Sunday, June 29, 2008

the August Interview and Downtown 81

Warholmania is in the air as Andy would have turned 80 next month. Interview devotes their August issue to the man and what people thought of him. Also Charlie Rose had a special group interview about the revamping of Interview.

The recounts by those who knew him are always wonderful and worth reading. But I have to say that some of what I saw and read seemed to have nothing to do with the real thing. It wasn’t all “fabulous,” even though he might have seen it that way. Some of it was gritty, sleazy and haphazard and that seems to have been lost in translation.

Like what the hell does Stephanie Seymour have to do with the vibe of those days? Her answers and banter were so unquotable, forgotten as soon as said. Yeah, I heard she was fashion editor for the rag now. That seems like a grave mistake to me. And the young new starlings are no replacement for ViewGirl and InterMan, telling us how cool their parents are, turning them on to the Velvet Underground. Please! Find your own way! The spread of various hopefuls wearing the fright wig with the striped shirt came off as some desperate attempt, trying way too hard. And I’m sorry, but Marc Jacobs is no Warhol for today, not by halves. He's meaty and not weird. The choice makes no sense.

The Charlie Rose interview emphasizes the updating of Interview, taking it into the new era. Interesting that the magazine feels the need to do this when Warhol is dominating the landscape more than ever. The shadow he’s casting is mega, but I’m not so sure they’re going about it in the right way.

Keeping in this retro-mode, I rented Downtown 81 last night. No one, save Debby Harry, is a star yet but at the same time everyone is. Jean Michel hasn’t even had a one man show yet. Downtown New York, the playground, looks like it’s been hit by a bomb. I never embraced it the way some people did back then because I had put in my years in London and SF in peeling, fetid, decaying flats already. Plus I landed in a cheap mid-town sublet, a rent-controlled flat where I was supposed to stay for only 3 months. I stayed for a decade and eventually nabbed the lease, taking many bus rides, cabs and walks to downtown and back.

The movie is filled with so many who are only legends now, who didn’t survive those times. I was especially taken back when I saw Cookie Mueller play a dancer at a strip joint in the film, a flash cameo appearance. She was a great writer and actress who died of AIDS related illnesses before the 80s were over. I used to see her around and see her perform.

Watching the film last night seemed so right too because it was hotter than hell here in Portland - and clammy - like a New York summer night. Just not as filthy. The dirt and heat was so intense there, you felt it clinging to your eyeballs. Whenever I would visit Portland from New York, immediately my lungs went into hyperventilation right after exiting the airport. It was like someone turned on the air.

Monday, June 23, 2008

the market for dead artists

The New York Times held a disturbing article about the worth of art after the death of the artist, limited supply and all. It's an old story told in perhaps a new way, as increasingly mega-galleries need "fresh" top shelf goods to suppy the hot list demand. And if it is not there, it might be dug out literally from beyond the grave.

An integral part of the story was the artists' inability or refusal to play ball: they avoided studio visits or the "audition." Another subtext, subtly mentioned but not really explored, is the fact that some of us, from time to time, recycle our works in order to make new ones. Because well, they didn't sell. One artist sold only two paintings while languishing (but at least still alive!) in his years in the gallery system.

The 1980s is specifically targeted as the spawning ground for these artists and "a period now considered hot." Most of us made no money back then, but we could watch the escalating view and reportage of rising artstars like Basquiat and Haring and feel a part of that somehow. And making a painting on top of an old painting was really not all that unusual.

What happens after death looms more when you're on the other side of 50, as I am and as are some of my artist friends. We may not have second vacation homes and big stock portfolios. In fact some never bought a home at all. The "stock portfolio" is the pile of paintings and other works built up over of a lifetime. Of course you wonder when it actually becomes that nest egg and not this mass which just takes up room, increasingly becoming a drag every time you have to move. When Jack Goldstein commited suicide in 2003, there still wasn't a hot market for his work (see image above). Now they hover at $250,00. I wonder if some of the paintings have another underneath?

Sharon Butler also made note of this article - Secrets for posthumous success - and provided some related links.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Not-so-Still Life

I just finished A Not-so-Still Life by Jimmy Ernst, the son of Max Ernst. Someone loaned me the book as I am looking into memoirs by artists. This one is surprisingly entertaining.

And why wouldn't it be, when your dad's friends are Man Ray, Jean Arp and Tristian Tzara? It is filled with amusing accounts of how these people act in their homes and at parties. It also covers a fairly important time in American history, for Jimmy and his dad are part of a European tidal wave which invaded Manhattan as the Nazis took over Europe. And of course Peggy Guggenheim is front and center during those prime years.

Jimmy Ernst views it all from an insider/outsider’s perch: his dad is firmly entrenched in Surrealism which is quickly becoming Old School as Jimmy meets Rothko, Pollock and everyone else. Even Piet Mondrian sets poor Max on the defense.

But that kind of content might be only of interest to the artist and art historian. What makes this book a tearjerker is that Jimmy has two parents and one doesn’t make it out of the war. He’s got one eye on a strange and exciting art crowd, but the other is on a land he rejects as his home. Jimmy tells a twisting tale of an optimism he eventually resents. His mother thinks everyone will get over Hitler, that things will go back to the way they were and so she stays in Europe. The cruncher for Jimmy arrives one day while he is working on the film Mildred Piece (starring Joan Crawford) and someone runs up to him: “Stop everything you’re doing. You’ve got to see this.” And it’s a film like he’s never seen, the first footage of the camps.

His mother, Lou Ernst, was sent “back east” on one of the final trains leaving Paris. She died in Auschwitz.

Of course Max had long since left her for Gala, who would become Dali's wife and is a real piece of work. Yet Jimmy is never mean about anyone. He progresses through the wives and the women fairly evenly and just lets you decide what to think of everyone.

Throughout my 20s, I loved Max Ernst, but I think I was merely under the influence (or the spell) of someone who adored him and his work. Odd, too, because the friend often called women goddesses and thought himself a feminist. Maybe none of that matters, but it’s clear to me that Max Ernst treated women like toilet paper. Somehow this was all funneled through or in the name of art – you know, “genius" and all.

McKee Bridge

(The following is not art related.)

I just took a short trip to southern Oregon, where I grew up. One of my favorite places is McKee Bridge on the Applegate River. Built in 1917, it is a covered bridge which has never had any car traffic in all the years I’ve known it. We used to play on it a lot. The scent of the dry pines in summer is heavenly. These views of the river are from the bridge and this short, completely uneventful video starts in sepia and ends in color.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

the case for Marlene Dumas

Chris Ashley suggested we write about why we are pro-Dumas as regards the current debate. If you haven’t kept up on this, check out the posts on Marlene Dumas by Martin Bromirski on Anaba. The New York Times Magazine also published an article about her last Sunday.

The article quotes her proudly measuring her life in negatives: I never learned to ride a bicycleI never learned to drive… I stay in bed and reflect, like Rossellini. What I am hearing is the score of someone who is not so much a joiner, and of someone happier to meet and greet what happens in their interior view.

But of course this is all about the work, no? Yet even in the Times article, her success as an artist is shadowed by the question of does she deserve it? In this they refer to Anaba and the ongoing tallies of pro or con.

Much of this can be traced to Dumas reaching a new record at auction for a living woman artist: one of her works went for over three million. Then the floodgates tore open to that ever-present question for the woman artist: “the quality of the work.” People now wish to say why they like it or not, as if her price is justified by those standards.

I wonder if Francesco Clemente would face such remarks and controversy if his work hit a 3 million mark. Maybe indeed it already has. I use him as an example because he’s figurative and of the same generation. He has had his moments in the sun. Did anyone rag about “the quality of work” when he met success?

This reminds me of when Richard Polsky slagged Judy Chicago on my podcast, telling us how awful the work was. “She made history,” I offered, “That’s good enough for me.” He at least graciously admitted that much about her. But for some reason, even when a woman does that, we’re still trying to decide if we like her work or not.

Dumas has a love since childhood of drawing faces and figures. I too loved to draw faces and figures as a girl and did it for years. But it was, to a large degree, considered what girls draw, especially girls who like fashion or fairytales. In the case of Dumas, some have taken a dismissive view because she has painted her children. There must be nothing heavy about that. Strange too, because when men draw their kids or their women, dressed or undressed, this kind of debate just doesn’t come up. And that’s why I am “pro-Dumas” – not because I “like” the work (and I do), but because it doesn’t matter.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


My mate, who is not in the art world, gets a belly laugh by its language. He referred me to a repartee about some local work online and asked me: Just what the hell are they saying?

It’s not the first time he’s asked me about artspeak and generally I just can’t answer. So much of it requires a position I don’t care to defend. Still love art and images very much, still look for meaning. Just can’t always go down the path of the enlightened.

Of course I had to go down it in art jobs. I received some packages of really interesting images, things which made me curious. But the “statements” were almost offensive, as if I could not find my own way. Then again, is this about art or about words? If it’s about words, you lost me.

This is one thing I have treasured in my recent investigation on how to write. Books on how to write remind you time and time again that you must communicate. This was reassuring after years in mindfuck art wordage.

I heard about a critique panel in which one of the participants nearly brought the artist to tears. And no, not about the art. About the thesis, the writing of it, the language. When I heard this story, it made me want to wrap my arms around that faceless artist. No wonder there’s so much nonsensical hand wringing in artspeak. From what I understand, there was no loss of art works to discuss. The student had done their work. But now the work was all about the word and that’s not really the area of expertise for an art student. Or is it?

When my mate heard an artist tell me “This work is so new I don’t have the language for it,” he said: “Right, they haven’t figured out the line of BS yet.”

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Richard Schemmerer at Q Center

At the Q Center Richard Schemmerer and Chris Haberman exhibited Icons and Idols. Richard's collages feature chaotic cut and paste (what he refers to as a “green” method) with some good drawing. The subject matter covered here is some of our favorites, local and otherwise: Thomas Lauderdale, Sam Adams, Marlene Dietrich, Divine, Freddy Mercury, Andy, Keith Haring. There's a great portrait of Darcelle here. We had a fun interview.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Eric Franklin at Laura Russo

The Glass Art Society is having a conference in Portland and so many galleries are showing glass. I’ve been a fan of Eric Franklin from the first time I saw his work – maybe it was in that Young Artist Exhibition Laura Russo put on a few years back. Now he has a solo show up at Russo and we did a short interview.