Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Village Disco, Displacement, and David Bordett at the Front

David Bordett, The Patient Gothic Chisel, The Front
I was at Holly’s drinking an Aperol spritzer. Tom, who is a writer, was sitting across from me. I don’t know Tom well but I see him from time to time at the grocery store, at literary or art events and we have some friends in common including Holly. Tom asked me why I had stopped writing my blog, which I kept for two years and stopped writing in 2016. He turned to his wife and said, "She was writing a blog about displacement. It was called…” and he looked at me. "Village Disco,” I said.

That was more than a month ago and I am still thinking about what Tom said: A blog about displacement. I had believed I was writing a blog about art. 

“The election.” I said, answering Tom’s question about why I had stopped writing my blog in 2016. Everyone nodded slowly as if saying, well, of course. But it wasn’t quite true that I stopped writing about art because of the election; it definitely wasn’t the whole truth. The last post I wrote was a response to the election, and after the election I did feel a version of what the late night comedians would say in those days “…because nothing matters anymore.” In fact, it was not that art mattered less to me at that time, but that it mattered more. I wanted to be in the quiet of the studio painting more than I wanted to be looking at and writing about art exhibitions. At the time I was painting landscapes from photographs I had taken of the Luxembourg gardens and Parc des Buttes Chaumont in Paris. I was also painting a pine tree that had been in the yard of the house where I lived near Marseille in 2004.

Five out of six of us around the table at Holly’s had moved to New Orleans from New York about a decade ago and within months of each other. The conversation had moved to New York and what living back there, now, would be like: the cramped living spaces, the pleasure of reading on the subway, and that here we have our own yards for our children to play in. 

A blog about displacement.

Had this been a blog about displacement? I went back and had a look at my blog entries, keeping an eye out for clues. I found that I often asserted my expectations of a gallery, complaining when work was hung too high or too cramped, but couldn’t those expectations have formed anywhere including New Orleans? Maybe not. I wrote a whole piece about the weird habit many New Orleans galleries had of playing background music as if a gallery were a furniture store. In that post I do not reference other places but I think the way I refer to New Orleans is accented, obviously not native. A glaring “I’m not from here” post was my reaction to the Katrina reflection show titled Ten Years Gone at NOMA and my irritation at a reviewer who seemed miffed that not all of the work or artists screamed NOLA! at the viewer. I mention in various posts and in various ways that my expectations were formed elsewhere, my New York perspective transported in my carpetbag. Like this, in the second post on the blog I wrote:

The expectations I arrived with were formed in New York and New York is easy to feel homesick for even if it is not your place of birth, even if you (sometimes) remember well all its frustrations on many fronts including art. The thing about making and looking at art in New York is that is so, serious. Also, it feels part of something global. When I moved here I couldn't even get a handle on the local use of the vocabulary I thought was universal in contemporary art.

I end the post with a nostalgic Google Street View grab of West 19th Street and wrote as if trying to convince myself, “I live here now, in New Orleans; David Zwirner does not. I’m okay with that. Mostly.”

Displacement. Displacement. I repeated the word until I almost lost its meaning. And what does this have to do with art?

I told Holly and Tom and the others that last summer I stayed alone in my brother’s Bronx apartment when he was out of town. One night I had the windows open. I stood by the open window and I thought, funny, it’s quieter here than in my house in New Orleans and the air smells better. I thought vaguely of the word, belonging. The next day I went to the Met and looked at French paintings of gardens and parks.


Lately, I have been considering writing about art again. Tom's comment about displacement kept mixing with that consideration and so I went to see what was on view at The Front.

In the second gallery there was a show of works by David Bordett titled The Patient Gothic Chisel. There were three sculptural works and one photograph on view.

The wall labels for sculptural works were detailed and abundant lists of materials. When an artist does this, the materials can take on a kind of poetic weight. Included in the list of media on the wall label next to Reliquary was “Christian Louboutin red flocking” and “stalactites recovered from the exterior of the cloisters.” I asked the artist (who was gallery-sitting that day) to clarify a couple things. “What is Christian Louboutin flocking?” I asked (outing myself as more of sneaker and boot type) and by “the cloisters” did he mean “The Cloisters?” as in the New York museum. Once I had that information (Louboutin, the fashion designer of the red-bottomed stilettos, and yes, The Cloisters) I went back and looked at the piece for a long time. It was hard not to enjoy the light-absorbent red fabric, the meticulous (Gothic?) details including the lancet window cubby that held the relic, the so-labeled stalactite from the outside of the cloisters.

I remembered the first time I visited The Cloisters on an afternoon many years ago. It was spring, and I had taken the subway north to Washington Heights, to a part of the city that was new to me. And I remember daffodils and the view of the Hudson River looking almost like a painting from another another era. The air was new and clean-smelling. I was with my sister and it is one of my fondest memories of being with her, though the memory is thin in story and detail. My memory merged with the “relic” in the gallery and I thought, memory itself is a relic that cannot be encased.

Next to Reliquary was a photograph. It pictured the base of a stone wall, part of a recessed column, and an outlet with an iPhone charger and phone plugged into it. Last summer when I was at the Met with a dying phone battery. I stopped near a little display of books and things to buy, not near any artworks, and I plugged in my phone. A minute or two later I was politely told by a passing guard that I could not plug in my phone there. Looking at the photograph I let out a little, spontaneous laugh. This photograph was one of those artworks that was completed not on the wall but in my mind as the viewer. The particular sum of my traveled path—the cloisters all those years ago, my attachment to old European stone, my experience last summer at the Met, and my vague and persistent longing that envelopes art, Europe, and New York—made this work speak to me. It was not a blockbuster work of art but it moved me.

The title of the photograph was The Patient Gothic Chisel. The photograph’s title made a funny little comparison between the sturdy tool that had presumably shaped the stones pictured and the fragile and antsy little iPhone sucking up electricity, loaded with concerns about being liked.

My experience of the remaining two pieces in the show paled in comparison, though, as I have admitted, this comparison is based largely on subjective and nostalgia-tinged experience. The two remaining works stirred no memory, and so for me operated as a bit of pleasing eye candy. The unicorn (titled Superleggera) was easy to like though I thought the painted unicorn and color on the base were redundant and unnecessarily distracting. The piece titled Many Paths seemed both democratic and slightly cynical, saying something between Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and “Whatever.”

Before I left I talked for a while with the artist. He said he used to live in New Orleans, comes back frequently, but now lives in New York. I did not know the neighborhood he named when I asked where in the city he lives. This happens more and more. I asked about Greenpoint like it was an old friend. I have not been back to Greenpoint for a few years now, maybe avoiding it when I return to New York because everyone I knew there is gone, and on the streets one hears more English than Polish which makes me uncomfortably wistful. Two women visiting the gallery overheard us talking and said they were from New York, neighborhood: Williamsburg. We all talked for a while about neighborhoods here and there, rent prices here and there, and art here and there.

Before I left I told David Burdett that I have a friend, Holly, who used to work at the Cloisters. But she lives here now. I’d like for her to see your show.

David Bordett,  Reliquery, The Front


David Bordett,  Superleggera, The Front

David Bordett, Many Paths, The Front

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