Why do we care? It’s because it’s a way to think about things like why or how works are chosen, how they fit into a show’s theme, with other artists, and in the space they’re placed. Good things just to think about. If you’re lucky, as in this case, works are good and intriguing, too.
Seriously, it’s a never-ending stream of treasures, if you aren’t subscribed already. My three favorites from the last day:
Amrita Sher-Gil, a painter who seems to me to have focused on women and their daily lives
Meredith Woolnough, who crafts beautiful, vibrant allegories to natural forms, skeletal and structural
And my favorite, Kumi Yamashita, whose work you may have seen in viral photo shares of her intricate nail & thread portraits or the same made with credit card rubbings. She works mainly with light and shadow, though, and those simultaneously delightful and disturbing sculptures are just amazing.
The Gorgeous Work of Early 20th Century Painter and Designer Margaret MacDonald
Time for some more talk about the preponderance of white dudes in the canon. I’ll be (mercifully?) brief. Maybe I should have a segment header for this:
Eh, maybe not. But, via the really great—non-toxic—Twitter account @womensart1, I found the work of Margaret MacDonald, a key influence on the Glasgow School and, I think it could be argued, the Arts & Crafts movement as well. Her Wikipedia page sets her as an influence on Klimt, and it seems plausible his work borrowed ideas she painted around the turn of the 20th century and exhibited in Vienna.
I think she’s another who deserves to be studied and lauded along with Klimt.
It Used to Be Angst, but Now It’s Just Plain Old Anxiety
I’ve been looking at and thinking about the work of Candy Chang, an urban planner and artist based in New Orleans who does a lot of work in collaboration with the public—much of it literally out in public view—and some directly about anxiety. Moving brings up all kinds of fears and feelings of anxiety, so I’m a bit attuned to it these days.
It’s called “deaccessioning,” the reverse of acquisition. It’s also controversial in many cases, because the job of a museum is to preserve, and selling off pieces of their collections is the reverse of that. But it’s not all one thing, a monolith of bad policy used to shore up a sinking ship torpedoed by rash decisions. Sometimes there are good and healthy and right decisions that lead to the practice.
I’m mostly referencing this Hyperallergic article, and as they point out, some museums are deaccessioning works to diversify their collections beyond the traditional white-male-heavy stacks. Sometimes they’re honing their educational mission. As we patronize and contribute to museums with our time and money, we ought to keep the big picture in mind. What does the overall collection look and feel like? How are they living up to their values? And so forth.
Art History Is Full of Artists Who Don’t Make the Textbooks, but Who Are Often Brilliant and Innovative
Every bit as genius as several of the abstract expressionist leaders was Thai painter Tang Chang, and his work is the subject of a retrospective at The Smart on the U of Chicago campus. When I look at Chang’s work, including “concrete poetry” (I need more of that in my life), it’s easy to see how narrow my view is—even with some significant effort, both in school and out of it, to broaden it—of what works and artists are important and need to be remembered, versus what we’ve been told.
It’s not that the wacky bunch of brooding white dudes didn’t do amazing things. It’s that they weren’t the only ones, and weren’t always the best or first doing them. There’s always a massive pile of feverish creation going on at any given moment. We share the same penchant for art, all of us humans.
Chang was halfway around the world from Jackson Pollock and de Kooning. If we’d had the internet in the 40s, would his stuff be exhibited with theirs? Would his name be mentioned alongside theirs? I think it’s important to keep searching for an expanded view of art history, and who has languished in obscurity while we lazily hold up the same set of dudes as our important icons. There’s a lot out there to know, discover, and understand.
I’m preparing to move everything I own and everything I am across the country. It’s only one state, but that first leg north is a big one. So, while changing homes may not be quite as stressful as pop psych has cracked it up to be, it does feel traumatic in some ways. I distract myself, which you probably already could tell.
Punch Brothers released a new album today, and I’m playing it right now. If you like Nickel Creek or bluegrass or Chris Thile, you’ll like this.
New Yorkers got a marvelous bonus this week when library card holders also gained free access to local museums, and they booked the hell out of them. Here’s hoping that success spreads to other cities.
The art world is weird. Big exhibitions like Art Basel can get even weirder, but I try to find the public works every year, the big stuff and the things tucked into corners, away from the main sales bustle. These are often funny, evocative, striking works, including performances, and I wish we did this everywhere, putting creative expression amidst commercial and residential mass production and sameness.
He finally went and did it. Died. Deshuffled the most mortal of coils. A fiery, arseaholic ball of emotion and invective with an Edisonian ability to invent new tales burned out and went forever silent. He wrote amazing things, and I considered him a hero for a long, long time.
Then I started hearing about his sexist behavior. Odd, I thought, since he was such a fierce advocate of the ERA and feminist ideals. But sometimes the people we admire do awful, hurtful, damaging things. We can’t shy away from talking about that part of our erstwhile heroes, if we talk about them at all, and sometimes if we don’t want to. Harlan shamefully groped Connie Willis on stage, and was reportedly grabby with a lot of women through the years. This is unacceptable sexual assault, and he should have been called out on it a lot more than he was. He apologized to Willis, who accepted. That’s to the good.
He inspired millions of us to write and to create new worlds and to never give in to the powerful who wanted to crush or steal our dreams. But he hurt people and sparked fear in some innocents he denigrated, and womenthe woman he touched inappropriately, and that will shadow his brilliant work forever, as it should.
Here’s my Ellison story:
I was attending Comic-Con in 1995 or ’96 as an exhibitor for my comics series Greymatter. I saw that Harlan was going to be meeting and greeting at a booth in the middle, somewhere, and even though I was terrified at the thought of confronting such a fierce and forward man, and the real possibility that he’d excoriate me and my work, I had to go get in line.
I waited, I walked up, I handed him a pile of books. He was delighted, and gracious, and welcoming. He said, “Ack! You waited in line to give me comic books?!” with a giant grin and slight head shake. He accepted my fanboying with tolerant good humor and thanked me. And I left, exhilarated I’d met yet another of my favorite creators.
Cory Doctorow wrote a better obit than this one, about HE, and how to think about someone we admire who does bad and good things and it’s here, and it’s worth reading.