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The Problem with Saints

11. SPIDER LADY NEST.jpgWhat are you making?
If you ask Bruce, it doesn’t matter.
I know this because “Bruce Conner Makes a Sandwich” from Art Forum #61 tells me so. The SFMoMA wall blurb says the work “parodies Art Forum bringing readers to artists’ studios” as if looking at art studios is worth parody. It is not. Observing the site of making is not what Mr. Conner mocks. He mocks the magazine’s aggrandizing voice.  To do this, Connor demonstrates making a sandwich step by step. It is a terrible sandwich (peanut butter, cheese, miracle whip, more). Bad moves are reverently pictured and captioned. “placing the lettuce” shows a hand putting lettuce on a sandwich.  Conner mocks the distorting reverence bestowed upon select artists and their art. Charles Desmarais doubles down on the hagiography in his gushing review of Conner’s SFMoMA exhibit “It’s All True” in the SF Chronicle, proclaiming masterworks found in every room,
The greatest artist Bay Area ever produced! Among the most significant artists of the 20th Century!

(Museo Reina Maria in Madrid uses art history to authorize the work “one of the most pre-eminent American artists from the second half of the twentieth century”) and, in an interesting recursive equation SFMoMA and its international market driven agenda validate Conner, as Conner bestows credibility on the museum.  Desmarais is not wrong. There are great works here. The exhibit is broad and deep enough for viewers to feel the weight of Conner’s work in its many forms.  Conner’s scattershot approach to making is the heart of the issue.

Debris assemblage to felt tip pen drawings to filmmaking to etching-collage to photograms to inkblots.  Conner picks up a thing and jumps in making… and then he makes and makes and makes. Even thought his inquiries take place via unrelated materials or aesthetics he seems to land in the same place. That place is a zenith of destruction on the brink of new creation. Exemplified in the mushroom cloud films where we watch an exquisite unfolding that ultimately takes us back to an unbroken world.


The assemblages are superb. See Assemblage of the Sheik. Where junk jewels in nylon stockings serve as purses and testicles beneath a ruffled canvas torso.  “Breakaway” is a music video on film from 1966 that presents a woman in a frenzied dance so disjointed that she jump cuts from costumed performer to sweaty naked girl and back again leaving the viewer grasping for a cumulative whole that does not arrive.


Angels are elegant in reductive simplicity born of a man standing naked before photo paper, then exposed, leaving a flash of vague bright figure.  Ink blot and felt tip drawings demonstrate a compulsive accumulation that end up not more than the sum of their parts. For me these, along with the etching collages are the least of his works but I am as happy to see the master works along with the not so master works that fed them.

In his very human seeking Conner gives us all permission to wander down paths that may not yield. That is how artists find art. And, this is why non-artists need art.  The work is neatly framed and beautifully presented in the exhibition but the gushing commentary values greatness over actual experience which runs the risk of murdering these Boho-Beat-Punk artifacts.
Offering artists as saints tells the other humans that they should follow Conner by making peanut butter and cheese sandwiches instead of following Bruce; by picking up stuff that interests them and then push it around until it lands in a place that feels true.

It is useful for me to see Conner and others like him (Lucas Samaras, for example) as they search and wander in their making.
Like major league sports figures, most artists go through years and decades of trying and making and throwing the results on the heap. And then doing it again and again as they reach for the shape of the thing they mean. In this way Conner truly is a maker in his art. Some successful few, like Conner, get recognized. And then suddenly everything they made is GREAT! And, how they made it is raised above human endeavor.
The sandwich demonstrates this thinking as wrong.
Humans make art. Great art is great because it is a delivery system for this humanity.
But, once the grandiosity machine gets hold of it, the humanity is separated from the art.
Greatness is then acquired through ownership and association.  In his art Conner again and again disavows this premise. He puts on surgical scrubs to receive an honorary doctorate to demonstrate that being given an honorary doctorate DOES NOT MAKE YOU A DOCTOR.

At the members preview, Jean Conner, (that’s Bruce’s widow) mentions “Bruce is getting so much attention people are looking at my art.” That’s a tragedy. I am glad that people want her work. I imagine it had merit even before it was standing next to BRUCE!
When we give mystical weight to (select) art and artists it diminishes our ability to experience art honestly.

By creating supernova artists, the art and artist are imbued with so much hyperbole and excessive value and that value cannot be experienced directly in the art. This hyperbole and hagiography deny us our art. And artists. Real artists serve as models showing the world what is possible through making.  Mr. Conner’s sandwich demo demonstrates that one run through art world bloating, your average reader not even making a sandwich makes sense.

The second loss in sanctifying excellent artists is that other excellent artists who have not been sanctified become invisible. Their worthy product fills dumpsters while people cover their walls with what came in the Ikea frame.




Katina Huston Open Studios


Join me for East Bay Open Studio

Saturday and Sunday, June 10 & 11 from 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
High Street Lofts Building, 2R.
815 High St Oakland CA
# 171 in the artist directories and maps.

Opening Party Friday, June 2 6:00 – 9:00pm

The Opening Celebration Exhibition will take place at the 16th Street Train Station in Oakland. Though I have no work in the show I’ll be at the party and looking forward to seeing the station in all its grit and glory… arriving 8:00pm ish. Join me. The event is by invitation, which you can get athttp://eastbayopenstudios.com/guest

Open studios is two weekends, I am only open the first; June 10/11 11:00am – 6:00pm

To learn more about the event and how to find us on tour, please visithttp://www.eastbayopenstudios.com/

Museums in North Carolina

Why is this Pomodoro different from other Pomodoros? Well, it isn’t really, maybe a little bigger. Charlotte is a town that cares about it’s public life and public spaces. Plenty of plazas and parks filled with art.

This is the Mint Museum Uptown. There are three brand new museums within a block of here plus theatre etc. This museum focuses on craft and design.

Many of the paintings seem to have come from period local collections. This is a George Bellows. Weirdly, in North Carolina they include the artist’s middle name so I get confused. Who the hell is George Wesley Bellows?

Below is a detail from a gigantic Kahinde Wiley. It is really flat, handless, painting in the detail but the massive portrait of cool African American youth overlaid with elegant European decorative motif becomes an important monument here offering the grand respect European royalty receives in other nearby portraits.

This was an unexpected treat by a European sculptor I had not seen before; a pine tree, sans needles, decorated with clear glass balls filled with…pine needles, presented on an unfinished pine platform.20120329-141019.jpg
The happiest Motherwell I have ever seen. The abundance of art here is great but there seems to be an unusual requirement for pleasantness. Not a disturbing stroke to be found.20120329-141033.jpg
In this relatively small museum they found room for three in depth special exhibits. All take elements of art history and add a family twist. Here, Yves Tanguy is side by side with his wife, Kay Sage. In another, local Surrealist is examined through the works he sent to his sister. Sweet but I kind of want to be offended by modern art.
Plenty of ceramic around. Here’s a grand Jun Kaneko in the lobby. I was amused to see that Allan Chasanoff’s ceramic collection landed here. I was his studio assistant after college as he was piling them up. It is intriguing to follow works from gallery to collector to museum. Some museums are filled with works so newly minted that I sort of feel the pricetag on the back. Maybe that’s just me getting old and remembering the works on gallery walls before they settled into higher digs.

College Art Association and a little Art in LA

Made it from Aspen to Los Angeles in about six hours on one of the little prop planes that rose and fell in the turbulence. Everyone clapped when we hit the ground.
My little room at the Sheraton looks grubby and perhaps unsafe after the St Regis. A dangerous precedent.
I am in town to attend the annuan conference of the College Art Association in Los Angeles at the Conference Center, meet some friends, see a little art.


I find great beauty in the working end of restaurants. Los Angeles is such a factory with huge teams of workers. This is the customer’s view of the kitchen at The Pantry on Figuroa. I had the Cheesesteak with a side of slaw and a diet coke. The whole thing weighed about three pounds.


College Art Association was held at the Conference Center just behind the Staples Center. The day before we arrived ten thousand people had been sworn in as citizens. Even the view of their chairs is a little moving. I had a nice chat with the guys in the chair moving dozer. I think they do this every month.20120229-212410.jpg


Talk about sex appeal. The above is a panel of artists talking about their studios and work on a panel called “Raw” chaired by critic Michael Duncan. I threw this in because the dad of the artist I wrote about in Aspen, Garabedian, is last on the right. But now I see he is not even visible. My co-critic on this trip noted that the CAA conference completely lacked sex appeal. Dozens of rooms just like this one with folks on the dias reading from papers. All the sensuality of the very same industrial carpet pictured here.


I had the opportunity to see a private collection in the home of the collector. He happened to have a lot of work that was material driven. For example, this yellow piece is likely made up of styrofoam coated in textured latex but the work completely transcends the elements and fully becomes a thinkg all its own.


The below piece is a real surprise. This is a cast plaster work. I think the form it was cast from was a thin plastic garbage bag filled with…who knows? Plush toys? The surface is just fantastic in how it holds both the texture of the garbage bag surface and the shape and feel of the objects contained.


This one just knocked my socks off. You are looking at fake fur, spraypainted and then encased in shower curtain plastic. Who would have guessed? And who would think so little could do so much.


I loved the below work. It was about four or five feet high, wall hung with lots of delightful dangly bits. The piece was composed primarily of wire and dipped in enamel or some kind of plastic, forming those jewel like films in the gaps. The bounce of the wire, beads, also dipped in goo, integrated the work in the unified color and texture. I think it is a fantastic piece. You can see how the artist just started and one thing led to the next.


The below work is kind of preposterous. See both pictures below. It is a lampshade attached to the wall, the interior shaped and colored with a layer of yellow je ne sais quoi.


The below was something of a surprise as well. I ran into this at a gallery in Culver City. Made from layers of plasticized corrugated paper, ripped and then stapled into layers. Foliage forms sprayed onto the surface before it was shredded then form a new image when reconstructed. I took the picture so the staples would remain visible both as scars and so you can see how they become part of the texture of the whole.


oops.this is the picture of the lamp shde transformation.20120229-212735.jpg

Art in Aspen? Sure, why not?

We arrived in Aspen at dawn, fizzy and exhausted. Time for some holiday I think.

Here’s the stroll to the Aspen Museum of Art. Apparently the John Denver memorial is nearby- we missed that but ran into a couple of 70 year old women on a pilgrimage.





I posted all those pictures for you Diane. These provisional works used so many of your elements; curled paper, resin or other transparent fill, cast concrete base. The last one is the artist statement so you can look it up.

Then I dropped in at 212 Gallery where the Director, Katie, had contacted me about my work a year ago but nothing ever came of it. I asked for her and introduced myself and the gallery worker knew who I was. A very nice surprise.

Nap time. That’s Susan at my room at The St Regis.



























Denver Art Tour

Another amazing day looking at art with the fabulous Susan Donatucci, fellow artist,prof,friend.
First I visited the Denver Art Museum on my own.

That’s a Claes Oldenburg broom and dustpan outside the museum.

This was a delightful installation by Sandy Skolgund. The museum is doing a nice job of creating experiences without Disneying out.


That top work is Robert Arneson’s Last of the Wolf Hunters
The Sunflower is by Keith Edmier. It’s about eight feet tall. These two were in a temporary exhibit called Earth and Fire which included some nice, meaty ceramics.

George Condo gold paint over bronze (but I think it’s obvious the master was clay)

Three Towers Gold and Green by Martha Daniels, about 6 feet high. Her work was around town so she has a nice relationship with Denver.

Need I say? Annabeth Rosen.
The poets I am working with have a sense of mouth feel in words. I think the hand feel in sculpture is often best expressed in ceramic.


So that’s Susan. She joined me next door at the new Clifford Still Museum which is very SeaDrift in surfaces and architecture.



Sorry about the blur. Poor little IPod camera cannot fathom the vastness.

Everyone needs a little coffeemug philosophy.

Or perhaps tee shirt philosophy. Susan and I thought that this meant that you are either a winner or a loser (and I, Cliff, am a winner) but the guard knew the context and explained that Cliff was often both at the same time. As am I.



Followed by Plus Gallery, which was great. Ivar gave us a real introduction to his program and Denver Galleries overview, as well as a reading list on an area of interest for me(art, galleries, museums and professional practices where God meets gold). Plus indeed.

Followed by redline, a combination residency and exhibition space.

This artist had a studio at Redline. The works are strips of vinyl draped over peg- by Derrick Velasquez. He was prepping his work to ship to a show in NY.

This headdress is from an exhibit at the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art. All of the exhibits focused on 60s and 70s counter culture, much of it Bay Area. This costume piece was from the Cockettes dance troupe.

Can’t have a counter culture scene without raising the specter of Bucky Fuller.


Clifford Still inspired installation at David B Smith Gallery. Vinyl strips again.

Metropolitan State College Art Center had an exhibit of neo figurative work that made me nuts, slick, smug, apocalyptic.


A clean shot

It’s like a dress back from the cleaners. A crappy iphone shot of my work can get it out there but it isn’t the same as a decent full shot.
Here’s a good image of a work I finished last week. Last week’s phone shot let me offer a snapshot of the process but sometimes I can’t see my own work until I have a real picture, literally. I know the thing inch by inch but not in the big view. My 12×12 foot studio filled with the stuff of making does not allow for distance. I can’t take it all in.  Going outside and peering through the window can reframe it. But there’s nothing like a decent photograph to let you see a thing.

Sloppy Kiss


Life and Death, or my current work

Here’s an image of one of the drawings I have been making since August. I learned yesterday that I have to return my skeleton to the university for inventory. I may be able to borrow it again. Still, it is a temporary setback. For me these drawings, comprised of a skeleton shadow overrun with too bright flower shadows interrupted by wallpaper swatches, speak of the relationship between the living to the past. Maybe it’s like the caustic sound of laughter the day after your father dies. Or maybe it’s about how in the brightness of every day there’s a bit of mouldering past  underfoot. I’ll make another 50 and figure it out.

Here is my most recent addition to this new body of work. Cynically, it is titled “Christina’s World” from Andrew Wyeth’s most famous painting of the girl pulling herself up the midwestern hillside. I think she had polio, all I am sure of is that she was unable to walk and the image showed the breadth and limits of her world. Why does this work fit that title? There was something about the diagonal shadow of a skeleton and the way the striped wallpaper bounds, and in so doing, makes the edges of the weeds and the figure tangible.

Christina's World

The challenge of the solo show.

The exhibit I scheduled yesterday is slated for October at Chase Young Gallery. The challenge is this, I have been building a new body of work that thrills me. But, the gallery and its clients do not yet know my work. Should I introduce myself with a collection of works that represent me over the last ten years? or the last four months?
The image from yesterday’s post is what I am better known for; large (6’x3′) ink drawings of shadows.