Untitled #5 1994 Agnes Martin 1912-2004 ARTIST ROOMS  Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/AR00177

Untitled #5 1994 Agnes Martin 1912-2004 ARTIST ROOMS Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d’Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/AR00177

Writing about the Agnes Martin exhibit that began at the Tate, moved to Düsseldorf, now at LACMA and (finally!) coming east to the Guggenheim in October, Hilton Als touches on some of my favorite aspects of Martin’s work.

From The Heroic Art of Agnes Martin, in the New York Review of Books:

On solitude and art making:

“We have been very strenuously conditioned against solitude,” she observes in her wonderful collection of writing. “To be alone is considered to be a grievous and dangerous condition…. I suggest that people who like to be alone, who walk alone will perhaps be serious workers in the art field.” Being an art worker was, she felt, a privilege, and one’s apprenticeship took as long as it took; art was not a race. “To live truly and effectively the idea of achievement must be given up,” she wrote in 1981 in an open letter to the Whitney Museum of American Art. Put unsentimental piety first, turn your back on the world, and get on with it.

On a relationship with nature:

Walking through the show, one can see how ultimately unsuited Martin was to be a hard-core Abstract Expressionist; the movement was too noisy, and what did she have to do with bop, the Beats, that wall of sound and bodies that wanted to shout the squares down in favor of “kicks”? Martin was interested not in discord but in harmony. While Jackson Pollock said he was nature, Martin strove to represent how nature made her feel or should make us feel—humble, free. Nature was to her what it was to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “transparent eye” in his transcendentalist masterpiece, “Nature” (1836)—a space unrivaled in its ability to inspire and transform.

Emerson’s idealism—“Nature is made to conspire with spirit to emancipate us”—was not unlike Martin’s. Often, in her lovely, empathic writing, she tries to communicate what being an artist must mean if one is going to make real work: becoming a conduit of the beautiful, that which cannot be explained.

On the grid and how to encounter her work:

She used the grid as a forum for belief—a space where the viewer as well as the artist could contemplate the hand making the thing being observed. In her well-considered 1971 appreciation of the artist, Kasha Linville wrote:

Once you are caught in one of her paintings, it is an almost painful effort to pull back from the private experience she triggers to examine the way the picture is made. The desire to simply let yourself flow through it, or let it flow through you, is much stronger…. Her paintings exert themselves differently, depending on their line, their pattern, and the quality of the ground color on the canvas. Some are less lyrical, evincing aggression or tension…. Others suggest spaciousness or vast space, again without using illusionistic devices or the egotistical implication of infinitely extendible surface.

One pauses at the extraordinary line “the egotistical implication of infinitely extendible surface.” Unlike her male predecessors, not to mention contemporaries, Martin didn’t use the grid as a means of describing the infinite—the infinite “I” of being an artist. Instead, her work ends at the canvases’ edge.One begins and then one finishes; the grace is in the doing. Her touch was her personality… “Line is where she speaks most personally,” Linville said. “It is her vocabulary as the grids are her syntax.”

Making mystery “a solid object”:

Morris and Bell’s show is a commendable map that reveals Martin making her way, step by step, her pilgrim-like progress measured against all those flat skies, fields, trees, bodies of water, barely expressed emotions that made up her home. Before she left New York and gave up making work for seven years, Martin made a series of drawings and paintings, starting in 1963, that bled color out of her art…In those works and others she was trying to make mystery a solid object. When she returned to her art in 1973, the title she gave to the graphically strong, stark, black-and-white prints she produced first said it all, certainly with respect to the atmosphere that New Mexico could provide her with, day after day as she worked out there, blissfully alone: On a Clear Day.

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bathy5
In Water, an exhibit currently on view at the Beyond Benign Gallery in Wilmington Massachusetts

Putting this show together, getting it installed and then celebrating with friends—pure pleasure. Thank you to so many who contributed to this effort: The great staff under Amy Cannon at Beyond Benign, Jerry Beck at the Revolving Museum, John Warner of Warner Babcock, all the artists who participated and especially my co-installer George Wingate, art playmate extraordinaire all these many years. (We shared a space in New York City in 1973. Yeah, it’s been a lifetime.)

Information about the exhibit and the gallery is here. If you are in the area, please stop in. While you won’t have the pleasure of hearing the soundtrack of water-themed music or drink wines with water-related names (very cool attention to detail, Amy!) this exploration into water by 6 different artists will be up through October 25.

A few installation shots of In Water (with work by Deborah Barlow, Kay Canavino, Rachael Eastman, Barbara Gagel, Susan Quateman and George Wingate) along with a few other photos:

frontwall
Intimate ink drawings by Rachael Eastman on the first gallery wall

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George Wingate’s diagonal installation is an indicator, a pointer, a propeller, a marker

InWater1

InWater3
We wanted this second gallery to feel “bathyspheric”, as if submerged and surrounded by water

InWater5
On the left, encaustic monoprints by Barbara Gagel

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From the left: A mixed media painting by me, another encaustic monoprint by Barbara Gagel, and silk painting and photograph by Susan Quateman

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entry

Canavino
Two underwater photographs by Kay Canavino

frieze
Hand cut and assembled, George Wingate created the In Water frieze along the upper wall

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friezecu

George1
Set up with George Wingate

KerryDBsm
Special help arrived when Kerry Cudmore showed up

reception
Reception prep

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Jerry Beck, Amy Cannon (partial view) and Barbara Gagel

LesliColleen
Lesli Gordon along with unexpected guests from Saratoga Springs, Colleen Burke and Doodles

LindaRach
Winner of the prize for the longest journey: Linda Gibbs (along with the Michaels, her husband and her brother) who drove up from Mamaroneck New York to be with Rachael Eastman and me

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books1
Some of my tiny rectangles. (And yes, there are others)

Now this is a headline perfectly designed to be click bait for the likes of me:

On the Heartbreaking Difficulty of Getting Rid of Books

But I’m glad I took the bite since Summer Brennan‘s essay was perfect for me: thoughtful, humorous and yes, reassuring.

The fact is that in spite of digital drift, there are lots of us who have a book problem. Some more than others, I grant you, but we are a subgroup, a self-designated tribe, and Brennan is a good spokesperson for our cause.

While many young urbanists around the world have been spellbound by the home decluttering advice of supra-minimalist Marie Kondo (author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and promulgator of the KonMari Method), the system falls short when it comes to dividing up the books you keep and the books you let go. “Paring down one’s wardrobe is one thing, but what kind of degenerate only wants to own 30 books (or fewer) at a time on purpose?” is Brennan’s reasonable question.

Brennan describes her own version of the KonMari cleanse with her library, and her conclusions are much more in line with mine than canonical Kondo:

“A book can wait a thousand years unread until the right reader comes along,” said the critic George Steiner, and that’s true. The good ones are incantations, summoning spells. They are a spark, a balm, a letter from home. They contain demons, gods in a box. They are tiny rectangles with the whole universe packed in. We read books that describe magical portals when really it is the books themselves that are the rabbit hole, the wardrobe, the doorway between worlds. Books, like people, are bigger on the inside…

It’s not true that when you first receive a book is the only right time to read it. Books can stay with you like a talisman on a quest, taken out of your cloak, unwrapped and understood only at your darkest hour: A light to you when all other lights go out.

Brennan’s essay is a loving paean to books, and she differentiates them from other possessions that may clutter our lives and weigh us down. But she also touches into a concern I have had with the hidden side of all this supremacist minimalism that has become so chic:

It’s a useful exercise to clear the cobwebs from one’s bookshelves once in a while, but don’t let anyone talk you into getting rid of your books if you don’t want to, read or unread. Ask yourself whether or not each book sparks joy, and ignore the minimalist proselytizing if it chafes you. After all, the romance of minimalism relies on invisible abundance. The elegantly empty apartment speaks not to genteel poverty, but to the kind of hoarded wealth that makes anything and everything replaceable and available at the click of a mouse. Things and the freedom from things, and then things again if you desire. If you miss a book after getting rid of it, Kondo consoles, you can always buy it again. Dispose and replace, repeat and repeat. Ah, what fleeting luxury.

That’s a great phrase to describe my discomfort with this current version of minimalism—invisible abundance. It speaks to on demand consumerism, with every object just a mouse click away. Thanks, but I’d rather have the stack of “tiny rectangles with the whole universe packed in” than elegantly empty.

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Remaya2
Remaya 2, mixed media on wood panel, 36 x 36″

A year ago I had a conversation with Jerry Beck, good friend and founder of the well known Revolving Museum (in Jerry’s nomenclature, a “nomadic nonprofit cultural organization”). We shared an interest in exploring the linkages between art and science, and we agreed that New England is a rich environment for that kind of dialogue. A new exhibit, In Water, is the result of that conversation.

We chose a ubiquitous topic since every day we each have a personal encounter with water. And while it is fundamental to life, it also possesses a high capacity to transform–it can flow, freeze, vaporize, dropletize, bubble, flood, evaporate, absorb, eviscerate. Its many variations and forms inspire expression.

This exhibit includes works that are diverse in form and intention, from the abstract to the political and ecological. Many of the artists are good friends of mine, so assembling this show has been particularly satisfying. The artists include Kay Canavino, Rachael Eastman, Barbara Gagel, Susan Quateman, George Wingate and myself.

In Water is the first of a series that will be part of the Revolving Museum’s Art and Science Partnership. Working with the Warner Babcock Institute of Green Chemistry and Beyond Benign, an advocacy organization for green chemistry education, we hope to explore themes that speak to both aesthetic and scientific touch points.

I hope you will have a chance to stop by.

Show details:
June 25 – October 25, 2016
Artist Reception: Saturday, June 25, 2-5PM
Warner Babcock Institute and Beyond Benign
100 Research Drive
Wilmington MA 01887

Beyond Benign Gallery hours:
Thursdays, 1-4pm
By appointment at 978.229.5400

For more information:

In Water exhibit

Warner Babcock Institute

Beyond Benign

The Revolving Museum

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PieroPS
Fresco fragment from Piero della Francesca’s Legend of the True Cross, portraying Constantine’s victory over Maxentius in 312. In Arezzo, Italy, Cappella Bacci.

I took hundreds of photographs while I was away, but the one I keep returning to is this fragment. A segment from one of the more damaged frescos by Piero della Francesca in the Cappella Bacci, it speaks to what is hidden, lost, obscured and furtive. Of what lies perpetually just out of our reach.

As my tirelessly patient daughter and her husband, both Renaissance art historians, can attest, Piero is a bit of an obsession for me. I’ll be writing more about him in the weeks ahead once I have reclaimed the rhythm in my daily life here. But this 15th century momento is a powerful touchstone and reminder of what lives outside of the quotidian, of the timelessness that the marks made on a wall over 500 years ago can still evoke.

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KellDWSeanstreet
Italy last year, in the company of experts (who are now new parents as well)

I am out of range for several weeks. I will be back to musing, both fast and slow, on June 1.

For updates in the interim:

Facebook
Instagram
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08IRWIN-master675
Robert Irwin’s “Untitled” (1969), at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC. (Photo: Drew Angerer for The New York Times, Robert Irwin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

Robert Irwin holds a particular place in the California annals of contemporary art, and he holds a particular place for me personally. He figured larger than life during my formative years as an artist coming of age on the west coast. I watched as he worked his way through an intense exploration into painting and as he ended up being more interested in the nature of perception than in objects themselves. By the late 60’s he didn’t even want his work to be photographed: Art should only be accessed through direct experience. You have to see an Irwin to “see” it.

“Robert Irwin: All the Rules Will Change” is currently on view at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC. It is the first exhibit to focus on his evolution as an artist during that period of intensity “when, in full experimental mode, he was shifting the emphasis of his own art from psychic encounters to physical ones, from precious objects to environments, places of contemplation” (Holland Cotter, in the New York Times.) “Images, he soon realized, were a problem. They implied messages to be deciphered, narratives to be read, and he wanted to get away from all that. He wanted to stay abstract, but also to grow more expansive.”

In 1970, Irwin stopped making objects altogether. He closed his studio and engaged in site-specific installations only, ones that were perception-altering. In an interview recorded at LACMA in 1973 (it runs in a loop at the exhibit), Irwin talks about the new “beyond painting” projects that were compelling him at that point in time, from working with NASA to urban environmental design. Many know him for his iconic work in conceptualizing the Dia:Beacon facility and in developing the extraordinary gardens that encompass the Getty Center.

For example, this passage from Seeing Is Forgetting: The Name of the Thing One Sees, A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin, by Lawrence Weschler, speaks to that search for the essential:

“The big challenge for me,” he recalls, “starting around then, the ‘less is more’ challenge, was simply always to try to maximize the energy, the physicality of the painting, and to minimize the imagery. It could all be looked at essentially as turning the entire question upside down: moving away from the literate, conceptual rationale and really reestablishing the inquiry on the perceptual, tactile level. Nobody quite understood that at the time, because they were still thinking in image terms and in terms of literate connotations. When they talked about a painting, they translated it into subject matter, in a way, but it’s not only about that. It’s about presence, phenomenal presence. And it’s hard: if you don’t see it, you just don’t see it; it just ain’t there. You can talk yourself blue in the face to somebody, and if they don’t see it, they just don’t see it. But once you start seeing it, it has a level of reality exactly the same as the imagery—no more, no less. And basically, that’s what I’m still after today. All my work since then has been an exploration of phenomenal presence.

While my work takes a very different form and may not appear to be in alignment with Irwin’s aesthetic, I resonate deeply with his point of view and the way he languages his art making. His phrase, “phenomenal presence” is one I come back to again and again. (At the bottom of this post is a list of links to earlier Slow Muse posts that focused on Irwin’s writings and point of view.)

The Hirschhorn show is an extraordinary walk through Irwin’s intensely considered journey, one that brings the viewer closer to how he evolved his intention and his gifts. The show is well curated and memorable. It runs through September 5.

More from Cotter’s review:

In 1970 he did something ultra-discreet [at the Museum of Modern Art]: He changed the dimensions of a small gallery by partly lowering the ceiling with a stretch of white scrim. Other, far grander commissions followed over the next 45 years, for site-specific installations in museums, government buildings, airports and parks. When [curator] Ms. Hankins requested a new piece to conclude this show, which will not travel, he returned to the simplicity of the 1970 model. He left the last large gallery in the Hirshhorn’s circling sequence empty but for one element: a floor-to-ceiling white scrim that stretches the length of one wall and gives the illusion of straightening its curve.

The change is both so subtle and so fundamental that it can take even an observant eye time to see it, the way rules can be hard to recognize until long after they’re broken. We accept as a given that art — “great” art — is permanent, precious, the product of personal power, to which Mr. Irwin says: No. He proposes, instead, that art is mutable and conditional. Its materials are ordinary (fabrics, space, light). Its power lies neither in the hand of the maker nor in the eye of the perceiver, but in the meeting, on springy, shifting, flowering ground, between the two.

irwin
My daughter-in-law and granddaughter walking through the scrim room

___________
Slow Muse and Robert Irwin:

Meaning and Presence

Reporting in on the Other Coast

Road Work

Pacific Standard Time: Light and Space

Willing Magic

Staying Curious

Phenomenal Presence: Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin at the MFA

Robert Irwin: Part 2

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KellSiena
My daughter Kellin noodling with her niece Siena 18 months ago

Joan Acocella, long standing dance and culture writer for the New Yorker, discusses how the path of a new idea comes into form in her recent article, A Nice Little Talk. She uses a set of conversations held between dancers as a good example of how furtive it can be. “Artists will sometimes talk about such matters, but in my experience they are less likely to do so in a regular interview, where an expert is asking them questions such as ‘Can you tell me about your process?’ Indeed, it’s likely that they are most forthcoming without a questioner altogether.”

That new idea, a bolt of inspiration, a “throughline” that just appears and carries us into new work—these are the ineffables most artists are looking for. Or waiting for. They are a class of experience that essentially lives outside our zone of control, and how they come to constellate in our creative lives is usually a surprise.

Here’s Acocella’s take on that peculiar path:

I think that most of us still believe that art originates in solitary inspiration, a sort of bolt to the brain, the way Jesus was beamed into the Virgin Mary in those paintings of the Annunciation. There is some empirical support here. If you talk to artists, they will often describe a feeling of openness, receptivity, that accompanied their getting a really good idea. But this is probably true of people in all fields, not just art. Also, chances are that they had had that idea for a long time, and that the feeling they are describing is actually one of release: the idea is freed from impediments, things that were dragging it down. In other words, what these people are experiencing is not the beginning of their piece but its middle, when they say to themselves that maybe it doesn’t have to be performed outdoors or nude or solo or whatever. Then, suddenly, everything that was awful before becomes O.K. In any case, it is amazing, sometimes, to hear artists tell you how many years they worked on an idea, how many times they laid it aside, how many versions they made, and tore up—or didn’t.

The incubation period of an idea—or an inchoate proclivity—is often unclear. Until it isn’t. Incubation and its mysteries are on my mind a lot these days as we await the arrival of my daughter Kellin‘s son Rhodes. After all, the birth of a child is a particular example of the release Acocella refers to.

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Nigrallenoborder
Nigralle, by Deborah Barlow
Mixed media on wood panel, 36 x 36″

kc_ny_2513
Circulation, by Kay Canavino
Digital Archival Print, 13 x 28″

4rc
Limantour, by Ramah Commanday
Ceramic, 18 x 21″

I’m so happy to be showing my work with two artist friends whose work I admire greatly, Kay Canavino and Ramah Commanday. The idea of exhibiting with them seemed so appealing to me several years ago, and now we have a show that will travel to several locations over the next few years. The first venue for UNDER, ABOVE, EVERYWHERE: CELEBRATING MATERIALITY, will be at the Christopher Brodigan Gallery at Groton School in Massachusetts. Details about the show are below as well as a brief description of the exhibit and the artists.

I love seeing my paintings in conversation with Kay’s other worldly photographs and Ramah’s earthy vessels. My only regret is that I will not be able to join in at the artist reception on April 17. I am needed in Italy where my new grandson Rhodes is making his way onto the planet. That is its own sacred celebration of materiality after all.

Show Description
The digital and the virtual have deeply penetrated contemporary culture and consciousness, often resulting a breezy disregard for the materiality that is so fundamental to life in the multiverse. The primary elements–air, space, water, minerals and fire, so essential to our sense of ourselves and the reality we share–are easily overlooked in the rush towards the sophisticated, the cerebral, the ephemeral. And yet materiality is the very counterpoint so desperately needed to bring a sense of balance to lives that are increasingly lived in artificial realities.

In this exhibit, three artists—a painter, a photographer and a ceramicist—comingle their individual methods and media to assemble a multi-dimensional celebration of the glorious materiality that is everywhere in the universe. Deborah Barlow engages with space and the atmosphere as a sourcebook for nonrepresentational paintings that speak to the expansiveness beyond the earth’s domain. Kay Canavino has developed an ingenious method of photographing the enigmatic and beguiling waterscapes that populate under the surface. Ramah Commanday constructs micro-geological worlds from clay, exploring how the processes of massive geological change—motion, heat, cooling—can be used to construct her planetary forms.

Together these artists invite the viewer to engage with the enchantment and the mystery of the under, the above, and the everywhere. This celebration of unabashed materiality—of our world as well as in each work of art—offers a rich reminder of what is essential to our nature.

Show Details
UNDER, ABOVE, EVERYWHERE: Celebrating Materiality
April 5 – May 22, 2016

Christopher Brodigan Gallery
Groton School
282 Farmers Row
Groton MA 01450
978 448 7637

Artist Reception: Sunday, April 17, 2-4pm

Gallery hours: Monday through Friday, 9-5

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abaloneshell
The cosmos suggested in the etchings on an abalone shell

In writing about inspiration and meditation, musician and performer Amanda Palmer described the conundrum posed by those two concepts:

The songwriter in me struggles like mad when meditating. The rules of my conditioned art-mind say that nothing must stand in the way of a developing idea. When inspiration calls, follow. If I should be struggling with anything in my life, it should be taking that impossibly disciplined step from thought to pen to paper, from seed to full song.

I watch this mental boxing match take place with interest. In one corner sits a meditator, who calmly suggests that good ideas will linger if they are worthwhile. And so what if they don’t? The songs are not happening; only sitting is happening. In the other corner paces the crazed composer with the mind specifically cultivated to jump from image to word to melody in an effort to create a work of art that will move her fellow humans.

A perfect song, to me, is a captured moment of inspiration barely touched. When a good idea hits, it’s as if I’ve thrown a set of colored juggling balls in the air and taken a blurred (yet beautiful) photograph. If I develop that photo unaltered, I will have a perfect image. If I am convinced that I can get a better photo (just a little better) by juggling again before it gets dark and the light changes, I’m screwed. This is where sitting and art-making go hand in hand. Spending hour after hour laboring on finding the perfect line or the perfect arrangement of notes is about as productive as wandering the world seeking the perfect tree under which you’ll find enlightenment.

Her image speaks to so many aspects of creativity: the mind engaged versus the mind emptied, how to hold those moments when lightning strikes, how diddling can wear away at what has its own raw power, the illusion that there is a better tree or a better road.

She completes her exploration with this understanding: “Creativity isn’t necessarily an obstacle to meditation but, rather, its fruit…The moment of divine inspiration may strike at any time; the true meditation is to have the power and clarity to decide when, where, how, and even if I want to be struck.”

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