Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Renaissance of wonder

Against all odds, I may get involved in another Project. I know I said no more galleries, no big ambitious business plans, just monastic solitude and painting, painting, painting.

Or maybe not. Two weeks ago someone forwarded me a "craigslist" posting. "Wouldn't it be fun to renovate a derelict building and make a non-profit artspace out of it?" Well, yes, it would. It was posted by a girl from Austin with little brown pigtails, and job experience with Half Price Books and Habitat for Humanity. She suggested that we meet at 6:30 on Sunday, then emailed that she had another commitment on Sunday and would probably be late, so could we please wait outside in the 17 degree wind for fifteen or twenty minutes till she got there?

This is why I swore off doing fun non-profit collective art projects.

BUT one of the other people who responded had sense. A lot of sense. Equally important, he was an Oxbridge-educated international investment banker with experience founding cool, creative projects that actually worked. He offered his apartment for the meeting; if I were him, I'd want to show off my apartment, too, with the windows facing Central Park, the antique oil lamps lining the window seats, the slate-blue paint job, the orchids. When he plugged in the sound track from "Amelie" and offered us some Chateau-du-something-or-other that he had lying around, I decided to consider the project a little more seriously.

First meeting, four people. We exchanged notions. I mentioned my former gallery, my "Lighthouse" plans that I filed when Grace moved to Philadelphia, and I realized that I was just too tired to get a degree in real estate management and find a way to finance a multi-million dollar project all by myself. I mentioned healing, restoration, community and synergy. Surprisingly, everybody liked this. We assigned research, writing and networking homework and adjourned.

Second meeting was just me and banker-dude, due to blizzard, with one phone-in and one had-to-work-late. This was fine, since our homework was "draft mission statement together" and we had not done it.

"So, what is art FOR?" was the opening sally, and we were off.

Part of the reason I am leery of collective projects is that I have very, very strong opinions about what art is for, and very strong ways of expressing those opinions, and enough mental organization and commitment to put those views into practical manifestation. What happens, then, is that people with differing views, who might be timid about expressing them, and slower to put them into practice, start feeling railroaded and get pissed off. So as to avoid this, I make a big effort to solicit everyone's opinions and integrate them in practice. This only works, though, if everybody is equally committed to the process, which hardly ever happens.

For example, when I first opened the gallery I was pushed by ex-boyfriend into working with a curator, since he had no faith in my abilities and wanted to push the responsibility off onto somebody, anybody, who wasn't his girlfriend. In his view, this would lessen the stress on our relationship. He dredged up a curator who was a friend of one of his tenants and had happened to mention, in passing, that the storefront of his building would make a cute little gallery.

So I set up a series of meetings with her, to which she arrived, invariably, late and under-prepared. She expressed an interest in curating a series of shows, since 'a series attracts more interest.' Pushed by ex-boyfriend, I agreed. I set up deadlines and loose parameters, which she consistently ignored. I drafted a mission statement, which included the phrase, "we seek to exhibit art which shows a mastery of medium and a transcendence of subject matter." She took exception to this statement, since the art of her preferred artists demonstrated neither of these qualities. I removed the phrase and substituted something more watered-down and equivocal.

The curator's first proposal included:

1) a Mexican artist whose project required me to foot the bill for four DVD players, four large LCD monitors, and four professional framing jobs for four banal photographs, unlikely to sell to our nonexistent collector base, thus unlikely to recoup the overhead that the curator explicitly disclaimed responibility for covering;

2) an Italian artist whose gallery forbid her from exhibiting anywhere else;

3) some drawings done by a guy who was making the transition to considering himself an avant-garde video artist, and had no interest in exhibiting his drawings.

Of course I should never have been working with this person at all. The only reason I tried was because of boyfriend's paranoia, which is a terrible compass with which to guide a project. I allowed this curator to continue making proposals, even after she failed to show up for the grand opening, which consisted entirely of my own work, this being the only thing available when her show failed to materialize. After the opening, which she spent at the beach with her boyfriend, she emailed me, "Perhaps we ought to set up some deadlines."

Forthwith we set up more deadlines, which she continued to ignore. I interviewed an artist she suggested for a show in December. The artist asked, "Do you have collectors?" "Not yet, we are brand new," I said. The artist agreed to the show in December, then three weeks later, when I asked her for some digital images for the website, she emailed the curator and said she was having second thoughts about showing. She never told me personally, or responded to my request in any way.

Meanwhile I accepted the curator's proposal for a show in September, and set deadlines for press release, promo etc. On the press release deadline the curator had a party at her apartment; I met the artist whose promo was scheduled to go out that day. He did not seem to have heard of me.

The curator's next idea was that her boyfriend should curate the September show, since she was too busy to do it justice. The boyfriend's proposals consisted mainly of vague references to friends of his, who were mostly still in art school and who mostly failed to return phone calls or show up for meetings. Out of desperation and necessity, I curated the September show myself, without much press or promo since I had a week and a half's notice. The September show was Libby's. Enough said.

The alleged curator then emailed me, suggesting that we 'sign a contract for her to curate a series.' Ex-boyfriend suggested that I give this notion some serious consideration. I suggested that I let her suggestion lie where it fell with a thud. After mature reflection, ex-boyfriend agreed to this. Wonders never cease.

About a year later, a friend of the alleged curator's mentioned to me, "Did you hear about Alleged C.? Her boyfriend beat the sh*t out of her." I saw her at a party about a week later. She had two black eyes and didn't seem to want to chat. She started her own gallery this year; I know because, for whatever reason, I'm still on her mailing list. The latest featured artist is eating a sheetrock wall in the 'gallery' (which, as far as I can tell, is Alleged C.'s new apartment in Chelsea, where she evidently moved after getting the sh*t beat out of her in Brooklyn), at the rate of 1.9 inches per day. She's feeding sheetrock cake to her patrons. I am not making this up. I'd ask to be taken off the mailing list, except that I am incurably prurient.

So anyway. How did I get into that? It was a story I thought I'd never tell. I think, perhaps, it's an illustration of the fact that to succeed with a collective project, or any project, all members have to be equally committed. All members have to be committed, period. The further away I move from my erstwhile boyfriend, the more clearly I see that I cannot blame myself AT ALL for failed relationship, failed gallery, financial struggles, or even sleeping too much. When you try to work with a 'partner' who is in doubts about the very notion of partnership, and requires proof of success in order to sign on the dotted line, it's like trying to walk on one leg. It doesn't work; it CAN'T POSSIBLY work. Commitment is a necessary tool for solving problems, not the prize you bestow after all problems have solved themselves.

"Trying to walk on one leg" is not entirely a metaphor, either. It is astonishing how literally the body can manifest the imbalances of the mind. For the last four years I have been dragging my left foot, which has gotten increasingly weaker and more painful no matter how much I alternately rest it, exercise it, or do yoga. Finally, at Christmas, I found the miracle chiropractor, who told me that the problem was actually in my hip, did some phenomenal adjustments, and recommended Pilates, which will strengthen my abdominal muscles, support my sacro-iliac joint, and allow it to heal.

I've been doing Pilates for a couple of weeks now, and am starting to rediscover the countries of territory contained in my left side. I had forgotten they were there; the pain was simply a final manifestation of a shutting-up and closing-down process that has probably been going on since I was eight years old and my ballet teacher told me that I was too young for toe shoes. According to mystics and astrologers and irritating New Age energy healing types, the left side is the feminine, receptive side; according to Western scientists, the left side is governed by the right brain, the intuitive, creative side.

So in essence I am a female artist with a fundamental weakness, instability and insecurity in my creative, feminine foundation. Perhaps this explains the grant rejections.

Last week I went to the Brooklyn Museum for the Sargent exhibit, and found myself spending more time with Marilyn Monroe than even with Sargent's glowing, casual mastery of his medium. I studied every photograph and read every biographical note all the way through, in a state of beglamoured wonder. I looked through the guest book--hundreds of people had written notes of love, support and adoration, to Marilyn PERSONALLY, as though she had taken all the photographs herself, curated, planned and mounted the exhibition, and were alive to read feedback. A few things I noticed about Marilyn that I'd never taken the trouble to notice before:

1) In nearly every photograph taken of her she is smiling as though she has just caught sight of the person she loves most in the world, home from sailing around the world, and horny as hell.

2) Her public image is meticulously constructed, sustained by incredible consistency and force of will, and done so by a smart, complex mind that knows exactly what it is doing.

3) People love her not just for her sexiness but for her heart, included in and integrated with the sexiness. Madonna, who co-opted the look and the sexiness, replaced that love with naked ego, verging on narcissism; I think this makes Madonna less vulnerable, but much less lovable.

4) My own figure is, astonishingly, hugely similar to Marilyn's. Perhaps even more so than Madonna's, for all her crazed diets, workouts and body-sculpting.

This last revelation was no more and no less significant than the other three. Perhaps this information is too personal and, paradoxically, common and banal for public consumption, but my last boyfriend was not nice to me about my body. He said things like "You've almost got a 'thutt,' that's when your thigh and your butt are practically contiguous" and "Oooo, when you lean over like that your stomach is like, all droopy," and other original, twelve-year old remarks like that. Such teasing can be guardedly tolerated when a man is consistently enthusiastic, expert and adoring in the sack, but my ex-boyfriend was crap in the sack and I no longer care who knows it.

I knew, usually, that my boyfriend's juvenile and stupid remarks stemmed mostly from his own unhappy juvenile experiences, and that generally he loved me and thought I was beautiful. So usually I didn't take them personally. But I think the ligaments connecting my sacro-iliac joint on my left side took them very, very personally. They stopped thinking, "wow, we're a gifted artist with the brains of Erasmus and the build of Marilyn Monroe" and started thinking, "we're fat and ugly and stupid and weak, and we'll never get the grants or the shows or the marriage proposal of our dreams, and will always play second-fiddle to people with no talent and less responsibility." And they kind of Gave Up.

So, in addition to the Pilates classes, and soon the reinstated hot yoga classes, and longer bike rides and walks around beautiful Brooklyn in the snow, I am doing my sacro-iliac joint the favor of not allowing mean, irresponsible people a second chance. The artists who did not RSVP my Christmas party do not get on the curatorial consideration list for the glorious interdisciplinary art space in Chelsea that the investment banker and I are busy planning. The ex-boyfriend and the alleged curator do not get on the mailing list for anything, ever. Any potential future boyfriends who make one juvenile, stupid comment in my hearing do not get cut any compassion slack at all, ever again. I used to hate those self-righteous California brats who stuck their noses in the air about every minor difference of opinion and said, "I don't NEED that," but now I'm one of them. I don't need that.

1 comment:

Bob said...

I've never been one for artistic collaborations, myself. I'm always looking for a sense of hierarchy. Nothing strict or forebidding, just structure and finality to reach decisions and conclusions. It is a continuing debate between me and my friend. Collaborations and their benefits have never seemed as satisfying as individual pieces, epescially when there's nothing much holding the group together other than abstracts. V does a better job at it. As for the hacks at MOMA, well, Lichtenstein is playing here at the moment. I've got better things to do with $20.