Sunday. My birthday. 55. I am just getting started. I hope I am just getting started. Quiet earlier this morning and sunny then clouded over, looking like rain, it rained most of the week, now sunny again and the tractor across the creek is working the field. Most of the trash from the festival was gone by Tuesday afternoon; you would have hardly known it was ever there.
A problem this past Wednesday. A couple of the kids, well, they are in their 20’s and 30’s, but are like kids, in a nice way, from the foundry were in the large studio next to my space cleaning out a paint sprayer with thinner and it ended up going on all afternoon. The whole building filled with fumes and I got a headache and was feeling woozy, and also had some psychological effect. I got in an angry panic, not knowing how it was supposed to be handled. Katalin wasn’t around, she was out doing errands in anticipation of her and Felix’ vacation to their house in Amalfi, and I could no longer stay in the studio because of the fumes, so I went to see Philip, who had talked to me about photographing the Rondinone in my studio a few weeks earlier.
I saw him over in the workshop and told him that the fumes were killing me over in the other building and he said they were about finished. It went on the rest of the afternoon. By the time Katalin returned I was beside myself and started yelling when I saw her. I wasn’t yelling at her but letting off steam but she took it personally, she feels responsible for whatever reflects on the residency. I said something about being driven from the one home I have within five thousand miles for the second time in a week, the festival was the first time, and that didn’t help matters.
The worst part was that I felt out of control of myself. From the apartment painting I had done when I was younger I have lost all physical tolerance for these kinds of paint fumes. I seem to get an immediate reaction, and it seemed coupled with a feeling of being on some kind of nasty drug. This doesn’t seem to be in the realm of the local behavior, getting emotional in this way, angry, confrontational, and I had to apologize to Katalin and talk to the others about my physical reaction to the fumes. I felt sheepish about it, but took care of it quickly. Perhaps it is for the good
I also learned that there is not a hierarchy in the foundry, that everyone seems to work things out without an exactly in-charge person except, I guess, for Felix. The guys who were creating the fumes said, why didn’t you just come and tell us? It made me wonder if I naturally look for hierarchies, or assume that they are in place, or project them, the remnants of living under severe authority? The situation also made me angry. I thought I was not being considered. This was an odd reaction because I am being treated very well, very carefully. I got an email last night that Sitterwerk is taking me to dinner for my birthday but being that Katalin and Felix are away the librarian, Marina, is taking me. It’s pretty sweet here.
I went to Zurich yesterday and visited Le Corbusier’s final house, which I didn’t particularly like, but because of that it was easy to look for what might interest me, such as the combinations of architectural and sculptural space that also encompassed aspects of large scale painting. There was also the play of shadows and light, including reflections from the decorative pool on one side of the building that threw patterns on the underside of the architecture. This is a conceit that now enthralls me whenever I come across it. I never knew it existed before I noticed it at the Alhambra two years ago.
The Kunsthaus had a Fischli & Weiss retrospective and I already knew most of the work and I never found them so interesting other than the studio cause-and-effect film “The Way Things Go”. There was another film where they put on animal costumes and drove around and looked at things and it made me wonder about how we represent animals in humorous ways. Reading the later works of J. M. Coetzee, especially “Elizabeth Costello” you get indoctrinated into some of the attitudes of animal rights activists. It made me wonder if Fischli & Weiss animal dress-up act might not look like an “Amos n’Andy” routine in the future.
There was a large room at the museum full of big horizontal paintings. I have been trying to make horizontals so it was good to see them. There were three Polkes, a Katz and a Kiefer, which I ignored, as I usually do. I had just come from looking at a big painting by Robert Delaunay, who always stops me cold. No one ever seems to mention him. His contemporary, Picabia seems to be everywhere. It was what was then called a mural-sized painting, I know several of them, the Guggenheim takes theirs out now and then and the Beauborg usually has their mural-sized Delaunay on exhibit.
In the Picasso biography, he and Jaime Sabartes, disdained all the “academic” cubists, like Gliezes and Roger de la Fresnaye, but Delaunay, I remember, they took seriously, he was doing something, they thought. To my mind they are the most exhilarating paintings of that era. Well, there is Matisse but the ultimate Matisse exhilaration is the cutouts and tapestries, which come in the late forties and early fifties. Analytic and synthetic cubism may be a lot of things but it is the opposite of exhilarating, freeing, yes. Analytic cubism is sometimes compared to jazz, but it is not, I think, comparable to the jazz of the twenties. I think you have to wait until the early sixties for all that heroin-tinged hard bop that was recorded on Blue Note to find the hermetic, urban, intellectual/visceral soundtrack for the discovery of cubism. Johns ‘55-‘65, too.
The Polkes were almost thrice as big as the Delauney, but they were completely contemporary in that they were just big, like Home Depot is just big, there is no scale at all, no proportion, you may as well be walking around in virtual space. Polke is one of the great artists of our time but he is not about internal scale, for these paintings he just moved the opaque projector further away. The Katz, on the other hand, was doing its inimitable thing, with beautiful airy brushy space. Funny how he’s for the ages, really, you almost don’t need to render a judgment on him because you know he’s not going to go away. I used to think that about Serra, too.
I picked up a copy of the International Herald Tribune while waiting for the Zurich train yesterday and noticed on the back page that there was an exhibition of 99 paintings and gouaches by Serge Poliakoff at the Jewish museum in Munich. The last day is today. It was one of these birthday messages, it seemed like it was meant for me. I could have gone, it’s 3 hours by train, and was set to, but after pounding around Zurich I couldn’t put myself through another day of it. I was always drawn to the Poliakoff’s I’ve seen. I read online how he was friends with Delaunay and was interested in stained glass. But I wanted to be in the studio, or just around here.
I have a horizontal painting that is bugging me, I can’t figure out if it’s a keeper or not, what it has to do with what I am doing. This is an old-fashioned artistic problem, many of the artists I know don’t have this internal art critic, and many others have this very contemporary problem of having to be careful of what they are doing because they are doing so well. I been told more than once that “You know, I don’t know if I am doing any good work or not, I sell everything.”
Once again, thunder and rain has arrived. I thought I might ride the bicycle into town and even go up the hill to take a swim, but now I am lucky I didn’t. It is just far enough, over half an hour and mostly uphill, that I would have been stuck in the rain, which is not warm enough to enjoy. Katalin said that the nature of the weather here is that if it is a hot one day a rainy day will soon follow. Josephsohn is reported to be doing fairly well. The stroke has left one side of his body slackened, but he is aware of what is going on, wants to see his friends and although he has months of physical therapy ahead of him, he has informed the practitioner that she will need to see the films on him so that she will know the movements he will need to do to continue making sculpture.
I have been allowed to take one of the smaller Josephsohn half–figures from the foundry and it is on my writing table here. It is overcast and 4:30. I get picked up for dinner in an hour. I can look out and see green foliage. Summertime, but it hasn’t been that warm. I have been wearing a sweater indoors for two weeks now, though the days I was in Basel and Zurich it was warm and sunny. I am now writing an article on John Armleder, the survey/installation I saw in Boston. I have given myself two hours every afternoon to work on it. I take my materials over to the library and work there, which is where I went when the fumes got bad.
There is no emotional compensation to having 50,000 art books at your disposal when you are in a bad mood, I have discovered. I think perhaps another library, one full of literature, might provide some distraction, but books full of art don’t, any more. I can here the river outside, and the squawking of some birds. Sometimes the foliage parts and there is some movement in the fields through the trees, once I looked up and there was the rear end of a cow switching flies. Church bells are heard regularly, the hills soften them but they are a presence, a lovely one.
It cleared and early this evening Marian from the library took me to Appeznell, another Canton with an eccentric reputation, it was the last place in Switzerland to give women the vote, but has the best music. Roman Signier, who lives in St. Gallen, is from Appenzell. We drove up into the high hills and then walked up some more, and over a bluff the Massif was before us on the other side of a dark valley: high cliffs, grey stone outcroppings. Over to the left, past the plain where the Rhine flowed, the Alps went on and on, getting snowier in the distance where the Austrian Alps began. I remembered the romantic poets came here to contemplate the sublime. Freidrich came here to paint.
After a very good meal back in St. Gallen I am back in the studio trying to figure out of this painting is any good. I have been looking at Augusto Giacometti’s (Alberto’s cousin) stained glass in the choir of the Grossmunster in Zurich, taking pictures of the books in the library, buying postcards of color works by Johannes Itten, trying to understand what I am up to. Not a bad birthday, peaceful, a little lazy: a Sunday birthday.