Other People Are Artists, Too

I know I live in an art bubble.  Most of the time I’m thinking about art, or making art, or talking about art.  But lately I have lifted my head from the microscope, looked at the world around me, and realized why the word “arts” is plural.  There are SO many ways to create.

Terrence Mann as Charlemagne, and Matthew James Thomas as his son Pippin

Terrence Mann as Charlemagne, and Matthew James Thomas as his son Pippin

Like: the Dramatic Arts.  A couple of weeks ago I saw the current version of MacBeth that is playing on Broadway starring Alan Cumming.   He plays 95% of the parts himself, and it all takes place in an insane asylum.  It’s an amazing tour de force, frightening, mesmerizing, and often quite funny.  I also saw the new revival of Pippin, a musical that I loved (twice) as a teenager.  This is the first time the show has been reintroduced on Broadway, and if Terrence Mann weren’t reason enough to go (which he is) it is a wonderful production with dazzling dancing, singing, and circus acts.  Some people think the story is a little thin, but either I’m very shallow or they’re missing the real universal appeal and poignancy of Pippin’s search for his identity amid the spectacle and laughter. The story has stuck with me for decades, and I was not disappointed with the new iteration. (Tony Awards on t.v. tonight at 8.  Hope what I like wins!)

Alan Cumming as MacBeth

Alan Cumming as MacBeth…

and signing autographs after a performance

and signing autographs after a performance

The Musical Arts: my nephew Troy is enrolled at the Clive Davis School of Music at NYU, studying music production.  But he is also in a great band, Cheap Blue Yonder that you can often catch playing venues in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.  I love their song Picnic, and love that kids (young men!) whom I know can create such energy and pleasure out of thin air – and years of practice.  Listen to the song on their website: http://cheapblueyonder.bandcamp.com.

Cheap Blue Yonder

Cheap Blue Yonder

I think that’s what makes the arts so miraculous to me.  Humans create brand new experiences, objects, and spectacles with their brains and hands.  No one can make someone else’s art.  Each person, each artist, is unique.  What he makes carries a little piece of his soul, even if he’s reading from another artist’s script.  My day job is in finance.  And I certainly don’t mean to say that business, the sciences, or other fields are without creativity.  But I’m not sure that they create joy or reward it.

Arts and Crafts: Last week I went to my usual yarn store to get what I needed for my current project (hint: it’s orange, so you’ll recognize it when I wear it).  And for once I walked past the front doors of Lion Brand Yarn on West 15th Street and looked in their front window. The window display of an undersea kingdom is absolutely stunning.  I can’t imagine how long it must have taken for the Lion Brand employees to knit it and put it together.  If you look at their website or Google Images, you can see lots of their window displays.  What’s amazing is that they are created entirely from yarn.  But they are still art.


The window display from March 2012 at Lion Brand Yarn on 15th Street, west of Fifth

The window display from March 2012 at Lion Brand Yarn on 15th Street, west of Fifth

Yesterday I took a walking tour of the Flatiron District and Gramercy Park to look at the architecture and especially the gargoyles that decorate so many of the buildings.  Those are carved gargoyles, not cast.  They reminded me of the tradition of European Cathedral builders, taking centuries and generations of craftsmen to finish their work – just like St. John the Divine, here in Manhattan, which was started in 1892 and is still under construction.  They also reminded me of a wonderful drawing course I took as an undergraduate at Lyme Academy, in which I learned to draw gargoyles and lions’ heads and acanthus leaves and egg and dart moldings.  It was taught by the amazing Randy Melick.  Thanks to him I can do justice to the stone carvings which surround me here in Chelsea.

Thanks, Randy, for teaching me to draw

Thanks, Randy, for teaching me how to draw.

And with that, my head is back in the art cloud.

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 (http://www.davidzwirner.com/exhibition/gazing-ball/), and his old work at Gagosian (http://www.gagosian.com/artists/jeff-koons).

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


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.


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 (www.mixedgreens.com).  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) www.fieldprojectsgallery.com 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) www.joniweyl.com 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!


Happy Art!


Julia, Rachel, and Tiffany at the craft table

Julia, Rachel, and Tiffany at the craft table

All it took to make our first magical-return-to-childhood-crafts-night was cardboard picture frames, gaudy spray paint, glitter, macaroni, pompoms, and feathers.  We spread plastic sheeting and newspapers and then got busy.  For two hours or so we laughed and inhaled fumes and promised each other that we would always stick together.

Julia, Tiffany, Rachel, and George, hard at work(photo by Julia Buntaine)

Julia, Tiffany, Rachel, and George, hard at work

We had to explain to our foreign classmates that macaroni picture frames are an American tradition, even while we tried to figure out why.  And we had to reinforce the idea that when we make happy childhood crafts, there is no wrong approach.  Everyone wins.  Everyone gets an A.

ShinYoung, hoping his glue is drying

ShinYoung, hoping his glue is drying

Some of us made showy Vegas frames while others created Baroque masterpieces.  Some of us went “less is more” while most of us piled on the colors and the textures and waited impatiently for the Elmer’s to dry.

Julia's Masterpieces(photo by Julia Buntaine)

Julia’s Masterpieces
(photo by Julia Buntaine)

The glitter stuck to our hands while we debated holding a cardboard-picture-frame gallery exhibition.  And the whole time we were having fun we weren’t sad, and we weren’t anxious, and the satisfaction was in the making – not in the being appreciated for it afterward.

Tiffany, Rachel, George, me, (and Graciela's head) making "magical-return-to-childhood-crafts"

Tiffany, Rachel, George, me, (and Graciela’s head) making “magical-return-to-childhood-crafts” (photo by Julia Buntaine)

We proved that it is possible to create joy from thin air and a few bow-tie pasta (Farfalle!).  Next time, it was agreed, it will be popsicle sticks and yarn.  Join us and, if you’re lucky, remember when you were very young and things had not yet started to go wrong.

Out and About

Zarina Hashmi, Blinding Light

Zarina Hashmi,
Blinding Light

I spent part of this afternoon at the Guggenheim where I was disappointed not to be able to walk the ramps because they were installing a new show in the empty middle air.  But they did have an interesting exhibition on the fourth floor by Zarina Hashmi, a New York artist who works primarily on hand-made paper (hence the show title: Paper Like Skin).

I was reprimanded only once for standing too close, which is amazing, because her work demands a literally closer look.  It’s a combination of “how did she do that?” with “what is that?”.

Zarina HashmiCage

Zarina Hashmi

She is using sawn pieces of wood to make woodcut prints (not carved wood, just natural pieces of driftwood, or fallen branches).  She has done the same with patterns of twigs and reeds.

Zarina HashmiUntitled Relief Print

Zarina Hashmi
Untitled Relief Print

A large collection of “pin paintings” is presented in which Hashmi has punctured her paper in a predictable regular manner – but the hand of the artist can still be seen. Those are in direct contrast to a thread painting, in which the thread pierces the paper in a mathematical grid, but the tail ends are left to fall randomly in an accidental pattern that is fascinating.

The deliberate allowing of chaos into an artist’s work is a difficult choice and an even more difficult plan to implement.  How, after all, to plan for chance?  It is a very fine line to walk: where to control and where to let go.  It is only when it is working that it looks easy.

Zarina HashmiUntitled (Pin Drawing)

Zarina Hashmi
Untitled (Pin Drawing)


Zarina Hashmi,Untitled (Lithograph and Thread)

Zarina Hashmi,
Untitled (Lithograph and Thread)

Hashmi’s work is quiet but intelligent and thought-provoking, at least for me.  I may have started out looking at her work and asking “how” and “what”, but I ended up asking “why”, which is a far more interesting question.

On Tuesdays We Silk-Screen

If you know anything about printmaking then you’re ahead of me, even though I’m five classes into a semester of silk-screening.  As with many new skills I try to acquire, I begin with some small competence and get worse from there.  Today’s work began with a good idea which was not successfully realized in the prints, so I’m back to the drawing board.   Who knew that emulsion would be my nemesis?

Roth worksurface hung vertically

Dieter Roth work surface hung vertically

But during the many periods while I was waiting for my emulsion to dry (it takes about 15 minutes if you do it right, which I didn’t) I realized several things.  First, I am unused to any kind of art-making in which I have to wait. Even when I paint in oils and should wait, I usually don’t. Second, our teacher, Charles Yoder (http://www.charlesyoder.com) is a master printmaker who knows, or knew, everyone important in printmaking in the last several decades.  When he drops names, I listen.  Today he showed us books of Warhol prints, and Chuck Close prints, and Dieter Roth prints. Which is when he reminded us of a new Dieter and Bjorn Roth exhibition at Hauser & Wirth gallery in Chelsea (511 West 18th).


Roth's column of self-portrait busts in chocolate

Roth’s column of self-portrait busts in chocolate

After class, with my sleeves still wet from washing my screen, and ink still under my fingernails, I headed out to West 18th Street to see the Roth show.  Dieter Roth had a long career and was serially famous for making many things, including installations, food art, videos, assemblages, and prints.  He finished his career by collaborating with his son Bjorn.   This exhibition was created under the direction of Bjorn Roth and his two sons, Oddur and Einar. Hauser & Wirth has a very large space and has installed examples of all of the Roth genres, as well as two enormous floors (vertically) and an installation that looks suspiciously like Roth’s own studio.

Roth, The Floor I and The Floor II

Roth, The Floor I and The Floor II

Well, why not.  When Andy Warhol was asked, “What is art?” he replied, “What isn’t?”

On my walk back home, I passed Printed Matter, Inc. (195 Tenth Avenue) http://printedmatter.org/about/ which sells not just art books, but books that are art. There in the window was a print installation by one of the teaching assistants from my silk-screening class, Panayiotis Terzis. www.pengoat.com.  It was eye-catching and fun.  I’m pretty sure he’s got the emulsion thing down.

Panayiotis Terzis Installation at Printed Matter, Inc.

Panayiotis Terzis Installation at Printed Matter, Inc.

The art world is huge and intimate at the same time.  Lucky me.

A Good Critique Day

Occasionally the sun shines.  Occasionally my hair behaves. Occasionally I have a good critique.

Eleven people, plus my teacher, crowded into my studio to look at my pictures.  My stuff.  My ouevre.  My work.  Rules: I could answer questions directed at me, but should otherwise remain silent during the discussion.  Fine by me.  My talking rarely helps.

My classmates were initially overwhelmed by my space.  (Possibly because I have used two different wallpapers and hung way too many paintings.)  They called it loud and said there was so much to look at that they were unable to focus on the individual pieces. Overall, they felt that most of my art was lost in the bright colors and the general noise.

Thank you.


I intend to hang my art and hide it at the same time.  I mean to create a faux-domestic setting in which my secrets lie under the surface.  In private.  Just like in my real home. Just like in my real life.  Just like in your life, too, I bet.


Chelsea Afternoon

This afternoon wasn’t exactly a random walk around the Chelsea art district, although as many times as I got turned around and began to retrace my steps, random might have been an improvement.

Henry Darger Triptych

I especially wanted to see the Henry Darger Show at Ricco/Maresca Gallery (529 W 20th).  Darger is one of those artists whose personal story adds layers of meaning to his artwork.  A lifelong janitor, solitary at home, his voluminous artwork was discovered after his death: the thirteen volume illustrated history of the innocent Vivian Girls and their nemesis the Glandelinian Army.  The story is violent, and the illustrations are naive, yet compelling in their unschooled perspective, atmospheric colors, and the occasional nude androgyny of the main characters.  His personal demons aside, the paintings are beautiful and haunting.

Kelley Walker

At Andrea Rosen (525 W 24th) an interesting group show called Cellblock II  captured my attention.  I was drawn especially to Kelley Walker’s silkscreened brick walls.  The irony of being drawn in to an image of what keeps me out was particularly provocative.

El Anatsui

El Anatsui




Jack Shainman Gallery (513 W 20th) is showing large works by El Anatsui in which the artist manipulates thousands of pieces of metal in order to make flowing fluid shapes, turning hard cutting edges into soft hems.  This is work that first grabbed me from across the gallery, and pulled me closer and closer to see how it was made.  Like most good art, it works at any distance.  Up close it bears a slight resemblance to the gum-wrapper chains I made during boring junior high classes, but step back just a bit and you see regal golden robes, world maps, and scarred landscapes.

Keith Sonnier

I very much enjoyed a quick stop at Luhring Augustine (531 W 24th) to see Glenn Ligon’s text-based neon work, and a moment at Mary Boone (541 W 24th) to see neon works by Keith Sonnier from 1968-1970.  Just walking into the main gallery made me smile.  That’s not a bad thing for art, is it?

My final stop of the day (getting dark, getting tired) was at the newly refurbished and reopened Winkleman Gallery (621W 27th).  It was wonderful to see Ed and Murat in their beautiful new space, since my last memory of their showroom was damp and powerless post-Sandy destruction.  The show that opened at Winkleman today was a series of large drawings by artist Michael Waugh, who creates his images with handwritten lines of text outlining, crossing, and shading his varied subject matter.  As if drawing isn’t hard enough by itself.  These works are another excellent example of art that rewards you from across the room and satisfies you up close.

Michael Waugh

Michael Waugh

I saw lots more great art, but those were the standouts for me today.  I was happy to see so much two-dimensional work, since installation and conceptual art seemed to dominate the galleries last fall.  No doubt the ebb and flow will continue, as it should.