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 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.
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.”
A well-attended lecture by Isabelle Graw, a professor of art theory and a founding editor of the journal Texte zur Kunst, was titled “The Economy of Painting: Notes on the Vitality of a Success-Medium and the Value of Liveliness.” Jetlagged from a flight from Germany, Graw framed her talk as an eight-step analysis of the naturalization of painting in the contemporary moment. In the late 1990s, she said, painters “felt pressured to justify themselves,” but this anxiety fell away by the early 2000s, due to social, economic, and historical reasons. In particular, artists had absorbed the critique of painting and therefore renewed the medium.
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.”
In the newest issue of the online journal Art Practical, the artist, critic, and publisher Dushko Petrovich conducts an email interview with Christopher Howard about his experiences publishing In Terms Of. The interview joins other essays and interviews that address the theme of “Free Speech in the Art World.”
The journalist and sociologist Sarah Thornton was interviewed about her latest book, 33 Artists in 3 Acts, at the New York Academy of Art, where she was also the school’s commencement speaker for this year’s graduating class of MFA students. The book chronicles the upper crust of the contemporary art world—the kind you read about in the Scene and Herd section of Artforum.com—from 2009 to 2013. Benchmarks in conversations and studio visits with the dozens of artists that Thornton interviewed were Jeff Koons, whom she considers to be conservative, and the high-risk Damien Hirst. Other recurring characters include Maurizio Cattelan, Ai Weiwei, and Andrea Fraser, as well as the artist couple Carroll Dunham and Laurie Simmons and their daughters, Grace and Lena Dunham.
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.”
“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.”
IN TERMS OF
Reviews of lectures, panels, interviews, conferences, and other live speaking engagements in the visual arts.