish heart, a pride that came of believing my country was different because the Constitution guaranteed basic freedoms of speech and religion, of being innocent until proven guilty, of one man [sic], one vote. Torture, racial and religious discrimination, a wide disparity between rich and poor, countries who invaded and occupied other countries, the use of mercenaries, large numbers of people in prison, blind nationalism, funny elections—these we associated with the totalitarian regimes America opposed, then characterized by the Russians and Nikita “I will bury you” Khrushchev. However I came of political age during the Vietnam War, and from then on became increasingly disillusioned as the distinctions became more and more blurred, until I found myself living in a world that more resembled them than us. Neither political party spoke for me, as neither took a firm stand against the Iraq war, against torture, against Guantanamo.

Until now. I didn’t realize how much it was getting to me. When I'd wake up in the morning, it was as if every day was gray. However since last Tuesday, the sun has been out. There’s warmth, possibility. My fellow Americans are my fellow Americans, not thoughtless automatons cowed by fear. I’m not on the outside but part of something huge. We did it together. We not only sent the Bush administration down the tubes, we elected a black president. How cool is that? And further, a thinking, literate, intelligent, poetic person who sees himself as accountable, who holds a press conference and actually solicits and answers questions from journalists. Who has such confidence that, at the Democratic Convention, he allowed his young daughters to go on international television miked and unscripted (a small detail, but I still haven’t gotten over it). I’m moved to tears now, and often, such as this morning when I read Frank Rich’s column.

But I realize this is just a beginning, that we are entering the “Reconstruction” phase. Last night a friend was asking herself how was it that she was so numb for eight years, why wasn’t she out battling? I asked myself the same thing. But I think a big reason was because we felt alone, that nothing we did could make a difference. Now that we know “We Can” there’s no limit to what else we can do. I’m going to start by pledging $20 a month to MoveOn, as I already do with The Hunger Project (they take it out of your bank or credit card account automatically every month, which I like—perhaps MoveOn will follow suit). It’s a small gesture, but meaningful if we all do it. Perhaps that’s the best lesson we’ve learned.

November 5, 2008

I can’t say it better than Michael Moore:

We may, just possibly, also see a time of refreshing openness, enlightenment and creativity. The arts and the artists will not be seen as the enemy. Perhaps art will be explored in order to discover the greater truths. When FDR was ushered in with his landslide in 1932, what followed was Frank Capra and Preston Sturgis, Woody Guthrie and John Steinbeck, Dorothea Lange and Orson Welles. All week long I have been inundated with media asking me, "gee, Mike, what will you do now that Bush is gone?" Are they kidding? What will it be like to work and create in an environment that nurtures and supports film and the arts, science and invention, and the freedom to be whatever you want to be? Watch a thousand flowers bloom! We've entered a new era, and if I could sum up our collective first thought of this new era, it is this: Anything Is Possible.
November 4, 2008
With three hours to go, today I was voter number 741 in a village where the average turnout is around 300-350. And this in Massachusetts, where a Democratic victory is virtually assured. I’m taking this as a good sign. Ours was a paper ballot, recorded by machine, quite a simple process, although there were a lot of boxes to tick off, including those for school board candidates and three propositions: 1) to abolish the state income tax [NO], 2) to decriminalize the possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana [YES] and 3) to abolish dog racing [This is an issue on which I wish I were better informed, but I voted yes because I couldn’t think of one reason why dog racing should be necessary]. So there. Done. Now we wait.
November 2, 2008
I arrived home Friday night to a New York that was one giant Halloween party, with exceptionally warm weather that led to a certain sartorial minimalism; I’m guessing there’s not a single pair of fishnet hose left to buy in the city. By contrast Chelsea yesterday was like a ghost town. The galleries were manned by skeleton crews, and I wasn’t surprised when one dealer admitted to me that nothing was selling. In my overfilled inbox, however, was a press release from Sperone Westwater announcing their move in December to a nine-story, 20,000 SF. Norman Foster-designed gallery one block north of the New Museum on the Bowery, so someone’s optimistic.

I’d hoped that my ten days away just before the election would provide some much-needed respite from agonizing over it every single moment, but instead I found the Europeans equally obsessed. To judge by the amount of coverage the election is getting in the British press, you’d think it was a local event. And the international members of Olafur Eliasson’s staff, who I joined for lunch in his Berlin studio, were as up-to-date on Joe the Plumber and the price of Sarah Palin’s wardrobe as anyone. It feels as if the whole world is holding its breath.

There’s even a Web site started by three Icelanders, If the World Could Vote, which (as of this writing) has collected 666,246 symbolic votes from 210 countries: 578,461 (86.8%) for Obama, 87,780 (13.2%) for McCain. I’d feel better if the polls reflected a similar disparity.

Our purpose in going to Olafur’s studio was to shoot footage for a short documentary focusing on his collaboration with mathematician, architect, and all-around visionary Einar Thorsteinn, who previously worked with Buckminster Fuller and Linus Pauling. Olafur and Einar have been working together since they met in Iceland 12 years ago, when Olafur, then 29, was looking for someone to help him build a geodesic dome-type structure, and one project led to another. The two-hour shoot couldn’t have gone better. We had some anxiety when, in the morning, city workers suddenly appeared with deafeningly noisy equipment to spend several hours pounding gravel into the cobblestone courtyard outside, but miraculously they finished just as we were about begin. I barely had to refer to my list of prepared questions; Olafur and Einar addressed each point in order as methodically as if they’d been clued in by a secret spy (I believe in never sharing questions with interviewees in advance, lest I get a canned response).

Despite requests by collectors and institutions to buy individual models and even the whole, Olafur and Einar’s Model Room, much of which was at PS 1 for the MoMA show, has been reinstalled in the conference room of the new studio and spills out into the hallway, where it continues to grow and serve as inspiration for new projects. The attitude toward it is hardly precious—this is a workshop, Einar said—and he told us, while we were filming it, to feel free to move things around as we liked. While Terry and Erica were setting up, I had time to spend with these quirky geometric gems, which led me to think about the relationship between harmony and chaos and how, to be fully engaging, an artwork requires certain degrees of each. It was also energizing to be around the 30 or 40 members of Olafur’s busy team, who he sees as working with rather than for him, acknowledged co-creators, an attitude which results in a palpable enthusiasm all around. He also feeds them well. Every day the cook (working in the studio kitchen, which is not walled off, so that she’s part of the creative bustle around her) prepares a simple, healthy lunch—the day I was there it was pumpkin risotto with a green salad and great bread. The food is is laid out buffet style and eaten on long trestle tables in the cavernous dining area, which has walls and high ceilings faced with the remnants of beautiful old tiles and tall, arched windows. As well as making sure everyone gets proper nutrition, the communal meal has its practical reasons for being—no one wastes time going out for food, and it provides a daily opportunity for cross-communication that would be unlikely otherwise.

The 30,000 SF building, which the studio only recently moved in to, is a red brick fortress-like former brewery, and when Einar told me about it last year, referring to it as Olafur’s “castle in the center of Berlin,” I didn’t know that he was being so literal. The first floor is the kitchen, workshop and showroom (in the old studio, one worker told me, there was no room even to set things up and see how they looked), the second is the conference room and studio, and the top floor will house a school for 15-20 students (best described in this That experience, coupled with a visit to Einar and Manuela’s home in the Berlin outskirts, a house which nearly bursts with the results of their combined creativity (the subject of the next Art Vent House Report), made me want to just come home and work. The best possible outcome.

I didn’t see much to mention in London, other than Frank Gehry’s pavilion at the Serpentine, which looked as if he’d handed the project over to an intern. Or perhaps it would have been better if he had. Terry deemed it “over-built and under-designed.” While the press release described it as “seemingly random,” I—a Gehry fan in general—couldn’t discern any over-arching concept, but saw it as an example of chaos that could have benefited from a little mediating harmony. I think we’ve had enough random for one century, thank you. While we were there an English girl and her Indian boy friend—art students, no doubt—were in the middle of an argument about their relationship when the guy became distracted and, looking over at the pavilion, muttered, “That thing is a pile of shit.”

I did, however, get to spend quality time with the Upholstery Eater and am pleased to report that she’s thriving despite (or maybe because of) her inherited proclivity.

October 19, 2008
Yesterday I drove my “Obamamobile” as a friend calls it—blue car + bumper sticker + magnet—to Boston and back, as well as a bit around Waltham and Framingham, and was surprised to note hardly any—actually no—other sign that there’s a major heated political campaign going on. Maybe no one bothers because Massachusetts is considered a foregone conclusion. However here in the Berkshires—the third bluest county in the nation after Manhattan and Brooklyn—we take every opportunity to show support.

And I’m off to Europe early Tuesday morning for almost two weeks—to England and then Berlin to work (with Terry Perk and Erica Spizz) on a short film about Olafur Eliasson and Einar Thorsteinn’s collaborative process, funded by the University for the Creative Arts in the U.K. I don’t know if the trip will prompt more posts, fewer posts, or no posts, so bear with me. Cheerio!

Olafur Eliasson and Einar Thorsteinn, details from The Model Room, as installed at PS 1 last spring,.