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View of the Pacific Ocean from Marin County, with the Farallon Islands in the distance

How does it work, those mysterious tendrils that some part of us knows how to sprout, rooting us to the places that feel hospitable, that feel like our native habitat? I spent my childhood in California but expatriated to the east coast when I was just 21 years old. But the years away can’t wash out a primal sense of homecoming. There are those smells, earthy and fragrant, that I have only encountered on that western coast of this country. And then of course there is the issue of the light. I remember an article in the New Yorker many years ago that offered up the scientific explanation for what makes the sunlight so distinctive in California, none of which I can remember now. But it IS different, decidedly, and I loved the chance to bask in it for 10 days in the company of my daughter Kellin and so many good friends.

Some public art viewing highlights, of which there were many:

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Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. What a collection ranging from Asian to European to contemporary. A special show, Divine Demons: Wrathful Dieties of Buddhist Art, was small but spectacular.

From the Norton Simon site:

As embodiments of the “demonic divine,” wrathful deities serve as protectors and guardians of the Buddhist faith. Mahakala is an especially fierce deity who militantly tramples a figure that represents obstacles. Resplendently adorned with a tiara of skulls, writhing snakes and a multitude of spiritual weapons, he is one of the most important protectors of the religion.

But then I do have a thing about Mahakala, with a massive image of him hanging in my living room.


My own personal wrathful protector, Mahakala

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MOCA Los Angeles is currently featuring an exhibit, “Collection: MOCA’s First Thirty Years.”

From the MOCA’s site:

On the occasion of its 30th anniversary, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), debuts Collection: MOCA’s First Thirty Years, the largest-ever installation of its renowned permanent collection featuring more than 500 artworks by over 200 artists. MOCA’s collection, which numbers nearly 6,000 works dating from 1939 to the present day, is internationally regarded as one of the most important collections of postwar art in the world. While works from the collection have been seen in more than 100 thematic exhibitions at MOCA since the museum’s founding in 1979, the new installation will make a significant portion of the collection accessible to the public on a long-term basis.

The show spills out of the Grand Street location into the massive Geffen exhibition space a few blocks away. This was a day-long feast of more Robert Irwins than I have ever seen in one place as well as some gorgeous works by Agnes Martin, Ed Moses, Mark Rothko, Franz Klein, Sol LeWitt. Arranged chronologically, the later years feature artists who are primarily working in and around Los Angeles. That bias is to be expected given how many west coast artists have been given little or no traction in places like New York.


Robert Irwin, Untitled (Dot Painting), 1965 (Photo: The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles)
Note: This image is extremely subtle—you may need to look very closely to see the intricate pattern of dotting that sits on the surfave of the painting. One of the reasons Irwin hated photographic representations of his work!

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SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) is also featuring works from its collection, “75 Years of Looking Forward” as well as a companion exhibit, “Focus on Artists.”

From the SFMOMA site:

From its early days, SFMOMA has been devoted to fostering close relationships with artists, and these ties often have led to significant holdings of their works. This exhibition looks at SFMOMA’s long-term relationships with 18 modern and contemporary arists whose iconic works have been influential in defining movements from Abstract Expressionism to Postminimalism and beyond, with individual galleries featuring works by a single artist. The first half of the exhibition includes eight American artists whose practice fundamentally impacted the development of abstract art in the United States: Richard Diebenkorn, Philip Guston, Ellsworth Kelly, Brice Marden, Robert Ryman, Richard Serra, Frank Stella, and Clyfford Still. The second section showcases an international selection of artists — Diane Arbus, Matthew Barney, Robert Gober, Dan Graham, Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, Doris Salcedo, Kara Walker, Jeff Wall, and Andy Warhol — whose work has signaled a shift toward more psychological, social, and historical content in art.yuuuuuh

Another jaw dropping set of amazing art, particularly rich with works from some of my all time favorites. A gorgeous wall of drawings by Brice Marden. A room full of Diebenkorns that includes pieces from the Ocean Park series as well as earlier work. Exquisite Robert Rymans. Richter. Salcedo. And most powerfully for me, two of the most spectacularly visual and visceral Sigmar Polke pieces I’ve ever seen, both from the “The Spirits That Lend Strength Are Invisible” series from 1980s.


The Spirits That Lend Strength Are Invisible III, by Sigmar Polke (Photo courtesy of Sigmar Polke)

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De Young Museum. Just being in this exquisite space (hats off to Herzog & de Meuron) is a joy. And this trip I was particularly moved by the Art of the Americas collection, one of the best assemblages of Pre-Columbian art I’ve ever seen.


Figure of a Crawling Baby, Olmec, 1200-900 BC (photo courtesy of The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco)

Much more to share, so check back later this week.

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“Mild Winter II” (Photo: Galerie Michael Werner)

This weekend I found Laura Cumming’s review in the Guardian of the new Per Kirkeby show at the Tate Modern. (It is also posted on Slow Painting.) Well known in his homeland of Denmark, he’s a painter whose work does not get as much visibility (IMHO) everywhere else as it should. Hopefully the show at the Tate will change that trajectory. He is also a writer of poetry and essays, a filmmaker and a sculptor, so his sensibilities bleed over into a number of different forms.

Here’s an excerpt from Cumming’s review:


Kirkeby’s colour – radiant violet, cobalt, glowing ochre – is like a gift, a compensation for the complexity of his art. For he never offers any easy statements. None of his paintings is sewn up, resolved, and very often you feel more certain of the mood than the subject matter. His early work has been compared to that of contemporaries such as Sigmar Polke and Georg Baselitz, but in its primitive and irreducible pleasures seems more connected to Cy Twombly.

Though there are, of course, those who just find it annoyingly resistant and obscure; which is the occupational hazard of the abstract artist. With abstraction, there has to be some kind of affinity, some vocabulary or tone of voice that the audience may recognise as it recognises the content of figurative art. In which respect, the relative unfamiliarity of Kirkeby’s work is a boon.

For it allows one to see the paintings clearly, uninflected by the judgments of others, to meet them like relative strangers. And this show is the ideal encounter, for it has been very subtly arranged to display the fullness of their character. Rich, earthy, spearing, dynamic, fiercely inquiring, solemn, droll, sceptical and yet abundantly romantic: perhaps a portrait of the artist as much as his art.

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Per Kirkeby (Fotograf/Copyright: Peter Beck)

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Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University in Waltham MA (Photo, Boston Globe)

Thanks to the ever-resourceful blogger Judith H. Dobrzynski at Real Clear Arts for this update on the much-discussed issue of universities and the visual arts. As the title of her posting suggests, Take That, Brandeis! Dartmouth Gets $50 Million for a Visual Arts Center, Dartmouth is playing out a very different storyline from the one we have watched out in Waltham with the untimely demise of the Rose Art Museum.

Here’s an excerpt from Judith’s report:

Dartmouth College has just announced that it has received a $50 million gift, the largest in DartmouthVAC.jpgits history, to build a new visual arts center on campus.

What a contrast from Brandeis, in Waltham, MA, which has grown infamous for its announcement earlier this year that it planned to shut its Rose Art Museum. Brandeis lies only 135 miles from Dartmouth, in Hanover, N.H. Worse, in announcing the gift, which was made anonymously, Dartmouth President James Wright said:

Arts are at the heart of a liberal arts education, and have always been vital to the Dartmouth experience, empowering students to think creatively, challenge assumptions, and wrestle with demanding and often unfamiliar media.

Then Dartmouth’s Dean of Faculty Carol Folt chimed in:

Dartmouth faculty view the arts as a powerful way to understand human culture and history, and when practiced, to stimulate creativity, flexibility, and leadership. This gift will have an immediate impact on Dartmouth’s intellectual and cultural environment. It will galvanize the talented faculty we already have and attract others, create new opportunities for innovative teaching, and offer more students the chance to experience the creative process first-hand.

Click here to read the entire posting.

Here’s a well deserved shout out for Mass MoCA. One of my all time favorite museums, this innovative, expansive and lively space is celebrating its 10 year anniversary. That’s no small feat.

(A piece about its inception is posted on Slow Painting, excerpted from an article by Geoff Edgers in the Boston Globe.)

Here are a few shots from a recent visit:

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The extravagant installation of Sol LeWitt walls

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(No hurry on seeing these–the LeWitts will be on view through 2033)

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Riki Moss and Thalassa Ali, day trip companions

And from the Anselm Kiefer exhibit, Sculpture and Painting:

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A few words on Kiefer’s work by Ken Johnson:

Mr. Kiefer’s career-making move was to draw an analogy between two big ideas: transforming raw materials into art and transforming the raw history of Germany into a mythology of redemption and rebirth. These transformations are not literal. Rather they happen in the viewer’s mind. We see his paintings as expanses of viscerally physical raw material, and at the same time we see them as big, artistic pictures and mythic images. The thrill is not in one or the other but in holding both views in mind at the same time.

That, in a sense, is the lesson of Mr. Kiefer’s art: that we can see through a kind of parallax vision, literally with one eye and spiritually with the other. We are all alchemists. Every day we perform mental acts that transform inert objects into things of meaning, beauty and desire, reviving the world by creative acts of imagination. The lead and concrete in Mr. Kiefer’s works remain just lead and concrete if we are unable or unwilling to see them otherwise.

I’ve been following the Rose Art Museum’s undoing here and on Slow Painting. Over the weekend London-based The Guardian ran an article about this unfortunate state of affairs as well. Reading about the Rose from that Eurocentric point of view brought on another layer of frustration for me.

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Funding crisis … Visitors tour the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, Massachusetts, January 2009. Photograph: Essdras M Suarez/AP

Facing what has been described as a potential $79m (£52.5m) deficit over the next six years, a dwindling endowment and a near-exhausted reserve fund, Brandeis University in Massachusetts announced earlier this year that it had no other choice but to close its prestigious Rose Art Museum and sell the 8,000-piece collection. Prior to releasing the statement, it made a last-ditch effort to solicit funds from donors, but many had lost money in the Madoff Ponzi scheme, and the university came to the conclusion that it was out of options.

Economic hardship or not, this didn’t go down well within the art world. For one, these were not the financial problems of the museum – which is largely self-sufficient – but those of the university. Secondly, the loss would simply be too great. Established in 1961, the museum’s world-renowned collection includes early works by masters such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Roy Lichtenstein. It also has a long history of hosting extremely significant exhibitions, from Joseph Cornell’s solo show at the Rose in 1968 to Dana Schutz’s first solo show in 2006, which ran concurrently with a Matthew Barney exhibition.

Deciding to shut down a museum of such stature and sell off its works is an extreme option. Brandeis should have tapped the Rose’s fundraising expertise instead. After all, internationally recognised art institutions don’t achieve their reputation without the best development staff in the country. Moreover, as a means of protecting valuable public resources, the ethical code of the Association of Art Museum Directors prevents the sale of objects for purposes other than acquisition. The ensuing debate gets complicated very quickly. In response to public criticism, Brandeis now claims the museum will remain open as an educational centre, with studio and exhibition space. University president Jehuda Reinharz went so far as to describe this as a demonstration of the institution’s commitment to the creative and visual arts community. The statement was understandably poorly received; a learning office is not equivalent to a world-class art institution.

Brandeis also created a new panel to explore further options for the future of the Rose, and last week announced the museum would be staffed for the summer, while it continued to look for alternative sources of funding to support the university. But the Rose already has an independent administrative body designed to direct the museum’s future – its board of overseers. And the mere fact that the Rose employs staff now is not evidence of Brandeis’s support: due to a failure to renew contracts as of June the Rose will have no director, no curator, no education director, no administrator, no funding stream and no programme.

If these actions look ugly now, they will only get worse: a statement on the museum’s website insists that the Massachusetts attorney general’s office has insisted the Rose remains open in some capacity, and that it will weigh in should the university attempt to sell the collection. The Rose also now employs a lawyer and is looking for legal documents relative to the trust of the museum. It has all the makings of a long and very messy legal battle. But if the university’s financial situation is as dire as it claims, gambling what money it does have on a court case to legalise the sale of the art collection doesn’t look like a particularly safe bet. It could take years to win – if they win at all.

This, from the New York Times:

Three prominent museum-world figures who are Brandeis University graduates spoke out vigorously on Tuesday against the school’s plans to close its Rose Art Museum and sell off artworks to raise money. In an open letter posted at the Rose’s Web site, Adam D. Weinberg, director of the Whitney Museum of American Art; Gary Tinterow, chairman of the department of 19th-century, modern and contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Kimerly Rorschach, director of Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, wrote that Brandeis had “shaken confidence in its educational mission, threatened a covenant established with thousands of donors, and set a sad and troubling example to other institutions.’’ They said of the Rose: “This was where an extraordinary collection kindled our passion for art and art history. This was where we decided to devote our professional lives to studying art, and to helping others feel the excitement we had discovered in these galleries.’’ The three added: “We can only hope that Brandeis will now revisit its decision. If not, we all stand to lose.’’

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Bravo to Roberta Smith, the New York Times art critic who journeyed to Boston this weekend to see firsthand just what was at stake with Brandeis’ decision to close the Rose Art Museum. Her report is a devastating one, revealing a process that is more egregious than I had previously realized. (You can read her article on Slow Painting as well as the Times site.)

Here are a few of her well placed barbs:

The Brandeis vote was an act of breathtaking stealth and presumption: a raid on a museum that supports itself, raises its own funds and has consistently planned wisely for its own future without leaning on the university. The trustees treated it nonetheless as a disposable asset.

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It is hard to know how anyone could destroy this museum, but that’s what Brandeis announced it would do last Monday. It’s hard to think of a comparably destructive — and self-destructive — move in the art world today.

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The outcry in the art world was also fast and furious, with more than a few people noting that the rapidly sinking art market made this an idiotic time to sell art. By week’s end Mr. Reinharz was backpedaling on the sale, saying it was not clear what would be sold or when. He was nonetheless adamant that the museum would be closed.

Of course he was. What better way to avoid the messy legalities of deaccessioning artworks, with the attendant denunciations from Association of Art Museum Directors and other professional organizations that monitor and weigh in on sales of individual works of art? (The association’s guidelines say that art works can be sold only to finance acquisitions.) If there is no museum, there are no guidelines to violate.

It’s a cynical view but I think Smith is fair in pointing out the game plan here. It was poignantly contrasted to her reminder of the larger issues at stake here:

On Friday the only signs of any disturbance were on the exterior of the Rose’s dainty, cast-concrete building, which opened in 1961, just 13 years after the university itself was founded. The museum’s glass front was festooned with posters that exclaimed, “Don’t Close the Rose” and “Fire Sale,” the remnants of a student sit-in the day before.

But inside, the art was, as usual, doing what art is always trying to do, speak to people directly about pleasure and beauty, about personal capacity and freedom, about how individuals acting on their own can find themselves, express those findings and make a difference.

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The greater the art, the greater number of people “own” it. The greater its power, the more it expands our lives. In a just and moral society, art is crucial to our understanding of freedom, difference and individual agency.

The message out of Brandeis University last week — to its own students and to the world — was that when the going gets tough, none of this matters. Art is dispensable.

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“Cold Mountain Studies 10” (1988-90) by Bruce Marden

Having just gone through a stack of recent art periodicals—Modern Painter, Art on Paper, Art Papers, Art Forum—I can categorically say that the number of times I felt connected to (compelled by? curious about? impressed with?) the art being written about or advertised is at a lifetime low. After a while you feel like a lonely dingy, trying to keep from capsizing while the noisy regattas, festooned and extravagant, barrel past. Ahoy! Any other small craft out there?

It may be that all the art regattas are being pulled ashore, now in storage until the next good breeze season is upon us once again and we are through this particular patch of bad weather. Dingys are all season vessels, too small to notice or worry about. And there is something to be said for that durability and agility.

For the first time in quite a spell, today’s Times brought news of two shows in New York that feel dingy-friendly: The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, at the Guggenheim; and Pierre Bonnard: The Late Interiors, at the Metropolitan. Both shows are up until April 19.

The influence of Asia on American art is a fascinating topic and one that I have studied for some time. The Transcendentalists were digging into Asian spiritual traditions as early as the 1840s, with accounts of Emerson and Thoreau reading the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita. Japanese prints made their way into American visual consciousness, many by way of Paris-based artists who were captivated by a different concept of pictoral space as portrayed in Ukiyo-e wood cuts.

That meme’s influence has continued, showing up in a wide variety of facets of American art. And it is an influence I resonate with deeply—one that features the meditative, the mysterious, the nonlinear and nonrational.

And Bonnard. He’s the colorist whose work never ends in pleasuring the eye. One of Bonnard’s signatory flairs was his insistence in placing a stripe or patch of bright orange in every painting. He is, after all, the master of the secondary palette—those colors that result from mixing two primary colors—the purples, the greens, the oranges.

Here is an excerpt from Holland Cotter‘s review of the Guggenheim show:

Asian influence seeped into American painting a bit later, after scholars like Ernest Fenollosa and artists like John La Farge visited Japan. In the show you can see the fashion for it catch on and spread, in Whistler’s inky 1870s nocturnes, in Arthur Wesley Dow’s turn-of-the-century Japanese-style prints, and in the spiritualizing work of artists who lived closer to Asia in the American Northwest: Morris Graves with his luminous images of birds and Chinese bronzes, Mark Tobey with his calligraphic “white writing.”

Tobey’s art is sometimes taken as a precursor of gestural abstraction in New York. And the case for linking some forms of Abstract Expressionism with Asian writing has been made and unmade many times. With its lineup of Pollocks, Motherwells and Klines the show pushes the argument forward again, though without adding anything startlingly new to it.

Instead its surprises come from the West Coast. There’s a gorgeous painting by Sam Francis, who lived for a while in Tokyo, of what looks like a lotus on fire. Lee Mullican’s “Evening Raga” has the note-by-note shimmer of Indian music. And his friend Gordon Onslow-Ford, a spiritual omnivore who painted on a ferryboat in Sausalito and wore “visionary” like a campaign button, offers a kind of abstract version of “Starry Night,” all filigree webs and wheels.

By the time this piece, “Round See,” was done in 1961, John Cage had been painting, composing and proselytizing his customized version of Zen for years. A section of the show is dedicated to him, or rather to a concept he embodied, one absolutely central to Asian culture: the idea of lineage, the transmission of forms and knowledge from mind to mind.

Cage developed his aesthetic of chance operation in part through study with the Zen scholar D. T. Suzuki, and shared what he learned with contemporaries like Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. A Rauschenberg combine called “Gold Standard” (1964) was slapped together in a matter of hours on a Tokyo stage as Cage watched.

But Cage’s creative DNA also passed on to a generation of younger, Zen-tinged, Neo-Dada artists who used the group name Fluxus. Work by several of them — Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, Alison Knowles — is assembled near Cage’s, along with a ready-for-the-future-travel suitcase packed with Fluxiana.

Traditional Zen painting is black and white. By contrast, Tibetan Buddhist art comes in vivid colors, which made it naturally attractive to artists and writers taking drugs in the 1950s and 1960s. Some are indelibly identified as Beats. Jack Kerouac, with sketchy bodhisattvas and a manuscript slice of “Dharma Bums,” is one. So is William Burroughs, whose esoteric cut-and-paste work called “The Third Mind” gave the show its title.

Where an artist like Harry Smith fits in is harder to say. Chronologically he was a Beat. But his short animated films blending Tantrism, Theosophy, Orientalist Pop and Alastair Crowley, all to a cool jazz score, don’t feel period specific. They could be hippie ’60s. They could be by young artists today. (It’s important to note that the show barely touches on Islamic Asia, specifically on Sufism, in which Mr. Smith was interested.)

There are a number of free-radical types like him in the show, which is one reason it has a patchy, scrapbookish look. Even the section devoted to Minimalism resists the sort of uniformity that art history, ever straightening and cleaning, tries to impose.

Ms. Munroe [the show’s curator] finesses the problem by inventing a category she calls ecstatic minimalism, which covers expected figures like Robert Irwin, Ad Reinhardt and Richard Tuttle, but also admits personally expressive works like those of Agnes Martin and Yayoi Kusama, and makes room for excellent artists like Natvar Bhavsar , Zarina Hashmi and Tadaaki Kuwayama, so seldom seen in big mainstream shows that they’ve barely been slotted at all.

Into this charmed circle Ms. Munroe also brings abstract artists working with sound and light, like Jordan Belson, James Whitney and La Monte Young. Whether you call Mr. Belson and Mr. Whitney optical scientists or psychic magicians, they are fascinating figures, very much in line with the Guggenheim’s own history as a museum of non-objective art rooted in diverse cultural and spiritual traditions.

As for Mr. Young, he and his “Dream House,” with a 24/7 drone and trippy lighting by Marian Zazeela, have long since become underground institutions. First installed as a permanent environment in his Manhattan home in 1962, then used for performances with his teacher, the Hindustani raga vocalist Pandit Pran Nath, and now reconstituted at the Guggenheim, “Dream House” forms a natural bridge to the conceptual and performance art that brings the show to a close.

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I’m still reeling from the news that Brandeis University has announced the closing of the Rose Art Museum. Once a bastion of painterly painting under Carl Belz’s visionary directorship, the Rose has been a cherished art destination for me for many years. The building, designed by Philip Johnson, is small and not one of Johnson’s best works by any means. But the sensibility Belz brought to the place was exemplary. Judy Pfaff, Joan Snyder and a number of other important women artists were championed by Belz early in that particular visibility curve.

The outcry has been overwhelming. From the New York Times today:

The Massachusetts attorney general’s office said on Tuesday that it planned to conduct a detailed review of Brandeis University’s surprise decision to sell off the entire holdings of its Rose Art Museum, one of the most important collections of postwar art in New England.

The decision to close the 48-year-old museum in Waltham, Mass., and disperse the collection as a way to shore up the university’s struggling finances was denounced by the museum’s board, its director and a wide range of art experts, who warned that the university was cannibalizing its cultural heritage to pay its bills.

“This is one of the artistic and cultural legacies of American Jewry,” said Jonathan Lee, the chairman of the museum’s board of overseers, who said that “nobody at the museum — neither the director nor myself nor anyone else — was informed of this or had any idea what was going on.”

This account from the Wall Street Journal (with an excerpt posted on Slow Painting), also caught me:

The National Academy and MOCA did come perilously close to “going away,” due to financial circumstances specific to them that predated the general economic collapse.

The academy clawed its way back from the edge by selling two Hudson River School paintings — its most important Frederic Church and its only Sanford Gifford — to raise about $13.5 million for operations. By the time its desperation-driven plan to sell came to light on Dec. 5…the paintings were already gone — withdrawn from the public domain by an unidentified private foundation.

In making this risky move, the museum forfeited not only AAMD membership but also art loans from and collaborations with institutions that obey the strong recommendation of the association’s board. “These objects are there for the collective cultural patrimony of the people who live in this country. They are not fungible assets,” Mr. Conforti [president of the Association of Art Museum Directors] declared.

“These objects are there for the collective cultural patrimony of the people who live in this country. They are not fungible assets.”

Is that true?

My son, ever the devil’s advocate, wants to know details about the collection being sold before he mourns its loss. He’s young and iconoclastic, very distrustful about how art institutions and their collusive insider taste makers determine what is valuable and what is not.

Yeah, I’m cynical too. But I do know some of the holdings at the Rose. And the thought that those works will be gone is crushing to me.

What’s the answer? As the financial infrastructures needed to keep our culturecraft afloat continue to disintegrate, the solution is not simple. But I still feel bereft.

This was a weekend with a disruptive sense of time. It made me think of an essay by the poet Wendell Berry, “An Entrance to the Woods” in which he describes making a trip to a forest in Kentucky. He leaves work, drives hard over the interstate highways for over an hour, then finally arrives at his destination. But he has a sense that he has not really arrived. He’s restless and uneasy, not comfortable in the intense silence of a forest he has loved in the past. He said his body was telling him that “people can’t change places as rapidly as their bodies can be transported.” Making the trip by way of the freeway, his mind was not yet fully there. In the past, he took the slower back roads and the acclimatization happened much more organically. He states, “the faster we go…the longer it takes to bring the mind to a stop in the presence of anything.” It wasn’t until the next morning that he was able to enter into the place for the first time. Only then could he say, “I move in the landscape as one of its details.”


Exhibit at Lyman-Eyer Gallery, Provincetown MA

My summer show opened in Provincetown on Friday night. Seeing my new work in a different context, grouped by a different set of eyes, is its own kind of mind/body journey. But that good night was followed close upon by an early morning flight to a wedding in a Pennsylvania. The euphoria of celebrating and dancing the night away with friends may have masked any differential in arrival times of body and spirit. That much reveling feels like a blast of full body joy.

Shifting again, I spent Sunday at the 55th Carnegie International in Pittsburgh, a contemporary show themed loosely (and I do mean loosely) around Is there Life on Mars? A big yes to a few of the artists whose work was included in that show—Bruce Conner, recently deceased California artist, consistently moving Vija Celmins and a young Indian artist, Ranjani Shettar.


Angel series, Bruce Conner

Conner was a highly unpredictable artist who refused to be pigeonholed into any of the isms and labeling that are so rampant in contemporary art. Some of his work in the past has moved me, some has not. But Conner’s Angel series, photograms made from large sheets of light-sensitive paper exposed to a beam of light from a projector, are unforgettable. These images were created without a camera and feel apparition-like and other worldly. It was hard to not feel a bit weepy looking at these hauntingly beautiful works knowing that Conner passed away just a few weeks ago at the age of 74. Adieu to one of the brave ones.


Vija Celmins, Night Sky

Vija Celmins, whose image, Night Sky, won the Carnegie Prize, had a room full of her characteristically delicate paintings and drawings. I always find her work so insistently deep and authentic. She is one of the contemporary masters at holding tension between surface and depth.


Ranjani Shettar, Just a Bit More

Ranjani Shettar’s installation held me breathless. She created an updated version of Indra’s net out of a web of threads and hand-molded beeswax balls. It suggested outer space, multidimensional rabbit holes, the metaphor of a network that holds all of us in connection to one another. Exquisite.


Frank Lloyd Wright, Falling Water


The last leg of the journey was spent at Falling Water, Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece. I have been before, but I have never seen it in the context of the wild rhododendron forest of the Laurel Highlands. It is a flotilla of perfection, perched above those waterfalls and still, after all these years, an utterly compelling encounter.

Back home, most of the essential parts of me have returned with my body. Or maybe not. I’m still feeling these very distinct but powerful invitations to step out of the ordinary, whatever ordinary is, and to move in the landscape—both man made and natural—as one of its details.