In most American cities, just a few blocks beyond the twinkle of Gallery Row, you may find an area that portrays a sobering swatch of American life: sleeping bags, shooting galleries, shopping carts filled with the discards of fuller days. Residential hotels replace the fast-fashion teenager meccas. Here, you may spot an art world cutting-edger — a dreamer in search of a better price-per-square-foot and a freshly painted box, ripe for the evangelizing of contemporary art.
On an impromptu Saturday, I tiptoed over a sidewalk of hypodermic needles and got buzzed in. On show was the newest body of work by an unknown-to-me mid-career artist already on the right side of the hippest collections and museums. I cruised the perimeter, then the plinths. Doodles in watercolour and acrylic, sawed and glued pieces of plywood and fiberglass were arranged in clumps like half-built Legos — familiar shapes and forms but executed with a hand-hewn disregard for craft, materials or colour. “All great contemporary artists, schooled or not,” wrote Jerry Saltz, “are essentially self-taught and are de-skilling like crazy.” The show floated in its light-filled space — ordinary objects posturing as precious — defiantly irrelevant to the sturdy architecture beyond the locked front door and its flanking homeless. A recent review disclosed that while there are no red dots or even price lists to sully the conversation, half the show had been sold in the first 24 hours.
A talk ensued with the artist and educator facing one another on folding chairs at the front. “I don’t get on an airplane for just anybody,” began Associate Professor of Art History at Blarghity Blargh University near the opposite coast. She cocked her chin and unfurled several minutes of words I had to Google from my seat. I made some notes: “Collapse distinction.” “Training for duty.” “Ossify.” “Liminal space.” She gestured toward a table of glued cement behind us and, like a small wave of confused constituents, we collectively turned to examine the evidence. In that moment, from beyond the street-front window, a mob of drunken Santas paraded by, banging on the glass as they passed. “The gods too,” wrote Aristotle, “are fond of a joke.”
PS: “Frankly, these days, without a theory to go with it, I can’t see a painting.” (Tom Wolfe)
Esoterica: I excused myself and stepped into the December air, walking towards what I thought might be the source of the Santas. Tall ones, short ones, grubby ones, old ones — Santas weaving in and out of traffic, jolly Santas, naughty Santas, Santas loitering outside the pubs and hotels. The sun dipped and the sidewalk thickened with red suits. “‘I am quite ready,’ answered the Emperor. ‘Do my new clothes fit well?’” wrote Hans Christian Andersen in The Emperor’s New Clothes. I pocketed my notes and, though missing my suit, slipped into the parade.