Wednesday, June 27, 2007

But seriously, now

For reasons I do not understand, Damien Hirst’s diamond encrusted skull is getting massive amounts of attention. I don’t get the piece. There’s death, diamonds and art. Is it about the death of art? Is it a statement about how art outlives us? Is he pulling off some kind of stunt about soaring art prices (100 million dollars in this case)? I’m not really sure and I’m not interested enough to pursue it. In fact, the whole thing just disgusts me.

A friend pointed out the other day that I’m quick to pan this work, but I support David Hammon’s recent installation of painted and scorched fine fur coats, sparsely installed in an Upper East Side mansion/gallery. Although, I understand the comparison (something along the lines of luxury, ostentation, sacrilege), the Hammon’s work is poetic, dead-serious (no pun intended), and also, not-for-sale.

I keep saying this to myself: art is not a stunt, art is not entertainment. To quote Susan Sontag, “Space reserved for being serious is hard to come by in modern society, whose chief model of a public space is the mega-store (which may also be an airport or museum).” Art should aim to be this serious space.

[Note: I need a new studio mate. You’ll get a small room with a door, full walls, a large window, 29th Street, $425 (including electricity). Perfect for a writer. Available August or if better for you, September. Call me 917 940 7030.]

Monday, June 25, 2007

Foolin' em

The other night, I had a drink with another video artist. Completely un-self-consciously, she reported on her new projects, on the pitfalls of posting a recent work on YouTube, and on her successes. She took the greatest pleasure in describing the adventures of her artistic evolution, which generally springs off 80’s heavy metal cover bands.

It was fun to hear about, although I felt like a pop culture loser.

Then, she asked what I was up to, and I said, “oh, I’m doing a lot of work incorporating text.”

Well, that was a conversation stopper.
And so, we shifted to her love life.

The point is, many of us artists have a very hard time describing our work, but, we’ve got to bite the bullet. I’m starting to learn that it’s best to describe a specific project, rather than try to describe form (“incorporating text”) or overarching subject (“impermanence”).

I could have said: I’m working on a three-channel project that overlaps three subjects, artist life, family life and political life. I’m using documentary dialogue and text, no photographic images.

I probably would still have gotten the same blank reaction, but at least I would have done myself some justice. Enough fuel at least to just get myself back into the studio.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Is there any way to know if what you’re doing is crap? I mean, objectively, there is crap, I believe this, but how do you know if your work is? For myself, I try not to determine this on feedback, because, in my case there is so little of it. If feedback is key, I’m screwed.

Time and space usually help me see a work clearly. When I finish a piece, I usually think it’s the best thing I’ve made. I get all excited. But, then I put it away, and a few months later I watch it again and realize all sorts of problems.

One of my biggest problems is haste.

In the less than ten years that I’ve been “emerging” my career, I think I stand by only three or four pieces. That’s not much for the retrospective (or is it?). The rest, well, I might call it crap. Although, I tend to save that judgment for other people’s work.

That’s not very nice, I know.

The thing is, what we make is probably 99% junk. But, to know that while in the process only kills the fantasy. And, when there’s no feedback, you need that grain of hope.

God knows what the line is between delusion and rigor.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Tuna on White

In her scathing review of Neo Rauch at the Met, Roberta Smith states the following:

"Yet middlebrow remains a useful term, and an expanding category in today’s art world, a handy handle for art that is nonthreatening, accessible and earnest and that deals with time-honored humanistic themes.

"The phrase connotes an absence of, say, highbrow rigor and difficulty, or, equally, lowbrow flash and perversity. Jeff Koons is an example (not rare these days) of an artist who has had it both ways — he’s highbrow and lowbrow with such success that by now he probably can’t avoid being a bit middlebrow too. But there are also artists whose work is middlebrow to begin with. Bill Viola and Tim Hawkinson, for example."

I feel so insecure now.

From what I understand, middlebrow means, not very researched, but, not really irreverent either? Basically, a middlebrow person is a bit bland and aims for the "feel good." In my head, the person who calls you "arty" (or worse, "artsy fartsy") is middlebrow.

But how do you avoid middlebrow-ness? Her definition of middlebrow doesn't sound so bad. So, this is a lot of pressure.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Heart is not a bad word

In Monday’s post, I was really opening up a can of worms. The representation of suffering is no small topic. The subject collides right into the ethics of representing others, into the aestheticization of documentary photography and film, and of course, into questions about “what works” (for whom and why being another issue in itself).

As fate would have it, in the most recent issue of Book Forum, there’s a review of two books on the subject. The only thing that really caught my eye was this: In a 1981 essay Martha Rosler, accuses “concerned photography” of “embracing the weakest possible idea of social engagement, namely compassion.” I do realize that Rosler might be condemning sentimentality and passiveness, but, what a totally inhuman way to put it! It’s surely this attitude that leads to irony, my number one pet peeve in art nowadays. Nothing is more boring. It basically erases meaning. It’s a non-stance. It’s non-existence. Might as well just sit down in front of the TV and wait to die.

Beautiful examples of how aestheticizing the documentary can be powerful and compassionate (a good word, by me) are Errol Morris’s early documentaries, "Vernon, Florida" and "Gates of Heaven." Each shot is beautiful composed, yet folks have their own voice, they’re given their humanness in a non-Hallmark way. Ideology is removed in favor of a layered and complex view of pain and pleasure.

Monday, June 11, 2007

More bulltets and heroin

Zoe Strauss’s photographs of Philadelphia’s down and out shouldn’t bother me, but they do. There’s nothing unusual about a photographer using the camera to expose poverty, injustice and despair, especially to viewers whose privilege is blinding. And there’s nothing fake about Strauss’s intentions. She’s obviously committed and really in there. Furthermore, she’s excited about her success, which is a fantastic relief from cool-headed art stars.

So, what’s the problem?

I think it has something to do with the effect. Or rather non-effect. The work just doesn’t move me. It seems so common in its un-commonness. It’s as if photography itself weren't working anymore. It's as if it's symbolic power were impotent. For this reason, I’ve been thinking that metaphor is a must for art these days.

This reminds me to read Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag. And back on the topic of books, I realize it was a bit pretentious to talk about picking up Jacques Rancière in my last post; especially since I did, and can’t understand 98% of it. It has literally taken me fifteen minutes to get through a page.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

That's the Spirit!

I recently popped into THE bookstore in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and found that I wanted to read everything they had on display. It nauseated me. How could it be that I’m a market, so predictable. I’ve been cultivating my interests carefully, thoughtfully, for years, and someone now just opens a bookstore and it’s all there. Plus, the place was packed. Who are these people and why do they annoy me so? Does self-hatred alone explain it?

In the same vein, there’s news of a television channel devoted to art (see Ed Winkleman’s blog post yesterday). Even more disgusting to me! What are we, NBC?

Whatever happened to the idea of artists being outsiders? It’s a romantic image I like(d) to harbor, but now, being an artist is hip and art is an establishment. Where once I thought I could be an artist because it was a home on the margins, now I find myself struggling to be part of the “in” crowd (again).

So, I’ll go to Williamsburg to pick up Jacques Rancière (because it’s better than Barnes and Noble), and I’ll be glued to Art TV like pornography, but I’ll love/hate it every second of the way.

Monday, June 4, 2007


Don’t have a damn thing to write today. Just the prospect of having to go to the studio without a project to work on. I could prepare a proposal to an open call, but their definition of “emerging artist” practically excludes me, and therefore is a bit insulting. In any case, judging by this year’s jurors, I don’t stand a chance. Don’t know: it seems they’ll want issue-based work, which I do have, but am not so revved-up about right at this moment. So, do you send in a proposal anyway, or just blow it off? Blowing it off is not something familiar to me. I come more from the “nothing will happen unless you make it happen” school. So contrary to artistic development really, since no room is left for gestation, chance, accident.

Sometimes the hardest part about going to the studio, is “going.” Once I’m there, it’s manageable. I don’t even have a commute to complain about. It’s just a block away.