Archive for July, 2013

The Art of Thinking About Art

July 28, 2013

I went to Brooklyn to visit my mom, and, for a change, to see a couple of art exhibits. Whenever I drive, ever since the year I had to drive to Brooklyn every other weekend to see my father at the V.A. hospital, I listen to an audio book. It has saved me.

For this trip I was listening to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Image

I’d read it when I was in my 20’s. I remember that it was important to me then, but I did not remember anything specific about it. I just felt like I wanted to visit it again. At first it seemed like a bad choice. It sounded a little dated, and preachy. But eventually I found myself taking in every word, and I am glad this is the book I’ll have accompanying me on car trips for a while longer.

The first exhibit I planned to see was the James Turell show at the Guggenheim. Usually when I see a show, I just arrive. But for this one there had been a lot of hype, a lot of press, and  big crowds. I bought a ticket in advance, for around $24.00.

I walked in (my advance ticket really helped. I hardly had to wait at all) and looked up at the skylight. I saw the colored spiral that had been posted all over facebook.Image

It did not look like this picture. It looked a little washed out, like a hazy day at the beach.
The best part of the exhibit was a room of aquatints based on his light beams. They were beautiful, mesmerizing, elegant. Before I left the Guggenheim I looked up again. Now the color was sort of an almost white with a touch of peach.

I am so grateful that a friend told me about the Ken Price show at the Met. I was not very familiar with his work, but knew I liked it enough to go to the Met to have a deeper experience. I paid $1.00 to get in. The work was smart, beautiful, labor intensive yet simple, and it was so personal.

I thought hard about why I liked the Price show so much, and had been so unmoved by Turrell. I know it had a lot to do with what I KNEW about Turrell, or thought I knew. I am an artist who likes to see only a small degree of separation between the artist and the art. I deeply admire Sol Lewitt, which might seem a contradiction, because he is responsible for artworks he never touched. And there will be new pieces of his, even though he is not alive. But to me, the hand of Lewitt is in all of his work.

Anyway, this isn’t about Lewitt. This is about me, trying to understand my reaction to an art event that is far more complex, more bold, more complex than anything I could ever conceive.

But I never believed Turrell had much to do with it. I felt like he had an idea, he found people to make the idea into something solid. That is not nothing. But it is a cold way to be creative. This reenforces the subjective nature of looking at art. I know Turrell is Good. But the exhibit did not move me, and so I was disappointed and critical. With Ken Price, his hand, his humanity were everywhere. It made all the difference. That, and the fact of the work being so beautifully executed. There was humor, craft, skill, beauty, and there was Ken Price. I was in awe. I was not awed by Turrell in the same way. I was in awe of his ego, of his capacity to have people turn their buildings and spaces upside down with little support from him. But I am unmoved by his creation, or, at least,  what I saw at the Guggenheim.

UnhingedFrontWallThe above image is from the last show I saw on Friday. It is called Unhinged, and it was at Pierogi, in Brooklyn. I have work in this show, which you can sort of see. There are two drawings that are circles with red ink. This exhibit made me so happy. Not only because I have work in it, but because it is a heroic sampling of art from the vast collection within their flat files. There were rooms with drawings in every style you could imagine. The hand of each artist was clear and present and so was the eye of the staff, who must have gone a little crazy hanging all these pieces.

I have more to understand about why I like what I like and do not like what I don’t like. For now I’m glad I made it to two shows that were so inspiring. I would be happy to hear from people why they disagree with me. But, I know my mind is made up. It is not very Zen. Neither am I.