The process of creation is always discursive. I start with a seemingly simple premise, and progressively run into one problem after another. When I started my novel, I thought it was about memory and guilt. Then it became an examination of the immigrant's experience. Then a meditation on the unbridgeable gulf between mother and daughter. And most recently, my deep distrust of my father. I realized, very early on, that my father's words could not to be trusted. His lies were not malicious, but coercive; they led to only one possible path and consequently only one possible result, which was what he wanted to happen. His lies were not fabrications, but omissions. I learned to be careful, to ask lots of questions, to make up lies of my own in retaliation. It was a power struggle that I couldn't win, because he was (still is) my father. There is an inherent structure in the relationship that tipped the balance of power toward him. My only recourse became avoidance. And then there he was, his double, a representation, another father, in my novel, and I had to come up with answers. The answer is I both know and don't know my father. I had learned a long time ago to accept the sad reality that he doesn't want to be known. My love for my father was my first lesson in the disappointments of love. I could never obey, perform, or love enough to change him into someone else. The only possible path forward is acceptance. But the child in me yearns to know, to be known, to answer the riddle, if everything my father says is only a half truth, how much can he love me? Will half a love ever be enough?
I am still processing the Biennial myself. So far I like Jerry Saltz's review best, ironic that he is married to Roberta Smith. I agree with Saltz's assessment of the mood at the Biennial, which he calls "pertinent", and I would characterize as "full-throated", with both the good and less-good implications. I also had M— in tow as I ambled through the Biennial so I feel like some of my emotional responses were tempered by the needs to entertain and survey a toddler.
The inclusion of non-white and women artists really made a big difference. By the time I got to the Whitney, I had been through most of the other major NYC museums, and still I was struck by the color and vibrancy of the works at the Biennial. I liked that multiple works by the same artists were included. I liked the focus on painting. One artist not mentioned by the reviews whose work I liked is Aliza Nisenbaum, especially her painting “MOIA’s NYC Women’s Cabinet” (2016). Which to me continues the important tradition of group paintings, and rightly making women activists as the subject.
The paintings of Celeste Dupuy-Spencer reminded me of works by Liu Xiaodong, especially the ones from this exhibition: (http://ucca.org.cn/en/exhibition/liu-xiaodong-hometown-boy/), in subject matter and composition, and even some use of color. I would be very curious if she had ever encountered his work. Or perhaps it is the emotional empathy both have for their paintings and subjects.
The works by KAYA (Kerstin Brätsch and Debo Eilers) made me feel uncomfortable. I still don't quite know what to make of them.
The Asad Raza installation, “Root sequence. Mother tongue” (2017), with flowering trees and carefully selected guides who start conversations seemed precious, but actually was very welcome, especially after walking through the galleries with its plethora of intense subject matters. I know mine will be a minority experience, but I really appreciated that a thoughtful stranger knelt on the ground and talked to M— about the trees and objects for a full five minutes. It was a work that allowed for moments of pause and intimacy, which you rightly intuited, was otherwise lacking at the Biennial.
The Jessi Reaves piece "Herman's Dress", which is an old Herman Miller couch covered in pink organza, was thought-provoking in its total accessibility. Maddie and I sat on it, for a moment next to a woman who was breastfeeding her baby. And then my friend Christine came, and Maddie wanted to sit away from us, so she did. The pink fabric seems like a shield and a disguise, something I as a woman can relate to. This understanding about the work was a revelation that came much later, which also feel more poignant.
Overall I enjoyed the exhibition. It was exhilarating to see the many non-white names and faces on the walls. It felt embracing in a way that America really has not for many months, especially since January. So for that alone it is prophetic, urgent, and necessary.
I can't wait to see the new video! And still yes to Skype date and seeing you when you are next in SF.
Icy orbs falling from the sky, landing on hair and coat and skin, melting.
Ice and snow in various shades of grey.
Kindness from strangers in the form of a smile, an extended hand to hold the elevator at a crowded subway station, a sympathetic nod, a generous pour of red wine.
An art installation of flowering trees and gentle conversations.
An art installation of a solid gold working toilet.
Dragging a mostly well-behaved toddler to MoMA, Met Breuer, Met, Neue Galerie, Guggenheim, Museum of Natural History, Brooklyn Museum, and the Whitney during a week with two snow storms sometimes felt like an extended performance of willful ignorance.
Late night porch sitting, cigarette smoking, ice kicking, port drinking, jazz listening, and talking about our mothers.
Unexpected encounters and best laid plans put to rest.
Finding the faith to believe that the universe is kind and fair and full of love.
In the wee hours of Friday morning, as I wrote what was turning into a long essay about my love for and relationship to New York City, my computer crashed. Nothing of the essay was saved. I felt crushed and honestly have not had the courage to come back to writing for the last two days. But this project, as I keep reminding myself, it not about perfection. It is about keeping going no matter what happens.
I won't be quite ready to venture back into the territories the essay was exploring for another couple of days. In the mean time, I will write about something else.
Just keep writing.
How do we define the concept of peers when the person in question is an artist?
I speak of artist broadly, including writers, composers, singers, dancers, and other creatives. The question is a personal one, because I often find that my points of reference are different from the people I am around the most. So is peer group based on frequency of contact? Or is it a mindset? And does it have to follow the rules of physics, such that we can only be peers with people whom we could theoretically meet and speak to? Or can it reach far back in time?
Even if we remove the requirement for interpersonal contact, what are the degrees of familiarity required for two people to become peers? My dictionary defines peer as "a person of the same age, status, or ability as another specified person." Note the commas and "or". So a peer could be "a person of the same ability as another specified person." Ability. This is the external view.
What about the internal view?
This question came up as I was researching the works of a contemporary Chinese artist, and found that most of the materials written about her work places her in a continuum of Chinese history and art made by other Chinese artists. When in fact her work has been exhibited internationally and she herself travels extensively. This brought to mind my frustration when reading art criticism written about Chinese artists, which is that the social and political situations in China is often foregrounded, as if that is most significant aspect of the artist. Acknowledging that a person is inseparable from their environment, I find that this line of critical inquiry results in reaffirming a worldview that distinguishes between a "normal", Western democratic context, and everywhere else. This is a mindset that impoverishes the criticism, because it isolates the artist and restricts the critic to a specific time in history. Art is not ahistorical, but its ability to endure beyond the era or century during which it was created marks it out as uniquely positioned to be subjected to analysis that takes in the full scope of history and culture. More relevant to the artistic process is that art from the past continue to inspire even when the age that produced the artist has moved on. And here is what makes art different from history or sociology: At the core of an artist's endeavor is an attempt to communicate about the human experience, which encompasses the body and the mind. And the mind has no bounds.
I wonder, although not having actually asked any critic or curator this question, if the unwillingness to speak about artists and their works in a broader art historical context is due to a fear of being presumptuous. This line of thinking goes thus: curator sees work by a female Iranian photographer who uses mirrors, reflections, and includes a strong architectural composition. Photographs by Ilse Bing come quickly to mind. But when writing a review, the curator settles on references to Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, without mentioning Bing. To me, both artist and curator were short-changed in this instance. Artistic exploration is not a linear arc that bends toward perfection. It is cyclical, sympodial, helical, and yes, repetitive. We honor the efforts of artists by acknowledging both the environmental and art historical inspirations, whether intentional or accidental. The artworks deserve as much.
"In fact I am just one of those people who is building structures out in the world for other people to figure out how to get around. I am trying to revolutionize society, not building an new department in the same continuum of art history." — Lawrence Weiner, Artspace, 2017
I am struck by the word "structures". For most of my life, I have thought of what is in front of me as challenges, roadblocks, obstacles, always something to be fought through or surmounted. But reading this Benjamin Buchloh's interview with Lawrence Weiner, I find myself suddenly aware of not just a third way, but fourth, fifth, and sixth as well. It is possible and perfectly acceptable to have a non-aggressive reaction to what life puts in my path. It is possible to go around, or lie down, or even stop for a little while to figure things out. The rules don't make us. We can remake the rules.
Originally organized by curators Raymond Foye and Jennifer McGregor, the exhibition was first shown at the Wave Hill botanical garden in New York City.
In the lively conversation between journalist Daniel Brook and artist-novelist-curator Hu Fang that took place at the Berkeley Art Museum, the past and present of life in Shanghai emerged as a parable for post-modern globalization.
Part travelogue, part cultural commentary, Lam Tung-pang’s solo exhibition “The Curiosity Box” takes the inquisitive visitor on a journey of discovery by way of seeing and making art. The show is the culmination of Lam’s Asian Cultural Council Fellowship, during which he visited the United States for the first time. From March to May this year, Lam lived in a rented apartment in lower Manhattan, structuring his life around trips to other cities and visits to art museums.