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 http://www.melbochner.net/) 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...

1 comment:

brilliant said...

i was enjoying reading this until i suddenly threw up on the ringing cell phone next to me, then i couldn't stop coughing...seriously though it sounds like a rockin good time. in hindsight you should have stood up and taken the "call" from your phone and been like "YOU'LL NEVER GUESS WHERE I AM, I'M IN MARFA, THAT'S RIGHT MARFA,AND THEY'RE TALKING ABOUT DONALD JUDD, YEAH THE CUBE GUY, I GOTTA GO THOUGH ROBERTA SMITH FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES IS SPEAKING, MMKAY BYE."