As this column journeys forward in weekly increments, my thoughts about our beat together become clearer and our footing, I hope, firmer. Bones’ Beat believes that the meaning of contemporary art in New York is fully up for grabs; we seek to understand contemporary ideas in the world of art by looking at them laterally, from the heart, and with bits of the brain that are usually reserved for other activities. This week’s installment looks back on the year past in order to find hope in the year ahead.
Asia in the Guggenheim
The collector-driven explosion of interest in Asian contemporary art over the last five years made Western-recognizable and wealthy figures of Yue Minjun, Ai Weiwei, Wang Guangyi, Zhang Huan and Zeng Fanzhi, and allowed many more artists from China to feel comfortable and appreciated. Over this period, I’ve witnessed a dealer-driven reaction to these artists’ arrival that that added up to a combination of racism, sour grapes and laziness: ignorance cloaked as a moral high ground. Hats off to the Guggenheim, then, for this spring’s large-scale introduction to Cai Guo-Qiang, an artist linking performance, sculpture and installation whose reputation spread organically after this dazzling exhibition. It happened through emphatic, informed, first-hand testimonials: It’s nice to be reminded that this is how you figure things out. Hats off in advance for The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860 to 1989, which opens at the Guggenheim January 30th, and seems the ideal next step in our Asian education.
Learning to build an archive
At studio visits this year I noticed that a significant percentage of internet-age artists are struggling to organize their thoughts. The disorganized artist is hard at work and jazzed by the times, but the studio’s chaotic confluence of multiple projects-in-progress alongside piles of source material can make a terrible mess. Faith in the potential of disparate totems and faith in a jumbled landscape’s eventual order is a brave and timely artist’s approach, but a pressing problem must be solved. Arranging one’s impulses as one’s ideas multiply and mutate is deceptively simple on a computer, but devilishly difficult in real life.
Investigation of physical archives must thus stand among the top art priorities for 2009. I am eager to keep an eye on the Maysles Institute in Harlem, a pair of townhouses evolving gently into a community center, research library, workshop for aspiring documentary-makers, history museum, and ’60s-style arthouse cinema. And rare sanity in retail exists at Deadly Dragon Sound, a minuscule shoebox storefront on Forsyth Street that houses 150,000+ reggae 45s, an insane number, from the last half-century. Lock in to its logic and you’ll remember everything you came to find. Flustered artists: revel, relax, then head back to the studio.
New reasons to discuss Martin Kippenberger
A man for whom the art world itself was a medium, Martin Kippenberger died in 1997, and hundreds of young artists are working in the sizeable crater of the painter/sculptor/whatever’s contrary oeuvre. Writing on Kippenberger is usually anecdotal–he had a lot of friends and they’re still eating off him–meaning many younger folks struggle for a personal connection with an artist whose influence looms larger today than at any point in his life. A runic stash of monographs on the über-prolific artist–books cataloguing his show invitations, books cataloguing his multiples, a catalogue raisonné of his catalogues–keep Kippenberger’s work in play, but there’s a lack of color, familiarity and urgency to the dialogue. It’s not shown enough. Little peeks, like the sparky encounter between Kippenberger and Rachel Harrison’s Kippenberger 2.0 at MoMA last spring, tell us exactly how much we need to physically reconnect with his work. March is when the most comprehensive survey of the man’s career arrives at MoMA from Los Angeles, and March is when the man elbows his way, like old times, to the forefront of art chatter, allowing us to confront him face to face. I look forward to finding what we’ll reap from reunion hours spent looking into Kippenberger’s eyes.
The right forum for Modern art
At art fairs one is invariably grateful for the peace and quiet of the unofficial squares section where dealers of Modern–i.e. not Contemporary–art congregate. Here there is no neon and no pornography and no art that smells, no dealers with white tuxedos or loud voices or clothes seemingly on backwards or upside down. In juxtaposition with dealing at its trendiest, the dustiness and nerdiness of Modern dealing is magnified to caricature, and it’s a shame, because there’s much to enjoy and tons of stimulation in iconic, proven art from the 20th Century that isn’t quite museum-quality or museum-appropriate. And if you’re buying, you’ll be surprised to discover how inexpensive great Modern works can be. Gavin Brown did wonders with his mini-survey of Eduardo Paolozzi, the Scottish-Italian pop artist, at Frieze last October, and the Armory Show will debut ‘The Armory Show Modern’ this March, a whole pier formally dedicated to fruitfully looking backwards.
Public art leading us in and out of the city
With the exception of the weird swamps of the Meadowlands and the scary-scaled Ozymandias renderings poking through the trees around the station in Hamilton, NJ, the train lines between New York and Philadelphia are not stupendously picturesque. They are, however, now undergoing a renovation. Huge, brazen, imaginative graffiti pieces have appeared along the lines shared by Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and SEPTA in the last six months, with new ones popping up by the week. In November SCREW and NEKST rollered the entirety of an at-least 20×100 foot building a matter of yards from North Philadelphia station, a busy hub, and it must make thousands of people sit up and gape every single day. A confluence of crews with time and space to breathe are filling in a 90-mile long frieze with a legible and steadily evolving plot of footprints, egos, and mild nights. Parsing this tapestry at high speed has driven my art brain to its purest and most bracing recent calisthenics. I feel lucky to be present as this narrative grows, and anticipate its 2009 chapters with a hunger more intense than any of Chelsea’s long-telegraphed coming attractions can provoke.-Bones