From the Editor
by Claire Ruud
Joan Jonas’s recent workshop on drawing and performance, held in Austin just before Thanksgiving, centered on the idea of the list. Artists, Jonas pointed out, use lists all the time and in all sorts of ways. Reflecting upon this point, I considered doing a feature on artists' use of lists. But when I began to enumerate examples, my list of possibilities became increasingly unwieldy.
Ever since Jonas’s workshop, I haven’t been able to shake the list. Partly, this has to do with last week’s holiday. A few nights before the big day, my girlfriend and I sat down with a bottle of wine (the best accompaniment to a good list) to write a “to do” list—mostly cleaning duties in preparation for the arrival of our family—and a grocery list for our Thanksgiving meal.
Then, on Monday, Artforum and Bookforum arrived in my mailbox. Artforum’s December issue always revolves around “best of” lists. (…might be good will put out its own such list at the end of the month.) This issue is anxiety-producing and irritating, and yet irresistible. On one hand, its “best of” lists inside it draw attention to how much there is to see, and the impossibility of ever keeping up with it all. On the other, these lists say more about their authors (today’s art world luminaries) than they do about the exhibitions, films and performances they inventory. This is irritating if you’re reading for content, but also irresistible in an Us Weekly kind of way. Each list gives readers a peek at the life of a taste-maker—where she’s traveling, what she’s seeing, who she’s talking to—and together, the lists create a catalogue of “what’s hot now.”
I skimmed Artforum’s actual lists and then opened Bookforum, only to find a a review of Umberto Eco’s new book The Infinity of Lists, released last month. I put the book on my Christmas list.
By way of closure to this meditation, I offer my reflections on Mel Bochner’s current show at Lawrence Markey, which closes today. Much of Bochner’s work can be understood in relation to the list: lists of numbers, lists of measurements, lists of words, lists of possibilities. At Lawrence Markey, Aggravate and Fool (both 2009), two of Bochner’s Thesaurus Paintings, are obvious examples. Each depicts as many synonyms for “aggravate” and “fool,” respectively, as fit on the canvas. In addition to these two paintings, Markey hung three Blah, Blah, Blah, prints (all 2008) in the front gallery. In these works, Bochner used a stamp in his characteristic all-caps bubble font—BLAH,—to print the word repeatedly on the page. The beauty of the stamp is in the comma. That small, slanted mark not only suggests the endlessness of the blabbering list grammatically, but also formally. Set askew from the bold, upright letters, it gesticulates obliquely upward and to the right, sending the eye dancing around the canvas from comma to comma. Visually, the comma creates the grammatical and gestural movement that keeps BLAH from getting stuck to the page, and makes it echo over and over beyond the picture frame.
Bochner’s Blah, Blah, Blah, is a poke at language art, his own and others’. But more interesting to me is the way Blah, Blah, Blah, captures the arbitrariness of most lists, their potential endlessness and, ultimately, their sameness.
In this issue, don't miss Dan Boehl's coverage of Okay Mountain's Corner Store, presented by Arthouse at Pulse, Miami. Our next issue will include reviews of David Bates and Jade Walker, both at the Austin Museum of Art, as well as onetime Austinite Tony Feher's current show at D'Amelio Terras in NYC.
Claire Ruud is Associate Director of Fluent~Collaborative.