MBG Issue #100: Universally Longer Sentences

Issue # 100

Universally Longer Sentences

May 30, 2008

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...might be good Birthday Cake. Courtesy Ben Willcott, Executive Chef, Texas French Bread. (detail)

from the editor

This, our 100th issue, celebrates ...might be good's 5-year anniversary, almost to the day. On May 28, 2003, Fluent~Collaborative sent out the first edition of …might be good: a short listing of current art events in Austin—“choice cuts,” as the editors called them. Since then, the publication has grown in scope, and now offers interviews with influential art personalities, short reviews of exhibitions and presentations of new work by artists throughout Texas and beyond. In this issue, we mark our birthday with a series of features converging around the theme of contemporary art writing.

First off, …might be good talks to Richard Shiff, who holds the Effie Marie Cain Regents Chair in Art at The University of Texas at Austin, about distinctions between Shiff’s writing and scholarly work that might fall prey to trendy intellectual currents. In the course of the conversation, Shiff discusses his approach to concepts of identity, the body, affect and politics.

In fact, Shiff’s conversation with …might be good in this issue and his conversation with The Brooklyn Rail in May form a thought-provoking trio with Richard Meyer’s conversation with …might be good also in this issue. Meyer, Associate Professor of Art History and Fine Arts at the University of Southern California, discusses one of his current projects, a book entitled What Was Contemporary Art? In doing so, Meyer addresses, among other topics, the bearing of identity upon his work (as Shiff does in this issue) and the intersection of social history and art history in his work (as Shiff does in The Brooklyn Rail). The contrasts, as well as the parallels, between the methods and attitudes of these two very different writers leave readers with plenty to chew on.

In addition to an interview with art critic Dave Hickey (reprinted from Texas Monthly) and a short reflection on The Writings of Donald Judd, a recent Chinati Foundation symposium, this issue also includes an Artist’s Space with Harrell Fletcher, who writes, “Often times the best thing for an artist to do is show someone else’s art,” and follows his own advice. Fletcher’s artist statement for the piece begins with his self-described “criticism of art”—a criticism of the studio/gallery model on which the contemporary art world functions. But in addition, the very style—straightforward and conversational—of Fletcher’s writing offers, I would suggest, a critique of the wordy, circuitous and impenetrable language of some contemporary art writing.

In closing, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the three years Caitlin Haskell has dedicated to making …might be good what it is today. Thanks for all the work you've put in, Caitlin.

Oh, and one more very important note: thank you to Executive Chef Ben Willcott of Texas French Bread for the beautiful (and delicious) birthday cake!


Richard Shiff

By Caitlin Haskell

Richard Tuttle3rd Rope Piece, 1974, Cotton and nails, ½ x 3 x 3/8 inches, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel collection, gift of Dorothy and Herbert Vogel, Trustees 2004.

We are pleased to begin ...might be good’s 100th issue with a conversation between Richard Shiff and Caitlin Haskell. While this conversation constitutes Shiff’s first official appearance in ...might be good, his work has regularly figured in our previous 99 issues, most recently in Matthew Levy’s review of Doubt (Taylor and Francis, 2008) and in Katy Siegel’s contribution to our series of conversations with outstanding critics. More broadly, although no less important, Shiff’s thinking has informed the work of a host of ...might be good contributors—both writers and artists—who have participated in his graduate seminars on Post-Structuralism, Critical Theory, and the Visual Arts at The University of Texas at Austin.

For those looking for an introduction to Shiff’s scholarship, “InConversation: Richard Shiff with Katy Siegel,” in the May issue of The Brooklyn Rail provides that and a great deal more. The discussion below takes as its starting point one of the many themes that emerges in Shiff’s conversation with Siegel—namely his reluctance to allow fashionable intellectual trends to enter into his scholarship.

…might be good: In your interview with Katy Siegel in this month’s issue of The Brooklyn Rail, there were a couple of instances in which you talked about not wanting your work to be driven by a set of concepts that were the fashionable intellectual trends at a given time. And, while I certainly would not suggest that your recent work has pandered to fashion, I think it’s interesting to see that you haven’t closed yourself off to considerations of some of the concepts that come up in “edgy” writing about contemporary art. You have written on some very popular topics—topics that tend to be considered among the more provocative issues in art today—but have done so in ways that seem to counteract or complicate the patterns of thought that have been repeatedly appealing. I’m thinking, for example, about the way that you discuss “identity” in Doubt.

Richard Shiff: I have to laugh, because I would hardly call identity “edgy,” but I know what you mean. The problem for me is that American society has been preoccupied by identity categories and the various relations between them since the Civil War or earlier. We’ve been suffering through it again during the current political campaign with all the talk about the neglect of the “white working class.” American identity politics tends to serve the interests of social conservatives by isolating modes of behavior that will seem “un-American” to large numbers of people unfamiliar with the relevant subcultures. It creates the impression that the core interests of one group are different from those of another. Political issues that should concern every American end up getting framed as identity issues of special interest only to certain groups. Within academia we’d have to say that there’s been a serious attempt to make identity an edgy topic by counteracting the usual expectations. Politically, this is well-intended; but commercial television is probably way ahead in this regard. Television programming does a better job of introducing the average citizen to the fundamental humanity of social types who would otherwise seem a threat to mainstream values. Still, whoever we might think is ahead on liberalizing the popular culture front, how could identity ever be particularly edgy in our society, which is so ordered and regulated by it? Conflict over preferences and prohibitions doesn’t necessarily add up to edginess. The response to people with whom you don’t identify is often more voyeuristic than edgy.

To go back to what you were saying, sometimes the links that exist between my work and the more fashionable topics in art and criticism today might be a bit accidental because these topics are so broad, and it would be difficult to avoid them entirely. And then in other cases I might be trying to wedge a different perspective into a fashionable topic to open it up rather than close it down. Fashion tends to close a topic, or at least to put limits on it. But what passages from Doubt did you have in mind?

…mbg: Well, this one in particular: “An identity that can be photographed or illustrated is an expedient, communicative duality, explaining one thing in terms of another, ultimately working toward an encompassing concept. … Identity, in this sense, is inherently self-differing; it signifies one thing but also some other thing, and then still another. Yet, because an identity offers ready answers to all questions about itself and its class, it coalesces into a teaching, a common doxa. It develops an order ever less open to adjustment.”

RS: Yeah. It’s not even a paradox. You might think that identity refers to singleness. Quite the contrary, it’s a generalizing notion, an umbrella notion. And, you know, if I ask you, “What’s your identity?” you’re going to give me a number of things that you think characterize yourself or define you and they’re all going to be generalizations. So, you might say, “I regard myself as an intellectual.” And that makes you the same as a hell of a lot of people. Or you could say, “I’m an American intellectual—I’m a female intellectual,” and you’re still going to be the same as a hell of a lot of people. “I’m an intellectual from New Hampshire …”

…mbg: That’s a smaller category…

RS: Yes, there are very few. But if you get more personal and you consider whatever it might be—your sexual orientation, or your class orientation, or your likes and your dislikes, your ambitions—those are going to be great generalizations also. And if you become defined by your identity, you’ll become the victim of your identity.

When I wrote about David Reed, it provided the opportunity to discuss the Kim Novak role in Hitchcock’s Vertigo, which Reed had incorporated into his own art as part of an installation piece involving painting, video and the physical recreation of a movie set. The Novak character in Vertigo struggles to get the James Stewart character to love her, but he loves only the role she had once been playing, which converted her from her “true” working-class self to a far more refined woman of leisure. Novak suffers from a condition in which the emotions she feels do not correspond to the person her lover thinks she must be. She wants to be loved for who she “is”—a technical impossibility since the two nouns on either side of the “is” (Novak is whatever-Stuart-thinks) cannot be identical.

More important than the technical, semiological impossibility is the experiential impossibility of being loved for who you are. Obviously, the Novak character has what we would have to call an identity problem, but not necessarily one of the select group of identity problems to which academic writers have been attending recently. We should acknowledge that only certain identities are possible in a given society at a given time. Not everything is possible. But we should also acknowledge that the number of possible identity problems, although limited, is a very large number. Every identity is both a solution to a social predicament and an invitation to additional, perhaps unforeseen problems. The solution that identity offers may be easy, but the problems that then ensue may be difficult for more than just the individual. So there may be times when a person who has no identity, or who is adept at avoiding identities, is far better off than someone who willingly accepts available identities. The conventions associated with imaging technologies impose identities as if they were catching us unaware. If I take a photograph of you, I’ve captured an arbitrary identity, which then becomes your “I.D.”

…mbg: As I’ve heard you explain this before, something arbitrary becomes an absolute.

RS: Yes.

…mbg: You make a similar point in Doubt with regard to Robert Irwin’s reluctance to have his work photographed.

RS: Yes.

…mbg: I don’t think it’s coincidental that your interest in identity—while it hasn’t been the main line in art historical or critical discourse—rings true with what a number of artists have said about the need for specificity when considering their work, perhaps in a Judd-like way. You know, Roni Horn said something along these lines with regard to her work Asphere (1986-1993): "I think of Asphere as a self-portrait. I don’t think I made it as a self-portrait, but when I look at it I see that it has characteristics that I identify with very strongly. One of those qualities is that it’s not a sphere, and it’s nothing else. I can relate to that. It’s not an egg or a ball. It doesn’t have a name or a word that closes it off from things. In the best way, it’s just floating out there without a clear identity."

RS: Just like Roni Horn—no particular identity—and I mean this as a compliment to her. When I encounter academics who are so concerned to defend identities, or to revel in identities, or to champion identities, it strikes me as very ironic because identities are extraordinarily destructive. As I’ve said, people are forever victimized by their identities. The less typified that people are in terms of gender and race—and those are big identities, but even in terms of small ones—the less identified that you are, the better off you are. You don’t even want to be known as a “good student” or a “bad student.” Most of the time you’re a “good student,” but sometimes you like to be a “bad student.” You don’t want to be held to a standard unnecessarily. You’ll be the victim of everyone’s expectations for you.

…mbg: And the tendency would expand beyond human behavior—a “good dog” sometimes wants to be a “bad dog.” Another topic that I would say is fashionable and appears regularly in your writing is “the body.”

RS: I’ve certainly written a lot about the body.

…mbg: If you don’t mind, let’s start with Marlene Dumas. She’s a nice example on a couple of levels because of the ways she uses her body to make a painting and because of the erotic-contorted-athletic bodies she pictures.

RS: I guess I’ve been more interested in the physical end of art production for a number of years—that is, I’ve been interested in art that reveals its making process in the way that it looks. If you’re talking about painting that would be painting with a particularly visible, divided brushstroke, which is probably the great majority of modern painting, including Marlene Dumas’s. If it’s sculpture it would be the type that’s either assembled or looks like it’s been assembled. In the case of a sculptor like Joel Shapiro [like Dumas, the subject of a recent essay], some of the work is cast; but the elements are cast separately and then they have to be joined, which is critical. It’s a physical process not only in the fabrication but also as Shapiro gradually works out the details—often on a smaller scale, picking things up in his hands and getting them to fit together. All of these things—these actions that seem to be incorporated in the body of the work—are readable through the superficial appearance of the object.

You feel it all in your own body in multiple ways. You feel a connection to the actions the artist actually took, but you also feel all kinds of analogies between the organic movements you ordinarily make and what seems to be the physical potential of the object made by the artist. And then there are the surface qualities that often relate quite directly to human skin, and sometimes also relate more generally to the sense of a volume in space, which is what each of us is, as a person occupying a body. So there’s a bodily relationship that may operate according to a sense of the scale, as if we were saying “this body, this representation of a body-like thing, feels like my body.” And it can be something flat—it doesn’t have to be a sculpture, and it doesn’t even have to be a painting. It can be a video projection. It matters what the size of the thing is, because size or scale produces a bodily relationship. These phenomenological concerns have interested me for a long time. I suppose that my interpretive involvement with bodily analogies might be considered masculinist because the majority of artists I’ve focused on have been men: Cézanne, Picasso, de Kooning among them. But writers with a feminist orientation have used my work—Tamar Garb, Amelia Jones, Kristine Stiles and others. Many of the issues of particular concern to me—bodily sensation, the tactile, an identification with materiality—cross gender barriers and, if anything, are more feminist than masculinist.

But you asked about Marlene Dumas. A lot of the fashionable talk about the body is more literally about bodies being represented as bodies, and this would be true of Marlene Dumas. She sometimes pictures porn stars in positions of erotic display. But she’s hardly a typical case, and this adds to her interest. She combines in relatively strange ways the depiction of an unusual body with an unusual way of painting this body’s image. She is herself deeply involved with the physicality of the act of painting. Her identification with the flow of paint and ink is intimate and profound. In her case, you can’t separate the bodily imagery from the physicality of its production, as you can in the case of photographers who represent pornographic subjects that look like what they are, unproblematically. With the photographers, you engage with the fantasy of the image but not its physicality. In the case of Dumas, who begins with a photograph but makes a painting, you engage with both, which complicates not only the physicality but also the fantasy.

…mbg: There’s certainly less in your work about bodies being represented straightforwardly as bodies, but if we looked we could find this as well—with certain twists. You chose to title the essay you just wrote about A. R. Penck “Drawn on the Body,” and you make the point that an artist’s arm making a motion is what gives a stick figure’s arm its shape.

RS: It gives it its representational power, because it doesn’t really look like an arm. [Laughs.] It’s just a line, a linear stroke of the brush. This is something I think certain art historians think about, but not enough of them. Maybe behavioral psychologists and perceptual psychologists think about this kind of thing more.

What does the word draw mean in itself? Since, in the Penck essay, I was alluding to Kafka’s story “In the Penal Colony,” if I wanted to make a direct reference I would have had to title my essay “Written on the Body.” This would be consistent with what happens during the prisoner’s execution as described by Kafka. And I considered titling it that way. But I thought that it really had to be “Drawn on the Body,” with the suggestion that it could also be “Drawn with the Body,” or “Drawn by the Body.” The act of drawing is a physical action not simply because you have an instrument in your hand and you draw the line, but because it requires drawing to make a drawing. I’m using the word drawing to refer to the gesture of extending a thing from here to there. To draw on the body is not only to make some kind of mark on skin, but to—well, it’s hard to explain. There’s a kind of built-in reflexivity. You extend the body to make the image of a body extended. Drawing on somebody else’s body, it’s as if you were drawing on your own body at the same time because there’s such an intimate connection between the hand of the drawer and whatever is figured.

…mbg: One of the ways you say this in your essay is: “To think in ‘abstract motions’ is to think through the common forms and potentialities of the human body, which the individual shares with all other human bodies. … The abstract forms and movements of art are not mere geometries that might be graphed on a mathematical grid; instead they derive from the inherent structure of the body and its capacities.” That’s a necessarily unifying statement—we’re all going to be working from a common stock of forms that differ only idiosyncratically.

RS: This probably goes to the question of why certain art mediums persist. Any mark-making on a surface—it doesn’t even need to be a flat surface: Picasso painted on balls, on vases, on human bodies—such a method of representation (or even abstraction) seems to be so fundamental to human culture and human communication that it may be beyond questions of cultural identity.

…mbg: Could you talk about how the issues we’ve been considering might relate to your interest in Jasper Johns’s Skin pieces?

RS: When Johns did those imprints, since he used most parts of his body, and he twisted around in odd ways in order to get his body imprint onto a flat surface—it’s as if he was enacting directly what he was doing in a more distanced way as a painter, where he would take the representation of an object and turn it around in space and do the representing a different way. He would seem to represent all sides of the thing, mirroring it, thinking about various possible symmetries, and so forth.

…mbg: So Johns’s use of his body in the Skin pieces contributes to how we could understand his paintings—how we could understand the iconography of flipped and repeated images he has developed in his later work.

RS: Yes, the contortions evident in some of the Skin imprints correspond to what happens in a more abstract way with the contortions of images on planar surfaces. It’s relevant that Johns took an interest in Buckminster Fuller’s flat projection of the globe. In one of the Skin images you get to see both the front and the back of Johns’s head. Some of his paintings seem to be back views of other paintings to which they’re related. But it takes some curious looking to see that one painting can be the “back” of another painting—it takes a little imagination, just as it once took a little imagination to circumnavigate the globe without fearing falling off. If you have no imagination, then looking at works by Johns might provide you with one. A trip around the world won’t do it for people any more. Art can be more elating.

…mbg: The emotional transformation, the shift in feeling that occurs when Johns flips an object or mirrors it leads me to a third “fashionable” topic that appears throughout your work, and that is emotion or feeling itself—although affect is probably the more fashionable name to put on it these days. For a long time your work has considered the interior/exterior relationship between or within feeling as both emotion and sensation.

RS: I’m not sure I pay too much attention to what academics are saying about affect, though I use the term myself sometimes. I prefer to use the word feeling because it probably covers more bases and is far less technical. Since affect is a more rarefied term, the word might cause some people to go to the dictionary because they’re not sure what it means. They might mistake it for the verb, to affect something. Or be caught up in arguments about affectation, which, like the verb affect, is closely related to affect as a noun. But people think they know what the word feeling means. And yet, maybe not. Maybe they don’t know all that feeling encompasses as a concept, and therefore what feeling might mean here and there. I would hope that most people are willing to try to find out. Affect is for academics, but feeling is for everyone.

…mbg: In what ways don’t we know what feeling means?

RS: Well, it has such a range. As you’ve remarked yourself, it’s both inside and outside. It’s basically interchangeable with sensation—and it’s easier to understand with our usual sense of sensation that it can be both internal and external. If you say, “It feels cold today,” what do you really mean? Do you mean, “I feel cold”? Are you saying that you feel cold? Are you saying that everyone must feel cold today because the air is cold? Does this coldness translate into an emotion? Maybe there’s been a chill in your personal relations. I think when you make a statement like “I feel cold,” you’re referring both to what you feel inside and what you think must be outside, based on what you feel inside.

…mbg: The proof of our confusion, I suppose, would be in how different languages express this idea of inside/outside feeling. Whether it’s a construction as in English where I is the feeling subject—“I’m cold”—or a construction in another language where it would be the subject—“It’s cold to me.” Which I guess would be better translated as, “It feels cold to me.”

RS: Or even—to revert to proper English—“I feel cold.” Collectively, the human race has not decided this issue.

…mbg: No, just certain groups.

RS: It’s totally arbitrary. This group does it actively: “I feel cold.” The other does it passively: “It feels cold.” I suppose that this could become the foundation of a differentiation of identities, but the two groups are talking about the same category of experience. And they either don’t understand the situation or are having difficulty explaining what they understand, which ought to be pretty much the same thing.

One of the reasons I long ago became involved with what might be encompassed by the term affect today is its crucial application to impressionism, a topic that for me dates back to my student years. If you investigate the initial critical reception of impressionist painting, it may well become apparent that it was only a convenience to separate the inside and the outside of feeling. Those who probed this subject never believed that these two aspects could be separated in experience. But what we find over and over and over again in subsequent scholarship is the willful separation of elements that were never initially separated, for the sake of proving that the separation—if it had ever occurred—was—that is, would have been—ill-conceived. Critics and scholars create false problems in order to solve them—because they already know the answer. It’s easy, and it makes you feel smart. Or maybe it makes you feel smart to others. I suppose it’s a solution to the Kim Novak problem: in this case, you get to be loved, or at least admired, for being the person you want to be, a possible variant of the person you “are.”

…mbg: What you’re saying about the creation and resolution of problems that aren’t truly problems—problems we already know the answer to—reminds me of what you wrote in the opening of your essay on Joel Shapiro. Maybe we could talk about that for a moment. I’m referring to the lines in “Pending” that say: “If there is an art to what critics do, it is the art of establishing differences and distinctions. Recently, the situation has been complicated by the practice of distinguishing works according to their effect on familiar distinctions. This is not to suggest that critics have turned inward, criticizing their own practice. Instead their concern is whether the work of art undermines hierarchical distinctions (a good thing) or preserves them (not so good, it seems). … Presumably, the society will change if its members can no longer distinguish between public and private, elite and popular, unique and repeating, same and different, female and male, self and other. The list could be continued, but something is amiss. We are growing short on fixed cultural identities to unhinge, ironize, and subvert. The strategy itself, having become a conventional value in art, has lost its edge, its critical significance.”

RS: These are false problems; and when writers address them, they do so with an answer already in mind. We could write a history of the modern period that was full of instances where hierarchies were undermined. Undoing social hierarchies has been the prevailing practice throughout modernity—from the late eighteenth century up until our own time—but perhaps more from the point of view of the social critics than according to the artists themselves. So, attempting to destabilize a hierarchy is not as provocative an undertaking as someone might be led to believe, based on the writing that attempts to establish these acts as pivotal from an artistic standpoint even now. Really, very few artists are so focused on upsetting hierarchies. Well, let me put it this way: very few artists whose effect is innovative are concerned with this kind of thing. Sometimes it’s the byproduct, but not the primary goal. It’s not what the artist is actively working on or thinking about. I’m more impressed by critics willing to say that innovation sometimes occurs by accident than those who always want to motivate the innovative gesture.

…mbg: Why did the remarks to which I just referred find their way into an essay on Joel Shapiro? Was this “critical strategy” particularly prevalent in the writings about him?

RS: A lot of people have been inclined to view Shapiro’s work as walking a line between representation and abstraction, and that’s not what it’s about from his point of view. Thinking of it in these terms amounts to a limited conceptual reading of work that’s more concerned with emotion and a kind of physical animation. Shapiro engages bodily experience, I might say, as opposed to dealing with concepts of representation or even of “the body.” The concepts aren’t adequate to the experience—a frequent problem for critical analysis. Much less of a problem for the artistic process.

Very often, especially with fashionable items—things that academics get caught up with and like to argue about for one reason or another—you do find that if you introduce the topic to an artist he or she might say, “Really? This is an issue? Why is this an issue?” Which doesn’t mean that the artist is or isn’t any smarter than his or her critics. It just means that their experiential world is oriented in a different way. It’s less conceptual. This isn’t true of every artist, but a lot of them are very… well, there used to be this silly put-down that certain people were “touchy-feely.” They do things first and then think about them, rather than thinking about things and then doing them.

…mbg: I’d also like to ask you to speak about a fourth and perhaps final area of fashionable art writing, and that’s writing about the political aspects of art. Your writing often addresses the political implications of works of art, but rarely have you written about images where what is being pictured is political. Certainly the ways that you’ve written about Cézanne and Newman have emphasized the political nature of their work.

RS: It’s more overt in Newman, because Newman was very overt about his own politics.

…mbg: But, addressing a subject like “political art,” how do you take things out of a literal level?

RS: Well, that’s certainly what I try to do, to get it out of a literal level. Because, if you want to deal with politics in a literal sense, you should deal with politics. If you analyze an address that a political figure may be giving to a particular audience, there you’ve got overt politics or stripped-down politics. And the kind of politics that art, let’s say, represents may be much more broadly based, speaking to many subcultures, not just a few of them. There are situations where artists become more narrow about their politics and maybe make an image that refers to something very specific. And it might even be illustrational. To take a classic example, I mean something like Guernica, which is very political and very specific. It isn’t particularly illustrational but it gets a certain point across. Just as, later on, Picasso’s portrait of Stalin got a point across—or didn’t get a point across—for its Communist audience.

What’s interesting to me about art is that it’s a certain kind of activity—when dealing with it, we assume that a certain type of person engages in this activity and not another kind of person. Then we have to ask, do we approve of this or not? Do we approve of this activity, do we approve of this type of person? And that is a political question. There are people who don’t like artists because they think they’re not doing anything useful. There are people who don’t like artists because they’re too free in what they represent or in what they say. Maybe this freedom makes artists hard to understand, and that’s why they’re not liked. But even this is a political issue because you can have a political culture that encourages some kind of emotional and intellectual stretch, or you can have a political culture that discourages it and wants everything to be beautiful or ugly, nothing in between. And it’s not necessarily a question of left and right, only relatively so. I guess that people who are leftist politically tend to have a greater tolerance of artists, but only up to a point. Many of them really don’t relate very well to open-ended issues. And many people who are rightist politically don’t either, but that’s not true of all. People are rightist and leftist for diverse reasons.

…mbg: Cézanne, for instance, was pretty far to the right.

RS: Personally he was pretty conservative—socially, religiously. When he was young, he seems to have been a kind of bohemian character and very rebellious. But he had his psychological issues to deal with then, and I don’t think he was politically very much aligned to anything in particular. When he was older it was as if he was a knee-jerk conservative. I don’t think he had much real reason to be conservative, other than maybe wanting to preserve his wealth. Well, he was an intolerant person, I suppose, and a bit misanthropic.

…mbg: Or maybe he was just contrarian.

RS: Yeah, he may just have been being contrarian. Most of his artist friends were very liberal. He seems to have been capable of making a joke, or at least entertaining the ironies of most of the issues that concerned his daily life.

…mbg: In your most recent essay on Cézanne, “Risible Cézanne,” you incorporated some of Georges Bataille’s writing on impressionism into your analysis. He has been a favorite radical thinker for a number of art historians.

RS: Part of the slightly hidden agenda in that essay is to retrieve something from someone that I suppose academics … Well, not all academics are interested in Bataille, but those who are seem to take a certain line on him and they miss a lot that’s there. I enjoyed discovering that there were some things that people had missed, and I think what comes out of it is that Bataille is a richer and more flexible thinker than you might gather if you read only the standard stuff on him. I could find no instances of anybody ever having used his statements about impressionism or Cézanne. I couldn’t find it. And even Bataille’s Manet commentary isn’t used very much because it doesn’t fit with the prevailing image we have of Manet.

…mbg: Or of Bataille.

RS: Or of Bataille, exactly. Again, we have a case of someone becoming a victim of the generalizations that are made about him. Bataille suffers from having been established as “Bataille.”

…mbg: There’s one last thing that I hoped we could touch on. Unlike a lot of art historians writing in the 80s, 90s, and even now, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you comment on or give significant attention to your “method” in an essay. I can think of a number of leading scholars who foreground the importance of their method. And, in fact, where you have gone on record about this, you’ve said that your method is randomly flipping through a book. Or letting the artist you’re writing about determine your approach. So, yours is certainly a tychic approach, and an approach where you as the author are not always leading the way.

RS: “Tychic,” as in open to, or affected by, chance. I wrote a piece for Artforum a number of years ago, in their series “Critical Reflections.” And I think probably everyone who contributed to that series talked about what they did, and I talked more about what one does. But I described it in a way that isn’t so different from what you’re saying. I used the word arbitrary a lot. And I had a title for that piece, “Judgment of History.” Artforum didn’t use it for the published version because the given format was to have no titles. But I had wanted to title it that way because “Judgment of History” is ambiguous. In English any use of of in this way is ambiguous. Is it history that’s being judged or the judgment that history makes? And a judgment is arbitrary by definition. A judge is an arbitrator—the judge simply makes decisions, and makes whatever decision he or she thinks the situation calls for. It’s never absolute. The judgment can be overruled by a higher authority, but it might just as well be overruled by history, surely a higher “authority.” At a certain time people decide “this is what’s right” and fifty years later everyone knows that it was wrong because of the judgment of history. Or they think they know that it was wrong, given the way they construe history. And this could apply to something relatively objective like a scientific theory that people, for whatever reason, cease to believe in, or it could be something that human circumstances prove to have been the wrong decision—like a political policy that turns out to be disastrous.

More specifically, as an art historian and a cultural interpreter, what I was talking about in that essay “Judgment of History” was that when you come across a document—any document—you come across it by chance. Every document you come across you come across by chance. You might think that you’re looking for it, but that doesn’t entail finding it. So even if you insist that you were looking for this thing, the fact that you found it, or even recognized it, is chance. Something as straightforward as a catalogued document might have been misfiled just an hour before you looked where you knew it should be. You’d never find it. You’d find something else. And these chance constellations of documentation, events, observations, being in the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time—these conditions determine history, which can only be an interpretation. That’s a rough version of what I was arguing there. In Katy Siegel’s interview I was saying the same thing, only in a more personal way. I’ve got some books on a shelf and I might decide to pick the right one—but I’d have to admit that I didn’t know why I thought it was the right one. Or, since I realize from the start that I don’t know which one the right one is, it doesn’t matter which one I pick. Since I’m as capable as the next person of making an interpretive argument, I can make it based on anything.

…mbg: You also have a couple sentences in Doubt that allude to this.

RS: I guess that one of the things that I’m complaining about in Doubt is the absolutism of people who make arguments based on a chance selection of data. A conclusion approaches certainty only relative to the data you’re using, but not to the actual topic of study.

…mbg: Well, I feel like I have set up the idea that you haven’t considered method in your writing, but perhaps you do reveal some aspects of it. You often use the theme “something happens,” or “it happens,” “things happen.” In a lot of your essays—especially in your work on Richard Tuttle—that is offered as as much of an explanation as anything else.

RS: Right. I think that it’s quite common for my essays to end on a note that, if you’re not a very good reader, you might regard as a real conclusion, a closure. But it’s more likely that it’s an open question—there’s often some irony at the end.

…mbg: I hadn’t thought about it this way before, but if you weren’t a very generous reader, and you expected a certain type of writing with a certain type of conclusion, and you reached the end of an essay only to read “things happen” … [Laughs]

RS: Right, you’d think, “What an idiot this guy is.” And I’ve been criticized for that by idiot readers, who clearly didn’t get the point.

…mbg: They’re thinking, “I could have come up with ‘things happen.’”

Well, unfortunately, I think we have to wrap this up. But, in keeping with the method we’ve been discussing, I’ll ask a tychic question to conclude. It’s one I heard last week on “Morning Edition” when Barbara Walters was asked to share her most effective interview question. And what she said was, “What’s the biggest misconception about you?”

RS: About me?

…mbg: Yeah.

RS: That there’s a “c” in my surname. By chance, there isn’t.

Caitlin Haskell regards herself as a female intellectual from New Hampshire. (Or does she?) She is a graduate student in art history at UT and has worked as Shiff’s assistant in the Center for the Study of Modernism since 2006.

Richard Meyer

By Andy Campbell and Claire Ruud

Der Spiegel, 5/2005, page 138, featuring coverage of Martha Rosler's series Bringing the War Home, Courtesy Der Spiegel.

Richard Meyer, Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Southern California, was in town last month to give a lecture in the Performance as Public Practice graduate program at The University of Texas at Austin. Richard is the author of Outlaw Representation: Censorship and Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century American Art (2002, Oxford University Press) and co-editor, with David Román, of Art Works I & II, two special issues of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies on visual representation. One evening, we (Andy Campbell and Claire Ruud) took Richard to Charlie’s, a local gay bar, to pick his brain about all things art historical and queer.* The following is an excerpt of our conversation that focuses on one of his current projects, a book on the idea of the “contemporary” titled What was Contemporary Art?

…might be good: So Richard, your current project is a book about the idea of the “contemporary” in art, right? How did you arrive at this topic?

Richard Meyer: My last book, Outlaw Representation, was about censorship and homosexuality in 20th century American art. For the most part, though, it was really about male homosexuality. In the introduction, I finessed this issue by explaining that lesbian artists experienced an even more severe form of censorship than their gay counterparts in modern American culture. Until the emergence of lesbian performance artists and filmmakers like Holly Hughes and Cheryl Dunye in the late 1980s and early 90s, lesbian art was never permitted to cross the public threshold of visibility where it might then be the subject of political conflict and controversy. But gay male artist such as Paul Cadmus in the 1930s—and Robert Mapplethorpe a half-century later—attained both professional visibility and federal funding. Together with the homoerotic content of these artists’ work, their professional visibility provoked censorship scandals.

However, I realized in retrospect that, had I not limited my study to painting and photography, I could have included literature, such as Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928) or theater, such as the Broadway play The Captive, which was raided in 1926. Partially, I didn’t talk about these works because of my own disciplinary training as an art historian rather than a literary critic or theater historian. But it was also because of my own identity and desires; I didn’t have the investment—including the libidinal investment—in lesbian visibility and censorship that I did in gay male images and histories. At the time, I couldn’t quite acknowledge that, in part because I hadn’t admitted it fully to myself.

…mbg: Well, we don’t have a way of talking about erotic desire in our own texts or our own works.

RM: What I did say in the book, and still believe, is that my project was only one project, and there should be many others. A history of lesbian invisibility in modern American art needs to be written. At the time, I imagined this would be the project of a budding dyke art-historian, maybe (if I was lucky) even one of my own students or future colleagues. But more recently, I’ve been asking myself, “Why am I conjuring up a phantom lesbian to do this work? Why shouldn’t I see it as part of my project—even my responsibilityas a scholar. So I’ve been thinking about writing across and against identity rather than within identity. Also, I really want to have things to say to an audience that goes beyond my self-identified sexual subculture. I feel like the work I have done around issues of sexuality has made a genuine contribution, but…

...mbg: Definitely. You addressed a lacuna in Warhol’s work, in Mapplethorpe’s work…

RM: And Cadmus was dismissed by modernists. But basically my method is pretty straightforwardly social-historical: I’m interested in the reception of an artwork and the life of that artwork once it has entered the world. One of the reasons I write about censorship is that it tends to be a really interesting story, and you can see that artworks have effects in the real world. Artworks make people upset: they make the Christian Coalition send out a mass mailing, they make Al D’Amato rip up a catalogue on the floor of the senate or they make the government pass laws. My methodology is kind of social history 101. That methodology is what I can offer to the world of contemporary art and art criticism.

…mbg: To offer a social-historical method to art history and to offer a social-historical method to art criticism seem like two very different projects.

RM: You’re right and I’ve been reminded of this on a couple of occasions. One of the first pieces of criticism I wrote for Artforum was about the 30th anniversary of the Lynda Benglis dildo ad. It was difficult because, as you can imagine, Benglis is sick of talking about that ad and I was quite apprehensive about asking her to do so once again. But I explained to her that I was interested in what else was going on in her career at the time, I was interested in the fact that she always thought of that ad as an artwork and I was interested in the way the reception of the ad changed over time. In 1974 when it was published, the editors of Artforum attacked the ad as anti-feminist. But now curators often include it in feminist art exhibitions. How did it go from being seen as anti-woman in 1974 to being seen as a queer feminist statement in 2004?

While I was struggling to write the piece, I had a conversation with an Artforum critic whose work I had long admired. After I told him about my approach to the Benglis material, he surprised me by saying that what I had described was not art criticism but art-historical research. What he meant, I think, is similar to something Clement Greenberg once said, (and I’m paraphrasing here) about the role of the art critic—“at the end of the day, the critic has to pass judgment.” But that’s never been my interest in art. I don’t want to say be the one who says thumbs up or thumbs down. I want to say, look at this weird, amazing moment and how it changes what we think we know about Lynda Benglis.

…mbg: So how did your social-historical methodology shape your current project?

RM: My current book project came out of an impulse to put contemporary art in dialogue with the historical past, to challenge the primacy of the present moment (“now”) in defining contemporary art. So in my book, I’m trying to reconstruct what people thought contemporary art was in 1927 or in 1948 or in 1965.

And those dates are not random. In 1927, for example, Alfred Barr taught a course at Wellesley College that was the first modern art class to continue up until the (then-) present moment. Barr didn’t call it contemporary, he called it modern. “Modern” then is sort of what we mean by “contemporary” now—absolutely up to date and very forward looking—not so much of one’s time but ahead of it.

When Barr taught this course, he organized art exhibitions on campus, because he believed that students should, whenever possible, confront modern art directly rather than through the mediation of slides projected in a darkened classroom. So he arranged to have paintings by Juan Gris, Ferdinand Leger, Man Ray, and Georgia O’Keeffe, (among many other artists) shown on campus. In response, the Wellesley College newspaper prints an article entitled “Seniors find Modern artist queer and incomprehensible.” While Barr is bringing this modern art to campus, the Wellesley students—not the ones in his class but others on campus—are repelled by his exhibition because they’re expecting art to be narrative, realist, reassuring.

…mbg: And for it to be explained to them in some kind of easy way.

RM: Exactly. And that’s what Barr writes in defense of his modern art exhibition. He says that viewers still expect painting to fulfill its traditional functionsto preach sermons, to tell stories, to entertain viewers. Barr argues that as movies, radio and illustrated magazines address these needs in the 20th century, modernist painting has been what he calls “emancipated” from story-telling and verisimilitude.

Barr writes all of this in a long article for the Wellesley College News—not a letter to the editor but a signed article in the student newspaper. It seems to me that Barr understood that he wasn’t an authority from on high, that he needed to participate in the debates on campus. In fact, when Barr was teaching at Wellesley, he was one of only a few male faculty members and he was only 25 years old. He designated all the students in the class, who were only a few years younger than him, “faculty” for his class. Basically, he said, “we’re going to all teach each other.”

In addition, he made it a priority for the students to travel beyond the classroom and experience contemporary culture first-hand. He took them to the national auto show, because he wanted them to think about new car design, to a Yiddish theater production of The Dybbuk, to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, to the NECCO building in Cambridge, Massachusetts—the largest candy factory in the world at the time. Barr created a vibrant and experimental model of pedagogy.

Partly, I want to return to this model to complicate Barr’s reputation as a fairly conservative formalist. His original idea was that you can’t understand modern painting unless you’re also looking at modern cars, and Vanity Fair magazine and the windows of Saks 5th Avenue. Barr’s course at Wellesley was a really exciting model, and it provides an opportunity for me to retrieve a very different notion of the contemporary and also of visual studies. My discussion of Barr became chapter one of the book, but also the heart and soul of my project.

…mbg: So where do you leave this project? Where does a discussion of the contemporary end?

RM: Yeah, that’s one of the tricky things about my project. By titling the book What was Contemporary Art?, I am not implying that contemporary art is over—that we’re somehow “post-contemporary”—but rather that contemporary art has a history—indeed, that every work of art was once contemporary.

Also, I want to show that these moments also had their own blockages and blind spots. For example, Barr insisted that his modern art class study Impressionist painting but not late nineteenth century theater, music, or criticism. When the class considered its own contemporary moment (1927), however, it looked at many different forms of artistic and commercial culture. Barr’s idea was that contemporary art and society could function as a kind of laboratory—he literally took the students to a local five and dime to get them to think about newly modern materials such as aluminum in everyday life.

I try to use a similar model when I teach contemporary art to my students at USC. I incorporate whatever is going on in L.A. at the time. For example, in 2005 I took my undergraduate students to the Basquiat show [at the Museum of Contemporary Art] not because I felt that the course had to focus on graffiti art or the East Village scene of the early 1980s but rather because the Basquiat show was one of the major exhibitions up in L.A. at the time. In general, I try get away from the question of what’s great art, and just look at what is available to us in the time we have together. What does Basquiat tell us about being alive at this moment in the U.S., or L.A. or (if the show were here right now) Austin?

So it’s difficult to know where to end. It takes about a year for a university press book to be published after the manuscript is submitted, so no matter what, it’s going to be dated. On the one hand, I’m trying to keep up with the international art world (I went to Miami Art Basel, the Venice Biennale, and Documenta last year for this reason—my first time at any of these events). But I also realize that, for me, trying to keep up with this world is a practical impossibility, not least because I don’t have the financial resources to do so. Part of the argument of the book is that it’s okay (perhaps even necessary) to fall out of one’s contemporary moment, to lag behind the latest biennial or emerging technology. Doing historical research takes time and it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the editorial cycles of a monthly magazine or the immediacy of an internet blog. So if What was Contemporary Art? is published in 2010 but its last chapter ends in a hotel art fair in Miami in 2007, that’s okay with me. I like the idea of being at least three years out of date at all times.

…mbg: Could you go back even further, though? Could the book end in, say, 1945?

RM: Well, what I’m trying to do is go back to particular moments and think about what it meant to be “now” in those moments. But within each chronological moment there’s movement both forwards and backwards in time. For example, I’ve gotten very interested in Martha Rosler’s return to her Bringing the War Home series, originally made in response to the Vietnam War and recently revived in the context of Iraq. I initially had this idea that the work that Rosler did in the late 1960s and early 70s was the real activism, it was genuine agit-prop, and that this new work—produced in limited edition prints and shown in art galleries and museums—was a sell-out. But in fact, Rosler is using the international art world as a way to circulate anti-war messages (as well as to make a living). One of the reasons Rosler started this new series is that she had won a big photography award from a German museum. She realized that, because Germany, like France, has been against the war, if she, as an American artist, did these flashy anti-war montages, the German press would cover it. And they did. [See image of coverage in Der Spiegel.] So she’s thinking about how to use the political and social apparati.

The radical left culture in which Rosler participated in the late 1960s and early 70s no longer exists in the same form—nor, of course, does the artist herself. Rosler has always been very clear that she intended to operate both within and against the systems that shaped her own political and historical moment. So I’m going back to find out what happened to those collages in those years, and then thinking about their status now. So I think Martha Rosler may really be the end of the book, 2004 going back to 1969.

…mbg: In a way, the moment in 2004 re-creates the moment in 1969. Similarly, when Connie Butler and the Museum of Contemporary Art used Rosler’s collage of topless Playboy playmates on the cover of the WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution catalogue last year, that shaped the cultural picture of 1969.

RM: I wrote a piece [for Artforum] about the controversy that the WACK! cover aroused because I was interested in just this issue. Some visitors to the show—and indeed, some of the female artists in the showwere upset by the ambiguity of the cover, by the fact that it traffics in the visual pleasures it also means to question. I felt that the ambiguity was great. Most of Rosler’s other collages from that series were far less likely to provoke debate about the history and legacy of feminist art. You see a cut-out of a woman’s breast pasted onto the image of a stove top, and the critique is unmistakable.

...mbg: But this piece can actually be available for some other kinds of erotic gazings.

RM: Yes, women take pleasure in images of women—straight, queer, or otherwise,.Feminism is not only about critique, it’s also about reclaiming images for different purposes. And it’s about saying that these images don’t only have an effect on heterosexual men, that they have repercussions—but also visual and libidinal power—for women. Since they exist, let’s take them, play with them, rework them into something else—into, say, the cover of a catalogue to a feminist art exhibition.

*Reading this excerpt of our conversation, you may wonder what happened to “all things queer.” We covered so much ground that we’ve split the interview up into two parts, and plan to publish the rest in the near future…

Andy Campbell is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Art History at The University of Texas in Austin. He is currently writing about gay and lesbian leather communities and visual cultures in the 1970s.

Claire Ruud is Managing Editor of ...might be good.

Dave Hickey on being an art critic

By Katy Vine

Dave Hickey. Photograph by C.Taylor Photography.

NAME: Dave Hickey | AGE: 69 | HOMETOWN: Fort Worth |

QUALIFICATIONS: Author of two volumes of art criticism, The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty and Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy / Fiction and culture writer for magazines such as Rolling Stone, ARTnews, Art in America, Harper’s Magazine, and Vanity Fair / Curator of Beau Monde, in Santa Fe (2001); Las Vegas Diaspora (2007); and other exhibits

• I like the art world. There are a lot of gay people and attractive women with low-cut dresses, and the hors d’oeuvres are better than what you get anywhere else.

• Willie Morris took me to a party of New York literati. Jimmy Breslin, Norman Podhoretz, William Styron—all these New York literary types were there, and they all had on suits and had ugly wives and got drunk and fell over the rubber plant. I hated it. I left and went to a downtown bar called St. Adrian’s, where I spent the rest of the evening among junkies and drag queens and was much happier.

• People say the art world is fake, but it’s all too real. It’s full of art sissies and fashion trash—but do you want to go to a party with no art sissies and no fashion trash? That’s like going to dinner at the dean’s house. I prefer the frazzle and dazzle of the art world. I’m vulnerable to ennui.

• I probably owe my career as a writer to John Graves. No writer in the world could be more different. But John has an attitude about being responsible to the world he writes about. If he’s writing about nature, he wants nature itself to prove his writing. I write about art, he writes about nature, but we’re both serious about getting it right.

• I won’t argue for accessibility, but I’ll argue for lucidity.

• Many critics have to fall in love to write about anything. I don’t. I can write about a casual flirtation.

• I regard myself as a serious intellectual person, but I don’t care if intellectuals like what I’ve written. I’m that arrogant. What do I care about the praise of idiots? Fame only means you’ve been misinterpreted by millions.

• When I started off writing for slick magazines, I realized that if you can write clear and funny and on time, you can go anywhere you want to—any rock tour, any museum exhibition. So I set out to have adventures and not to be a famous writer.

• I’ve hung out with a lot of famous people just to do stories. I went along on Aerosmith’s first major headline tour. All the things they had always wanted to do they did, and I helped. I’m still ashamed.

• I’ll write about art when I perceive a gap between price and value. I’m interested in art I consider too cheap or too expensive: Ellsworth Kelly and Ed Ruscha—artists whom I’ve been writing about for years. I wrote about them when their work cost $20, and now I’m writing about them when their work costs $2 million. I consider that to be a reflection of my exquisite and prescient taste.

Interview with Katy Vine, a Senior Editor of TEXAS MONTHLY.

Reprinted with permission from the March 2008 issue of TEXAS MONTHLY


The Writings of Donald Judd
Chinati Foundation Symposium
May 3 - 4, 2008

By Katie Anania

Writings of Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation symposium.

May 2008, Marfa, Texas

Photograph by Andrea Claire

I imagined, somewhat naively, that The Writings of Donald Judd would provoke questions about why so few people write like Judd any more. To today’s overprofessionalized art writer, Judd’s taciturn phrases, his undiluted assessment of works and artists and his somewhat opaque use of invented adjectives feel like a throwback to a pre-1980s past (before the naturalization of deconstructionist theory led to universally longer sentences). Witness Judd’s assessment of Alan D’Arcangelo’s new work in 1964: “Highways are the subject of these paintings. This is a fairly simple interest. It is indicative; I don’t think D’Arcangelo would stick to it so neatly if he were after more. The pictures are spiffy… the technical performance much exceeds the actual one.”*

Less of that kind of reflection occurred at the symposium than expected. Also conspicuously absent were invocations of Judd’s unique semantic style; a style that causes contemporary readers to feel as though they’re following Judd through an ambiguous, choppy architecture. His writing has meter and an articulated shape, and the expressive content is dictated by the economy of sentence forms. Artist David Rabinowitch provided the most intimate acknowledgement of this style in a presentation called “Statements Relevant to Don Judd's Notion of ‘Object.’” Rabinowitch recited some lines of his own prose alongside Judd’s, which Rabinowitch took sentence by sentence with long pauses in between each phrase. It was Byzantine, long-winded and nearly impenetrable–reminiscent of Judd’s approach to space. The audience members who weren’t squirming in their seats (and even some who were) caught on to the beauty of the verses. Rabinowitch’s semantic manipulations of Judd’s writing established an interesting counterpoint to the theoretical and historical analysis that other speakers offered.

One of the main objectives of the other speakers seemed to be the clarification of “Specific Objects,” the essay most closely associated with the artist’s writerly output. Richard Shiff and Roberta Smith, in particular, aimed to move beyond the status of “Specific Objects” as required reading for students of twentieth-century art and examine the rhetorical formulae of the text. Though I missed Shiff’s presentation, I was able to catch Smith, who offered an unscripted account of her 1969 project on Judd during a Whitney independent study fellowship. Smith’s 1969 project helped to account for “Specific Objects” in an historical context, and established some of its apparent revisions between its first publication and its appearance in later books. David Raskin of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, whose work on Judd has refreshingly revealed the artist’s activist and Skepticist tendencies, discussed the relationship of scale in Judd’s sculpture to the ideas behind his writing; namely, Judd’s use of clear units of measure reflected back on his phrasing and political statements.

Political and linguistic historians also weighed in on more minute and embedded issues in Judd’s writing. Alan Antliff, who specializes in applications of anarchism within the public sphere, argued that while he could not properly call Judd an anarchist, some of his arguments about the independent aspects of artmaking were anarchistic in nature. Richard Ford, a professor emeritus at UT El Paso, traced Judd’s use of made-up nouns and adjectives to the larger universe of proto-conceptual artmaking.

Aside from Rabinowitch’s small joke (I only took it to be so—knowing Rabinowitch, it probably wasn’t), Judd’s monolithic presence in the history of art went unchallenged. Though the symposium correctly presented Judd’s writing as one of the more neglected aspects of his production, some speakers seemed to fuse Judd’s challenge to spatial epistemes of the 1960s with the tone and content of his writing; the elision was at times successful but at others faulty, depending on the presenter. The scholarly content of the symposium, though certainly commendable, invited a tangential set of questions on the position of Judd’s writing in post-millennial art criticism.

*Quotation from Donald Judd: The Complete Writings 1959 – 1975, 2nd ed. Nova Scotia: The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 2005.

Katie Anania is a curatorial researcher at Fluent~Collaborative and a graduate student in art history at The University of Texas at Austin.

project space

Harrell Fletcher

I know this issue of …might be good is supposed to be about art criticism, and so here is my criticism of art. The system that art operates in is too heavily based on the studio/gallery model. You see it in magazines, in schools, in the general public's understanding of what art is, you see it professionally, and with amateurs—the studio/gallery model is, in my opinion, much too dominant. We have an abundance of graduating MFA students going out into the world, hoping to be discovered and to become successful, but only a very small percentage of them do. That wouldn't fly in medical school or in most other terminal degree programs. But artists who don't make it in the commercial gallery world largely just disappear. The schools highlight their few success stories in their newsletters and the rest of those MFA graduate students find some other way to make a living and pay back their student loans.

For myself as an artist this approach didn't seem right, so I started looking for other ways to function. I created my own libraries, galleries, publications, web projects etc. and those lead to doing site specific projects for non-profits and public art commissions. I taught in ways that were consistent with the work I do so teaching wasn't a burden, but instead part of my practice. Eventually, I even worked with commercial galleries. I didn’t work with them because I had to or because I hoped to make a living and become a star by showing them, but rather because I really liked the people who ran the galleries and wanted to work with them. I had created a diversified set of work options, so if one option wasn't happening I still had several other options. Somehow my unorthodox approach kept me going and even supported me financially.

So when I found myself in the position of teaching in an MFA program I didn't feel right about trying to perpetuate what I saw as a non-functional system—the studio/gallery model. After a few years of developing ideas and trying out various pedagogical approaches, I was given the opportunity to start up a new component of the MFA program at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon, where I am a faculty member. We are calling this new component an MFA in Art and Social Practice. People are not sure what to make of that name. I think it is easiest to say that the program is the opposite of normal MFA programs and the general studio/gallery paradigm. There are eight students in the first year, and none of them get studios. Instead they have a shared classroom space, and a shared office space. We are working now on an off-site neighborhood center, too. The center will be located in a semi-mobile off-grid building that will be sited in different parts of Portland for a year or so at a time. The students do a lot of collaboration with themselves and with the public. Their work is often ephemeral, non-object based and designed to be accessible to a non-art audience. They use blogs to archive their work. Sometimes their work doesn't seem like what people think of as art at all. They often work with other departments on campus—sociology, architecture, physical education, urban planning, etc. They do a lot of work that is made for specific projects—a show at City Hall, a series of projects for Reed College, an event series on a vacant lot, etc.

When I was asked to do something for this Artist's Space, I decided to let my students show examples of their work. Often times I think the best thing for an artist to do is to show someone else's art. For more information about PSU's MFA in Art and Social Practice, please click here.

Harrell Fletcher is an artist and runs the Art and Social Practice program at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon.

announcements: exhibitions

Austin Openings

okay mountain
Opening Reception: Saturday, June 7 from 7:00-10:00 pm

Foundation Projects presents Off-Register, a traveling group exhibition of experimental printmaking.The Off-Register exhibition will showcase prints by a collection of international artists and graphic designers associated through the professional practice of commercial print design, but that do not consider themselves printmakers. This exhibition explores the relationship these artists and graphic designers have to printing and how commercial processes may inform more traditional methods of fine art print making.

Francesca Gabbiani: Once We Were Trees
lora reynolds gallery
Opening Reception: Saturday, June 14 from 6:00-8:00 pm

In Once We Were Trees, Francesca Gabbiani's second solo exhibition at Lora Reynolds Gallery, the artist has created wallpaper made from an intricate graphite drawing of leafless trees with a density that evokes woods. Installed upon the wallpaper and surrounding walls will be decadent interiors Gabbiani has created by meticulously building layers of cut paper. Hidden beasts, birds of prey, cherubs and spider webs found among the intricacies in her interiors correspond to the layered texture of the bark in her trees. A group of collaged paper poppies titled Heresie et Sorcellerie add to the enchanted feel of these unfolding spaces.

New American Talent: The 23rd Exhibition
On view June 14-August 17,2008

New American Talent is a national all-media competition open to artists living and working in the United States. Come check out this year's winners and don't miss the opening day curator's talk by Nato Thompson (see events section in this issue for complete information).

Austin On View

Ali Fitzgerald: Swan School: The Matriculation
Art Palace
On view through June 7, 2008

Swan School: The Matriculation is Ali Fitzgerald's second solo exhibition at Art Palace. Fitzgerald's current body of work explores victimization and violence within a forged adolescent caste-system. Through drawing based sculptures, dioramas and site-specific installations Fitzgerald surveys a dystopian boarding school complex, within whose misleading facades, we see residue of girlhood gone awry.

Atelier 2008: Selections from the Department of Art and Art History Faculty, The University of Texas at Austin
The Blanton
On view through June 8, 2008

Atelier 2008 is the first faculty exhibition being organized by a guest curator, and begins the newly formatted triennial basis in which future faculty shows will now occur. This year, curator James Elaine from the Hammer Museum of Art in Los Angeles has selected works by faculty members, among them some of the country's most respected artists and artistic scholars highlighting trends in contemporary art.

Allison Hunter: Slower Still
Women & Their Work
On view through June 21, 2008

Women & Their Work proudly presents Slower Still, a solo photography exhibition by Houston-based artist Allison Hunter. In Hunter’s digitally manipulated photographs, zoo animals are shown divested of their everyday settings and recontextualized in surreal surroundings. Removed from their enclosures yet still ‘caught,’ framed in abstract washes of light and color, Hunter’s eerily prescient animals are far from pastoral. With background details missing, the photographer’s gaze feels heightened and hyperreal—and Hunter’s zoological subjects reciprocate that gaze from lushly captured moments slowed down, halted, frozen in time.

Sol LeWitt: LeWitt x2
Austin Museum of Art
On view through August 17, 2008

This two part exhibition focuses both on the artworks of Sol LeWitt and on his personal collection of contemporary art. Sol LeWitt: Structure and Line documents the full arc of the artist's career. Throughout his career critics have admired how his work synthesizes left and right brain creativity and provokes both intellectual and emotional responses. Selections from the LeWitt Collection showcases works by an exciting array of national and international artists including Alice Aycock, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Alighiero Boetti, Chuck Close, Gilbert & George, Hans Haacke, Eva Hesse, On Kawara, Shirin Neshat, and Robert Ryman.

Benito Huerta: Intermezzo
The Mexican American Cultural Center (600 River Street)
On view through August 31, 2008

In this exhibition, the artist Benito Huerta uses the intermezzo—a short movement separating the major section of a symphonic work—to confront contemporary issues such as the economy, immigration, and natural disasters, either directly or in a more poetic form. A recipient of the Dallas Center for Contemporary Art’s 2002 Legend of the Year Award, Huerta's work is in several museum and corporate collections through the United Stated and Huerta's work was recently presented in Soundings: Benito Huerta 1992 – 2005 at the Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi and the El Paso Museum

San Antonio Openings

Julia Barbosa Landois: Veiled in Flesh
Opening Reception: Friday, June 6 from 6:00-9:00 pm

Veiled in Flesh takes place within an installation that includes artist-crafted objects, photographs and video stills. The artist will be on view in a plexiglass vitrine and available for subtle audience interaction. The exhibition references Catholic aesthetics of body display while examining the role of ritual in the face of acculturation, all with a feminist subtext. The performance component of Veiled in Flesh debuted last year in Philadelphia at Ice Box Project Space.

San Antonio On View

Oliver Lutz: Paint It Black
On view through August 17, 2008

The video installations, wall paintings and performances by New York-based artist Oliver Lutz deal with transcending desires of power, control and disintegration through a complex deconstruction of the artist’s mental model. His works are an unraveling of personal mythologies, explored and revealed through various conflations of artistic mediums.

Houston On View

Stephen Vitiello: Four Color Sound
On view through June 21, 2008

Sound pioneer Stephen Vitiello is known for creating powerful, beautiful and immersive installations that transform incidental atmospheric noises into mesmerizing soundscapes. Vitiello’s latest project, Four Color Sound, combines modulated light and audio tracks that morph and shift in subtle ways, transforming the gallery space into a virtual meditation chamber.

The Old, Weird America
Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
On view through July 20, 2008

The Old, Weird America will be the first museum exhibition to explore the widespread resurgence of folk imagery and history in American contemporary art. Curated by Contemporary Arts Museum Houston senior curator Toby Kamps, the exhibition illustrates the relevance and appeal of folklore to contemporary artists, as well as the genre’s power to illuminate ingrained cultural forces and overlooked histories. The exhibition borrows its inspiration and title—with the author’s blessing—from music and cultural critic Greil Marcus’ 1997 book examining the influence of folk music on Bob Dylan and his seminal album, The Basement Tapes.

Local Artists Showcase
Blaffer Gallery
On view through August 2, 2008

The Blaffer Gallery, the Art Museum of the University of Houston, is pleased to continue its 35th anniversary season with the 2008 Houston Area Exhibition. The exhibition, selected by Blaffer Gallery curator Claudia Schmuckli, introduces artists who are young or new to the Houston community and offers more seasoned artists the opportunity to develop new work and to be seen in a fresh light.

Dallas Openings

I-35 Biennial Invitational 2008
Dunn and Brown Contemporary
Opening Saturday, May 31, 6-8 pm

I-35 Biennial Invitational 2008 features the work of eight artists under the age of 35. Austinites will be familiar with the work of Austin-based artists Nathan Green, Jonathan Marshall and Jill Pangallo, but might be interested in the chance to see the video work of current CORE Artist Resident Kara Hearn, a collection of collage-based works by Bulgarian Iva Gueorguieva, an installation by Philadelphia-based Elissa Collier, drawings and animation by Philadelphia-based Garrett Davis and sculpture by John Frost.

Show #17: Cory Arcangel + Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied
and/or gallery
Opening Reception: Saturday, June 7 from 6:00-9:00 pm

This exhibition features work by some of new media arts most established figures: Olia Lialina + Dragan Espenschied (creators of Zombie and Mummy) and Corey Arcangel.  Don't miss the opening--all the artists will be in attendance and there will be a performance by Tree Wave.

Dallas On View

Tim Noble and Sue Webster
Goss Michael Foundation
On view through September 30, 2008

Using a variety of mediums, including neon lighting, scrap metal and household rubbish through which to convey their meaning, Tim Noble and Sue Webster's art is arresting, profound and revolutionary. This exhibition presents works by the artists held in the Goss-Michael Collection as well as The Joy of Sex, a set of prints in which the artists reinterpret the influential sex manual of the same name.

announcements: events

Austin Events

Domy Books: Austin Grand Openings
Domy Books (913 E Cesar Chavez)
Saturday, June 7 from 6:00-9:00 pm

Domy is a progressive bookstore with a focus on edition books, periodicals, video and product lines that concentrate on national and international contemporary art and culture. Come out and help celebrate the opening of the Austin branch of this Houston based bookstore.

Artist's Conversation with Rodney McMillian and Olga Koumoundouros
The Blanton Museum
Friday, June 6 at 12:00 pm

The Blanton Museum, in collaboration with Creative Time, the New York public art initiative, presents an informal conversation with artists Rodney McMillian and Olga Koumoundouros on June 6th at noon in the Blanton Museum's e-lounge. The Los Angeles based artists will be joined by Ursula Davilia-Villa (Blanton interim curator of Latin American art) and Nato Thompson (curator for Creative Time) for a discussion on "News from the Mime's Thud" a performance piece to be held in Austin on June 5th.

Hamilton Township
Salvage Vanguard Theater
Thurs-Sat June 5-7, 12-14, 19-21, 26-28 at 8:00 pm
Admission: Sliding Scale: $12.00 - $35.00

Based on a true story, Hamilton Township combines memoir, surrealist horror, punk rock and a New Jersey folk tale to tell a morality play about adolescence, the nature of evil and the worst party in the history of ever. Jason and Babydoll are trapped in the house of a sleeping old woman with a case of wine coolers as a toxic storm rages outside. Neither know what's been put in store for them by the nameless bully who put their very special evening together.

Talking Art with Nato Thompson
Saturday, June 14 at 4:00 pm

Come talk about contemporary art with Nato Thompson, this year's juror for New American Talent and a curator and producer at Creative Time in New York City.

San Antonio Events

Oliver Lutz: Brown Bag Lunch
Wednesday, June 11 from 12:00-1:00 pm

Calling all hungry art aficionados! Join the curatorial staff for an informative tour of work by Hudson (Show)Room artist Oliver Lutz. Lunch from Sip ($6.50) and a group discussion will follow. Call Artpace for menu and reservations.

Houston Events

The Splasher
May 31, June 5-7, 12-14 at 8:00 pm

What happens when anarchists and artists become embroiled in a turf war over who owns the streets? And how does society determine the winners and the losers? When mysterious paint splatterings begin appearing around the city, targeting the work of prominent street artists, an ironic cat-and-mouse game threatens to expose the toxic truth at the heart of today's graffiti culture. Based on true, recent events, The Splasher is a funny, intriguing and visually dynamic exploration of art, crime and punishment, by Troy Schulze, the award-winning writer/adapter/director of Me-sci-ah, Jerry's World and Actual Air.

Slant 8: Getting to Nobu: Show and Tell with Nobu Adilman
Aurora Picture Show
Saturday, May 31 from 8:00 - 10:00 pm

Join Aurora Picture Show for a special show-and-tell screening with Slant veteran Nobu Adilman, filmmaker and host of the TV shows Food Jammers and Invention Nation! Click here for more info.

Slant 8: Bold Asian American Images | Documentary
Aurora Picture Show
Saturday, June 1 from 3:00-5:00 pm

In this program of documentaries, family members hold on to each other and their memories even when outside forces try to tear them apart. Click here for more info.

Dallas Events

CADD New Media Panel
CADD Art Fair
Sunday, June 1 at 2:30 pm

A new media panel featuring Lauren Cornell (Rhizome, The New Museum), Paul Slocum (director And/Or Gallery, artist), Kevin Bewersdorf (artist, filmmaker, musician), Todd Simmons (Austin Museum of Digital Art) and moderated by Noah Simblist (SMU).

Houston Events

Cinematexas Eulogy at Aurora Picture Show Friday
Aurora Picture Show
Friday, June 13 at 8:00 pm & Saturday, June 14 at 3:00 pm
Admission: $6

Aurora Picture Show is bringing Austin's famous Cinematexas International Short Film Festival to Houston for the festivals final farewell. This is the last chance for film fans to pay their respects to the festival that ran for more than ten years in Austin and was known for pushing the boundaries to promote experimental, avant-garde, and non-commercial film.  Festival co- founder Bryan Poyser and former curator-at-large Spencer Parsons will be in attendance. Call Aurora Picture Show at 713.868.2101

Announcements: opportunities


Donor Circle Coordinator
Dallas Museum of Art
Application Deadline: Sunday, June 22

The primary responsibility of the Donor Circle Coordinator is to contribute in a professional and meaningful way to the execution of clearly defined Donor Circle objectives which are tied directly to the stated financial revenue objectives of the Museum’s Donor Circle Program. This includes, but is not limited specifically to, solicitation/acquisition, stewardship/retention, cultivation, billing/acknowledgment and programming for all patrons, falling within the Donor Circle parameters. Reporting to the Program Manager, Donor Circle Membership (PM/DCM), the Donor Circle Coordinator works collaboratively with the PM/DCM and other Development staff members. For complete job description and application details, please click here.

Special Events Manager
Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

The Special Events Manager is full-time member of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston’s development staff and is responsible for planning, coordinating and producing major special events that generate a substantial portion of annual operating revenue. The position requirements include a B.A. degree in appropriate field; strong interest in contemporary art and a minimum of three years professional development and/or event production experience, preferably with an arts-related institution. For further information, please click here.

Executive Director
Art League Houston
Application Deadline: June 30, 2008

Art League Houston is currently seeking applicants for the Executive Director position. Art League Houston cultivates awareness, appreciation and accessibility of contemporary visual art within the community for its cultural enrichment. The Executive Director implements the strategic goals of the organization and is responsible for organization, direction, and administration of the agency, including its policies, programs and services. To view position announcement and job description, click here.

Exhibit Fabricator/Facility Supervisor
Austin Children's Museum
Application Deadline: Sunday, July 2008

The Exhibit Fabricator/Facility Supervisor provides building maintenance and acts as liaison with outside maintenance service providers. In addition, the position assists with exhibit fabrication building high quality, hands-on exhibit components, props, and furnishings for Museum galleries, exhibits, and traveling exhibits. For further information and application instructions, please click here.

Artist Residencies

Lawndale Artist Studio Program 2008-2009
Lawndale Art Center
Application Deadline: May 30 at 4:00 pm

The Lawndale Artist Studio Program is part of Lawndale’s ongoing commitment to support the creation of contemporary art by Gulf Coast area artists. With an emphasis on emerging practices, the program will provide three artists with studio space on the third floor of the Lawndale Art Center at 4912 Main Street in the heart of Houston’s Museum District. Artists have full access to their studios 24 hours a day, seven days a week; access to visiting artists, writers and curators; and will receive a $500 monthly stipend for the duration of the program together with an initial $1500 materials budget. If accepted, artists are expected to present a workshop or presentation to the general public and the local arts community to share their practice or explore a related topic. Works produced during the program will be exhibited at Lawndale Art Center during May 2009. For application details, please click here.

Call for Entries

2009 Texas Biennial
Project Deadline: May 31; Group Exhibition Deadline: June 30

The 2009 Texas Biennial is accepting submissions from artists living and working in Texas via the website, www.texasbiennial.com. All submissions will be digitally submitted online and artists of all medias are encouraged to submit. The 2009 Biennial website will provide all information on the Call for Entry process. The Temporary Outdoor Project will be funded by the City of Austin and will award budgets for complete projects ranging from $3,000 to $10,000.

Harvestworks Video Art Festival #003
Harvestworks Digital Media Center
Deadline: June 16, 2008

The Harvest Digital Media Center invites artists to submit videos of all types of video (experimental, animation, music video, documentary, silent, short, etc) for a guest curated video art festival. Works selected from this call, as well as by private invitation, will be featured in a series of themed screenings in September 2008. The festival’s main objective is to highlight inventive and visually rich video created in the twenty-first century. Though this solicitation is truly broad, they are especially interested in work exploring the notion of façade (i.e. architecturally or in the sense of superficial appearance or illusion), work exploring food, agriculture and/or the environment, audiovisual collaborations, silent videos and videos created especially for web-viewing. For more information and submission guidelines, click here.

Chicago Underground Film Festival Accepting Entries
Deadline: Monday, June 16

Entries are now being accepted for the Chicago Underground Film Festival. For further information and entry details, please click here.

Erotica 2008: Open Call for Art
Gallery Lombardi
Deadline to Enter: Wednesday, June 18

Gallery Lombardi seeks drawing, performance, video, mixed media, painting, sculpture and print projects for this all media exhibition that celebrates the human form and the long tradition of figurative art. For further details and entry form, please click here.

The Big Show: The Call for Entries
Lawndale Art Center
Hand Deliver Work between June 25-June 26 from 10:00 am-5:00 pm

Artists living within 100 miles of Houston are invited to submit their artwork for a chance to be included in the show and a shot at one of three cash prizes. For further details and application form, please click here.

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