John Canaday, for those of you too young to remember, used to be senior art critic on the New York Times, and hence, some felt, the most powerful art critic in the country. I remember a Sunday column of his about a woman in the art department of Appalachian State University who had put together an exhibition so fine that he praised it unstintingly. This was particularly impressive to a New Yorker because at the time the very name of the university conjured up an isolated pocket of insularity where it was hardly expected art would be taught, let alone exhibited—and abstract art at that. Canaday’s Appalachian connection appeared again at College Art, as we saw him on the panel, “Recurring Regionalism: The Southern Rim.” The title came from an earlier conference of the same name.
Because the Caucus for Marxism and Art had been granted a very brief time slot, only three artists were scheduled to speak, each to discuss her/his work in the context of social change. Martha Rosler noted in her introduction that each of them dealt with violence—physical or social. Later she addressed the need of political artists to gain control of language, to move away from the media definition of “violence.”
Since the original title of this panel was “Museums and the Reality Principle,” the artist-listener might have expected an adrenal in-rousing discourse on exhibition politics, how artists are chosen or ignored, the manipulations of trustees, the perfidy of curators and their lovers, etc. Instead, the Reality Principle at issue quite reasonably concerned the costs of running a museum, the problems of attracting a broad public, and how, having done so, not to go broke being popular. Hilton Kramer described the task of a museum over the past thirty years as changed, from an agency showing classics of modern art to an institution whose function is also to introduce new and emerging artists and movements.
“Folk Art and Neo-Folk Art” was both exhilarating and illuminating. Panelists touched on important points of original research, while much new territory was explored. However, a cloud of doubt may still linger as to where and when folk art and naïveté give way to professionalism. Betty MacDowell and Rachel Maines asserted that training is the key, but their fellow panelists freely interspersed untrained artists’ work without distinctions. One was left to make one’s own deductions.
In academic art history, the single-author, single-subject monograph—an extended study on an individual artist, a group of artists, or a chronological or geographic range—is typically considered the pinnacle of scholarly achievement. A parallel to it in the hierarchy of subject matter in Western art would be history painting, a large work that addresses a biblical, historical, or mythological subject. To continue the analogy, a coauthored or edited book is comparable to a portrait, and an essay in a book is a genre scene. The article published in a peer-reviewed journal would be the landscape. The lowest form is the book review—the still life of academic writing.
How do you deal with sexism in the music industry, personally and professionally? This question from Liz Deichmann, operations and event coordinator at the Luminary, came halfway through the panel “Women in Music.” April Fulstone, known professionally as DJ Agile One, said that her experiences spinning records for fifteen years, specializing for a while in hip hop, have been plagued by “unintentional” sexism, such as comments about her ability to transport two Technics 1200 turntables, which weigh fifty pounds each with a case, by herself. At one venue, an older man was impressed that she was able to set up her equipment on her own.
I think the best thing A.I.R. [Gallery] could do would be to have men. I hope there won’t be any more women’s panels and I hope this is the last one I’m on. You get what you want in this world by surprise, by doing the unexpected. They expect us to continue the way we are…. I don’t think feminism is the real world any more. The point was to get women artists taken seriously. Women still aren’t as equal as men, but I don’t think women’s galleries are helpful any more. I don’t think it helps to be in A.I.R.
Olivier Mosset was in town for the opening of his exhibition at Parapet/Real Humans, a project space run by Amy Granat in a storefront in the Fox Park neighborhood of Saint Louis. On view was a framed set of four lithographs of two thick black stripes on a square of white paper. The set, it turns out, was made for a Swiss Institute benefit in 2004. Granat said the work reminded her of September 11—I suppose any two vertical lines will do that. The artist compared them to an optometrist’s vision test. As someone who can’t see six inches past his nose without glasses or contacts (and who never skips his annual eye-doctor visit), that made more sense.
Though the outrageous antics of Jim Jones and Charles Manson reverberate through the American public consciousness, a broad history of less-sensational activities from the 1960s and 1970s probably had a larger if surreptitious impact on US culture. Encounter groups, the human potential movement, large-group awareness training: these cultic approaches to self-actualization came shortly after mind expansion through psychedelic drugs in the sixties and just before business motivational seminars and self-help gurus of the eighties (followed by the deliriums of late-night religious programming and inspirational infomercials). Today, soccer moms practice yoga and mindfulness is all the rage, but once upon a time, New Age ideas were a serious threat to mainstream Judeo-Christian values. The objectors were partly correct, but I digress.
“Language is forced on art,” quipped the artist Rachel Harrison to an audience member during the Q&A session of this event. “We’re just throwing words at art all the time. Is that really best for art? Is that really good for art? Does that make art happy? It might. It employs a lot of people.” Such is Harrison’s self-consciously funny and cynicism-free outlook for giving titles to her works. That outlook is also a good way to understand her art practice over the last twenty years. I lost track of how many times I chuckled to myself during this hour-long talk.
IN TERMS OF
Reviews of lectures, panels, interviews, conferences, and other live speaking engagements in the visual arts.