Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In

Walter Robinson

Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In

February 16, 2013

At the CAA: A lively, meaty panel on “Art Criticism and Social Media” chaired by Phyllis Tuchman, with Walter Robinson, Sarah Douglas, Lindsay Pollock, and Barry Schwabsky, where Walter Robinson tweeted throughout, looking up only to ask, “What was the question?”  (I thought it was a hilarious commentary on the topic, although some stuffier members of the audience got their knickers in a bunch about it)…Facebook was compared to a modern day equivalent of the Cedar Bar, but happily more egalitarian and less sexist…one questioner lamented that art criticism doesn’t pay, to which Barry Schwabsky commented that it is a counter to economic rationale, was never really a true profession but something people do because they can’t help themselves….another asked how she could get traffic to her “small blog.” The most prominent Facebooker in the audience generously suggested that she post it on his page (anything that gets attention he leaves it up, otherwise, he takes it down) and there was some discussion of tweets, etc. but no one mentioned CONTENT, which is the way things really happen. You can tweet until kingdom come, but if it’s not interesting, no one will read it, whereas if it is, you can be re-tweeted into history—which is the beauty of the Internet.

Again, in another panel, more talk about the “how” rather than the “why” or “what”—this is where I want to start screaming, in Donald Trump fashion, “CONTENT, CONTENT, CONTENT!”—but Lindsay Pollock did address the importance of editors. So much writing on the Web, even when pretty good, lacks cohesion and focus. The irony is that the content that's written with the most thought and care—that in art magazines—gets the least distribution and dies an early death if it’s not archived online.  

I walked past a booth flaking a “low residency PhD,” which tempted me for a moment, thinking how much fun it could be to go from no degree to a PhD and study theory and philosophy in an organized way, but immediately scotched the idea when I attempted another panel that opened with an incomprehensible presentation by a chaired Harvard professor, a specialist in African and African-American art who, among other flubs, could not correctly pronounce “Basquiat” or “Cote d’Ivoire” (“Bas-kee-yay” and “Coot Deever”—eek!).

The CAA job mill was humming, as usual, with interviewees scurrying about or sitting on the floor at the Hilton making last-minute touch-ups to their resumes, but—you read it here—I give the art school bubble another 10 years, maybe only five. With the move from professorships to low-paying adjunct positions, it’s unlikely students will put up with high tuition rates when the only jobs they can expect at graduation pay next-to-nothing and offer neither benefits nor security. At least there will be no need to complain anymore about the academization of art—the academies will simply kill themselves.

Beyond the Hilton there was art to see: speaking of Basquiat (that’s “Bas-kee-yat”), a humongous museum-style show at Gagosian, Suzan Frecon’s lovely Tantric-like studies at David Zwirner, the sumptuous Boetti embroideries at Gladstone, and a sign of progress at Gavin Brownwhere, at the artists’ request, there were NO press releases available. Hooray!

Suzan Frecon
for a large painting – (malachite color), 2007
Watercolor on old Indian ledger paper
Framed: 15 3/4 x 18 1/2 inches (40.01 x 46.99 cm)
Paper: 9 3/4 x 12 1/2 inches (24.8 x 31.8 cm)
December 15, 2012
The author, working up an appetite

I just can't get into the radical masquerade that the art world is.

That’s a Martha Rosler’s garage sale at MoMA. This week I’ll reinforce my curmudgeon status with a non-response to Ann Hamilton’s installation in the vast Parade Hall at the Park Avenue Armory. Like Rosler, Hamilton is somewhat sanctified, protected by an aura of profundity she has cultivated, or has been cultivated for her, over the years.

I won’t describe the installation – this is not a review – except to say that it concerns a long white curtain that bisects the space, wooden swings on chains that cause the curtain panels to move when visitors swing on them, live white doves incarcerated in wicker basket/cages stacked on a table where a man and a woman attired in feathered capes are reading something, and packages twee-ly wrapped with brown paper and twine scattered here and there, containing speakers that emit voices. The real star is the room.

Photograph: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

Oh I know, I could have made more of an effort. I could have listened more closely to the readings and relayed voices (were they the same?). I could have spent more time on the swings. I could have tried to figure out how the newsprint broadsheet of fuzzy photographs contributes to the whole.

Or I could go to lunch.

No doubt I'll be roundly criticized for dismissing something I haven’t fully explored—except I believe it’s the artist’s responsibility to engage me, not the other way around. I have no compunction about putting down a book halfway through, and if, in the middle of a play or concert, I find myself doing eye exercises or worrying about my bills, I don’t blame myself. I don’t underestimate the power of really great art to sweep me away. I think about how I once had a massive migraine that miraculously disappeared during a performance of Taming of the Shrew in Central Park with Raul Julia and Meryl Streep. Or the time my boy friend and I had a colossal fight on the way to see an early Cirque du Soleil, and went home in love. I could go on and on…Christian Marclay’s The Clock (which I finally left after 2 ½ hours only because I had to pee), Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s genius Pandemonium at Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, Olafur Eliasson's The Weather Project at the Tate Modern (in an even more humungous space)....concerts by Sigur Ros…yes, such experiences are few and far between, but why lower the bar? Why should I spend my time trying to figure out what an artist is trying to convey, when I could be eating a splendid lamb tagine at Café Mogador?

As my friend, Roberto, observed so accurately in the taxi on our way downtown: I’m fatigued by the expectation of the system that I’ll play along completely.

I also don’t think that birds should have to suffer for art, any more than I should.