Monday, March 30, 2009

I am going into the big birch wood, my pills will soon start doing me good (1990)

The Kippenberger show at MoMa made my jaw drop. I had no idea it would. What I knew about his work came from reviews, all enthusiastic. And then I had read about how he lived hard and I imagined a whole hip cult around him romanticizing, sugar-coating his personality. I pre-decided I wouldn’t join that club.

But what a show. What struck me most was his furious production, so refreshingly un-precious, and his refusal to formulize. He tore through almost every approach to art making, demystifiying the idea that art is the work of great genius. It is not. It is work and work and nothing more.

What is painful about the show is the evident self-loathing, the wound behind the fury. The question is raised again: is inner torment a key ingredient in the whole endeavor? For Kippenburger, yes. I think it was his push, or rather his shove.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Meanwhile, in the studio...

Unwillingly, I picked up the paintbrush. Kicking and screaming, I tell you because of all the new issues it raises, from the technical (which gesso?) to the philosophical (why paint?) to the esthetic (palette?) to the concept (word as form or content?) to the psychological (Ha! Who are you kidding? You little…). But, I had no choice, because at all costs, I want to avoid formula. And I had a hunch the graphite drawings could have become a formula at this point.

There’s this idea of looking for something in what you make. Do you know before hand what that is? Or when you see it after making it? More and more, I’m leaning toward the latter.

What bothers me about the academics is the official-ness, I think. And that’s what worries me about the talk/presentation I gave about text-based art and which I’ll be giving again: the pressure to be expert, comprehensive. Above all, I don’t want to feel the heaviness of categorization or knowing. As if I were in school. And yet, I like to expand with words. And I like to explain (even if stems from a defensiveness). What works for me is when an explanation opens out a concept rather than closes it in.

And what I like about a drawing is when it shows something I can’t fully explain.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Luxury 101

On the 28th Street platform of both the uptown and downtown 1, you’ll find this ad for new luxury condos in Jersey City. Because really, what’s more luxurious than having a fake Franz Kline over your Ikea couch?

Let this snob tell you what’s wrong with the painting reproduction:

1. The black lines were made quickly but not lightly. They’re thick and dark because the artist kept going over them, not because the brush was well saturated. You can tell in the two tree trunks at the left bottom corner.

2. In the conversion from a vertical to a horizontal format, the triangular composition has lost its ability to hold the thing up. It now sinks, making it impossible for your eye to travel from one area to the next.

3. The black line should hug the edge of the canvas, which in return should cradle the paint. Instead the black crashes into the edge, especially at that right angle on the right side.

What’s that line in Crocadile Dundee? “That’s not a knife…” ? Now this is a Franz Kline!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Reality check

The un-glamorous, uneventful life of an artist is fully described in The Writing Life by Annie Dillard. I recommend.
Regarding the poet Wallace Stevens, she explains:
Wallace Stevens in his forties, living in Hartford, Connecticut, hewed to a productive routine. He rose at six, read for two hours, and walked another hour – three miles – to work. He dictated poems to his secretary. [He was working in an insurance company.] He ate no lunch; at noon he walked for another hour, often to an art gallery. He walked home from work – another hour. After dinner he retired to his study; he went to bed at nine. On Sundays, he walked in the park. I don’t know what he did on Saturdays. Perhaps he exchanged a few words with his wife [...].

In a nutshell, don't expect more than the daily grind. And keep the body moving.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Before the deluge

Mike asked me to report on the workshop I attended last week on the conservation and handling of art work. Here it goes.

To me, archival is one of the most mysterious marketing adjectives in the art world. Nevertheless, an artist should consider how archival her materials are– in other words, the expected longevity - before starting to work on a project. If you’re going to build a cityscape out of banana peels, expect disintegration. That said, ephemeral-ness may be your point, of course.

Less obviously, don’t forget that your hand oils are an attacking agent. So, when moving your works– even around the studio – consider cotton gloves, but not the kind with the plastic grips on the fingers. (Personally, I may use gloves when packing or storing or during a studio visit, but while making, no way.)

Also, it’s best to support the back of non-rigid work on paper when moving it (use a board for example); it protects from dinks. And let me tell you, in proper exhibition lighting, you will see those dinks, as I learned last week during installation.

Contemporary Conservation
seems to be extremely reliable should your piece need repair as a result of to time-related problems or shipping-related injuries.

Framing is world unto itself. Don’t forget acid free boards, and never use tape or most glues. These will eat into or tear your piece.

When shipping your work, don’t be skimpy with packing materials. Wrap your piece first in plastic to protect against water. For large works on paper, you may consider wrapping it around a roll of bubble wrap. This will save on costs, certainly.

Don’t use FedEx. Use specialized art handlers.

When storing your work, make sure your rack is set at least an inch off the ground. Again, flood protection. And again, wrap your work in plastic first.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Today I’m going up to Westchester Community College’s gallery to install a wall of eighteen drawings and two videos for a show entitled Home Again, curated by James Leonard (who I met through this blog!). It’s a four-person group exhibition on view March 16 – April 18. Two artist’s talks, a catalogue, installation shots (to be shared here) and even an honorarium all included. Yay.

The drawings have been the biggest source of both excitement and stress. The stress came mostly while selecting and planning the arrangement. And then the packing.
For this reason, I’m heading over to the Drawing Center this evening for a workshop (free). I thought I’d pass on the last minute word:
Create, Present, Preserve brings together a panel of experts in the areas of conservation, framing, and art handling to discuss the best methods for creating, presenting, storing, and transporting artwork as well as common mistakes to avoid. Following a short discussion moderated by Viewing Program staff Nina Katchadourian and Rachel Liebowitz, panelists will answer audience questions.

Finally, if you’re looking for a heart wrenching read, I recommend this portrait of writer David Foster Wallace from last week’s New Yorker. RIP, Mr. Wallace.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Without the turquoise

Have you ever met that fifty-seven year old woman, the self-defined artist who wears chunky jewelry and longish sweaters that are too baggy? The one who frankly needs some style in her haircut? She slouches. And kind of whines. And there’s never any money. Ever.

Maybe she was your high school art teacher. Or maybe she’s the one that has been living in that incredible floor-through for the past thirty years, which over time has become a weird labyrinth that needs to be painted. Instead she’s painting bucking horses. She voted for Hillary because all men are swine.

I’ve always had a visceral reaction against her. It’s arrogant, I know it. But, I’m turning thirty-seven at the end of the month, and I need some models. I don’t want to turn into her. And maybe the twenty-somethings already think I have.

So what are the best hopes for my future? In my mind (and feel free to add):

Marina Abramovic – The rock, the brave artist who is frank and always evolving.

Louise Bourgeois – The kook, sincerely eccentric but so lovable.

Agnes Martin – The inward-turning recluse, graceful and no b.s. (that’s her above.)

Pema Chodron – One breath from enlightenment.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

As it lays

Most likely you end up going to art school, and you’re very excited about it. You hear about radical ways of making art, you learn about pushing the envelope, and at some point you think you’ve got something, probably because a teacher tells you that you do, or because compared with the other kids, you’ve got your shit together.

Then you graduate. You keep making work and you’re thinking big, revolutionary, but it receives little attention. In fact, it’s flat out rejected. Over and over and over again. You feel crappy. You’re losing the game.

Within two years, eighty percent of the people you went to school with have stopped making work. And that’s ok, because when you think about it, the good ones weren’t that good anyway. Your group of artist-friends shrinks and shifts.

But somehow you keep going, perhaps faithlessly.

Then there’s a change in what you make. It’s now been four years since you graduated.

Then you meet one, two, maybe three people you have a good conversation with. There’s an echo. You gain just an ounce confidence. A fluke gets you a decent group show and an email address to a bigwig who answers you. You realize the art world is a complex, layered place and that a niche for you exists (but you still feel bad because it isn’t a straight shot from there to the Whitney Biennial).

It’s your fifth year out of art school, but you can finally say you’re at the beginning of your art career.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Three pounds of linen

We are taught as viewers to look for meaning in art, and as artists to create meaning and be aware of our intentions. This rests on the supposition that our conscious mind is reliable and an authority. We are also taught that this meaning or intention should be expressed in words, and once it is, the meaning and intention will gain value.

I certainly think that words about art help us navigate it – both in making it, and in looking at it. And I have to say that artists who shy away from discussing finished work irk me. I don’t care how you say it, but say something (if asked).

That said, I am growing more and more interested in word-less perception, in feel and in disjointedness as rich vehicles of complex meaning. For this interest, I thank new artists I am meeting, the bodywork that I’ve been practicing for a few years, Tibetan studies, and most recently the transcribed lectures that Jose-Luis Borges delivered in 1977.

More on these soon, but in the meantime, here is a description of the relationship between non-sense and enlightened intuition from Borges’s lecture on Buddhism:
We always think in terms of subject-object, cause-effect, logic-illogic, a thing and its opposite. We must go beyond these categories. According to the Zen masters, to reach truth through sudden intuition requires an illogical answer. The neophyte asks the teacher, “What is the Buddha?” The teacher answers: “The cypress is the orchard.” An answer which is completely illogical but which may awaken the truth. The neophyte asks why Bodhidharma [the monk] came from the West. The teacher replies: “Three pounds of linen.”