Monday, November 28, 2011

Turning 30 and Being a Woman in the Arts

Today is my birthday and I am turning 30, not relevant really to the whole art thing, but to the lead up of this day, there are things that have shifted in the way that I think about art, or will let myself be positioned within the context of art. I think that it is both a mix of the age and also about being a woman turning this particular age. How this affects one’s trajectory in all aspects of life is not defining but it is particular. I think this is very true within the art world, as it is in most sectors of society, but this is an art platform and this is what I will focus on today.

Being in the art world is beneficial for women as the expectations of marriage and child rearing being equivalent to success as a human being is less emphasized then in society as a whole. For any women in the arts, if they are highly competitive and at the top of their fields, child rearing and marriage are complications if not total hindrances. Sadly, this is because as a society we are still functioning in a male prescribed system and women still have not had enough influence to realign this system. Call is patriarchy, call it capitalism, whatever it is, it’s all screwed up.

Although a woman in the arts when she is in her 30s is less pressured to have children etc. then other women in the general population, the sticky issue of biology is still potent. During this decade and possibly into her mid 40s, with today’s medical wonders, a woman can decide to have children. If a woman decides to have a child it will most certainly halt a certain momentum in her career that is not equaled in her male counterparts. This obvious fact is mostly glazed over by the art world because it just seems so boring to have to discuss. This is not being spoken of as excuse or as a never-ending diatribe but people, let’s be honest about this one at least. This is probably one of the major factors to why disparities in the art world are still so entrenched.

The only shift within the last 20 years in the art world that may balance the rates of super star male and female participants in the arts is that in this industry youth is adored. With this sexual fetish, the art world can now possibly pump out some wunderkinds, girl, boy, otherwise. Sadly, being an old hag of 30 in this industry and still not having “made it” (“made it" to me = being on ArtForum Scene/Heard at least once every 6 months and/or being a frequent contributor to Frieze and/or having Klaus Bisenbach ask me if there is anything else he could get for me) makes this option void for me but here’s to best of luck for all you young things out there.

In the face of that, what is a girl to do when she is no longer “20-something?” There are a few options, each a bit more depressing then the next:

1) Be Very Odd – Eccentricity goes a long way in the arts, just don’t overdue it because if you do you’ll just be a running joke and cliché of a cliché.

2) Become A Careerist Hyena – Drink, Talk, Drugs, Sex, Laugh, Party, Attend, Join, Money, Work, Work, Work, Kiss Ass, Read Semiotics, Let People Touch You, Beg, Be Humiliated, Humiliate, Work, Work, Work. Do this every night for 5 years straight and sky’s the limit.

3) Marry/ Get Impregnated/ Have a Torrid Affair - With someone powerful in the art world. Everyone may trash talk you behind your back but the art world still deems itself to be a genteel class, so all those galas will be filled with kiss-kisses.

4) Start A Collective/ Apartment Gallery/ Online Literary or Art Zine – One more of these things the world surely does not need but it will give you something to talk about or to say in response to that nag of a question everyone in NYC asks all the time “So, what have you been up to?”

5) Move to Berlin – Getting so old but they do not archive themselves as much as New Yorkers so that’s powerful in a way. Plus 50 is the new 30 over there.

6) Move to Canada – You heard it here first, Canada is the new Berlin.

7) Drop out Completely – This can be done either by leaving the city or by just getting a job in another industry, seriously you will disappear like cocaine at one of those dumb hip hotels downtown. Then if you want in a year or two you can pop back in. Make sure to embellish/straight out lie about what you were doing for the past few years and people will think you are just so fab. If you wait too long and you actually have nothing new to contribute you will just be tagged as desperate.

Out of these ploys, I am personally shooting for option 1 or possible option 5 or 6, none are off the table though. The art world is a huff and it’s a hustle, and you have to really get off on it if you want to keep pace or excel in it. There are other ways of achieving this though, like being really rich or being genius smart, but I’m neither nor, as most of us are, so things are a bit more complicated for us overeducated working stiffs.

Ah life…

When I graduated from art school in 2004 (undergrad) I had decided that I would not even attempt to make art until I was 30 because I considered myself to be a very bad artist and that I had absolutely no reason to make it and spread that into the universe. I have stuck to that and through the years, as I have surrounded myself with looking at and thinking about art on a constant basis, I have been grateful for that decision as I don’t think I would have absorbed art in the same way I have if I was an art producer as well. Now that I am at my internal deadline, the idea of possibly allowing myself to make art in the form of objects or shared constructions called “art” is interesting. In the end, who knows, I have no idea what will come in the next decade. I hope through it all though I never feel like I have to compromise. I’m not sure if that is possible, but hopefully as a woman entering her 30s, I can add to and support what is possible for us ladies in the arts.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Allison Schulnik - Zieher Smith : Jim Hodges - Gladstone Gallery : Neo Rauch - David Zwirner

Allison Schulnik - Zieher Smith

The first time I saw Allison Schulnik’s video was at a hip hotel in Los Angeles. It was a music video for Grizzly Bear. It was an animation of melty, goo-faced, sad monsters that were morphing into and out of eye sockets, the ground, and other bodies. It had me fixated. Just by wandering chance I popped into Zieher Smith the other day and lo and behold there was Schulnik. Then I realized I had seen her paintings somewhere before. They are massed glops of never going to dry paint that make muddy colored peaks and divots. They are of murky and distorted animals, plants, clowns, and they reminded me of dried flowers and specimens that have already begun to rot. In addition to these there were glazed ceramic works, a miniature lotus flower tableau, a quirky white cat. This type of quick hand sculpting and glazing in ceramics is something I have noticed cropping up more, Schulnik doesn’t do it the best but I understand the impulse. Then there is a projection of an animated film called MOUND. Her cast of purgatorial clay beings returns, again sprouting and cannibalizing themselves in soft colored swirls. There are also puppets in the film; stringy haired wallflowers with stooped necks performing a choreographed dance. The audio is an old-timey ballad by Scott Walker entitled “It’s Raining Today,” the whole effect is really lovely. Schulnik’s films are very good, the best of her art repertoire, but she’s smart to keep at it in the various mediums, her checklist was almost completely sold out with very well positioned prices for an artist gaining traction. This is a good sign, since experimental film is impossibly hard to manage without time and money.

Jim Hodges – Gladstone Gallery

There is a duel show of Jim Hodges works at Gladstone Gallery; I only viewed one in their massive project space located on 21st street. In this high ceiling room, four massive boulders sit. These are very pretty boulders, they have appealing, dented egg like shapes and they have lichen and geologic streaking but what makes them the prettiest rocks in town is that half of each boulder is covered with mirroring tinted metal. They are purple, blue, yellow and orange mixed with gasoline luminosity that visually blends together in their reflected surfaces. In the press release it goes into detail about the various points of investigation Hodges explores in his art and this installation was apparently inspired by his trip to India. The release says that through these boulders he is, “Merging the real with the imagined…seamlessly juxtaposes dense organic forms with the interventions of synthetic beauty.” There that is in a nutshell, but regardless of the talky-talk, it does get to its point. They are impressive or at least makes the day a bit different after you have been next to them. Also, they are executed stunningly, really superb objects. As much as those types of efforts usually make me shake my head in disbelief of sapped resources, they are admittedly neat to see. Also, just by randomness, Glen Ligon was the only other person viewing this piece when I was there, so we were solemnly rotating around these objects and reflecting into them. I know a thing like that should not change the way art is experienced, but it does. Everything is relative.

Neo Rauch – David Zwirner

Neo Rauch’s exhibition, Heilstätten, at David Zwirner is a flat bore. Sorry to say it Rauchians but that is the truth of it. His exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2007 (god times flies) was impressive, immersive and even if you are not into that sort of thing you got why so many people fawned over his paintings. Now, this current exhibition at Zwirner feels like a cliff notes version of that show. It has the same characters, the same compositions and the same devices but the substance is gone. The larger paintings are dull and obvious and too self-aware. His technique of morphing animals and humans seems silly and awkward and his other technique of thwarting space by skewing architecture and scale by inventing coexisting visual planes seems formulaic at best. Interspersed there were smaller canvases, and these were a bit better then the larger works but still they seemed more like money making devices then works in themselves. The most embarrassing part of the whole show was the bronze sculpture entitled Die Jägerin that is supposed to be Athena. It looks like a gouty Benjamin Franklin that has face tumors and one of those fake owls you put on your roof to scare away small rodents. The sculpture seems like evidence of that thing that happens when people get stratospherically successful and then there is this entourage of Yes people that fuel and feed any bad idea that may be thought out loud. Is this being too harsh? Possibly, I mean it is just art for goodness sakes and not every show or every decade is going to be a hit but the thing that bothers me the most about this show is just what I referred to, this allowance and proffered way of making art and selling art that has forgotten what the whole point of it was in the first place. What that exactly is, I’m not sure but what I do know is that it’s not supposed to look like this. Hopefully, Rauch’s next hurrah will be less manicured but I think the veil may have been lifted on Rauch for me, which is a bit sad but inevitable it seems.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Thank god For Yvonne Rainer

Has the art world always been like it is today? So hierarchical, so entrenched, so authoritative and so elite? I’m not sure, I’ve only experienced this go of it, but even so, there definitely have been noticeable shifts in the last few years. Things have flattened out in the art world. It seems that it was at least more interesting, when there was the rich, elite, high snob art world and the very poor, actually hungry but groundbreaking art world. Now everyone seems to be in a chlorine wave pool, no one can drown. Everyone wants to be a star, but not in a Warhol fifteen minutes way, that little motto is just too sentimental these days. There is a lack of the exceptional in culture as a whole and because of this, celebrity seems, and possibly is, more attainable. I blame the curators. I blame them for now being the cultural arbiters who need celebrity to stay on top. Sadly, the critic has been beaten to a pulp by a gang of scarf wearing, euro-centric, mostly guys, leaving them with little to no influence. Those critics that still posses power are curiously poor writers but have a lot of social know how. So now the curator is the cultural-agent to the stars, bridging the high with the rich and playing translator and matchmaker. It only takes a few well groomed curators to make this the new norm because to be honest things are just too boring and safe otherwise. Of course we all pay attention and glom onto it because everyone wants to go to be invited to the party.

So now we have actors who are make-believing as artists, pop singers who are somehow leaking in to the canon of performance art and the artists, gallerists, collectors, everyone, is shoveling it all in and back out again. It’s just too wacky tacky but true.

Just when it seems like there is no hope that anyone in any station of authority or capacity was going to make any dissention heard, in comes Yvonne Rainer. Her letter, as well Douglas Crimp’s and Taisha Paggett’s, is in response to LA MOCA’s gala performance organized by Marina Abramović. I cannot even begin to express my thankfulness to this clear, smart, and necessary response. Below is the letter in full she wrote to Jeffrey Deitch, Director of the museum. Also, you can read the original message that was sent to Rainer by someone who tried out for this at In addition I have included Rainer’s “No Manifesto” from 1965. Really, about time things were aired out in this bizarre art orgy.

The full text of the original letter reads as follows:

To Jeffrey Deitch:

I am writing to protest the “entertainment” about to be provided by Marina Abramović at the upcoming donor gala at the Museum of Contemporary Art. It has come to my attention that a number of young people will be ensconced under the diners’ tables on lazy Susans and also be required to display their nude bodies under fake skeletons.

This description is reminiscent of Salo, Pasolini’s controversial film of 1975 that dealt with sadism and sexual abuse of a group of adolescents at the hands of a bunch of post-war fascists. Reluctant as I am to dignify Abramović by mentioning Pasolini in the same breath, the latter at least had a socially credible justification tied to the cause of antifascism. Abramović and MoCA have no such credibility, only a flimsy personal rationale about eye contact. Subjecting her performers to public humiliation at the hands of a bunch of frolicking donors is yet another example of the Museum’s callousness and greed and Ms Abramović’s obliviousness to differences in context and some of the implications of transposing her own powerful performances to the bodies of others. An exhibition is one thing—this is not a critique of Abramović’s work in general—but titillation for wealthy donor/diners as a means of raising money is another.

Abramović is so wedded to her original vision that she—and by extension, the Museum director and curators—doesn’t see the egregious associations for the performers, who, though willing, will be exploited nonetheless. Their desperate voluntarism says something about the generally exploitative conditions of the art world such that people are willing to become decorative table ornaments installed by a celebrity artist in the hopes of somehow breaking into the show biz themselves. And at subminimal wages for the performers, the event is economic exploitation as well, verging on criminality.

This grotesque spectacle promises to be truly embarrassing. We the undersigned wish to express our dismay that an institution that we have supported can stoop to such degrading methods of fund raising. Can other institutions be far behind? Must we rename LA MoCA “MODFR” or the Museum of Degenerate Fund Raising?


Yvonne Rainer
Douglas Crimp
Taisha Paggett

*this letter was later updated, saying basically the same thing but after Rainer was able to see a rehearsal for it. Many more people also signed.

Yvonne Rainer’s 1965 “No Manifesto”

NO to spectacle.

No to virtuosity.

No to transformations and magic and make-believe.

No to the glamour and transcendency of the star image.

No to the heroic.

No to the anti-heroic.

No to trash imagery.

No to involvement of performer or spectator,

No to style.

No to camp.

No to seduction of spectator by the wiles of the performer.

No to eccentricity.

No to moving or being moved.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Nan Goldin : Scopophilia : Matthew Marks Gallery, New York

Seeing Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency, 1979-1986, as a freshman in college made my eyes flex muscles they never knew they had. These photographs were Punk. They are utterly cool and messed up yet obviously the real deal; Nan Goldin is a damn good photographer. Her current show at Matthew Marks Gallery is entitled Scopophilia, which in Greek means “the love of looking” and deriving pleasure from this act. This new show may not posses all the punk of the past but there are traces. Overall this is a complicated show that I’m not sure I have decided on yet but one that should certainly be seen by those who love or hate Goldin’s work.

This is her first solo exhibition in New York since 2007 but this wait feels okay because the show has an in the desert biblical cleansing vibe. Goldin has been living in Paris since 2000 as a result of what she considers Bush’s stolen election that year. Being a nuevo expatriate in Paris, Goldin has become a Parisian darling and has been given the ultimate embrace of approval by being allowed and commissioned to photograph works at the Louvre alone and after hours. Now THAT is a golden ticket. She took photographs of paintings and sculptures that ooze fleshy bygone tales, myths and gospels. Most are close-ups of an arm, breast, back, and other body parts and seeing these cropped snippets is fascinating. The focus and the ability to see such a zoomed in morsel is a treat, especially with works so entombed. Goldin then takes photos from her extensive archive of over 400 images and she pairs these with those she took at the Louvre. Sometimes this is a direct one to one but there are others that are scattered amongst a grid.

For the gridded and side-by-side images there is an odd matchy-match game that starts to happen. The eye keeps popping from one image to the next in comparison and contrast; this is a bit unnerving and ungenerous to the eye. Seeing a statue of a Greek goddess in certain repose and then seeing a young girl on a bed in a similar repose does give certain gratifications but the way this is forced is a strain. Also, there are a few technical annoyances about the presentation; one is that the gallery lighting is awful. There is a lot of ambient light from outside, which may be on purpose in some way, but the glare is unsightly. Second point of contention is the glass or plexi in front of the images is not non-reflective so this glare is made even more punishing. Most times I would have given a pass to this sort of thing but Goldin’s photographs from the Louvre already have their own funky angles, glares and focus so adding more optical hurdles is not a good idea. A room that did work was a semicircular yellow room with portraits of Goldin’s friends and lovers and these had a mated painted portrait from the Louvre’s collection above them. The focus on all the faces is the eyes. It is the eyes that are the key, the match; they are the points that posses a certain quality that resonates in both portraits and seems to fit like two pieces of a strange Nan Goldin puzzle.

In a separate room there is a slide show that is 25 minutes long and is a more extensive presentation of images from the Louvre and her archives. Goldin speaks at points, about how she came upon doing this project, about the show’s title, and about the things she discovered in her looking. She describes the act of looking for her as being a point of transcendence, a thing that brings you to a point beyond contemplation and also brings you to pleasure. This excitement of seeing and of looking is the most important thing one can hope of art. This presentation also has opera playing at times, dramatic yes but also quite beautiful. There are some absolute stunners from Goldin’s catalog, portraits of young, barely budded lovers, and images of friends making love, during, before and after. These people are all intimates of Goldin and she and they let you be intimate as well. This is the defining difference between Goldin’s work and others that photograph in what could be called a diaristic style, and why ideas about voyeurism do not stick to her. Her photographs are not about secrets being scene, or any form of violation in the act of looking. They are intimate and intimacy is private and shared. Goldin’s masterful use of light and color in her compositions also lend to the warmth of her images, something that more recent crops of young photographers, you know who they are, seem to have sucked dry from their works. There is utter sincerity in Goldin’s photographs this is most effectively seen in the slideshow format. There is a rhythm that serves these images well and also the idea of light penetrating onto a wall gives the images an almost sculptural presence.

Now, the inclusion of the Louvre images of the breasts, buttocks, backs, hair, faces, fingers and embraces shuffled into Goldin’s archives in this format is less cumbersome then in the photograph installations, but it still is an odd idea in the first place. In an unsettling way, it seems as if Goldin is self-positioning herself in comparison to these works of art in order to catapult her own into the same sphere. This, if Goldin really believes it, is just too arrogant to bear. But, I am giving the benefit of the doubt that this is not what she is implying. She is doing this for, hopefully, a bigger idea one that shows how people, the body, desire, and flesh, are all exquisite and are eternal. There is a power in Goldin’s sensuality. There is a timeless presence of the flesh, of the person, a persistence of being that artists try to capture through representational art. This is another quick point to make; representational art in the classic formalist way has been so revolted upon in painting that it is suicide to even challenge it in today's contemporary art world. But Goldin, who is a photographer, can still refer to the body with legitimacy. In addition to elegizing the body, Goldin transfixes on the narratives of the works at the Louvre. All the works there are a stand in for the history of a person, a myth or a story, there is a density and a purpose to their physical form. Goldin’s photographs posses this in some ways but they, to me, are more about the evidence of things immortal. They peak into the idea that the now and the recent pasts are not as removed from a few hundred years ago or even a few thousand, which in the big scheme of things is just a blip of our humanity.

The slide show is really lovely, yes it is over the top and romantic and dramatic but so what, the art world could use a little bit of that to temper its too cool for school vibe. What is most touching is that in the end, the piece is dedicated to Peter Hujar and David Wojnarowicz. To know those artists works and to know even a little about the triangle of friendship and love these three artist shared makes everything more touching.