November 11, 2003

Notes from Houston

A visit with Sharon and Aaron is a constant flow of communication, conversations that are heady, deep, wide ranging, inflected with humor... Suffice it to say that this is a visit to a fraternal well where the water is muy fresca. We drank lustily till our bellies were happily swollen.

The original plan for the trip was to sit in on a conference arranged by the Fellows of the Glassel School. The topic was something about criticism, curation and the artworld (or some such thing) and the participants were Tom Lawson, Annika Marie and Michelle Grabner (among others). Over time, the organizers thought that it was best to close the conference to the wider public and we kept our plans to visit Houston since a visit with Aaron and Sharon would kick the ass of any conference in terms of content anyway.

Too much was said to summarize, but I can try to recall the shape of certain themes that emerged over the weekend:

1. This Leviathan of our global artworld, the sprawling beast it is. I was in the middle of reading the current ArtForum (a rarity, unfortunately) an this expresses the idea neatly, from Francesco Bonami in ?Global Tendencies?, p.155:

?I feel very close to the idea of the bigness that Rem Koolhaas applies to architecture: A building is not a building anymore but something else, with a plurality of functions. Similarly, an exhibition, when taken to a certain scale, is no longer an exhibition but a plurality of visions. When, in the New York Times? Michael Kimmelman pines for a reduced Venice Bienalle of a dozen or even a few dozen artists, he is dreaming of a museum show-which isn?t what Bienalles and Documentas are about.?

2. The assumption of the current geist that the art system is everything... the subject and media of all relevent artmaking. I think this was pegged by Schimmel?s LAMOCA show ?Public Offerings? where one of the writers for the catalog, Katie Siegal echoed Dave Hickey in the observation that the Oedipal turn is over and now Saturn is eating his children.

3. The wide recognition of the increasingly manic career chasing upward mobility of the younger generation (artworld or no) and what this does to content. An example: The popularity of young artist-run galleries by recent graduates of the art schools in Chicago is so great that there is a dearth of art material to be found in the studios, in or out of school.

Add to this, the phenomena that there is precious little to read in the art magazines anymore. The big question is: where?s the dialog? At least, that is what we were dialogin?. Certainly, the dialog is healthy at the small, one to one scales. Where is the dialog at the other, bigger scales... or better: between the big and small scales?

4. I finally met Lane Relyea and his wife Annika Marie, both writers. We had a very short time to talk, but I look forward to more later. If you?ve been keeping up on this blog, I enthused over his essay published recently in X-Tra magazine, September 18th (a ?zine more than a mag).

Here?s Lane writing about Frank O?Hara and the gang at the Cedar Bar in ?15 PARAGRAPHS ON THE ART OF HANGING OUT AND MAKING THE SCENE?:
?But on a basic level their attraction to speech must surely have had something to do with the fact that this was the first time in their lives, and in the life of the visual arts in America, that a tight and robust artistic community existed, one that was bound and sustained precisely by the artists talking to one another.?

5. Scale. That?s the difference between the times of artists swiggin beer in New York (or Montmartre or communities in between) and today. Modernity dilates life and everything has swelled in scale over the years. Stephanie and I were in New York on the occasion of fashion?s market week. Stephanie was talking to her pals and the idea of how much the fashion world has changed in the past fifteen to twenty years: no longer a few merchants, manufacturers, and salespeople... now the field is huge and the competition is enormous. This is the same everywhere. But is this bad or is this just different?

The problem should not be about innocence lost because too much nostalgia is unacceptable, a renunciation of life. The question is about human scale. The art dialog in the global scale of international art magazines, art fairs and institutions is similar to urban human interaction in the scales of the modern city, dilated by the influence of technological prothesis such as the automobile. Like the loss of human scaled urban centers, or the inability today to build these anew... there is a legitimate desire to build the artworld equivalent of a pedestrian community without succumbing to artifice. The underlying consensus in our conversations that weekend is that the artworld dialog is weak at this level.

6. Open sets and closed sets. Making art with the open set is an age old tradition. Rosalind Krauss?s Sculpture in the Expanded Field sets the argument for something that?s been going on back to Jarry?s pistol shots in the bars of Paris. Eric Swenson?s sculpture is a good example. He is open to any new technique and approach with each new project, and he prefers it that way. But as he said in his recent talk, he soon finds himself wrestling with the limitations of reality as the the project progresses.. and he is keen to find the good things that come of it. Closed sets prevail, even when the artist seeks the open one.

I like painting because of the closed set of it all. So, I had better get to it. It?s time to close the set of these Houston notes.

Posted by Dennis at November 11, 2003 3:43 PM

Leave a comment