Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Year of the Screw


I know it’s un-hip to turn to the New York Times for inspirational art critique. Better, “they” say, to read something I wouldn’t know, because I would never know, because I’m not enough something.

But, two great articles this week prove “them” wrong. They say fuck ‘em and what’s even better, they do it eloquently.

The first by Holland Cotter says 2007 was a boring marketing scheme. The best work could not be grasped, could not be sold.

The second by Roberta Smith reminds us that the artist’s job “is to operate outside accepted limits” and turn “intangibles […] into a kind of material.”

In 2008, come on, let’s do it. Let’s turn inwards, bring out what’s there, despite trend and sale-ability, and make some indescribable thingy, indescribable until someone else puts some words on it for us. Let’s read or not, talk to each other or not, take some time, or no time at all, work together, or in total isolation, and in the great words of the Nike corporation, “Just.”

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hearty



Back to political activism in/as art. Take Sharon Hayes.

In her current installation at the New Museum titled I march in the parade of liberty, but as long as I love you I’m not free, we listen to the artist reciting love letters from a street corner in the manner of a speech at a rally. Her tone is urgent, a bit shrill, her pauses pregnant. Yet her words are intimate, the stuff of broken hearts. To me, this is a moving, and poignant example of how metaphor and contrast best represent both social and personal struggle.

On another, only somewhat related topic: her website contains very heady descriptions. It’s sometimes difficult to wade through. And this is probably the greatest pitfall of writing about art: killing the piece. But, there’s also the possibility that writing can add another dimension to the understanding of work. In the case of Hayes, though, you’ve got to see it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Having fun, but still complaining



Any new museum gets my applause, although I’m only now learning absolutes are impossible. Therefore, it’s only in the spirit of positive griping that I write about the New Museum building on the Lower East Side.

The building has received much critical praise, and much of it, for good reason. The space is spacious and somehow humble. But, no windows? No matter how high the ceilings, these galleries remain quintessential white cubes and feel claustrophobic. That said, I don’t like architecture to rival my art, so, cubes are ok by me, but no windows is not.

My favorite work on view were special exhibitions, Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries and Sharon Haye’s piece. More on the latter later.

As for the former, the multi-channel text-based videos in the lobby by the Seoul-based collective, has had me reconsidering the power fun can have in art. I’m usually not a fan of party as art (assume vivid astro focus, blech), but these guys make you smile, tap and think hard at the same time. See their website. I’ll see how long this feeling lasts.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Errata



I wanted to expound on my last post.

Who knows what actually has an effect on the world on a large scale. One could understandably think that the massive worldwide protests against a preemptive attack on Iraq in 2003 did diddly-squat; One could think the same about artist Mark Wallinger’s recreation at Tate Britain of Brian Haw’s protest display outside of parliament.

But, as an artist or activist, I think we have to believe in momentum. We have to have faith that pressure and protest grow, that both reflect a collective mood, and hopefully influence it. If not, why bother making anything at all.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Why not all join hands?



I’ve had blog block. Sorry about the no show Monday.

An old friend of mine runs and owns Bluestockings, the radical bookstore and activist center on the Lower East Side. While there yesterday, I heard talk about “actions,” skimmed through a book of maps prepared for future protest, noticed the sartorial choices of visitors, and realized to myself, “These people seem like artists!”

So what are the differences between activists and artists? As for me, what makes me the latter more than the former, is that I like be alone most of the time and I believe individual contribution is possible (which may just be ego). I’d really like to be part of a movement, a community, but, I shy away from groups. And, I confess, part of me wants the spotlight. I do think artists can make a mark on the world, but I tend to think activists are more successful at it.

What’s funny is that when art seeps into political action, I usually ignore it. I somehow look down on paper maché idols or even the Missile Dick Chicks. “That’s not art,” I say. And when political action comes into the gallery, I usually feel like it’s futile or uninteresting, unless it’s made complex through poetic gesture.

So, we’re back to square one. What are the terms of art and how can art make a difference?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

What about neon?


I’m heading out to Lite Brite Neon today in Brooklyn to explore ways of transforming some of my text-based videos into three-dimensional objects. These folks seem very familiar with artist’s projects, as their website attests. They produce Glen Ligon’s neon work, including his new sign at the Studio Museum in Harlem (the image above).

I’m on the fence about neon as art. It all seemed to have started with Bruce Nauman’s The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths, which borrowed what was then a purely commercial medium for art purposes. Part of his intention was for the piece to not look like art. Which at the time, it didn’t. Now that neon and signage is a common sight in exhibitions, I wonder what the point is in producing yet another statement or another example of language as art. Once this thought formulates in my mind, I’m almost immediately reminded that originality is mostly moot now. And then I remember I could have the same gripes about my “own” medium, video.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Five Easy Pieces

I finally learned how to upload video to the blog. Poor quality of image, fuzzy font (actually Helvetica) and letterbox are part of the deal for this space for now.

Nevertheless, here's an excerpt from a new video of mine.

I repeat a monologue from the 1970 film Five Easy Pieces over and over for thirty minutes while the room darkens as night falls. Accenting the psychological influence of family, the piece fluctuates between humor and tragedy.

video

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Shag Time




I’m just coming back from a brief tour of the Lower East Side’s growing art scene. I know I’m about two years late saying this, but, being away from Chelsea is refreshing. First, art doesn’t tower over you in size and price tag. Second, gallery personnel are actually approachable. This said, I’m pleased to announce that I introduced myself to one curator who I’ve been trying to corner for a few months now. And, lo and behold, she was pretty friendly. For a brief moment, I remembered that curators need artists just like artists need curators. So, even though I spoke in a head voice, holding in my words like Kermit the frog, I think my name may stick in her head when I call her in a few weeks time. So this is a boost. Makes me feel like dancing.

The variety of spaces was also enjoyable. I recommend visiting, for example:
Smith-Stewart on Stanton, Salon 94 in Freeman’s Alley, Jen Bekman on Spring, and also Participant’s new gargantuan space on East Houston.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Riding the waves



I have always been ambivalent about the medium of video. Primarily, what bothers me is that it’s time based; absorbing a piece happens over time. This is true of course for every medium. For example, a cubist painting takes shape when you stare at it. But, in video, the scope of a piece is not just right there, which may be a problem only for the impatient.

Here are other contradictory feelings in my head about video.

1. Videos are not tangible, you keep them on the shelf. But, this immaterial-ness skirts a product-oriented market. But an artist needs to sell to live. But, that’s why we have other jobs.
2. Video is a young, fast medium. But, it doesn’t have to be. Youth and pace are just trends.
3. There are no video masters, it’s not a skilled art. But, some video artists take on film-like projects. But, I hate that. Video is a medium unto itself. It shouldn’t be film-like. Anyway, think of what it takes to make a good video and of all the great video artists. Like who?

(image from Lawrence Goldhuber's Asylum)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Auchtung!






















On Monday, I was advised by a very prominent person in the art world to move to Berlin. He insisted that if he were starting a career as an artist, that’s where he would go. The scene is fresh, burgeoning, and still accessible to artists who haven’t broken “in.” Furthermore, life is inexpensive. He went on to comment that the time was ripe for me make such a move: I don’t have children, my paid work is portable. The general idea being, what’s there to lose, and think how much there is to gain.

I immediately went into panic mode, thinking that if I don’t move now, I’ll never get anywhere. If I don’t move now, I’ll miss the boat.

But, I have a hard time picturing me going to openings in Berlin, when I can’t even get myself to go here. And the idea of walking into a gallery and actually being able to talk to someone sounds like fantasy. But, that might be because New York galleries are so impenetrable.

So, I will consider it. But, I’ll start with a visit first. Maybe in a few months.

He also suggested LA.

Basically anything but New York.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

On View


















(Still from Reynold Reynold's Six Apartments, now at Roebling Hall)

Did a crawl through Chelsea today. Here’s some of what I saw:

1. Adrian Paci at Peter Blum on 29th. I very much enjoyed Paci’s videos at PS1 a few years back dealing with families separated by country. In the video on view here, the artist has a weeper and chanter mourn over his body, although he is still alive.

2. If you’re in to “experiences” you can walk into Antony Gormley’s room of dense steam at Sean Kelly also on 29th. I personally was too scared. The signs posted around the gallery warning claustrophobics and panic-types didn’t help.

3. Over at Roebling Hall on 26th and 11th, I was absorbed by Reynold Reynolds two-channel film installation that glimpses at lonely lives lived in separate apartments as well as well as bacteria and maggots. The camera work was a pleasure and the devastation tickles me pink.

4. Also on 26th, at James Cohan, I recommend Folkert de Jong’s decomposing harlequin figures stacked up on one another.

5. Isaac Julian’s multi-channel installation is too slick for me. It was hard to feel past the esthetic perfection. But, there’s a lot of talk about it, so you might want to check it out at Metro Pictures on 24th.

6. I liked the scale and sparseness of Charles Ray’s installation of three sculptures at Matthew Marks on 22nd. The gallery attendants sitting there in the practically empty space, almost sculptures themselves, are a scream. And the young boy playing with a toy car is appealingly forlorn.

7. I’ve heard so many complaints about Kara Walker’s cutouts being repetitive. But, I don’t buy into the critique, especially when seeing her diverse explorations into the medium at Sikkema Jenkins on 22nd. Here’s an artist whose appetite for form and content are equally large.

Monday, November 12, 2007

L'Age d'Or




I recently worked on the translation of a large book about the French interior designer Jean-Michel Frank, whose streamlined furniture and empty decors belonged to an avant-garde art scene in Europe in the 1920s and 30s. He rubbed shoulders with a mix of outré artists (Man Ray, Buñuel, René Crevel among them) and art patrons (Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, Nancy Cunard, the Pecci-Blunts), who hosted costume balls, lavish soirées and intellectual powwows. There was opium, rehab, suicide and name-dropping, but also artistic innovation and invention. While it was all a theater of extravagance and superficiality, I’ve got to say, it sounds dynamic and invigorating artistically.

Reading Calvin Tomkins’s portrait of Jeffrey Deitch in last week’s New Yorker, on the other hand, had me lying on my back depressed.

His portrait of today’s dominant art scene is entirely unappealing. Can’t say I didn’t already know, but, come on.

"… Sotheby’s Tobias Meyer said [,] 'The physical presence of the work is not the primary stimulant – they will want to see it already make a lot of impact on the printed page.' That sounds like the see-at-a-glance accessibility of advertising art, which happens to be a prime source for the work of Koons, Prince, Murakami, and a score of other top-selling contemporary masters. It also suggests a kind of art that can just be bought on the Internet, and Deitch confirms that this is the case. ‘We do it all the time,’ he told me. ‘People will ask me to send them a digital image of the next available thing by an artist whose work they know and like, and they will buy from that. It’s completely normal in our business.[...]'The art world used to be a community, but now it's an industry. [...] I try to act responsibly toward the art, but if people offer tremendous anounts of money for it you really can't control that.'"

Any exciting alternatives, I wonder, for the thousand millionth time?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Echoes




I probably sound like a broken record, but, being an artist is a privilege and a responsibility, a privilege because we get to express ourselves (a function of our social privilege), and a responsibility because we are in the public eye. It is therefore our job to present vision. I adhere to the Modernist perspective that artists should strive for larger meaning, even for the transcendental. It is our role to address the contradictions and sufferings of our time. I also ascribe to the Romantic idea that artists should brood.

How to do both without being didactic is our challenge.

For these reasons, it was a pleasure to read Christian Viveros-Fauné’s scathing review of “The Incomplete” at The Chelsea Art Museum.

He describes the show as presenting:

"an alarming paucity of deep, nettlesome intelligence - a deficit that would raise red flags in any other art market except ours. Fodder for a steady queue of patrons who prefer their expectations tickled rather than trounced, [the works of these artists] have a strong vein of cork running through them: No matter how hard their creators try to push deeper, their art invariably bobs right back up to the surface."

He goes on to say:

“…the cumulative effect of ‘The Incomplete’ is – to take a page from Neil Postman – of a generation amusing itself, if not to death, then into a kind of art-as-medium-of-entertainment obsolescence.”

Well that just about sums up my frustration, Monsieur. I’m assuming your mother-tongue, but, merci beaucoup!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Success's Formula




I received my first antagonistic comment, from anonymous, about my Alex McQuilkin post. Other comments appreciated.

On another note:

At a family roundtable the other night, I was involved in a heated, psychologically charged conversation about success’s formula. The ingredients proposed were: showing up, dint (which I learned means effort), and random (bias, connections, luck). How much of each does it take to make it?

My breakdown of success, as I consider it today, is as follows: 40% showing up, 40% random, and 20% dint.

Sound about right?

Or are we really going to give more credit to trying?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Everlasting Neil


I look to Neil Young as a model, an artist whose music clearly permeates the way he lives, feels and thinks. And the way he lives, feels and thinks becomes his music. His practice is him. No matter when or where, he’s always being Neil Young.

But, this quality can’t really be described as continuity. As Young says in Sunday’s New York Times profile:

“How did I get to where I am? I mean, what happened? Where’s the guy who wrote the other songs? Where’s the guy who wrote a lot of the early songs? There are some songs I can’t even sing. I don’t even know who wrote them. But I know I did. When I listen to myself, I go, ’O.K., but I can’t do that now.’“

This is every artist’s truth. We change, art changes. But at the same time, there is continuity. I think it somehow lies in adaptation, in allowing a work to change to fit a moment. Young explains:

“I want every song to be coming from me, not coming from who I was or who I’m trying to be or who people think I am or who they want me to be […] All those things are out. It’s just got to be: ‘Is this going to flow like water through me? Can I swim in this sound?’”

Although conclusions are boring, you could say an artist does write the same song over and over again, just in different ways.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Calgon, Take Me Away


I suppose art that makes you want to puke is better than art that stirs up no feeling at all. [Insert here your favorite truism about indifference].

That said, Alex McQuilkin’s video installation entitled “Joan of Arc” at Marvelli Gallery had me literally throwing my arms up in despair. The two-channel piece juxtaposes scenes from Carl Dreyer’s seminal 1928 film rendition of the martyr’s story with images of the artist pouting unconvincingly into the camera and shaving her blown-dry locks.

Watching a white, privileged woman – with the power of art success to bolster her – comparing herself to one of history’s most legendary persecuted figures is a reflection of American arrogance, unawareness and downright stupidity.

The press release suggests that McQuilkin (at age 27) yearns to validate adolescent angst, especially in the face of condescending adults (like myself). Her goal, it seems, is to represent her suffering – through imitation, through theater. What she achieves, however, is the opposite. She comes of as a shallow fake.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Paul Celan




I imagine that the way I am before poetry is the way many are before contemporary art. Most of the time, I just don’t get it. I want something to hold on to – a narrative, an opinion – but, usually when I think I’ve got something, I get befuddled in the next line. I have a hard time going with the flow, letting the image rise up in my head, letting go of analysis.

I’ve got a huge challenge in front of me, then, with Paul Celan, whose 1960s poems experimented with poetics (I think I know what that means). He lay his faith in the word, not the lyricism of the word, and consequently many of his words are invented. I’m fascinated when I read about his poetry, but when I have an example in front of me, I need to draw on patience and a loose mind. You can’t rush through them.

Here’s an example, from his book Breathturn, translated from the German:

NO SANDART ANYMORE, no sandbook,
no masters

Nothing in the dice. How
Many mutes?
Seventeen.

Your question – your answer.
Your chant, what does it know?

Deepinsnow,
Eepinno,
I-i-o.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The H Word















(Marcel Broodthaers, Femur d'une Femme Francaise)

One artist stereotype is that we’re moody and dark. These remarks in Roberta Smith’s recent review of two Chelsea shows focusing on death flavors the myth. She says:

“Their message is that all art, basically, is an attempt to explain, fend off or accept death; to commemorate, or communicate with, the dead or deities; or to defy death by making something that lives on. Not surprisingly, both shows are rampant with skeletons and skulls — as universally essential for physical life as they are symbolic of its inevitable end.”

And:

“Mr. Tricot’s essay in the Cheim & Read catalog provides a coda for both shows. In a startlingly Beckett-esque quotation, extracted from the work of the noted 17th-century Spanish writer Francisco de Quevedo, Death admonishes a reluctant victim: ‘What you call to die is to finish dying and what you call birth is the beginning of death and what you call to live is dying as you go on living.’”

Rolling your eyes or loving it? I personally love it. Although I do wonder if talking about living and happiness could ever sound as juicy. Could the ‘h’ word ever be the stuff of art, but eschew the sentimental, the quaint and saccharine?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

La Chinoise














Call me naïve, La Chinoise, Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 film about revolution-minded students is far from outdated, despite the reviews I’ve read.

Visually, the film feels entirely fresh, with each frame dappled deliberately with red. Text, still photographs, interviews, theater, musical interruptions all combine to form a true inquiry into change, political action, and role of art. What makes the film complex, also, is that doubt about revolution plays a role in the film as well. Violence is questioned, and also ridiculed. So, you’re not left feeling like you’ve just been told the one and only way.

All this reminded me how there’s very little room to talk about radical change without being labeled irrelevant, or worse, outmoded. While revolution may not happen over night, it’s the spirit that is so energizing; such a relief from the drone that a better world is idealism.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Image Potential




I’ve become so used to the idea that art is a luxury item, I almost forgot that in many contexts, it not only is integrated into everyday life, but has a role.

As Ken Johnson says in his review of “Bon: The Magic Word” at the Rubin Museum, on view through January:

“What is art for? What should it be for? What can it be for? Ask today’s art world these questions, and you’ll get a discordant babel of answers. So it is useful to check in on times and places that were not so conflicted. Consider, for example, the art of Bon, the centuries-old indigenous religion of Tibet, presented in a beautiful exhibition at the Rubin Museum of Art. The purpose of Bon art was, unequivocally, to help achieve spiritual enlightenment.”

I think it would be arrogant for many artists to make work with the intention of it being useful to others. Meaningfulness and usefulness can only be a rare bonus in a context where images have become ordinary, replaceable, and above all, acquire-able.

Nevertheless it’s just nice to think that there continue to be practices where images help shape mental outlooks. Through visualization, there is internalization.

The painting here was made in 2000, anonymously. It's used in Hindu practice as a meditation tool. Once the image is in your mind, you can draw on it, recall it, both as symbol and image. A collection of these Lingas, as they are called, are on view at Feature through October 27.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Does the horse make the rider? Part II

There’s of course, psychological aspects to having a studio or being studio-free.

The fact of shelling out a rent has somehow been my proof that I am an artist. I studio, therefore I am. But, the space has recently represented a pressure, a place where I must produce, where I have to prove myself, through discipline and struggle.

In releasing the studio, I hope to release my art, give less room to the super ego, more for the Id; bend my rules of what I think an artist is, and in turn, become a better one.

Now, keep in mind, these were precisely the same reasons why I took a studio in the first place. I wanted to have my own space for art only. A place to let go. And for a while, it did serve as such. And it may again in the future.

Anyone looking for a room of their own, may be interested in this one. If so, contact me. I think the landlord might rent the two spaces separately. Therefore, you’d get a 200sq ft. room with 4 huge windows, for $550.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Does the horse make the rider?




I’m seriously giving thought to giving up my studio. The main impetus is money. The whole space is $950, of which I pay $550, when the small adjacent room is sublet. But, I just lost another tenant, thanks to my landlord.

Anyone living outside of New York is probably vomiting right now. Anyone living in New York, should be vomiting, but we’ve forgotten. These numbers are outrageous.

Upstate I could rent an entire warehouse and make Christopher Buchels. But, I'm no Christopher Buchel. Most of my work is made at a desk.

On a practical level, this consideration also pushes me to let it go: no video studio visit happens in a studio. If you want someone to see your work, in my experience, you have to bring the studio to them (in this case, a computer).

Major cons include:
1. Can I make video work in the same place I eat and sleep, and translate
And more urgently:
2. Can I really consider myself an artist if I don’t have a studio?

I take some comfort in David Hammons. In a 2002 New Yorker profile of the artist, he says:

"I decided a long time ago that the less I do the more of an artist I am. […] Most of the time, I hang out on the street. I walk."

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Double-Header Wednesday







Double-post today.

In Hilton Als portrait of Kara Walker in The New Yorker this week, he ends with a sentimental vision of Walker celebrating her retrospective in a Paris restaurant with her gallery and others. Also, at the table is Octavia, Walker’s daughter, who sits there drawing.

Walker reminisces, “When Octavia was four, we were at an event like this […] And people were saying my name. And Octavia looked up and said, exasperated, ‘Kara Walker, Kara Walker. When is it gonna be my turn?’”

As if what the child wanted was to be an artist. Dream on folks. The child wanted her mother’s attention! And then the child turned to art hoping that if she did what her mother loved to do, she would get her attention. Maybe her mother would even be proud.

Children of artists psychology 101.

In no way do I mean to paint Walker in a bad light. What I’m trying to say is, as much as Kara Walker’s work brashly delves into social devils, we cannot forget how personal these must feel to her, not only as a black woman in the world at large, but as the child of a family that, from the sounds of it, doesn’t know how to be one. She refers to family intimacy as an “experiment.” And while art has served as a fantastic outlet to air ghosts – and have us confront them – I wonder about how she balances motherliness in there.

The ten million dollar question: can an artist also be a mother?

Questions















Can someone tell me how to make a link in a post?

Is there an advantage other than a cv notch to being in a show when the video component is a single projector showing a string of about fifty videos, each one by a different artists?

Should I lie about my age in the art world?

How does an artist let go of her super ego?

Are you supposed to just go to openings and talk to random people?

When they say, “show your best work,” doesn’t it mean show them what “they” will like?

During a studio visit, should I have a menu with all my work, but show only two or three pieces and see where it goes?

Monday, October 1, 2007

A Child's Tale















Dick, Jane and Mary are three famous people, all in the arts. They love each other.

Dick decides it’s time to publish another book. Lo and behold, Jane and Mary write the forward and introduction. Because Jane and Mary are famous, Dick gets even more attention. And Jane and Mary get even more attention in return because Dick is famous.

Friendship.

My friends are Jerry and June, but no one has ever heard of them.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Umm....


























I just pumped out an application for something called Geisai Miami, a juried fair for emerging artists. It runs concurrently with Art Basel Miami Beach and is hosted by PULSE.

The application calls for five jpegs of the proposed work and two installation shots. As this work would be shown for the first time, I made up my own installation views drawing on my rudimentary Photoshop skills.

I was going to ask, "What do you think? Legible or pathetic?" But, for some reason, a psychadelic effect happened on the upload. I'll try to reload later.

It's extremely frustrating to repeatedly have to represent my work in still images. It’s video folks. It moves. How can you grasp the breadth of a piece in stills? It’s like seeing a color field painting in black and white.

Believe it or not, such established programs as the Bronx Museum’s AIM don’t view DVDs until after the interview stage, and only then if the curators deem it necessary. My slides this years consisted of random words.

No wonder I've been rejected four times.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Addicted











This and last week's approach to a slew of applications is: do it fast and with less attention. My thinking is, maybe if I think less about it all, spend less time on the wording, just send out the images and DVDs, maybe it'll lead to something fresh that'll turn them on. And maybe when the rejection comes in, I won't feel as bad.

I keep saying to myself that I should stop with the applications for a bit. And just focus on new work. Just focus on de-ambition-ing. But, I can't seem to let them go. Especially when the applications are so repetitive, and therefore kind of easy.

A balance would be best of course. But, whenever I'm doing one thing, I feel guilty I'm not doing the other.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Aluminum Fowl


I just made my first video purchase from a gallery! James Clauer's documentary "The Aluminum Fowl" is a subtle, heart-wrenching documentary about three brothers in Nashville fighting off boredom and despair. You can watch the whole piece (about 13 minutes) on youtube. Or you can view it at the Cynthia Broan Gallery through October 13.

What's exciting is the edition is 100, and each DVD is being sold for only forty buckaroos. Now that's affordable art! I'm so happy to have a short that I can watch (not on my computer). And I feel I'm (morally) supporting Mr. Clauer himself.

When I asked the gallery why they decided to have such a large and reasonably priced edition, I was told, "That's what he wanted. He wants to get it out there."

I had a "duh" moment: the goal isn't to make loads (although that's fine), it's to get the work seen. So, at the risk of damaging the "value" of my work, I may just make an edition of 100 for forty bucks each and see if I get seen more easily.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Accepting Wall Flower Status

While I wish an artist could just count on the quality of her work to open doors into the field, I’m really coming to terms with the fact that this is just naive. I know, what’s the news here?

It’s just that I don’t want to go to openings. I don’t want to schmooze. I don’t want to social climb. But, if I want to get my work into shows, then this is what needs to happen. At this very moment, I don’t know if it’s worth it.

They all did it. Everyone except for Van Gogh basically.

This is when new ideals about alternative spaces come surging into my mind. I’m not talking Artists Space, Art in General, and White Columns (although I wouldn’t kick them out of my bed). I’m talking about taking leave of the whole scene and finding/forging a separate community. Of course, as soon as you say separate, you think, “separate from what?” The answer: the scene. So it’s still plays its role. There is no escape.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Thanks, but...











I’ve said it before, aren’t artists lucky to have Roberta Smith? She’s our advocate.

In her article yesterday on the Büchel-Mass MOCA controversy, she concludes:

“Never underestimate the amount of resentment and hostility we harbor toward artists. It springs largely from envy. They can behave quite badly, but mainly they operate with a kind of freedom and courage that other people don’t risk or enjoy. And it can lead to wondrous things.”

Doesn’t that make you feel good? Don’t you wish your mother would defend you like this?

But then I stop to think.

What’s so great about us artists? As a “class,” we aren’t unified. We certainly don’t set a moral example. And we definitely have an ego problem. Often times we think we’re making “wondrous things,” we think we’re being “free,” but for the most part, the work of an artisan, a civic leader, or a good psychologist is much more impressive and effective.

If an artist is propelled by a freedom and courage – and I do think this is a goal – then it is a privilege, and should be recognized as a responsibility.

As for me, I’m too bogged down by a sense of responsibility to attain any of that freedom and courage.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I can't breathe!


















Ever notice how goddamn heavy and unwieldy Artforum is? I try to peruse its pages in bed, but only end up with red marks on my thighs and sore wrists. Basically, the only way to view it efficiently is seated upright at a table.

You’re not meant to curl up to Artforum. You’re supposed to respect it.

On a similar subject:

I’ve been reading the catalogue for "between two deaths," a show in Germany this summer premised on the intriguing idea that melancholy, loss and anxiety are cultural trends, representing a return to romanticism. The release promises work that promises emancipation. The essays however are so weighed down with intellectual blah-blah, you don’t stand a chance of breathing. If you were to trim off the fat to get to the point, you’d have nothing more than the two sentences I wrote to describe the project.

So much goddamn weight everywhere passing for meaning.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Comfort in Discomfort




My goal is to make without a goal.

In the exciting book “Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees,” about Robert Irwin, the Angelino artist says:

“You have to make it very clear to anyone who might read your essay, especially any young artist who might happen to pick it up, that my whole process was really an intuitive activity in which all of the time I was only putting one foot in front of the other, and that each step was not that resolved. Most of the time I didn’t have any idea where I was going; I had no real intellectual clarity as to what it was I thought I was doing. Usually it was just a straight forward commitment in terms of pursuing the particular problems or questions which had been raised in the doing of the work.”

And, the author adds:

“Something happened, though, over the next several years. He got hooked on what he was doing: curiosity came to supersede ambition as his principal motivation. It has stayed this way ever since.”

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Truckin'



An artist’s career develops and grows over time. It’s a lifetime profession. Work evolves, projects gestate, there are fruitful periods, there are droughts, periods of recognition, periods of anonymity. I have a very hard time remembering this.

Usually I think that now is all there is. This is the defining moment. I am no more, and usually less.

So, in fact, some kind of faith (blind?) is needed to continue on. Even when doubt invades – Why am I doing this? Do I really like this enough? Where is this going? – you do it anyway. Not easy. I’ve always taken doubt to be an indicator that something has to change; that I have to change something; do something else. But, now I think you just have to keep on truckin’.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Buzz Word: Identity














Identity was all the rage in the western world about ten years ago. Words like “multicultural” and “raceclassandgender” harnessed explorations into social self. It then became evident that these categories were too narrow, and, consequently, identity as a whole turned into a somewhat passé subject.

In Friday’s review of the exhibition "Infinite Island" at the Brooklyn Museum, Holland Cotter reestablishes the relevance of identity, and in doing so, reminds us that the art world extends way beyond the Chelsea boy’s club.

What had me going were the following comments:

“How such art can be persuasively presented is, of course, the question. The thematic categories Mr. Mosaka applies to the show — religion, politics, memory, popular culture — have been used in countless shows. They are clichés by now, perceptual straitjackets rather than enlightening guides. As conceptual models, they require rethinking, as does the model some of the art follows.”

The question, of course, applies not only to curators, but to artists. How can artists address identity in all its complexity?

Cotter suggests:
“The show’s best work is the most abstract, much of it performance-based.”

Right on, Holland.

If an artist is going to talk about social self, she needs to present overlap, contradiction, tension, and coexistence. That might look abstract. And performance is a great way to tap into the impermanence of it all.

How to do this is another post unto itself.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

If













It would have been a masterpiece, I would have been a masterpiece, if:

1. I were Werner Herzog
2. I had filmed it the night before, during the lunar eclipse
3. I had a better lens on my camera
4. I had done the program full-time, instead of part-time
5. I were up on Adorno, Rancière, Benjamin and Lacan
6. I were more patient
7. I had more confidence
8. I were more thorough
9. I were a sculptor instead
10. Or a writer

What does it take to drop the voices and just do it.

Hey, some mega-corporation should use that as their tag line.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Market is your Mother















The Market is that invisible but overwhelming force that tells us what’s good to buy and what’s not; what we need; what we don’t; what we need to produce; what we don’t; what’s valuable and what’s not. The Market is everywhere. The Market is right. Always. The Market is your mother.

The question is, can art, exist outside the Market? And, more importantly, can an artist exist without her Mother’s recognition.

Good thing my shrink is coming back from vacation next week.

In response to my last post, Vito Polly-Vincent comments, “art arguably offers the best hope for creating a non-market based understanding of the world.”

I can barely grasp the freedom behind that possibility; the possibility of the non-market driven creation. This of course, is not a new idea. It is at the root of anything labeled alternative or independent. It is Robert Smithson. But, I’ve only just had a twinge of understanding of this freedom viscerally.

Making can be a way to exist outside the system, as romantic as that sounds. As unrealistic as that sounds. As unrealistic as that is. It is an act of protest. It's non-dictated behavior. If you can let yourself go.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The F Word


















F is for Failure.

Failure with a capital F is about work, career.

In this city, I get in touch with my feelings of being a Failure. It’s in my face.

Love life, inner growth, physical well-being are trumped by Failure.

From a Buddhist perspective, faced with Failure, I have an opportunity to surrender. Give in. Give up. There is in fact no success. If I can do this, horizons open, barriers fall, and happiness is possible.

I would love to.

A start would be making art for art’s sake. But, I honestly don’t know if I can do it. I get excited. I’m ambitious. And I still believe art is a public act.

Any tips on making stuff just to make?

Monday, August 20, 2007

In and Out























I’ve spent most of July and August in Delaware County, upstate New York, where Marc and I are flipping a house.

The closest thing to an art scene involves making bears and eagles from giant tree stumps, or painting your car in preparation for the demolition derby. Other advantages include a less heightened awareness of physical appearance, a looser approach to time, and a more realistic definition of what rich and poor mean.

As soon as I crossed the George Washington Bridge last night, a different set of values seeped back into me. I almost immediately found myself concerned about how I was going to distinguish myself and what I had to see to know.

Every place is its own bubble.

Plenty of artists live or have lived outside the hubbub in order to do their work. I always think of Philip Guston, in pre-Woodstock Woodstock, in his studio night and day. But, I just don’t think I could do it. It’s like I need the pressure – or think I do – to make the struggle feel like one. But, maybe I’m doing myself a disservice.

Perhaps the ideal situation would be stints in each place. To be seen.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

When that MBA comes in handy



















Vito Polly-Vincent had these wise words to say regarding how to talk about work:

How about if you break your work down into sub-groupings, kind of like conceptual portfolios, so you can say, for example, "in this body I… xyz..." "In that body of work I...xyz..." This way you don't pigeonhole your work and place limits on what you can do. And then for marketing purposes, you create your own concise spiel - "talking points" - the purpose of which would be to unify the varying strands of your work as a whole.

Great advice for any artist. Truly.

The problem lies in what he refers to as “talking points.”

How do these sound for my own work:
1. I make video installations
2. Draw on several visual tools, including home movies, and staged societal interactions and text.
3. Explore estrangement and intimacy on a family level, repression and emancipation on a societal level.

Back to square one. This still sounds very varied and confusing to me.

All this reminds me of two things:

1. I’m an artist not a businesswoman, and never the twain shall meet.
2. All artists need a rep.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Summing it up
















At the end of my studio visit a few weeks ago, I was asked if I would describe my work as language based. I replied, that some of it was. This seemed to pose a problem. A problem of ambiguity.

Can dealers and curators digest a diverse body of work produced by a single artist? Or is it better for an artist to develop and present a series that touches on a single theme and draws on similar visual tools? Please, please, tell me.

If an artist does in fact need to be able to summarize her work (for marketing purposes, I imagine), I’m at a lost. Up until now, I’ve thought it best to either focus on the description of one project (“In my most recent video, I performed domestic tasks in blackface”), or to use very general terms that essentially don’t provide a clear picture at all (“I’m interested in presenting both estrangement and intimacy.”) But, I’m uncertain, which is best. Perhaps a combination of both.

And, today, I'm convinced that if I only new how to proceed, success would be knocking at my door.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Affirmations




I had this brief conversation yesterday on Ed Winkleman’s blog. I appreciate the un-flowery-ness.

I said:
We art folk do take ourselves so seriously. What makes us think we're actually so special, that what we do is so meaningful? (I am the first to be guilty of this)


He said:
Feeling special, and the gift to others that they may feel special, is special and so meaningful.


I said:
But, most of the time, isn't feeling special in fact delusion, arrogance, self-importance?


He said:
There is a difference between 'feeling special,
There is a difference between 'feeling special' and acting with arrogance or self-importance. If you are in a relationship with another person who makes you "feel special’ you feel elevated, in the euphoric sense, a feeling that your existence is important in the world. It is.
Arrogance or self-importance, act to direct ones sense of ‘feeling special’ with the intent of separating oneself from others by placing oneself above others. This behavior in essence reveals that the arrogant or self-important person does not feel they are special.
I think that in moments when we ‘feel special’ we can make others feel the same way by induction.
The activity of the artist is directed outward, we create something. This is a different activity than doing a job to someone else’s specifications.
Creation is the act of making something from nothing. The fact that there often is no creative roadmap means the artist must act with the belief and conviction that what they are trying to do will succeed. We also know that most of the time we do not, or only achieve partial success. The ability to face this uncertainty requires a degree of belief in oneself, if only for the moment we must feel we are special.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Old-School Existential Angst




(Monsieur Albert Camus)


Studio visits are so anti-climactic.

I always want jaws to drop. I want a contract to be drawn up right away. I want a commitment to a solo show. Next month.

But, really the only thing you can hope for is that they don’t yawn. I only had one woman look bored. I suppose out of the less than ten visits I’ve actually had, that’s not so bad.

In actuality, a studio visit is just the beginning of a relationship. And supposedly, these are good to have.

I’m starting to imagine that every stage of “advancement” in the art world will actually be somewhat disappointing. All this goes to prove is that, really, I’m doing this because I like making the stuff. But, while I’m taking my break, I’m having a hard time remembering that I do. Does this mean I have to face the facts that I’m not passionate enough to continue on. This is my greatest fear.

I’d like to feel excited and impatient to get back into the studio. But, so far, I haven’t felt either.

Without art, about 90% of my self-identity falls away. That’s too much for me to face.

The eternal question remains: who am I and for how long?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Discomfort Zone












Apparently, malaise, death and alienation are old-school. In his appreciation of Ingmar Bergman yesterday, Stephen Holden, writes:

“Today the religion of high art that dominated the 1950s and 60s seems increasingly quaint and provincial. The longstanding belief that humans are born with singular psyches and souls is being superseded by an emerging new ideal: the human as technologically perfectible machine. The culture of the soul – of Freud and Marx, and yes, Bergman – has been overtaken by the culture of the body. Biotechnology leads the shaky way into the future, and pseudo-immortality, through cloning, is in sight. Who needs the soul if the self is technologically mutable? For that matter, who needs art?”

Now, that’s depressing.

I hate the idea that soul-searching is a modernist endeavor, a romantic ideal. But, that’s the current consensus. Explorations of the self are usually now labeled “earnest” or “naïve.”

The closest thing I’ve seen recently that takes a stab at irresolvable-ness, is the HBO series “Six Feet Under,” which spins around the inevitability of death. But, I don’t feel particularly pushed forward watching the episodes. There’s something about, say, Monica Vitti, or abstract montages that just make me feel more “weighty” as a viewer. But, this might simply be pretentious.

I just prefer devastation to comfort in art. When I read (re: Bergman), “this world is a place where faith is tenuous; communication, elusive; and self-knowledge, illusory at best,” I just want rip open my netflix and curl up on the couch.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Validity of the Inner Child




Children are simply not discussed in art circles. Partners, lovers, husbands and wives, yes, but kids, no. It’s just not a hip subject.

I confess that I’ve bought into this prejudice, and tend to keep my family and my art circles separate. So, for me, I’m going out on a limb for this post (or series of posts).

I have a stepdaughter who lives with us during her vacations; in the summer, six weeks. While I find it virtually impossible to work on my own work while she’s here, she and I have undertaken (or plan to undertake) a few art activities that I’m sure some artist could capitalize on if exaggerated.

1. Drawing without looking at your paper; especially portraits.
2. Massive still lifes that combine the usual flowers and vases, but also cell phones and remote controls.
3. Putting Queen Ann’s Lace in a vase of water with food dye.
4. Making “screen prints” from layers of cardboard cut out into body parts and symbols.

I tend not to like craft-based art. But, I’ve noticed that these activities are loosening me up a bit. We’ll see about the impact when I return to the studio.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Road Rage


I have no thoughts about art for this post. Just a report on my break: I read almost an entire review today. Therefore, I have hope that the tank is slowly refueling.

I did have this unrelated thought while driving and seeing the ubiquitous “God Bless America” bumper sticker. Each word in that phrase is basically a concept, and therefore has no concrete meaning. And yet, we know exactly what is meant by it. But, can that dominant meaning be subverted?

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Career of Magical Thinking



Believe it or not, I’m actually being considered for the Whitney Biennial.

It started with a studio visit with a curator at the Whitney who I have known for a while. Although she in not involved in this year’s exhibition, I asked her how I might be considered. She told me about her experience curating it some ten years back, how her office filled with proposals overnight and how the whole exhibition is basically a political mess. Nevertheless, she gave me the name of a consulting curator based outside NY for the 2008 show. Miraculously, he picked up the phone when I found the courage – from god knows where – to call him. He accepted to receive a package.

After a month of light nagging, he wrote an email informing me that he forwarded my work to the other curators (back in NY). Then I worked my way through the labyrinth at the museum and got hold of an assistant. She told me I was on their radar and would be reviewed.

This high lasted a week.

Then I wrote the consulting curator outside of NY to thank him again, and to basically remind him that I exist.

Today, I called the assistant again and asked whether the film and media review had been completed. She just responded, clearly exhausted and overwhelmed, that the process was still in progress, and that I would be contacted if there were questions.

No high today.

Sounds like I’m one of thousands. The chances that I’m put into the film and media program are almost nil. But, I still have a grain of hope.

At this point, I truly feel there’s nothing left to do.

Unless, there is. All suggestions welcome, including mantras, candle-lighting and downright begging.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What I did over summer vacation















That’s it. I’m at the end of my rope.

I cannot absorb not one more review in ArtForum, The New York Times, The New Yorker, TimeOut, The Village Voice, Tema Celeste, Modern Painters, Flash Art, or any other publication.

I cannot prepare not one more application to an open call, to a residency, to a career-enhancement program.

I have no energy left to sit down at my computer to create not one more text-based video, to take out my camera, to pull out my notebook as my thinking pad, to simply lie on my back and let the work come.

I am officially taking a break.

The problem is, I don’t have the faith that breaks are finite. I don’t really believe that “real artists” take them. And, despite Rilke’s moving assertion that ideas must gestate, that the mind must lay fallow, if you will, I don’t trust it.

So, in this break, I’m taking a leap of faith. But, most of the time it just feels plain depressing.

I will continue with blog entries twice a week.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Updated Website













I've updated my website a bit, adding two excerpts from recent work, a new statement and a current cv.

www.MollyStevensVisualArt.com

Feedback appreciated.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Radical Stamina

I may be one of the few emerging artists who likes New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman. His apparent scathing disdain for contemporary art seems conservative to most. But, I usually think he’s accurate.

In his recent review of the Venice Biennale, he had this to say about the new work by YBA artist Tracy Emin, of soiled bed fame.

“…they left an impression that Ms. Emin has her sights on the art market while also suggesting that even the cheekiest British artists are really reactionaries at heart.”

In this same vein, Alex Ross ends his New Yorker portrait of Sibelius this week quoting composer Morton Feldman: “The people who you think are radicals might really be conservatives. The people who you think are conservative might really be radical.”

This reminded me how, often, the subversive spirit is just trend, and therefore pretty empty. Effective counter-culture is often so simple, it could go unnoticed. Flare is foregone for carefully meditated and radical pognancy. Many of Marina Abramovic’s performances are prime examples, in my mind. And this pared down pointed-ness is what I aim for in my own work.

Roberta Smith sums up the idea in her review of Rudolf Stingel at the Whitney:

“Art takes a lot of thought and deliberation, no matter how simple it may seem; and indolence has its rewards. The implication is that artists in particular should do as little as possible. The sign of a successful artwork is its ability to derive the greatest effect from the least means. Another lesson to be extracted from this elegant show is the oxymoronic nature of the notion of ‘empty beauty’ that has been bruited about extensively in the last decade. This show suggests that if art is empty, it is not beautiful and vice versa. If something is beautiful in any sustained way, it contains, at the least, an idea about beauty and usually much more. It is the result of something being worked on and worked out. Beauty is the state of operating at stunning efficiency, a triumph that can’t be empty.”

Monday, July 9, 2007

Art for Art's Sake


















Anyone who is developing a form of self-expression (and anyone who reads this blog), is probably familiar with the fact that the art path is a winding one. There’s rejection, disappointment, self-doubt, but also discovery, growth and sometimes deep satisfaction.

Recently, my road has been a bit more rocky than smooth, which has prompted some of those dearest to me to encourage me to focus more on the pleasure of making than the pressure of exhibiting.

I’m not sure this is possible for me.

Because part of me is convinced that art (in any of its forms) is a public act. Art will atrophy if it is not seen, heard or read by an audience. Art is about contributing to and extracting meaning from how we live as a society and as individuals. But in order for art to do what it can do, it has to exist out there.

But maybe it is possible.

Because another part of me is suspicious that I make because I crave to be recognized, seen, heard. Perhaps I am motivated by a desire to fill a psychological deficiency. Perhaps if I just finally accept that the Mother will never say “Beautiful Job!” I’ll be set free and be a better artist.

Anyone getting the impression that I’m starting to repeat myself in these posts? Next time, I'm changing the subject.