Just about every artist of-a-certain-age has had to deny themselves all kinds of things to keep at it – money, homes, children, glamour. The suffering bit may hold interest at first, but eventually loses its charm.
Save, I hate to venture – for a certain mythic rendition of the woman artist – who, if consistently pitched as stoic, alone, unglamorous and unpainted, may indeed finally be seen as truly serious. Even tough.
There was a particular pavilion at Venice which housed some fairly playful installation work inside. I found the craft a little shoddy, but perhaps that doesn’t always matter. People were exploring and having fun in there.
Outside the pavilion was a bastion of propaganda of all sorts, of which I greedily partook – leaflets, badges, posters. Some of the press confirmed that the artist was certainly a hit with young people. They liked her unpredictability and she was rightfully proud of that.
But another thing the writing stressed, like a pitch to unbelievers, was how hard working she was. How alone she was in her cold studio, from dusk to dawn. How unadorned her face was, how shorn her hair, how deadpan her voice. While making work quite playful, we were to understand that she was not. And in this, of course we were to read the depth of her commitment.
The longer this pitch went on, the more my impatience grew. Is this what it takes to be perceived as a serious woman artist? It’s like Here Comes Success but God forbid you enjoy it!
Yeah, I know, someone is about to tell me how spiritually meaningful it is to live a life of denial.
It reminded me of how Agnes Martin is pitched - and I am not so sure I wish to be aligned with a vision of dying in a hard twin bed, after such an influential game at the top. While her contemporary Ellsworth ran with the wolves in living color, she chose grey in a distant white room. Her choices I do not condemn, but if they are uniformly seen as an emblem of appropriate success, I am wondering why.
Even recently a local critic wrote to the effect of Martin’s “…tough, makeup-free serigraph grids…” What makes them tough? The no makeup bit? The fact that she didn’t wear any? Or does “makeup” refer to color? And is color not tough?
- Or is she tough because she denied herself many, many things in life? OK, she did not go to the disco. Is that what makes her tough? And is that necessary? – the model of the washed-out woman living in elevated retrench comes up so often (and right in the here and now) that I feel the need to ask those questions.
No one doubts the aim and sincerity of Brice Marden, MOMA retros and all, as he floats from one well-appointed studio to another (didn’t the Times say there were four, a couple of fabulous ones in Greece?). And they are all probably handily well-stocked with great wine. No one is expecting him to deny himself, as a way to prove worth, depth, talent.