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.