Sunday, December 16, 2012


Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818

I really have to practice saying goodbye. This blog is a good place to start. If I don’t give it a formal goodbye, it will just continue to wither here, pathetically. And then I’m the one who’s neglectful. Better just to draw the line, give a good handshake, shed a tear, kill Old Yeller.
I can post upcoming shows here. Maybe I will. But I will find other venues for more fleshed out writing.
When I started the posts, I was gnawingly insecure and completely isolated in art. Now I’m more curious than desperately doubtful; and I’ve found a few like-minded romantics. I even have a gallery. (For the moment, these feel like turns for the best.)
Writing is good.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Studio Critical interview and David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace on Charlie Rose, 1997.
I know I don't write posts anymore. And I find it gross to use this only as a tool to promote my own doings. As if I were the only one. But I really liked doing an interview for Studio Critical. Check it out here.

On another subject: I've been thinking about self-consciousness. There's a good review of David Foster Wallace's newly released non-fiction writings in the current issue of BookForum. The gist is  how he struggled with the fact that writing is something you do to gain approval from someone, some body. You pose with someone looking in mind. The antidote is impulse - something like tennis, where you can't really think, you do - or acting violently, in order to beat out the urge to please. I summarize. And maybe incorrectly.

This got me thinking about why there's a whole mass of artists in Brooklyn doing naive-like abstraction and narratives. I think it's a way to present yourself as un-self-conscious. It shows you can be free of deliberate-ness. As if you were outside the ugly side of the art world.

I use this escape valve myself. But as of right now, I'm aware of it.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Seeing Freedom

Anyone there? I can start writing again, I suppose. It just all seems so unnecessary. 

I will be giving a talk next Saturday. "Seeing Freedom: In this visual lecture, artist Molly Stevens will look at freedom in art as symbol, as protest and as ideal; as body, as choice and as no choice - as nothing left to lose."
Come. Or don't. I don't even know you.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Hot Air Standard

Jonathan Meese installation shot. Some show in Paris.

Curator Todd Levin’s pics on Facebook of the Basel Art fair, paired with Jerry Saltz’s comments, are fun to look and read through. Mr. Saltz uses the word “trust” as a reaction. I think that’s an apt nuance of the word “like.” When you see art, you sense whether it’s for real, or whether it’s pseudo. You gather clues, and your gut tells you so. For example, a painting by Jonathan Meese seems interesting on the surface – like Basquiat or something -  but don’t trust it! That guy is full of hot air.
I think I have to start using the word trust to gauge and goad what I’m doing in the studio. Often I have an urge to do something but I stop myself because I think it’s a gimmicky solution. I can trust that reflex. But I can also trust myself through a risky move too, even if I know the trappings beforehand.
Like incorporating words. That’s often one of the easiest solutions for me. Add words to sum up what I’m driving at, have the letters work graphically. Plus it’s cool. So I force myself to stay away from them and stick with other formal tools. But I think I can trust myself through the incorporation of language, whether it’s visible or not. Well, we’ll see.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Reading Schutz

Dana Schutz, Yawn 2, 2012

I saw Dana Schutz’s new paintings. The back room of yawners sums it up. But let’s not focus on the negative.
This interview with the Brooklyn Rail reads well. Apparently, we are in a period that is more accepting of “expressionism.” There was a time there in the early 2000s when expressionism was considered haughty or immoral, referring only to a weighty canon in art history or to market-oriented work.
Now, as the line between public and private self blurs every day more, an expressive style – really how much you work with the material-ness of what you’re working with - doesn’t only mean feelings and personal bravado. You can be painterly and critical. You can be an expressive observer.
Schutz also talks about limitations that an artist can impose on painting, basically as a way to approach the question of what to paint. Guston used “what if” situations. So did Kafka. Metamorphosis is what happens if you wake up as a bug. The trick of course is being specific and at the same time symbolic. Schutz has drawn on impulsive thoughts, she says, and also language. Yesterday I jotted this down, “I want to make a poem that embodies the expression ‘pass the peas.’” I’ll let you know how that turns out.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I could make it all worthwhile as a rock n' roll star

David Bowie performing as Ziggy Stardust

My drawings lately are turning out to be still lifes. WTF. How not to push the envelope. How not to be now. How fuddy. How duddy.
My pressure is to include something slightly ironic. Or kitsch. Something tongue and cheek. But only in a back-handed way so it doesn't come off as intentionally ironic or kitsch. Because then it’s ok to be those things. Because I want to be cool. I guess that’s the word. What am I, in middle school?
I don’t know: a box of condoms, a book with an approved title, a cut of meat. When I put it this it way, I think I’ll stick with the bottles.  
Once I heard Guston say that if you don’t experience something in making the painting, it’s not done. I get that. I’m afraid I’m making work that looks like art, but that is just fooling me.
I want to make a drawing that reads like Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaños or sounds like David Bowie's “Starman.”

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Wreck of Hope

Caspar David Friedrich, The Wreck of Hope, 1821

Sometimes I come across concise takes on existential questions that bring great relief. This week I was graced by two.
First: I’ve always worried about being judgmental because nice, good people aren’t judgmental. Nice, good people are open-hearted and self-effacing. This week I absorbed the idea that you can be judgmental and compassionate at the same time. You can think a person sucks and also listen to – and maybe be swayed by – where she’s at.
The second take comes from Betsy Lerner, who writes the only blog I look forward to (link below). I had planned to write a post considering how and especially why (the fuck) do I keep going with the art shit when there’s so much rejection, so much competition, so much pukiness involved. Why do I keep adding to my stack of drawings. Is it because it’s all about the work? Is it because I’m nobly engaged in a process and journey? Partially.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Heaven and Hell

Doug Aitken

I did enjoy Frieze, I really did. The ferry was great and the spaciousness inside the tent made all the difference. And I did see lots that was stimulating.
I mean stimulating in the sense that it awakened my senses. That’s a first for me at a fair. But I also mean stimulating in the sense that it felt good. Art is an addiction. Once you’ve had a hit, you want more, and more, and more. Red flag.
Holland Cotter has it right. There’s something to distrust about it all. Something that’s tied up with the sheer quantity, but also with the blue-chip-ness, the luxury-ness. The one percent-ness. I want to sweep these contradictions under the rug.
I want my art curated. I want my crowds weeded out. I want to see some black teenagers. I don't want street art. I want some Barkcloths from New Guinea. I want my Fat Radish. I don’t want frozen turkey sandwiches union regulations allow. I don’t want a gift shop unless the gift shop are art books only, publications that can’t make any money. Then I want to take a boat that runs on time to arrive home and call it an enriching day.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


(Henri Matisse, The Painter’s Family, 1911)
I’ve always used the word “decorative” as a pejorative when describing a work of art: to me it has meant pretty-to-the-eye, but without further depth. Synonyms in my mind – equally pejorative – have been superficial, even artificial. That’s why I’ve always tripped on reading “decorative” in writings by and about Matisse. He’s a hero, and none of my heroes are shallow. So what gives?
It may be that a more accurate way to understand the word is as “on the surface.” “On the surface” acknowledges that in drawing and painting, the artist is physically dealing with a flat plane (the canvas or sheet of paper). Turning this flatness into dimensional space – into “realism” – is valued as skilled and serious. It is valued as depth spatially, but also morally in Western art. But spatial depth on a flat plane is an illusion. What’s more, we don’t really see the world like realism. We see it in bits and pieces, probably more like Cubism than a photograph.
Through surface, Matisse takes on the plane as a plane with multiple areas. It may in fact be that the superficial is the means to depth.  More on this soon.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Undercover (I love this show)

Slag Contemporary is pleased to announce the opening of Undercover, featuring drawing, painting, sculpture and performance by Joy Curtis, Rebecca Goyette, Carin Riley, Molly Stevens and Trish Tillman.

April 10 – May 2
Opening Reception: April 14, 6-9 pm

Undercover, at its most basic, means going under a cover. This can be a physical barrier or a metaphorical one, a persona you stand behind.

Going undercover implies danger. Sometimes it’s the danger from which you seek protection, the reason why you seek cover; other times it’s the danger that meets you on the other side. Both involve adventure, psychological confrontation, and, in our case, quite a bit of humor.

Once you start labeling sides - front and back, outside and in, the protected and exposed - you realize there is no difference. You’ve become your front. Your front is you.

This multi-approach exhibition is at times revealing, at times stealthy, at times both. Either way, the work goes behind, beneath and beyond in order to keep its truth covert or to blow it open.

Rebecca Goyette’s
Bundling Bags call on participants to literally get under cover and hold hands. Based on the Puritan sacks used in coupling rituals, her contemporary version confronts the vulnerability of being present with one other person while in public. Throughout the duration of the exhibition, Goyette will inhabit the bundling bags, inviting viewers to participate in a bundling date with her.

Trish Tillman combines home relics and furniture parts to construct private memorials and characters. They are present like furniture, but are non-functional, and as such, become unsettling talismans or companions.

Carin Riley’s diagrammatic mural Revolution represents underlying forces mapped according to ancient laws of fate and positioning. In responding to the exhibition space it becomes a personal drawing of lithe linework that sticks with you like an enigmatic lesson.

Molly Stevens’s large-scale oil stick drawings put forward vigorous color, shape and line that communicate a direct, fully visual energy. Bold handwork come to form convivial power figures - a soothsayer, a guardian, a knight in armor, each representing safeguarded resolve.

Joy Curtis creates not-quite relics that are familiar at first, but then catch you by surprise. Reminiscent of Romantic ruins, they are in fact cast from contemporary molding and aged. Here, standing in for Joan of Arc - the historical heroine, who donned male attire as a defense in her fight to liberate France - is the stake at which she was burned once charged with insubordination and heterodoxy.

Slag Contemporary specializes in contemporary American and Eastern European art and is operated by owner and director Irina Protopopescu.

Slag Contemporary is located at 56 Bogart Street, Ground Floor #005,Brooklyn, NY 11206

L train to Morgan

For general inquiries, contact the gallery at 212 967 9818.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Pathos 2012

"Group of Mothers." Memorial sculpture by Fritz Cremer. Unveiled 1965.

It took me about an hour to read a 1,000 word article in Artforum – man, that shit is dense! – but I can proudly say, the subject made it worth it. Diedrich Diederichsen (of course that’s his name) considers an exhibition in Cologne entitled “Before the Law: Post-war Sculptures and Spaces of Contemporary Art” that brings together figurative sculpture from then and now, leaving out the transitional years in between. The earlier period puts forward pathos – humanistic compassion for the suffering plight of mankind – as a direct reaction to the shock and destruction of World War II. Think rough-surface bronze monuments of weeping mother figures. This pathos, as an approach to injustice, has become complex in contemporary art, and is replaced by the self-reflective, the ironic, or other emotional approaches like indignation or “the euphoria of counterculture” (I don't really know what that is). Pure pathos in contemporary times – like the work of William Kentridge – can come off as ostentatious (I agree). So the question is “What sort of feelings or moods should political art, or even any sort of serious art, engage with today?” Whether I know it or not, I think I might personally favor humor, but that doesn't mean disengaged irony.

Then the article considers “verticality” – literally the direction of uprising embodied in a standing figure. Is the vertical still relevant today? The conceit of new political movements, like Occupy, champions the horizontal. The horizontal steers clear of upright individuals and also voyeuristic culture that empties a single body. There’s no pinpoint focus. That can be effective. In my own work, I very much favor powerful vertical figures. It’s one-on-one viewing, body to body. But the question of vertical vs. horizontal has no set answer.

“It may be that all art, in encountering this problem, must ask itself what kinds of direct paths between affect and articulation, between reflection and revolt, it can still rely on – or whether the first task of art today is to blast away those very connections. “ I’m not totally sure what that sentence means, but I believe it enough to chew on it for a while.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Trayvon and art insiders

(T-shirt designed by Ali Spagnola)

I don’t think art is an effective place for direct political statements. I think political stances are most powerful in art when communicated through metaphor, or at least subtlety. I’m not likely to be moved by a portrait of a woman flexing muscles on top of a pile of robber barons in suits. Although maybe I should try depicting that.

I guess I would point to literalness as the culprit, to spelling out as the culprit. At least in visual art. And I’m speaking for myself, as an art insider who doesn’t need the crutch of obviousness because I speak the language of New York insider art pretty well. Yes, that makes me part of an elite, something I can’t pretend I am not, even though I’d like to just be regular. Regular, but an artist too.

I like Hennessy Youngman’s videos. But I think many art insiders like them in part because he comes off as not an art insider and that’s partly because he’s black. So by association we become regular. Many politically aware artists who are members of the art elite don’t want to be what they are. I get it. It’s full of damn uncomfortable contradictions.

All this to say, I’ve been thinking about wearing the name Trayvon on my back at the opening of Undercover, a group show that I'm in opening next week in Bushwick. But I think it would be a fashion statement; too much about me (and not me); too much about my politics as a definition of me (and not me).

Maybe I’d do it if I could get a large majority of people coming to the opening to wear the name Trayvon somewhere on their outfit or body. Still there’s the whiff of the false, of the cause célèbre publicized to people who already agree. Wearing the name in Walton, New York, a hotbed of poor Republicans: that’s another story.

I’d do it if I were Bruce Springsteen. In fact he did, dedicating his song “American Skin (41 Shots)” to Trayvon at a concert in Jersey this week. But he’s a rock star. I heart Bruce so much.

You think artists are rock stars?

Monday, March 19, 2012

A rose is a rose is a rose

(Pierre Bonnard, Le Boxeur, autoportrait, 1931)

I’m always trying to show myself in the best light possible. I really hate this about myself right now.

As I’ve been seeing it, my drawings are a reflection of me, they are my image. My image can be diverse, but I ultimately approve of the multi-facets. That is, if I’m going to show fragility, it’s in a way that I think is ok. If it doesn’t pass my inner test, I keep working. That’s why looking at older work can be difficult for me: because I no longer approve of the moi it presents.

What would really be brave is to show myself in a way that makes me feel uncomfortable, unprotected. I don’t think I can actually try to do this. It’s probably more of a matter of stopping before I begin polishing, before I begin resolving and judging.

That said, the drawing has to be solid in formal terms – the endeavor, the attempt that I wrote about in my last post still has to be in play. This is important because in the end, viewers don’t care – and shouldn’t – about my emotional state and struggles. What counts is the thing in front of their eyes. What if stopping short added something visually?

And then there’s no controlling what’s going to happen to the thing, how it will be seen. The thing is on its own.

Monday, February 27, 2012

You know what's a great movie?

Rocky 2. Rocky 1 is even better (if I remember), but it’s not on instant watch.

Give me intense determination when the odds are against you – the fighter’s spirit unsullied by privilege -, posit love as sustenance, and I’m a goner. A total blubbering goner. And don't forget about word quality. Rocky’s humble mumbling is entirely endearing; it’s so deferential he barely even takes credit for his victory, telling his opponent “You were great” as his arm is lifted by the ref. What a winner.

But then. Rocky 3 and Rocky 4. Balboa strikes it rich. He wears cashmere coats now. No more satin embroidered tigers. The character is a stand-in for Stallone himself, who has entered the 80s and also the spotlight as a director and actor. His vision for the sequels (I skipped 5 and 6) now formula. Here it is: a challenger presents himself. Rocky hems and haws. A loved one’s death or sickness fills him with purpose. He begins to train in earnest. He climbs a staircase. Or a mountain. The final fight (20 minutes) is prolonged but culminates in victory. End.

All this said, at the risk of caving in to cliché, fighters and warriors are a great metaphor. For me (do I have to confess?) they have a gender: male. So a series of drawings depicting such types means tapping into my inner man. More soon (maybe).