Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A year in sentences

(Molly Stevens, (not yet titled), oil stick on paper, large but not huge)

The blog is a slog: it’s something I’ve been feeling as this year ends. ‘Tis the season to feel wracked with doubts about my writing and artmaking. But onward, onward JewBu soldiers.

Looking back on a year in writing here and on Donkey Trail (excluding the interviews), I’ve forced myself to make a top-ten list of favorite sentences. I’ve chosen them because I like them as writing, as ideas, or for the memories they evoke.

My bests wishes to all readers here at Art on My Mind. Thanks for stopping by. See you in January.

10. Backstage with Pink Rocks

9. Making art involves endless choices; you can go safe – stick with what you know, with the good looking cream-white combination - or you can go out on a limb, leap into the unknown, a leap of faith as my friend refers to it.

8. Puppy topiary is a person. I accept that person.

7. But what’s harder, actually failing, or predicting that you might fail.

6. She goes and gets her higher up, who comes out, her hands in prayer position, at a slight bow, as if she were in front of the Dalai Lama.

5. Line does and color is.

4. Dealer is onomatopoetic for money.

3. "Out of Line" is on the Short List in this week’s New Yorker in the Goings on About Town section! Whooooo! Oh, I mean, "I am so pleased."

2. When Slacker first came out in 1991, I couldn’t take it in because I was trying so hard to distinguish myself politically and socially (oh wait, I still am) that anything that became popular I considered mainstream, ie: not good because it was not radical (radical ironically meaning that everything was as politically correct as it could be, that the proper stance was taken in terms of race, class and gender. (Oy vey)

1. The spirit of art goes against the downward spiral – or at least attempts to – and that is not insignificant, for the artist personally, for any interested viewer, and as a symbol.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I am the upper bourgeoisie and I am screwed

(Martin Kippenberger, Self-Portrait, 1988)

I skim David Brook’s columns only so that I can righteously confirm to myself that he is a pompous conservative and extremely irritating, even more so because he’s so damn articulate. On Monday my skim revealed something about how it’s bourgeois to be interested in self-improvement - and that the bourgeoisie is growing, growing, growing, so expect the self-help section at the bookstore to takeover. This is a good thing, he says

I can understand that if you’re really working class, you can only think about survival; I can understand that self-knowledge is a luxury. I get that. From that point of view, being able to pick up a copy of Deepak Chopra might be enriching.

But I’m an elitist and a snob. I want to go somewhere where Barnes & Noble can’t take me. And I think I can. And I think I can through things like artmaking and meditation (with a mantra) and esoteric books and existential angst. I am such a damn sheltered liberal as someone noted just yesterday. But so be it. I hate the suburbs.

As I am now, where do I fit among middle class values? Nowhere. And, as I am now, where do I fit in an ideal classless society? Nowhere.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Flash of the Spirit

It has also taken me twenty years to key into Basquiat. Up until now, I just haven’t been able to take him in for all the hype and myth around his person. The documentary Jean Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child is my first step towards the subject.

Despite the annoyingly fast editing, the doc paints a truly affecting portrait. What hit me hard was the core contradiction he embodied. On one hand, he was so tremendously independent in his approach to painting. On the other, he had a palpably gaping need for recognition and respect.

In one interview, Julian Schnabel says of the artist:
[…] he didn’t want to get his feelings hurt. And if he just could have had a little more support in a deep sense so that he didn’t feel so damn lonely, and didn’t feel so taken advantage of, and so damn confused… he just didn’t have to the tools to navigate the sea of shit.

How can someone be both so terribly fragile psychologically and so artistically unequivocal and brazen at the same time?

It got me thinking (again) about what gets an artist to make something and also to make it in the art world. Basquiat got into the latter through fun, through partying, and clearly through the penetrating sweetness of his good looks. And it worked, but it also killed him. He got to artmaking through his kind of stimulation: in his studio, the music and TV was always on, and visitors came and went. What came out as a result is the mystery of art, and I don’t want to try to figure that out.

Monday, December 6, 2010

It's a Madonna pap smear

When Slacker first came out in 1991 I couldn’t take it in because I was trying so hard to distinguish myself politically and socially (oh wait, I still am) that anything that became popular I considered mainstream, ie: not good because it was not radical (radical ironically meaning that everything was as politically correct as it could be, that the proper stance was taken in terms of race, class and gender. Oy vey.) Plus, I didn’t have a cool air and I wasn’t laid back (oh wait, that’s still the case) so anyone who was, I just promptly wrote off as pseudo (that was a favorite word left over from senior year in high school), as stupid, and, well, as a slacker.

With the distance of almost twenty years though I really appreciate this movie. The vision that we’re all interconnected but entirely isolated and alienated resonates. It’s hard watching over-educated white folk going off philosophically, and it’s hard seeing resignation and wandering, because, frankly, it hits a bit close. But there are wonderful quirks, there’s wrenching suffering, stabbing humor. In one vignette, for example, an artist-type has prepared a stack of cards with aphorisms on them that anyone can just draw at random and contemplate for however long he or she wishes (usually less than a second). One card reads: “Withdrawing in disgust is not the same as apathy.”

This is a portrait of a population and a time, our time too. But, as usual, I couldn’t see that in the moment of 1991. When will I just let my own immediate senses be the judge?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

MoMa does the line dance

(Atsuko Tanaka, Drawing After Electric Dress, 1956)

My point is, the “On Line” show at MoMa – not to be confused with the “Out of Line” show at Slag this past May - is too linear. It’s mostly chronological and too jammed packed. As such it becomes a survey, and that does neither the art nor the viewer any good.

For example, you’ve got some great Picassos in the first room. But they’re literally stacked up over one another so you can’t focus on an individual piece; and then they’re placed next to – surprise – a few Braques! The room gets “wild” with the inclusion of a hanging projection of a whirling dancer. It’s a really nice film, but why so high? If I were installing it, I’d have put it playing on a wall alone. Or maybe next to ONE Picasso cubist collage. I think then you’d start to see line in a different way.

What we need in our MoMa show is some fresh installations of historical work, some air so that I can see, some focused thoughts so that my brother won’t get museum back, and some daring paring down on a (great) subject.

That said, there were some really good finds: a contemporary piece by Nina Canell looked positively exciting because it was precisely mixed-in. And then I enjoyed the mid 20th century work by Georges Vantongerloo and the drawings and video by the Gutai artist Atsuko Tanaka. To boot, it looked good next to a Rauschenberg tire drawing.

There were artists missing though: me.

Monday, November 15, 2010

In Transition

(Piet Mondrian, Apple Tree in Flower, 1912)

Sometimes there’s talk of an artist’s work being “in transition.” My take on this expression is that it means that the work is neither quite here nor there. It’s evolving. An artist’s work is always evolving, yes, but sometimes a direction is not quite ripened, and that’s what I think they mean (he, my visitor last week, means) by “in transition.”

“In transition” can be very beguiling because it’s searching. You can see the artist’s struggles, experiments and also her failures. “In transition” is vulnerable. After “in transition” comes another phase. Often I hear the word “resolved” to describe it. “Resolution” is confident, it’s a problem solved. A piece or series is “resolved” when a direction is settled upon. This is exciting, of course, because of the depth that can then be explored.

Mondrian is a good example. First his work evolved from traditional landscapes to schematic trees. We could call this the “transitional” phase. Then he came to settle on his iconic grids. Once this was “resolved” he explored and explored. And each work presents its own “resolution.”

Two things: it's stimulating to see that early development from tree to grid. And some artists adopt the transition as a "position." Kippenberger called this mobility the "running gag." More on this another time.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I expound

(Roy Lichtenstein, Bread and Jam, 1963)

My Monday post is murky to me. I jumped from irreverence, to attitude, to life approach, to detachment, to surface appeal, to intimation of attitude. Let me attempt to deepen the sense of some terms.

By irreverence, I don’t mean a big fuck you (although that is a form of irreverence). I mean un-preciousness. I mean standing out on a limb. I mean having an opinion, maybe unpopular. In all likelihood, exquisite is the opposite of irreverent. Some drawings are exquisite, some are irreverent.

Irreverence is one kind of attitude. Attitude doesn’t necessarily mean a seventeen-year-old thinking she’s got it. Attitude really simply means stance. Artists do take a stance whether they know it or not. In art school they call it a “position” (gawd).

Some artist’s go for outward expression, whereas others go for cooler observation: sometimes this manifests itself in the ways they lead their lives, sometimes it’s in their work, sometimes it's in both. In any case, both are attitudes. Someone like Lichtenstein brings passion to detachment. (Aside: his very detached drawings chock full of individual markings are on view now at the Morgan Library and are a must see).

Some artists are interested in immediate visual communication, which can be very appealing: sumptuous color, enticing shapes. But behind sensual charm can lay (lie? I don’t understand this verb) irreverence. Were not the Impressionists, for example, the scandal of the 1860s and 70s? This form of irreverence may be towards a context, or it may be in the quality of the mark making.

And that, my friends, is today's vocabulary lesson.

Monday, November 8, 2010

First Impressions

(Raoul de Keyser, Tornado, 1981)

WHO is the most tempting question in the art world. The answer is a quick fix, bringing on extreme: extreme satisfaction, extreme jealousy, extreme admiration or an extreme blank stare. I love WHO, and I’d love to come right out and tell you WHO was here, but I think that would lack class. In a private conversation, sure.

So back to content: of the many subjects broached by my visitor – he asked loads of questions, bless him – one, at this moment, pokes in particular. It was the subject of attitude. I want to remember every detail so badly, but can’t. Maybe because my cat was sitting on his shoulders (yes, she was).

From what I can recall, I told him I would like more irreverence in my work. By which I mean less self-consciousness, more risk, less concern for appearance (not irony though). It was just after that I think he used the word attitude.

He seemed to enjoy how an artist’s approach to life seeped into the work, and seemed to have a penchant for detachment mixed with the personal (On Kawara or Roy Lichtenstein, for example). But he also talked about how a work’s appearance can be charming, even pretty, but intimate attitude behind it. His example was Raoul de Keyser.

Yes, I know who Raoul de Keyser is! Phew! But, do I understand this interpretation? Not really. But I plan on checking it out. My starting point will be that attitude in this case means personal stance.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Does this sound right?

(Chris Martin, Untitled, 2006)

I’m preparing for the most prominent visitor to date to set foot into my studio. Ever since we settled on a day and time – next Monday, noon, I wrote it into my calendar, as if I would forget – I’ve been drawing like a mad woman, the idea being that I will reinvent the wheel by next week in order to make an impression. One thing is for certain: a public does motivate me.

Word has it that said visitor is not much of a talker. My urge will be to ask him questions about him and what he does, a tactic I’ve developed to deal with my discomfort during social interactions. But this is not a social interaction. This is a meeting of mutual self-interest, and I have to think about a cache of things to say – not over-say – regarding what I’m up to.

At T-6 days 9 hours, here are talking points I can draw on if necessary:

1. A few years ago, I was focusing primarily on text-based art, and became increasingly interested in the line forming the words – its vitality, movement, personal-ness - eventually dropping the word altogether. Now I’m interested in line and/versus color as ways to present the rawest, non-verbal forms I can make. Heads and rock forms are the primary result.

2. I don’t want to be enchanted by a facile primitivism, though. While I really enjoy Chris Martin and Huma Bhabha and their disciples, I’m not into imitation.

3. I’d like to move beyond the pale of new primitive art, and definitely beyond abstract expressionism. That’s why I look at a lot of landscapes, Asian ones in particular, and also the solid forms of Mantegna, the color of Giotto, and I’d like to unleash some more of my inner-Kippenberger. Yes, I’d like to be more insolent, but not ironic.

4. Yeah, these do have a sculptural quality.

5. No, where would I put it! I have a problem already storing flat paper.

6. Ah, good question. You know, I’m not a good tester, so why don’t I get back to you once I’ve thought about that.

7. Are there other people you think I should show this body of work to? For example, I’d love to invite XXX.

8. Really! That’s just great. Thanks so much.

Monday, October 25, 2010

When a tree falls

(De Chirico, The Uncertainty of the Poet, 1913)

I’ve never questioned my assumption that the exhibition is the final step of the creative process. Showing, I’ve always thought, is just what comes after making. And this presentation is what makes the work evolve. After a show, when you get back to the studio, you’re somewhere else. Somewhere more advanced (ie: better). This is what they say.

Sometimes the attention causes an artist to steer the work in a direction that will please the most people. When this happens, you have to wonder who the artist is drawing for. But I’m not sure you can ever really just draw for yourself.

The high-minded idea is that by putting your work out into the world, you’re contributing to culture. Some say that art makes a difference. It does make me feel alive. Except for when I’m so mad about the crap.

Psychologically, putting your work out into the world satisfies a need to be seen. I think you can be motivated high-mindedly and psychologically at the same time. Then there’s the motivation of making the pile of paper in your studio a bit smaller. You could always just throw it out. Or cremate it, like Baldessari.

Then of course, you just can’t stop. Can you? It’s an urge. And also, what else would you do? And what about your identity?

When you sell a work, you feel good. Unless the person puts the work in their basement, where it gets moldy. This is what people are talking about when they say they want to “place” the work. Sometimes you just have to pay the rent. But that’s why you have the day job.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


(Joan Mitchell)

In last week’s New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl ended his review like this: “Then those movements [after Abstract Expressionism], too, disintegrated, and it’s been pretty much one damn thing after another ever since.”

I love how Scheldahl sticks to his guns.

Sticking to your guns is a good expression. I picture a guy in a field – and he’s going to die, it’s for sure, because the enemy has him surrounded – but he stays put, gun cocked and ready to defend himself.

And don’t you love the use of the word “damn” here. Damn is onomatopoetic for anger. Rightly placed, it’s a bomb.

Kind of like the word “Dealer.” Dealer is onomatopoetic for money. It makes no bones about it, especially because of the earthy “D” sound. “Wheel and deal” is good too, creating a sense of non-stop movement, maybe because of a slimy ground.

In any case, art changes, just like everything else does, in accordance with the law of impermanence. Artists have got to follow the beat of their own drum through it all. Or die.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wanted: Art Shrink

(Molly Stevens, Heads of State, 2010, oil stick on paper, 40" x 60")

When drawing, I’m constantly making decisions: to go in a certain direction, to change a color, to stop working on a piece. I call the shots, but I’ve always had someone who would say (who I've wanted so badly to say), “yes, that’s right, I’m behind you on this one.” This person changes. But she's always someone I’m trying to emulate or please; she's always someone who knows. More than I do.

At this point in time, there seems to be no one I can rely on or turn to but my own damn self. Sure, there’s the encouraging word from friends and loved ones, but there’s no mentor, and this has left me feeling both isolated and uncertain (to use the tamest of words).

And yet this is likely a prime opportunity for me to go my own way and make work that really looks like my own. It’s just that… what if I make a mistake.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The revenge of the unsung hero

(Christian Viveros-Fauné)

Christian Viveros-Fauné doesn’t mince words. Bless him.

In his latest rant
in the Voice, he rips Jeff Koons a new one, and in doing so humiliates the world of art-money that bolsters him.

I especially like this description of his chat with a dealer who toured him through her Koons show:
Besides reconfirming art history's judgments and the weird sense that some rich people still think that price tags measure the cutting edge, the parley lent a particularly Koonsian brazenness to the day. The polished Dayan [the dealer] identified a picture of reverse-cowgirl anal penetration, Red Butt, as having been the favorite of Koons's octogenarian ex-dealer, Ileana Sonnabend: "She hung it in her office, right at the entrance." You don't say. A second image of cum on La Cicciolina's cheek Dayan compared to Bernini's Ecstasy of Saint Teresa: "It's called Exaltation." Of course, what else? The exhibition's last hardcore picture waited: Titled Dirty Ejaculation, it bore a feces-flecked close-up of Koons's dick pulling out of Cicciolina's bunghole. "I think it's radical," Dayan purred. Uh, yeah!, I mouthed archly. And if this load were music, you would be the New York Philharmonic.

Passages like these are tremendously satisfying to read. It's the revenge of the unsung hero. You can't help but feel holier, purer, wonderfuller. But really, would that it were so clear-cut. If you're in it - in the art world and in fact in the world in general - you're part of it. That's just one of the many contradictions that we embody by just being here.

Remember when Mr. Virveros-Fauné lost his job as Village Voice critic because he was organizing an art fair? That was ridiculous. It's a messy world. Face it.

Monday, October 11, 2010


(Giotto, Joachim’s Dream, 1304ish)

It’s hard to use pink as a woman, because it’s considered girly. And it’s hard to use pink as a man, because it’s considered the opposite of masculine and straight. But what a fine color: strong, optimistic but serious. That’s because it has both red and blue in it.

Every Giotto could be an example. Skin glows pink, robes are pink, the simultaneous dawn and dusk light is pink (I think). Pink looks so good next his blues, his grays, his ruddy reds.


And why can’t there be more flying angels emerging into visibility in contemporary art?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Green Monkey

I’m just not into brainy art (broken record). Ideas tend to lack vitality and also visual appeal. I prefer to give precedence to the porous connections of the unconscious mind, which is at work doing its thing all the time anyway, whether we like it or not. I’m not in control. And neither are you.

Let me see if I can describe how I can trace the doings of the unconscious mind while I draw. In hindsight, of course. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

A few weeks back I took a picture of a wooden sculpture of a monkey at the Met. Yesterday, I set out to draw a human figure. It was a decision. But, at some point I thought I’d turn it into a monkey, then remembering the piece at the Met. That was semi conscious. Then I began daydreaming about a local (expensive) hangout, called Le Singe Vert (the green monkey), where I hoped to meet a friend. Did I make the monkey association? No.

Then I picked up my orange oil stick. I turned the page upside down, as I often do to continue drawing. Then I started on another piece, while listening to Democracy Now and considering the world’s mess. When I turned back to the monkey, I decided it needed to be green, making no connection to the restaurant. Then I wanted some red in there, and stripes gave the color some air. When I turned the image right side up, I realized, I had made a green monkey with shorts, the kind a street animal might wear as he sits next to an accordion player.

It’s not that I think the unconscious mind makes better art (this drawing, eh). It’s that I know it’s there. And if I give it some room, it makes the work less controlled, lending it a fresh quality that I like. Ideas are just not as interesting.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Wall Street

(Michael Douglas in front of a Condo-like painting in Wall Street)

One way to look at it is that art makes money look good. It brings “culture” to greed and the downright dirty. Oliver Stone portrays this so well in Wall Street (part I) that you’ve got to feel a bit like two-faced slime striving to join the market as an artist.

Major art fills the movie: in Gekko’s office we’ve got a large Miro-like piece (that he bought for 60k and is now worth more than 600k, he says); at his home in the Hamptons, there’s a Sultan-like lemon, a few Chamberlain-like smashed cars on the wall and some Leonardo-like huge drawings that act as a Greek chorus behind the drama. At one point Gekko buys a Stella-like painting for a couple of mil. This is definitely accurate décor – and it plays a supporting role; it goes so much further than just the classic portraits of foreboding head honchos – the fathers of wealth – that we expect to see on the walls of old-money firms (although there are these too in the movie).

In a telling scene, when Charlie Sheen asks Daryl Hannah’s character (her name is Darien – as in Connecticut?) what she wants in life, she answers a perfect canary diamond and a Turner (as in Joseph Mallord William Turner, I presume). I understood. Art is desired by power because art perfects power. Art makes power appear solid as a rock (a hard diamond). Art makes beauty belong to power.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Creativity in Hospitals

I spent the day yesterday in the hospital as the escort to my husband who had surgery. It was a surprisingly dull day, only enhanced by the occasional visit of worry. And then there were the posters on the wall, mostly picturesque landscapes.

There was one, a fall mountainside in pastel that included an unusual orange-yellow – something like this image above. It was in fact comforting to see. The color took me out of there. Art can really be a sweet friend.

Most of the other posters didn’t skirt tacky as well, especially when they had words on the bottom like “serenity,” or in one case, “creativity.”

Perhaps only more misguided than using the word “inspiration” to describe an artist’s process is the word “creativity,” as in “I’d like to express my creativity.” It implies a state where everything you do is beautiful, worthy, perhaps even touched by a greater force; in any case, it implies a person’s better side. That’s just not how a (good) drawing comes out of the pepper mill.

That artist didn’t choose that orange-yellow thinking, “let’s be creative.” That hue was something he saw or, in all likelihood, it resulted from the reproduction process.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Realistic fake

Talking about trees, check out this 1984 sculpture by Judy Pfaff up now at Ameringer, McEnery, Yohe. First, we’ve got those nice stylized trunks providing strength in multiple directions, like vectors; then we’ve got the suggestion of bark, not its faithful and laborious imitation. This keeps up the lightness. And then the sharp-edge chops clearly remind us that light and serious can coexist (and should, in my mind).

How do you get a realistic depiction of "nature." Unnaturally, I think.

That’s all for today, folks.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Does lyricism sell?

(Installation view of Edefalk's work at Gladstone)

On view now at Barbara Gladstone is an installation by Cecilia Edefalk of tree barks standing like figures on a table. I have a very soft spot for work with trees, even though most are a flop, succumbing to generic poetry. This one did in the end for me because of the exhibition title “Weeping Birch” and then because I heard an employee describing the piece (to a collector) as the result of a “profound” experience the artist had on an island during a storm. The combination of the words “Weeping” and “profound” was just altogether too self-important. The employee then pointed to a group of three or four barks on the table, and said they were $35k (or was it $40k?).

Personally, if I had the dough, I’d prefer to buy Kippenberger’s 1990 installation combining birch trees and pills titled “Now I’m going into the big birch wood, my pills will soon start doing me good.” I don’t need anyone to tell me it’s profound, it just is by virtue of what's there.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Krump drawing anyone? (moi, moi, moi)

I’m one of those people that must move physically. Sometimes it becomes restlessness, sometimes impatience and often anxiety, but it is, at core, an electricity that quickly stores up inside me.

This is not a concentration problem. When I was in high school, they put me on Ritalin, but lack of focus was a misdiagnosis. The classes were deadly dry. And they had me pegged as an unserious student. I think if they had let me pace around the room, I would have been able to focus on their boring lessons.

When I watch crumping or b-boying, I feel vicariously expressed (you’ve seen the movie Rize or Planet B-Boy?). I just love the spasms, the jutting, the angry thrusts and I admire the control. I’m too scared to try it for myself though. And also, I’m pretty heady, although I’m not a brain. Drawing is a good way to convert the surge, and so is writing, because I’m using my hands and mind at the same time. With drawing, I even get to walk around the table and back and forth to and from the wall.

So, if only I could make my drawings look like krumping.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Expressive sucks

Expressive sucks. The goal is not just to empty out, to show everything you feel. Who really cares how you feel. Maybe your mom, if you have that kind.

Spontaneity sucks. Especially when it’s related to Expressive. That candle burns fast and shallow. The goal is beyond loosening up.

Obsessive sucks. Get some Spontaneity, get Expressive.

Restraint sucks. Stop being so precious.

Thinking sucks. Don’t you hate smart art? The goal is not to make a point. Write a paper to make a point or do some public speaking.

Intention sucks. Art is aware of itself but not deliberate.

Art requires more and less than my current approach. Oh, were I only to have some Wild Style.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Shut up and draw

(Carroll Dunham, Another Island, 1989-1999)

What can I do? I set out to draw rocks, trees and mountains, which I fantasized would be great metaphors, and nothing but cartoony tribal figures are coming out. At best they’re Saul Steinberg, or maybe Carroll Dunham, but I fear they’re really more Bart Simpson.

I can’t say that I like them, but I’ll continue, because I have no choice. That’s what’s coming out.

To remove the discomfort of not knowing where this is going, my initial urge is to immediately try to explain the work, categorize it. If I could show off a range of knowledge about how contemporary artists depict figures, about why some chose realism, about how choice and historical awareness is important, then what I’m doing becomes valid. So I think. But what really happens is that the drawing blocks.

Shut up and draw.

Monday, August 16, 2010

We shall overcome

(The bodies of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. From the doc "Neshoba: The Price of Freedom")

Most artists with a political conscience have found themselves alone in their studio or room at some point and wondered, “What good is this doing? I’m here and the world is burning outside.”

Some artists try to kill two birds with one stone and correct the world’s horrors directly through their art. But paintings of Abu Ghraib prisoners are not effective against torture and they don’t stand on their own as art. I’ve come to the conclusion that the distinction between visual art and political activism simply is.

On Friday, I was listening to Democracy Now while drawing. I walked over to the computer screen to watch footage of a young African-American boy in the ‘60s, tears rolling down his face at his brother’s untimely funeral, singing with determination “We shall overcome.”

Today, reading Doris Lessing, I noted these words:
Now, when I start writing, the first thing I ask is, ‘Who is thinking the same thought? Where are the other people like me?’ I don’t believe any more that I have a thought. There is a thought around.

Both elbow me. The only thing artists can hope for with their art is that by making it, by showing it, it overcomes. The spirit of art goes against the downward spiral – or at least attempts to – and that is not insignificant, for the artist personally, for any interested viewer, and as a symbol. And it inevitably belongs to a thrust of our times, no matter how weak that force may now be.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Summer Reading sans Stieg Larsson

(Valentino Achak Deng)

Other than the usual daily and weekly New York press, here’s my summer reading list so far:

Jane Bowles, Everthing is Nice – Very oddball stories written in the most formal, proper language. Nothing is in fact nice, although it wants to appear so (and that’s an outlook I’m a sucker for). She was the wife of Paul Bowles, whom I’d also like to read.

Dave Eggers, What is the What – A painful page-turner about the trials of a Lost Boy who fled Southern Sudan on foot to various refugee camps and then to the U.S. Not hardened, but gentle does the soul become through suffering and loss (unless you’re a Republican, of course). If you don’t feel lucky to lead the life you do after reading this, there is something wrong with you.

Doris Lessing, A Small Personal Voice: Essays, Reviews, Interviews – Her rock-solid, heart-filled voice proves that it’s the person you develop away from the typewriter through your own life and the true acceptance of contradiction that are key to making you a good writer.

Marc enjoyed the Hunger Games series about a scary, sci-fi reality television show and this might in fact make for more typical late-summer beach reading.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What's happening

(Molly Stevens, Untitled (small drawing 3),2010, Oil Stick on Paper, 22" x 30")

It’s just that I don’t know where to take this blog. I’ve been writing twice a week for three years now as a way to organize my thoughts and also to activate my “web presence,” as they call it. I’m concerned if I stop now, I’ll become disorganized in my thinking and anonymous on the web. There’s white and there’s black. Always.

I could continue to write about shows. I could continue to complain about the art world and the inequities of becoming recognized. I could continue describing the processes of artmaking to myself and maybe to you. But I don’t really feel like it. No, I’m not depressed or discouraged, I just don’t feel like it. That said, if I feel like jumping off a bridge, should I? There’s what you feel, and then there’s what you do.

So, if I haven’t lost you all by now already, I hope you'll tune in next time.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

More good press for the Charles Burchfield show at the Whitney

(Charles Burchfield, Orion in December, 1959)

What impressed me most was not so much the oeuvre, but the way the show was designed and curated. It has the stamp of an artist. In this case, he’s Robert Gober.

Each room has its own atmosphere, its own communication. And the show as a whole is pared down. In one room, there are but two paintings, for example. This is what I aim for in a single drawing: a tightly communicated but complex image. I’ve learned that it can take a thousand to get there.

The work itself leaves me with mixed feelings. Some details and atmospheres are immediately entrancing; but there is also a very tight tie to the written word that feels a bit too literal or familiar to me. These images border on cliché: denuded trees, barren streets. I feel pulled to read the journals instead. But that said, who cares. I have no need for original subject. Really. And there’s so much to see here about being true to one's own work.

Monday, July 12, 2010

What's up in teen pop culture

(Still from "Waka, Waka")

Justin Bieber. Still.

And covers. For example, a “We are the World” remake but for Haiti. And who sings the opening line? Justin Bieber. What’s more, Michael Jackson was resurrected for the event to sing with his sister.

After rewatching the original (25 years ago?), I only have one word: Bruce.

Also popular among girls is a Mariah Carey version of the Foreigner staple from 1984 “I Want to Know What Love Is.” It’s absolutely terrible and the video will turn you into a Jihadist. Watching shiny Shakira smiling and shimmying “Waka Waka,” a song for Africa that capitalizes on the World Cup, comes practically as a relief. Practically.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Line vs. Color

(Henri Matisse, The Dessert: Harmony in Red, 1908)

I think it’s true. There are two teams, Line and Color. Sometimes they play together, sometimes they are opposing. But they are always distinct.

Yes, there can be a colored line, and there can be the line outlining a form, but the color of the form is neither of these.

Color is a surface, an expanse. Color takes up room. Line doesn’t fill like color.

Line can go on top of color. And color can go on top of line. But I can’t think of a visual representation of a merged thing called colorline.

The personality of a line is in it’s marking: a line can be flexible or stiff, fast or slow, premeditated or in the moment. The personality of color is in its hue, its intensity, its thereness. Line does and color is.

Color has mass appeal. Line takes some learning and is therefore more elitist.

How am I doing on the generalizations?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Just Vice, Not Miami Vice

I had a nice visit with a painter yesterday whose palette includes bright yellow and orange. She told me about a young curator who commented that her work was “so 80s, like Miami Vice.” The curator saw neon and thought Don Johnson?

I can only sneer at omnipresent, kneejerk comparisons to pop culture. What ever happened to references to art history, or psychology, or just something else other than TV? Of course, viewers are free to make their own associations, as are artists. The pool is very deep. But curators should really aim to broaden and expand notions of color, form and subject. My opinion.

And why does the fashion – literally the clothes – of these same curators have to be so referential too? The mega glasses and t-shirts with outdated puns look stupid. Also my opinion.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Not with a bang, but a whimper

(Derrick Adams, The Lieutenant, 2010, 63" x 24")

And so “Out of Line” closes at the end of the week. A year in the making, my expectations were high. I had hoped for sales (none so far), a visit from Roberta (I don’t even know if she got our invitations), a new “whooohooo” opportunity. But really, this show is just another step down the long road.

The coherence of the work in the exhibition, my talk, and all the other preparations did bear fruit. We had success, both public and private (personal encouragement, some new acquaintances, the New Yorker for example). But it’s a splash of cold water in the face to learn how much an artist can’t rely on the goodwill of any potential visitors or art-world professionals once the show is up. Really, if you want to make inroads in terms of making a public name or career for yourself, you’ve got to be alpha-male aggressive, opportunistic, even over-bearing. It's a slog. I can’t say that’s my cup of tea.

But, I do want to make work still, and that’s the only reason to stay in the game.

All you need is one partner to keep going.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


(Huma Bhaba, Bumps in the Road, 2008)

Along with “physicality,” the buzzword of the moment (in art of course) seems to be “primitivism.” My BFF (and we haven’t even met yet) Christian Viveros-Fauné, uses it in his article in the Voice today.

"Homunculi" [the current show at Canada] introduces largely accomplished versions of a newly popular trend toward artistic primitivism.”

This term seems to describe art that displays a rawness of expression that is reminiscent or suggestive of either “primitive” cultures – like Africa? I thought we were over that designation – or that borrows from prehistoric peoples, or that is somehow naïve or outsider. I think I prefer the term rawness or intuitive, although that might be too psychological, and not ethnographic enough, if that matters.

An artist I know said this word was used to describe the work of Huma Bhabha. I dig her.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What (the hell) is Modernism?

(My friend visiting Out of Line)

There are words that are slewed through art circles without a care in the world. “Conceptual” used to be my pet-peeve. If someone says your piece is conceptual, it usually means they don’t get it. To me “conceptual” means work stemming from the Conceptual Art movement in the 60s. It doesn’t mean any piece that makes you think. Let’s move on.

Distopian and ontological. I’m not that interested in exploring these terms right now.

What I want to look at today is the word “Modernism.” There was a time when “modern art” meant “of our times” (Museum of Modern Art). Now we have the word “contemporary” for that. Today “Modernism” should really mean "of the period around the early twentieth century when breaking new ground away from tradition was a primary interest." I’m pretty sure Matisse, T.S Eliot, and Cubism are considered Modernists.

Then I hear “Modernist architecture.” This seems to be the embrace of “technology” in architecture in the 40s and 50s – is that right? - ,which yielded sleek design (the Seagram Building, for example). From our present-day perspective “Modernist architecture” is really retro architecture.

But then there’s “modernism” meaning "relating to self-consciousness and subjectivity." The Abstract Expressionists are modernists, for example. With the term “post-modernism,” the idea of the self became a thing of the past, because the self was deemed impossible to define narrowly (Hey, some people are black and some people are white). But I don't think "modernist" artists are trying to peg anything, really. The approach or filter is just the individual, as I see it.

Many theory-based artists and writers seem to have disdain for strains of modernism in contemporary art (thick paint, psychological bents, the human touch) because it somehow denies that there are systems in the world. Bah. You can favor the mark of the hand and know FedEx exists.

Readers: do I have most definitions of modernism covered here in the most cursory way?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Mini gallery crawl

(Tuckery Nichols, Untitled, 2010, shoe soles and wood, 3 x 3 x 3 inches)

Can’t wait to get back into the studio. What really matters in all of this is making I think. I just wouldn’t be able to keep up full time with the rest: the networking, the emails, the thanking, the making sure this, making sure that. I’m certainly not complaining about finally being at the beginning of an art career. It’s simply that it’s a lot of paperwork! And it’s very draining at times.

To refuel, viewing art helps.

I particularly liked Tucker Nichols’ refreshing show at ZieherSmith. While it could potentially come across as faux-naïve, the work feels unguarded and playful. Down the block, Josephine Meckseper’s installation at Elizabeth Dee feels the opposite: deliberate and cool, heady and insider.

Over on 22nd Street, a small show of Paul Bloodgood’s paintings at Newman Popiashvili is big. The press release indicates Bloodgood’s interest in how painting can veer from self-expression. It’s interesting to read about (if I understood it correctly), but when I look at his work – and perhaps at art in general - , I can’t help but think it just IS self-expressive. It has a human touch and that's what I like about it. And the rest is the rest.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Out of Line in the press

"Out of Line" is on the Short List in this week’s New Yorker in the Goings on About Town section! Whooooo! Oh, I mean, "I am so pleased."

This Saturday I will be giving an unconventional slide-presentation that will expand on the show.

The presentation is a subjective survey of what line is and has been in visual art and other domains, including sports, war, language and spiritual practice. I travel far and wide from Matisse to Charles Ray, from my bathroom calendar to a chorus line, from vectors to the most delicate grape leaf outlined by Ellsworth Kelly.

Please come.

June 5 at 5pm.
Slag Gallery
531 West 25th St., Ground 10

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Things to Remember

(Claude Monet, Nymphéas, 1914-1917, oil on canvas, 59 x78 3/4 in.)

1. It’s art if you think it is.
2. In making art, you carry out your own vision, not anyone else’s. It’s more personal than showing your influences and it’s beyond trend. And this is easier said than done.
3. One truly like-minded friend goes a long way. Pollock and Krasner, Guston and Coolidge, Gilbert and George.
4. Lists are simplistic.
5. If you camp out at Monet in Chelsea, you will see lots of art world peeps who don’t answer your emails.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Morning After

(Crowd shot from the opening of Out of Line)

Some people say, “Fantastic!”, “Love the work!”, “Like the direction you’re going in!”, “Cohesive show!”. But what I dwell on, what I stick to, is the negative. And it’s not even that negative. It’s just not positive, it’s lukewarm, like, “I generally liked it,” or “that’s not my favorite piece.” It might even just be the nebulous “Congratulations.” Then I start feeling my thyroids swell, as if someone were holding me by my neck up against a wall. I’m convinced I’ve done something wrong. Something very, very wrong. And that that one nonplussed comment means the whole endeavor is a bust. That I am a bust. I could spend my whole life trying to change that opinion.

But I digress. Showing art in public is a risk. You don’t show yourself perfectly and therefore you are vulnerable. In front of everybody. But you’ve also made a move, staked a position that can make an impression on a few others, and of course on your own self. I have to say, so far, all in all, this time around, it has been really quite heartwarming.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Installed and Looking Good

And maybe I can return to normal blogging soon.
Hope to see you at the opening or during the run of the show.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Monday, May 10, 2010

Out of Line

For Immediate Release:

May 10, 2010

SLAG Gallery is pleased to announce the opening of OUT OF LINE, a group exhibition featuring work by Nils Folke Anderson, Anne-Lise Coste, Elana Herzog, Carin Riley and Molly Stevens, who is also the curator.

May 20 – June 19, 2010

Opening Reception: May 20, 6 – 8 pm

Artist’s Talk by Molly Stevens: June 5, 5PM

The conventional concept of line in visual art is bound to drawing on paper. In this exhibition, however, line is a presence, visible in movement and space, paint and electricity, language and metaphor. OUT OF LINE is a fresh look at a variety of line forms: fresh, meaning vigorous and immediate, but also meaning bold and cheeky. OUT OF LINE takes a risk and speaks its own mind.

Carin Riley
’s large-scale paintings from 2010 are the visual confluence of a personal vocabulary of images. Seemingly disparate elements cohere around fluid line work and a metaphorical logic that struts a bold attitude away from linear narrative.

Anne-Lise Coste’s tarpaper scroll from 2009 is a bilingual stream of consciousness that is at once frenzied and hilarious. Line is text but also the loopy marks that form handwritten letters and words.

Elana Herzog’s effortless curtain from 1992 is at once mysterious and plain-faced, solid and delicate, decadent and frayed and, as such, reminds us that lines are not easily drawn. While the piece nods to Surrealism - and also to the Renaissance - it announces the artist’s rich involvement with textiles.

The electric lines of Nils Folke Anderson’s 2009 interlocking neon are bounded by form and released by light. This vibrant orderly disorder provides a model for the show as a whole.

In Molly Stevens’ surging and cockeyed mountains from 2009 and 2010, long currents rise up and down the page, lean into each other and draw apart to form vibrating and off-kilter landscapes.

On June 5 at 5pm, Stevens will present an artist’s talk called “Out of Line,” a subjective survey of what line is and has been in visual art and other domains, including sports, war, language and spiritual practice. The event is open to the public and is free of charge.

Donkey Trail, a year-long blog of thoughts, images and interviews leading to this show, can be viewed at the desk or online at: trailofadonkey.blogspot.com.

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

SLAG Gallery is located at 531 West 25th Street, Ground Floor, suite 10.

(Between 10th and 11th Avenues).

Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11 am to 6 pm.

For press inquiries and reproductions contact Irina Protopopescu, 917 977 1848.

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

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Facts are not feelings

(Qu Ding, Summer Mountains, handscroll, Norther Song Dynasty (960-1127)

If I feel miserable about the way a drawing is coming out, it does not mean the drawing will have a miserable look. If I feel sloppy, it may not look sloppy. And if I feel like it sucks, the drawing may not suck. Facts are not feelings. That still rings true for me.

I’ve tended to think that a drawing will show the state of the artist while making that drawing. In many ways it does. A tense hand will usually make a tense line. But being aware of one’s state and controlling one’s state, doesn’t mean the drawing is aware or controlled. Drawings can mean and point to many things beyond what we’re conscious of. And sometimes they don’t.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A talk with Nils Folke Anderson

Check out the talk on the Donkey Trail. Nils is one of the artists in Out of Line (which opens on May 20!)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


(Mark Rothko, Orange and Yellow, 1956, about 6 feet x 7.5 feet (big))

The over-press about the play “Red” is such that I really know I don’t want to see it. But I have a lot to say about it nonetheless. For one, there’s a common idea that art is very serious and profound and that therefore you should engage with art because it’s good for you. The gist seems to be that once you get your culture over with, you’ve earned the shopping spree or banana split.

Of course I do think art can be very serious and profound. But that’s a second layer. That’s a bonus. What tends to be forgotten is that looking can be a pleasure (even if it’s a painful pleasure); it can expand your outlook and it can be deeply stimulating. But looking takes practice and confidence - am I seeing the right thing? - in other words, looking implies a building up of visual literacy. And boy is that a dying value.

I’ve always been drawn to Rothko first and foremost because of the wordless moods and deep color of his paintings, not because he was depressed, or articulate, although the former feeds a myth I enjoy and the latter is helpful.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The corny factor

(Amanda Ross-Ho, Bedroom Bandit, 2010)

At the risk of narrowing my field of vision, what I seem to want these days in my art viewing is just a dish of personal meat, hold the irony and hold the headiness. I visited a string of Chelsea galleries last week and I have nothing to report. I went around looking for a spark of spirit – something that speaks of the artist’s personal punch – but found only pastiche and pose. I do understand that originality is null and void, but is searching and experiment?

That said, John Bock’s wall hangings at Anton Kern came close. And I think Amanda Ross-Ho at Mitchell-Innes and Nash hit the mark. Her show is a complex and diverse installation and I’ll be going back to try to put some words to it. I especially like a quilt topped by a poster of a David Lee Roth gone tribal.

Because yes, I do think a personal universe is what I’m after as an artist – at least it is these days. I don’t want to make what’s in but what’s true – even if it’s torturous to reveal.

That’s why I enjoyed these lines from Roberta Smith’s review of "Red," a play about Mark Rothko that she thinks is best when silent, like looking. She recounts her own experiences visiting studios:
Also, corny as it may sound, as a young Kansan new to New York, I was always struck by the possibilities of self-invention and the autonomy and individual will that a studio represented, almost regardless of the quality of the art I encountered there. The basic message — especially powerful to a daughter and granddaughter of academics — was that you can do anything you want to; you certainly don’t need a degree or tenure. An artist made this place called a studio and then used it to make this thing called art that no one knew was missing or needed until it existed. (“We are making it out of ourselves,” to quote Rothko’s contemporary Barnett Newman.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

You already do look the part

(Mondrian in his Paris atelier, 1933)

Is anyone getting sick of posts about me trying not to care what other people think? I am. I’m sick of how art is on my mind.

Like on Friday, my dear friend got photographed in her studio for an article. My first reaction upon seeing the portrait was, “But if the people down at Canada (the gallery) see this, they're going to think you're a dilettante.” She politely told me to screw off. It’s true, why should she try to be anyone else.

I still think that if anyone is going to take me for a real artist, I’d better dress the part: stained clothes, long bangs, long frown. And don’t forget the mess in the studio, the tortured mess. Like Francis Bacon. What a stereotype.

As this same friend reminded me, what about Mondrian’s studio or the portrait of Barnett Newman in wearing a polka dot tie.