Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In

Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In

March 17, 2011
Hennessy Youngman, an Ali G. for the art world, explains Relational Aesthetics. Afterwards there will be a quiz. (Thanks to Andrew Prayzner.)

March 15, 2011

In times like these, it’s important to think about the things we can be grateful for. I, for one, was pleased to realize, during my recent perambulations through the art fairs and Chelsea, that the artistic infatuation with images from the media has finally subsided. For well over a decade, almost everything you saw in the galleries was a riff on advertising, product packaging, cartoons, or old TV sitcoms and now—pouf! —it’s gone. May it R.I.P.

So does this signal a move to more original imagery? New forms? One hopes! There are, however, still a few impulses left over from the last century that we could happily retire:

--Stuffed animals.

--Porn (although rediscovered by every generation, it tends to always look the same) and/or art that flaunts the artist's sexual orientation (a.k.a. “sexual identity”).

--Black plastic garbage bags (favored by students for their economy of means; hopefully David Hammons is marking the end of their run as an art material).

--Anything behind a curtain or requiring headphones.

--Collections of nostalgic objects from the artist's life.

--Random notations about same.

--The above, accompanied by images that suggest the artist has not developed artistically or emotionally since the eighth grade.

--Scatter art.

And while we're at it, let's also call for a moratorium on:

--Sequins and glitter.

--Anything that references women's craftwork from the 19th century, including but not limited to, knitting and crocheting.

--Images of suburbia designed to underscore its bleakness or express the artist's fond or not-so-fond childhood memories of suburban life.

And finally…I can’t believe I’m writing this in 2011…survey shows that suggest, inaccurately, that men alone were the dominant forces in any given movement. Case in point: “Malevich and the American Legacy” at Gagosian uptown. It was curated by a woman, Andrea Crane, yet of 20 or so artists, only one is female: Agnes Martin. Surely it would not have been a stretch to include Jo Baer, Ann Truitt, or Dorothea Rockburne. Further, neither Karen Rosenberg in the Times nor Peter Schjeldahl in The New Yorker picked up on this.

I welcome additions to my list.

Mystic Suprematism, 1920-27
Oil on canvas
39 3/8 x 23 5/8 inches (100.5 x 60 cm)

Perhaps Malevich was sending a secret message of solidarity: 

March 6, 2011
So many art fairs, so little art! Okay, I only went to the ADAA Art Show at the 67th Street Armory, Pulse, and the Independent…and that was enough to let me know I didn’t want to brave the crowds at the piers.  I always like the ADAA show because I see things of actual substance, and at Marian Goodman’s booth, a bunch of Gabriel Orozco’s delightful interventions on money and airline tickets (tiny, $35,000, and worth every penny) that knock my socks off whenever I’m lucky enough to see some.

The other two shows….arggh! I commented to a friend that it all looked like eighth grade, and he said worse, because eighth graders would be more adventuresome: here you can see the minds of the artists and the dealers at work, and it’s all very calculated. So many junky-looking watered-down versions of Rauschenberg’s brilliant Combines, which were made…wake up, art world!...OVER FIFTY YEARS AGO. Or stuff intending to be shocking when what, besides a David Wojnarowicz film from the 80s, could possibly be shocking—to adults, that is—in 2011? Then there was the plethora of paintings and sculptures decorated with glitter and sequins, as if glitter and sequins were the radical materials they might have been four decades ago.

However there is something that‘s truly radical for our times, and it is called development. For the uninitiated, this is when an artist finds a form and makes it his/her own to the point that it becomes new.  Try it!—but be warned, it might take more than five minutes.

Meanwhile I did, in recent weeks, see something that rang true—a drawing by Chuck Nanney at Invisible Exports on which is written: “Everything I do has been done before by a feminist in the seventies.”

Or Lucas Samaras, who did it all.

'Photo-Transformation', Polaroid SX-70 print by Lucas Samaras, 1973, Getty Museum

February 26, 2011

It has been ever thus: men, especially those of a certain age, become unhinged at the sight of a young woman in her underwear. We know and accept this, always with the hope, however, that this derangement won't interfere with their professionalism. Compared with how Monica Lewinsky and her thong affected history, an art exhibition is a minor event—yet Klaus Biesenbach, who organized  Laurel Nakadate’s “Only the Lonely” at PS 1 (through August 8) and Ken Johnson who reviewed it enthusiastically in yesterday’s Times (but is still wondering if Christian Marclay’s brilliant  The Clock could be just a “stunt,” see post below), might have considered that they were not thinking entirely with their heads.
            While she also exhibited videos (such as one I found particularly mean-spirited, of herself dancing like Britney Spears in front of desperately lonely men), most annoying is 365 Days: A Catalogue of Tears (2010), where Nakadate worked up a state of sadness for a portion of each day, and then photographed herself—posing in her undies and often topless—before, after or during the shedding of supposedly real tears.  Johnson asks, sensibly enough, “Since she is a fit and attractive woman in her mid-30s who has an M.F.A. from Yale and is now enjoying this retrospective, you might wonder what she has to be so lachrymose about,“ but then backtracks by saying, “A more sympathetic view is that she has been tapping into a river of grief and loneliness running under the surface of American life.” Now there’s a sentence that begs for amplification and justification: just what “river of grief and loneliness” is Johnson talking about anyway? And why the requirement to be sympathetic?

            In her work, this poor girl who has so much she must force herself to feel unhappy every day, makes a mockery of real sadness.  While writing this I’ve been talking with a good friend whose aunt just died, and who is attempting to comfort his beloved 92-year-old grandparents. Do we want to see the pictures? Try glamorizing that scenario.

            Despite its weak theme, the installation is impressive: framed in white and hung gallery-style in symmetrical rows that march toward an archway, these richly colored photographs turn the high-ceilinged rooms into a semblance of a Renaissance palace, streamlined for the 21st century. What’s really sad is that without Nakadate moping in them, most of the images could stand on their own. It’s pathetic that, given the times, artists feel the necessity to overlay perfectly good photography with art school conceits. Plus, whatever happened to subtlety? There are more evocative ways to convey sadness than the cliché of someone in tears.

            The other really sad part is that if Nakadate were to have made herself happy every day, the results might actually have been interesting—but “happy,” unfortunately, is not very arty.

            My conclusion is that this girl needs a job! Her next “performance” should be one where she photographs herself 365 days a year working in a convenience store. Marina Abramovic she is not.

Installation view, Laurel Nakadate "Only the Lonely," courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, PS1.
February 19, 2011

By now, unless you’ve been vacationing in Tahiti, you know about—or have seen, judging by the lines—Christian Marclay’s video The Clock (at Paula Cooper Gallery, closing today), and that it’s a 24-hour compendium of thousands of clips from films of all kinds, having to do with time and, like a clock, matching real time.

I was concerned that The Clock’s extreme popularity might interfere with its status as high art—like those (most of whom hadn’t seen it) who clucked their tongues and referred to Olafur Eliasson’s weather project at the Tate Modern, which drew thousands, as “spectacle”. The s-word is right up there with other art world pejoratives like “decorative” and “entertainment.” God forbid we should enjoy ourselves.

However the response to The Clock was not only nearly unanimous, but effusively enthusiastic, which makes it an epic moment for art. The only person I’ve even heard of who had a measured reaction was critic Ken_Johnson who, after staying just a few minutes, wrote on Jerry Saltz’s Facebook page that it made him “agitated” but thought it could be a “brilliant gimmick carried out with great care.”

“Gimmick”—forgot that that one.

After taking up Saltz’s challenge (Saltz offered Johnson $25 an hour to view it for 2 ½ hours), Johnson wrote:

marclay's wit and cleverness are immense, and the execution is unimpeachably polished. philosophically there is plenty to talk about: real time vs. fictive time; time as a construct; modern, bureaucratically regimented, machine time and human freedom. the possibility of escaping time. time vs. eternity. but i have the feeling that the mandate to fill out 24 hours of clock time -- however impressively fulfilled -- produced something kind of impersonal. is it a work of soul stirring art, the product of a prophetic visionary? or an amazing stunt?

And oh yeah, another s-word: “stunt.”

My response was, if it’s a stunt, let’s have more! And impersonal? I found it anything but. Just as interesting as the experience of watching it was what happened after. Once when I was there, the gallery was closing for the day. Everyone knew it was going to close but stayed glued to their seats while 6:00 came, then 6:01…6:02...6:03. At 6:04 the gallery assistants came into the room and started moving about apologetically and gently turning up the lights, as if it was the end of yoga class and we were all still in savasana. Walking out into the brightness I heard one assistant ask another, “What time are you coming in tomorrow?” And she answered, “4:00” – not normally a weighty exchange, but in this context my sense of their lives took on extra dimension. Out on the street every sound—cars and trucks rushing by, distant sirens, splashing tires—was amplified, meaningful, portentous. On the bus, everyone was a star, or someone with a motive, but also people for whom I felt increased interest and empathy. I had things to do, places to go, but just wanted to walk the city; after focusing on time for several hours, time had become meaningless.


More…the issue of Art in America with my 2003 cover story on Marclay on the gallery desk made me feel especially connected…see this from the BBCread also Roberta Smith, Jerry Saltz, David Cohen. and especially music critic Ben Ratliff, who noted that The Clock made “the minutes crawl and the hours fly.” Marclay is an absolute master of editing and continuity. At one point a clip from “Frankenstein,” which was written by Mary Shelley, segues into one from “Lolita,” with Shelley Winters. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

February 7, 2011

I received this email recently from an accomplished artist who has, of late, been concentrating on other things:

So, is it me, or does most of the art that is celebrated these days look exactly the same? As if it had all been done by the same artist. To me a lot of it looks like oversize candy wrappers leaning against a wall. Colorful. Disposable. Ultimately leaving no trace on my heart or imagination. Really gets me down.

Your talk of staying current and in touch with things momentarily sank my heart as the only thing I am current with is my son's happy success at potty training (and we are happy!). Reading about how you made work on zero time was a welcome relief. I look forward when I can find my way back to that part of myself again.....

If she’s indeed serious about reclaiming her artistic path, and wants my advice, it’s GET OUT OF THE HOUSE! Take little Javier and run to the big city, go to the museums, and check out the galleries (especially Christian Marclay’s video installation
Aki wonders how some of that shit gets into the galleries; I'm mystified too.
January 31, 2011

Being a parent is challenging enough without making issues where they don't need to be any. Last week in the Times the topic was how to dispose of the volume of works on paper kids generate—too much to save, so what do you do? 

Really, this was one of my last concerns as a parent. I can only guess that writers on parenting have run out of topics—or, parents are over-involved and over-identifying with their children to the point that they assume their little ones must feel possessive about their "art" in the same way adults might.

My observation of children is that they’re much more interested in the process than the product. When my sons were small the house was awash in drawings, and when it got to be too much, I simply saved the ones that meant something to me (some of which I still have) and tossed the rest. If they’d cared, I would have instituted a regular time when we sat down together and decided—on the basis of “interesting” rather than “good”—what was to be kept. I would not have thrown away anything they really wanted, even secretly. However I can assure you it would not have been an issue. 

Parents often ask me how they can encourage their children's artistic abilities, and appear disappointed when I suggest that, outside of providing them with materials and unstructured time alone, they do no such thing. Children don't need encouragement; they are by nature obsessive, creative beings. Why turn something they love to do for themselves into an opportunity for praise and approval? It's only when it becomes drummed into them that the activity (as opposed to, say, building a Lego© tower, or a sand castle that gets washed away) has something to do with their self-worth, that they begin to consider the end product—to the point that by age 10 or so, they’re so self-conscious most give up drawing up altogether.

When I was a child, I didn't care if my parents saw what I did —in fact it would have been ruined for me if they had. That it was private, completely mine, made it special.

Now that I think of it, drawing was always in my life—and the same for my children. My father, an engineer with an artistic bent, drew for pleasure and my children’s father could usually be found, of an evening, penciling designs for futuristic cars. Drawing was a pastime, nothing to be fussed over, just something people did, like reading the newspaper

I know two people who grew up with parents of wildly different attitudes when it came to their children's output:

Artist Marilyn Minter’s mother not only didn’t keep the things she did as a child, she discouraged Marilyn from drawing altogether (see the story in the Times).

Then there’s Erica, whose parents allowed her to save everything she touched—EVERYTHING, no exaggeration. Not just art, but all of her written papers, tests, party invitations, and myriad keepsakes, such as her 8th grade boy friend’s football jersey, were stashed away in their Great Neck home until just two years ago when, at 32, Erica, a documentary filmmaker, began dismantling, disposing, and documenting, what she refers to as the Erica Spizz Archives and Presidential Library (I was gifted with an invite to her Sweet Sixteen). It’s still an ongoing project.

Anyway, from what I can tell, both Marilyn and Erica have turned out just fine.

Published with permission from the Erica Spizz Archives and Presidential Library.
January 25, 2011

It’s curious how many people (like Mario Naves) interpreted my case against Plan B, below, as meaning that I have a conflict with artists working outside their studio. Not so! I’m a big advocate of the Work Ethic (I wasn’t born Carol Dickinson—how WASPy can you get?—for nothing).  I simply would not advise college students who want to be artists to study another profession they’re not completely committed to as a backup in case of failure—such as those whose "Plan B" is a Master of Arts in Teaching. The artists Naves and I know in New York are the ones who were resourceful, who survived. The people I'm thinking about are those I meet at places like the Vermont Studio Center or the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, who now are struggling to get back the thread of their art after doing something else, such as teaching in grammar or high school, for years—challenged by being just too long out of the conversation.

And why is the conversation important? Because it keeps you sharp and current, and your work alive. I seem to be arguing for art school these days when I didn’t think I believed in it, but this is one of the main reasons to go, to get critical feedback and create significant life-long relationships with other artists (years ago you could have gotten the same experience less expensively, by hanging out at that long-lost institution, the art bar).

As long as you stay in this very important loop, you can do almost anything outside of it. Henri Rousseau, famously, was a customs inspector. Color field artist Gene Davis, was a sportswriter and White House correspondent. Robert Irwin played the horses. I have a friend, Tom Kovachevich, who’s a doctor with a full-fledged art career, another who has a government job as a therapist and lives in Vermont (yes, he travels to New York a lot). Further, there’s no question that Stella’s outside job as a house painter, Rosenquist's as a sign painter, and Warhol’s as an illustrator changed the course of art history.

As for having to work, I’ve often done my best art when squeezed for time. In fact I started painting seriously when I was the suburban mother of two toddlers who were in nursery school for half a day. I was also, however, deeply involved in the Chicago art scene, sharing a studio with three other committed artists, writing reviews for The New Art Examiner, and going to openings every Friday.

In fact, looking back on it, the biggest turning points in my development as a painter were born directly out of the frustration of having neither the physical ability nor the time to work.  The first time I used writing in my paintings (which I no longer do, BTW, having seen too much of it) was in 1976 after a back injury from an automobile accident kept me from sitting down to work and my boy friend had just broken up with me. I couldn’t think of any images I wanted to make so I just poured out my thoughts, scrawling all over the paper with oil pastel, and then afraid that someone might actually read them, obliterating the words with asphyxiating amounts of turpentine.

Carol Diehl, It seems silly..., Oil pastel on paper, 1976

Later, in the 90s, I was working as an assistant to a literary agent, writing for Art & Antiques (under editor Isolde Motley, when it was a great magazine), art consulting for TIME—occupations for which I had no formal training—and coping with an unnamed illness I now know to be Lyme disease. Yet I had a studio and the urge to paint, even if I could only eke out 15 minutes at a time. There was no possibility of buying a stretcher and preparing a canvas, so I took an old painting, ruled it off with colored pencil into forty 2” horizontal stripes and chronicled the events of my life in one painted strip each day—a format that later became the “journal paintings” that were eventually shown at Hirschl & Adler.

Carol Diehl, January,1997,Oil on canvas, 36" x 36"

Another thing I hear when talking with frustrated artists is, “You don’t understand; I live in Cleveland.” What they are really saying is that they’ve made other choices that have taken them off their path—but these things didn’t “just happen.” If living in Cleveland is a problem, then don’t live in Cleveland. Or accept that you live in Cleveland, find other people like you, and start something up there. The problem isn’t, and has never been, Cleveland.

But it could have been “Plan B.”


Note:  I just now received a notice from the Vermont Studio Center regarding their fellowship applications, closing February 15. More info here.