It was not a bad day after all. On the train to Basel I watched the green mountains go by as I sat in the dining car at a table with a clean white cloth cover and had a cappuccino, a banana that I brought with me and a piece of pastry. I was wearing the new running sneakers and a new seersucker jacket that I bought retail and one of the six shirts I had made for me in Vietnam. Having the sleeves altered on the jacket in New York cost more than the six shirts. The thread was already coming out of its top button. Everyone in Vietnam must be working at an absolutely frantic pace. Over here in the jewel box, I would be arriving for the first hour of the fair, called "First Choice" where the avid buyers pace the gate salivating to enter. felt vaguely indecent, dolled up and off to watch billionaires bob for baubles.
And like everyone says, this is the best fair. I saw good work by Donald Moffet, who I have heard of but don't know the work, Louise Nevelson, Cheim and Read had another great Joan Mitchell that was blue and black and I have never seen. Whenever I saw a good painting and didn't know who it was it was a Kippenberger.
Things I had half expected to see and only get to see at a place like this: Fausto Melotti drawings, a great Michael Heizer painting from the early sixties, ditto a James Bishop, the only time I gasped all day. Big Surprise: Andrew Kreps is going to be showing Martin Barre, one of my absolutely favorite painters. There were good things by people I never heard of including Djarme Melgardo, Michael Schmidt, Jacob Bill (related to Max, I think), Camille Braeser (1892-1980), Robyn Denny (1960's), Gotthard Graubney, Reto Boller, Gunter Umberg, Norbert Scwontkowski, some of the gestural Lee Ufan paintings, someone named Meuser, one small Antoinetta Peeters, Yuko Shiraishi, Friedrich Vordembergh-Gildewart, Georges Vantongerloo (historical, actually, I know of him) and Martina Klein, a monochromist.
There were a lot of extraordinary Basquiats in various booths. That show at the Brooklyn museum did him a big disservice, it really lowered my opinion of him but it was just a very poorly selected show. A retrospective is supposed to give a fair representation of an artist. The Brooklyn museum can't do anything right anymore.
I saw lot of people I knew but if they were working their booth their eyes soon rushed off elsewhere. But that was no surprise. And, anyway, my pulse barely fluttered all day. I get close to nothing from what's going on now. I went up to see the new Serge Jensens at Gallery Neu and wish that people would stop sending me to his paintings; we have only the most superficial things in common. I only took pictures of the kind of one-liner items that always show up at fairs that must be there for impulse buys, a Duchamp bottle rack made from neon and a Disney gnome sculpture covered in fresh cigarettes. These things make me want to go work for Doctors without Borders or something. The whole thing can be too "Magic Christian" for me. I only have a limited sense of irony or the absurd, it doesn't go very deep.
June 12: Very quiet for the last few days. I am slowly understanding my new environment: Switzerland is urban/rural, at least this part of it is. Streetlights and graffiti, cows with bells jolting at their necks, graze in the meadows above the apartment buildings and corporate offices. Bike paths furrow through farmland, I take one to the mall to buy a printer. Schumann goes through my head whenever I am out in the landscape. Today I go to the Basel art fair and see the Rhine for the first time. I am smack dab in the middle of an awful lot of cultural history--Enlightenment, high Romantic--that I never directly paid much attention to. I am rewriting the essay for Art in America on Hans Josephsohn. A lot of his work is cast here at the foundry, and a gallery with a shifting selection of bronzes and plasters is only steps away. I sat in the large room on Sunday and spent more time with the work. The Kesselhaus, as it is called, is where I first saw a wide range of his work collected together.
The only other time the work of an artist had such an effect on me as Josephsohn's has was when I looked closely at Blinky Palermo's "Times of Day" and "To the People of New York City" twenty years ago at DIA. When I saw the four Josephsohn half-figures at Peter Blum last spring, I had to almost immediately discard a lot of ideas I'd been carrying around and admit to myself some things that I was feeling. I could barely go to Chelsea, other work seemed stupid by comparison.
Josephsohn's work, which I have been thinking about for a year now, has succeeded because he has learned how to vacate a certain prejudice towards naturalism from the perceptual information that he receives in order to realize his sculptures. In the Carrier book there is a passage on Chinese painting where a traditional Chinese artist is shown hundred of years of Western painting and it all looks the same to him because none of the work reveals the artists feelings toward his subject. Josephsohn has managed to de-codify enough of what we expect from western figurative sculpture that he is able to reveal his feelings toward his subject directly in the materials. This is the final point that I have to make in the article, I think.
I would rather be sitting around the studio and reading James Reidel's "Vanished Act: The Work and Life of Weldon Kees" than going to the art fair. "Kees life was peopled with forgotten writers, artists and musicians to a degree not consistent with his better known contemporaries. They figured for him both because he aw them as self-destructive victims of a monolithic American money-success culture and because his contact with individuals such a Walter Winslow reinforced the subtlety with which he operate his own career—trying to be successful without the Life magazine fame."
The river is high and opaque today. I can ride my bike to a small dam upstream that regulates the flow. There is an arched railroad overpass there that could be in a John Sell Cotman watercolor.
June 9, 2007: St.Gallen, Switzerland. I had an evening swim in silvery Lake Constance, where the flat water met the rising mist and silhouetted mountains. After introductions to new companions, we changed clothing standing out on the wide lawn of the lakeside public park. We did this quickly, surreptitiously and modestly. Later, we had a twilit fish dinner in a nearby restaurant, where above the rosebushes silent snake lightening erupted from between the cloudbanks.
My studio and living quarters is in a converted industrial building, most likely early 20th century. The working area is about twenty feet high. The walls are unpainted plaster over wood. A small kitchen is under a metal stairway that meets the upper floor where there is a writing area and a bed. Katalin, who is in charge of me, has a studio next door. (She introduces me around as "The new monk". I like that.) A bathroom with a shower is in the hallway. On the other side is a large sculpture studio with a loading dock and a winch. I was informed that the workers from the foundry sometimes grind pieces of sculpture in that studio. We shall see.
From where I sit and write I can see a muddy river through overhanging trees. I can hear it too. I am in another Waterland: in a deep valley ten minutes by car from a medium-sized Swiss city about the size of Poughkeepsie. I have been furnished with a remarkable Swiss bicycle, its gears mesh gently and accurately, like all the doors and windows that I have encountered: dreamily, almost erotically responsive mechanisms. At one time I defined the chief advantage of being rich is having all one's windows and doors close accurately and quietly with no strain or pressure. This state has been achieved for nearly all here in Switzerland.
I go to the supermarket and there is bottled sparkling water made with herbs and flowers, chewy artisanal breads, organic produce and big chunks of Gruyere on sale for a dollar. The following afternoon I went to the farmers market and got air-dried beef, fresh strawberries that taste like strawberries rather than cucumbers, and a jar of bright gren homemade pesto. I looked up to see alpine meadows above the line of downtown buildings. Everyone is friendly, seemingly relaxed and speaking what sounds like German but is a regional dialect. They say "Merci" for thank you. I was taken swimming again above the city, up winding roads through a neighborhood of very large bourgeois houses from the last three or four centuries. There were three swimming ponds. A wooden Victorian-era changing pavilion was on one side by the boat launch. Striped canvases hung in front of the wire mesh lockers. Across the lower pond, where I swam among the other quietly breast-stroking citizens, small gardens tucked into the hillside among miniature chalet-style potting sheds.
Another new country, another language I have to at least learn to say "thank you" in. I am slowly learning to use my Mac after 10 years on a PC and I am not a patient person. I have two articles to write, one to revise, I am here to make paintings and drawings. There are art fairs and other such things that are emotional minefields. The quiet here is lovely.
But my demon arrived last night. It came in the familiar form of the vibrations of rock and roll bass. I noticed it when I was sitting in the studio about nine o'clock. It was quiet enough I thought I must be hearing my own heart beat and then I walked outside and began to understand that it was a disco or something up the road. I couldn't hear any music playing, only the pulsing presence of the bass. Fucking stupid rock and roll riffs, varying somewhat, pauses of a minute or so or longer when there was a break. I walked partway up the road and determined it was somewhere up the valley, bouncing around the walls of the hills, down the river's banks and into my new residence.
It started again late this afternoon and is still going on at nearly one in the morning. The intimacy of it makes it so awful—an unwanted, relentless pulse that is an undeniable presence, an aural equivalent of a bad smell. I hate rock and roll. I hate how it has been sold as rebellion. I hate the idea of something that rocks. When someone says that something rocks, what it really means is that it is something that an idiot might like.
I remain surprised at my sensitivity to sound, or thoughtlessness in other forms. I don't remember having it when I was younger. It has become a preoccupation. In the Adirondacks where I really can hear my heart beat it is so quiet, someone shooting at targets ten miles away would get me angry. Later it was the lights left on all night by the neighbors across the road, ruining the night sky and putting silhouettes of evergreens on my bedroom wall. There was a time when I was afraid that I would never stop becoming romantically obsessed, but that has long past and I am no longer afraid of it.
Now I think of Hell as being full of sleepless people buried alive where the bass speakers above them never stop. Their minders walk around overhead, turning bright lights on and clipping their fingernails.