31 October 2006

Marathon, Schmarathon... I'm Going!

Yet another image shamelesly heisted from BLDGBLOG... this time Cabrini Green Houses, Chicago.

There is a new curator at Sculpture Center, and I want to find out this person's name so that I can publicly laud their emphasis on sculptural work and sculptural concerns. This sounds fantastic, and I am going:

Eyal Weizman Presents
Sunday, November 5, 12pm
Brunch served from 11am

Eyal Weizman is the founding director of the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, London. He was recently selected as the winner of the 2006-2007 James Stirling Memorial Lectures for his proposal titled, "Destruction by Design: Military Strategy as Urban Planning." Weizman will present some of his latest research on the politics of verticality, urbanism, and shifting notions of space.

I don't come to this with an opinion about Eyal Weizman... but this tucks itself too nicely into my reading to miss. I have Paul Virilio & Sylvere Lotringer in one hand and Drosscape in the other... destruction by design, indeed.

28 October 2006


Start of a series of small drawings... this one is 7"x10", pen and ink on watercolor paper.

23 October 2006

Beyond Brutality And Bashing

Smashed Battery Oozing Its Acid Onto West Twentyseventh Street, 2006, artist unknown

Simpleposie asks this question:

What happens to art discourse that leaves out the voices of its own practitioners ie. artists? Well, it turns into something else doesn't it?

Excellent point. Peer review is integral to academic integrity, and it's strange that artists aren't expected to perform this service for one another. Perhaps this is because using the word integrity in a discussion about visual art feels either forced or naive. But why? Does it have to be that way?

To answer Simpleposie's question, art discourse that does not listen to the voices of its own practitioners is discourse about looking at art that other people make. Sometimes that distance and mystery allows for some great cognitive leaps--there are astounding art writers that do not make art.

But looking at art that other people make is a distinctly hands-off experience, and can lead to fluffery and attributing quality where none exists. What is the critic's intellectual stake if he does not have a practice to defend/protect/uplift/explain? Intellectual integrity is a valuable comodity in these moneyed times. The nonartist critic, because of the hands-off nature of his practice, has fewer intellectual moorings and is more likely to be tossed around by all this money and power. More likely to become a pawn.

I was talking to Paddy about this very issue, and she brought up Ben Shahn, who wrote that (Paddy is paraphrasing Shahn here) "the artist critic is more brutal than the critic, because the artist critic would sanction the destruction of work."

This "brutality" could also be called an intellectual stake--a point to defend paired with a decided lack of mysticism about the object itself. Artists who write about other artists are creating located knowledge--they are burning one line between their own practice and another. This takes the discourse out of the market and provides another venue for meaning to be created. This is a bottom-up approach to creating intellectual discourse that depends upon knowing who you are and what your intellectual stake is, what biases it creates, and working with those biases instead of against them.

I'm going to be honest with you. I haven't been writing because I have been thinking about this in terms of words like "brutality" and "bashing." What a reality check! These words send the power of criticism to the forefront, and also assume that this power will be wielded poorly.

And I want to move past that diceyness. Artists should write criticism, and they should listen to Paddy, who writes:

I think the only reason criticism would make an artist jaded or bitter is if it was entirely self-interested. In other words, the point is not simply to revel in the excellence of your own ideas, but to support artists who are doing really interesting things. That's the sort of thing that is really empowering.

I take this to mean that artists should be writing as a part of an intellectual community and not to prove themselves better than others. This can mean arguing, and it can mean thinking someone's art is not very good. But the point is this larger meaning-creation project. Art can mean anything, and right now it mostly means commodity. Whatever else it means is up to us.

And artists who get written about should understand that figuring out what it all means often precludes cheerleading--that there's plenty of that already. That criticism can be generous without being indulgent or understanding, and that they are part of a meaning-creation project that is actually more important than their individual ego...

...and besides, that there's no such thing as bad press.

19 October 2006


Anyone else hear Patti Smith on Soundcheck yesterday?

She talked about CBGB as a place to fail and flail--a place for kids to focus on what they were doing. She said that she wasn't thinking that it would go anywhere, and that nobody she was hanging out with was career oriented. That success was a bonus, but that nobody dreamed of it in a million years.

And this made me laugh so hard that my tea almost came out my nose.

I am not going to get all sentimental and say that artists should take a page from the CBGB playbook or anything... times have changed. It's harder to pull this bohemian shit off and there is more money everywhere. The only way to be independent from this drive to career is to be independently wealthy.

But I wonder if there's another way to drive the career train. I am sensation-seeking. I like failure and risk. I was talking to HighLow about this oh, months ago. And he was sage--he basically said that the power the art market has right now that is somewhat intoxicating and also very put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is. He seemed a little entranced with the high stakes of it.

X-Treme Art for X-Treme times? Maybe. Sure beats Safe Art For Whorin' Times. I mean, if artists aren't somehow thrilled, by something, then what is all this for?

12 October 2006

Don't Bash Other Artists

So I asked Kuspit, since he provided a pretty binary argument, what he thought about artists who write criticism. And he had practical advice. He said that Donald Judd spent a lot of time bashing other artists, and that this negatively impacted his work. He made a bad pun, he said that it "boxed him into a corner." Get it?

He went on to talk about Michelangelo, who built very positive critical relationships with other artists and wound up using these relationships to develop such a dynamic understanding of the human body in three-dimensional space. And he basically blamed the market for the adversarial relationship modern artists find themselves in. Renaisance-style patronage promotes artistic security, while the rise of the dealer signalled a more competitive, less secure environment for artists, in which everyone is working whatever they've got.

This places the artist-critic in a rather delicate position, and I would like to move through that position to another place.

Always on the money, Kat suggested yesterday that Kuspit's reasoning is all about keeping Kuspit in a position of authority and power over artists. And yes, if taken literally, Kuspit's argument makes critical assesment of another artist's work dangerous and potentially stunting. But I don't think that's literally true.

As always, I am left searching for Door Number Three. What if Kuspit is kind of right? What if a little bit of Judd and a little bit of Michelangelo creates a thriving intellectual environment in which artists learn from one another in a way that is separate from their egotistical Vision... in which meaning is not singular and self-evident, but driven by an intellectual community? And what if artists retained the power to create the social meaning of art by working to critique the work of fellow artists? In a spirit of growth and not bashing?

I know this time that I might be dreaming... I have, after all, received a couple of emails from artists accusing me of sour grapes or worse because I placed their work in a different context than they do. Artists may be too egotistical to engage one another in healthy, sustaining criticial dialogue.

But I doubt it. I am left with many questions about how to best engage with another artist's work critically, but have too many examples of good artist-driven criticism sitting right in my blogroll to think that this is a lost cause.

11 October 2006

I Heart Critics

I want to start by saying that I probably shouldn't even go to a Donald Kuspit lecture, because I have a deep personal distrust of psychology and I am irritated by all that gassy talk about artists being narcissistic and obsessed with overcoming mortality. It makes me feel so defensive... so let me get this out of the way:

Sure. The monumental, permanent nature of sculpture did attract me as an insecure, obnoxious twenty year old with a huge chip on her shoulder. But my mature work is an exploration of a sculpture's (and my own) mortality.

And yeah. My ego is enormous. But again, I can't keep playing this game unless I keep that ego-drive in check. Actually doing the work of being an artist requires much more humility than one might think, and humility is much more interesting than ego.

I don't know why I make art, exactly, and I might have gotten into it because I am self-aggrandizing and fear death. But as I continue to make art, I can say with certainty that anyone who continues to make art for these reasons is in for nothing but disappointment. Art is, unfortunately, just not that important.

So, while it did stir my passions, I did not sympathize intellectually with Kuspit's basic thesis. He posited last night that artists are driven to be singular in their vision and use that Singularity Of Vision to catapult over mortality, and that they therefore must hate the critic, because the critic destroys the Singular Vision Of The Artist. The critic separates works of art from the artist's individual ego, and plugs them into a larger social and art historical context. Half of this argument is essentially modernist (again, not surprising, this was a Donald Kuspit lecture) and entirely dependent upon Avant-Gardeism and his right-hand man, Individualism. The paper he gave spent the most energy defining the motives of Malevich, Gaugin, Duchamp, Johns and other Modernist heavyweights, and went no further into the present than Judd.

He had interesting things to say about Judd that I hope to write about separately.

What Kuspit says about these artists seems spot-on. But I question his reliance on the Modernist Avant Garde Individual because he's making a very general statement: "Artists Hate Critics." By going no further than Judd he just avoids the fact that the Modernist Avant Garde Individual With His Singular Vision is simply not a contemporary figure. He's still around, but he's vestigal.

The biggest and most important risk an artist can take right now is to orient oneself away from the bellybutton and away from the neverending quest for The New. The world is too full of people and too full of artists and too full of information to think in terms of the Avant Garde, which just collapses into more stuff. Individualism is a bit of a cul-de-sac, and some of the ballsiest and most relevant players today, like The Yes Men, are working away from individual expression.

On one hand, you could say that Kuspit's emphasis on the psychology of the individual just screams out, "I do not notice or care that I live in a world that is about the Corporate-Cultural Entity and not the Individual Human!" But on the other, to dismiss Kuspit's thesis is to write off the critic's role in "killing" the Singular Vision. Kuspit's definition of the role of the critic was quite beautiful, and I think it might offer artists a way out of all that individualistic genius myth bullshit.

According to Kuspit, the artist wants acceptance on her terms alone--to be recognized as a Singular Visionary. Okay, whatever. But this part I embrace wholeheartedly: The critic refuses an artwork's (often tyrranical) Singular Vision and replaces it with a meaningfulness that is not self-evident, that depends upon relationships and context. This critical work creates a social meaning of art. It renders an artwork more memorable and understandable than it ever could be if it remained a Singular, Self Evident Vision, but does so at the expense of killing the Singular Vision. The artist is exposed as one of us. Not a genius working in a vaccuum, but a social creature and a bit of a magpie, culling from here and there to create meanings that we can all share and participate in.

Funny... this is a definition of Artist that I feel much more comfortable with.

I believe that this is exactly why artists are filling the art criticism void these days. If art is not about the Singular Vision of any one artist, then it is about the meaning artworks create when they stand separate from the artist and are in dialogue with one another. I would argue that when artists participate in critical dialogue with other artists' works, they are separating their artistic identity from that Singular Vision problem.

Does it always work this way? No. Are we free of all the mythologizing about the individual genius artist? No. Am I being a little idealistic? Of course. But I do think that the artist who writes criticism has something to offer that is beyond the duality Kuspit delivered.

09 October 2006

I'm Going...

"Why do artists hate critics?" - Donald Kuspit

Tuesday, October 10, 2006 at 7:00 pm
School of Visual Arts Amphitheater
209 E 23rd Street
New York, NY 10010

Join Donald Kuspit as he speaks on the brief history of the use and abuse of art critics by modern artists. What is it about the psyche of the modern artist, more particularly, his/her anxiety about the meaning, value, communicative and staying power of his/her art that causes this abuse? It will be argued that the artist's manifesto, a modern phenomenon, often involving the artist's critical attacks on other artists, is another symptom of this anxiety and insecurity, as well as an attempt to foreclose critical analysis and evaluation of his/her art, and thus is ultimately self-destructive.

This event is free and open to the public.
Presented by the MFA Art Criticism and Writing program's Critics
Series, chaired by Thomas McEvilley.

06 October 2006

Solid State

This project got approved by a large and very supportive board of students, faculty and staff at Middlebury on Friday. The working title of the project is Solid State Change. The building in the sketch is the Environmental Studies building at Middlebury College, which used to be a big old clapboard house, but is getting an upgrade. The ES program at Middlebury is the oldest of its kind in the country and has some seriously distinguished scholars, including Bill McKibben, who I think is a charming and insightful writer. I have pasted a little blurb about the concept and process for making this piece below.

In July, I was given a wonderful tour in which Middlebury was framed as a site of hope and change. This pervasive hopefulness was evident in all new building, the spatial relationship between the campus and the larger community, and what Environmental Studies students achieve. And all that hopefulness was connected to the land. The students garden. Relationships between the university and local woodworkers are strengthened because of a mutual understanding of what the forest can yield.

I am inspired by this hopefulness and drive toward change, and want to mirror that hope back to the Environmental Studies community. And I am equally interested in how hope can become blind, and how change becomes fad, and so I left Middlebury with a specific problem to solve:

How does one hope with their eyes wide open? How does one expect impossible things to happen without resorting to magical thinking or magical actions? How does hopeful change become strong and real?

And because the connection to the land is so important here, I looked to Vermont's geology to guide me. In order to think about really impossible things happening in the total absence of magic, scale and time must expand.

It is interesting that there used to be an ocean here, and now there are mountains. And that this mountain-building event, the Taconic Orogeny, left behind a record not just of volcanic activity, which makes rocks molten and therefore makes the movement of rock material easy to comprehend, but of metamorphism, or solid-state change of rock. Heat and pressure turns limestone deposits into hard, crystaline marble, and makes solid rock flow.

Metamorphism is the metaphor that I want to bring back to the discussion of hope, because in order to hope without magic, huge environmental changes must occur even as the built world we have created continues to grow. There is no wiping the slate clean, mentally or physically. I depend on civilization, and so does every other person in this room.

So this sculpture depends on Vermont's long history of metamorphic change, and propels that metaphor into a meditation on the built world. Solid State Change begins with a representation of the sedimentary deposit beneath Middlebury.

My only formal decision is to begin with a representation of that shape beneath us. Then, I will begin to exert pressure on that shape by attaching layer upon layer of recycled material to it. These materials--tires, vinyl siding, old corner bead, smashed copper pipe, molding and clapboard, old extension cords--are ubiquitous and will be chosen based on their ability to behave in a ductile way and resist the elements.

By screwing each layer together, a clamping, squeezing effect occurs, deforming the original representational shape and creating a wavelike pattern of metamorphic change. The finished piece will move in two directions: the calcite shape will be driven to the earth by the weight of metamorphic layering, and the muscular, striated layers will reach up and outward, defying their own weight. The finished sculpture will be sealed in a UV-resistant wax and will stand permanently as a metaphorical, not literal, transformation of material.