I love being right…

… but who doesn’t? I refer in particular, though, to when your interpretations of art or artworks end up being validated by the artists themselves (though, if they’re not, it doesn’t mean you’re wrong–or that they’re right).

Today’s case has to do with Fred Wilson, a favorite of mine whose work I have presented and written on before. Last year, for a Curating Contemporary Art course, I began an essay on his work with an analysis of a video segment for Art21, the PBS series that looks at contemporary art.


Here’s what I wrote about the first few minutes of the video, which take place in Wilson’s studio:

The room in his studio where he arranges the objects is a white-walled, naturally-lit, cavernous warehouse space. He moves between this immaculate room and another room, just as high-ceilinged but not as well-lit, cluttered with ladders, portfolios, and artwork wrapped in cardboard and furniture blankets. He repeatedly returns to this room to retrieve objects from a wall of sturdy wooden shelving that houses his collection, resembling a museum storeroom. This analogy is key: Wilson’s studio, reflective as it is of his practice within museums, is itself set up like a museum. The mess of packing materials and the inactive collection occupies the storeroom; the curator/artist brings objects out of storage to be exhibited in the clean, bright, white room – the proverbial white cube of the exhibition space.

It is clear in this case that Wilson’s studio is meant to resemble the museums in which he does his projects; thus his studio becomes a staging area, where he can simulate an arrangement of objects as it will appear in a gallery or museum.

This supposition was based solely on my viewing of the video and my foreknowledge about Wilson’s practice. Here’s what was written in an article in the November 2012 issue of ARTNews:

Wilson bought his studio, formerly a garage, in 2001 and renovated it to look very much like a Chelsea gallery, with a facade of frosted windows, pristine white walls, and a poured-cement floor. “I wanted it to be this way because this is my gallery,” says Wilson, whose interventions in museum collections are often site-specific…

Entering his backroom storage unit is like walking into a combined history museum and thrift shop…

Quite similar, no? I’m realizing this may be coming off as bragging; I do not mean it to be. I only mean to convey that as someone who analyzes art for a living, it is satisfying and reassuring to find that what amount to educated guesses have some basis in reality; not only does Fred Wilson’s studio resemble a gallery, he renovated it to be so.

I experienced a similar feeling at a lecture by Allan McCollum, another artist I wrote extensively about in my undergraduate years. His lecture was a a sort of career survey, as my paper had been. Much of my analysis was based solely on my observations of his projects, as many of them had not been written about by other critics or historians. And much of what he said in the lecture bore out my analyses.

I guess I might have found myself in the right field, huh? I of course have my doubts at times. But lately, though work has been stressful and busy, I am finding that I am loving every single thing I am doing there, and I would be happy to keep doing it for quite awhile longer.

Quick Review 2: Yayoi Kusama at Whitney

Another in my series of quick reviews of things I had long ago planned to review in much more detail.

Yayoi Kusama’s retrospective at Whitney was large, and so I had tons to say. The exhibition was broken into galleries, arranged chronologically and by medium. Here are some quick thoughts, based on the order of those sections.

1) The early paintings and drawings are EXQUISITE.

Yayoi Kusama, Phosphoresce in the Daytime, c. 1950. Ink and pastel on paper

2) The Infinity Net paintings were TERRIBLY LIT. Partitioned off into a part of the gallery that contained one of Marcel Breuer’s famous windows, they were illuminated with a strange mix of natural and halogen light. Instead of looking sublimely white-on-white, you got yellow-orange nets on blue-grey grounds.

Installation view of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Net paintings at the Whitney Museum of American Art, showing the Marcel Breuer window

3) A room of documentation, letters, posters, and her fashion work was fascinating; I spent a long time in there, and could have spent more. Some highlights: completely out-of-the-blue, she wrote a letter to Georgia O’Keeffe (!!!), asking her advice about how to break into the New York art world; and O’Keeffe responded (!!!) in incredible handwriting, saying that as she was off in New Mexico she was no longer in touch with the New York scene anymore, but she did offer to put Kusama in touch with her few remaining contacts. Also documented, in photos, letters and artworks, was Kusama’s relationship (romantic, but perhaps not sexual?) with Joseph Cornell (!!!!!!!!!), many years her senior, who quite exoticized her.

4) Her phallic Accumulation sculptures were represented by a handful of mostly small objects, and just a few pieces of furniture, on a plinth that ran along two walls of a large gallery. This was not really successful at conveying what it is like to be in an Accumulation room, with every object, floor and wall completely covered–an experience I would have liked to see represented as an important part of her oeuvre. I understand the reasons creating this experience would have been difficult, but they could have better simulated it: more works, closer together or piled on each other, assembled in a smaller space.

An installation of Kusama’s Accumulation sculptures

5) The late works were bright and wonderful. The final room is hung salon style, floor to ceiling, with large (5-6 feet each?) square paintings. Some of the symbols of her very early paintings and drawings return, but writ large and cartoonish. There are so many details to appreciate, but the installation keeps the viewer looking at the whole, comparing paintings to each other, and just marveling at the whole effect. This room was sort of full of joy; not without the anxieties so present in her other work, but perhaps achieving a kind of late-in-late acceptance, and dare I say happiness.

Installation of Kusama paintings from 2009-2011

Quick Review 1: MetaMaus; or Meta MetaMaus

There are several reviews I had meant to write months ago and never did. Of course, the bulk of what I wanted to say is largely lost now, but that means my posts can be short and sweet! Which means quick to write, which means I can actually get myself to write them!

Here’s the first: MetaMaus by Art Spiegelman.

The book is essentially a long interview of Spiegelman, exploring the process, research and preparation (it’s extensively illustrated with preparatory drawings and other materials) that went into his classic and groundbreaking graphic novel(s – it’s in two parts), Maus.

When I found Maus on my parents’ bookshelf as a teenager, it was a complete revelation for me. It was my first novel-length and novel-style comic book (as it was in the culture at large), and that experience eventually led me to such other masterpieces as Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.

Reading MetaMaus was a bit like reading the memoir of an actor from a show I like, an occasional guilty pleasure I’ll admit to (books by Anthony Rapp of Rent, Nancy Cartwright of The Simpsons, and of course Tina Fey’s Bossypants). Spiegelman’s revisiting is certainly more substantive and less fluffy–more of a meditation on the creative process than a collection of humorous anecdotes. Nonetheless, I compare them because in both cases, what I’m really yearning for is the actual thing, not a thing about the thing. Sure, I gain some amusing behind-the-scenes info about the thing, but reading about the thing is not as stirring as actually experiencing the thing.

I cannot recapture what it was like to read Maus for the first time, and so instead I read this Meta work. It was interesting enough at times, and the many preparatory drawings are quite fascinating, but it’s still not the same thing as the original; it’s just a proxy.

A Repentant Quickie

I make this quick post in shame; it has been more than a month since my last. Terrible. I can only say that full-time work and other hobbies have taken up my time and energy – but you, oh readers, are not forgotten! Ideas for posts keep coming; it’s a matter of a swift kick in the tucus to actually write them.

I will break the month-long ice with this quick post. I wrote about how Rotterdam seemed to be a city after my own heART. Alas, bad news out of Rotterdam, a theft of works by major modern masters. So I guess the thieves there also share my tastes, though not my civic-mindedness.