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.
What do artists want from critics? Barbara Zucker answered for us all: “I want them to be my fairy godmother, champion my career, say I’m a genius, and stand behind me unequivocally.” Although she and others went on to discuss the importance of dialogue and the wonderful insights that artists might derive from criticism of their work, nothing rang as true as these opening remarks.
The subtitle of this panel, “Is Jerking Off Getting Out of Hand?,” could mean anything from, “Once you’ve seen one jerk-off in an art context, you’ve seen them all, so a painting renaissance is inevitable,” to “Painting itself is the equivalent of jerking off, so why paint?” In either case, if you’ve been waiting tensely for the verdict, the panelists agreed that painting is not now, nor is it likely in the foreseeable future to be dead. In fact, one assumes that the four painters convened exactly in order to reach that conclusion. It did, however, take them three-quarters of the evening to start to explain why.
Once upon a time in a constantly collapsing and re-rising city, the inhabitants made buildings with large spaces where people sweated to make things for others to sell. But one day they painted the spaces white and displayed mysterious and precious objects there. At last, on a night in spring, 1983, many people gathered in such a space to hear messages from shamans who made the precious objects. They worried about a tool producing these objects quickly and easily, and wondered if the new objects would be precious in the old way. So they gathered to DEFINE THE DIFFERENCE.
Craig Owens, senior editor of Art in America, sat with the six panel members and spread his hands, butterflylike, cigarette dangling from the long fingers. We, seated on the floor of the crowded gallery, were, mercifully, not permitted to smoke, having squeezed in while others less fortunate clamored at the entrance and pressed against the window to see “Painting and Photography: Defining the Difference.” Owens’s hands seemed to point to two points of view even while he hoped those who had come for the latest installment of the historical battle would be disappointed. They were there, he said, to “define difference,” not define or create false oppositions.
The question “How the Market Gives Form to Art” is one I ask not at all cynically. I think it’s the question of the ’80s and a difficult one to answer. My premise is that the drastic change in the art market over the last twenty years has effected a change in the condition of the artist as modernism defined it, that is, as outsider. The artist’s life is still difficult, the speculative nature of his or her work remains the same, generating insecurity and so providing a continuum with earlier times. However, today, opportunities are far more numerous than they were two decades ago and this seems to have reduced the artist’s identification with the marginal.
Moderator Pat Steir is an artist and member of Printed Matter, which publishes and distributes artists’ books. The panelists are all artists who make books. They reviewed what is being done in the field and its potential value and relevance. Steir began by commenting that the genre has become increasingly attractive to artists as a vehicle, allowing them through both form and context to cover areas that traditional painting and sculpture do not.