Saturday, May 31, 2008

New Project

I won't discuss the details yet, as that will ruin it, but I am happy to be starting a new project. Oddly enough, I am returning to an idea I made a prototype of when I was a junior in the Sculpture department at VCU. That means I've supposedly had nineteen years to work out the kinks. With my luck, the project will turn out to be just as incomprehensible as it was the first time around. On the other hand, I don't believe artists ever become "better" artists over time. I think we become more informed, more "sensitized" to technique and historical precedent, and more prone to experiencing what I recently saw referred to (in a non-art context) as "options overload". These options can be debilitating.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Tenure and Promotion

On Friday I received the official letter informing me of my tenure and promotion to Associate Professor. It has been a long and difficult journey to this point.
I'm supposed to celebrate, but I'm just too exhausted from the semester.

Monday, May 19, 2008


From J.M. Coetzee's novel, Disgrace:

He earns his living at the Cape Technical University, formerly Cape Town University College. Once a professor of modern languages, he has been, since Classics and Modern Languages were closed down as part of the great rationalization, adjunct professor of communications. Like all rationalized personnel, he is allowed to offer one special-field course a year, irrespective of enrolment, because that is good for morale. This year he is offering a course in the Romantic poets. For the rest he teaches Communications 101, 'Communication Skills', and Communications 201, 'Advanced Communication Skills'.
Although he devotes hours of each day to his new discipline, he finds its first premise, as enunciated in the Communications 101 handbook, preposterous: 'Human society has created language in order that we may communicate our thoughts, feelings and intentions to each other.' His own opinion, which he does not air, is that the origins of speech lie in song, and the origins of song in the need to fill out with sound the overlarge and rather empty human soul.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Fiction in Art

So, in thinking about the ubiquity of the idea that art must be confessional or autobiographical to qualify as art, I was reminded of Salman Rushdie's lecture at SJSU about six months ago.
He started his talk out by saying, "people suspect that a writer's work is autobiography in disguise." He proceeded to use Vladimir Nabokov as an example: he wrote Lolita, but he was not in fact a pedophile! Rushdie pointed out that knowing Nabokov's biography did not deepen his understanding of Nabokov's work at all. The "gap between public life and private life" has diminished, resulting in the contemporary assumption that there is no fiction, only confession.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Some Notes from Marfa

John Waters' poster extolling the wonders of Marfa, Texas.

We're back from Marfa. I definitely know more about Donald Judd than I did before. The trip was great overall, with the exception of a few instances of mild to extreme stupidity, shame or embarrassment.

The mild cases were as follows:
1) Bruce spilled Coke into the seat next to him on the plane
2) I got a bad paper cut from the US Airways magazine

The extreme cases were as follows:
1) I threw up on the flight from Phoenix to El Paso due to extreme turbulence
2) I almost walked into one of Judd's aluminum pieces after we were told to give them a wide berth, because I was looking at something else through the viewfinder of my camera.
3) My iPhone had a random alarm set from some time in the distant past, and it decided to go off during Roberta Smith's keynote address at the symposium. Panicked, I pressed every possible button to make it stop, and it would not, so I stumbled past two seated people to bring the phone outside. I was shunned by all but a few symposium attendees after that. I thought the phone was turned off (also, the ringer was set on vibrate!) but I have since learned that the iPhone has two levels of "off" and it wasn't really off. I can never again hear the "marimba" ring on an iPhone without feeling a lurch in my stomach.
4) Once I finally mustered the courage to return into the lecture hall, I had a severe coughing fit and had to run out again, during the next speaker's talk. I decided to stay away from the symposium for the last presentation of the day.
5) I threw up on the flight from El Paso to Phoenix.

Me and Bruce in front of the Marfa Prada store. It's an art piece by the Danish/ Norwegian artist duo, Elmgren and Dragset. Actually, it's not even in Marfa. It's on the way to Marfa. We slammed on the brakes at the same time as another couple of surprised drivers-- they took the picture for us.

One of Elmgren and Dragset's photos of Prada Marfa. Photo by James Evans.

Me and Donald Judd's mill aluminum pieces at the Chinati Foundation.

One of Donald Judd's big concrete things.

The wall surrounding Donald Judd's house, with adobe bricks eroding far past the mortar.

So, on to my notes from the symposium. I will distill them down to a few things that were particularly relevant to my own philosophy of art-making or art-teaching.

Mel Bochner
Mel Bochner's (also talk was excellent. He pointed out that art writing in the 50s and 60s was "uniformly bland" except for Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried. Donald Judd took the stance, "Why let the critics speak for you when you're perfectly capable of speaking for yourself?" Bochner said, "I'll leave it to others to discuss" why so many contemporary artists are willing to let others speak for them.
Judd said, "I wrote criticism as a mercenary and would never have had it otherwise."
Bochner continued, "Judd wrote to get out of the studio and into the trenches... writing about art forces you to see shows you would otherwise miss and consider artists whose work you would otherwise skip." He explained that writing about others' work helps you define your thinking. "Judd's paintings from 1950 were "old-fashioned, derived from Cubism but not in a very smart way. By 1959, a newfound interest in flatness and materiality appears in the paintings. This appears at the exact moment that Judd starts writing reviews for Arts Magazine... The work slowly cools down under the combined influences of Barnett Newman, Frank Stella and Yves Klein."
Eventually, Bochner said, Judd found his own voice in 3D paintings such as the red "Untitled" piece (picture not easily available.)

"Judd wrote with the immediacy of a war correspondent," and made it clear that the artists he wrote about made work that was "worth arguing about." He had a "deceptively casual tone, (as opposed to the usual bombast)-- his voice came across as an indicator of the obviousness of his claims, which were by no means common."
He continued, saying that if Donald Judd's essay, "Specific Objects," was a manifesto, it was "reticent for a manifesto, making its claims in oddly general terms."
"Specific Objects," (1965) begins: "Half or more of the best new work in the last few years has been neither painting nor sculpture. Usually it has been related, closely or distantly, to one or the other."

Bochner eventually moved on to talk about the importance of "things as a whole" to Judd, citing his comparison of Brunelleschi's Badia di Fiesole to Alberti's Palazzo Rucellai. Judd' opinion was that Alberti's building is the lesser of the two because its important relationships occur within the parts (windows, etc) rather than within the whole (ratios and proportions.)

Bochner then pointed out that Judd posed the same problem for artists of his generation as Picasso had for artists of his own: "you had to either go over, around, or through him." Some artists responded to Judd's emphasis on "wholeness" by exploring fragmentation and process art, as a rejection of "specific objects".

David Raskin
David Raskin made interesting points but they were less salient to my own concerns.

Richard Ford
Richard Ford gave a fascinating and entertaining talk about Donald Judd's writing, from a writer's point of view. I will elaborate later, but here are the most important points for now:
"There's a big difference between thinking about someone else's work and thinking about it so that others can understand it."
"A practitioner can always make a philosopher nervous."
Quotes Judd as saying "No-one but a working artist should teach art. Otherwise it's like a non-plumber teaching plumbing."

Roberta Smith
Roberta Smith: "Artists don't own the meaning of their artwork. They have a say in it, but they don't own it."

Richard Shiff
Richard Shiff: "Judd's work is about our (the viewer's) perception, not about psychoanalyzing the artist."

Alan Antliff
Alan Antliff: talked about Donald Judd as an anarchist, and the anarchist imperative "to stop being represented and represent oneself."
He said that Judd called art that was critical of other art "parasitic". Artists should replace the flawed art with better art.
In reference to Judd's often-expressed concerns about the life of a piece of artwork once it leaves the artist's control, Antliff said, "It's a tricky path once the art leaves the studio. The way Judd dealt with this was to take control, to write about his own work."

Notes from the Panel Discussion
Bochner: Judd's definition of specificity: don't make your work around generalities-- make it around things you know from your own experience.
Both Judd and DeKooning set a definition of style that was a huge hurdle, causing many artists to fall on their face. Another example of this kind of stylistic hurdle was Philip Guston. A number of bad artists came out of Philip Guston, but they were not Guston's fault. To make Guston's work required an understanding that couldn't be bypassed by merely imitating his "look".
Ford: Judd was more interested in the art of criticism than in the criticism of art. Much of his writing was for effect, it was not always "truthful".

More soon...