SoHo Geo


A geometric fixture in NoHo

There was some great geometry in SoHo earlier this month, and because I’ve been busy—with Marketing Mondays here on this blog and several exhibitions of my own—I’m only now getting to show these to you.

We’re starting with the painted wall that’s been in SoHo, actually NoHo, forever. (It might be part of NYU.) I’m including it because it has a nice visual connection to the two shows here.

At OK Harris: Detail of painting by Doug Navarra


The first, at OK Harris, was a small show by Doug Navarra. Called Palimpsest, it featured an installation of found historical documents, most stained and worn over time, upon which the artist has superimposed geometric shapes in brilliant hues. The idiosyncratic work synthesized time and order, intent and chance. I particularly loved how crisp geometry hovers over the fluid, almost florid, calligraphy of the pages.

Installation of paintings by Doug Navarra at OK Harris gives you a sense of the scale of his work

Above and below: two works by Navarra

At Jose Friere’s Team Gallery a three-artist show could well have been a solo, so formally did the work relate. The two little pics below, impossible (for me) to Photoshop well because of the competing light sources, orient you to the space. Better images are below that.

Above and below: two shots to orient you to the Team Gallery space

Davis Rhodes used the simplest stuff: spray paint on what looks to be foam core. Two such objects, one black with an uneven stripe of lavender at the top, and another with a strong yellow/black diagonal, were placed opposite Gardar Einar Einarsson’s knife-edge black and white graphics. The result was not so much a conversation as a standoff—High Noon at the SoHo corrall. I liked it.

Above, with the front door unseen to the right: two freestanding objects by Davis Rhodes and a painting by Stanley Whitney
Below, with the front door to your back; three by Gardar Einar Einarsson and a painting by Stanley Whitney

Stanley Whitney’s work is more conventional oil-on-linen painting. His blocks of color expand and contract in their compositions, dominating the surface or steadfastly holding onto a small bit of it—classic push pull—and some are seemingly flattened by the weight of the big hues above them. With its brushy brushstrokes and imperfect geometry, this work is the opposite of refined. I really like it.

Stanley Whitney, The Last of the Bohemians, 2008, oil on linen, 72 x 72 inches

In the back gallery: Davis Rhodes, Untitled, 2008, enamel on foamboard, two panels 96 x 44 inches each


Fred Sandback: String Theory


In the process of defining what's not there, Sandback's work defines what is. And it's the same thing

Fred Sandback’s work defines space by the simplest and most economical of means: acrylic yarn attached at fixed geometric points between the ceiling and the floor, or the wall and the floor. This dry explanation is not enough. You have to see the work. Better still, you have to experience it.

A first look suggests more than what’s actually there: One installation would seem to be an enormous rectangle of glass leaning against a wall; another, mirrors suspended at precise angles to one another. But, no, it’s less. Just the yarn and the space. Then as you approach and then inhabit the space of the work, you realize it’s much more.

It’s too corny to say that you become one with the work, so I won’t say that. (But you do, investing something of yourself into it, if only momentarily, while at the same time taking away somehing of its ordered calm.) In this way, Sandback was the anti-Serra. You’re never closed in, you’re never in danger, real or perceived, that tons of metal will come crashing down on you, and there’s nothing of the vertiginous thrill of curving and canted walls that challenge your relationship to perpendicular. With Sandback’s work, you always know where you stand—but you may not be quite so sure of where it does. The momentary disjunct is transcendent. That's an amazing sleight of hand for a few feet of yarn.

Two more views of the work glimpsed in the opening picture, an articulation of angled space on both sides of the same wall

Corner detail below

The show you see here, in the vast David Zwirner gallery on 19th Street, ended on February 14, but I shot three installations from several different vantage points, so perhaps you can experience something of what I did. The work is equal parts sculpture and drawing, volume and air, substance and exquisite ephemerality.
(A second show, in the much smaller Zwirner & Wirth gallery on the Upper East Side, is up through February 28. Both galleries feature additional installation shots on their websites. )

Untitled (Sculptural Study, Two-part Vertical Construction), 1986/2008, black acrylic yarn, dimensions vary with each installation
Two additional views below

Above and below: Two views of Untitled (Sculptural Study, Six-part Construction), 1977-2008, black acrylic yarn, dimensions vary with each installation

This work was for me the most compelling. Entering the large gallery, I thought I saw mirrors hanging to several inches from the floor. Angled this way and that, they seemed to reflect the walls, the floor, the lights, one another. It was a fleeting perception. Sandback's work is anything but (smoke and) mirrors. But so strong was the illusion of the work being somehow suspended, I had to see for myself that the line, the yarn, was indeed secured into the floor.
In the process of walking around and through the work, that oneness thing happened again. Then pulling back and walking to the far end of the "row," I saw this amazing series of what can only be called drawings:

Now I'll tell you this at the risk of overdramatizing, but after my close-to-an-hour visit, I walked back out onto 19th Street feeling as if I'd spent the time doing yoga.
Additional reading:
. Sandback's 2003 obit in the New York Times by Ken Johnson
. Sandback's work on permanent view at Dia Beacon


Marketing Mondays: "Why Haven't I Heard Back?"

You sent submission packages to a few dealers. It’s been months and you haven’t heard back. Or maybe it was an e-mail with a few j-pegs that got no response. You curse them. How busy can they be? It’s just one submission per dealer, after all.

I’m not a dealer, but I work with many, and I’ve been involved with enough artists’ projects to be able to tell you with some certainty why you haven't heard back:

. They haven’t gotten to it yet
. They considered it and decided against it, but they’ve been too busy to tell you
. You sent material in a format the gallery doesn't consider
. They’re still thinking about it

The package you invest with such hopes is in fact one of dozens, possibly hundreds, that a gallery receives each month. And as much as a gallery depends on the work of artists, those submissions are in fact unsolicited.
They haven’t gotten to it yet
Scenario 1: The curator of a small regional museum, addressing a group, was asked rather urgently by an artist, "Why don't we hear back from you?" The curator responded with genuine compassion. I’m paraphrasing her answer, but this is the gist: “I run a small, understaffed museum. There’s a box with about 200 manila envelopes that have been collecting for six months. Each one is a proposal or submission package. It breaks my heart that I haven’t gotten to them, but I haven’t had the time, and neither does my one assistant.”
. Her advice: “Come to the openings. Introduce yourself to me. Let me see you over the course of several events. Show me that you really are interested in my museum. Then if you tell me you’re sending a package, I’ll keep an eye out for it. It’s still unsolicited, but I’ll know who you are. When I do have a chance to open some packages, it will be of the artists who have made a point of making themselves known to me.” Fair enough.
They still haven't gotten to it
Scenario 2: Under the desk, in the backroom, somewhere in most galleries is a box full of packages that artists have sent. "I get to three of four, then I have to go back to more pressing activities--like installing a show or selling art," says one dealer. And what about the packages that aren't recent? "I'm embarrassed to yell you this," s/he admits, "but there are packages there, still unopened, from when I first opened the gallery." Let's see, that was back in, well let's just say it was back in the last millennium.
. How dealers are solving this problem: Clarifying their submission policy to encourage j-peg or URL submissions exclusively. It's an easy way for them to browse and a fast way to respond. But if your package at the bottom of the box, don't expect a response any time soon.

They saw it, considered it, decided against it, but they’ve been too busy to tell you
“If I responded to every solicitation, I’d need to hire a full-time staffer to do it. That’s a luxury I can’t afford,” says one dealer who asked that I not use her name. “But I’ll tell you one thing: If I see something and like it, I will get back to the artist—and the more I like it, the faster I’ll respond.”
. And you're expecting a crit? Let's let the dealer of a Westchester gallery take this one. Here's what the gallery's website says: "Due to the large number of submissions we receive, please understand that it is not possible for the gallery to critique work on an individual basis. "
You sent material in a format that the gallery does not consider (or no longer considers)
Dealers these days are very specific as to what they will and won’t look at. Visit a gallery’s website and click onto the category marked “Submissions” or “Contact” or “Information for Artists” and you’ll see just how varied their specifics are.
. If they say, We are not accepting submissions at this time: Don’t send presentation materials. "Put me on your postcard list. If I'm interested you'll hear from me," offers a dealer who asked not to be named
. If they say, We prefer a CD: Send a CD even if you would prefer to send materials in a different format
. If they say, We do not look at packages, but we invite you to send an e-mail with up to five j-pegs, a resume and your URL: That’s what you send. (Invite. Such a lovely word.)
. And be aware of what they absolutely don’t want: Here’s the verbatim instruction on that issue from a Brooklyn gallery: "Sorry, our mail server storage is miniscule. Please never send us Jpeg attachments. We will immediately dump them in the trash." Harsh but helpful.
They’re still thinking about it
This is a very large gray area that could easily be confused with all of the above, but assuming you did submit materials in the approved/requested format and you haven’t heard back, it’s possible they’re considering it. Here’s that same gallery I quoted in the previous paragraph: “Please do not expect an immediate response. [We] often hold onto work for future programming.”
Update 2.28: And just so you know this is true, here's an interesting story from an artist named Jeanne Williamson, who sent a package to a gallery in December 2006 and never heard back. . . until the other day, when she got an invitation to show there.
. So what do you do in the meantime? Do what you normally do: Keep making art. Keep showing it. Keep getting it out into the world. If the gallery or curator does finally contact you, great. If not, your studio practice continues as it always has. (There's no reason you can't have a few packages out there at once. And if it turns out that two galleries want the same work, well, that would be a great problem to have, wouldn't it? Cross that bridge when you come to it.)
. You do continue to visit the gallery, right? Just because you haven't heard back doesn't mean you should boycott the place
Postcards Don't Require a Response
That’s why I like postcards as a way of getting your work out there. You never get a rejection because you’re not asking for anything outright. Dealers like postcards because they offer a quick look with the option of a quick Google search or online visit, and they don't fill up the inbox. But, trust me, those postcards get looked at. Some postcards get propped up next to computers, tacked onto bulletin boards, stacked or filed with other related images. In other words, dealers and curators do with postcards exactly what artists do with them. (Remember the dealer who said, above, "Put me on your postcard list.")
Curators, especially, seem to regard postcards as snapshots of the zeitgeist. They hold onto the ones that interest them, typically filing them according to their particular system. Eventually one of those people you've sent a card to will pull the whole batch of them out to see what’s been going on over the past six months or year, or to see who might fit the bill for a particular show. Then you'll hear back.
Or not.


Grids and Lattices


Grids viewed through a grid: Mary Heilmann's Two Lane Blacktop, up through February 21, at 303 Gallery (the gallery has a no-photo policy, but that doesn't extend to the sidewalk). This exhibition follows her fabulous show at The New Museum

If you read this blog even ocasionally, you know I go looking for geometry and grid-based abstraction. But sometimes even I’m astonished by the synchronous appearance of so many really good exhibitions on one theme. I'm a bit late with this post; between Marketing Mondays and Blogpix (see sidebar also) my posting time has been tight. While some of the shows are down, many live on in the galleries' respective websites. Let me connect some dots for you:

Robert Irwin's Red Drawing, White Drawing, Black Painting installation at Pace Wildenstein, up through February 28.
"What I'm trying to do is eliminate the frame . . and put you in direct relationship to the real power, which is your ability to perceive, " Irwin has said
Irwin's work, fluorescent lights in a non-repeating grid installed on large walls, is shown above and below


Light without the electricity: Susie Rosmarin at Danese.
The show ended February 7, but the wattage is undiminished. Rosmarin's meticulously crafted paintings draw on op art, hard-edge abstraction and even textile pattern

Above: detail of the acrylic painting shown below

Installation view: Susie Rosmarin at Danese


Thornton Willis at Elizabeth Harris. This is a peek at Willis's upcoming show, March 19-April 18

Imi Knoebel at Mary Boone Gallery, Chelsea. The show ended February 14.
Knoebel makes dimensional paintings, or planar sculpture, whose inviting hues and slight dimension create an almost cinematic viewing experience.

And how perfect is that architectural echo?

All the works are wall size except these three below:


On the way top MoMA, I saw the grid, above, in the subway.
When I got to the museum and looked down into the atrium, there was the grid in progress below. Sol Lewitt channeling Agnes Martin?



Cotter: "It's day-job time in America, and that's OK"

It's Wednesday afternoon. I finally got to Holland Cotter's article, The Boom is Over: Long Live the Art in the Sunday Times. I am a huge fan of Cotter's. He consistently goes outside the box, connecting all kinds of dots --cultural, sexual, political--with insightful and interesting comments. We are a better art community for his writing.

The central tenet of his article is that there will be changes for art and artists in the coming year. He's correct, absolutely. We need to do more than think outside the box; we need to bust it open. But I jumped out of my seat when I read this sentence: "It's day-job time again in America, and that's OK." Artists may indeed be forced to seek income elsewhere. But, holy shit, OK?!

Holland, would you be "OK" with working as a copywriter at, say, an Internet firm Monday through Friday and pursuing your career as an arts writer/critic after hours? Do you think you could fit in all your gallery and museum going on Saturday and Sunday, hit the openings on Thursday nights, and then be sufficieintly inspired and energized to write every evening (and squeeze in activities like exercise, eating and sleeping and any semblance of human relationships) in the time left over?

I don't disagree that as times get more difficult, artists who have been self supporting may have to look elsewhere for income--just as many artists have been doing all along. Hell, even dealers may need to find a way to support their galleries--just as some have been doing all along. However, I have no wish to go back to a day job. If I had to, it would be, uh, what's the very opposite of OK?


Marketing Mondays: Adjunct Teaching

Glenn, a Marketing Mondays reader, writes: "I have a BA in Art and an MA in Education and am trying to figure out how to land an art adjunct teaching position. Do you have any specific advice, given your background and experience, on how I might be able to go about this?"
I’m not the best person to address this issue because whatever teaching I’ve done in the in the past few years has come through referral or invitation. That doesn’t stop me from having an opinion, of course, but consider my comments just the beginning of a larger dialog that depends on you. If you teach, or if you’re an administrator, please weigh in.

Filling a Need
Frankly, I think the best way to get an adjunct job is to know someone who’s already teaching at the institution you want to teach at. You do have to have a resume with the requisite degrees and some teaching experience, and it helps if you have some visibility in your field. But while full-time positions or fixed-period appointments typically require search committees and many hours of meetings to consider hundreds of resumes and then, winnowed, dozens of interviews, the adjunct passes through far fewer hoops. If you’re referred, if you’re networking and your name comes up, you may well be invited to teach a course—or at least invited to submit a resume for consideration. Do a good job and you’re likely to be invited back.

Getting on the Institution’s Radar
. If you’re looking to teach and you don’t know anyone in the institution, put the department head on your postcard mailing list. Don’t ask for anything; you just want the person to know you’re a serious working artist. Regular postcards will keep administrators and department heads apprised without any kind conversation
. Success breeds success: If you’ve just gotten a well-placed review or some regional recognition, that might be the time to drop a note saying that you’d love to share your insights (on getting a grant, receiving a commission, whatever) with the students. There are visiting artist programs for which you might be perfect, and for which you would get paid
. Let the department head know you’re interested in serving in an end-of-semester crit. Not all institutions maintain such programs, but many do depend on artists outside the institution to offer a fresh perspective on students’ work. There’s usually an honorarium, and of course the opportunity to distinguish yourself with insightful and helpful comments. ( Don't grandstand.)

. It makes a difference whether the institution is private or public. Private institutions answer to their board of directors, of course, but publicly funded institutions must hew to specific criteria for each and every job. If you don’t have the appropriate degrees and experience, you’re likely to be passed over for someone who does
. There are no guarantees with adjunct teaching. If your course doesn’t attract a requisite number of students, it will not run. If you count on adjunct teaching to pay your bills, you may find yourself unhappily unemployed for the semester
. Some institutions cover adjuncts’ wage schedule in their union, some don’t. Either way, you won't get rich on an adjunct’s salary
. Even though you're adjunct, you may be asked (or required) to attend faculty meetings or help with registration
. New York City is a different beast when it comes to adjunct teaching. There are, oh, 17 million artists for every teaching job. In my observation, the pay is poor and the artists are not treated well. I'd rather eat dirt than work here

Continuing Ed Programs in Degree-Granting Institutions
Many degree-granting institutions have continuing studies programs. Typically they’re run by a different department.
. The good news: It’s usually easier to get a teaching job here. For one thing, while the regular academic departments have specific course requirements, the continuing ed administrator is usually looking for new, fresh and unusual courses to attract new students and to bring back students who have already taken other courses. Come up with some good ideas and proposals, and you’ll probably get a call
. The bad news: Typically the salaries are not up to even adjunct level. And since continuing ed must turn a profit, you’ve got to pack your classes. Also, you don’t think about this until you’re hit with it, but every institution has its own administration, protocols, paperwork. And equipment. You may have mastered the digital projector in one institution, for instance, only to find that you’ve got to learn a whole different system in another
. Once you’re in, however, you can propose related courses, or explore your interests with other, different offerings. Popular teachers with a following remain happily employed
. Sometimes regular faculty members teach in these programs, and it's possible that networking will lead to a referral

Is it likely that a continuing ed course will lead to an adjunct teaching job?
Maybe. It certainly seems possible, but I don't know. Who can answer this?
Is it likely that adjunct teaching will lead to a full-time position?
Here, I think, the answer ranges from “probably not” to "definitely no." I've never sought a full-time teaching job, so I'm basing my answer on observation. The artists I know who are in adjunct positions have remained in those positions, sometimes for years, even after getting the MFA. My guess is that once seen as adjuncts, that's where they remain in the the perception of colleagues and administration. They'd have to move out to move up. Who has experience with this?

Art Centers–Or Your Own Studio
If an academic affiliation is not important to you, there can be opportunities at nonprofits. (Don't be a snob: Some nonprofits have great facilities, good gallery space, and a constituency of enthusiastic students.) You don't necessarily have to have an advanced degree, just good ideas and proposals. A popular teacher with a following can earn a nice little income. Come up with ways to distinguish yourself:
. Propose an exhibition of your class’s work
. Propose an exhibition of your own work and organize a forum or panel on themes relating to what you’re showing and/or teaching
. Create a blog that the institution's administrator can use as a promotion tool for the institution. Your students will love seeing their work online, and you and your courses will benefit from the visibility

The increasing popularity of Open Studios means that you can create a mailing list of people who might be interested in studying with you. You may not need an institution at all.

Now, as they say in Italian , tocca a’ te. Your turn.


Five Artists, One Film: "Our City Dreams"

OK, let's return to art, shall we?
I just saw a lovely documentary by Chiara Clemente at Film Forum: Our City Dreams. Clemente (daughter of Francesco) profiles five women artists ages of various ages and cultures, each connected creatively to her native or adopted city, New York. Swoon (30) and Nancy Spero (80) are the youngest and oldest, bracketing Ghada Amer, Kiki Smith and Marina Abramovicz (40s, 50s and 60s, respectively).

As a painter, I missed seeing artists who work with my medium, but given that films about artists are so few--and films about women artists fewer still--why nitpick? Watching Swoon rout plywood to create a large plate for her guerrilla prints, or Ghada Amer embroider her erotic women onto canvas, or Kiki Smith forming figures in clay offers a peek into each artist's studio and working process, and her commentary a pek into her life. If you've never seen Marina Abramovicz perform in person, even on film you realize how fearless she is. And Nancy Spero, still working as a frail 80-year-old, shows you that--ageism be damned!--art is timeless and so is its makers.
The Film Forum run of Our City Dreams is only through the 17th, but the film's website lists a schedule of upcoming film festivals and theatrical engagements. (What it doesn't provide are pictures of the artists, so for this report I have pulled them from various sources and credited the images.)

The film opens with the Brooklyn-based street artist making life-size prints on the floor of her kitchen. Swoon carves plywood with a router, inks the "plate," and then working barefoot, uses her feet to press a sheet of kraft paper into the plate. The images, of regular folks doing regular activities, are then trimmed and wheatpasted onto the walls of buildings around the city. There's more: her opening at Jeffrey Deitch a few years ago (a far cry from her tiny kitchen), a floating sculpture made with the help of friends.

"I was pressed way too hard up against the narrowness of the space," she says of painting. To her credit and our edification, she has created a wide-open terrain for herself.

Swoon on the street. Image from

Ghada Amer
Image from

How does a Muslim woman from Cairo express herself? On the face of it, with 'women’s work'--embroidery. Looking more closely you see that her many overlapping layers of linear images explore the erotic life of women. The filmmaker and her subject toggle between Cairo and New York, showing Amer with her family there and in her studio here. "We are proud of her," says her father, a former diplomat--even if she makes "bad woman," as her mother calls them. The wilfully loose threads would seem to be a metaphor for women’s lives, unclipped and unfettered, as they should be lived in any culture.

Installation from Breathe Into Me, Amer's solo exhibition at Gagosian Gallery, 2006

Marina Abramovic

Image from

Using her body as her medium, Abramovic has pushed herself to extremes. She has starved herself and carved herself, subjected herself to fire and ice. While she has explored the limits of what a body can endure, she has at the same time simply ritualized the activities of everyday life, like cleaning. Abramovic, who was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, has had an international career. She now resides in New York.

There's a scene where we see Abramovic preparing for a performance, her hair in rollers and her makeup being applied. Given the extremes at which she operates, it's a bit of a shock to think of what she's doing as show business, and yet that is, in essence, what performance of any kind is. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Marina Abramovic in performance. Image from New York Magazine

Kiki Smith
Image from the Walker Art Center
"There are no images of middle-age women," says Smith during the course of her segment. Now squarely in her mid-50s, she calls 50 "a marker." She's been taking stock of where she's been and thinking about how she wants to live her life. "Now I want to make middle-age women." Given that her life's work is poetic, ethereal and allegorical, I suspect that the spirit will continue even if the flesh as rendered in clay or on paper appears slightly less firm.
One of the things we see in Smith's segment is how much physical labor is required to make, pack, ship and install all that ethereal work. Of course she's at the stage of her career where there's help, and lots of it, but it's still a little miracle.

"Kiki Smith: A Gathering 1980-2005" at the Whitney Museum," with Yellow Moon (1998) and Bandage Girl (2002)

Nancy Spero
After living in Paris with her husband, the artist Leon Golub, the two returned to New York in the Sixties with their children. Now 80 and in failing health, she reminisces about her life and career--a career that began before the women's movement, when she was working in the shadow of her more famous husband, when, she says, "I was dying for someone to ask me what I was working on," to the present, when she is rightfully recognized for the work she has made. Along the way she helped found A.I.R., the longest-running women's co-op gallery, raised a family, and established herself as an artist and art warrior, whose paintings, murals and works on paper are joyously sexual and fearlessly confrontational, spiritual and political in equal measure.

Spero's mosaic murals on the #1's 66th Street subway stop. (Ths stop for the Metropolitan Opera, if you're wondering about the images.) This image and the one of the artist from Art21

.Click here for trailer