The Symmetry of Footsteps

Muenster Walk, 1997, by Janet Cardiff

I’ve always liked the idea of symmetry between art and life. Mathematicians look for it in equations. Physicists look for it in nature. Ever since I was introduced to the work of Janet Cardiff, I’ve listened for it in moments. I am always grateful for artists who are capable of making me associate and disassociate–sometimes miraculously at the same time. Cardiff has made me hear life in unexpected moments. Once, I returned from an interview to discover that I had accidentally recorded my movements afterward–the sound of my footsteps, my passage down a hall, my greeting to someone I didn’t know very well, my pouring of water, opening a door, walking up stairs. In these brilliantly connected yet isolated moments, common activities become otherwordly–the sound of a dishwasher, a flushing toilet, a clanking utensil, a drawer closing, a light changing, paper moving, a dish set. Mostly, though, Cardiff has made me love the feeling of hearing the symmetry of footsteps.

Turns out there is a blog and new book dedicated to visual moments like this–two bicoastal friends finding symmetry between everyday images and artworks. Love the idea. Check it out. [Huffington Post and Interview]

Rob Pruitt . . .

. . . is 6’1″; wears a size 11 1/2 shoe; can’t decide what he wants to tell you; thinks there are so many truths; is 95 percent vegan; made his “Paris Hilton” paintings wearing plastic 3 1/2-inch heels; has always had this idea that you should go for what you want and not settle, set your sights high and you probably will get it; thinks all of this sounds like a plan but it happened much more organically, it was all very simple; almost exhibited blown-up silkscreen versions of telephone doodles left by famous artists at Sonnabend rather than “Red, Black, Green, Red, White, and Blue”; thinks his father was a bit more like Archie Bunker than he probably imagined; liked high school; thinks Cocaine Buffet was a bit of a tacky plan; thinks he never really learns from his mistakes; says it never occurred to him that it could backfire; believes you piece together the truths of your origins; has a natural tendency toward self-sabotage; has tried organizing a committee of people he trusts to tell Rob Pruitt what he should do next, but he can never take any of their ideas because he prefers his own; believes a lot of his stuff looks so crappy because its important that he make it himself; wears basically the same outfit, including a black pleather studded belt, nearly every day; might have painted Ileana Sonnabend’s bathroom door; believes he’s been most influenced by Minimalism; is never sure that what he is saying is 100 percent true; is glad there is only one (brilliant) Jeff Koons; loves miso soup; knows he’s not lazy; can’t tell you the whole truth about everything because it would sound so clinical; thinks of the Art Awards as a group show determined by a very democratic process; wants to make a big series of paintings about Woody Allen some day; doesn’t walk around thinking he’s the best but doesn’t think anyone’s the best; has never asked the hard questions of his parents; thinks it would be cuter if dollar bills looked like chocolate-chip cookes (everyone loves cookies); thinks cheating can be a way of picking and choosing what you want to learn for the future; smokes Marlboro Lights; wants to know who your favorite contemporary artist is; wants to know how much you’re getting paid; likes to look at the pictures people post on eBay; is not going to stop until people think he’s better than Maurizio Cattelan.

from my Art+Auction profile, available here

Thought Made Visible

The cover of Judith Goldman's 1985 monograph

A surefire way to irritate me beyond reasonable measure is to not understand my (perhaps unreasonable) attachment to books. I love their weight and feel and their sense of occupancy, their reason for being–to attempt to communicate something beyond time and distance. I particularly love my art books. James Rosenquist by Judith Goldman is one of my favorites. The cover alone is irresistible (reminds me rather unsurprisingly of a great album cover) but her text is equally swoon worthy:

December 1983: “I’ve got an idea for a real zinger–women, flowers, and dead fish.” James Rosenquist has just returned from a meeting at New York’s Four Seasons Restaurant, where he discussed the mural they had recently commissioned from him. He is excited, physically animated. “Maybe the fish won’t be dead,” he continues, “but they’re going to have real slippery eyes. Slippery fish and beautiful women.”

“Did they understand it?” What I had meant to ask was if they liked it.

Rosenquist finds the question beside the point and not wanting to be impolite, steers the conversation in another direction. “Did I ever tell you about the time I was down in Florida visiting Bob Rauschenberg? We’d had dinner and a lot to drink. We were pretty swacked, and after dinner Bob showed me his new work. I looked for a while and told him I liked it, but I wasn’t sure I understood it. Bob started to laugh and laugh and was still laughing when he said, “Do you think I understand it?”

Another favorite is Mel Bochner: Thought Made Visible 1966–73, a catalogue published in conjunction with an exhibition at Yale University Art Gallery in 1995. I love this one primarily because I believe it changed my life. Really. I was 25 when I was introduced to Mel Bochner. I was working as a features reporter for a daily newspaper in Connecticut and by default had been assigned to provide arts coverage for the Sunday paper. I would drive around the state in a dying Mazda (it seemed to require oil replenishment every sixty miles) and write about artists, gallerists, and writers in the area (Cleve Gray, Robert Natkin, Rosamond Bernier, Jacques Kaplan) as well as regional exhibitions. Here is some of what I wrote about the Bochner exhibition:

Black-and-white, pen and ink, Bochner’s art includes everything from rough diagrams and preliminary sketches to typed letters and stamped envelopes. He defines art as measuring tape on a wall, floored newspaper painted blue, even stones placed on pieces of white paper. Rarely are Bochner’s works straight-forward. They require translation. They rely on finding a common language which is, of course, the trickiest art of all.

“Language is what keeps people apart and ideas from being understood,” says Bochner, a tall, slender man of model proportion with a sweep of thick, silver hair, and a tendency to wink frequently and smile occasionally. He is gentle and patient in the fluid, graceful way he moves his hands–more like a dancer, less like a salesman–when he speaks. “I’ve always been interested in the hidden conventions that govern life and art.”

I studied that catalogue like mad, trying to pin down his mental teasers. It was invigorating. His art made everything and anything possible–all forms of communication and miscommunication. It suddenly wasn’t something that I was failing to understand (and by it I mean those “hidden conventions” that had flummoxed me since at least adolescence); it was something that no one (not to be presumptuous or idealistic) completely understood  even if they thought they did. Ultimately, the exercise of translation (and not just a single translation but repeated and often increasingly contorted translations) that Bochner’s art required opened an entire world of learning for me. I was no longer intimidated by not knowing; I was completely enthralled by it. Everything became about translation–from art and physics to mathematics and relationships. The world of knowing became one glorious invention of systems and practices that veiled the amazing and thrilling comfort of not knowing and perhaps, maybe and fleetingly, understanding just a little. Seriously and simply beautiful.

Bochner wins me over with lines like the "dead ends and vicious circles of language."

Olaf Breuning: Mega Good Stuff

My photos are blurry but the exhibition is awesome. Go see “Small Brain, Big Stomach” at Metro Pictures, through Saturday.

That $106.5 Million Picasso? Even the Pizza Deliveryman Knows What It Is

Picasso's record-breaking $106.5 million 1932 portrait of Marie-Therese Walter: Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust. Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.

In May 2004, at the start of the art market’s phenomenal boom and before the most recent mini-bust, I wrote an article for ARTnews in which I attempted to analyze why certain artworks attract outrageous sums at auction. A good section of the article was dedicated to Picasso’s 1932 portraits of Marie-Therese. Here is some of what I wrote:

Among the most popular images to appear at auction are Picasso’s 1932 paintings of his young lover and muse Marie-Therese Walter, which have fetched prices of between $48.4 million and around $1 million in the past decade. “The year of 1932 and Marie-Therese,” says Sotheby’s David Norman, “is one of the most sought after years of Picasso.” The artist disguised Marie-Therese in paintings during the first four years of their affair, which ran from 1927 through the late 1930s. In December 1931, he painted his first fully recognizable portrait of her, and in the following year, he painted dozens more of her, often asleep in an armchair. The works of 1932 tend to be “robust in scale,” says Michael Findlay, a director of New York’s Acquavella Galleries and Christie’s former international director of fine arts. “They appeal to collectors who like recognizable paintings–even the pizza deliveryman knows what it is. There is no doubt that it is a big, beautiful Picasso.”

You can read the rest of my article here.

Nobody Beats The Drum: Resistance is Futile

So this is what I always imagined videos should be when (a very long time ago) I watched MTV– even or especially when watching Metallica and the unfortunately unwatchable Lars Ulrich not to mention all that doom-and-gloom imagery of discontent and angst. I never imagined it would require one guy in one room with more than 4,085 photos and 400 wooden blocks. Bravo, Rogier. (Thanks for sending it to me.)

Director/animatior: Rogier van der Zwaag
Co-animator: Susie Oosting
Music: Nobody Beats the Drum

Dakis Joannou Fetches 15 Euros

Too cute (given the recent hullabaloo) to bury in a link:


A SuperFreakonomic Icon for a Warholian Age

“I like money on the wall. Say you were going to buy a $200,000 painting. I think you should take that money, tie it up, and hang it on the wall. Then when someone visited you, the first thing they would see is the money on the wall.”–The Philosophy of Andy Warhol


Manipulating a representation of some estimated value until it delivers insane dividends to a group of privileged investors appears to be a skill shared by Wall Street and Warhol, whose 200 One Dollar Bills sold for $43.8 million at Sotheby’s last week.

My understanding of moral hazard is slippery (is it possessing information that is used to the detriment of others or is it engaging in risky behavior based on a presumption of protection?)–more intuitive than precise–but the phrase makes me think that sales like these must stick in the craw of Joe Simons and others who have been prevented from partaking in Warholian currency while folks like Larry Gagosian, Peter Brant, and Jose Mugrabi swim in it.

To read more about the superfreakonomic, morally hazardous accusations that underscore Simons’s lawsuit against the Warhol Foundation, read Richard Dorment’s “What is an Andy Warhol? in last month’s New York Review of Books and “Authenticating Andy Warhol,” an article I wrote for ARTnews in 2004.

Strikingly, on the day that 200 One Dollar Bills went on the block, a front-page article in the New York Times questioned the ethics of the New Museum of Contemporary Art for its decision to turn the museum into a private showcase for mega-collector and New Museum Trustee Dakis Joannou and his favorite art star/investment/yacht painter Jeff Koons, who has been engaged to curate the exhibition of Joannou’s holdings.

“Sure, I am a trustee. Would it be different if I weren’t? Some people may think some things,” Joannou told the Times. “For me, it’s a nonissue. I know who I am and what I am doing.”

In the NYT ArtsBeat blog, Deborah Sontag, an author of the Times article, took a stab at revealing the “dizzyingly insular circle of art world insiders” and their connections to programming at the New Museum. I propose an addition to Sontag’s list — Pauline Karpidas, the seller of 200 One Dollar Bills (she paid $385,000 for it at Sotheby’s in 1986–lucky girl), a major benefactor of the New Museum, and a neighbor of Joannou’s in Hydra, Greece, whose most recent Hydra Workshop was devoted to Joannou-collectible Nate Lowman (with Mary-Kate Olsen in tow). In 2005, the featured artist of Karpidas’s Hydra Workshop was Urs Fischer, another Joannou collectible and the subject of the New Museum’s current exhibition. As Jerry Saltz points out, Fischer is represented by Gavin Brown who has secured exhibitions at the New Museum for four of his artists in the last two years.

But at least someone out there (who are the Erasers? perhaps these guys?) has a sense of humor: So, apparently, does society scribe Christopher Mason (eh hem): The Bowery’s New Museum Song.

Tracey Emin Pontificates on Her Famousness


Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times

“Damien’s not recognized like I am everywhere I go,” she said [clad in a swimsuit poolside at her New York hotel]. “In London I’m in the papers every time I blow my nose, essentially. I’ll be followed by paparazzi. I’m taught in the school curriculum in Britain. It’s actually kind of nice when I come to New York and I don’t have that recognized thing.” via The New York Times

Loving Jean Claude Vannier for Yves Saint Laurent



Falling hard for the music and visuals in this; all labors should be so provocatively and oddly uplifting (happy long weekend):