Monday, April 29, 2013

Eckhaus Latta and Heather Guertin’s MODEL TURNED COMEDIAN

Eckhaus Latta

Want to know what you should be wearing right now?  You should be wearing anything, everything from the design duo Eckhaus Latta.  Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta are fresh young things that graduated from RISD and are making interesting clothing/ interesting shapes and textures that can be worn as clothing, out of their Brooklyn studio.  I was introduced to their work when I helped a friend out with a project and there were people bedecked in these uniforms of cotton waffle layering.  I kept asking who made them and where I could get them and were there any extra lying about that I could take with me, sadly there wasn’t.  Later that day I emailed the studio directly as the pieces from their line via their website seemed hard to locate and was responded to with enthusiasm and I now eagerly anticipate my studio visit with them.

What makes Eckhaus Latta not your run of the mill new design trend?  It’s a mix of experimentation with function that is elegant yet not trying too hard.  You can view their Autumn/Winter 2013, Spring/Summer 2013 and Autumn/Winter 2012 on their site.  Each collection is varied although a clear aesthetic vision can be traced throughout.  This is a feat and reassurance to see, evolution versus mere one-upmanship.  I especially love their A/W 2013 line.  It’s like a wearable future being proposed.  There is a mix of minimalism, futurism, Asia, Bauhaus all combined in subtle and form creating ways.  This is perhaps the thing that makes Eckhaus Latta so interesting to me.  Their clothes are not merely about projection of a lifestyle (although it certainly does), it’s more about how the body is the walking summation of parts and that fabric, cuts, folds and color can accentuate and liberate one’s body, movement and presence within space. 

Fashion and art is a funny thing.  One that I have remarked on in mostly tones of dismissal.  Maybe I spoke too fast though, or maybe Eckhaus Latta’s clothing has visually excited me more then most art I have been seeing of late.  All I know is that the pile of art money that I have squirreled away is definitely justified in the purchase of a few of their pieces and when I wear then around town I will feel like a moving sculpture that has potential to change the mood within and around me just by standing there. 

Heather Guertin, MODEL TURNED COMEDIAN, 2013 (Publication Studio/ Social Malpractice Studio)

This is a sliver of a book that can be read faster then a load of laundry but damn was it fun to read.  This shy novella of under 70 pages is a quick telling of an unnamed women, told in first person, and how she was a model who pretended to buy clothes in LA to increase store sales, how she became a comedian, the end of her ten year marriage, her love affairs with The Swiss and Kas and how she almost karate kicked David Letterman in the face on air. 

Guertin is an artist and comedian based in New York.  I don’t know too much about her paintings but the bio section on the back of the book says that she uses comedy and her other forms of art making in incorporative and referenced ways.  After reading this, it makes me want to see as many formations of her practice as possible.  The book is very much a women’s tale.  It has this crisp reflexivity and the sentence structure and tone make reading it a breeze and also had me laughing out loud, literally at the laundromat at some parts.  The honesty of the character’s thoughts, insecurities and indifference is refreshing and hit a nerve with my own brain/thought patterns.  Things that would seem important or somehow altering are brushed off in a few sentences, such as:

That same day I made a pact with myself that I would be a standup comedian.

I realized that I could do anything. Running on adrenaline I bought two tickets to New York City.

I only needed one ticket, so I had to do some negotiating with the airline to get my full refund for the second ticket. I succeeded but ended up paying a fee of $175.

After that was settled, I arrived in N.Y.C.

New York was cold and dirty so I flew back.

This made me wish I hadn’t refunded my second ticket but rather just kept it and changed it to a flight back to L.A.

Then it would have only cost me $50 to change flights plus the difference in the ticket price, which I can’t imagine would be much.

Anyway, L.A. was the place for me. 

So yeah, that is a sample of Guertin’s writing style, which is like reading an episode of Seinfeld but has more sensitivity and an overall search for love and connection vibe.  What was very exciting to read in Guertin’s story though was how art and the desire to make some form of art, in this case comedy, is an intense and real drive.  The character being a woman is wow to see because there are so few instances of this and it is done in a transferable way but does not disavow the fact that she is a woman experiencing things.  The need to express and actualize oneself is not the domain of men only and it was a relief to see it being articulated with such ease and humor in this book. 

The line that got me good was this:

How can I be so manipulative, not only to other people but also to myself?  Am I tricking myself into fulfilling my own goals? Is success against my nature? Would I rather transgress against my own personal development?

I need to understand that it is not artificial to allow yourself to be successful.  It is just learning to have self-control and self-control in an important part of developing a strong identity. 

Ok so like yeah, girl just read my mind! But really this book is a nugget of inspiration and I use that word in the most cliché way but really damn it, I mean it.  Read it; make an hour of your day fun and funny.  Everyone is the same but different and that’s okay.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Understanding Others

We exist and we exist with others.  Communication is the impulse that drives most human endeavors.  We need to connect to others, be around others, to exchange ideas and emotions with others in order to have a thriving life.  People do this is various ways and with different scales of need and desire but everyone who exists is networked to others.  There is no singularity in existence.  This feels odd at times though since we are always contained within ourselves.  We are born, we live and we die and the world/reality is contained within this package of ourselves.  We can never be outside of ourselves, not truly, but yet to exist, to live, interaction and connection is essential.  Forms of communicating are tools and ways in which we seek and fulfill this need.  These forms are various and are manifested in many different ways.  Scales of intimacy are also factors.  Close relationships and anonymous sharing are both equally impactful depending on the affects and the needs of the person.  Art, visual art, is a means for communication as is other forms of art like writing, music, film, dance, etcetra.  Art allows us to communicate ideas and emotions through form and content and one can be removed from it, not be personally attached to the presenter, yet still have great connection to it. 

This is a reason why art is essential to my life.  It allows me to connect and to understand the world in which I exist in and to think about what that existence means.  The distance allowed in this interaction is good and something that is loose and freeing.  I am very comfortable with this exchange and the structures of it.

Something of late that has been a part of my life in an imitate as well as an overall way is the way in which language is a means of communication.  Language is the primary tool almost everyone has to connect and to communicate to others.  At times though, this simplest and most basic of forms is fraught with failure, disconnect and ineptitude.  It is odd to think that something so familiar and so everyday can be such a challenge.  I have been thinking about how one connects and communicates to the world that is outside of themselves, to others near and distant.  The forms of art, although more abstract and undefined, is sometimes safer and easier to reside in (at least for myself) then a simple one to one conversation.  Communication is complex and specific while also grounded in rules and expectations.  Does disjuncture, inability and disconnect mean failure?  I don’t think so, I think that communication through language is like any other thing we humans do and the more we do it, the more it becomes familiar and the more equipped we are to traverses its complexities. 

When I look at art, even with close friends, I rarely speak about it afterwards.  I think about it a lot and at times write those thoughts down but rarely do I speak of it in the ways I think about it.  Is that good, is that bad, does that reveal something?  I don’t know.  I don’t think so, but language and conversation is key to life.  Trying to see how it matters and if it matters is bizarre, revealing and an unanswerable task I have been mulling over the last few days.  One day, I hope that the way I feel when I look at art, the ease in which I feel like I am connecting to it is possible for the way that I can sit across from someone else and just talk, talk, talk.

Below is something mildly obvious that I found online on the ideas of this.  It didn’t change or give tools on how to resolve issues of language and communication but the basic-ness of it is a reminder that things are a certain way sometimes and also that it takes two to tango. 

Excerpted from Philosophy and Spirituality, 2003, Serge Carfantan.  Translated by Catarina Lamm

D.   Knowing How to Listen, Knowing How to Speak
It is true that being able to speak to someone should make one better able to understand him.  Yet what exactly do we mean by “speaking”?  It is not enough to “speak” in order to engage in dialogue.  There is dialogue when speech is alive and that many conditions are fulfilled:

1) The presence of two people
2) Mutual understanding
3) A common ground
4) Something meaningful to share. 

Dialogue is only a way to understand another person when it is authentic, which may be more complex than one thinks.

Talking to somebody is not just trying to make oneself understood.  Dialogue can walk astray and off the path leading to an understanding of others. 

1) One may slip into mere information; in this case only the person talking understands what is being said.  Exchange never takes place, yet this is required for dialogue.  To have a dialogue it is not enough to find a willing listener with the patience to put up with your talking, but to whom you yourself will not be listening. 

2) There can also be a misunderstanding when two people don’t attribute the same meaning to the same words, so that each one of them speaks at different levels.  The common ground is then missing. 

3) Dialogue can degenerate into mere chatting.  Chatting appears to be a dialogue, but the people talking are not present in what they say: the content of their speech is as insignificant as it is repetitive.  Speech does not aim at the other person’s understanding it; it is only there to substitute for a real presence and above all to avoid silence.  A dialogue is only useful to understand others if it makes possible an intimate exchange with them. 

4) A dialogue can degenerate to polemics when one wants the exchange of a dialogue, while refusing to make any effort to understand the other person’s position.  Each person then sticks to his position and instead of exchanging ideas one struggles to uphold this or that conviction.  Polemics replaces the confrontation of points of view by the opposition of individuals.  We see this when spokesmen fire off all their weaponry to criticise a viewpoint, then retreat into muteness, and pay no attention to the objection of their adversary. 

5) Dialogue also self-destroys in lying. As soon as lying makes its way into the dialogue, speech loses its true purpose.  There can be no comprehension without truthfulness and without a genuine intention to have a dialogue.  Have can we understand one another if we are not sincere?

Supposing that these obstacles are overcome in mutual sincerity, the dialogue allows one effectively to open up to the other person and hear what the other has to say. Understanding means to grasp intentions and motives; this is best done when we listen to the other person and do not make conjectures from outside.  To listen to what the other person has to say is also to help him find his way in language, to find the words in which to put what he needs to say in order to make himself understood.  To understand someone is to listen to a conscious presence, to someone expressing this presence with his own words and this sharing can take place in dialogue. 

Nevertheless, if intentions develop inside words, they also appear between them.  If discourse is meaningful, so too is silence: the gaps between words also have their eloquence.  To understand the other it is not enough understanding what he says; it is also understanding what he does not say but what his presence expresses all the same.  The other person gives himself just as much in what he says as in what he doesn’t say; he is this undivided totality.  In other words, understanding supposes at once what is said and what is left unsaid.  Our gestures often say as much as our words.  According to psychologists, only 7% of communication is through words, 38% is via the tone of the voice and 55% pertains to body language.  There is often a discrepancy between conscious discourse and unconscious discourse, the one expressed in a face, an attitude, and then the internal consistency of communication is broken.  For instance someone’s speech may be artificially playful, yet his body expresses embarrassment at first, then self-defence, then lying and concealing of inadmissible truths.

To understand others one must also therefore have the capacity to allow him to be himself, without judging him, and listen to what he says in his presence.  And this is difficult because we are just as unable to give time and attention to other people as we are unable to listen to them.  To understand another we must be totally available to him here and now.  We must neither condemn him nor identify him to ourselves. Understanding is not judging, yet it is so easy to form prejudices about other people, much easier than trying to understand!

One often hears that dialogue enable[s] people to understand one another.  It is of course desirable to praise dialogue, especially in a world of incomprehension, such as our own, yet this also means that it has to be genuinely there, otherwise the apology of dialogue is no more than empty words.  What is at stake is to know how to listen, and this comes before knowing how to talk.  The art of speaking supposes a respect of others’ expectations, the art of finding where they stand in order to give them whatever answer can be given and share whatever can be shared.  It is an art founded above all on the art of listening.  Yet, listening to others reveals differences that are do not always make it easy sharing in dialogue.  One must of course drop conventional etiquettes; behind the etiquettes there is each human being’s unique personality, which defeats all comparison.  The prerequisite of all authentic understanding is therefore to throw away the image one has of the other person.  A dialogue is  -beyond conventional discourse and empty speech – to partake in somebody’s intimacy, an intimacy which is neither our own, nor anonymous.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Daniel Reich’s Death

I was just in New Jersey for the weekend and it was good to get away from the bizz buzz of New York City.  It was relaxing, near water and yards sales, flea markets, local restaurants and bars were visited.  It makes one realize/remember that most of America is like this.  It isn’t the dense wonderful jumble that is the city but more a series of towns spread out with nucleuses of stores, restaurants and odd gems here and there. Most of America is these towns with people, families, and characters and they all have lives that usually don’t have much to do with the art world.  It was nice to be around all this for a few days as this past week has been full of things and it was helpful to get a distanced look at those events and experiences. 

The announcement that has still been wedged in my mind from this past week is the death of Daniel Reich.  It was released on Artforum online and then it was re-linked and re-announced on various art blogs, news outlets and sites.  I personally did not know Daniel but he was always a curious personality to me. I remember many times making it a point to see one of his shows and most often to his group shows which were almost always interesting and purposed.  He started his gallery in 2000 in his apartment and then opened a ground floor space in Chelsea.  His mentors, Pat Hearn and Colin de Land, were the best in the business and a breed that seems to be nearly extinct now a days.  With the effects of the recession he closed his gallery in 2011 and I remember getting the email announcing this and it saying that they would be “relocating.”  Everyone knew what it meant but it was at least hope that there would be a round two. 

The news and blog outlets say that Reich died on December 25th at the age of 39 and that he killed himself at his parents’ home in a suburb of New York.  The news is only now trickling to the art world, the delay perplexes me but that may reveal other things.  It was so sad to hear about this; even though Reich was not someone I had personal connection to this news felt like it represented something deeper.  One cannot open handedly blame “the art world” for his death, there is probably a caravan of internal and external baggage that he carried as we all do, but there is something so defeating about it all.  Owning a gallery seemed like a tool of living versus an occupation for Reich.  Losing one’s medium and agency of living in a certain way must be catastrophic and especially if it is a form of existence.  A singer with no voice.  A ballerina with broken feet.  A teacher with only test scores.  The recession seems like a faded memory but it did hurt many in the arts and those that didn’t have reserve capital, backers (who could maintain being backers) or cut throat tactical survival skills were sucked under.  The art world needed this; it still probably needs more of a purge but losing programs like Daniel Reich’s seems unfair and well just sad.  Life isn’t fair, art isn’t fair, this we know, but the state of things, the loss of things, the loss of people, the loss of art is very real and has real affects. 

Getting away from the city made me think about life in a way that I sometimes forget to do in the midst of appointments, things to see, people to see, living life to one’s fullest and all that jazz.  I thought about it in a small picture way.  About the little things, the daily things, the sky, trees, talking and walking.  I do this in the city too while living my regular life but most times I’m busy thinking about big things like what’s next, what’s it all mean, where to now, art, aesthetics, philosophies of living and so on.  Thinking about and letting myself experience things in this smaller scale helped in thinking about the news of Reich’s death and what that all means.  Mostly, it means that there was a person who once lived and who did things in a way that others responded to and respected and enjoyed.  He was a person and he lived his life.  Even though I did not know him, it feels like the loss is personal somehow.  Strange but true.  I will leave now with the memoriam written by Reich’s friend Paul P. that was published on Artforum’s site.  It is revealing and tender and makes one sense that a strange and special type of person is no longer apart of the art world, can no longer be with any of us. 

Daniel Reich (1973-2012)

My first encounter with Daniel Reich was also my first encounter with New York. In January 2003, I came to the city with a small folder of drawings in hand; a friend made a phone call, and suddenly I was in Daniel’s apartment/gallery amid Christian Holstad's beautiful Life is a Gift installation. We knelt on the floor to lay out the works. I remember him wiry and fresh, pulling out a few hundred-dollar bills from his jeans pocket and buying all of the works I’d come with. Those crumpled bills meant more to me than any subsequent payment I’ve ever received, and on the Greyhound back to Toronto I knew my fortune had changed.

Then there was silence, and I didn’t hear from him for a month. I later learned that this was when Colin de Land had died. Daniel started at Pat Hearn's gallery; he sought her out specifically because she showed Mark Morrisroe . It was from these two dealers, Pat and Colin, that Daniel found the value system that came to define his métier: a belief in Art above all things, and in its confluence with personality. This wisdom included giving to those special people who gravitated toward him as many big opportunities as possible. I didn’t live in New York and could only witness his small gang periodically, but I remember Nick Mauss and Ken Okiishi stuffing envelopes and hanging paintings not as artists or staff, but as believers in something extraordinary at work.

To me, Daniel always appeared a slightly mystical creature. Yet he possessed, perhaps to a stronger degree, a great number of human frailties: giddy indulgence, obstinate faith, consuming worry. He swanned and he sweated. There are lines we all skirt which Daniel—a symptom of his genius—continually trespassed. Nothing was average or passable in his world, nor was he a perfectionist; things were lost, destroyed—things languished. And yet it was the labor, the ebullience of his rich, deadly smart, radically free-associating mind that made something remarkable out of each and every show. Daniel was a born dealer, not just because he, like most good artists, was otherwise unemployable, but because his eccentricity was alchemy in the gallery. He took risks with his money and with the money of others, and I think he always sincerely believed it would all work out. Spending was like making a wish or saying a prayer; new shoes, or capriciously rebooking airfare was a type of strange magic to augur success.

I remember another conjuring, a performance almost, as we installed my show in fall 2008. Amid the unsettling quiet brought on by the worsening recession, Daniel devised a strategy for painting the gallery—one that was all but invisible to everyone but himself. An assistant went over the gallery walls, already painted in their typical white, with two other hues of white, a “yellow” and a “green.” Daniel conducted the painting with precision, so that narrow swaths were applied here and there, like highlights and shadows, taking up several days of our time in an imperceptible aesthetic labor which I could only understand as wizardry meant to invoke the old rush of collectors who weren’t coming through. On opening night the gallery had its aura, and it worked.

But despite all of his surreptitious magic, it ultimately wasn’t enough. There was a breach in the hull and the part of Daniel that understood the usefulness of life began to ebb when he had to close his gallery, forced out by his own amazing folly and by a world that demanded something more practical. Daniel enjoyed scrappily going up against the hegemony of Chelsea. An inscrutable David, what he proposed was soft, slight, and upset by masculinity. Daniel knew the legacy and aesthetics of the strengths and frailties of homosexuality. We would talk about Tennessee Williams, Denham Fouts, and King Ludwig. He knew the course of lives lived and lost.

Anyone who has had a telephone conversation with Daniel will remember that the sign-off was the hardest part for him. There were various long pauses and rapidly repeated “okays” before the final, hesitant, goodbye. I feel very much like this now, so I want to add two more little remembrances. I’m brought back to one of our earliest emails where he said, “Yes, of course I’m interested in handling the work long-term. In a way it is perfect for me.” Daniel tried to engender his artists with his own delicate gestures of rebellion, and a spirited, cerebral pleasure in beauty. It’s an imbued force, something that will continue to manifest in our best work, which will in turn always be perfect for him. Finally, the last time I saw Daniel was in August. He invited me to the Russian Tea Room and implored me to order the cheapest drink on the menu so he could treat me. I had a peppermint tea and he had several Ivan the Terribles. His conversation frothed with wicked intelligence, jokes, and glumness. I left him with an electric buzz in my gut; I felt happy and proud. I knew that Daniel was one of the last of a kind of rare bird, and I couldn’t believe my luck at having him for a friend. I know that I will miss him for the whole of my life.

Paul P.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Spring! Predictions and Other Things

It’s spring and it's finally starting to feel like it.  Thank gawd.  Get ready to get sexy NYC and to dust off the winter crust in both external and internal ways.  March is the teaser month, it’s just winter wrapped up in a nice sounding name.  But have no fear, the earth turns, the seasons change and it will only get warmer and warmer.  Spring is the best because it makes you feel like life, love, and adventure are all possible again.  This is true for art and I can’t wait for the new crop of things to come up in the coming weeks and months.  Going to openings, hanging out with friends, seeing shows will not feel like a trek but an event to see and be seen and to have prolonged talks and walks.  I’ve been busy living life in a way, which is good but exhausting.  I saw a little bit of art this week but nothing that stuck with me so instead I will use this post to reflect on trends, predictions and whatever else pops into my mind.  New Years may be in January but I think April is when things will start blooming and the seeds sown will grow into the flowers or the duds they will become for the upcoming months. 

Still Lifes – Still lifes are going to be so super in that it’s going to be like, whoa.  Really.  This is a tried and true form and it is being done in new ways now with the internet kids loving their consumer products and all but the new still life will be more referential and specifically recalling traditional forms.  Food, flowers, dead things are going to be center stage.  Themes of opulence, abundance, death, and life have been and will be the underlying focus in this new iteration but things will be hyper-realized with new aesthetic and composition.  I hope that in this new batch there is some oil paints and also sculpture with some ooziness and not all just slick reboots.  Grab some tulips, an orange and a dead rabbit and give it a go yourself if you find yourself in the mood.

Overalls – Get a pair, they are comfy and stupid all at the same time. Yay.

Veganism – It was en vogue in the 2000s and if you are a certain age you have probably given it a whirl yourself.  Veganism in a mass-pop way has never been “in” but I think this time around more will be participating in it then you think.  Maybe if they rebranded the word ‘vegan’ or made a new name for it like ‘best life’ then it would be more conceptually palatable for people.  I don’t know about you all but the whole bacon on everything, paleo-diet is like sorta mental to me.  I’m not a vegan, never have been but I think that everything from the 2000s is back and has been back in a big way and it’s already loosing its irony fringes so the next step in being as was then is in what one eats.  Encapsulate a time for real and bite into lentil, quinoa, everything.

No Art Districts – Everyone can feel this already.  Yes there are pockets of art areas, Chelsea and the Lower East Side most notably, but there is no need for this really.  Art galleries are storage spaces and announcement cards for art these days and at times a meet and greet.  If you are someone who wants to be a gallerist/dealer/gallery owner then no need to be in these art districts or in New York even.  In fact, if you want to be a successful new dealer I recommend you doing your thing outside of New York.  New York needs a new gallery like it needs a hole its big apple head.  Well, that’s not true, we always like new blood so that it seems like there is some sort of eco-system life cycle going on, but really, the glut is too much and there are too many middle players in a field that has a full roster.  Those that are smart in the game and want to stay in/be in NYC will just go wherever the rent is cheap.  Location is not a place anymore but an installation shot.  Having a small room with one work by a big name is all one may need soon.  It’s all about inventory baby.  Sell, sell, sell. 

White Supremacists – They are making a comeback, scary but true.  I think that in the next few months we will be seeing a lot more of this in the news and in the air.  This time around white supremacists groups are going after other white people so it will be oddly not responded to.  This will get interesting.  Scary, crazy, but interesting nonetheless.  We are at a time when wearing a swastika if you are certain person with a certain confidence and an indestructible sense of humor you can pull it off.  Bizarre but true.  Irony has no bounds.

Social Media Suicide – It’s already happening but it will happen more.  People are over the internet and not just the people who were grumpy, not very into it in the first place but people that are figures in it or are celebrities or know it well and have mastered it to some degrees.  Facebook is so passé, Tumblr is for tweens, snap chat I don’t even…, Instagram is were selfies and life moments go to die, and twitter is twitter.  If these things are not already those things for you, they will be and they will be to many.  These internet deaths will be with discreet account deletes or with hari kari performative goodbyes.  There will be many funerals for the friends, followers and followed who will say bye-bye to the self-inflicted panoptican gaze. 

Art Fun – This will be a season of fun art, or art will be fun or both.  I am really optimistic, possibly tragically needy, in believing that this spring and summer will be fun.  Fun is not necessarily the best thing.  Fun doesn’t mean that it will be thought provoking or that interesting, or revelatory in anyway really but it will be fun.  Fun can be dumb but good and that’s okay.  I’ll take fun.  I’ll take art and fun over art and serious or self-gratifying.  This fun will not be about humor per se or about content. I think it will be more in how people get together, enjoy being at a thing or looking at something and be able to enjoy themselves and think that that was a-ok and feel like time was spent well.  I hope it will be fun for you and that art can be a giant background for a life being lived.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Frick Collection: Money, Faces, Now

I know I have been a big ball of blah de blah and doom and gloom regarding the art world of late, sorry about that.  This is all still on my mind and being affirmed by recent articles like Jerry Saltz’ Saltz on the Death of the Gallery Show in New York Magazine and Nicole Klagsburn’s closure of her gallery space and the reasons why she is doing so.  Even though things like the above makes one feel less like a lone crazy person on a sinking boat in one’s mind, it doesn’t give relief, it just compounds it all.  The only way to shake oneself into a better mental art space is to change and refresh one’s personal relationship to art, whatever and however that may be.  I have decided to try to do this, in a concerted actual way versus a thought only way.  The first step in this art rejuvenation regime, for me, is to actually see some art.  Contemporary art of late has been making me go gag-blah so I am taking baby steps to get myself realigned.  This past weekend I went to The Frick Collection and it is a place that makes you think things and puts contrast to what is happening now.  I was expecting it to be an all posi sort of art acclamation but surprisingly it made me think more about this whole art game and how important it is for contemporary art to actually exist and how things of the past and the things of today are inextricably linked.

The Frick Collection is in a grand home that houses the art collection of steel industrialist Henry Clay Frick (1849 – 1919).  The house was built in 1913-14 and the collection was opened to public viewing in 1935.  The building is a capsule and is reverently attended to.  The first floor is open for viewing and they are a series of rooms that you could imagine being used for their original intended purposes.  A salon for the ladies, a salon for the men, a dining room, a grand hall, a library, an interior fountain and alcoves for retreat.  In these there is a preservationist display of architecture and interior design.  The opulence is at once vulgar and impressive and is specifically dated but you can see how these sort of interiors are still symbols of affluence in suburban reconstructions.  The rooms in themselves are stages and sets for the art that is on tables and walls.  The paintings are impressive.  They are displayed in a cluttered fashion but this serves the purposes of it being for the en masse.  Some of the paintings are the best in the world.  Goya, Velázquez, El Greco, Constable, Gainsborough, Rembrandt, van Eyck, Vermeer, Hals, Ingres, and so many more.  It is a textbook of some of the greatest painters that ever lived and it is astounding and overwhelming to see them all in one place.  Some of the paintings capture you more then others.  There is an eerie presence of the people that are painted or are standing in as someone else.  Their eyes seem to follow you and almost seem to be awaiting a reply to a conversation between you and them.  I will not go into specific works here and the whole viewing experience of the Frick is something that must be experienced first hand.

What was interesting in experiencing this for myself on this trip was how familiar and “now” it all felt.  The people, the faces, the clothing and the style is very much about a time but the essence of what is being rendered and the capturing of a time and a person felt so relative to today.  So much of art is about reflecting a time.  In these portraits this is done by who the artist is and the person being painted, who they are, their status, their class, and their significance.  Also thoughts of money come oozing out of these works.  Who paid for them, either the sitter themselves, their husbands, their lovers, a church, a patron; they all exist because someone paid for it to exist.  There are a few that are self motivated of course, most resonantly Rembrandt’s self portrait, but still even with this one thinks ‘money’ because the ability to buy such a work is mind boggling. 

Walking through the collection was annoyed by the glut of other visitors.  I know that that’s the point of this place but I most enjoy viewing art alone or nearly alone.  What was interesting about the crowds though were the remarks by many visitors that I think reflects a common response by those viewing this sort of art.  “Now, that’s really nice, that would go great above our couch, don’t you think so honey?” “Yes, we should get us one of those.”  Said a middle-aged couple about a Constable landscape.  Yes, mildly horrifying to overhear but also exactly natural and on point with how art is viewed by many, and in the end, these people were right on mark.  These works are in a home.  Just not theirs.  They are in the home of a very wealthy person who could purchase it and then put it above their couch. 

This is where most art goes.  Back then and today.  It goes into people’s homes, and in some steroidal ways into private collections that the public is given access to.  This is a generous thing for sure.  Really to see so much amazing art at one time is fantastic and inspiring, but seeing the affirmation of how wealth is the enabler of this access makes things very complicated.

This is when it becomes clear the ways in which art is viewed, shared, valued and preserved.  There have been various attempts to react to, respond to, and to thwart this, for instance take all of conceptual art or the early intentions of earth works, but even that, even those efforts were purchased, commissioned and reigned into the market.  This is not a bad thing.  It is just the thing.  It is the way it has been and always will be and seeing this at the Frick made it all seem leveled.  Like a wave of fact that washed over any vague ideas of revolt against these sort of structures. 

Let’s get back to the art a bit.  I was talking about the paintings, the portraits, and although this form is not being done so much today, it is very much a part of many things being made today.  The idea of a presentation, or a representation, is what comes to mind in the then-now connection.  The styles of the master paintings at the Frick are painterly and representational. They are staged moments and poses that are held to solidify a desired presentation.  This is being done today in the way images are being recontextualized in various medias and even through new forms of abstraction.  Many artists today are re-presenting cultural symbols, celebrity and consumer icons as a means to make a presentation of our time.  They are also stylizing it so that it become about value, about taste, and to reflect a style that is “now” even if referring to things from the past in both form and content.  There are perhaps more layers involved in the final works of today but in the end it is a capsule for an age and are cues of worth and showing a specific hand, even if no contact is made to the surface.

Many contemporary artists and contemporary viewers should take time to view works that are at the Frick and are like what is at the Frick as it reveals our constant desire to capture ourselves and to preserve even with the knowledge of oblivion.  The simplicity of the portraits, not in the ways made, but in the content presented, is also very challenging to see in contrast to today’s art.  There is so much to see in the singular and the directness of these faces and scenes depicted.  Many more questions were produced on returning the gaze of one of these portraits then in some of the most abstracted or disjuncted images that abound today.  Looking back onto something from the past has a whole other bag of connotations and psychology but the ability for some of these works to retain their pull hundreds of years after creation is something rare and should be sought out, and I believe, is still possible with the art being made now. 

Going to the Frick made me feel complicated things and it’s all a jumble in my mind still.  Money, power, preservation, class, access, necessity are doing solar plexus punches in my mind.  In the end though it makes it all seem beautiful and to be able to see some of the pieces that reside in such a rarified space makes one realize that as long as there are people, there will be art and yeah, they don’t make them like they used to but that’s not the point.  Things that are masterful are not limited to a certain time.  They can happen now or tomorrow and it’s not about how it gets there or who bought it but about knowing it when you see it.