Sometimes a book will sit on the shelf so long that it loses its specificity and becomes merely a faceless one of many. Recently I have been revisiting this group of old friends who are stacked shoulder-to-shoulder on my bookshelves like classmates in some dimly remembered second grade group photo. The Artists’ Cookbook by Madeleine Conway and Nancy Kirk is a 1977 publication by The Museum of Modern Art. This book has lived on my shelf since 1979 or so when my best friend’s mom gave it to me in a purge of superfluous reading material. As an elementary schooler, I had little use for a cookbook, especially of the gift book variety, but since I’ve kept it all these years, it must somehow appeal to me. Perhaps she sensed this. This is also the same women, who, when I was thirteen, offhandedly gave me the complete diaries of Anais Nin. Hmmm.
Subtitled “Conversations with Thirty Contemporary Painters and Sculptors,” The Artist’ Cookbook offers a photograph of the artist in the kitchen, a one-page discussion of his or her perspective on food, followed by a series of the artist’s own recipes. I can’t even begin to imagine what the authors said when they pitched this book. Maybe something along the lines of… “We could get Warhol to make soup” (146-148). “Marisol eats only ‘natural’ food” (97-102). “And oh yea, I hear Larry Rivers makes an excellent Bronx Chicken” (126-129). Now I love Willem de Kooning as much as the next person, but do I really want a recipe for his brother Koos’s Seafood Sauce? Maybe not, but somehow reading Robert Indiana’s recipe for Hoosier Borscht makes me feel as if I know something about him that his art doesn’t reveal.
The most charming artists in the book are Christo and Jeanne-Claude—listed only as Christo, of course, since it was 1977. Still, within the text they are treated equally as artists. But only one of them cooks, and that is Jeanne-Claude, and that is if you consider opening a can “cooking.” Their little introductory bio is both delightful and bullshitty. The photo, though, is what makes their story. In it, Jeanne-Claude and Christo are younger than I have ever seen them. Christo looks on as Jeanne-Claude giddily peers into a box of cookies. It was only when I was writing this that I realized that I have the same cookie tin. Though you can’t tell from the photo, the sides of the box are inscribed with marital advice. For example, Be to her virtues very kind. Be to her faults a little blind. As well as, And oft I have hear defended, Little said is soonest mended. This advice is well employed in our house. Judging by what by all accounts was a successful love affair, it seems that the advice worked as well for Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
The Artists’ Cookbook has been out of print pretty much since the moment it was published. Unlike other out-of-print art books, this one is still affordable, maybe because it does not fall tidily into any particular category. The interwebs show it starting at $25. Collecting vintage cookbooks right now is HOT HOT HOT, and this book would make a nice gift for someone who likes art and cooking, but not, perhaps, for someone who just loves to cook. These recipes are a little hit-or-miss.
The Artists’ Cookbook: Conversations with Thirsty Contemporary Painters and Sculptors
Madeleine Conway and Nancy Kirk
The Museum of Modern Art, New York 1977
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 MoMA’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 wouldn’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, “If you’re playing the movie on a telephone, you will never in a trillion years experience the film. You’ll think you have experienced it, but you’ll be cheated. It’s such a sadness that you think you’ve seen a film on your fucking telephone. Get real.” I do see Lynch’s point, a smartphone or even an awesome tablet doesn’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 “art.” 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 don’t control it anymore no matter how hard you try (I’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 “alive” as the sensuous analog sound of vinyl. MP3s not as “lush” 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 “The Birth of Venus” hung over my bed. Never once did I confuse this poster with the real thing. The original hangs in Florence at The Uffizi Gallery. I’ve never been to that museum and sadly enough, I probably won’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.
Here’s the latest, linky roundup of (good) shit that comes our way….please to enjoy:
*Wanna visit MOMA for free for a year? How to make your own MOMA artist pass.
*Or on second thought, maybe you should buy a real museum membership instead: President’s Proposed 2012 Budget Cuts NEA, NEH Funding by 13%.
*ARC Gallery in Chicago has a call out for entries to its upcoming “Sequential Art: Comics and Beyond” exhibition. This is an “open walls” exhibition, meaning all entries will be accepted. You literally have nothing to lose.
*Missed the Jose Munoz lecture at SAIC last week? Art21 has a nice, concise summary of Professor Munoz’ talk.
*Worthy of advance plugging: AA Bronson speaks at Gallery 400 next week as part of UIC’s Voices Lecture Series. Tuesday, February 22nd at 5:00pm.
*You think quilting isn’t ‘real’ art? You are so wrong, buddy. Check this out: Haptic Labs’ Custom City Map Quilts; and Jimmy McBride’s Stellar Quilts. I would love to go to bed under any of those beauties, although I’d be afraid one of my dogs would puke on it. Sigh.
*Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits at the Du Sable Museum of African American History, through March 6th.
*Who doesn’t like browsing through online photo archives? The Field Museum Library has a veritable treasure trove available via its Flickr photostream…right now, they have hundreds of photographs up, including images from two scanning projects: Urban Landscapes of Illinois and 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. (Via Things).
*Earlier this month Edward Winkleman posted on the crisis in the arts funding landscape, which we discussed in our podcast for Art21 this month. As always Winkleman’s take on the issue, along with the ensuing comments, are well-worth reading.
Performance artist Anya Liftig costumed herself as Marina Abramovic’s double (long blue dress, sideswept braid) and sat across the table from Abramovic all day long last Saturday, March 27th, during Abramovic’s marathon performance piece “The Artist is Present,” part of her current retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. Liftig considered her action to constitute a performance of her own, and even has a title for it: “The Anxiety of Influence.” Bombsite has an interview with Liftig here. An excerpt:
Tatiana Berg: When I read reviews of “The Artist is Present,” writers often describe Abramovic’s piece as her “interacting” with her audience, which I think is a misnomer. The performance is really as far from interaction as you can get, since in the museum setting surrounded by guards on all sides—who won’t even let you take a picture—the audience’s available set of actions is very limited. So rather than interacting with Abramovic, it’s more like she’s inviting the audience to sit there and contemplate themselves, not her.
What I liked about your performance was that you totally played by the museum rules: no one said you couldn’t be dressed a certain way, no one could say you had to get up and let someone else have a turn. Did you nevertheless feel like a transgressor? A museum interloper?
Anya Liftig: I did feel like a transgressor but I love the subtle art of subversion—playing with ideas from the inside out. As I was sitting there, I felt like that was one of the strongest elements of Marina’s piece. She is attempting to “interact” with the audience, but really, the endeavor for empathy is one of implicit sadness, as we connect and miss one another. It is not meant to be read at face value. It also brings up the role of the artist, how they connect on an individual, emotional level with others when they are constantly being observed and commented upon by the masses held at bay by the guards.
Read the full interview on Bomb’s website; it’s really interesting and, based on the interview, Liftig seems to have approached her action with sensitivity and thoughtfulness rather than as a cheap stunt.
Does the Museum of Modern Art’s live feed of Marina Abramović’s performance “The Artist is Present” defeat the purpose of the piece, or enhance it? “The Artist is Present” is the title of both Abramović’s retrospective, which opened at MoMA on March 14th, as well as her new live performance, which takes place in MoMA’s Marron Atrium throughout the run of the exhibition. In her performance, Abramović sits on a wooden chair in front of a wooden table. The chair across from her is occupied by different museum visitors, who are invited to take a seat across from the artist and gaze at her while she gazes at them. Visitors are allowed to sit in the chair for as long as they want. (One man stayed for seven hours). MoMA’s exhibition website notes that the retrospective as a whole endeavors to “transmit the presence of the artist” by including “live re-performances” of Abramović’s works by other people, along with this new durational performance by the artist herself.
I couldn’t find any mention of how live streaming the performance fits into the exhibition’s overall attempts to “transmit the artist’s presence,” however. Ideally, of course, viewers will experience Abramović’s performance in a more direct fashion, either by sitting across from her or watching from the audience as other people share her gaze. But the existence of MoMA’s live streaming “marina-cam” (my nickname, not theirs) is downright puzzling. What’s the purpose of streaming a performance–one which purportedly explores what it means to “be present” in this particular historical moment — for the benefit of anonymous internet users who can engage with it only by staring at their computer screens for a few seconds at a time?
For a work of art that necessitates ‘presence’ in all the multivalent meanings of the term, I find it curious that Abramović agreed to the livecam broadcast in the first place. Read more