Sunday, September 30, 2007


Not every contemporary artist is a fiend for art history. It’s still a surprise to me, because I’m often happier with, say, the Romans and the Greeks than with my contemporaries, but many artists are much more interested in what their peers are doing.

Venice, more than any other place I’ve been, merged the very old with the shiny new extremely well. Maybe this is why I felt so sustained, even validated, as a living artist there.

And because time stands still there, all times seamlessly and strangely united, it really was the perfect place to host that Artempo – Where Time Becomes Art exhibition. The name alone might raise curiosity. Well, when I left the show, I was still curious. Through it all, I kept either saying: “This is incredible, this is incredible” or “I’m not quite sure what we’re looking at…. is this a part of the show?....”

I knew from the moment I walked in that I had never, ever seen anything quite like it – and yet it is the kind of show which sort of exists in your imagination, if you are a modern, living artist who loves the old, the dark, the secret artifact.

Because it was a like set design, inviting you to sit down, it was endless. I could have stayed a long time and not have seen it all, because I wasn’t even sure if half the things I noticed where part of the show or not. The lighting was so dim, it seemed the curators cared more about you feeling it than seeing it, which I liked. Someone clearly understood that seeing doesn’t necessarily equate with feeling.

You started questioning everything around you. The hanging tapestries designed by Fortuny seemed heavy not just in physical matter, but also in possible narration. What was meant as “art” and what just happened to be there? Everything looked like it had always been there, like maybe for centuries, including the Duchamp, the many Lucio Fontanas, the Marlene Dumas, the Bellmer and Yves Klein. (More photographs available here - just click on Palazzo Fortuny.)

Carolyn Zick and JL mentioned they were interested in the topic of a previous post, which was an attempt to clarify a transition from the spectator who creates quietly to someone who, well, is no longer such a spectator (or a quiet one, how about that). I have struggled ever since to define where I was headed, but unfortunately the longer I am back in my studio, in the States, in this time and place, some of it fades away. It is almost a tragic thing to lose, because it was so real (even if only in my head) and I think that Artempo show had as much to do with it as the Biennale. Because time stood still. Ego and identity was still there, but changed somehow.

But from this new distance, growing more everyday, old issues re-emerge... and maybe that was all just a momentary outburst of confidence. Yes, I’m an artist, just like all those in Venice (dead or alive). Do they wake up, sometimes – many times – in doubt? I’ll bet they do, but that is not what I saw.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

the Venice Biennale

If you really want in-depth info and images of the Biennale, blow by blow, nothing provides it as the blog of Contessanally. I discovered the blog via Anaba and it was as good a resource for preparing to see that show as anything I had read in the regular art rags.

I read in Art in America that the exhibition was “heavy in painting and in Americans,” but to this American west coast painter, it did not feel like that at all. Too bad I don’t have many Venice Biennales to compare it to, but I saw so much variety that it was not just a breath of fresh air – it was like a hurricane.

And I didn’t really expect that. Don’t know what I expected but I recall – I think it was Jeff Jahn – who said that biennials are designed to raise a certain amount of ire and disagreement. I felt the same; can’t say I ever saw one I didn’t say “but” to. That all changed in Venice.

- I’m willing to believe that location helps! But it’s not just that town; it is also the way they have built those pavilions over time, special places for very particular art goings-on. I loved the approaches, the venues, the graphics, the drying, fading gardens, the room upon room of immense visual bombardment. The seamless marriage of old and the very new is what this place did better than any place I have ever been.

It was that general bombardment-feeling which overwhelmed me most, and when Patrick Rock, of Rocksbox, asked me about various artists and pavilions, I was embarrassed at how general my impressions were, and how inarticulate I was. Of course it might have been jetlag… I stumbled into his incredible space on Interstate hours after coming home, completely sleep deprived... and he asked me: “Who represented the United States?”


As to painting (and so many other things), what I found interesting was the way spaces were used. A lot of works stretched into installation, like the works by Odili Donald Odita above. It was cool to see what this artist did, because previously I have only been able to view work in a magazine or online, but I have been interested in this artist for years now. Yes. Yes.

The circular works by Guillermo Kuitca of Argentina were absolutely wonderful. Every piece was singular and had different approaches. This was also some really great painting presented in an expansive way. (My photo is not the best; check out the post by Contessanally.) These works by Riyas Komu of India below stretched out in one long line and again, did not feel like merely a room full of paintings.

There were of course entire rooms of painting, hung in a style we’re more accustomed to - like Elizabeth Murray, Richter, Kelly and Ryman. It was all good to see, but none of it was very surprising, save maybe Richter, who never fails to amaze me. From a distance, the work looked all brown and maybe uneventful, but up close, watch out. A lot has been written about the work of Sophie Calle there and it’s all true – you felt like you walked into a very private moment and in a church or a home, not a gallery. I also liked the British Pavilion with Tracey Emin...

The room of Jason Rhoades (above) was one of the best, hands down. We were not supposed to take any pics, but my mate sneaked one in before the numerous guards took notice.

There were works out of doors near the pavilions and all over town. This installation above by Morrinho Project of Brazil looked great from a distance. It did not hold up as well once you got close, but then neither do most shanty towns.

The work of El Anatsui of Ghana is almost beyond description. It’s all made of found materials but glitters like a Gustave Klimt. (The Fortuny Museum also had a huge work draped across their entrance. More on that mind blowing exhibition Artempo at that museum later. Jen Graves called it “the Best Art Show Ever” – I think she’s right.)

Many rooms benefited from the practice of montage: I saw whole walls collaged, as in Paulo Kapela in the African Pavilion above. Below is an overview of Emily Prince’s montage of drawings called American Servicemen and Women Who Have Died in Iraq and Afghanistan (But Not Including the Wounded, Nor the Iraqis not the Afghanis).

There were even more traditional, small photomontages (below) of a political slant with Adolph Hitler, Stalin, et al, which were oddly comforting, even soothing to see. I believe that they are by Zoran Naskovski of Belgrade.

There was a ton of video. I am not one to spend a lot of time in front of a screen when time itself is so short, but there was one piece in particular which really struck me – called Democracy. The Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli created a character named Patricia Hill who was running for president. She was played by Sharon Stone.

Could one have a better birthday than spending all day at the Venice Biennale, and then power-drink through Harry’s Bar?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Giannetto Bravi at Comune di Como

The most beautiful town, Venice aside, was Como for us. No wonder George Clooney, who is like a local god there, moved to that town. It has endless winding streets full of booty, reminding me a bit of Aix. They have old, incredibly inexpensive shops (especially hardware stores), but they also have all the D & G and Versace, etc.

I was also very, very lucky to happen across this great collage exhibition by Giannetto Bravi. It’s like the show was made for me.

You walk into this old church. Architecturally things are pretty rough, unembellished. All the pieces are hung tightly together, uniform in their pastel frames of candy colors - pink, mint green and yellow. What’s held inside is all the greatest hits of art history, one particular image repeated flawlessly in a grid.

As I toured around I gleefully identified works out loud, like a child names off the signs on the highway: old masters of all sorts but also Modernists - Italian Futurists, Surrealists, Post-war. The artist also presented works in groups – portraits altogether, or still lifes or landscapes.

Occasionally I would go back to the table, manned by a quiet gentleman, searching for something I could read. Nothing was in English, though there was indeed plenty of propaganda available.

It was only as we were walking out of the show that I saw this banner, very large in size at the door. I then realized that the man in the custodian outfit, the artist, was also the man at the desk. There he was, carrying a group of Klimts. And I so returned.

And as it is with artists, even though we could barely communicate, we had things to say and share. When I told him that the postcard collages reminded me of Gilbert and George and their own efforts in the same area, he said: “Yes, I have used them too.” I’ll bet he has! He had to have known that I was loving what he was doing and he gave me not only a cool, large pamphlet but then this BIG, JUICY book which is a work of art in its own right. Half of it is printed upside down.

Unfortunately it has been difficult to grasp all that he is doing because very little is translated. Google tells me he has been in mail art shows, but if you try to have them translate a page, it is chaos. I understand that his work is "The Collage of Master" and that he claims to be the Collage Curator, looking after the Gallery of Galleries, helping collectors decorate their walls with whatever works of art they wish.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Somewhere in my old diary at Lovelake I wrote about art history and museums being sustenance for the living artist who has a nonexistent art career. Art making, she has. Art career, that’s another thing. And as the dream of one recedes further and further into dark, depressing Netherlands, aided and abetted by survival jobs and distracting love affairs, you don’t go to openings so much anymore. You make your stuff on the side and drink in dead artists at places like the Met.

They can’t hurt you. I don’t know if Matthew Collings was talking about this very specific hurt that contemporary art provides in It Hurts, but maybe it plays a part. You’re not in comparison and competition with dead artists as you are with the living (though it did seem that some of the painter fellows of my youth in the 80s surely were. An example is Julian Schnabel, who definitely chased Goya and it was all documented very seriously on film. It is almost laughable in retrospect.)

This isn’t to stay that I completely stopped looking at contemporary art in NYC after awhile, but mostly it was just “the best” I looked at – like openings of Richter or Basquiat, Gilbert and George, this type of thing. My real contemporaries though, the hungry bunch, I could not keep up with them. Until I came back to Portland, Oregon.

But that idea of seeing only “the best” was not much of an option, and so I toured First Thursday like everyone else. I’ll never forget my first one, over ten years ago. I went out with an old friend, who liked many things (she’s not an artist – maybe that helps). Meanwhile, I hated nearly everything. I thought about it later, because whether I was “right” or “wrong,” I could see that my friend was having a much better time. The situation said more about me than what we were actually looking at. I think it’s really easy to hate everything when you are dissatisfied with your own shit.

Well, it’s been over ten years. And nowhere could I have seen the changes within so clearly as when I was at the Venice Biennale. No doubt it helped that I had been researching towards that day. But the real research was climbing my way into a daily studio practice and also forging an ongoing dialogue with living artists. I use the word climbing because I don’t think it’s as easy as saying “following your heart,” blah blah and other romantic notions.

While the Biennale was this immense spectacle, I did not feel like merely a spectator. This felt like a huge difference to how I’ve experienced plenty of other biennials and big shows of living artists. I could blame the curator but the show itself is only part of the story. The Biennale wasn’t the only time I got to see contemporary art either, or have conversations with living artists over there. Everyone was very generous. It was way beyond expectation. More later.

Friday, September 7, 2007

beyond the black thing

In 1978 I made a fanzine called Beyond the Black Thing. The Black Thing may be familiar to those who have read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine D’Engle. To me, the Black Thing was like Wilhelm Reich’s Emotional Plague or another word for fascism. I have been thinking about her, about the book and the fanzine the last few days and had been preparing a post on the contents of the fanzine….. and now she has passed on. She was not wild about being thought of as a children’s book author. I discovered only now that she was pigeon-holed as a Christian, too. Well, I read her when I was way out of childhood and very far away from any typical Christianity.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Harry's Bar, Lake Como, etc.

After some time in Venice, we have a week in a house on Lake Como to look forward to. Whenever I've gone through there, I've always wanted to stop. Of course I want to go down to Milan, which is the center of fashionable Italy. In the Sartorialist are many pictures off the streets of Milan where people really know how to dress - even the old men are bicycles are looking great!

I've also heard that Venice is outrageously expensive. Jim Riswold told me you should walk around with an open tray of money, announcing: "Take it... go head...yes, take it." But I am still going to have my 20 dollar cocktail at Harry's Bar, I don't care. Maybe I will have two. I've never, ever regretted spending money in Europe. If anything, I regret what I told myself I couldn't afford. I couldn't see Nureyev in London in '75. Too broke. But now I know I should have just starved instead.

Monday, September 3, 2007

soon it's off to Venice

Ten years ago I got married and took a trip to Italy. We said that if we were still married in 10 years, we would go back for a second honeymoon.

So VENICE here I come!

Yes, of course there’s the Venice Biennale plus many other hot art shows, but most of all - I just want to be there. I have never been to that town and now, finally! I've been dreaming and scheming of this for years.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Richard Hamilton

Before I knew about the collage artists of Dada, I was into the work of Richard Hamilton. Perhaps my oldest art pal, Ross Sutherland, turned me on to him in high school. I love the way he combines found photographic materials with paint. The painting is very impressive. It is true that he doesn’t have a lot of rough, expressive edges, something which might be held against him, but I love it all, including the slickness. When we think of collage, he’s not the first to come to mind, but him, along with Eduardo Paolozzi, contributed immensely to Pop Art.

I’m pretty sure it was at the Clocktower in NYC where I got to see, sometime around 1990, his famous exhibition with the Independent Group's This is Tomorrow. It was so great to see a show all redone like that, one I had read so much about. It was also weird to see it all reduced down to that fairly small collage: Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing? Such a small piece to pack a far-reaching, big punch.

He made some great statements about men, women and marketed style. His series Towards a definitive statement on the coming trends in men's wear and accessories was great, as are his Fashion Plates of women.

The August Art Review has a fun interview with him, including works that he now has up in Venice. He is doing more interiors, sort of like the one above but way different. The new works seem to me to be almost Classical in their posturing but also glacially contemporary. I am not sure what to do think, but I am actually going to see them in person soon.