Monday, November 21, 2011

lead pipe

postcard IV, 40 x 40, oil and graphite on polymered paper, © 2011 sioban lombardi

Yesterday I read an article that only reinforced my cultural and societal pessimism around contemporary culture. The article in the New York Times, A Career Provocateur described performance artist Marina Abramovic’s program for the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art’s (MOCA) fundraising gala. Before I delve into my concerns regarding the event, I want to address some just plain stupid things stated in the article.

Obviously, the article's author is not well versed in the canon of contemporary art, hence the article’s placement in the style section, I suppose. Statements describing Abramovic as “a woman whose provocative works have made her, somewhat unexpectedly at 64, a darling of the increasingly incestuous worlds of fashion, society and art” articulate the author’s ignorance of Abramovic’s prominence in cultural circles. Unexpectedly at 64 - really? Flip back to 1974 and the artist’s work Rhythm 0. It changed the perceived boundary between artist and viewer, it changed feminist art and, if you really paid attention, it revealed the way people are willing to treat each other when given the opportunity.

The article also states that Ms. Abramovic is the first performance artist to wear couture. The author should check in with Yoko Ono. Yes, she’s a performance artist and yes, she’s worn couture. I’m certain that there are many more. Fashion and the arts have long had a relationship. Consider Coco Chanel and Jean Cocteau, Paul Poiret and the Ballet Russes, Andy Warhol and everyone, and Julian Schnabel and pajamas. It was sculptor Jana Sterbak that first created a meat dress more than 20 years ago, Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic. I so wish we were willing to extend our scope beyond the dubious talents of Lady Gaga and those parasitic Kardashian sisters. Conversations would be so much more interesting.

Finally, there is the shock expressed that Ms. Abramovic attended rehearsals carrying a $1500. Givenchy handbag.  What is she supposed to carry, a burlap sack? I love fashion, and were I as successful as Ms. Abramovic, I too would carry a beautiful handbag. I would prefer an Hermes Birkin or perhaps some bespoke Italian job. The myth of the starving artist is ridiculous and threadbare. As I’ve said before the cultural economy is one of the few remaining areas of independent production in the United States. Artists deserve to be paid for their work. Unfortunately, the so-called artists we reward have pink hair, lip sync and rely on Auto-Tune. Pity, when there is so much thoughtful work actually being made.

Well, that is enough ranting about clothes and ignorance. Let’s discuss Caligula.

If you recall, the article is staged around the fundraising Gala for MOCA. The entire evening appears to have been spectacle. Live performers whose heads protruded from holes in table tops, naked performers draped in fake skeletons as table centerpieces, cakes crafted in the shape of the artist’s naked body, a performance by Debra Harry. Ms. Abramovic is quoted stating. “But this evening is not about fancy dress and who [sic] have enough money.” Frankly, that is all it was about. The star-studded gala raised $2.5 million for the California museum.

Meanwhile, near that state’s capital (and across the country) the proles were coping with the abuse that peaceful students suffered at the hands of campus police.

I would like to pass this off as an LA thing, but it’s not. Frankly some of the best painting in the country is coming out of Los Angeles. But as a society, we are no longer capable of experiencing a work of art on its own merit. It has to be seen or heard with the assistance of an audio tour, television reality show, hired performers and a full day of scheduled programming. Just look at how many museum-goers choose to experience a work of art through the viewfinder of their smart phone. Museums have to keep up with this dumbing down and it’s expensive. Please don’t forget to stop in the gift shop.

Some theorize that the excess, failure and eventual collapse of the Roman Empire was due to pipes and cookware lined with lead. I doubt there is a lead problem in the Los Angeles drinking water. But I wonder when cultural institutions such as MOCA decided that their need for money, status and power was so great that the overindulgence displayed at this gala could fly in the face of attacks on personal liberty and the economic catastrophe playing out across the United States and abroad.

Shame on these institutions and shame on the artists involved. Sorry David.

Next post: the no complicit museum.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

look homeward angel

I have a recurring dream in which I visit the house I grew up in. In my dream I am aware that the house has been abandoned. I am also aware of the weather. It is one of those bright, yet completely overcast days. There is no discernible temperature, neither hot nor cold. All of the doors and windows are wide open and the strong breeze causes the curtains to billow inside. Each time, I enter through the garage and progress through the laundry-room, kitchen and breakfast-room. In the den, my dog is sitting waiting for me. It is as though she has been waiting alone since I left this house, twenty-seven years ago. There the dream always ends.

In reality, I recently returned to my hometown for the first time in several years. I will be living here as an artist-in-residence for two weeks. The town is a wealthy suburb north of Chicago. My husband calls it Magic Town. The wealth has grown exponentially since I lived here. The town manages to be both manicured and wild. It smells good, the streets are lit with gas lamps, and the BP station still has full-service. This is the land of milk and honey, the land of the one percent.

I took advantage of a few free hours and drove down memory lane. Because I lived here from age twelve through twenty-two, I experienced many “firsts” here: my first boyfriend, my first cigarette, my first show and my first awareness that there was a big, nasty, gorgeous and painful world beyond these rarefied lanes.

I drove to my old college, whose demolition and residential re-development had been halted by the financial crisis. I didn’t realize that the old main building was still standing. At one time it appeared learned and grand. Now it’s a structural Miss Havisham, the haunted spinster waiting for the wedding that will never take place. This school is one of the lynchpins in my foundation as an artist. It broke my heart to see it sitting so forlorn, so I quickly moved on to the house my father built. While en route, I paused at the corner of Ridge and Old Mill, where I recalled barfing all over the dashboard only a few blocks from home (an ominous warning I failed to heed). But seeing the house lifted my spirits. It is obviously well cared for. I could not believe how giant the Maples had grown, showing off the season in full color.
It’s not strange that Thomas Wolfe named two of his most important works conversely: Look Homeward Angel and You Can’t Go Home Again. I agree that you can’t go home again. If you think you can, you probably never left. But you can look homeward. Yes, I am an artist who has very different sensibilities today. But once-upon-a-time, before I knew any better, I was a debutante and a sorority girl who hung out at the country club and drank too much. All of that is as much a part of me today as critical theory and oil paint are. I’m proud that I know which fork to use and that I will never wear white shoes after Labor Day.

If I had the means to live here, it's unlikely that I would. Frankly, the locals would proably be relieved! It took me so long and was such hard work to get to where I am. Yes, the wealth, beauty and comfort would be lovely, but that kind of paper could certainly afford a pretty nifty little place in France. Besides, I’m still trying to embrace a future that is uncertain and waiting for me. Just like Cleo always is in my dream.