Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Online Viewing Room versus My Living Room (Two Works by Some Guy Named Ray)

I saw a post by Jerry Saltz last week on Instagram. It was a hypothetical email. “To: The Art World; Subject: When I hear the words online viewing room” I remove the safety from my mental revolver" The body of the email just said: “It is a website.”

Earlier that morning, flipping though the newest issue of ARTFORUM, I looked at the phrase Online Viewing Room and was struck by the absurdity of it. It’s a website, I thought. Then I thought maybe I was just being a jerk. 

If I am a jerk, so is Jerry Saltz. We are probably both jerks. 

The term Online Viewing Room is used to elevate something ordinary (a website) to make exclusive something that is not (the internet). There is also something here about reframing, steering purpose, marketing psychology blah blah blah. I have looked at these online viewing rooms (after registering). The legal fine print to visiting Gagosian's online viewing room is hilarious, almost a New Yorker Shout and Murmurs column ready to print. "If you do not agree to these Viewing Room Terms, you are not granted permission to use the Online Viewing Room and must exit immediately." Exit?! HAHA. But for those whose job it is to buy and sell artwork, whatever; live and let live. For me, online viewing rooms are just okay-looking websites that are mildly annoying to deal with. Anyway, I prefer to look at art in person.

Last week my friend Ray and his son came over to my house. While I was making dinner, Ray began constructing a floor-to-ceiling Lego tower in the living room. At first the kids, his and mine, were into helping with the tower but eventually the children lost interest, probably when a tape measure was brought out or when Ray began firmly insisting on sticking to the plan. The children went outside to play. The pieces had been put together, long batons of color on the floor while we ate. After dinner and after a couple of collapses, the tower was erected. It had a bellbottomed base that quickly tapered to  8-stud, then 6-stud and finally 4-stud pieces. It began on the floor, was lightly braced mid-way by two books on the mantle (one of Joan Didion essays the other a beginner’s Ancient Greek) and it ended at the ceiling. It did not stand perfectly straight. It was the tallest object in the room, as tall as the walls.

While the tower was there, it changed things, it affected how I felt when I walked through the room. Like Wallace Steven’s jar, it altered everything around it, "took dominion everywhere." It was the embodiment of the casual efforts of someone whose impulse and sensibility I know. Objectively, it was 
really good looking, and really present.

This has been a good season for art made in my living room, what with nowhere to go and all. This next “artwork” was not made in my living room, but my living room is where I received it.

I was lying on my couch (looking at the Lego tower, in fact) texting with Ray. The day before, his seven-year-old son (in the context of a story) made the gesture of giving the middle finger without wanting to really flip anyone off. He extended his middle finger but covered it with his other hand. Instantly, I remembered this gesture from my own youth, this sanitized two-hand, PG middle finger. In response to something sarcastic Ray had written, I texted that the iPhone insta-reply icons (thumbs up, down, ?, !!, HAHA, and a heart) were missing some things, say, a middle finger. In less time that I would have thought possible, Ray made and sent me this:

HAHA. Is it art? Whatever; sure.

Here is my point: While sure, you can see some representations of  nice artwork in these online viewing rooms, they are only representations. Even here, in these photographs, your experience of the Lego tower will be second hand. But you can make your own Lego tower. Or you can make a stack of…marshmallows, laundry, toilet paper (good luck with that one). 
When your icon or emoji bank fails you, make one. 

I guess I am glad that the art world, wherever and whatever that is, is still turning and maybe these online viewing rooms help. But, you know, you (or friends on your phase one post-quarantine list)  can make stuff in your living room. The gesture and the result might be more fun, profound, interesting, and meaningful than what you can see on the internet. It may cause a shift in your perception, it may come closer to doing what art does than “visiting” an 
online viewing room or traditional website (or basement of the internet blog like this one).

So the other day Jerry Saltz sent out this appeal to NYC art galleries:

Real Question to NYC Art-Galleries, from a Squirrelly Art Critic itching for a Mission: Are you planning a Sept-Oct show? What show? Do you see me/Roberta coming to yr gallery in our safe-bubble, let in, left a checklist, see show alone &leaving? I see something like this.
I hope they let him in. He seems like a fine guy and I know he really, really likes looking at art (Art). So do I, but if I had to choose, I would choose make over look

If the art galleries don’t let Jerry Saltz in, maybe he can get online and order some Legos...or paint... Or he can pick up this phone, Screen Capture an emoji, open Edit, Mark-up, and then create an emoji that expresses his feelings... 

(resting disappointed art critic face emoji).


(2 Towers) Joe Andoe made that beautiful painting of the top of the Empire State Building 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

There and Here, Then and Now

This painting on paper is evidence of my early fumbling into painting and drawing from Google maps Street View images. The arrow that used to guide you through directions has been replaced by a more static, more subtle arrow. Directions 2.0.

Sometime about ten years after I had been there, I was tracing my way from Fiumicino airport to the center of Rome on Google Street View, looking for an orange tree that I had seen my first time abroad. Abroad. The word sounds like it’s from a different era, like sophomore. I was twenty-one years old.

On my laptop I traced the route from the airport to where it left the highway and then activated street view for a closer look. I remember the taxi was going down hill when I saw outside my window on the left, a stone wall and over the top of the wall I saw the orange tree. I had never seen an orange tree having spent all of my time in the north east. The bight orbs nested within a roundish green form looked other-worldly. The fact that it was behind a garden wall made me feel lucky for having caught sight of it. That feeling of wonder registered so deeply that ten years later I could still bring it up. Ten years later I searched for directions from Fiumicino to Via Cola di Rienzo, the street the hotel was on. 

So I was looking back on this route a decade after having been there in the flesh, in person, in a taxi. I am now looking at this drawing several years after drawing it (in the flesh, in person, in my room in New Orleans, as it were).

In this painting, the gaze is pointed forward, or the opposite direction of forward if the arrow is to be believed. The paper I used is brittle, not meant for drawing or painting. The painting includes not only the obsolete icon but a water stain in the sky.

I made the second painting at the same time and on the same route, pursuant of that orange tree I caught a glimpse of from a taxi at the very end of the last millennium. In this one I drew the arrow and trailing white line that appeared when one turned to view to the side of the directed route. I am constantly looking off the path for better or worse.

Why did I look back along this route at all? Simple: I was moved by an orange tree. Why am I looking back along the more metaphorical route now?  Both retracings weave together the past and the present. Here I am in the future once again looking at some picture that is, as they say, neither here nor there. All of this (the pictures and what I am doing now) shows a contradiction of intent, directions pointing one way, and also the other All along I have been painting, not from a defined point or toward a defined goal, but from and towards something I cannot name, sone side view, some distance that never takes form.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Sugar, it's Emily.

I have been looking at my old artwork (and newer artwork) on the walls of my room. After a gap–full of over-thinking, a day-job, home-schooling, avoiding complicated feelings–in which my walls remained blank, I put an old painting on the large wall. I wrote about this in my last post. Then, I looked through a box of small drawings and set two aside. One is a self portrait (sunbathing) I made sixteen years ago when I was living in France and as alone as I am now, in a stretch of time, which like now, seemed occasionally to stand still. There were empty hours of the day and sometimes I would go on my little terrace and lie in the sun. The other painting is a portrait of Sugar made from a snapshot taken in our shared kitchen on Jewel Street in Brooklyn. That was fifteen years ago.I taped the drawing of Sugar on the wall next to my self portrait from the year before we met.

I made about thirty self-portraits in acrylic paint on typing paper from photographs taken on my first digital camera, which had a screen that swung out for taking what weren't yet called selfies. I have never liked having my picture taken because looking at the result was always kind of spooky. The person I saw in photographs did not resemble me, the person looking outward. I took these photographs the way I talk to myself aloud when I am alone for thirty hours or more, for the company, I guess. In France, alone with my digital camera, I had the idea that I could cure my photo-phobia (Scopophobia, scoptophobia, or ophthalmophobia). If I could become accustomed to how I looked in photographs, I would no longer feel strange seeing them. To some degree it worked. I don't think any these paintings really look like me but they look like the photographs I took. And they feel like me, feel like I remember feeling, quiet and alone, for better and worse. I can remember vividly the sun on my skin, the little terrace outside my borrowed studio apartment, outside a little village in Provence. I can see the heat of the sun on my face in the painting. 

This is Sugar. When I moved back from France I went to New York. I found a room in an shared apartment in Greenpoint. I wanted to learn Polish, had been studying a little, and so moving in with four or five or six Polish men and the wife of one of the men seemed perfect. I had a room in which I could paint and sleep and sit at a small round table and drink one Brooklyn Lager in the evening. I got along fine with most of the roommates but Sugar and I became friends. It was a friendship that happened in the smallest of margins of two lives that barely overlapped. In the evenings I would knock on Sugar's door with a frequency or manner that made me think of that line from The Royal Tenenbaums "Sugar, it's Eli." I would say "Sugar it's Emily." in Owen Wilson's voice. I wouldn't have guessed I would know Sugar fifteen years later. I used to prefer to live with strangers and not so that I could make life-long friends.

Now, I see Sugar in the apartment taking my door off the hinges to use as a table for our Christmas dinner. I see us playing baseball in McCarren Park on Easter, the Polish boys shouting Do domu! Do domu!, go home, go home, the spring I was falling in love. Sugar came Upstate to the party to celebrate my marriage and I have a photograph of Sugar holding my son after we had moved to New Orleans. From the window of his second floor apartment in Queens, I see Sugar below playing with my children in the fresh new snow, their first sight ever of snow, their first trip back to New York since the divorce. We have gone years without seeing each other but Sugar has been there for events in my life and has still been there after they ended. Sugar always leaves me voicemails on holidays, on my birthdays, long, strangely formal messages I always save. He wishes me love and money and health and happiness.

I look at these drawings now to think about painting and art, and what I will draw or paint next but I think of other things. This is the way life has always distracted me from art. I call Sugar to say hello, to say I am thinking about him. He is already at LaGuardia working on the new terminal. I want to tell him that I ordered electrical tools and watched YouTube videos and fixed my washing machine. But really I want to say Sugar, where we are going? Why has everything changed? Why has nothing changed? I want to ask him something I couldn't find words for and he probably doesn't know.

What did I want these drawings to tell me? What did I want Sugar to tell me on the phone? I don't know. When I would knock on his door in in our apartment on Jewel Street, I didn't necessarily know then either. Chcesch herbat
ę? Want tea?  Maybe I was just taking a break from making some painting that wouldn't mean much in the long run either. We don't usually understand the meaning of things we do, of the things we make, but at some point they should point to something, shouldn't they? The art is the record that we witnessed our lives as did our friends. Maybe these drawings just say: this is how you lived and made art, this is someone you knew and know, someone you were and are. They say, this was me and this was Sugar, moving unbelievably fast and standing perfectly still. 

Monday, May 4, 2020

Are We There Yet?

My walls have been empty for a few days. And in spite of what I said just a week or so ago, I had no compulsion to fill the space, to fill the vacuum. I guess my thoughts were elsewhere, or so far inside my head I was no longer looking at the walls of the room; I was staring at the ceiling of my brain. I get like that, over-thinking, shut in, my senses sort of ossifying while I get lists of things done.

And for the past week or so I was fine with the empty walls. I felt no desire to draw or paint or I was too busy with other things to draw or paint, or as I said, I have been too much in my head. Then yesterday I just made a move. I thought, anything will do. I will just put something there on the wall to look at and then have a thought about it. That was the robotic tone and unimpassioned way I went about pulling from my closet, a roll of large paintings on paper. 

If my motivation for putting work on the walls has been to see where I have been so I could see where I was going, it did not seem to be working. I am nowhere and doesn't that fit the moment? We go nowhere as mandated by the pandemic. But in the name of follow-through, I made a decision. This large landscape is unlike any other painting I have made in recent years. It is just a sketch really, made in black acrylic paint and not on very good paper. The source photo came from a book of Russian miniature lacquer paintings on wood boxes from a town called Fedoskino. 

In both the source image and my painting, I liked the winding road, the brutal building, and the shape of the tree on the right. It is not at all a great painting, I would hardly call it a painting but I tacked it to the wall and now I am looking at it. 

My lack of connection to this image had given me a kind of freedom when I was painting it. I had no history on this road in Russia. Still, something about the image made me nostalgic. The photograph in the book was black and white and vertically formatted. Just now I went to Google maps to try to find this road, this view. To the map search bar I typed in Fedoskino, a village outside of Moscow. I saw the factory on the map, I saw the blue line of the river near it which must be the one in the photograph. I went to Google Street View. I clicked back and forth over the bridge but could not find the perspective in the photograph. Strange.

The landscape surrounding the factory reminded me of where I am from in Upstate New York, and also reminded me of Poland, where I have visited twice, and just looked like a landscape I wanted to linger in, have lingered in, a kind of déjà-vu. I was no longer lost in my head but I was beginning to feel lost on the other side of the over-thinking, a kind of through the looking glass. Do you remember the first time you had déjà-vu and tried to explain it to a grown-up?

I moved the viewpoint back and forth closer and farther from the factory but I could not replicate the view. From the bridge, the factory was way too far in the distance. Did they move the bridge? Is that the same large tree? But it looks smaller... How was this photograph shot so high off the ground? A bucket truck? This state of not understanding, of puzzling, is the baseline state of a child who does not understand physics, optics, logistics of much beyond tactile experience. This feeling, this state, was already activated in me when I turned the pages of the book to look at these strange little paintings. 

I cannot remember where I got this book or why. These paintings are truly bizarre and not remotely what I ever would describe as my taste. Look at this one of a bear driving a sled under a black sky! The sky in many of these paintings is black. These paintings are disorienting and spark the low register terror a child feels. The fact that they are painted on boxes also also tunes my mind to a static-y frequency of childhood, the encountering of curious objects, the smell of old containers at a grandparent's house, the spell of strange images. 

Since the pandemic drove us all indoors, the world has lost some of its form, some of its solidity. Much of it appears in image, through windows or on screens. Looking at these weird paintings with black skies and figures that seem to be in a trance, looking at them first thing in the morning when the sky outside my window is still dark, has made me feel less certain that I know the world I have woken into. I feel outside my own taste in art, outside my own urge to draw and write things, outside my timeline, my life's continuity. 

These little paintings are disorienting and this particular feeling of disorientation resembles that of a child. Children are new here, lacking the background knowledge to dismiss this or that.  Yhe world comes in funhouse mirror proportions, shifting and unreliable. A child's mind is different than that of a forty-something year old art-educated person who had just been trying to stick to the program, look at something on the wall and then make her next painting. 

There are lots of people whose job it is to keep things in order. Artists and writers should invite disorientation. When young children wake up  they are lost. After every nap, every sleep, they have this look that says something like where am I, what is this place? We lose this. We grow up and wake up thinking we know lots of things for certain and that is how we proceed with the day. But what really do we know for sure? What do I know today? The sky outside was black when I started writing but it is lightening now. It's time to make coffee, do grown-up things, pick things up and put them down in proper places, which no longer look quite right.