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.
“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.
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.
It was Willem de Kooning who once remarked, “Flesh is the reason oil paint was invented.” For artists from Peter Paul Rubens to Jenny Saville, this assertion is incontestable—there is no better way to portray human skin in the medium. De Kooning also said that “beauty becomes petulant to me. I like the grotesque. It’s more joyous.” The visual thrashing ones sees in the Abstract Expressionist’s midcentury paintings of women is not what the New York–based artist Clarity Haynes has in mind for her Breast Portrait Project, an ongoing series of paintings of women’s torsos that take the genres of both portraiture and the female nude in new and unexpected directions. Her view is more sympathetic to the women she paints, though the works still make some viewers uncomfortable, including me.
I first discovered the work of Lee Lozano (1930–1999) in 1997, when reading the reprint of Lucy R. Lippard’s classic chronology of Conceptual art, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972. The descriptions of Lozano’s experientially based art from the late 1960s, including Dialogue Piece, General Strike Piece, and Grass Piece, were among the most compelling in the book. Because of the radical nature of these works—making art from talking, from art-world protest, and from the desire to “stay high all day, every day. see what happens”—I thought everyone knew about her. So when Lozano was rediscovered in the early 2000s, having left the art world for good thirty years earlier in her infamous Dropout Piece (1970/72), I was surprised.
The artists Alex McQuilkin and Cindy Hinant and Kathy Battista, director of contemporary art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York and senior research fellow at the University of Southampton in England, met at the NEWD Art Show, a small art fair that coincided with Bushwick Open Studios, to discuss art that deals with “girly” aesthetics. The panel’s teaser offered this: “From makeup to celebrity culture, these artists mine “girly” motifs—often ignored or dismissed as flippant and unserious by the art world—to explore issues of gendered expectations and pressures women face through representations of women in the media and culture at large.”
The fact that this panel of four male critics and editors drew the largest audience I have seen at any comparable woman’s event tells all about power and the perception of power in the art world today. Intellectual exchange was secondary, the audience being less interested in what the panel had to say than in what it had to say to the panel.
“I sense some confusion,” observed Casey Jane Ellison, an artist and comedian who hosted a panel called “‘Aesthetics’ of ‘Female’ ‘Attractiveness’” at Frieze New York. Like a daytime talk-show host, she began with a monologue of observational humor—which included a fear of going bald and the dating scene for bulimics—but the audience didn’t laugh. Full of disconnects in timing, diction, and subject matter, her introduction desperately need an applause sign, if not a laugh track. Ellison placed the blame on us: “Art audiences are just kind of like—don’t touch me—you know what I mean?” No, I don’t. “It’s like, get involved,” she implored. “This is about all of us.”
Joan Semmel began by citing Lucy Lippard: the more explicit the imagery, the less evocative the erotic work. Response from panelists was poor until John Kacere broke the ice with a meandering monologue on the mediocrity of porn: “If you’re very hungry, it doesn’t take much to turn you on.” Panelists were asked if their own work turned them on; Kacere again. “You can’t be horny for a month.” Panelists agreed that, in effect, their work was not really porn or even erotic—it just referred to a “beautiful human experience.”