Reflections from 10 years ago;
NEW YORK JOURNAL 1994-1995
New York, 1995
With my brother in Soho. I live five minutes
away on Stanton st. He's staying at Wooster.
Broome street warehouses washed by winter sun,
cold yellow light on painted brick. We visit one
gallery after another. George says it feels like
It's 1995. Money's gone, the market crashed, art
world's dead, we're sifting through the ashes. We
talked of Baldessari, his followers. Of the
Most fine arts producers graduate from similar
schools and share similar values, which are
reflected in their association, their production,
and the systems created thereby. A cultural
blindness results from such group judgements.
Aesthetics on Trial
Crisis In Aesthetics conference
School of Visual Arts
New York, 1995
Aesthetics has a bad name in our time. Treated
like a distant uncle who embarrassingly plagues
our family gatherings, it's seen as a weakness,
leftover from patriarchal times when wives
dragged their husbands to the opera, dismissed as
the pleasure principle, self indulgence and
At present the problem's misunderstood, the
players confused. In fact at a discussion
presented by the School of Visual Arts in New
York, a panel of distinguished critics, learned
art historians, and respected professors would
not define the term. The lecture's theme (Crisis
In Aesthetics) was referred to, drawn from,
sketched lightly but never clearly defined, as if
such a definition was unimportant.
There was frustration in the air that evening, a
feeling of something almost understood. We sensed
each member holding different definitions and
assuming the other panelists shared their
thoughts, when in fact each panelist was
projecting personal disdain; the very concept of
aesthetics was unacceptable in the early 1990's.
With such accusations, with aesthetics on trial,
it seems necessary to review it's history,
examine it's parentage, question it value and
define its purpose. One audience member suggested
dispensing with aesthetics altogether, but that's
like hanging first, trial after. This cultural
cleansing is already in effect; at an ICP
exhibition I found the art work had actually been
There were photographs from the 1930's by Manuel
Alvarez Bravo, Edward Weston, Tina Modotti. The
images were framed without matts, in bright
grainy wood frames two inches thick. The frames
and the photographs competed for attention... The
viewer's aesthetic sense was split in two and
neutralized, I think intentionally, leaving the
work to be read as an illustration of art
history; images made in that time period, by
these people, following specific ideologies, as
we learned in school.
There was little desire to look further; the
work had been understood within the current
cultural belief system. But the content had been
trivialized, reduced to a cog in the system.
Body art at Exit Art
The Endurance show opening
Exit Art Gallery
New York, 1995
I wanted to talk to her... but felt I shouldn't
disturb the privacy of her exhibitionism. She was
wearing see-through black pants with bare
ass-cheeks. I wondered about the general absence
of sex, libido, life energy, the lack of eros in
the art world of these times.
Art is a field which includes sensuality, thus
attractive to those deficient in this vital
energy. Unfortunately there's too many of them
now. Sheer overcrowding. They've drunk up art's
joie de vivre, used it all, left no room for
regeneration. Art has gone dry.
The Endurance show, Carolee Schneemann, Vito
Acconci, Judith Barry, Bob Flanagan et al.
There's no pleasure here, only mutilation and
that pain which flesh is heir to. Chris Burden
photographs of a friend shooting a .22 through
his arm. My mind flashes to the William Tell
overture. Wherefore these extremes? Lack of
pleasure is pain. The audience at times looked
Contemporary artists are distinguished by the
serene calmness of their self control.
Good boys and girls are wanted now. Dependable, since most artists teach.
The territory's so competitive the least scandal is grounds for dismissal.
Sitting with George and Maggie, something makes
me smile as people walk by, but can't put my
finger on it. Then it hits; the mood underpinning
(undermining) the occasion was "the carrot on a
This was a big show, packed with both unknown
and illuminati indiscernible in their art world
fashion. The illuminati may find dreamed-of
admiration or at least a diversion from boredom,
the unknown drawn to possibilities of instant
fame and fortune. In the "Tao of Winnie the Poh"
it's called the disappearing jar of honey,
forever eluding one's grasp. This kind of thing
can't be caught directly; the terms "goals and
ambition" imply frustration by their very
definition. Time's running out. Frustration
simmers under every surface, though it would
never do to acknowledge it.
Body and beauty... Beauty is so undemocratic, I
know... But please! It's not the only game in
town and to dismiss it would impoverish our
lives. Since even those who have that kind of
beauty lose it with age, we find security in
noting other equally persuasive powers such as
personality. Beauty was certainly lacking on the
walls though not in the crowd. Beauty is
something we sell to the highest bidder and so
the buyers and sellers walked side by side. This
contrast, which looked so sensible, was as much
the body art at Exit Art.
March 4, 1995
Sculpture, sex, religion
New York, 1995
The Khajuraho temple in Indian is swarmed,
draped, covered with sculptures and bas-reliefs
of people having sex. "Doing it". Monumental
religious pornography. The priest explained; "the
illiterate peasants, men and women who farmed the
countryside, would see the sculptures and be
reminded of their duty to procreate." The visitor
was astounded. The priest nodded, "oh yes, people
My first New York show I received a letter from
the gallery saying "as we are funded by the
National Endowment for the Arts, please no
religious images or frontal nudity." Sounded to
me like a class assignment. Sex and religion.
Touch a sore spot. Our sexual paradigm is
Judeo-Christian, John Calvin, Martin Luther,
Cromwell. Pleasure was the realm of the devil.
I then wondered is atheism a religion? One
worships the great "A"? Camille Paglia in the
unpublished preface to Sexual Personae writes
that "Specialization has made mincemeat of the
great body of knowledge. G. Wilson Knight says,
"It is easier to communicate with spirits than
for one university department to communicate with
another." The humanities are dismembered and
scattered, with music, art, and literature
residing far afield. Literature is chopped into
national fiefdoms. English departments are split
by recruitment "slots," a triumph of the minim,
producing such atrocities as ads for "Opening in
nondramatic lit- erature, 1660-1740." What kind
of scholar, what kind of teacher could satisfy
this sad little mouse-view of culture? American
universities are organized on the principle of
the nuclear rather than the extended family.
Graduate students are grimly trained to be
technicians rather than connoisseurs. The old
nineteenth-century German style of universal
scholarship is gone."
This separation reached deep in the psyche,
there was a dryness calling for a re-enchantment
of the world. The intellectual mind isn't enough.
At Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart in a
conversation with a respected French artist I
said I mistrust the intellect because of it's
limitations, and got a shocked look, like the
shock I felt at 12 when I realised some people
thought fundamentally differently than those of
my cultural background.
What was this thing about religion and culture?
There's a speculation it's important for the mind
to live with paradox, to strive intellectually
and emotionally beyond the known and possible,
the obvious and statistical.
May 24, 1995.
310 Bathurst st.
Toronto ON M5T 2S3