Back to Work

Wayne Thiebaud Rabbit

Wayne Thiebaud

It’s time.  I’ve been pretending to work since school finished a month ago.  And yes, I’ve bought the supplies I need for my next project(s) and made some sketches, but my brain just wasn’t ready to start.  However tomorrow is June first and I promised myself that I would be really up and running, up and at ’em, nose to the grindstone (insert your own cliche here) before month’s end.

Wayne Thiebaud Shoe Rows

Wayne Thiebaud
Shoe Rows

I was thinking yesterday about teaching art, which I hope to do someday, and I made up an exercise for my (imaginary class).  I would make all of my students (it’s a large class because I am a very popular teacher) stand in a circle around me.  And I would spin dramatically, throw out an accusatory finger at someone, and say, “Who is your favorite artist and why?”

Wayne Thiebaud, now in his 90s, and still painting

Wayne Thiebaud, now in his 90s, and still painting

If you did that to me, I’m pretty sure that I would say Wayne Thiebaud.  Some artists I won’t cross town to see, but for Wayne Thiebaud I would go anywhere.  It’s his color, his combination of reality and fantasy, his amazing brushstrokes, and the way my heart stops for a moment when I see those landscapes (I call it an artgasm, but sadly I didn’t make that up).  So I’m posting some of my favorites here, as inspiration.

I love these blue shadows!

I love these blue shadows!


And I’m off to the studio, after a quick trip to buy my lottery tickets: Powerball, Lotto, and Megamillions.  SO many of my friends are rooting for me to win, but don’t buy tickets themselves.  They are clearly smarter than I.

Wayne Thiebaud Around the Cake

Wayne Thiebaud
Around the Cake

Thank you Susan Stephenson (a wonderful teacher) for introducing me to Wayne Thiebaud.  By the time you read this I’ll be painting.  But my question to you is, “Who is your favorite artist and why?”

Wayne Thiebaud Black Shoes

Wayne Thiebaud
Black Shoes

Grammatical Pet Peeves

I got a pretty strong response to my post First, a Word From Our Sponsor.  It turns out that lots of people whom I know and like are language buffs too.  So, maybe we’ll keep a side thread going with language news – facts and factoids.  Feel free to correct me.  You’ll be wrong, but I’ll be gentle.

My cousin Jeff (the super-smart engineer) wrote to say that people who confuse data (plural) and datum (singular) drive him crazy.  I am with him on this.  Similarly, a reminder that media is plural and medium is singular.  Television is a medium.  Radio and newspapers and blogs are media.

My friend Nan asked if I knew the plural of octopus.  I thought, based on the high school Latin grammar which I barely remember, that the plural would be octopi.  But then I looked it up (and heard from Jeff) and learned that the plural is octopodes, although most Americans just call them octopuses.  I prefer octopodes because it’s spelled like Antipodes, but is pronounced differently.  Octopuses sound like malformed cats.

Jeff also has a problem with people who cannot distinguish the usage of “nonetheless” at the beginning of a sentence from “however”.  You can tell that Jeff and I are first cousins, can’t you?

“Nonetheless” means in spite of the previous information, while “however” introduces a phrase that is going to disagree with what came before.  These are signalling words so that you can get your brain ready for what is coming.  Kind of like, “you suck,” but subtler.

Any other language issues out there?  I am very slowly learning American Sign Language so that I can better communicate with my friend and classmate Manuel, who is deaf.  He is AMAZINGLY patient with my incompetent and sluggish finger-spelling and has taught me some cool signs.  Here’s me doing my favorite: “Star Trek” (you have to imagine that I have flown my hand through space).


The ASL sign for "Star Trek"

The ASL sign for “Star Trek”

My last pet peeve for the day: entomology (the study of insects) versus etymology (the study of word origins).  NOT THE SAME!

Your turn.  Send me what bugs you – etymologically speaking, of course.

Artists Who Are NOT Jeff Koons

Despite my Jeff Koons hyperbole, there are a lot of other good artists to see in the Chelsea galleries.  On a recent trip I caught Richard Serra’s early work at David Zwirner (537 West 20th,  With 60,000 square feet in three buildings, and a new space in London, I believe that Zwirner is now the Pac-Man of New York galleries.  If I had a small gallery, especially a rented one, I would be worried about that chomping I heard behind me.

Strike: To Roberta and Rudy 97 x 288 x 1.5 inches

Strike: To Roberta and Rudy
97 x 288 x 1.5 inches


We’re used to the monumentality of Serra’s work – the way he uses size and height to block and reveal vistas, and especially how he directs foot traffic with his enormous sculptures.  In this Zwirner show, featuring art from 1966 to 1971, we can see the origins of that work in smaller pieces.  His hot-rolled steel plate, Strike: To Roberta and Rudy (1969-1971) is clearly an early step on his path to Tilted Arc, the 120-foot-long wall that he installed in Federal Plaza, NY and eventually had to destroy because the local workers got tired of walking around it.

Tilted Arc

Tilted Arc

I was attracted to his two neon pieces and especially his four-foot-square lead-plate boxes.  Just a little bigger than human scale, and obviously (and literally) weighing a ton, I kept a safe distance but couldn’t help walking around and around to marvel at how they were made by leaning the plates on one another instead of attaching them.  It is the fragility of the pieces contrasting with their ability to kill you if you knock into them that resonates with me.  Isn’t that an apt metaphor for life?

Installation View, Richard Serra, including One Ton Prop (House of Cards) 1969

Richard Serra Installation View at David Zwirner,
including One Ton Prop (House of Cards) 1969

I also recommend stopping at Ricco/Maresca Gallery (529 West 20th, to see the current show: Marcos Bontempo’s Dancing in the Void.  His abstract figures look effortless, as if he threw a little paint over his shoulder as he was walking away and accidentally created dynamic work that sits on the edge between abstraction and figuration.  I would love to know what his process is, and I bet you my recent lottery winnings that it includes struggle and doubt.  But you can’t see that in the paintings.

Marcos Bontempo Untitled, at Ricco/Maresca

Marcos Bontempo
Untitled, at Ricco/Maresca

And finally, don’t miss the odd and engaging Paolo Ventura’s The Infinite City at Hasted Kraeutler (537 West 24th,  He draws and paints and builds small structures that hold tiny lives and miniature conflicts, and ugliness and pain and beauty.  His repetition of the forms makes them grow in our brains until a 4″ painting (one of hundreds?) contains the universe.  The Lilliputian village of crafted buildings is no more than two feet tall.  Sitting on the floor as it does makes us gross and Brobdingnagian.  Like Alice after she ate one side of the mushroom, we are too big to bend over and look through the doors.  What is happening inside?  Is it meant to be about us, or is it part of another world where we don’t belong?  I got the definite and slightly creepy sense that I was just a crass voyeur in Ventura’s universe.

Paolo Ventura Installation View at Hasted Kraeutler

Paolo Ventura Installation View at Hasted Kraeutler




I won! I won!

My art school classmates know that I have a grand plan for post-graduation: buy a large tenement and convert it to artist’s apartments and studios, including a wonderful gallery space, a store for our handmade crafts, and room for all of us to stay together FOREVER. Making art in isolation is depressing, and we have developed a good working dynamic among ourselves that is supportive, yet honest, and owes a lot to our Department Chairman, David Shirey, who insisted we really get to know one another.

Torpedo Gallery Floor Plan Alexandria, Virginia

Torpedo Gallery Floor Plan
Alexandria, Virginia

The only problem with my plan?  I’m short about $12 million dollars.  So… I’ve taken to saying that after I win the lottery I will proceed with our art Borg colony cult project.

Well, this morning I won the lottery.  $28.  And clearly I need to be a little more specific about what I mean when I say I need to win the lottery.  If I won $60 million, the current value would be about $37 million, and then I would owe at least half in taxes, which would leave me with about $15 million (which includes a 25% cushion for cost overruns on the $12 million project).

For the year I have won $32 dollars.  Which leaves me only $11,999,968 to go.  Don’t ask me how much I have spent on lottery tickets.  THAT’S NOT HOW THE LOTTERY WORKS. In order to play the lottery successfully, every time you buy a ticket and say goodbye to your dollar, you must silently tell yourself that that specific dollar was about to be ripped out of your hand by a strong wind and blown down into the subway, through the sidewalk grates, to land on the third rail.  You can’t net out wins and losses.  Everything you pay out to buy lottery tickets must be considered found money.  Therefore your winnings are pure profit.

Artists: forget about the cost of your materials.  Forget that you desperately need to sell SOMETHING.  Forget the uncertainty that waits just around the corner (like at graduation). Ignore logic and believe in yourself.  Whatever you’re hoping for, it can happen.

I know that my chances of ending up with $12 million are terrible.  Miserable.  Almost, BUT NOT QUITE, zero.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers-

That perches in the soul-

And sings the tune without the words-

And never stops-at all-


And sweetest-in the Gale-is heard-

And sore must be the storm-

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm-


I’ve heard it on the chillest land-

And on the strangest Sea-

Yet, never, in Extremity,

It asked a crumb-of Me.


– Emily Dickinson, #254

Hope is what carries us when the odds and the facts are against us.  It’s free and yet so valuable.  Today might be the day the world is full of magic.

Jeff Koons?

Everyone (99.9% of whom have never heard of me) knows that I am in no legitimate position to criticize Jeff Koons.  He is a world-famous artist, singularly successful, with a broad imagination and remarkable productivity.

And yet, more than any other artist I can think of, he is held in contempt by much of the art world.  We all know that he doesn’t make his own art.  He has 50 or 60 or 200 Oompa-Loompas who fabricate his work, notably matching his numbered colors and polishing his shiny colored steel (not a double entendre).

Currently he is represented by all of the galleries in Chelsea.  Or at least it appeared that way to me as I headed west today to see his new work in two David Zwirner spaces (, and his old work at Gagosian (

Maybe it was just my perversity, but I was determined to like it.  And yet it wasn’t that simple.  Koons pretends that his work is easy.  That it is meant to reflect (pun intended) our current society and perhaps bring pleasure to the viewer.  That there is no subtext.  In this he is the rightful heir to Andy Warhol, inventor of the artist’s factory.

Balloon Venus (Magenta) 2008-2012 102 x 48 x 50 inches

Balloon Venus (Magenta)
102 x 48 x 50 inches

Part of what is confounding about Koons’s work is his complete transformation of his materials.  Or perhaps I should say, the way that what we assume we are looking at is never what we’re looking at.  The enormous balloon animals (Gagosian) look just like mylar but are powder-brushed steel.  And their incredibly smooth shapes were not achieved by a clown twisting hot-dog-shaped balloons, but were deliberately designed.  By Koons. The hot-pink nude woman who serves as the centerpiece of the exhibition is absolutely delicious.  Had she been made in clay or concrete or wood, we would all be admiring the cartoon twist brought to the reality of obesity.  Or maybe we would refer to fertility goddesses, or just admire the perfect balance of buttocks and belly with the ridiculous hairstyle she sports.

In the Zwirner show of new works, the star is the blue blown-glass garden ornament (which Koons refers to as a gazing ball) which appears as part of each otherwise all white oversized sculpture.  There are statues of Greek and Roman Gods, each with a gazing ball.  There is a snowman, who should be made of plaster like the other pieces, but instead is a fabric sculpture (with a gazing ball).  And a true kitsch masterpiece of a young boy (with a gazing ball).  Is he saying that we have managed to reduce all of Greek and Roman culture to garden gnomes?  No.  He is saying that in seeing our reflections in the blue balls (double entendre?  I’m starting to wonder) we stop to consider our own beings. Or something like that.  It was in the press release.

Is he making fun of us because we take this art seriously? or because we don’t? When the Incredible Hulk blow-up doll is actually a solid carving that weighs a ton, he has fooled us with his materials again.  I think it’s possible that he believes his work is serious, but he doesn’t believe that we know it.  So maybe he’s disdainful of us and how we can’t get past the deceptive and beautiful surfaces he creates.

One of his biggest balloon pieces at Gagosian is a turquoise penis with blue balls (intentional double entendre, no doubt).  From behind it looks like the kind of twisted balloon swan that small children wear on their heads.  That is disturbing in concept but beautiful in the gallery.  There was a time in the past when he made pornography with his porn-star wife.  It was deeply personal art which he destroyed when the marriage fell apart and he lost custody of his son.  I don’t think we’ll see him delve below the surface like that again.  But what he does with his surfaces is mesmerizing and confounding.

Some people don’t like Jeff Koons because they think he thinks he’s smarter than we are. I’m beginning to think he might be.

Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tank Designed with the help of Nobel-Prize-Winning Physicist Richard Feynman

Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tank
Designed with the help of Nobel-Prize-Winning Physicist Richard Feynman


First, a Word From Our Sponsor

This blog is about art, and art school, and my boring life.  My medium is the English language, also French and Latin (stop laughing).  So I feel compelled to offer a few corrections of the current abuses of English that I hear around me.  If I don’t stop the madness, who will?

First, a factoid is not a tiny fact.  One tiny fact is the certainty that in your entire life you will never be further than three feet from a spider.  Try to live with it.  A factoid is really a tiny bit of misinformation.  In other words, a factoid is NOT a fact.  One common factoid: jeggings are slimming.

A small pronunciation problem: the word leeward.  It means downwind.  It is used in sailing and is also the name of a group of islands: wait for it … the Leeward Islands.  It is pronounced lou-ward, not lee-ward.  Impress your friends.

Here are two happy tiny language facts that always delight.  The plural of opus is opera.  No kidding!  And “heavy hitter” is a compliment in both baseball AND boxing.

But finally we come to the phrase that makes me want to tear my hair out.  No wait, New York salons are really expensive.  Let’s say it makes me want to cut off an ear, so I give it a Van Gogh award.  “The exception that proves the rule” is a ridiculous, nonsensical assertion.  The original phrase is “the exception that probes the rule,” which you can immediately see actually makes sense.

Please America (not all of whom subscribe to this blog, so discuss amongst yourselves) help me fix our common language.  We are not animals.  Your reward?  Next post: more pretty pictures!

The Amazing and Wonderful Rain Room

We stood in line for three hours yesterday to see MoMA’s new installation: Random International’s Rain Room.  (  It was worth every minute.  I would stand in line again today for three hours to see it again.

Random International's Rain Room (photo by the artist)

Random International’s
Rain Room
(photo by the artist)

At the time, I kept wondering why the line moved so slowly.   The attendants were letting in ten people at a time, but we were only moving about 20 feet each hour.  What was going on in there?

And then, after my five friends and I had laughed, learned lots of new American Sign Language from our deaf friend Mava, gossiped about our personal lives, AND eaten lunch standing up, it was our turn.

Wow.  Wow.  Wow.  Wow.  I have not experienced such wonder since Ann Hamilton’s the event of a thread (see post of January 9, 2013).  If you haven’t read about the Rain Room yet (, it is the simplest of installations: inside a large dark room it is raining.  As you walk through the rain, you remain dry.  The machine senses you and moves the rain away.

I began to realize why the line was moving like a fat turtle.  We couldn’t leave because we were playing.  I ran.  I stopped suddenly.  I stuck one arm out.  I moved toward the light and then away from it.  I took lots of pictures (encouraged by the museum).  Everyone else in the Rain Room was experimenting, too.  We had gained power over the elements.  We were children, believing in magic and watching it at work around us.

It was the simplest of installations, but it changed our world, making us believe that anything was possible.  It has been a long time since I felt that kind of joy, and it was wonderful. Three hours, four hours, it doesn’t matter.  Go stand in line.  The exhibit closes on July 28th.


Dear Diary

I have a terrible cold.  I blame everyone who lives in New York, or has passed through in the last week.  Also everyone in Connecticut, where I spent the weekend visiting friends and seeing my mother for Mother’s Day.  Whoever did this to me, YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

During my brief Sudafed windows I have gone to my studio.  I’ve been thinking about what to start making now that my Spring term is over.  These are potentially the works that will make up my Thesis Show next January.  So like a little squirrel, I sneak into SVA and drop off props and supplies ($100 for a block of hot-pressed paper – kill me now) like little acorn trophies.  And then sneak out again.

I have been to the grocery store and the drug store.  Briefly.  I’m sorry, World, but a cold is not a good enough reason for me to starve to death.  However I took strong measures (hand sanitizer) and didn’t touch anything that I wasn’t going to keep.  And I kept my head averted and spoke as little as possible because I sound like I’ve been swallowing swords. This plague ends with me!

I’m using up tissues at an alarming rate, while reminding myself each time I touch one that I can’t give myself the cold I already have.  I watched a Property Brothers marathon on HGTV yesterday and wondered why the house I most wanted to live in was furnished with Salvation Army rehabbed pieces (gorgeous fabric from 40s dishtowels) while my apartment is black and white, sleek and Mies.  Who AM I?

I have a new knitting project, so complicated that no one will ever find my mistakes.  And I’m working on making 1000 origami cranes (I sort of know the story, it doesn’t matter, I’m just keeping my hands busy between sneezes).  So far I have 14.

I am even contemplating updating my art scrapbook, in which I keep track of the various stages of the work I’m making.  I’m not sure if it’s for posterity, or just for my pending senility, but it was required when I was a senior at Lyme Academy and I’ve kept the habit. Scrapbooking.  The very word screams desperation.

It is day four of my cold.  Day One was the horrible sore throat.  Day Two was the transition between throat and abundant snot.  Day Three was sneezing and coughing.  Day Four: am I starting to get better, or am I just overdosing on cold medication?

There is so much work I should be doing, but my neurons are having a little trouble firing through the congestion in my head.  Luckily a cold is like a power outage.  It is inconvenient and habit-changing, and the minute it’s over we quickly give thanks and forget it ever happened.


Sikkema Jenkins & Co. – Go Now!

The headline show at Sikkema Jenkins Gallery ( – 530 West 22nd Street) is Elizabeth Neel, whose work falls into several genres, each of which affected me differently.

one, 2012 Elizabeth Neel

One, 2012
Elizabeth Neel

First you find the small works on paper: acrylics and collages.  They are remarkable for so completely straddling the figurative/abstract line that I stood and looked a long time at all of them, trying to decide what I was looking at.  I always know that the longer I am compelled to look at a painting, the more successful it is.

Two Mules, 2012 Elizabeth Neel

Two Mules, 2012
Elizabeth Neel

In the second gallery are larger pieces.  There is a very big sculpture dominating the center of the space, which is surrounded by oversized oil paintings on the walls.  In the two-dimensional pictures, Neel has clearly used tape and overlays to make voids in her paint, creating a real sense of something missing: something for which we long, something that used to be there that we want to see.  Again, the mystery kept me looking.

The press release for the show referenced scientific principles as the inspiration for Neel’s work, but I have to say I didn’t understand the explanation.  Of course, it didn’t matter to me, because I was mesmerized anyway.

THEN, I wandered into the rear galleries to find a Kara Walker installation from 2010 that is being shown in New York for the first time, along with a new work from this year, Wall Sampler 1.  Long a fan, I have never seen Kara Walker’s work in person, and it was wonderful.

Kara Walker, 2010

Kara Walker, 2010

The larger work is The Nigger Huck Finn Pursues Happness Beyond the Narrow Constraints of your Overdetermined Thesis on Freedom – Drawn and Quartered by Mister Kara Walkerberry, with Condolences to The Authors.  It covers two walls and also includes small gouaches.  Ms. Walker’s work has always been controversial, with its brilliant use of the old-fashioned paper cameo to show us the ugliness of the American slave-owning past.  The cut-outs are human-sized and tell multiple stories about the imbalance of power and the frequent cruelty and rare kindness of that era.  They can be hard to look at, but even harder to look away from.

Knowing how difficult it is to access personal pain and then display it in one’s art, I admire Ms. Walker deeply for her bravery and talent.  Enough gushing?  I’ll stop now.

The two women showing at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. are making art on the razor’s edge.  Don’t miss your chance to see it all.  Both shows close on May 22nd.

The Paperwork Will Have to Wait

Saturday is paperwork day, just like Sunday is laundry day.  Inviolable.  I am OCD enough to know that if I break the schedule, the world will begin to spin backwards.  It’s a great motivator.

But today was SO beautiful outside that I carefully hid my pile of paperwork, AND the list of paperwork I had to complete, AND the research I needed to complete the paperwork on the list, and I headed out to look at art.  It was just me, about two million New Yorkers plus their out-of-town guests and their dogs.

Thanks to Andrew Ginzel who publishes a weekly log of gallery shows to see, I was armed with a list of five stops to make in Chelsea.  And beyond being delighted by the art, I experienced a couple of great surprises in the galleries.

Joan Linder

Joan Linder

First, I went to Mixed Greens Gallery at 531 W. 26th Street (  I hadn’t checked the exhibition ahead of time, I just like the people there and the space.  And it turned out to be a wonderful show of drawings by Joan Linder, whose meticulous and yet quirky mark-making brought the many views of her kitchen sink to life.  I turned to the woman at the front table and asked for a press release, and she turned out to BE Joan Linder!  So I got to talk to the artist and exchange business cards and express my real enthusiasm for her work.  She’s making hyperrealistic drawings as well as time-lapse drawings, and giving us a look at the endless constant mess of our kitchens and the frenzy that makes the mess over time.  They are beautiful and unique, but completely relatable.

Joan Linder

Joan Linder

Then I stopped at Field Projects (526 W. 26th Street, #807) because Jacob Rhodes, one of the founders of the gallery, had been kind enough to visit my studio last week during Open Studios, and we had a good conversation about art and he left his card and suggested I submit to the gallery.  Notwithstanding the fact that he probably does that all day long, I was flattered.  So I went to his gallery today and enjoyed the group show that is up now, Show #13: Desaturated Rainbow.

Feodor Voronov, Verse, and Adverse, at Field Projects

Feodor Voronov,
Verse, and Adverse,
at Field Projects

While there, I chatted with the other gallery founder, Keri Oldham and asked about a masking tape wall-installation by Heeseop Yoon that I found very reminiscent of work by my school-mate Minseop Yoon, who will graduate with her MFA this month.  Keri told me that the two artists are sisters, which is just cool.  I showed Minseop’s work in my post about the Affordable Art Fair, and her sister’s work is below.  Desaturated Rainbow is only at Field Projects until May 18, and you should make the time to go.

Heeseop Yoon

Heeseop Yoon

And because I couldn’t resist, I made a quick trip into Gemini G.E.L. at Joni Moisant Weyl (535 West 24th St., 3rd floor) to see the John Baldessari show.  I am a fan of most of his work, but had never seen the series called Eight Soups that was on display.  With a nod and a wink to Matisse and Picasso, his bright colors are completely captivating, and the titles are very funny.  Definitely worth another look.

John Baldessari

John Baldessari

It was a great afternoon of good and unexpected art finds in the middle of all of New York City taking a walk.  Happy Spring!