In the air

Frustration and anxiety have given way to techno-covetousness, meaning that I’ve used the excuse of desktop problems to purchase a new laptop. And so this is written on a new jujitsu lifebook, , ni the air over Michigan on an jet blue flight. I’m heading to san Francisco to speak on a panel. The topic is the tenth anniversary of the Center for the Arts at Yerba Buena Gardens. I’m supposed to provide the perspective of how the center fits into the art world as a whole. Usually the way I deal with these things is to wing it, that is I think about the topic an great deal, perhaps jot a couple of notes and then speak off the cuff. I can’t say I’m so sunny at the prospects of the center in any event. It’s difficult to paint much of a rosy picture of the art world in general these days, at least for me, and I’ve been thinking about the advisability of constructing “centers” in a time where every thing seems to be de-centering. Yerba Buena seems to be the result of a collision between two forces: the postwar drive to develop south of market San Francisco, a plan that originally included a sweeping demolition all the way out to the south bay and huge rebuilding, with the rise of the artists’ space movment, the flowering of artist run organizations that got its start in the seventies. So commercial and non commercial interests collided., And the result reveals the striations in SF’s art world, the contesting communities that co-exist uneasily in the bay area. Has the center actually meant a place for these groups to come together? Often it’s been regarded as the poor relation of the SFMOMA, at times by the board of the center itself.

And in the visual art world as a whole? In the 80’s and 90’s it became more and more characterized by travel, the moving around of people and objects from city to city, ultimately with the effect of killing off regionalism. Museums embraced the notion of a “world class” which meant that in effect all museums inb the world should have the same collection. The year now abounds with art fairs, biennials, art festivals and prizes, that constitute the circuit parties for this new jet set. People go around the world to see the same narrow set of compatriots and works, and of course each other. This is an internationalism divorced from any political thought, it is the market that whips everyone and everything along, hither and yon . Travel feels like experience, but it is not, and the work of art is not something lived with, but something primarily glimpsed in a booth on the way to another exhausted meeting. We have not yet seen the final fallout of this, but I glimpse it’s effects in the shell shocked way that my students turn this way and that in search of a reason to make anything.

Hmm, perhaps an essay called “How the idea of a Modern Art market stole New York”

Last night one of my students told me that she had been advised to stop painted the way she did because “abstract expressionist painting had failed” by one of my fellow faculty. I was and remain flummoxed. Failed to do what? She does have problems with her work, but honestly, not because she is working in some ‘Failed” manner. I wish I could summon the certainty to say something so silly. Assertions like that seem to me do be enormous denials of responsibility, the instructor being lazy in their response to the work and turning it around on the student . Plenty of times I walk into a graduate students studio and find myself at a loss or profoundly unsympathetic to what they’re doing. But it isn’t my job to stop them.

0 Comments +

  1. who taught us, and what do we teach?

    People trying to tell others what to paint I always find funny/sad.*

    Did you have Jim Sullivan while you were at Bard? He had lots of other problems, but I thought he had one thing right: when you were in his class, he listened to what YOU wanted to make, not what he thought you should be making. Very flexible and open, which led to different and bigger challenges to the students than just conforming to a dominant personality.

    I’ll never forget trying to discuss visiting faculty member Erika Beckman with another student: I was told “What she does just isn’t what we’re into here.”

    Uhm, “here” is a bunch of students who know nothing and there is an artist getting commissions and working professionally, pipsqueak!

    *Okay, a rather ironic comment from a critic, but I try to tell people what they painted well or badly more than telling them to do something else.

  2. Dem as tot me

    I actually felt ultimately supported by all of my teachers at Bard. Jim was definitely one of the most easy going, but the great thing about all of them was that they were generous with their experience as artists first and foremost. I felt that they were passionate about the endeavor, that they thought it mattered and that they wanted me to end up doing it. That feeling actually carried me through the conflicts about ways of making work, and even though I ended up doing a pretty eccentric senior project, I felt that they were all happy for my achievement, even though it was a way of working that they themselves didn’t engage in. I felt like they also genuinely taught me how to read and respond to works of art as the unique circumstances that they are rather than as evidence of ideological positions. Maybe this is retrospective rosiness, but I don’t think so. I actually feel that I was very lucky to be at Bard at the time I was.

    One of the teachers I was and remain closest with Nancy Mitchnick is having a show right now in Chelsea the the Cue Foundation on 25th street. If you want to see some remarkable painting that takes time to understand, go look at it.

  3. Dem as tot me

    I actually felt ultimately supported by all of my teachers at Bard. Jim was definitely one of the most easy going, but the great thing about all of them was that they were generous with their experience as artists first and foremost. I felt that they were passionate about the endeavor, that they thought it mattered and that they wanted me to end up doing it. That feeling actually carried me through the conflicts about ways of making work, and even though I ended up doing a pretty eccentric senior project, I felt that they were all happy for my achievement, even though it was a way of working that they themselves didn’t engage in. I felt like they also genuinely taught me how to read and respond to works of art as the unique circumstances that they are rather than as evidence of ideological positions. Maybe this is retrospective rosiness, but I don’t think so. I actually feel that I was very lucky to be at Bard at the time I was.

    One of the teachers I was and remain closest with Nancy Mitchnick is having a show right now in Chelsea the the Cue Foundation on 25th street. If you want to see some remarkable painting that takes time to understand, go look at it.

  4. hedonistic spirituality ?

    My years there were right after you (and Keifer Sutherland) had moved on. I felt they were all a bunch of Modernists indoctrinating new little Ab Ex drones and not really getting postmodernism at all. Several of my friends had problems with subject matter (“Why do you paint naked men?”), and abstraction seemed to be the safest route to take.

    Which I did, but my real painting and imagery got submerged for years.

    I certainly learned a lot about NYC (being a rube from down south, and knowing it) and established art world attitudes that took me years to unpack, but I really wanted to see that department broken open and the grizzly old guys lose their hegemonic/Pollockian self-romance.

    Wow. Still bitter. Maybe it was the summer I spent working for Al Held.

    Re the Mitchnick show: I saw it when I was in NYC for Halloween. The cue foundation seemed really awesome. I was instantly transported back 15 years. Sadly, I never actually met her.

  5. Re: hedonistic spirituality ?

    Well, it’s true that I’ve heard similar stories from other former students, and I think that as time went on, they did see themselves as more and more embattled. I actually thought that Scorsese’s portrait of a painter from the anthology film “New York Stories” was a dead on portrait of those guys.

    As for Al Held, I’m sorry to say that one of the biggest dissapointments of my recent art viewing was his show at PS1 recently. I had really high hopes, and the new work was just awful, utterly clueless.

    Keifer Sutherland you say? Now there’s one I had never heard about before!

  6. Re: hedonistic spirituality ?

    Well, it’s true that I’ve heard similar stories from other former students, and I think that as time went on, they did see themselves as more and more embattled. I actually thought that Scorsese’s portrait of a painter from the anthology film “New York Stories” was a dead on portrait of those guys.

    As for Al Held, I’m sorry to say that one of the biggest dissapointments of my recent art viewing was his show at PS1 recently. I had really high hopes, and the new work was just awful, utterly clueless.

    Keifer Sutherland you say? Now there’s one I had never heard about before!

  7. scorcese Manhattan?

    Yep, Nick Nolte knew what he was doing with that one.

    RE: Al — well, he IS really old now.

    Yeah, I always heard Keifer had just dropped out (after a year or so) before I arrived in 1986. Someone I knew had been his girlfriend or something.

    I love college nostalgia!

  8. Re: Mitchnick

    If she ever shows here (or if I’d known about the new york show in advance), I might write about her! I’ve got to gear up for my next column for artsMEDIA on a) what’s happening in Boston in January and b)what’s happening in NYC in January (if I make it back down again in early Dec.). My best friend from Bard lives in Brooklyn, and I haven’t seen her in awhile.

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