I love art books. My bookshelves bow with them and they offer thoroughgoing diversion when I can’t sleep. Monographs work best for this. I prefer thick paper, with big images that fill the whole page. Although I always read the introduction and biographical essays that start these sorts of books, I prefer the artwork to stand alone on the page. Maybe a date, but that’s it. These books offer what all books offer, the ability to experience what I haven’t experienced in real life, or to re-experience what I have. I’ve never been to the Tate or Van Gogh Museum, or even the Frick. But that’s the beauty of books, right?
Still, this same warm fuzzy argument doesn’t extend to all mediums, at least not for everyone. There was recently a spirited Facebook debate between some friends of mine about Art Project by Google. The pro Art Project folks said that for the first time in history some of the world’s best art was available directly to our homes, that with our personal computers we could access images of great (and maybe not so great) art. Because the images are high-resolution, we can zoom in close, see the paint, the hairs left by the brushes, the hand of the artist, all at a quality even more detailed than an actual book, even more detailed than standing in front of the original painting. And what about the detractors? They argued that when we log into Art Project we are not looking at art, we instead are looking at digitized reproductions. Even reproductions in books are still ultimately objects. These same folks also argue that we are on a slippery slope, where a virtual experience becomes a replacement for the experience itself.
Recently museums have started making apps for smartphones and tablets. Personally, I have apps for The Louvre, Hermitage, The Art Institute of Chicago Impressionist collection, and the MoMA Ab Ex Exhibition. Some of these apps are better than others. For example MoMAâ€™s excellent Ab Ex app takes you through a tour of their recently closed Abstract Expressionist exhibition. You click on an image to make it larger and to access information about the artwork. But along with the images we also get a video of Ann Temkin discussing why she mounted the show and how she selected the works that would be included. She discusses the history of the Abstract Expressionists and why we should care about them today. Arguably, if I had seen this show at MoMA, I wouldnâ€™t know any of these things. Perhaps what is lost by not seeing the works in person is made up for by added information and contextualization.
David Lynch said, â€œIf youâ€™re playing the movie on a telephone, you will never in a trillion years experience the film. Youâ€™ll think you have experienced it, but youâ€™ll be cheated. Itâ€™s such a sadness that you think youâ€™ve seen a film on your fucking telephone. Get real.â€ I do see Lynchâ€™s point, a smartphone or even an awesome tablet doesnâ€™t equal a real-life experience with a work of art. But my question for Lynch is, does he extend this to all non-theatrical viewing? I mean before we watched movies on our phones we watched them on DVD, and before that video, and before that broadcast television if we were lucky enough that the one of three stations would re-run a movie we might consider â€œart.â€ Where exactly is he drawing the line in the technological sand? What technology is an acceptable mediator for art? The harsh tokes are that once your art is in the world, you donâ€™t control it anymore no matter how hard you try (Iâ€™m talking to you, Anish Kapoor).
Over the years we have grown comfortable with new technologies. By now, no one is threatened by a book. When records were introduced people argued that this reproduction was not the same as a live performance. Then CDs were not as â€œaliveâ€ as the sensuous analog sound of vinyl. MP3s not as â€œlushâ€ as compact discs. Without exception this is all true. What is also true is that we now listen to music all day instead of just on special occasions. So perhaps we trade quality for quantity, but we also gain access to music we could never hear live and we can also control when we listen to it.
All through college â€œThe Birth of Venusâ€ hung over my bed. Never once did I confuse this poster with the real thing. The original hangs in Florence at The Uffizi Gallery. Iâ€™ve never been to that museum and sadly enough, I probably wonâ€™t ever. Mechanical reproduction and digital technology has acted as a mediator between viewer and artwork for centuries. How is an exhibition app any different than a catalogue? Even with all its bells and whistles an iPad is still on the same trajectory as moveable type. After all those years of looking each morning at Venus, I never saw her so clearly as I did when I saw her on Art Project.
Guest Post by Julia V. Hendrickson
Notes on a Conversation.
Withâ€”Mark Pascale (Curator in the Dept. of Prints & Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, and Adjunct Professor of Printmedia at SAIC)
Inâ€”the Prints & Drawings Study Center
Commencedâ€”on Thursday, February 17th, 2011, 4:15â€“5:15pm
â€œItâ€™s a dream job. Itâ€™s great place to work. Even under great pressure, when people are at their most difficult, there is still a lot of love here and we all know it. We give each other a lot of space, thereâ€™s a tremendous amount of collaboration here, and people supporting everybody when they need the support. I think itâ€™s very collegial.â€
â€” Mark Pascale
In a curious corner of the Art Institute, beyond the lions and the ticket booth; through the first gallery on your left (filled, currently, with John Marinâ€™s watercolors); past a large glass door; and adjoining a nondescript long white hallway, lies a room full of natural light and very busy people. Dedicated to public inquiry, the Goldman Study Center in the department of Prints & Drawings is one of this cityâ€™s quiet treasures. Open to the public by appointment only (available to classes in the mornings and to individual researchers in the afternoons), since the 1940s the department has made available over 80,000 works on paper that are part of the Art Instituteâ€™s collection. Staffed by hard-working curators, collection managers, researchers, administrators, and interns (as well as its own paper conservation department), the study center serves as a visual library; it offers the rare opportunity to examine a small selection of major works of art in person, without the distancing of glass or display.
However, one of the most invaluable treasures in Prints & Drawings is not actually on paper. It is, in fact, embodied in a living, breathing, wise-cracking person: a curator, Mark Pascale, who is celebrating his 30th year with the Art Institute. I first knocked on Markâ€™s door over two years ago, armed with the brazen assumption that he would meet with me based on a shared love of comic art and his connection to Ohio (he went to graduate school at Ohio State University). Since then, Mark has proved to be an encyclopedically resourceful, tirelessly supportive, always kind mentor and friend.
While visiting the study room last week, we looked at one of my favorite recent departmental acquisitions, a bequest from the estate of Sylvia Sights: a small collection of envelopes and ephemera illustrated by Edward Gorey (who was born in Chicago in 1925). Sylvia Sights and Gorey were childhood friends and Lakeview neighbors. Gorey attended SAIC for one semester in 1943, and after he left Chicago he wrote to Sights frequently. Many of the envelopes are from his time at Harvard (1946-50), and were often sent under fantastic pseudonyms like â€œChilderic Droolâ€ and addressed to â€œFascia Scorch.â€ You can see more photographs of the collection in an album here.
I asked Mark about print-related shows he is proud of being involved with during his time at the Art Institute. He spoke of the intense research and collaboration that goes into major museum exhibitions:
â€œBeing involved in the Jasper Johns: Gray show [in 2007] was a career changing moment for me. He was an artist that I had admired, as an artist, and I especially had admired his printmaking. It was hugely inspirational and instructive to me. It was a frightening prospect because heâ€™s very judgmental, and he is not known for his generosity. But I was asked to join the team and I did. [â€¦] That experience, working with James [Rondeau] and Douglas [Druick], Harriet Stratis, Christine Conniff-Oâ€™Shea, and Maureen Pskowski, having a cross-departmental experience was fantastic.
The other show that Iâ€™ve done that Iâ€™m extremely proud of is the one that was called After the Crash: Picturing the U.S. 1930-1943, which I did [in 2000] in conjunction with a curatorial assistant in photography and the special collections librarian in Ryerson. We incorporated prints, photographs, and texts from the Depression, [about] the Depression.
We used our WPA [Works Progress Administration] and FSA [Farm Security Administration] holdings, and it was based upon my question: â€˜If so many of the artists who worked for the WPA were urban, why are there so many farm images?â€™ So, [we were asking] whether or not the FSA photographs played any role in what got depicted in printmaking. To some degree we found evidence that it definitely was true, and there were quite a few artists that worked both on the FSA project and the WPA project. [â€¦] The crowning moment for that was, even though we didnâ€™t get to do a book, we had a panel discussion that was chaired by George Roeder, who created the Visual and Critical Studies area at SAIC (now sadly deceased), and included Studs Terkel, who was still really sharp, he really had his wits about him, and the photo historian and photographer Naomi and Walter Rosenblum, respectively.â€
â€” Mark Pascale
Mark also collaborates across the city with other museums and galleries. In the mid-1990s Mark was an advisor and catalogue contributor to one of the definitive Chicago print shows, Second Sight: Printmaking in Chicago 1935-1995, a survey exhibition at Northwestern Universityâ€™s Block Museum of Art. When I mentioned that show, he sighed and said, â€œI wish I could redo it because Iâ€™ve learned a lot more about the history of Chicago printmaking since then. But I covered some of it in the Chicago Stories exhibition.â€
(Chicago Stories is Markâ€™s most recent departmental exhibit from the summer of 2010, an historical survey of local printmaking called Chicago Stories: Prints and H.C. Westermannâ€™s â€˜See America First‘. While I served as an intern in the department with Mark, fellow intern Andrew Blackley and I collaborated with him on the research, writing, and exhibition planning for Chicago Stories.)
Although Mark rarely has the time to advise or organize more than one show a year outside of the department, he is often asked to judge exhibitions. This year he selected a members exhibition for the upcoming Southern Graphics Council Tempting Equilibrium conference in St. Louis (March 16th-19th, 2011). At the Art Institute, Mark is currently working on a departmental exhibit showcasing a promised gift of over 100 contemporary drawings from a private Chicago collection. He notes that the museum recently has received a lot of criticism for doing private collection shows, but that itâ€™s simply a way to honor and celebrate the major support of private collectors:
â€œWeâ€™re often accused of being an island, and weâ€™re not. To some people we might be.Â We donâ€™t buy that much art. We spend a lot of time engineering gifts. [â€¦] The people who are quick to criticize the museum donâ€™t seem to know of the long and distinguished history of giving that Chicago museums enjoy, and donâ€™t seem to know that we donâ€™t receive much public money. Thereâ€™s a limit to what we can do, and a high expectation for what we put out. My feeling is that they should be excited and happy that this art stays in the city forever.â€
â€” Mark Pascale
The other big show Mark has been working on for the last few years, scheduled for 2013, is a Martin Puryear retrospective, focusing on Puryearâ€™s printmaking processes.Â Although much of Puryearâ€™s early work was destroyed in a fire, Mark has been able to find a number of working and state proofs for his more recent editions. The exhibit will highlight Puryearâ€™s etchings from Paulson Bott Press (Berkeley, CA), and a major work from Arion Press (San Francisco, CA): illustrations for Cane, a 1923 novel by Harlem Renaissance writer Jean Toomer.
Above and beyond his knowledge of modern and contemporary art, Mark also knows a thing or two about good food in the city. At the end of our conversation, Mark humored me with a list of a few of his favorite places to eat out.
â€œAny opportunity to eat badly, I will accommodate it. I have a very high threshold for peopleâ€™s hot dogs and fries, because itâ€™s such a Chicago thing. Chicago-style hot dog joints are not like what I experienced growing up. Itâ€™s local, and I love local.â€
â€” Mark Pascale
1.) Hot dog and fries at Gene and Jude’s Red Hot Stand (and many other places, but G&J is the best) (2720 River Road, River Grove, IL)
2.) Tom Yum Koong (shrimp soup) and Pad Ped Pla Dook (spicy catfish) at Opart Thai House (4658 North Western Ave., Chicago)
3.) Enchiladas Mole at La OaxaqueÃ±a (3382 North Milwaukee Ave., Chicago)
4.) Bhendi Masala (okra curry) at Hema’s Kitchen (2439 W Devon Ave., Chicago) or Udupi Palace (2543 W Devon Ave.)
5.) Hungarian Potato Pancake at Smak Tak (5961 North Elston Ave., Chicago)
6.) Chicken Fatoush Salad at Pita Inn (Skokie, Wheeling, and Glenview, IL)
Julia V. Hendrickson is a native of eastern Ohio who lives and works as a visual artist, writer, and curator in Chicago, Illinois. In 2008 she graduated with a B.A. in Studio Art and a minor in English from The College of Wooster (Wooster, Ohio). Julia is currently the gallery manager at Corbett vs. Dempsey, as well as the office manager and design assistant for Ork Posters. She is a teaching assistant at the Marwen Foundation, an active member of the Chicago Printers Guild, and has taught at Spudnik Press. A freelance art critic and writer for Newcity, Julia also keeps a blog called The Enthusiast, a documentation of the daily things that inspire, intrigue, and inform. She is currently exhibiting at Anchor Graphics (Columbia College Chicago) in a solo show titled FANTASTIC STANZAS, on view through March 26th.
GUEST POST BY DAMIEN JAMES
77th Street installation view, each 9.5 x 11 feet. Graphite on paper, 2010.
Days before his solo show closed at Linda Warren Gallery, I briefly met Matt Woodward while he was on his way to the opening of yet another solo show of his work at the Union League Club. Warren had been raving about Matt for weeks, and when I finally made it to her gallery to see for myself, I understood why prior to even stepping inside. From the street through Warrenâ€™s window facade, Woodwardâ€™s art stood towering and vividly announced itself â€“ nearly ten-foot square graphite drawings â€“ with mastery. The pieces were streaked and smeared, rubbed away and sanded down and even ripped in places, but remained exquisite; each a rough Rorschach blot of the city from which emerged architectural forms, smooth buttery bright curves and repeated patterns that adorn so many of the buildings we walk past everyday. I wonâ€™t deny that I was instantly taken by Mattâ€™s work, and I asked Warren how she came to know him.
Linda Warren: Artists that I represent or know at the New York Academy, where Matt had just graduated, told him to get in touch with me when he got back to Chicago, so he did. He sent a very, very polite, like the most polite email submission Iâ€™ve ever received, along with some images of his work. It was just weeks before I was printing an invite for a show called Somewhere, Elsewhere and I thought I was set as far as artists to include in that show. But as soon as I saw Mattâ€™s work, I knew it was a perfect fit for the theme.Â I rarely do group shows, so it was kind of perfect timing to get his work into the gallery.Â I receive email submissions every day of the week from artists from all over, and it is rare, though it happens, that I respond immediately to work upon first glance.
Damien James: But your first impression of Mattâ€™s art?
Surf Street, 50 x 51 in. Graphite on paper, 2010.
LW: That it was very unique. I had never seen anything like it. And that it was both haunting and mysterious â€“ that it represented something literal but clearly so much more. This was just from an email image…not from talking to him or anything. Anyway, I called him immediately and without further ado, his work was in the show and I continued to be stunned and intrigued by its beauty and ambition.
Warrenâ€™s enthusiasm is often contagious, so I convinced Woodward to answer a few questions. Fortunately, heâ€™s as eloquent with words as he is with graphite. Unfortunately, his answers inspire far more questions than can be asked here at the present moment.
Born in upstate New York, Matt moved to Chicago at age 21 to study at the Art Institute, then to the New York Academy of Art for grad school, spending about three years in each city. Since then, his time has been divided between New York and Chicago. Mattâ€™s show at the Union League Club closes February 6th, and in 2012 heâ€™ll be exhibiting at the Chicago Cultural Center. Between now and then, Iâ€™m sure youâ€™ll have several opportunities to see his art.
DJ: First, I’d like to know about the process, and then the driving concept behind that process, what it is you’re actually saying?
Matt Woodward: My, those are some loaded questions to start off with.Â My process is a pretty filthy one, actually. I always start with a blank surface of paper. Usually itâ€™s paper left over from other pieces, or paper that doesnâ€™t fit together neatly so it has to be tiled together or constructed in some way.
And then I begin sanding into the surface. Actually, what I do is not so much sanding into the surface as it is beating the hell out of the surface. Iâ€™ll drag whatever I can find across it and throw things at it and generally get into a fight with it until it starts to let go of its face a little and dissolve out. I do this is because of the graphite; the paper is going to record just about everything I do to it, and when I get around to laying the graphite powder down itâ€™s going to sneak into all of these grooves and tears and make what it is I have done to it into a more visible mark. Itâ€™s also going to make itself difficult to get out again. And, of course, itâ€™s then that I go about trying to get it out again. I start scraping and sanding and erasing or getting it wet and pulling it out however I can. Sometimes Iâ€™ll add more paper to the surface, over the graphite and get back into it and repeat the process.
Eventually what starts to happen is that because the surface remembers just about everything, the paper and marks that have been built up create a kind of document, remembering what Iâ€™ve done to it, and all of this adding and removing, this deconstructing and reconstructing is clearly illustrated there. However, what Iâ€™m left with, essentially, is a surface covered in a field of graphite. And itâ€™s from this field of graphite that I will start pulling out the image.
DJ: Tell me about that image, about your architecture.
MW: The work isnâ€™t so much about architecture as it is about space and the way architecture, through a relationship with the space it occupies, is capable of forming an impression of time. The images in my work come straight out of the cityscape; they are representational objects, and so they are tangible and therefore form an expression of a given space. Taken in their original context, as public monuments or as symbols of affluence or what have you, they also represent not only a specific space and time, but also a value system.
But I have also deliberately removed them from this context and presented them in such a way that their place in any particular index of ideas which would firmly locate them in history is called into question. In short, I have taken them from where I found them and where you might know them and brought them here to where you may not.
But getting back to the process, Iâ€™ve taken these objects, these images and I have put them in the dark, in the graphite bed that I have made for them. And, if youâ€™ll humor my analogy a moment, after this I then begin to pull them back out. I do that by applying light to the object, by erasing the graphite out of the surface. Itâ€™s really your traditional reductive drawing, and in this way, I think, reductive drawing has more in common with a sculptural idiom, an architectural idiom than you might expect. I am letting the light of the image, which is the light of the paper â€“ the paper that is buried beneath the graphite â€“ signify the things presence by pulling and carving it out of the surface. Itâ€™s very much like a relief.
So, the use of reductive drawing in my work really is an attempt to mirror, metaphorically or literally or otherwise, the push and pull of deconstruction and reconstruction that shapes the ever-changing city as we come to know it. The city occupies a particular time, it is constantly ruined and put back together. All the while it is developing a memory of that process. It is recording its own indelible sense of loss. The drawing, then, becomes its own record of the effort it took to get it up there on the wall. Like I said, I have taken these things from where I found them and brought them here, where they mean nothing, essentially, where they depend on a particular history to define them and guide them out of anonymity. I have let whatever history, whatever motivation that put them where I found them begin to disappear. And I have let the meaning fall out of them by doing so. I have suspended them in a moment of unaccountable loss, of dark, bodily grief and in a presentation that confronts these things directly, forwardly.
DJ: It sounds as if we’ve arrived at bedrock. Talk about loss and dark bodily grief.
MW: Firstly, I think I should say that Iâ€™ve always been a little weary of the kinds of people who are quick to look down their noses at a thing and call it naive if at the core of it there is an emotive unfurling. If thereâ€™s something other than a center sound in conceptualism then they seem suspicious of it. And certainly, I understand how it can be overwhelming, else it seem a little solipsistic, a little insular. However, itâ€™s a disproportion difficult to isolate. And at the same time, Iâ€™m immersed in it. Impossibly. These are very personal drawings that I take very seriously, they also happen to be about death in a lot of ways. And how do you talk about death without cheapening it, without watering it into particulars? Itâ€™s like fine tuning a little golden spider.
That being said, Iâ€™m interested in making work about this theme of loss, about a tremendous alone. What it does to you, how you find it in the world. Iâ€™ve spent a lot of time finding it there and Iâ€™ve also spent a lot of time looking for a way to emblematize certain things about it, realities against which you can follow or measure or locate certain pretensions of cultural and political upheaval and revival. A revival deliberately located in this absence.
But getting back to all that, yes, the work is specific to a lot of things, and I wouldnâ€™t be very truthful if I said that so much of it isnâ€™t that glaring deafening absence, that it didnâ€™t come out of that first. Or if I didnâ€™t say that at one point I felt compelled to stick a gate in front of someone in such a way that it was flat and so always confronting you; and figurative in that its proportion called the perspective of the body into denial, and the same if I said that I wasnâ€™t trying to make it unclear whether you were inside of or outside of something, wanting to get out or get back in, or that I made it in such a way that you could no more see the thing that contained you here in this nowhere nothing city than you could understand the long historical story of its enfranchisement with the world it came from originally.Â A world that seemingly left it behind. That is dead now accept for this, that it’s still here and here with you, drawing the past into the present, drawing you into the past.
They are sleeping. They mean nothing. They were waiting to be replaced before they were considered worth preserving and thus made obsolete in doing so. They are somnambulists and we too are somnambulists. The human world is, indeed, made by us; everything in it is made by us and what we encounter in it is already implicit within ourselves.
Iâ€™ve tried to balance it as well as I can on a conceptual platform in order to talk about it without really believing that there is such a thing, such a balance, with anyone. With anyone’s work. I like to believe that itâ€™s possible but Iâ€™m not sure. Architecture has been supportive in that respect. But you could take it a step further and say that the work isnâ€™t so much about architecture as it is about the drama of objects. How they represent a kind of hinge between the passing of things, like time, or like ourselves, and into something else. How objects when theyâ€™re denied, become people. And in the same way the memory becomes an object when it loses its context, and the world becomes around it. When the memory slips out of the knowing of its history it becomes the hollow shell of the thing it once considered to be sacred and profound.
Portuguese Synagogue, 63 x 59 in. Graphite on paper, 2010.
DJ: I’m curious what first drew your attention to the architectural embellishments? Was there a definitive conscious choice to take these symbols and remove them from their environment? Maybe what I’m really asking for is this: Was there a moment of inspiration, a moment that the idea simplyÂ came to you, or was it a more labored exploration full of evolving interpretation?
MW: Definitely the decision came as an organic one at first, out of other ideas out of other labors. So, yes, it has evolved over time and is still evolving. I canâ€™t name any singular event, you wouldâ€™ve had to have been there, I guess. I walk a lot. I walk everywhere and Iâ€™m alone when I do it. And this is what I look at when Iâ€™m walking. When I moved here I wasnâ€™t ready for it and so I went out walking around often, trying to find something. Iâ€™d get lost for hours. I took these things out of their environment because when I was taken out of mine I was effected greatly. To be honest with you, when I came here I lost touch with something and I spent a lot of time trying to get it back. And when I started making these drawings I wanted to make sure that the documentation I was talking about earlier was there in the work, was visible, present. I hope thatâ€™s appreciable. But it wasnâ€™t enough to me that I made them and in making them was saying how I felt about them. There was more.
One summer at the Art Institute I had the chance to take a class with James Yood, who had more to say about architecture than I thought you could possibly say. I took that class simultaneously with another taught by Paul Ashley, and both of these two were about as smothering a pair of minds as you can imagine. Paul was teaching Going to Hell at the time, a class about Dante and Milton and the infernal city and Blake and Sylvia Plath. And I started to gain on this a little. The city repeating everywhere in an arcana table of timelessness, fecund and extending everywhere at once in a way that made it empty and that meant nothing. A maze. Like an illusion. There was nothing there. And I was there in it. Walking. Waiting. Walking like in a giant delusional memory recalling itself, deformed by the redundancy, the repetition of objects. Of language, printed on everything like a mirror and I hadnâ€™t noticed it before. And outside of my apartment was a row of cast iron flowers, like a machine had made them there. They were everywhere. They had been everywhere.
Lincoln Ave, 60 x 81 in. Graphite on paper, 2010.
DJ: Though you’ve removed these architectural fragments from their history by taking them out of the space in which they reside, do you cast your own history into them in some way beyond the act of building and reducing them on paper?
MW: Certainly I change them, I edit them or what have you. I mean, I try to remain as close to the original as possible. I do try to make work that is as indistinguishable from the model as possible, which is what all representational art does. Only in this case, the model isnâ€™t so much Architecture as it is, say, this issue of displacement.
And the kind of displacement Iâ€™m trying to represent here is an arranged kind, a kind that produces an equivocal domain somewhere between where I found them and took them from and their place here, in the same way as it was before, only now as this representation. A representation that isnâ€™t the same thing as the object but refers to it, relying on the appropriation of its displacement. So that when you stand in front of them it starts to talk on to you about what it used to say before I put it here in a drawing. That’s what it was made to do. Iâ€™m trying to get it to do that again, and I think it does. Itâ€™s like hearing a sound when youâ€™re sleeping and it makes its way into your dream. Itâ€™s like being able to take the voice out of the face and make it sing again. What does it say if the face, in death, has become part of the head? Like when my dad died I kept calling his voicemail and listening to it. I just kept calling his voicemail and listening to his voice. Only it wasnâ€™t his voice.
DJ: In your experience thus far, I’m curious about the response you’ve heard from others, how people read and interpret the work?
MW: People have responded quite well, actually. They take the work seriously and respond with candor. And Iâ€™m very fortunate for that. I get a lot of emails from people just wanting to write and say hello and this is what I think of your work. Which I love. That anyone would put time into writing me is gorgeous, let alone the energy it takes to go about sharing really very thoughtful and complicated and personal emails. Itâ€™s befuddling, it befuddles me with gratitude. I went back and forth with an artist in Upstate New York named Dave Dorsey, on whom nothing was lost. In fact, a lot of what we talked about was defining to me; he brought up some things that I wasnâ€™t seeing and I ended up paying closer attention to it and bringing it further into the work. That kind of thing is encouraging and it happens quite often. And I get to work with Linda [Warren], who’s more like a really good friend than a dealer. I trust her. Sheâ€™s a visionary. She has this incredible way of listening and coming back to you with a profoundly sympathetic and vigilant reception. Itâ€™s brilliant. Her attention to detail is inescapable.
DJ: Is the reductive nature of your art something that has manifested â€“ now, in the past, ever? â€“ across other aspects of your life? Is it part of your nature, or strictly relegated to artistic practice?
MW: I think so, certainly. That’s really an interesting question. Yes, thereâ€™s very much a rhythm blinking out of it, out of the chiaroscuro difference in ruin to proliferation. I was a terribly impatient painter and ended up making mud out of everything. And what I liked so much about drawing was its ability to bridge how we see the world with what it is weâ€™re actually looking at, how drawing allows recourse to the entirety of a particular episode. And whatâ€™s more, I think the record of an artistsâ€™ attempting to create something is much more interesting than a record of an artistsâ€™ misgivings. And the paper itself provides access to that, it provides that recourse. It refuses to be polished and this unstomaching palimpsest of layers accumulates so that when you see someone like Auerbach insist the drape of skin over a face you know that he could not have painted it that way. If he could have painted it that way he would have painted it that way. And I think that’s really quite important, especially with artists like Auerbach, or even with Kurt Schwitters, or Wyeth. There is an excitable piney down in their drawings and you can see them at a most impossible vulnerability trying to get at it and thereâ€™s this lasting molt of ephemera gathered there like debris and brine on the surface. And also not on the surface. Not anywhere.
Look at Kentridge. As if Kentridge in drawing isnâ€™t making loveless indifferent dead tin charcoal men, laid in, taken out, laid in again. Taken back out. Men who at their centers are better machines than children and even better ghosts than machines.
Fuller Street, 54Â x 70 in. Graphite on paper, 2010.
DJ: When we spokeÂ at Linda Warren Gallery, you talked about how these architectural ciphers are a kind of forgotten lyric, a music of a particular space and time. Can architecture function as a voice of the people?
MW: “Voice of the people?”Â Sounds like some kind of a manifesto.Â Iâ€™m not an architect and Iâ€™m not qualified as some kind of architectural historian. Iâ€™m not trying to be either of those things. I simply have a working wide-eyed and gleeful awe for architecture and for the nature of the city. I think that you canâ€™t help walking through a city and noticing that certain streets, certain neighborhoods are a kind of public, inclusive expression of different and specific stages of human development. You can watch them pour into and anticipate one another, you can see one remembering the last like rows of great, intelligent faces. The activity of their event contained like a ghost in a glass. And all of them seeming to have a preoccupation with symbols. A language of symbols. Symbols upon symbols like a massive, inclusive library in perfect proportion with every philosophical, every religious, every dogmatic block that we position ourselves up on.
So, in terms of a voice of the people, sure, I think if art is a kind of voice coming up out of history and singing, if you will, for humanity, singing into the space that people occupy everywhere, then you might say that architecture is, indeed, the form of that voice, the shape of it, since itâ€™s everywhere people are and since it has been the principle expression of this language contained in the symbol. Furthermore, I think that what is intolerable in life is decorous in art, and in architectures ubiquity you may find that, historically, for every infraction of tolerance there is an underlying shift somehow, there is a dogmatic shift, is there not? I think you could make an argument that there is. There is a building for every shift and for every building there are lyrics, or a language; there is a symbol for that shift. Every building seals in itself the time and the pressures of that time and the people replete with those pressures.
DJ: You take these deadÂ flourishes and emblematize loss and death through them, and though the nature of the work itself is reductive, the scale turns these flourishes into monuments, grand works of aloneness.Â I love the overwhelming scale you work in, and I’m curious if it relates directlyÂ to the size of your ownÂ entrenched consideration of absence,Â aloneness, loss? And is this absence something you can talk about?
MW: Iâ€™m glad you pointed that out, the idea that the work is reductive but, in contrast, will fill a room. Thereâ€™s a lot of that in the work. Definitely the scale is something I take personally. The scale but, furthermore, the repetition of things at that scale. They work in service of one another. Thereâ€™s a relationship between them that engages, tacitly, this issue of absence. Of loss. In having done something again, tried it again, why is there a swallowing â€˜againâ€™?
Thereâ€™s a kind of portent that arises with repetition. And I think this is essential to the work. Thereâ€™s an anticipation in repeating something, as if it will, naturally, be repeated again. A waiting for it to repeat again, to return to repeating itself. Like a machine or a pattern locked so deeply in place it doesnâ€™t know itâ€™s there. If itâ€™s there at all, having forgotten the name of the world that put it there. It presents a kind of impasse, it either will or will not repeat itself again, since that’s what it clearly wants to do and hasnâ€™t done. That impasse, in terms of scale, becomes literal here. I mean to seriously confront the viewer in their space, physically confront them in the crushing powdering dim. And stuck in this meantime, it calls into question memory, the memory of a city or person or both, working in tandem, which is what we were talking about earlier. Iâ€™m presenting the event of an archetype, an archetype confirmed in its repetition and stimulated by the viewers relationship to that archetype.
State Street installation view, each 100 x 88 in. Graphite on paper, 2010.
And at this perspective it rather earnestly calls to attention the absurdity in making monuments for monuments. And there again is a contrast, commemoration and denial. I mean, thinking of the key each confirms his prison. Anyway, I think what is important here is this intersection. Certainly; this impasse presented. And history and everything in it belongs to that intersection. The gloamy static memory of having died in a place that still remembers you everywhere. The work, having called on its own place in history, also calls on the epitomes of every person since they belong to that history, too. And there nothing happens, until you are aware of it, aware of this impasse, then you are waiting in it.
DJ: You mention vulnerability and displacement, and I can’t help but wonder if your art is about a certain vulnerability in yourself as well, if it nests somewhere in an attempt to find a home?
MW: Am I casting about for that? I think youâ€™d have to have loved me in order for me to answer. I think if youâ€™re talking about vulnerability as a kind of subject matter thatâ€™s there â€“ thatâ€™s there in the work because in making it I am susceptible to it â€“ then I think youâ€™re on to something else. And, yes, I agree with you, thereâ€™s certainly something in what Iâ€™ve been saying or something present in the work that alludes to this. To vulnerability.
As an issue of subject, I think, if itâ€™s something thatâ€™s always there then this is something you take with you and, indeed, try and apply somewhere else. Home; exile; you take it with you like a device and you commence things with it. Like turning people into places. Into a value gathering and borrowing somewhere between being temporary and being indifferent. Like home to house. Hydra to head to head to.
And somewhere in there is this vulnerability, coming up, prompting itself. Whether youâ€™d like it to or not, itâ€™s there. Procuring the doubtful Pygmallion.
So, in this case, if the subject is this occasion, if you will, the occasion in Vulnerability, then itâ€™s probably something youâ€™ve had in you to make art about, beyond the need to make art and make it with trivial subject matter. And itâ€™s probably something that began long before art making had anything to do with anything. And with me, the better Iâ€™ve gotten at looking at it, the better Iâ€™ve gotten at looking right at it â€“ vulnerability or not vulnerability, absence or not absence â€“ the better Iâ€™ve gotten at being able to trace it against certain contexts. It may even be that locating it in certain contexts is the occasion that more completely designs the content. The two correcting obsessively. Youâ€™re hydra again.
Like I said; leaving. The tax in leaving and having become alone in doing so and it your home thereafter until you forget or leave. Having lost something in doing it. But, then again, the ear youâ€™re whispering in might be your own.
The Art Institute of Chicago’s Free Thursday evenings (sponsored by Target) will end after May 26th. I read about the change earlier this week in a post by Time Out Chicago’s arts writer, Lauren Weinberg. I didn’t link to her post here at the time because Weinberg’s criticism of the AIC for this move didn’t seem entirely justified, to my mind, given that the Museum was not cutting free hours altogether, only changing their dates and times (which, for some, makes them less convenient). This morning, I was happy to read a lengthier piece posted by Weinberg that contained a fuller explanation of the Art Institute’s decision after speaking with its director of public affairs Erin Hogan. Although Weinberg asserts that her larger critique of the Institute’s move was fair, she adjusts some of her facts surrounding the public’s overall access to free admission – and that seems fair enough to me. I like that Weinberg is taking such a strong stance on this issue. I also think Erin Hogan rocks for being forthright and available to address any and all arguments against the AIC’s decision. Read all the details in Weinberg’s interview with Hogan and decide for yourself. And, you know, this should go without saying but, if you can afford to become a member of the Art Institute, the MCA, and other local Chicago museums – you should dole out the cash and do so. These cultural resources need it just as much as WBEZ does.
November 2, 2010 · Print This Article
An upcoming event worthy of special note: this Thursday, the Art Institute unveils a new exhibition focused on the workÂ of Chicago experimental filmmaker Tom Palazzolo, who began making films about Chicago in 1965 while attended SAIC with painters Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Ed Paschke, and Karl Wirsum, all soon to be known as Chicago Imagists.Â Palazzolo focused on the kinds of everyday goings-on that made the city and its inhabitants utterly unique. The show will include four important films made during 1967-1976, a key period of Palazzolo’s filmaking career, such as the nine minute long film Jerry’s (1976), which profiled deli owner Jerry Meyers, who was notorious for screaming at the customers of his South Loop eatery, and Ricky and Rocky (1972; 15 minutes), made with Jeff Kreines, which visits a backyard wedding shower in suburban Chicago for the Polish-American Roxanne (Rocky) and Italian-American Ricky.
The Art Institute’s website notes, “While Tom Palazzoloâ€™s films feature distinctively Chicago imagery and subjects, they move beyond purely regional concerns to embrace archetypal ideas about American history, civil rights, and personal and political expression. They depict the spectrum of human experience and, as he noted, â€œare a celebration of reality even if there is no understanding it.â€
Guest-curated by Kelly Shindler, the exhibition is on view through January 9th, 2011. AllÂ four films will be screened consecutively in Gallery 186 during the Art Institute’s public hours. For more information on the exhibition, click here. If you want to read more about Tom Palazzolo, check out this 1999 article in the Reader here, and the entry on his work at Chicago gallery Corbett vs. Dempsey here.