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.