Archives for posts with tag: artists

Image captured from David Wojnarowicz's video "Fire in the Belly," removed from the National Portrait Gallery's exhibition

As an individual who values artistic creation and freedom of speech, I would like the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian Institution to know that I am deeply distressed and saddened over the cowardly decision to censor the exhibition “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” by removing the video by the late artist David Wojnarowicz titled “A Fire in My Belly,” thereby displaying an unnecessary capitulation to political pressure from various conservative and right-wing factions.

As Blake Gopnik notes in his excellent article on the subject,National Portrait Gallery Bows to Censors, Withdraws Wojnarowicz Video on Gay Love,” published November 30th in the Washington Post, if museums were to remove every piece of art that upset some person or group, our museums would be pretty empty.  Can you imagine this kind of censorship applied to our libraries?  Because that’s the kind of logic being used, and if we don’t speak out against this, book censorship is not far down the line.

This is not a small, isolated, unimportant incident.  Many people will remember the late Senator Jesse Helms, and how he was able to escalate conservative outrage over Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” in order to effectively eviscerate the NEA.

Wojnarowicz, a highly regarded American artist who died of AIDS in 1992, sadly cannot add his own voice to our outcry of disgust about this act of censorship.  I’ve signed lots of petitions but never started one before now.  This seemed like a good time to start. Please take action against museum censorship today, and pass this along:

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/no-to-museum-censorship/

For another good read on how we got to this point, check out New York Magazine’s article “U.S. Representative John Boehner Is Now a Curator”.

This is not an issue of quality. Who the heck knows why museums show half of what they do?  Like why does the winner of Bravo’s (un)reality show “Work of Art” get a solo show in the Brooklyn Museum of Art?  The public is not collectively qualified to be in charge of making curatorial decisions.  I support the National Portrait Gallery’s decision to mount this exhibition, and would like to see the curators continue to have the freedom to do their jobs, while the public reserves the freedom to decide whether to go see the show or not.

Whether or not you or I think a work like Serrano’s “Piss Christ” was any creation of startling genius or not isn’t really the point, the point being that Jesse Helms was able to use it, regardless of the quality or even the artistic intent behind it, to end NEA grants to individual visual artists – a moratorium still in effect today.  This means other deserving artists (and I’d like to think I can include myself), are no longer eligible to apply for those NEA dollars.  And that’s not Serrano’s fault.  It’s Helms’ fault and his supporters’ fault (from their standpoint, a victory), but also all the fault of all the lazy-ass artists, dems, and freedom of expression lovers who were too complacent and apathetic to stand up against Helms and his thugs.  And don’t think I didn’t take notice that there was a selective focus on giving visual artists the shaft then that’s just as vehement and selective this time too.   NEA grants for individual writers & composers still exist.  Somehow, the right-wing nut-jobs don’t realize that the pen (or typewriter or computer or musical instrument) can be equally “subversive” or “offensive” – or shall we say “powerful?”  Oh yeah…all you have to do is look at a few Tea Partier signs to know they don’t read anyhow.  Reading is for illeetists like our un-American, Kenyan President.  But maybe he’s not reading either, since it sure seems he’s not reading the writing on the wall clearly spelling out that a bunch of us are feeling pretty concerned about the whereabouts of his spine.  But I digress…

Beyond the issues of censorship and freedom of expression, it is hard to ignore the anti-gay rhetoric being brought into the argument by those who have lobbied for the removal of the Wojnarowicz video.  This, and not the 11 seconds of the video, is the kind of hate speech of which our society should be wary.

So I’m up on my soapbox today, and I’m staying here!  To heck with the righteous wingnuts. If they want “art,” they can have all the Thomas Kinkade they want. (And I’m NOT giving you a link for that.  You can just go google him if you must.)

p.s. Another mighty fine link for those who care about this issue: Tyler Green on artinfo.com

“Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others…for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.” ~ Albert Einstein

I’ve been known to have my gripes about the institutional machinery churning out MFAs, and the economic chicanery of the commercial art world that promotes the idea that this degree denotes superior artistic talent, intellect or dedication.  As Jerry Saltz writes in NY Magazine, “These days, if a young artist starts out showing at Larry Gagosian it feels silly, misguided, out of scale, and odd — like the artist is in it for the wrong reasons.”

Yes, an MFA does denote a bigger debt load (or bigger trust fund), but we all know there are plenty of artists out there who have and continue to produce incredible work by following less traditional paths.  Let us not forget that the supposed indispensability of having an MFA is a fairly recent development for visual artists.  But that aside, while I may have reservations about certain institutions, my point here, and I promise to get to it, is to speak out loudly in favor of teachers, and the importance of all of us being very vocal and visible in supporting the role of arts in the public education programs for the nation’s youth.  (If you’re in NY, here’s a good place to start advocating for the arts.)

“A teacher’s purpose is not to create students in his own image, but to develop students who can create their own image. “~ Unknown

Don’t you fondly think of those who have formally and/or informally offered insights, guidance, opinions and encouragement along the way?  I speak from experience to say that you might be surprised at how much showing your appreciation might mean to them.

Here are a few of the people I have to thank:

Incredibly perceptive, sharp and frank Regina Granne, who taught me that looking hard and drawing well are indispensable abilities, but aren’t enough if one isn’t honing one’s thinking skills all the while.

Knox Martin, at 87 and still painting away, eternally mischievous, irrepressibly lustful, playful, and passionate – an unaffected cad of sorts.  [His current solo show at Woodward Gallery runs through November 13, 2010.]

The late Richard Pousette-Dart, irascible by association, though not in manner, whom I have to thank for encouraging me to look deep within and pursue my creative vision, for caring not a whit when it diverged from his own, and for telling me to use a bigger sketchbook.

The late Robert Beauchamp, an uncompromising painter’s painter, who made it undeniably obvious how sexy paint can be.

Bruce Dorfman, who taught me the difficult lesson of mining successes from self-proclaimed so-called failures.

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” (Albert Einstein, again.)

And I’ll leave you with some views from teachers’ perspectives:

A post by Julia Hensley on teaching and making art and a typographic video version of Taylor Mali‘s spoken poem “What Teachers Make.”

And if you want to be impressed more, check out Taylor Mali’s mission to inspire 1000 people to become teachers.  So far, he’s convinced 580, and counting!

Dear Eva,

You seem the same as always, and being you, hate every minute of it. Don’t! Learn to say “Fuck You” to the world once in a while. You have every right to. Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder, wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, gasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, rumbling, rambling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding grinding grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just DO!

From your description, and from what I know of your previous work and your ability, the work you are doing sounds very good. ‘Drawing — clean-clear but crazy like machines, larger, bolder, real nonsense.’ That sounds wonderful — real nonsense. Do more. More nonsensical, more crazy, more machines, more breasts, penises, cunts, whatever — make them abound with nonsense. Try and tickle something inside you, your ‘weird humor.’ You belong in the most secret part of you. Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool. Make your own, your own world. If you fear, make it work for you — draw and paint your fear and anxiety.  And stop worrying about big, deep things such as ‘to decide on a purpose and way of life, a consistent approach to even some impossible end or even an imagined end.’ You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to DO! [The DO’s are drawn and decorated and very large.] I have much confidence in you and even though you are tormenting yourself, the work you do is very good. Try to do some BAD work. The worst you can think of and see what happens but mainly relax and let everything go to hell.  You are not responsible for the world — you are only responsible for your work, so do it. And don’t think that your work has to conform to any idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be.  But if life would be easier for you if you stopped working then stop. Don’t punish yourself. However, I think that it is so deeply engrained in you that it would be easier to DO.

It seems I do understand your attitude somewhat, anyway, because I go through a similar process every so often. I have an “Agonizing Reappraisal” of my work and change everything as much as possible = and hate everything I’ve done, and try to do something entirely different and better. Maybe that kind of process is necessary to me, pushing me on and on. The feeling that I can do better than that shit I just did. Maybe you need your agony to accomplish what you do. And maybe it goads you on to do better. But it is very painful I know. It would be better if you had the confidence just to do the stuff and not even think about it. Can’t you leave the “world” and “ART” alone and also quit fondling your ego. I know that you (or anyone) can only work so much and the rest of the time you are left with your thoughts. But when you work or before your work you have to empty your mind and concentrate on what you are doing. After you do something it is done and that’s that. After a while you can see some are better than others but also you can see what direction you are going. I’m sure you know all that. You also must know that you don’t have to justify your work – not even to yourself. Well, you know I admire your work greatly and can’t understand why you are so bothered by it. But you can see the next ones and I can’t. You also must believe in your ability. I think you do. So try the most outrageous things you can – shock yourself. You have at your power the ability to do anything.

I would like to see your work and will have to be content to wait until Aug or Sept. I have seen photos of some of Tom’s new things at Lucy’s. They are impressive – especially the ones with the more rigorous form: the simpler ones. I guess he’ll send some more later on. Let me know how the shows are going and that kind of stuff.

My work had changed since you left and it is much better. I will be having a show May 4 -9 at the Daniels Gallery 17 E 64yh St (where Emmerich was), I wish you could be there. Much love to you both.

Sol

[Letter from Sol Lewitt to Eva Hesse, April 14, 1965.]

That’s what my father said to me.  His interest in my work and praise were rare, so I wasn’t quite sure how to take his comment, “That’s the best piece you’ll ever make.”  He referred to a portrait I had painted of my mother, having come up with a technique that was very innovative back when I was in high school, which was when this took place.  I do believe he truly meant it as a compliment, yet after a while, the words started to sound dismissive. You’ll never do anything as good, so why waste your time?

I continued to paint and draw, pushing myself and my materials to the farthest reaches of my imagination.  Time and again I would hear, “Remember that portrait of your mother?  Well, I still say that’s the best piece you’ll ever make.”  Okay, so my Dad really loved my mother, and I’m sure that had something to do with it too.  Yet this comment touches upon something  important.

[Plato and Aristotle in a detail from Raphael’s The School of Athens. Plato is holding his Timaeus, a speculative scientific work and pointing upward, while Aristotle is holding one of his books on ethics. Click here to view images of the entire fresco and find out who’s who.]

The results of creative experimentation are rarely easily or immediately digestible, mainly because the true explorer is seeking to discover something, rather than just render what is already known.  That new thing demands of both artist and viewer an open mind, a fearless attitude, courage, patience, tolerance.  If it’s new, maybe you don’t know how to look at it yet.

Over the many years of my career, I’ve frequently encountered the phenomenon of having people scratch their heads over my current work, while exclaiming they love the body of work I had finished previously.  Yet that same work they now love had them mystified when it was brand new.  Why didn’t you just keep doing what you were doing before?  We loved those pieces!  Remember when you used to do x?  Why did you stop?  There tends to be a predictable time lag before people are ready to embrace the new work, and it’s usually about the length of time it takes for the new work to become old, supplanted by even newer work.

For some people, their practice is about doing what they did before: making a formula, and repeating earlier successes. That’s enough.

Not long ago, someone struck up a conversation with me about art, and asked me what I was up to.  “Experimenting away with a new body of work,” I explained.  “It’s the most exciting part, when an idea starts to take shape, and suddenly you can make the leap over the big crevasse, and you’re on the other side — a new landscape with new possibilities!”  The person’s eyes opened wide at my mention of such risk and experimentation.  “I knew an artist,” he recalled, and went on to tell me how he used to travel and repeatedly purchased prints from a particular artist.  But one time, he visited the artist’s studio, and saw instead sculptures and paintings.  They were totally different!  And terrible!  Being outside of what he had narrowly come to expect from this artist, he couldn’t accept the artist’s need to explore.  As far as he was concerned, the prints were the best work the artist would ever make.  Dumbfounded as to why the artist would change, the collector never returned.  If the artist’s work was good enough to attract the collector in the first place, it seemed unfortunate to me that the collector would not have enough faith in that artist’s talent to give the new work more than a cursory glance.

Therein lies a great challenge for the artist.  There’s a temptation to repeat what works, to please the audience, to make it easy for them, get work on their walls and put food on your table. Not every artist embraces risk and experimentation.  You risk making mistakes. You risk looking foolish. You risk your security.  You risk harsh criticism.  But then, to quote Aristotle, “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing.”  I’ll take my chances.

My father worked hard and had many things to occupy his mind.  I understand if my personal pursuits were not his priority, and sadly, he’s not alive to defend or explain his remarks.  Still, it would have been nice if he had said instead, “That’s the best piece you’ve made yet.” Naturally, some works will shine more than others, but on the creative journey, the goal is discovery and improvement, and the best always lies somewhere in the future.

Just a reminder that the gallery crawl is slated for Friday, February 13th.  All are welcome. The plan is to meet at 10:30 a.m. at Howard Greenberg Gallery at 41 East 57th Street to see an assortment of photographs from India. (Note: East 57th, not to be confused with 41 W 57th where we’ll go later!)  From there, we’ll go see Judy Pfaff at Ameringer & Yohe, 20 W 57th St, possibly stop in to see Kori Newkirk’s show at The Project, 37 W 57th St, then Jack Sal at Zone Contemporary Art, 41 W 57th St. We still may have a few random detours, but the plan is to end up at MoMA to see Rebus, curated by artist Vik Muniz. I have scored a bunch of free passes to MoMA, so admission will be free or cheap, depending on how many we number. If enough time and energy remain, then we may head up to see the second part of the Fred Sandback exhibition at Zwirner and Wirth at 32 E 69th Street.

The gallery crawl continues to be an organic thing.  If you want to join us midway, just call me at 917-992-4001 to find out where we are.

Regardless of my opinion about what I see, it’s not hard for me to connect with visual art. It’s a language I’ve always understood. Yet theatre is more of a challenge, and theatricality, the over-exaggerated gestures and dialogue, often leave me unimpressed. Call me a Philistine if you wish, but often I just don’t get it. It’s Entertainment versus Art, and Art seldom has a chance because of the sheer cost of getting a production to the stage.

However, with a two-person cast, sublime acting and direction, and marvelous, spare sets by Christine Jones, I was treated to one of those rarest of rare experiences — the Off-Broadway Show as a work of art.

“The Occupant,” a post-mortem interview-style play by Edward Albee on the life of Louise Nevelson (a friend of the artist for over two decades), hands the two actors, Mercedes Ruehl and Larry Bryggman, tremendous material with which to work. And no doubt they worked their tails off, in concert with director Pam MacKinnon. The result is a show that soars. With an intensity of character portrayal that simply must be experienced, Ruehl delivers all the complexities of an artist’s journey: the sacrifices, the endurance, the selfishness, the self-possession, the outrageousness, the determination, the risks, the alienation, the calculation, the impulsiveness, and all the contradictions and magnificence of a very individual and creative path.

I’ve always respected Louise Nevelson the artist as a trailblazer of sorts, and her work for its integrity and powerful presence. Although I’ve been aware of both since I was young, truthfully, neither has figured at the forefront of my thoughts about my art-world predecessors. This outstanding play at the Signature Theatre may change that for good.

[On the eyes being windows to the soul: “They call a lot of attention to themselves, the eyes, if you have two sets of sable eyelashes.”] Uh oh. I have a long neck and have been seen from time to time in a feather boa. What does that mean?

The show is extended until July 13th. Don’t miss the opportunity to see it if you can.

But don’t take my word for it. More descriptive reviews:

East Hampton Star

The New York Times

NY Sun

NY Daily News