Sunday, March 19, 2006

Out of hibernation

To all the lovely people I enjoyed fabulous conversations with, last night: I am not actually a babbling narcissist. It's just been a long winter, during which I haven't left my studio quite often enough. Or hardly at all. It was really, really, really great to talk with you.

The BAG party and auction Came Off, I believe; the food was great, the band was great, we had a quorum and managed to unload all the art. Auctioneering was more difficult this time around, because I had a reputation to maintain. Thank you, Danny and Jack, for showing up and smiling encouragingly.

My only major screw-up was totally spacing out on discussing the 'relic' photograph by the upstate artist, who chisels Homeland Security signage on rocks and leaves them out in nature. He propped it on the floor, and despite the fact that I spent half an hour before the auction picking his brains, in the stress of the moment I forgot to look down. This may have been for the best, since the top auction price fetched for the figure drawings was $50, and this was his break-even point on printing and framing. Much better to wait until we have some actual collectors in the gallery, as opposed to other starving artists.

I swear that I did not forget to push his photo just because he told me that Andy Goldsworthy was "spurious." I may not agree with him at all, at all, but I have more integrity than that. I gracefully held my tongue when he ranted that Andy Goldsworthy is an over-marketed simpleton with no sense of context, whose only contribution to art history is the coffee-table photography book.

This is the sort of thing that my painting T.A.s used to say about people like Georgia O'Keefe. "Just a coffee-table art book," they would sneer.

I ask you: what in the world is wrong with coffee-table art books? I have dozens. They refurbish my spirit. They provide a gentle reminder of the transformative experiences I have had, in those moments when I was fortunate enough to be in the Louvre, or the D'Orsay, or the Tamayo Museum, being knocked upside the soul by the actual art. Most people are not so fortunate; their budget for plane tickets to the Louvre is limited. Coffee-table art books are the only way most middle Americans ever get to experience art. They sneak their grace into people's lives, quietly, of a Sunday afternoon after brunch. They occupy the cracks. I am all for coffee-table art books.

I am also all for Andy Goldsworthy, as I have mentioned in the past. In fact, Andy Goldsworthy is on my very short list of twentieth-century artists who humble me, inspire me, and make me want to be Just Like Them. (The others, in case you are interested, are Isamu Noguchi, Lee Bontecou, Anselm Kieffer, and Rufino Tamayo.) You will notice that none of these artists live, or lived, permanently in Manhattan. They are not Scenesters; they don't give a rat's ass for 'contextualization,' at least not as a primary concern, when articulating their muse.

And calling Andy Goldsworthy 'over-marketed' struck me as disingenuous, to say the least. I mean, the man gets up at 3:30 AM to stick icicles together with his saliva. Every day. He's been doing this for twenty-five or thirty years; he was doing it for a good dozen years or so before the first coffee-table book hit Barnes & Noble. I have no idea how he fed himself, let alone his family, before that. I think his wife must have done it all. This man is not a Cynical Pragmatist. He does what he does, and viewing the detritus of his goofy, pointless little process brings peace to my soul, in a way that rocks with Homeland Security messages on them never will.

It wasn't that I didn't like the anti-Andy guy; he was a fine person, and had some sound things to say about life as a community-college art professor. But I believe that the concept that Art is primarily about defining one's Position vis-a-vis Modern Society, and Culture, and Art History, is a dangerous and paralyzing one. I know it paralyzed me, back in my art-school days. When one is in the studio, one has to go forward primarily on one's own energy, skill, knowlege and intuition. Having a sense that every move you make is relative to the moves made by all other artists past and present, and to all the sociopolitical problems of the current era, is far, far too much pressure. Every move of your elbow is subject to the burden of Infinite Relevance, and the sensitive twenty-four-year old is quite likely to crack under the strain. I nearly did.

So that's my two cents.

Later, after the auction, I moved on to J. H.'s party in Greenpoint, where I monopolized curator David Gibson's entire evening. I felt sort of bad about it, but he assured me he didn't mind, and he knew all the people in the catty stories I regaled him with, which was comforting for both of us. I checked out his blog, and I highly recommend it, although if you're on dial-up like me, be forewarned that it takes about twenty minutes to load. He appears to know a whole lot of very good painters; I am humbled and will have to spend some serious time tracking them all down.

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