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.
It’s no secret that the tuition for all kinds of schools has increased significantly over the last thirty years, and thousands of students take out huge government and private loans to cover their educational expenses. Those armed with BFAs are unlikely to make tons of money right out of the starting gate, as the familiar narrative goes. Yet we live in a time in which euphoric articles pronounce the MFA as the new MBA appear with alarming regularity. What should a young artist do?
“Tornadic, whirling movement is something I’ve been involved in right now,” said Alice Aycock. “I’m not really into peaceful things.” This New York–based artist, who turns sixty-eight on November 20, said she trusts turbulence, not balanced or harmonious things, which is typical of her recent work, in particular Park Avenue Paper Chase, a series of seven sculptures on view in the median of an Upper East Side thoroughfare from March to July 2014. During her lecture at the New York Studio School, she talked about this work, her approach to art making, and more to a surprisingly half-full room of rapt listeners.
“I was wondering whether anyone has anything good to say about age as an organizing principle?” someone asked during the audience Q&A for “Curators: The Younger Than Jesus Effect,” a discussion hosted by the School of Visual Arts. Jenny Jaskey, director and curator of Hunter College’s Artist’s Institute, recoiled, “No one thinks it is.” When the next audience member rephrased the query—Is there an artist under 30 that you do like?—the five curators on the panel, all based in New York, were smiling but clearly looked uncomfortable. Alaina Claire Feldman, director of exhibitions at Independent Curators International, said flat out, “I think that’s exactly what we’re here not to talk about…. I kind of refuse that question.” Then why, I scratched my head for the hundredth time, are we even here?
A recent talk by the Brooklyn-based critic Naomi Fry was as wide ranging—one could even say scattered—as both her interests and her curriculum vitae. “I always have to remind myself that I’m a writer,” she said, reflecting on her roles as a teacher of writing at the Rhode Island School of Design and New York University and also as a copy editor for the New York Times.
To celebrate the paperback edition of The Edge of Vision: The Rise of Abstraction in Photography, the author, critic, and professor Lyle Rexer led a panel of four contemporary artists: the Canadian Jessica Eaton, the Finnish Niko Luoma, and the Americans Yamini Nayar and Mitch Paster. The woman who introduced Rexer pronounced The Edge of Vision—originally published in 2009 and accompanying a touring exhibition of the same name—the first book on the history of abstraction in photography. If her claim is true, then it is an accomplishment. If not, then the book’s subject and the curatorial conceit would seem to provide a good if overly broad survey.
“Is it possible to define a cogent code of ethics in art writing?” asked the promotional statement for this panel, presented by the MFA Art Criticism and Writing Department at the School of Visual Arts. The answered offered by the giddy, often flustered moderator, Aimee Walleston, a graduate of the program, was something like “I think, um, I don’t know. It’s an interesting thing to think about!”
When in 2001 the curator Robert Storr mentioned to his friend, the German painter Gerhard Richter, that the Bonn Kunstmuseum was hosting an exhibition of work by the abstractionist Robert Ryman, they jumped into Richter’s Mercedes and sped at ninety-five miles per hour on the autobahn to see it. After arriving, Storr recalled, Richter was a leisurely but deliberate looker, as unhurried moving through the galleries as he had been fast on the road.
Influence is a tricky, elusive thing. The organizers of an exhibition at the Visual Arts Gallery in Chelsea, Amy Smith-Stewart and Carrie Lincourt, confront the topic as it related to BFA and MFA graduates from the School of Visual Arts in New York. For The Influentials, the two curators selected nineteen women artists, among them Inka Essenhigh, Kate Gilmore, and Yuko Shimizu, who chose a second artist whose work has had a significant impact on their own.
Did you get into the Paul Chan lecture? Someone at SVA said they called Columbia and were told only Columbia grad students can attend those lectures. I forgot that Jerry Saltz was also giving a talk last night. I arrived at the studios just as some fellow students were headed over there. So I went with them. It was good in Jerry’s “I’m-not-gonna-beat-around-the-bush-with-you” way. His thing is this down-to-earth, no bullshit thing. There was nothing revelatory in his talk. He said many of the same things one finds in his writing and that he regularly seems to mention.