Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Detroit and Just Kids

Another young artist (former student of mine) told me that he’s moving to Detroit.

This semester I assigned Patti Smith’s book Just Kids to my 3rd year sculpture class at the School of Visual Arts.
An easy read, the strength of the book is both in its descriptions of NYC in the late 60s and 70s and the telling of the happenstance relationship between Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe that evolved as they searched for their artistic identities, eventually navigating their separate paths to stardom. The Chelsea Hotel, Harry Smith, Max’s Kansas City, CBGB, the beat poets, et al, play a role in this narrative of a bygone era. But in discussing the decrepit conditions of NYC back then my students wondered: Was the New York of the 70s the Detroit of today?
I answered: Well, Bushwick was burning. And yes, the Bronx was crumbling. Without a doubt the East Village was strewn with vacant lots and drug dealing. Crime and danger seemed to be ever-present. Of course all those problems kept the rents low which was attractive to artists. NYC was the center of the art world, which was growing. And Wall Street was here. In addition a crucial component of New York’s economic revival was its large Higher Education Complex. Columbia, Hunter, Parsons, Pratt, New School, SVA, etc, were all expanding, attracting thousands of new students each year eventually helping to repopulate the sketchier sections of town. The population was on the increase, fueling the new service economy. True, there was dog shit and broken glass everywhere and yes the city was tittering on the edge of bankruptcy. However, even though many people might not have thought so at the time the city had hit bottom, and by the late 70’s it was poised to turn the corner.

Are there any visible corners for Detroit to turn? Does Detroit have a bottom? I hope so.
Yes, there is Ruin Porn and Crime, and therefore Cheap Real Estate. But a viewing of the film Detropia certainly does not inspire optimism. In it artists are treated as a sideshow. City inhabitants are shown struggling, sometimes scavenging. That film and a recent New York Times article showed images of devastation on a scale hard to comprehend, never mind recovering from. But are the high costs of living in New York and the allure of being an urban pioneer making Detroit an attractive and viable option? Do young artists in other parts of the country have Detroit on their minds? Those are the questions I recently put to colleagues teaching around the country: So far the consensus is no.

Towards the end of Just Kids Patti Smith marries Fred (Sonic) Smith, and in 1979 they move to Detroit where they set up home in a virtually empty hotel in the downtown area.
Who can argue with a hotel of one’s own?
The Urban Frontier awaits!

Some Exhibits:

Revisited the Reinhardt three-part exhibition at David Zwirner.
The Black Paintings (a dark chapel).
The cartoons (art world hilarity and political agitprop).
The slide show (hypnotically illuminating missives from a perceptive traveler).
This guy was an artist.

Roni Horn at Hauser & Wirth: Lime and lemon drop eye-candy in the first room (rotund glass forms with frosted edges and centers of amazing clarity). Collaged drawings in the middle room (ponderous piecemeal workings). More glass jewels in the third room (technical wonders). The work in each room could be read as one piece (I preferred to think of them as such).

The glass chunks apparently take a year to properly cool down. They sit in an oven while the temperature is gradually reduced, maintaining equal interior and exterior temperatures. Thus they avoid bursting. This body of work is more alluring then her earlier glass chunks because the surfaces are more fascinating to peer into. Their installation however, while beautifully laid out and lit, possesses an unfortunate designer showroom aesthetic. Thereby emphasizing craft and presenting these glass marvels as high-end baubles. If eyes are windows unto the soul, is it too much to ask for these orbs to function as such?
Not a problem with the drawings. The multitude of paper pieces and their markings mystify. The drawings are puzzlers. They seem to map out terrains, form continents, and yet defy comprehension as to their sources and their system of making.
Several years ago at a Sculpture Center banquet honoring Roni Horn, she professed to the audience that she didn’t know what she was doing. Of course the not knowing is a much-preferred perch to make work from than the view from the known. The not knowing is a truly enviable position to have, and difficult to maintain.

I thought of having a drink at the gallery’s bar but it doesn’t have a rest room.

Kusama at David Zwirner: The Line. Nuff said.

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