Real Estate, and Context

In a sense art has been a space race at least since the onset of Cubism, which shattered the calm of one-point perspective and, with collage, punctured the barrier between art and reality. Art’s spaces really started multiplying in the 1960s, with the successive splinterings of Fluxus, Happenings, Pop, Minimalism, Arte Povera and Neo-Concrete and the Post-Minimalist flotilla of Conceptual Art, performance, earthworks, installation art and video. Today in art there are so many permutations and gradations of space that there could be dozens of names for them. Instead we have adjectives. Space can be pictorial, mystical, fictive, real, social, geographical, male, female, architectural, fragmented, whole, distorted, compressed and mental. Space also has become an essential commodity for making and selling art, for which we do have a name: real estate.

From Roberta Smith’s parsing of Chelsea, the “epicenter of the big-box art gallery” in the New York Times.*

Real Estate. As opposed to False Starter Home? I have a life long love/hate thing going with those two words. I have been variously seduced by great white space galleries, sublime museum spaces as as well as the out-of-the-way, quaint or picturesque. The venue does impact the perception and experience of a work of art even though the purist in me wishes that weren’t the case. But context matters.

Then there is the fascinating and now much-discussed experiment with music and context. Joshua Bell, world class violinist, is asked by the Washington Post to play in a DC metro station to see if anyone would recognize genius outside the confines of a concert hall. Answer: One person. But for 43 minutes of playing, he did garner $32.17 in donations. (Go the Post to view the hidden camera video of Bell playing.)

Real Estate doesn’t just hold me hostage when it comes to art viewing. I need it to make art too and I’ve spent my life looking for more studio space. I never have enough, as inevitably as death and taxes. Someone once described an artist as someone who is always looking for somewhere to store stuff. (Louise Bourgeois once advised her sculpture students to rent a Long Island warehouse and just put their work in there for 20 years. “Maybe by then the rest of the world will have caught up with you.”) My variation is a bit different: I’m someone always looking for more space to make the stuff in. After all, a studio–with plenty of room–is its own kind of context.

*Note: Highlights from Smith’s reviews of Chelsea shows by Walter De Maria and James Turrell can be found on Slow Painting.

4 Replies to “Real Estate, and Context”

  1. I like the capacity for art to play with concepts and feelings about space and spatial relationships, and love the variety of experience available in viewing art in different venues. Quite exciting this!
    There is never enough real estate to satisfy me, in doing my own work, on mostly smallish scale, and limitations have forced me to be somewhat flexible in what I can accomplish, in a rather amateurish fashion. However I am constantly stretching from the elbows to stretch available space, and don’t fret too much about the lack of more space. Storage is a problem, but not insurmountable. it is working room that is so precious.

  2. Elatia Harris says:

    The best painting of my life was done in a 7′ x 10′ room with one small window and no heat. If you turned on more than two lights for more than an hour, you courted brown-out. The paintings were large — 4′ x 5′ — and when I wanted to see what they looked like from more than a couple of paces away, I would take them out to the alley where I could get 10 yards of distance on them. I accept that lack of the ideal work space is a really awful problem for many artists I know — artists who are not princesses on the pea, BTW. Much time is lost, however, hoping for the perfect surround, the island where everything is built to go your way. Could this be one of those times when the perfect is the enemy of the good?

    I remember standing in Delacroix’s studio in the Place Furstenburg in Paris. It was a high-ceilinged room about the size of the average parlor of the day, and it had wonderful clear mild light. Wanting this, I thought, is stark, raving sane. And wanting more than this is crazy.

  3. You’re a superior life form, Elatia. Either that or I am the crazy one who does want more, more, more.

  4. Elatia Harris says:

    I’m a great ditherer actually, but thanks! I bellyache a lot about not having quality time to write — meaning all day I guess — when it’s possible though difficult to write if you’re very tired or very distracted. I think this is easily the equivalent of wanting a great studio and not fully using what you have until you get one.

    Picasso kept a sketchbook on his bedside table; if he woke up for a few minutes in the night, he didn’t want to be without the means to use the time well.

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