Thursday, June 25, 2009

Reassessing Rebus

Although initially considered for purchase when first completed in 1955, the Museum of Modern Art finally acquired Robert Rauschenberg’s exemplary combine, Rebus, in 1995. The vast work, constructed from three panels and spanning more than 11 feet, constitutes Rauschenberg's seemingly innate ability to amalgamate assemblage, collage, painting, drawing, sculpture and calligraphy into works that continue to address the traditional notions of those mediums, while remaining aesthetically stunning and visually thought provoking.

The work gathers its name from the Latin for a puzzle of images and words. It is through assemblage that the linguistic aspect of art began to assert its significance. Reading this work is as essential as seeing the work. Indeed, the title also references the use of a pictogram to represent a syllabic sound.

Initially Rauschenberg’s talent for incorporating both the found detritus of high and low culture was shocking. In Rebus we absorb a reproduction of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus applied to the canvas next to comic strips, news print athletes, pieces of fabric and part of a tabloid sized poster, that run horizontally across all three canvases. The imagery is propped up by a full spectrum of paint sample color chips, and expressive, gestural applications of paint. In addition the work is marked by the type of écriture evidenced in the work of Cy Twombly, and visible in the adjacent Leda and the Swan, 1962

Mounted on the wall, Rebus exists in the object space somewhere between painting and sculpture, a space that Rauschenberg persistently and successfully questioned during this period.

Rauschenberg once said that Rebus was intended to be "a record of the immediate environment and time”. Now, nearly a year after his death, and a half-century after its completion, one is able to absorb this combine’s content at some critical distance. The images found within the combine are not particularly relevant to current culture. Rebus’ material content now seems to reference those formal components that have historically defined art: image, color, material and surface. What Rebus will continue to imply is that significant art demonstrates a trajectory that pays homage to its history, reflects its culture and pushes its way into the future.

Monday, June 22, 2009


So, at the age of 48, you leave everything you love behind, move to New York to attend Graduate School, and everything changes.

My husband and I have managed to see each other, either in New York or Chicago, approximately every six weeks. The separation is difficult. Much of the time, you have only your secret language to rely on. The aspects of someone’s physical presence that you miss are surprising: their sounds, their smell, and their routine. When you do see each other, there are things to be relearned – that you are two again.

Mat was here last weekend. He had the opportunity to attend my art criticism seminar Friday morning. We went for a walk in Central Park, stopped on the Upper West Side for a snack, and then came home to Brooklyn for dinner. Saturday morning, it was Chelsea for breakfast and stops at a few galleries. We planned to go to the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island, but it has been raining non-stop, and we opted out of that. Instead, we stayed in, in my small room, watched bad movies on cable, ate candy and took a nap. It was as though I was 23 again and we were new.

It is an amazing gift to have someone in your life that you get to be totally naked with: physically, emotionally, and intellectually. All that is New York pales in comparison to the familiarity of last Saturday afternoon. And it is enough to carry me through until July.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Imaginary Enemy at Mike Weiss

Imaginary Enemy at Mike Weiss, exhibits the recent sculptural work of Chinese artist Liao Yibai. The works are laboriously executed in hand-hammered stainless steel and blend imagery gleaned from traditional Chinese myth with Yibai’s perceived manifestation of the cultural icons that define the United States. Yibai’s premise seeks to replace cultural preconceptions with actual experience and humor. This is the artist’s first exhibition in New York. Astonishingly, all of the work, many realized in editions of three, was completed in 2009.

Central to Yibai's dialogue is his biography, having been reared, during the Cold War, on a secret bomb and chemical weapons manufacturing site, isolated from the world at large. Yibai developed his iconography of the United States from the Maoist propaganda consistently fed him defined it as an evil and competitive adversary.

The fulmination of this ideology is revealed in Chairman Mao's Map, a vast relief map of the United States that identifies geographic landmarks with specific emblems, including Mickey Mouse, the Empire State Building, rocket ships, an ear of corn and a football. Adjacent to and gazing on the map is the constant reminder, the ever-present contour and shadow of Chairman Mao. Other states such as New York, California and Texas, were deemed so significant in the artist’s conscious as to merit their own maps, each with their own emblems. Throughout the exhibition, Yibai’s lexicon of imagined emblems are revealed to include satellites, aircraft carriers and cheeseburgers.

Chinese myth is recalled and illustrated by a turtle carrying loud speakers on his back. In Propaganda Machine, the turtle, symbolic of longevity, patience and ultimately China itself, recalls a truck that repetitively drove through the weapons compound broadcasting Communist Party propaganda.

Indeed, China itself, does not escape Yibai’s witty inspection. An oversized recreation of a rubber stamp, Party Stamp, designates the ability of this simple marking device, and the necessity of its “Top Secret “ designation, to smuggle a cheeseburger, another Maoist symbol of American capitalist evil, into China.

While Yibai uses humor to communicate the ironic, cultural misconceptions that underscored his youth, a U.S. citizen might be more circumspect. What seems most important, and somewhat chilling, is the fact almost every other culture on earth, including those of Europe, the Mideast, South America and the rest of Asia, have developed the same icons as symbols of American society. They have done so without aid of the isolation in indoctrination of Yibai’s childhood. The American audience might be more mindful of the quality rather than quantity of our exports.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


In response to one of my recent like and dislike lists, a number of people have asked me why I don’t like Marketing. There are several reasons: 1) it creates desire for something that isn’t wanted or needed, and probably cannot be afforded, 2) It coerces that desire by promising those intangibles that cannot truthfully be obtained from the particular product, and 3) it co-opts other platforms to create new markets; i.e. multiculturalism, individuality, spirituality, etc. (more later on post-modernism as a symptom of late capitalism). Think of some of the terms commonly associated with Marketing - target audience, branding, guerilla, and strategy – all equally at home in warfare.

Other words that I equate with marketing include lifestyle, authentic, concept, solution, cohesion and impact. Impact is a good one. I often think of the man that was trampled to death in a Wal-Mart last year for the want of a discounted flat-screen television. I have come to see marketing as an attack on my own sensibilities, and an intrusion on my personal life.

I too have believed that I can be a particular something if I just have that particular thing. Eventually, you have too many of those things and are just as confused about who you are as when you started. Each day I ask myself, what do I want? What do I need? At this moment, with the exception of my husband’s physical presence (and after twenty years, it is a need right now), a new stick of deodorant, some gesso, and some canvas, I have what I need. As to what I want, that remains a challenge that requires consistent reflection.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

there is evil

I have heard recent news commentary that Dick Cheney's approval rating has risen from 19% to somewhere in the mid-thirties. I just want to remind people of who we are talking about.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Gary Hume at Matthew Marks

Gary Hume: Yardwork is the eighth exhibition of the artist’s work at Matthew Marks. Hume, frequently identified with the Young British Artists (YBAs) and Britain’s entry for the 1999 Venice Biennale, continues to create large, non-narrative enamel on aluminum paintings that depict his usual and customary subjects: women, birds, doors and flowers. In the past, Hume incorporated appropriated imagery. In the 13 paintings exhibited here, all created in 2008 and 2009, the majority of his imagery is gleaned from his farm in upstate New York.

The works demonstrate a notable contrast between pastoral and interior subject matter and their execution in decidedly urban colors and industrial materials. Another contrast, Hume creates quiet, sometimes mysterious paintings with surfaces as hard and real as a new car. Hume is most successful when his subjects cannot be immediately identified. Both Bird with a Pink Beak, and Perch can be viewed as entirely abstract paintings when first encountered, the organic shapes reminiscent of Joan Miro’s works from the early 1960’s including Bleu II and Hands Catching a Bird.

When Hume veers towards the traditionally representational, as in Two Roses, his paintings border on the merely decorative. This occurs among paintings sharing the same subject matter. Four Ponytails, has entirely abstract sensibilities enhanced by the use of industrial blue-grey, yellow and black. In contrast, works such as Red Ponytail, the subject is immediately recognizable, and in this context, far less interesting.

Finally, two works from which the show appears to have signaled its impetus and title, Tan Barn Door, and Red Barn Door, are striking in their simplicity, while paying homage to Hume’s early industrial and hospital doors exhibited in 1988 at Frieze, the Goldsmith’s show that marked the entrée of Hume and the YBA’s into the art world. Indeed, Hume’s relocation to a farm in upstate New York may reveal the show’s undercurrent. While individual works may not always be successful, interest in this show lies in Hume’s continued attempt to marry sometimes-opposing images, colors and materials; and reflect the investigation of the artist’s practice and craft, devoid of earlier more sensational notoriety.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Practice List 6.10.2009

A great quote:

“ I have to be honest, I have to bring bad news. The bad news is that I believe that an artist is an artist because he chooses not to tamper with reality; he chooses not to better reality. The creative mind comes at a price, so ultimately, an artist makes an ethical choice - he deals not so much with the world of ideas, but with the world of forms. And the world of forms does not make deals.”

- Francesco Clemente

Listening to:

Grizzly Bear - All

Build, Build

Four Concepts, Banana Twins

All titles, Mat Lombardi

Spiegel im Spiegel I, Arvo Pert

Spiegel im Spiegel 3, Arvo Pert

Ravi Shankar


The Poetry of Emily Dickinson

Daybook, Anne Truitt



The Empire Diner

Printed Matter, Artist’s Book Store

Brush Flush

Matt and Jason

The “A” train

the Empire Diner’s coffee

not having a car

My art criticism class

cowboy boots (still)

fresh milk

teddy bears

good water pressure in the shower


President Obama

La Marseillaise

blue writing paper

manila envelopes




Arcade Fire

New York rain

cheap umbrellas

Kanye West

anything related to the financial markets

that people are eating dirt in Haiti

Not having a car

paper cuts


the nagging pain in my right thumb and wrist

Monday, June 8, 2009


Saturday was a human day.

Friday was an art day, complete with visits to seven galleries, lunch in Chelsea with a sculptor, returning home to work in the studio for five hours. It was cold, rainy, windy and much of the art unrewarding. I blew through two umbrellas.

And Saturday was human. It began with a wakeup call, followed by coffee with my husband while watching the D-Day commemoration ceremonies. Of course we are 800 miles apart, and it was on the phone, but such is our Saturday routine. Then a long, long shower; a trip to the Farmer’s Market; reading in the sun on the lawn behind the library; and then a cook-out with new friends unrelated to art, where we talked about families, the news, the weather and donuts.

Although they wear the veil of inaccuracy displacement brings, I have come to count on rituals and routines such as grocery shopping and folding laundry to remind me of who I am in the world. Though I am a painter, it is the routine and sometimes mundane that centers my experience and ultimately informs the work I make.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Sometime in the next two weeks, I am going to begin work on a painting that is 8’ wide and 5.75’ high. The subject matter will be based the story of the loaves and fishes. There may be a piece of meat, a pastry or a bird thrown in for good measure. I have never worked on a painting this large before, and the task seems daunting. Due to the scale of the painting, there will be much preliminary work: sketches and photographs, not to mention the preparation of the surface itself.

Because I have been interested in multiples and repetition, working the work will be, at times, tedious. I am reminded of a story I heard this last winter:

A conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has dedicated the last twenty years to the restoration of a single mediaeval tapestry. During this entire period, she has been able to work in only one-foot increments at a time. Until the recently completion of the restoration, she has seen the tapestry in entirety only once.

What an extraordinary example of patience, dedication, trust and surrender. My completed works never exactly reflect my original intention. I run into trouble and work and re-work a painting when I apply a death grip to my desired results. Because I have grown more confident in my instinct and practiced in my ability, I am more comfortable not completely knowing the final outcome of the work. I will continue to reflect on the conservator as I make my long journey through this painting, knowing that, in the end, everything I do is just practice.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Take Care of Yourself

Sophie Calle’s Take Care of Yourself was first exhibited at the 2007 Venice Biennale. The exhibition at Paula Cooper in Chelsea is the installation’s U.S. debut. The title is taken from the last line of a “break-up” email Calle received from a former lover, and the content addresses her inability to respond to the email. The body of work is constructed from 107 interpretations of the email. The invited interpreters are all women whose careers range from notable artists, authors, and performers, to those less publicly known including scholars, lawyers and scientists. Each interpretation is exhibited, either in text, pictorial analysis or video, and is accompanied by a photographed portrait of the interpreter.

Calle’s work consistently addresses intimacy, relationships, gender and identity and this exhibition is no exception. In addition, the notions of confidentiality; public vs. private experience; and the increasing inability of today’s society to cope with human experience are also brought into question. In the face of loss, Calle assembles her tribe to share the experience, acknowledge the loss and assess the situation.

One may interpret the dissemination of the email as a violation of the author’s privacy, yet despite guarantees of confidentiality, anything disseminated via electronic media is susceptible to examination at some time. In fact, it is electronic media’s ability to transmit such documents verbatim that communicate the actuality of the author’s intention and thus negate Calle’s ability to mediate the interpretations through a pitched verbal description of the dissolution.

At first blush, one is lured into the belief that they can more successfully apprehend the performative interpretations through the perfectly realized composite video wall. The subtleties of the textual interpretations seem lost if the viewer speaks any language other than French. It is as though one is reading a book jacket while being denied access to the pages and that the number of interpreters matters more than the content they provide. The experience is no different when one attempts to translate the encoded scientific diagrams and schematics. The video components too are actually sparse in the meaning they disclose. Laurie Anderson’s contribution provides neither visual nor verbal narrative, and Jeanne Moreau’s is so studded with evocative pauses and saturated with iconic persona, that meaning is withheld. Here, the notions of apprehension and quantity are actually Calle’s examination of identity. What this body of work so subtly conveys is that ultimately, despite the scale, sympathy and variety of one’s council, loss is rarely understood or mediated and remains a solitary and personal experience.