Thursday, December 13, 2007

FAIR FACTOR: Report from Miami

Hey, Chris--

I'm back from Miami and writing like mad. What kind of gene defect would compel me to not only shoot over 1000 pics but then sit down and organize them into folders, edit them, Photoshop the edits, and then upload them by the dozen?
I've started posting on my own site, and I'm teasing our readers with a few leads here. I probably won't post any more here, but I will be posting more or less daily through the end of the month. I'm not reporting on anywhere near the 24 (!) fairs that were there--I mean, really, an art fair on a yacht?--but I do have pics from 14. Posting one a day will take me a good two weeks, which will bring me to the end of the year--and perhaps a New Year's resolution to scale way back next year.
I can tell you that the scene is tremendous fun. And you can't beat the weather. You'll see more art there than you'll see in a year of traveling the world. I don't have a count of the countries represented, but someone said 30, which seems about right.

Looking at Lisson: Anish Kapoor's reticulated mirror, above, installed in the London gallery's spacious corner booth with me photographing it, below

(I'm assuming it's Kapoor's. It's amazing the information that's not available at these fairs.)

The links so far:

. Prologue: The Mood and the Particulars

. Twin Peeks (at the Convention Center)

. Basel Miami

. The Containers

FAIR FACTOR: Report from Miami

This is going to be a multi-multi-part report, one post per venue plus the prologue. I'm posting sequentially and adjusting the dates so that this first post remains at the top. There will be a narrative to this--I hope--and it's going to take me through the end of the month to write and post. If you want timely reportage, or business news, Google "Miami Art Fairs." Links to the posts to date are in yellow, at top. . . . .

By all accounts the mood going into Miami was wary. Dealers in general were fearful that the bubble was about to burst, and the smaller dealers were concerned that the greater number of satellite fairs this year would dilute their sales. Apparently the big guns had no problems; Gagogian sold $10 million worth of art, according to Bloomberg News. Among the smaller galleries in the satellite fairs, the mood lifted as sales began to rack up. Many smaller galleries sold out, and most at least broke even. The mood going out was simply weary. In an elevator conversation at my hotel, I listened in as an elegantly dressed Brazilian dealer explained the art of the sale to an interested shorts-clad tourist: "Before the fair, we send out J–pegs of the work we’re taking so our collectors know what we’ll have. Some have already made their choices before they get here." And you wondered how those red dots appeared in the first five minutes of opening. Click here for the rest. . . . .

FAIR FACTOR: Basel/Miami
The most shocking thing about BaselMiami this year is that it wasn’t shocking. Oh, sure, there was the chocolate Santa carrying a giant chocolate butt plug, but the installation of neatly stacked figures on metal shelving, organized by size and placed against the matching Santa wallpaper was so clean and unrelentingly cheery that it could have been Macy’s Cellar. And that appliance? Its proportions made it look more like a lava lamp than a sex toy. The Santa was conceived by artist Paul McCarthy and presented by the Maccarone Gallery, which apparently has turned some of its West Village space into a chocolate factory. Click here for the rest. . .

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Two Artists Posing

Here we are in the cafe of SFMoMA in early November looking rather serious. Photo is by Hylla Evans
Chris, though we've been e-mail regularly and blogging sporadically, you and I have met in person exactly three times. The first was in Philly at Gallery Siano in 2005 before we began our blog--and, indeed, that meeting was probably the catalyst for it (you had work in Vince Romaniello's show). The second was last November when I was in San Francisco, and the third was earlier this month, also in San Francisco, when you talked about writing/blogging/art to a group of artists from up and down the West Coast that I'd taken on a gallery tour earlier in the day.
We are, virtual buddies in Cyberspace, but I like to think that in real life we have become actual friends. Good to see you again!
I'm heading into a heavy period of travel and writing. I leave for Miami on December 5 to spend five days looking, photographing and taking notes. When I return I'll do another opus on the fairs, though with 24 venues at last count, I'm going to have to do some serious picking and choosing. I think two fairs a day will be my limit. I'll post the lead-ins here, with links to my blog, where you'll find the full text.

For our art bloggers reading this, I've co-organized (with Sharon Butler of Two Coats of Paint) Art Blogger Miami Beach, an opportunity to meet up in real time and space. There's no agenda other than to put names and faces together and talk a little shop. We're meeting in the lobby of Flow Fair on Friday morning, December 7, from 10:00 to 11:00. I'll take pictures and post a brief report, and if all goes well, who know, maybe we'll have a little conference in March during the Armory Fair in New York.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

More Thoughts on Joseph Cornell, aka The Universe with 90-degree Angles

I saw this show, Navigating the Imagination, at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., where it was installed all summer, and recently at SFMoMA within days of when you saw it. To make an institutional comparison, I’d say that I liked the PEM installation better. The vitrines were contained in a sequence of rooms, which made sense for the work—boxes with boxes, as it were, rather in the larger SF gallery spaces. The light was lower in Salem, which made the work harder to see, but which underlined the mystery of his work (though of course the low lights were for archival protection).

Some of the conventional ideas about Cornell still ring true for me: his obsessiveness, the idea of his looking to the stars while working in his mother’s basement. And, of course there’s the delicious coincidence that his extraordinary miniature universes were made on Utopia Parkway—doesn’t that sound like a road to the heavens, or a terrestrial version of The Milky Way? (Except that Utopia Parkway is a busy street in Queens, and the house was a modest one-family, and his basement studio, judging from the pictures in the show, was cluttered and cramped.) I loved your reference to the Scrovegni Chapel, but I'm thinking his own home was the more mundane version of the big box.
Harry Roseman, Back of Cornell, 1971, above right; below, the house on Utopia Blvd. in Queens

As I’ve learned more about him from the show, he was only reclusive when it came to women. Otherwise, he regularly went out and about, at least in New York (apparently he never traveled much past the boroughs). He had a job in Manhattan, and he went to openings. He was also an avid collector of books and objects. (I loved the photograph in the show of his boxes of stuff. Such an organized obsessive!) Cornell was not only aware of the Surrealists, he did a collaborative work with Duchamp, who was an admirer of his work. Untrained in art though he may have been, he was no naif but I do think his work has a kind of naïve poetry.

Image from the Peabody Essex Museum site, a promotional collage of Cornell's work (Don't you love that? A collage of Cornell's assemblages and collages)

As someone who works with the grid as an organizing principle, I love that part of his work—the compartments, the repetition, the everything-in-its-place compositions (like his boxes of stuff). I find these compostions infinitely more compelling than the dioramas and what look like miniature stage sets. I’d like to think his work was meditative, but it could equally have been fraught with obsession. One thing was surely obsessive, and it gives me the creeps: his focus on certain women, whether movie stars, divas or dancers. There was a little too much of the voyeur for me in his female figures. Nowadays it’s the stuff of Law and Order: SVU.

But just as I’m getting creeped out, I walk to another vitrine and find a little box with a dancer backed by a chorus line of little plastic lobsters, wearing tutus. Dancing lobsters! The piece was made in about 1945, long before Pop sensibility roared into the zeitgeist. I saw those klutzy terpsichorean crustaceans and laughed out loud. Then I thought of Dali’s big, floppy lobster telphone. So we’re back to Surrealism.

Zizi Jean Marie Lobster Ballet Box," 1949, by Joseph Cornell


And then there are the pieces with watchsprings, lovely little spirals stretching out like miniatire galaxies, metaphors for space and time, and graphically just beautiful to look at. So we’re spiraling back into poetry.

The poetry is also there in the boxes with the soapbubble pipes, and the marbles and glass balls. Material, tangible objects suggesting the ephemeral. Because my studio is around the corner from the PEM, I visited the show half a dozen times, allowing myself to wander in the half light. That was probably the best part of the show for me, the repeated, extended viewing of the work, seeing it not objectively or reportorially, but emotionally—which is why this post is more stream of consciousness than what I normally write.

This sounds corny, but there is a magical quality to it the work. You get the sense that Cornell kind of disappeared into his little creations, like Alice down the rabbit hole. I imagine his mind as having little compartments, some lined in velvet, others stacked like drawers with little knobs, each filled with all kinds of marvelous or marvellously mundane things, or little stage sets with theatrical vignettes. Maybe there was another little door that opened onto the stars. Now that's a Surrealist image. Or maybe the universe was indeed in minature and existed inside a box in his head.

From Pavel Zoubok Gallery, New York. This piece has a flat box that opens under the main diorama, the heavens contained just like those marbles in the little glasses
OK, back to reality. One thing I found horrifying was the materials he used—an object lesson, if ever there was one, for artists unconcerned with archival issues. You saw the photograph of his materials. Yikes, kiddie art supplies! I guess this is where the naif part comes in. School paste, cheap tempera and brushes. In another vitrine there was a photograph of one of the boxes showing how it has once looked, with a brilliant an Yves-Klein-blue interior; the actual piece had faded to gray.

The show was curated by PEM chief curator Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, who was the former director of the Joseph Cornell Study Center at the Smithsonian Institution, where the exhibition originated. It caps an extended reprise for Cornell, who died in 1972.

Pace Gallery (on 57th Street, before the "Wildenstein" was added) did a major show of his work in the mid 90s. Then this past May, just as the Cornell show opened at the PEM, Pavel Zoubok did a small but lovely show of the artist's work in his 23rd Street gallery . Considering that so few of Cornell's works must be for sale, Zoubok had a surprising number of very good works. And no doubt there have been other small Cornell shows in between.

Above and below: Joseph Cornell at the Pavel Zoubok Gallery, New York City, in May

But back to Cornell. This Smithsonian-to-Salem-to-SFMoMA show is the big one, 35 years after his death. So in addition to poetry, magic, and dreams, this show is, in its way, about reincarnation.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Thoughts on Joseph Cornell

Hey Joanne- so, as we agreed while sitting in the SFMoMA cafe last Friday, we're going to talk about Joseph Cornell, since Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination is now there.

Here is an excerpt from a piece I just wrote, SFMoMA: Cornell, Wall, Eliasson, that is at my place, and is also now posted on the brand new group blog focusing on Bay Area art: Bay Area ArtQuake.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Thoughts on Joseph Cornell
I thought I knew Cornell's work pretty well, the collages and boxes and films and drawers full of photographs and ephemera, but I was wrong.  Of course there is the myth about him as the obsessive naif, and I suppose I bought into that. But this exhibition shows him as an artist with extreme focus and clarity of vision, and the nerve and chops to realize his vision.

While Cornell's focus and vision might initially seem narrow, they were not simple; this work is complex in ways I don't think I can understand.  It's mysterious, and layered, and cinematic.  I think there is something in much of his images that is about capturing the feeling of singular moments in film- a moment or person of beauty, a certain juxtaposition, a movement, some kind of grandeur, something that happens in one moment in a film and then is gone; sitting in a dark theater watching moving images of projected light is thrilling, but certain moments in this medium can feel magical.  I think Cornell was after that magic.

That, and backyard astronomy, which is another kind of camera and cinematic experience. And celebrity worship, another kind of star gazing, And also the theater of the Peeping Tom or voyeur. And something that might look to us like nostalgia, but which was in Cornell's time the objects and images from his childhood, and from the generation just prior to him. These probably aren't original ideas on my part; they're probably in the literature, but Cornell's art definitely works in these many areas, as you can see for yourself.

Think of the Scrovegni Chapel, which is really one big box, and looking up at the ceiling, which is a deep cobalt blue above littered with gold stars, and substitute Lauren Bacall for Mary, and you're drifting towards Cornell.

It is a huge, impressive show, a bit of a landmark.  The biggest surprise for me was seeing the skill with with Cornell made things.  Components of some of the boxes are quite finely crafted, and there are collages that show genuine sophistication in terms of how color from different pieces are combined, how texture is laid next to another, how line and edge are used.  This formal kind of stuff is something I did not expect to be bowled over by. He knew what he was doing.

The low light in the galleries combined with the amount of work can tire the observer, so plan your visit: at first, you might quickly walk through the show; next walk back through and carefully see the first half the show; after that, take a break at a cafe; finally, go see the rest of the show.  Take your time-- it's worth it.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

"The Geometry of Hope"

I'm alive and well, Chris, just trying to find daylight here under this pile of work. First, congratulations on your show at Root Division. The work looks fabulous and in the picture you posted you look--dare I say it?--pleased. I hope that's the case. We need to take full pleasure in the exhibitions we work so hard to create.
One of my ongoing pleasures is discovering so much in the art world that I never learned in art school. Discovering Latin American art and artists has been one of those pleasures. I fully intend to write about The Geometry of Hope, Latin American Abstract Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection that's at NYU's Grey Gallery until December 8. This show is not news to you, as you posted an image on September 15--that of Juan Mele's prism-like shaped canvas, with a link to the Roberta Smith review in the New York Times.

Until I can put any serious thoughts down, let me post two images from the show:

Gego: Reticularea Cuadrada 71/11 (the catalog translates the title as "Square Reticularea"), 1971; metal, copper and stainless steel, app 80 x 55 x 22 inches

This piece, above, is a dimensional drawing of articulated metal and wire--you can call it sculpture if you wish--by the Venezuelan-by-way-of-Germany, Gego (aka Gertrud Goldschmidt), who was the subject of a fabulous solo show at the Drawing Center last June. The shadow, so integral to the work, brings full dimensionality to a relief hanging.

Ideia Visivel (Visible Idea), 1956, acrylic on masonite, 23.5 x 23.5 inches

This image is of an easel-size paintingby the Brazilian painter Waldemar Cordeiro. The geometry is based on the Golden Rectangle, an element that shows up in other works as well.
The gallery was extremely touch about photography. When I went to photograph, the student sitting the gallery all but seized my little camera. Something about the artists not wanting the images reproduced. Yet I notice they had no problem using the artists' work for cards and posters, plastering type all over the images. Hmmm.
More on this show soon. Meanwhile, fresh from a tour of the Boneyard--er, the Chelsea Galleries--I posted a report on my blog about the preponderance of shows with skulls and bones. I've called it Skeleton Crew. Take a look.
And one other thing: If you're wondering why I've been so infernally busy, I've become the director of the Second Annual Encaustic Conference, a national event (which I conceived last year) that takes place at Montserrat College of Art just north of Boston. I've been securing speakers and maintaining the blog. Again, if you have a moment, take a look.
And there's that other thing I do. Um, um. Oh, yes, painting.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

At Root Division

At Root Division opening, Saturday, September 8. Photo by Raymond Yee. See work in the show.

Good stuff at the Brooklyn Rail

I'm really heartened by three articles currently at the Brooklyn Rail that focus on artists who had their moment in the 70's, kept working, and now at this time are getting back into the spotlight- it's a little bit of history being rewritten, and also points to some possible shifts away from an emphasis on youth, gratuitously "adventurous" or "cutting edge" art, and the quick buck. Even though I am a generation or more behind these artists, I really identify with a lot of what's being talked about here- when I started as an art student this is work I saw in recently past issues of magazines, and this information has always been down inside of me, almost hibernating, but present. Some of the social/political things Whitten and Kass talk about are stuff I think about a lot in regards to my own development and outlook, and my art. I particularly like that these three articles all represent different groups- a black man, a woman, and an artist who left NY to make his work. Also, all three of these artists have or have had shows in NY right now. Finally, there is a look at Clyfford Still in Denver.
  1. Interview with Jack Whitten
    Whitten: By 1970 I was seeing a lot of Henry Geldzahler, who was a great supporter of my work at that time. He would come to the studio and we would talk a lot about the grid; the grid being a kind of, as he put in a little essay he wrote for me once, “aspect of civilization.” In my own way, I was introduced to it by my afro-comb. That’s where it started.

    Rail: So that’s when you began to use your comb as a painting tool?

    Whitten: Yes. First I used the afro-comb with a couple of paintings, and then I began to recognize a pattern. That’s when I wanted more control, so I started making the device myself. The afro-comb became a big carpenter saw. In fact, MoMA has one from 1978.
  2. Now showing at Alexander Gray.
  3. THE SEVENTIES by Deborah Kass
    When I saw Elizabeth’s (Murray) show at Paula Cooper the earth moved, because a seismic change was occurring in my life as I stood there looking. I had been oblivious to feminism, I was entirely and erotically male identified. But looking at her paintings, I realized that for the first time the subject, which I previously and unconsciously assumed to be male, had changed. I recognized what was traditional in her painting—traditional as I had come to understand it through my sojourns to MoMA and at college, a New York School, Cezanne-through-Stella thinking. This painting was clearly coming from there, but with a different point of view and speaking in a different voice about something else altogether. The subject was female. And I mean subject as we defined it in the 80’s and 90’s. The speaking subject, the specific subject. The subject with agency.

    Now showing at Paul Kasmin.

  4. TRACKS: Peter Young: An Unlikely Artist by Ben La Rocco
    If the “art star” status enjoyed by a few is the brass ring, it is a dangerous standard because of the unlikelihood of attaining it and because of its lack of correlation with the development of richer ideas in the arts.

    Young's PS1 show reviewed was reviewed a few weeks back in the NYT.

  5. Also, more about Still in Denver by James Kalm, and his video tour below.

Juan Melé: Marco recortado n.º 2

I think this is fascinating:

Juan Melé
Marco recortado n.º 2 [Irregular Frame No. 2], 1946
Oil on masonite, 27 15/16 x 18 1/8 x 1 in.
Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, 1997.102

The Geometry of Hope: Latin American Abstract Art From the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection,” at the Grey Art Gallery at New York University; reviewed by Robert Smith, NY Times:

Our notions of the origins of shaped paintings are readjusted by “Irregular Frame No. 2,” a distorted grid in shades of green, blue, rust and yellow made startlingly early, as these things go, by the Argentine artist Juan Melé in 1946. In this flamboyant little work geometry turns blunt, in advance of Minimalism, and cartoonishly savvy, in advance (and somewhat contradictorily) of the abstract painter Elizabeth Murray.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Computer Ate my Blog

You have been a model of conscientious posting on this blog. I have not. Well, not recently, anyway. (I hope my long piece on New York's Extended Minimal Moment last fall will keep me as a collaborating blogger in good standing.)

For here, let me note a couple of things that involve us singly or jointly:
.Congratulations on your show at Root Division in San Francisco. This has been a great summer of shows for you! I hope you'll post some installation pics here.
. This follows group shows you'be been in around the country, including Philadelphia and Atlanta. How did they go?
. Apropos of Atlanta, boo-hoo, the show that I curated that you're in, Luxe, Calme et Volupte, is now down. The gallery website still has the great online catalog of the show. And my blog account of the show will remain up for the forseeable future.
. The Richard Serra show is coming out your way soon. I hope we can dialog about that. I had quite a lot to say on my own blog--two posts worth.
. And, of course, a new season is just starting up. Things should be interesting in NY and elsewhere. I'll be in Chicago this weekend, so perhaps I'll have something to say from there. I trust you'll make your usual rounds in SF.
. I had a good spring, with solos in Scottsdale and New York --with two reviews in NY and sales all around. (That breeze you feel is me still exhaling.)

Now, about that title. The computer DID eat my blog. I'd been wanting to clean up the font mess on my pages--all those default pinks and blues (who chooses those colors, anyway?)--and streamline it. Not being even remotely conversant with HTML, I took advantage of Blogger's new features. I even saved the code for my blogroll--my one stab at cyber intelligence. Well, while the sidebar type and the font colors look quite snappy, if I say so myself, the leading between the lines of text was all mooshed together, as if it had been put under pressure. Clearly it was (and is) a code thing, but I'm at a loss to rectify it in any kind of conventional way.

So I spent today--Labor Day, appropriately--toiling paragraph by paragraph, to set things right. There were some good paragraphs. I found that if I imported them (and their embedded code) into posts with mooshed text and then introduced the mooshed text into it, somehow, miraculously, the leading between the lines would be restored. I've been at it all day. I think I should have it mostly fixed by tomorrow.

Then I should be more up for a real post here, one with pictures. And how was your Labor Day?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Matisse @ SFMoMA

One more post, while I'm on a roll: Ann and I were at SFMoMA on Saturday and saw Matisse: Painter as Sculptor for the second time. Boy, what a great show, in so many ways: focuses on the lesser-known side of a great one; a really strong selection of work; installed over several galleries with lots of room between clusters of work so there is a feeling of time, of breathing, of space; lots of little gems one would never have the chance to see.

Like the drawing below, about 8 x 10 inches, a quick ink drawing. I'm really taken with this: it's a head, a mountain, a crystal. In a few quick strokes, c. 1900, Matisse makes a captivating little world.

This terrible photo was taken quickly of a page in the catalog: in the little book shop adjacent to the exhibition, when no one was around, I opened the book, took out my camera, walked up to the register and said to the young hipster behind the counter, "If I took a picture of this page would you have to stop me?" He looked around nervously, and said, "Well, uh... I'll just walk over here," and went to straighten up gift cards or mugs or something. I took a couple of quick snaps, quickly put my camera away, and waved him a thanks. It's a lousy picture, but you get the idea:

Storr and Nozkowski & de Keyser

You said: "...did you notice that all the examples he (Storr) gave in the Brooklyn Rail interview (including Nauman and Baldassari, Ryman, and Angelo Filomeno) are of the male persuasion? One exception: Louise Bourgeois—and jeez, she had to work into her 70s before anyone took notice. I know, this is another topic, but it’s all connected, isn’t it?"

I say: Yeah, I kinda sorta noticed, but didn't pay it too much mind, which, you know, uh, is kinda sorta just the way, uh, well, male privilege, or something. I notice things like that, but they don't always snag me. Sometimes do, sometimes don't. The artists Storr talks about are a narrow slice of names in the Bienalle, and these particular names are artists who have been important to him for a long time, are ones that he personally relates to. Not defending, necessarily, just think it was the slice of conversation. I do know that the actual roster for the Biennale includes way more than a handful of women, though I can't make an accurate head count because there are many names about which I can't be certain if they are male or female.

Peter Schjeldahl wrote in The New Yorker, "He (Storr) rose to prominence in New York in the nineteen-eighties as a critic championing artists at eccentric or challenging angles to fashionable taste, many of them women—notably Louise Bourgeois, Nancy Spero, Susan Rothenberg, and Elizabeth Murray—along with Bruce Nauman, Robert Ryman, Gerhard Richter, and Ilya and Emilia Kabakov."

You said: "By the way, I appreciate Storr’s comments about Nozkowski and De Keyser. Nozkowski is one of my favorite painters."

I say: Ditto. I am a big fan of Nozkowski & de Keyser. Such a big fan that they both deserve to have images included here:

Top: Thomas Nozkowski, UNTITLED (8-67), 2005, oil on linen on panel, 22 x 28 inches Framed , 55.9 x 71.1 cm
Bottom: Raoul de Keyser, Retour 11, 1999, 43,0 x 60,0 cm, oil on canvas

Clyfford Still @ SFMoMA

Oh happy day! SFMoMA has finally rotated the paintings in the Clyfford Still gallery! The red one is a really interesting painting- it looks so fresh, and has a less rugged, knifey surface than a typical mid-50's Still. And the one on the right really works like a Newman, maybe even more Newman-y than Newman.

By the way, photography is forbidden at this museum, unless the guards aren't positioned properly.

Art & the Brain

Joanne, thanks for your answer about curating.

You talked about how curating uses another part of your brain, the more linear thinking part, the more rational, critical, perhaps even objective process. Though curating does involve an emotional side, as well, one does need to be able to step back and even justify one's reaction, significantly because, I think, as the curator you make choices for other viewers, and you want to support some theme, argument, narrative, etc. The personal investment is different- unlike your own work, you are external to the work of others, and know it less intimately. At the same time, as the curator there's all kinds of logistics to be aware of- deadlines, who's in and out, an essay, when it will hang, how it will hang.

I was curious to know if the curatorial work in any way enables you look at your own work with another eye, or does it do the opposite?

This somewhat reminds me: as you know, I've done a lot of writing about art, and I've done a fair amount of talking and writing about my own work, too, but I always find it so much easier to talk about the art of others. I carry this continual conversation and explanation in my head about my own art, but I've never wanted to reduce it to an elevator pitch, though I can see the benefits of doing so.

Just recently I had to talk about my work with a gallery director, and I went in with all of the words in my head ready to go. But strangely, once there, I found myself pretty inarticulate, as if I'd forgotten all of the things I wanted to say about my work. It wasn't nerves, and it wasn't because I wasn't prepared. There was a feeling of not wanting to explain and give my work away- I could describe it, describe the process, state the facts, but at the moment in the conversation where I was supposed to say, "My work is about..." my brain kind of shut down, I knew it was shutting down, and I felt myself resisting the idea of working to explain. I think I didn't want to give it away, I didn't want it encapsulated. Fortunately, the director already had a feel for the work, and was saying lots of what I might say- not all, but plenty. It was relief. And it had a happy ending. I'll be in a group show in San Francisco in September at Root Division.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A: Curating for a Painter is Like Cross Training

You ask: Has your recent curating experience prompted any ideas or feelings about your own art that reinforces or challenges what you're doing?
The simple answer is that curating (as with writing) gives me an opportunity to think about art in ways that I don’t think about, or address, when I’m in the studio. It’s like sculpture—thinking and working three dimensionally instead of on a flat surface.

Does curating challenge what I’m doing in the studio? No, but it does challenge me to think about art using a different part of my brain.

When I’m painting initially, the work kind of flows out, and it’s only after the fact that I stand back and look at it and think about it in a critical way. Then there’s a conversation between the intuitive and the rational that continues—sort of a creative alternating current—as a work or works come to completion. (I often work on several paintings at the same time.)

In the studio, above: I don't get this rational until the right brain has run some miles and the work is underway

Curating, on the other hand, is a much more rational enterprise. I have to be moved in some intuitive, emotional, maybe visceral way by an artist’s work, but I do a lot more linear, left-brain thinking about how a particular work it fits into a curatorial theme.

In the gallery, above and below: I start out with the left brain in high gear. The work has to fit into, indeed expand, the theme--which in "Luxe, Calme et Volupte" is visual pleasure: beauty (of sumptuousness, order and sensuality). Above: Tim McFarlane, Rainer Gross, Robert Sagerman. Below: Julie Gross, you, Maureen Mullarkey. The marble sculptures on the floor are by Julia Venske and Gregor Spanle. Exhibition at the Marcia Wood Gallery, Atlanta (through August 25)

As an artist I paint primarily in encaustic. I love the medium, to the point that using feels as if it’s just flowing out of my hand. But I’m interested in other mediums and other modes of expression. And I’m interested in other artists’ work besides mine. Curating a show that’s not medium specific, but rather, about a theme—beauty, in the case of Luxe, Calme et Volupte—is a way to explore the ideas and artists whose work interests me.

So I guess curating, for me, is like cross training.

You also ask: Related to this, I'm wondering if there is other work you're messing around with in your studio? ... You recently mentioned getting a lot of nice heavy paper. What's cooking?

May I take a raincheck on this question? As you know, I had a very busy spring with the "Luxe, Calme et Volupte" show. And I also organized the first National Conference of Encaustic Painting at Montserrat College of Art. (Many people were involved in the conference, of course, but I conceived it and developed the panels and themes.) I hadn’t intended to take on two large projects at the same time, but life has a different sense of timing than my own. I also did some teaching and a lot of traveling (my blog is part travelog, part critical writing, part self promotion). Oh, and did I mention two solo shows?

So to be honest there’s not much in my studio at the moment. There is a lot of paper—gorgeous 300 lb, hot-press Fabriano that’s just waiting to become a series of gouache grids and another series of graphite grids (graphite powder suspended in alcohol that gets painted as if it were watercolor). But at the moment I’m recuperating from all that activity earlier in the year. I will answer this question visually as soon as I have some new work to show you—which will be soon.

Question for you: What's in your studio right now?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

More on the Collector-Driven Market

Chris, I’m glad you brought up this topic here.

The Dow passed the 14000 mark today (though it closed slightly lower). There’s a lot of money out there right now. Sure, there are plenty of rich boors who are gobbling up anything they think will give them prestige, but there are many thoughtful collectors as well. Perhaps these latter aren’t driving the market, but they keep things chugging along as they acquire work from emerging and midlevel artists.

In my post on Edward Winkleman’s blog, I said that a rising tide raises all boats. Not everyone agreed with me—the usual assortment of whiners said, basically, that because it wasn't happening for them, it wasn’t happening— but I’ll say it again here: There are more collectors than ever before. Those collectors, at all levels, have created a market that accommodates more galleries than ever before, which in turn has paved the way for more artists to show and sell than ever before. Say what you will about the art fairs—and there’s plenty yet to be said (I just reserved my flight and room for Miami in December)—they have given mid level dealers and artists a way to have international exposure and sales. Tide, yo.

Money may trump knowledge in the category of paintings-for-over-50-million-Alex, but there's still a fair amount of intelligence and integrity down here on terra firma where most artists and dealers work. As a midcareer artist who earns a living from the sale of my art, I am living proof that a rising tide raises boats.

By the way, I appreciate Storr’s comments about Nozkowski and De Keyser. Nozkowski is one of my favorite painters. But did you notice that all the examples he gave in the Brooklyn Rail interview (including Nauman and Baldassari, Ryman, and Angelo Filomeno) are of the male persuasion? One exception: Louise Bourgeois—and jeez, she had to work into her 70s before anyone took notice. I know, this is another topic, but it’s all connected, isn’t it?

I am working on a response to your question, but I had to weigh in on this topic.

The problem with a collector-driven market/The kind of careers that kids think of now

Just posting, won't comment much now, except I think about this, the two sides of the coin that follow. Joanne, I know you saw the first quote because you commented elsewhere. I'll follow up the first quote with a second comment that struck me:

From the Art Newspaper: The problem with a collector-driven market, by Jane Kallir

For the past century or so, the art world has been supported by four principal pillars: artists, collectors, dealers and the art-historical establishment (critics, academics, and curators). From a wider historical perspective, the latter two entities are relative newcomers... Over the long term, art-historical value is determined by consensus among all four art-world pillars. When any one of the four entities assume disproportionate power, there is a danger that this entity’s personal preferences will cloud everyone’s short-term judgement. Put bluntly, the danger of a collector-driven art world is that money will trump knowledge.

From an interview of Robert Storr by Irving Sandler about the Venice Bienalle in the latest Brooklyn Rail:

I’ll tell you by the way, there are two artists in this show who I identify with quite a lot. One is Raoul De Keyser and the other is Tom Nozkowski. Both of them worked for very long periods of time, Tom as a magazine layout designer, Raoul as the educational official in a small Flemish-speaking town in Belgium. They just kept making their work, so they’re here in part as my idea of how another way of being an artist turns out. Raoul is 76, Tom is 60; they are real artists and they have never had the kind of careers that kids think of now. For that matter, neither did alot of the others. Bruce Nauman had a moment in the ‘60s and early ’70s, and then it went away and it was rough until the early 1980s. Richter had a moment in the ‘60s and then he was not doing so well. A lot of artists like John Baldassari that young artists look up to actually had very checkered careers.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Q for you

Q for you: Has your recent curating experience prompted any ideas or feelings about your own art that reinforces or challenges what you're doing?

Related to this, I'm wondering if there is other work you're messing around with in your studio that hasn't seen the light of day yet? You've shown a lot lately, your website is fairly current, but is there other work happening besides more recent series like Uttar, Vicolo, Mudra, and Silk Road? Last year you painted Quadrate 1, acrylic on canvas- that's a bit of a diversion from the encaustic work. You recently mentioned getting a lot of nice heavy paper. What's cooking?

Monday, July 9, 2007

A: an hour goes by really quickly!

You say, “You mentioned in an e-mail note that there were so many other things you wish you'd said in the interview but that the interview hour had run out. What are some of those things? Links and images welcome.”

The list of interviews is at The Art World Podcast, or download the mp3.

Thanks for asking, Joanne. Eva did her homework, and she asked lots of good questions. We had met in Portland, and she came to the opening and saw the show. We deliberately did not talk about my art in-person so that the interview would not sound like a kind of call and response retread. I was excited about doing the interview, but at the same time apprehensive, worrying that I wouldn’t represent myself well.

Some of the questions I had anticipated, some I hadn’t. There were some specific things I wanted to talk about in order to better get at what I think my work is about, but I was surprised at how quickly the hour went by, and by how I didn’t get around to these topics.

One of my concerns was that we not talk about the HTML work as a novelty medium. I wanted to talk about the images, the content behind the images, and the possible meanings of the more conceptual aspects of the work. I’d wanted to talk about the performance-like aspect of making and exhibiting an image daily, but didn’t. I’m afraid that we did not actually get around to discussing the images, although I did talk about how images are found, not just made. I’ve encountered this tendency in some to think that working on the computer is not actually a creative process (not that Eva thought that) and I wanted to be more clear about that. It was just one of many things that somehow I didn’t bring up because of the flow of conversation.

Eva did ask about influences of Malevich and Ellsworth Kelly. I kind of accepted the Malevich connection, but ultimately feel it’s a superficial comparison. And I quickly dismissed the Kelly connection, so much so that a friend of mine commented about it, thinking that I was maybe dismissing Kelly’s work, which was not my intention. Related to this, I also wanted to talk about how I don't think of this work, or any of my work, as geometric art.

I wanted to be more clear about why working in series is important to this work, and how when I show these images as objects (for example, Jukebox, shown both at Chambers and Marcia Wood) it is the collection of images that is the work, not the single images. I wanted to move the discussion towards this by discussing some other artists. Here is who I wanted to mention:

I wanted to talk about my visit to the Scrovegni Chapel in 1980 to see Giotto’s frescoes. I recently told a friend how it has been a turning point for me (and he said, well, it was a turning point for all of Western art) not only because of the frescoes themselves, which are magnificent in every sense of the word, but for the overall conception: the entire inside walls and ceilings of the chapel are covered in frescoes of scenes of the life of Christ and other decorative panels. Being in the chapel is to be inside a complete and total environment, a work of art working on many levels, from narrative to genre to design to decoration, with landscape, portrait, still life, trompe l’oeil, and fantasy. The form in the compositions is very architectural, and also very abstract. There is consistency and rhythm and rhyming among the images. It is incredibly ambitious and integrated. I have carried the memory of this visit with me for twenty seven years. Not that I have wanted to paint in the same way, but what I’ve wanted to make is a body of work that can have some kind of impact similar to the chapel. I wouldn’t compare my work to Giotto, but I think that the larger borders of my project—an image a day, everyday, in themes, for a particular environment, an attention to form and color, images with strong abstract quality sometimes bordering on representation, a sense of visual narrative—this may be as close as I’ve ever got in my own work to some of that ambition.

In a more modern vein, I wanted to mention Jacob Lawrence’s well known series of paintings The Migration Series, The Frederick Douglass Series, and Harriet Tubman Series of 1938-40. All of these are tempera on quite small panels (in the 12 x 18 inch range). Although he is painting representationally the abstract qualities of the images are inventive and strong. He takes on very specific subjects that are of interest to him because of his background, stories that are unlikely to be told in this format by anyone else- this is ambitious, like Giotto, and to see these series is to be immersed in his graphic, intimate world. I wanted to particularly mention Lawrence not only because he has influenced me, but also because in the world of abstract painting that you and I traffic in he is a very unlikely influence. Yet I didn’t give him his due in the interview, even though I wrote a note to myself to do so.

There are a few other specific works by artists that I wanted to mention to emphasis even more this idea of an artwork that is expanded into a series, or where many small units make a larger single artwork. These include:

Jennifer Bartlet’s Rhapsody, composed of 987 painted steel panels, each 12 x 12 inches, which occupies 153 running feet of wall space and “reads like a piece of music or poem in a carefully planned rhythm and repetition of images (ref) (ref).”

Thomas Nozkowski and Judy Linn ‘s An Autobiography, "a series of abstract paintings and photographs based on geographic regions along the Hudson River… the twenty works in An Autobiography reflect important experiences and memories in Nozkowski's life. Each painting is defined by a different five-mile increment of the valley. The artist recalls: ‘Everything that I hold important to my life has happened along a hundred-mile stretch of the Hudson River valley. For each painting I would try to find visual images from my memories and in the physical reality of the place.’
After finishing the series, Nozkowski invited Judy Linn to interpret the region in photography. Working without having seen the paintings, Linn's photographs are also defined by the same five-mile increments (ref).

I also would’ve talked about Sol Lewitt more, and mentioned Mary Heilmann and Raoul de Keyser. I wanted to talk about my own work, of course, but also to talk about these artists as a way of opening up a larger conversation about how images are used to make meaning, how the notion of a single painting or drawing or print as the work is limiting to me, and how I am really interested in visual narratives, a way that viewers create and tell themselves non-literate, non-linear stories or meanings in response to what they see. Some of that telling is even nonverbal- we do it through gesture, through the body, by recalled memory, by internal sound prompted by form, color, or movement. It’s a complicated thing, something I haven’t been able to adequately explain, and it was all too much to talk about in one hour.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Images top to bottom:
  • Giotto frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy
  • Jacob Lawrence's Harriet Tubman series No. 10, 1939-40, Casein tempera on gessoed hardboard, Hampton University Art Museum, Hampton, Virginia (ref).
  • Jennifer Bartlett's Rhapsody, 1975-76. Enamel on steel, 987 plates, Each plate 12 x 12" (30.4 x 30.4 cm); overall approximately 7' 6" x 153' (228.6 x 4663.4 cm). MoMA, New York. Gift of Edward R. Broida (ref).
  • Thomas Nozkowski Untitled, 1994 (7-55). Oil on Linen on Panel, 16 x 20 inches, from An Autobiography (ref).

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Q & A

Chris, I'm glad our conversation is picking up. I follow your shows on line and enjoyed the interview with Eva Lake. In the interests of actually conversing, I'm going to propose that we do a bit more back and forth online--like what we do in our e-mails--except somewhat more formal and focused.

So let me start with a question to you:

You mentioned in an e-mail note that there were so many other things you wish you'd said in the interview but that the interview hour had run out. What are some of those things? Links and images welcome.

And when you've finished responding, ax me anything.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Let's ease back in here...

After an unexpected hiatus of several months, let's ease back in here. This is the kind of thing that, if you let go for a bit, creeps up on you- a little bit of time goes by, and then a little more, and before you know it a bunch of little times has become a big chunk of time and you've got an abandoned house. So here we are, back to sweep out the cobwebs.

A lot has happened in the past six months. For me, art-wise, it went like this:

Not to forget my radio interview with Eva Lake.

And that's just the first half of the year.

Plus, I'm also beginning working with a new gallery in Ireland, Haydn Shaughnessy Gallery: "Artists who use new technology to create powerful, compelling and collectible new imagery."

And you, Joanne, have a whole ton of stuff that's happened so far this year, and that will be happening the rest of the year.

So we're busy, and even busier than just the list above appears, because making the work, and making the connections, and getting the work to the place it will be shown, and maybe traveling there too, well, there's a whole lot going on behind the scenes to make it all happen.

But so far, 2007 is not a bad year.

During the past six months I have been mostly preoccupied with figuring how I want to print and show the HTML images. I hit on a small solution for now- small prints hung in grids. That exploratory work isn't over- still a lot more to be done. It could get bigger, stronger, shinier, more finished, and more expensive. I'm not sure where it's going. I'm also trying to find my way back into painting after this period.

I'm a little stunned by the Shapiro turquoise piece you show in the last post- I use that color, the gradation, the pyramid motif- I thought it was my image for a bit. It's a little hard for me to believe that this painting was made in the sixties- the imagery and color seems so much a part of computer monitor, the flickering screen, the backlit luminosity, that I have to ask- where did this come from? Do you have any other info?

Monday, June 25, 2007

We've Got to Talk!

We’ve gone from Two Artists Not Talking to Two Artists Totally Out of Communcation. This has happened for the best of reasons—we’ve both been busy with shows—but I’d like to see if we can get the converstional ball rolling again. These pictures from Babe Shapiro may do it.

Babe and I showed together last November, with Nancy Manter, at DM Contemporary in Mill Neck, New York, and we’ve been in occasional e-contact since then. Babe has a veteran painter who has journeyed from hard-edge abstraction to a more organic imagery. When he saw images of your work in Luxe Calme et Volupte, he send a few images with this note: "Chris Ashley's inkjet prints remind me of the paintings I showed at the Stable Gallery in the 1960's and on. For the hell of it, I've attached a few jpegs of some of my work from that period. The images…are a hint of a body of work I spent about 15 years on."

I think you'll find them interesting, not only for Babe's imagery but for the connections between your geometry and his--over time, distance and mediums. I've also included a shot of your installation from Luxe, Calme et Volupte. I haven't edited the entire installation yet, but at least you get a peek at your work.

Babe Shapiro: Beg Your Pardon, 1977, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48 inches, above; Abaxial, 1979, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 18 inches, below

Chris Ashley: Installation view of Jukebox 1-28, inkjet on paper, with CD views of 365 days of HTML drawings. Foreground: Julie Gross Two One Punch, oil on canvas (partial view) and a Smurf marble sculpture by Venske & Spanle

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Back in the Conversation

Before Two Artists Talking becomes a dim memory, I’d like to pump some air into it. You did a wonderful job last time with your two posts, Chris—on the Miami art fairs and Gee’s Bend Quilts--and I've been too swamped to respond. But it is my turn, so let me crank up the compressor.

Both topics still have relevance for me.

Gee’s Bend Quilts
I saw that wonderful show at the Whitney several years ago. The first time I saw it was on a weekend, and there were too many people—a good thing that many people went to see the show, a bad thing that they were all standing in my line of sight—so I returned during the week to see the show at a less crowded time. The work is extraordinary. Unlike the precisely cut Amish quilts, whose quilt stitching often features marvelously intricate patterns—a subtle yet stunning counterpoint to the geometric abstraction of their design—the Gee’s Bend quilts are more rough hewn. For a formalist like myself who thinks about process and precision, these quilts took some getting used to. That is, I loved them viscerally the moment I saw them, but it took my brain a bit longer to embrace the imprecision.

This comment of yours struck me:
The quilts were intended to be part of everyday life. The quilters and their families are the primary, original audience, and the primary users. There seems to be no gap between the maker, the intended object and its use, and people who use it. This wholeness is also unique because these quilters defied tradition by not settling into historical patterns, but instead used their eyes to compose and make, working by hand and responding immediately to their materials, learning from and working in the company of each other, day after day over the years. It's remarkable to see how these objects, made for a specific use in a particular place, can now function as powerful art objects for a much larger, more diverse audience.

So true. This is true of jazz, the blues—well, all indigenous music pretty much anywhere—as well other indigenous forms of expression: storytelling, wood carving, “native” crafts such as weaving, pottery and basketmaking, isn’t it?

There’s a town in Alaska, Nunuvit—funny name; sounds like “none of it”—where something like 90% of the inhabitants earn their living as artists. They make carved stone figures of animals that sell for thousands of dollars to a worldwide clientele. And having just returned from the Southwest, there’s no end to the creative expression there.
I’m not sure where “native”—or naïve—leaves off and a commercial intent takes over, or if one can remain native/naïve and commercial, but it will be interesting to see how success changes the Gee’s Bend quilters, because they are certainly meeting with success. Their work has begun appearing in high-end art galleries, see below. (Looking at Native American creative expression, I guess I’d say that there’s plenty made with integrity and tradition, and an equal amount made for the tourist trade.)
From the Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle: Annie May Young, Bars, 2003, quilted fabric, 88 x 73 inches; $24,000
Anyway, I am certain of this: had it not been for the way feminism stretched the boundaries of art (embracing traditional craft elements, for instance), we would not likely be seeing the Gee’s Bend quilts at the Whitney or at SFMoma. At the American Craft Museum, sure, but not at these other institutions.
Feminism is on my mind because there are a number of shows in New York that are up right now, plus the big “WACK!” show in Los Angeles, all marking the 40th anniversary of Feminist Art. (I’m writing about some of them in my own blog. The F-Word , Part 1 and Part 2 are posted now, and I'm going back occasionally to add more as I get new information and find or receive additional pictures.)

Can we talk about the geometric abstraction issue? I disagree with you that the quilts and painting are two different issues. I think that’s an artificial division. True one comes out of life and the other out of art school, but the initial impulses spring from the same source.

The Art Fairs
Though you wrote your comments about the Miami fairs that took place the second week in December, the topic remains relevant as the fairs continue. I went to the Armory Fair on Pier 94 a few weeks ago, as well as the satellites that have sprung up around it: Scope (under a tent in Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park); Pulse (in the original Armory building on Lexington—site of the 1913 Nude-Descending-A-Staircase Armory show); Red Dot (a new Fair at the Park South Hotel around the corner from Pulse); and a few others.

Not all the art fairs are extravaganzas of size and price. At the Red Dot Fair in New York in February, each gallery had a room in the Park South Hotel. This is the room for Kenise Barnes Fine Art, Larchmont. My two small paintings are in the corner. It's hard work for the dealers, but for visitors like myself it's a great opportunity to see art from galleries around the world, meet friends and, often, get to meet the collector who acquires my work.

When some artists talk about the fairs they use works like “crass commercialism” and “stratospheric prices.” Well, yes, at one end of the spectrum this is true. But price and hype create interest in a market that can then expand to contain smaller galleries that show and sell the work of regular workaday studio artists—and ideally expand a bit more to include other artists seeking commercial representation. We tend to forget that galleries, like artists, come in all levels and degrees of financial success. So while the market may be overblown, that expansion has made room for many of as at far less stratospheric levels.

I appreciate your point about the “album” experience of listing to music, but art fairs are not meant to be albums. They’re not even meant to be an Ipod experience, which is essentially solitary. They’re a mixtape—a raucous jumble with everyone on the dance floor.

Monday, January 1, 2007


Joanne, all your writing about Miami over at your place got you some traffic, didn't it?

Over the past few weeks I've been in email dialog with several people about artfairism, and I feel a little out of gas about it now. A lot of the conversation was about is this good or bad. My feeling is that it is simply the inevitable movement of all things (everything, even church, school, and politics) towards entertainment and shopping- consumerism. It's a new kind of market and, if it lasts, will encourage and produce a different kind of artist, one aiming to either outright please or shock in a not too threatening way, who makes work that isn't too taxing intellectually or visually of the consumer, er, I mean, viewer. Meanwhile, I'll be back at the ranch here making horse shoes.

But there's this: despite my distaste of large crowds, ambivalence towards the dominance of beautiful people, and objection to siutations in which the art doesn't come first, if a gallery wanted to take my work to an art fair, could I say no, I don't believe in it?

We probably know the answer. And I like to think I'm a person of principles.

Here are a couple of other thoughts related to art fairs and bienalles and the tendency of art towards what I think is global entertainment:

In Alan Light's book review of Exile on Main Street: A Season in Hell With the Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield, there's an idea in here about a modern medium that is disappearing which I think is worth considering in thinking about art's place and function:
The album is dying. As a format of recorded music, the album — LP, CD, record, disc, platter, licorice pizza, whatever — has been tossed aside by file sharing and the iPod. Tower Records, rest in peace. For better or worse, pop music has effectively returned to the days before the Beatles arrived, when everything was strictly one single at a time.
I value the album experience, perhaps sometimes more than I value the song. And then, in addition to that, I value the artist's series of albums, the corpus of the work. Analagously, I value the gallery or museum experience and art's place in it, the body of work, a context that art fairs take art out of. I like bodies of work exhibited together, and I like the history of an artist's work built up through exhibitions over the years, that becomes the artist's public corpus of work (and we typically only get a true view of the entire corpus when we have a chance later to see works that perhaps were never exhibited- I'm thinking of Picasso's sketchbooks; more recently, I'm thinking of a book I've been looking at of Twombly drawings spanning fifty years, works mostly in his own collection). Perhaps my tendency, towards bodies of work at specific times, and the overall corpus, is now old-fashioned, bricks-and-mortar thinking. Galleries considering not having exhibition space and being exclusively art fair galleries are shifting art out of the exhibition, body-of-work model towards something new and different. Whether or not I like it, it's happening. What does this mean for one's work, or how it is perceived?

Secondly, globalism and outsourcing and world markets are here and inevitable. Of course, this is not about leveling the playing field or equitably distributing wealth and resources; mostly it is about the bottom line, profit. For galleries, participation in art fairs seems to me more focus on the bottom line, not on the art. Also, what gets lost in globalism is regionalism and difference; the art world seems very happy to give this up. Sure, art from China, India, Argentina and Serbia might look different, but there is also a tendency towards sameness in terms of subjects, size, materials, and the ways it is handled and shown, whether in large bienalle halls or art fair stalls.

My inclination is towards regional albumism and corpusism. Towards the Gee's Bend model- make your work, learn from it, repeat, innovate, over time. If you're lucky, and with a little hard work, it will find its place and audience.