“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.
The Serbian sculptor Marko Marković has expressed an interest in museum conservation departments and in the process of finding, restoring, and preparing objects for exhibition. For him, the final display is as much the work of archeologists and conservators as it is the labor of artists, artisans, and curators. In addition, Marković is not a fan of the normal exhibition catalogue for an artist, with an art historian or curator explaining the art. He would rather provide a fictional document for audiences to follow, to create something believable beyond the contemporary artist’s professional requirements to present work in galleries, have a portfolio website, and give talks.
“Would you say your biggest source of inspiration is other people?” an audience member asked Hank Willis Thomas, who had just finished giving a presentation on his work in the basement auditorium of the Krannert Art Museum. The artist replied with a smile: “I’d say.” Indeed, early on Thomas stated that art is about people and connections, and he even began his talk by quizzing the audience, asking who was a student, a faculty member, a first-time visitor. He also asked who in the room had tattoos—there were several students with visibly more than a few—and playfully harassed a few latecomers. Thomas also joshed a reticent audience member halfway through the lecture: “This talk can’t go if you don’t talk.”
“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.
Future generations researching the good old days at the College Art Association’s Annual Conference may take this panel for a distillation of its moment, as it casually splices ideals, philosophy, jargon, celebrity, and non sequitur with talk of art-as-money. We see also the intense longings, the search for uplift, the demands for salvation that are increasingly deposited in art. The most interesting discussion of the panel addressed whether they belong there.
Concluding the two-day symposium on the work of Jeff Koons was a keynote address by the art historian Thomas Crow of the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. By choosing a single decade—Crow’s talk was titled “Jeff Koons in the 1980s: Pop Culture Turns Up Late”—the scholar conveniently avoided discussing the artist’s work since the early 1990s, typically considered the divisive break between those who respect and loathe the artist, in particular when Koons exhibited his Made in Heaven series (1989–91). Indeed, in a review of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s exhibition Jeff Koons: A Retrospective, one critic wrote, “Watching Koons between 1985 and 1992 was like being on a roller coaster, beholding the readymade crossed with greed, money, creepy beauty, and the ugliness of our culture.” Even the exhibition’s curator, Scott Rothkopf, skirted the later work in his catalogue essay “No Limits,” which analyzes Koons’s work up to Made in Heaven before defending the artist against the art market for the last half.
“It was a look of horror … or a smile,” said Scott Rothkopf, curator of the exhibition Jeff Koons and moderator of a panel discussion called “The Koons Effect Part 1,” regarding the responses he received when telling others of his research for a retrospective on the artist. Artists were interested in Koons, to his surprise, and he noted that Pierre Huyghe is fascinated by the “story that didn’t get made,” and Andrea Fraser enjoys Koonsian economics. Tino Sehgal finds Rabbit (1986) to be an iconic work, the curator continued, and Kara Walker responds to the advertisements for art magazines from 1988–89. For this panel, Rothkopf invited four American artists to discuss what Koons’s work means to them and how it has affected contemporary art.
Is it possible to be indifferent to Jeff Koons? For many years my attitude toward the artist’s work has been impassive and disinterested. It exists whether I like it or not and has some visual interest, but I’ve never cared enough to form an opinion beyond that. Among the most successful living artists, Koons is comparable to Jay Z or U2: a talented mainstream artist whose early output is considered groundbreaking, but whose later works are noteworthy more for their high production values and their exorbitant, multimillion-dollar price tags than their aesthetic worth. Over the years Koons has managed to stay relevant, with critics and journalists dutifully covering his exhibitions and appearances, just as they would report on Bono’s activism and Hova’s exploits.
Pioneer Works in Brooklyn hosted a lecture, titled “Sacred Geometry and the Architecture of Well-Being,” by the upstate New York gardener and apiarist Ron Breland in conjunction with The Six-Sided Force, an exhibition of drawings by Louise Despont that take their inspiration from the hexagon of the honeycomb. Sporting a white beard, a gray mullet, and the normcore outfit of a high school teacher, Breland clearly had the eccentric polymath look down, and his wide-ranging talk surveyed scientific knowledge and folk wisdom, pragmatic environmentalism and esoteric spiritualism.
The legendary artist Robert Morris doesn’t often participate in live interviews, whether in public, in person, or on the phone, so a recent appearance by him at the New York Public Library was a rare treat. Indeed, as the scholar and curator Jeffrey Weiss noted at the outset, “Agreeing to speak is not something he does too freely.” But when Morris, Weiss, and the art historian Julia Robinson gathered in celebration of Weiss’s new book, Robert Morris: Object Sculpture, 1960–1965, the ensuing conversation was a frustrating affair.