“The difference between a good writer and a bad one—or, the difference between a writer (take your choice out of the millions around) and an artist—is that the former thinks the words are pictures, and so on. He thinks they “represent” things, and take their place. The artist is a slave to the fact (it takes a great while to realize this) that they represent nothing, and you pay homage to them on their terms.” --Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things, a novel by Gilbert Sorrentino
“To be an artist you have to give up everything, including the desire to be a good artist” –- Jasper Johns
“The girl wore a fresh, pale blue smock uniform. She looked into his eyes as she set the cup before him, not in a flirtatious or even personal way, but in the way Ray felt all Italians at whatever age or sex looked at people—as if they actually saw them” –-Those Who Walk Away, Patricia Highsmith
“Mysticism and egocentricity are not mutually exclusive. I believe a person never gets past taking himself seriously, even as a mystic. Because in doing mysticism, he is interested in the fact that HE is doing mysticism. There is this gap between taking-oneself-exaggeratedly-seriously and the serenity of relativising oneself, putting oneself into perspective.” Ernst Tugendhat
News of the death of Elizabeth Murray, Roberta Smith writes a sizable obituary in the Times, “… her loyalty to painting, which was out of fashion, was unwavering. At the same time, her blithe indifference to the distinctions between abstraction and representation or high and low could put off serious painting buffs. [Who they?] Both tendencies enabled her to be one of a small group of painters — including Philip Guston, Frank Stella and Brice Marden — who during the 1970s rebuilt the medium from scratch, recomplicating and expanding its parameters and proving that it was still ripe for innovation, in part because of its rich history.” She goes on to write about the artist’s “dismay” at the enormous success of Keifer, Schnabel, Salle, in the ‘80’s.
The 80’s were the last time I remember being amazed by what she was doing, and subsequently cooled on it. The game had changed, and she kept pushing on, to select applause. I didn’t hear younger painters talking about her, much, but then painting is at low ebb, again. I have a feeling that the work will be reevaluated and she will be situated higher up, the work was very alive. I discovered rather late that my sensibility was the opposite of Murray’s. I began to admire restraint.
Smith puts her as making her biggest contribution in the late 70’s.The best work of the 80’s wasn’t painting; anyway, it was these weird hybrids from Salle, Prince, Levine, and Sherman. 80’s painting had this peculiar market-driven irony where painters were show-off hacks that were good enough underneath the theatrics to make the irony work: Schnabel, Fischl, Basquiat. Murray was outside of all that, seriously working. I was reading a piece by Molly Nesbit, who I met in HCMC, about the 80’s in an old Artforum and she got it right when she wrote about Salle, Sherman and Levine’s ideas. I arrived in New York around that time, ’77, when there was nothing much going on in the art world and there was an interesting freedom around. But the money arrived and killed the work.
August 19. This may be one of the reasons that Paris is interesting, and in a different way, Vietnam. That there is resistance: they are underdogs. They are pursuing their ideas though the rewards are not great. I was reminded of this when I was in Lucerne the other day; I had to see Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba’s exhibition at the museum, to which I have a writing commitment. The show was…fine; his films in particular are rather remarkable, but I had to be in Lucerne, which is kind of awful. It’s like a big Swiss Lake George with more dramatic mountains, less honky-tonk, etc. but it has the high-culture equivalent of honky-tonk, with a Jean Nouvel museum and performing arts center perched at the shore, oversized and looking like a big recycling center, completely out of touch with the surrounding scale, which is a strategy, but I didn’t like it. It just blared ‘architecture’ at you, and I suppose, echoed ‘performance’.
The town is very old and has covered bridges with flower boxes where you can walk across the inlets, and large, picture-postcard Victorian hotels can be glimpsed in the near mountains. I couldn’t bring myself to take any pictures. The town had expanded in the 19th century and is tenth most visited city in the world. Queen Victoria came one summer. Anyplace that is filled with tourists is like being in Hell. Everyone snakes through the streets with the sun beating on them, walking too slowly and looking but not really having any idea where they are or what they intend to do. It is oppressive. I was reminded of the line for the automated rail that takes you up to the Getty Museum.
The sun was out. I took the trip that day based on reports of rain and was wishing I was back in St. Gallen, swimming. I went to the Sammlung Rosengart and they would not honor my International Association of Art Critics card and I had to pay about thirteen dollars to see the sad collection of late Picassos, Klees and Chagalls. It is housed in a building that looks like it used to be a bank. There were many photographs of the Rosengart family with Picasso, who was also a tourist attraction, really, for 20th century sycophantic wealthies. What I was reminded of came when I saw one of his portraits of Dora Maar, which differed itself out from among the other emptily virtuosic works.
I love his paintings of Dora Maar because they seemed to demand something more of him. I identify with Dora Maar more than with Picasso, the same way I identify with Gwen John, another artist overwhelmed by a relationship with a huge artistic figure, Rodin. Gwen John like Dora Maar withdrew into devout Catholicism. My relation to 20th century art is that of being overwhelmed by huge artistic figures, and there has to be a better way of coming to terms with them than an anti-art position or broad irony which have a very strong tang of the right wing to me. I have read James Lord’s memoir, “Picasso and Dora” several times, and I think that my position in relation to overbearing 20th century artistic figures comes out in my admiration for introverted art and artists. One thing that is appealing about Matisse that his insecurity did not rein in his certainty. As Clement Greenberg wrote: “Unlike Cézanne, he does not try to reconcile…conflicting aims in each painting, but alternates from phase to phase, or even from picture to picture…This may account in part for the unrounded, fragmented, almost disjointed impression made by the total body of Matisse's work.”
I am hanging out in my structure here looking at my work and wondering what the hell I am doing. This is my job. I went to Zurich last week and was also forced to pay admission at the Foundation E. G. Bührle Collection. It was really a very good collection of modern impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces. But I could only really see the Cézannes, some of which were not under glass, and the early Christian sculpture, the circa 1150 stuff was very imaginative and by 1400 they had already taken on a kind of naturalism and something had gone missing. Gauguin, even Manet, here, seemed anecdotal that day. I did look at Renoir, and as I have seen in every museum in Switzerland he is a sculptural, earthy painter. It is the curse of this era we are in that imagery is taken literally and no one notices what a profoundly interesting painter Renoir is. He knifed and slashed up the surface, used the paint like tar, strangled the flowers.
I also looked at the Delacroix paintings that the collection contained. I always look at him closely because I try to see him the way Baudelaire did. The Delacroixs that the Bruhles had were more helpful than most. I could see the hallucinogenic looseness in his brushstrokes that made his imagery seem like opium pipe dreams. Later I went along the shore of Lake Zurich and looked at how some of the cut stone was inserted into the landscape and then later, to the botanical gardens where the summer flowers were beginning to turn. It is already fall here, school is back in session and the water in the pond is getting colder. I will travel to Germany next week.