Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Civilization and its Discontents

There was no Gossip Girl on Monday, so at a loss, I surfed my other three channels. After a stint with Dancing with the Stars, I fell upon a documentary on what happened to art and national monuments during World War II.

Did you know:

1. When Paris was evacuated, volunteers gathered at the Louvre to help pack its collection into trucks that would drive it to safer shelter?

2. In Florence, a brick tube was built around the David and wooden shelters on stilts were erected to protect a building’s (I can’t remember which one) treasured molding.

3. An American commission (do we care if it was a PR move?) of curators, art historians and educators to protect monuments and other cultural treasures from the perils of war. These “Monuments Men” also returned art stolen by Hitler and the Nazis, during and right after the war.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Question of the day

Let’s say you’re putting together a solo show. I always thought the whole room, no matter how many pieces, should look like a unit, both visually and conceptually. The work should be part of the same series, and this sometimes means leaving good past work out. But, how unified does this union have to be? Can the dialogue be looser than I think? Or does that variety only work if it's part of the concept?

Thursday, November 20, 2008


It occurred to me: the birth of Conceptual Art really has to be considered in historical terms. This was the 60s, and artists were breaking away from, rebelling against, the established and revered norms of Modernism. So, against heroic self-expression, against the narrow concerns of color and light, against beauty really. If this is true, we can’t forget that.
So, Kosuth, as tight as it seems, was in fact going astray.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Attempting a Nod

We have to add Joseph Kosuth to our list of text artists because he’s a pioneer of language-based work and more generally Conceptual Art. A selection of his early works is on view at Sean Kelly through December 6.

Kosuth is the kind of artist I’m grateful to – for expanding notions of art by helping art become conscious of itself, by including what is outside the frame, and even in the viewer’s mind as part of the piece – but who makes me feel kind of stupid, and mostly superficial for even thinking about esthetics instead of meaning and structure. But, that’s my problem, not his.

Kosuth’s work counters excess and formalism in art when used for its own sake. What’s important are the ideas. And even what you have in front of you on the wall is just a model. “The actual works of art are the ideas,” he has said.

How could you approach this piece pictured here (from the mid-60s)? For one, it's art literally referring to itself. It's not about formalism, but about redundant meaning. They call it tautology.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Grass is always greener

I have a friend, probably almost fifty years old, who is a composer. He makes money doing sound recordings and the music for short films he learns about on Craigslist. He lives in an apartment with two roommates. He doesn’t have a cell phone. He has a very small social circle. But he has a large and growing number of contemporary music compositions.

When I asked him about getting his work performed, he said he was lazy and also said that if he had to deal with the inevitable rejection, it would adversely affect his work. So, if it happens easily then great. If not, well, he’s just not going to bother, it seems. He’s confident that the work has worth because he has listened to so much music, both from the past and present.

To me, he’s the real deal. I almost idealize his inner world and his outsider-ness. Does this mean the rest of us are just a bunch of kiss-ass fakes?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Question of the day

In art school. they tell you to be aware of your influences, to be able to explain how your work responds to other art.

What I want to know is this:

Do I have to really name my influences in my artist statement? Does this help a curator value my work? Does it help a viewer find his or her way? I feel stupid doing it.

(image from Christopher Wool and Richard Hell's artist book Psychopts)

Monday, November 10, 2008


I’d like to add Cy Twombly to my list of text-based artists. He’s who I want to be this week.

His markings, scrawls, and actual words – dating from the time of the Abstract Expressionism to our present - are a form of writing in itself. In the October issue of Flash Art, Manfred de la Motte is cited:
Does Twombly use a kind of writing? Certainly, but a kind of writing that has hardly anything in common with other genres, if not the name of writing. There is no preventive understanding of the 26 letters, no conventional calligraphy. No po√®me-objet, that almost imperfect permeation of painting and writing. There is no decorative element as in common abstract drawings. And yet it is a kind of writing, a transcription, or a mere psychogram that demands: Read! Yet there is no sense of meaning in his writing: it is the autopresentation of reading and a demand to read. Twombly’s theme is reading, not legibility.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Hell Phase

In the creative process, let’s designate the uncertain-but-doing-it-anyway phase. This is a time of grappling, liking one way one day, another the next. This is a time when almost anyone you show the work to returns a blank stare. You have only the vaguest words for what you’re doing – although you can get excited about various aspects -, and anyone else who does saves the day. You’re not even certain the work is going anywhere. The almighty “intention” you learned about in art school shifts or is null. But you’re doing the work anyway.

This phase probably should be embraced. Because something unexpected can happen; because complexity is knit when the analytical mind doesn’t take over and confine an idea; because the thinking mind, that “intention,” may not be the best thing for your work.

Although I’ve been at my series of text-drawings for almost a year now, I’m in this phase. I could call it hell, so I think I will.