Monday, July 15, 2013

June, She'll Change her Tune...with Pratt at Westbeth and Memories of Clem

"Sumer is acumen in,
Llude sing cuccu!"

The cuckoo was common in the 13th century when this "rota" was written,
but as I search for a picture, I see they're on the endangered list now!

They have the rude and perhaps self-defeating habit of laying their eggs in other birds' nests,
ones whose species are in decline, so that may play a role in the cuckoo-demise,
 along with changes in farming techniques, global warming, etc. etc.
More things in the going going gone.

Here's something not endangered:  big honking trucks.
This one almost took down the Brighton Beach Q/B train overpass!

Ooooops!  12 feet 6 inches, d'oh!
A friendly policeman magically appears on the scene seconds after the truck booms and scrapes into the bridge.  He clears traffic so the driver can back up the monster and take another
(hopefully bridgeless) route.

Here's a cheerful message on the street as I walk to the train:

And I do go far, all the way to Manhattan where I see this on the street
and entitle it, of course, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe."

My version, 2013, above, 
Magritte's version, 1928, below.
Which is more ironic?
Or iconic?

Speaking of icons, I also see the newly, finally completed "Freedom Tower"
- oh, wait, sorry, One World Trade Center - 
rising in the distance.
It's the highest building in the Western Hemisphere, 1776 feet (what else?), 
but that's including the 408-foot, cable-stayed spire, which seems like kind of a cheap shot to me.  

The Willis (Sears) Tower in Chicago is 1450 feet without antennae, 1730 feet with, and OWTC is only 1368 feet without the so-called "spire" (which looks a lot like an antenna, people!)  So how is that fair? 

Right now Dubai totally towers over the rest, and not to rest on their laurels, 
they're planning another one, 
the Nakheel, which will soar over a kilometer upwards!
I think they're reaching.

Not that I care about all this my-tower-is-bigger-than-your-tower phallic foolishness!

(The above pic of NYC was altered a bit:  the "real" sky looks pretty boring now
compared to the odd, spooky one done with the Photoshop background eraser tool!)

Back to business, I'm on my way to Westbeth Gallery where the second installment of
"Flameproof" is showing, featuring the work of students whose artwork was affected and/or destroyed
by the recent 6th floor Main Building fire on the Pratt's Brooklyn campus.  
I like this incarnation of the show more than the Gagosian-space one up on Madison Avenue!

Beautifully hung, this one. 
All the work seems to sing in this space.

From left, works by Daniel Barragan, Margaret Ragsdae and 
Athena Castillo's Tia Gloria

Many if not most of the artists in this exhibition were Pratt students of mine at one point or another.

Sally Novak
Melts in Your Mouth
acrylic on canvas 72” x 44”
acrylic, oil on canvas 72” x 44” (detail below)

If I no longer teach at Pratt (a possibility I'm still sad about)
I feel privileged to have gotten to know these students - I've always felt that my classes
were places to communicate, question, learn, explore, analyze, understand, grow -
 all of us to and from each other.

I've learned so much!  Thanks to you all!

Susan Luss
Strap; Swag; View 2
multi-media installation 

Some students have gone through a metamorphosis
since the fire, some have simply (or not so simply) taken off from where the fire left them.
But all the work is thoughtful, unique and evolved.  

Dennis Gunden
Ms. Dingo
oil on canvas 36" x 36"

The Westbeth Gallery, where this exhibition takes place, is part of a 13-floor (former Bell Labs) complex that originated in the late 60's, meant to give artists reasonably priced places to live and work, to give them a chance to stay in the city.
In the normal scenario, artist/pioneers find an edgy area where things are still cheap,
move in, renovate their lofts, tame the place to the point where the real estate developers
can move in and kick out the artists who can no longer afford the neighborhood. 

Margaret Ragsdale
 Muppet City 
         vinyl plastic, polar fleece, foam sealant 
52” x 54” x 18” 

Westbeth was supposed to be a place to live for a few years before "making it" and moving on,
but that's not exactly what happened.  Most of the population is now  over sixty, and the waiting list
was closed in 2007.

Jennifer Lee
Bread, Sunk Under the River
metal wire, fabric 36” x 36” x 6” 

Very few artists these days "make it" - either through private sales or gallery representation.
There is virtually no market for art apart from high-end Gagosian-esque
"investment" buying.

Madeline Mikolon
                                          Aster Divide (Flush With the Brink) oil on canvas
32” x 48”

Artists themselves have famously scorned the idea of the "over the couch" painting, i.e. artwork as mere decoration, something chosen to go with the color of the room.

Milo Wissig
oil on panel 7” x 5” 

Granted, artists aren't required to paint rosy-cheeked putti and giant Madonnas floating up into the sky  anymore, in fact, they can do whatever the under the sun and beyond
 they can come up with, but still, the prospect of receiving virtually no income from what you dedicate your life to is a daunting prospect.

Juliet Knuth
Post-Fire Sketches

This was something we would discuss every so often in my class, but no conclusions were drawn, 
no one said, well, I guess I'd better be a banker then.
Everyone pretty much wanted to get on with his/her various vision quests.

Ms. Dingo
First Down
oil on panel
23 1/2” x 15 1/2”

 Paintings by Rebecca Warlick, ceramic (Mictlantecuhtli) by Daniel Barragan

Personally, I think having real art in one's home, as compared to the prettified canvas-print from WalMart or Pier One, is a necessity of life.

Real art lends depth and resonance to the atmosphere,

is good for the feng shui of the room, and 

can be a rich source of meditation and soul-thought to the oft-returning viewer.
What's real art?  That's what you have to find out for yourself.
Developing an eye for art can be a life-long source of wonder.

More fun than a new car every two years.

I personally don't mind paintings over the couch.
Clement Greenberg, controversial critic and art-career-maker/destroyer always had a painting over his couch, and I don't think he thought of art as mere decoration.
A Morris Louis, a Kenneth Noland,
a Friedl Dzubas.  Oh, wait, the latter was on the wall behind his dining room table.

Friedel Dzubas, Found 1972 

I recently saw a show called "DNA:  Strands of Abstraction" at the Loretta Howard 
Gallery on W. 26th St. that featured a F. Dzubas painting in black and white, something
I'd never seen before.  I've always delighted in the clarity and substance of his color, which sometimes has a milkiness to it that makes it seem visually delicious.

The black and white piece seemed to be coming from a very different place in his mind, one less interested in the sensual impact of color and how it travels across a canvas...

Betrayal, 1960, O/C, 95" x 72"

 ...but more engaged in an exploration of mark-making for its own sake 
without the distractions of color.
 Below is a picture of him kindly supplied to me by the Loretta Howard Gallery
of Dzubas at work with his staining and stroking.

And here's Clem from a 1990 article in Vogue where he's sitting in front of the Dzubas
in his Central Park West apartment.
(Yes, Vogue! - in an article called "On Target" by Dodie Kazanjian.)
I loved this painting - it resonated through the entire room.

 It can now be seen at the Portland Art Museum,
which acquired the Clement Greenberg Collection after his death in 1994.

Upper left is Kenneth Noland's "Air Beauty" 1969, upper right is a nude
by Horatio Torres that always graced Clem's living room.
(Clem's daughter Sarah and wife Jenny are right center.)
He actually purported to be a great fan of figurative art, but felt that it didn't have center stage any more,
which is why he turned his attention to Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism.
He thought that Jules Olitski (lower right painting in above pic) had the future locked up with his sculptural, misted paintings that left every remaining bit of Renaissance deep space behind forever while aggressively projecting 
the picture plane into the room with the viewer, via the raised, textured surface.

So what do we think now?  
How many think...hmmm...Jules who?

At the time, in the early nineties when Clem made this claim, I thought, really?  
This is where things are going?  Isn't is, well, maybe a bit decorative?
And the art world I was seeing had shunted painting into an outer orbit - quiet textural meanderings
were not part of the urgent tear that art was on at that time.

But according to the linear logic of Greenbergian thought, his embrace of Olitski's work made sense.

For myself, I love, love, love the wild, inspirited painting of mid-century America, the Ab-Ex-ers, 
the Color-Fielders.  I understand the language; I grok its essence.

I got to know Clem well past that particular heyday, however.
 He came for one of the critics-look-at-work sessions in Gillian Jagger's Pratt symposium class - 
 I was her assistant and we took Clem for a drink afterwards at a bar on Myrtle Avenue,
and we struck up a friendship.
I would visit maybe once every month or two after that until he died.

I only wish I would have been blogging back then!  As it was, I took almost no pictures, 
and never wrote down anything about our chatty visits 
(mostly him chatting), which
is too bad because I remember very little about them now.
Except that he loved to talk about his family, about artists and art, his life and times...oh, I'm making myself sick here.  I blew it.
But I never wanted to feel like I was simply mining history when I visited him.
Although he would have understood, and no doubt preferred it if I had!

Sigh. Well, I do have a few memories, I'll have to dig them out sometime.
Also a few pics, I remember going there with my son Andrew once
and getting some pics then.  I'll have to dig them out, too.

I did get a pretty awesome set of drawings from 1994 when he was ill and 
I went up to his apartment on Central Park West to visit him for the last time, I believe.
That was when he asked if I'd prefer him to be nude.
I declined.  
Another mistake, no doubt. 

Clement Greenberg, nude with a catheter?

Clem with the New York Times.

I recall him saying once that you could 
either read the New York Times or write
for the New York Times.
Not both.

See, a bit more digging and I'll have a book!

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