With the new year ahead of me, or maybe I just got the itch to travel, I planned an impromptu trip to New Orleans. I was planning a regular trip to Houston to visit a friend, when I decided to go to New Orleans for a relaxing time. There is also the New Orleans Museum of Art, which I have never visited before. So I rented an apartment, headed to Houston for free on the Megabus (there is a promotion for free travel if seats are available, through Feb 29! Promo code: TRYMEGABUS), where a friend picked us up, and we drove about five more hours, into New Orleans. Although, quickly, some (fun) work is added. On the way there, I get an email confirming Antonio Diaz from Austin is still in Seven Minutes in Heaven II. It has been a while since I invited him, so I am glad he will still be joining the group. I found his prints insinuating and erotic, a perfect fit for SMIH II. I also get a text from the Southwest School Gallery Shop, my now former job. I have been on the list to purchase some of the display pedestals. Everything from the store is for sale, since it closed. Of course, I would be out of town, and unable to go in and pick them out now. Lucky for me, I already know what’s there and what I want. Making some quick decisions, I make some purchases through text, calling after we arrived to pay by credit card. Since Vanessa Centeno, one of the Seven Minutes in Heaven II artists, is living there, working on her MFA at the University of New Orleans, I set up a little more work, meeting her at a local spot. It is great to see her, it has been since last April, when I originally invited her. Already known in San Antonio for her paintings, she presented her idea for video for SMIH II, which I am excited about. My curating style of working with solid, intelligent artists makes it easier to encourage experimentation. I want to work with artists pushing limits and that often involves unpredictable results. A lot of risk taking is involved in making and exhibiting provocative, thought-provoking art. Unfortunately, the weather was anything but ideal. It was chillier than we would prefer and it is foggy as hell. Standing at the water, you can only see about a hundred feet into the Mighty Mississippi. That was a little disappointing. However, everything else was absolutely fabulous! Our two bedroom apartment was cute and walking distance to everything. There was plenty of amazing art, beautiful cemeteries, fantastic buildings, great food, and definitely interesting people! NOLA never disappoints! Visiting the New Orleans Museum of Art is high priority for me. The building that it is located in is beautiful. My friend, Katherine Marquette, worked here prior to moving to San Antonio. How amazing would that be to come here every morning? Is that too much to ask, to work in a historical building surrounded by world-class art? Sigh. That is
the goal one day. They had an amazing exhibition up, “Lifelike,” that I really enjoyed. The exhibit focused on contemporary realism, comprised of objects that were distorted by their scale. Spanning from the 1960’s to the present, the work discussed various ideas from over fifty artists. Unfortunately, there were no photos allowed and the gift shop was currently sold out of the catalog right then, but said I could buy a copy on Amazon. I will have to do that. Their permanent contemporary collection was also impressive, including Yves Kline, John Chamberlain, Joan Mitchell, Richard Diebenkorn, John McCracken, Basquiat, and Warhol. These artists are always incredibly inspiring to me, I have previously posted about most of them already. Mitchell is an artist I wish I had an opportunity to see more of in person. Her bold, gestural work is beautiful to look at up close. I think this may only be the third piece I have had the pleasure of viewing. I was fortunate to see Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park Series in Fort Worth last year. The layered, worked over, and revealing subtractions are what I find the most interesting about his work. John McCracken always reminds me of a contemporary art class I took in college. One student looked at photos just like this one and kept asking “what color is it?”, because of the light reflecting on it. Even this photo shows light and dark gradations due to the lighting. Isn’t that the point of using such a highly reflective surface? I’m so glad to be out of school. But I guess I do have some affection towards McCracken, I did also post a photo of his beautiful red piece at SAMA. The slick, polished Minimalist planks are perfectly crafted, made using industrial materials. I enjoy the simplistic expression of Minimalism. I could never explain anything that basic, my layered work relates to what a complicated person I am. As with Donald Judd, I am particularly attracted to the simplicity of the presentation, perfect aesthetics, and exploration of space. The space these pieces occupy interests me because they simultaneously engage two spaces, placed on the floor like a sculpture, but also positioned on the wall, a place normally reserved for paintings. This is characteristic of this particular series, his other work is comprised of free-standing pieces. A surprise for me was the largest collection of Joseph Cornell I have been able to view together. Considered a pioneer of assemblage, Cornell’s pieces interest me because he has assembled objects once considered precious, often still recognizable, invoking feelings of nostalgia, while at the same time, their original beauty, and sometimes use, has been lost. The raw, real, everyday objects discuss collecting and time, while creating enigmatic narratives. The format of assemblage put together in boxes is also very inviting. I want to further investigate these collections of things. His work extends also into collages, which I consider 2-D assemblages, or assemblages as 3-D collages, connecting by creating new thoughts out of existing remnants. They are fun to view, placed in a room on their own. Since Marfa, I appreciate a little more when a larger collection of an artist is kept in context of their own work to contemplate together.
The most fantastic discovery of all was the Sculpture Garden. I finally got to see one of Louise Bourgeois’s “Small” Spiders. There are quite a few of them displayed throughout the world. While a small one, it stands above me as I walked in and out of her long, elegant legs. I have seen many of her pieces, however, this is the first outdoor, large-scale piece I have seen. She is represented in most collections, considered an important artist, discussing fears, anxiety, confusion, and sexual desires in her works. Of course, it is always exciting to see Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Their massive sculptures of common, everyday objects are elevated by being increased to a monumental scale. At 21’, Safety Pin towers over the park, demanding your attention, one of my favorite characteristics of Pop Art. It’s always fun to see their pieces, I love their Horseshoe in Marfa. It is not clear in the photo, but the Ladder piece by Leandro Erlich is not held up by anything in the back. It is amazing to look at. There are so many pieces I could discuss. This fantastic Sculpture Garden was so fun to explore. There were many other great sculptures, including pieces by Rene Margritte and Fernando Botero. Nearby the museum, we randomly find St. Louis Cemetary #3. New Orleans cemeteries are beautiful. There are graves, as well as places where ashes of families are together that range from boxes to buildings. French influenced, many of the above ground structures remind me of the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. There are still many differences that make it unique to NOLA, which is what I want to capture. When I go to cemeteries in different regions or a different country, I am searching for how that culture celebrates death and those who have passed. Marble, sculptures of Saints and Angels adorn many sites. It doesn’t take long to discover some rituals that you would only find in New Orleans. One site has Mardi Gras beads strewn around. I bet during Mardi Gras the grave sites will be covered with them. That would make some nice photos. Another has simply a bottle of oil, something I have never seen before, and I wonder if it has something to do with Voodoo. One site has a jar of some kind of food. It looks odd, and may be aged, rotting food left a while ago, or something else possibly related to Voodoo. I am excited to find new customs that I have not seen before.
At this point, I have been working on this large cemetery photo project for about twelve years, possibly towards an exhibit or book or, hopefully, both. My fascination with cemeteries has been since I was in high school. It’s interesting to think how something cultivates and captures your attention for that long. I have always found them beautiful. When I was in Munich a few years ago, there was an exhibit on Hermann Obrist at the Neue Pinakothek. An accomplished Art Nouveau sculptor and designer in Germany, this exhibition focused on his sculptures and “funerary monuments.” Unaware of who Obrist was, running into that show was purely coincidental. I squeezed in the Modern and Contemporary Art by myself on a day off. It was nice to see I wasn’t the only one who appreciates the beauty that lies inside the cemetery gates.
This was a quick few days during the week, but that didn’t stop it from being a fun, inspiring, and productive trip. It’s been about ten years since I was here last and it was just as fun as I remember. There is definitely still a lot to explore – gallery spaces, plenty more cemeteries, architecture, and the vibe that the entire city gives off. I will definitely be back.
This weekend I went on a road trip to have a reunion and see fantastic art. I headed west to Marfa, TX. About six hours from San Antonio, the main part of this trip is desert. You must fill up your gas tank when you stop, there may not be another one in time to save you. This tiny town remains largely unknown, except to artists. Then it is recognized internationally. In the 70’s, Donald Judd, a minimalist sculptor, discovered this Texas town in the middle of nowhere. From then on, he worked in both Marfa and New York City and, I believe, truly began his legacy. Judd’s vision was to display the work of the artists that inspired him in permanent, large scale installations, unlike the short, rotating exhibitions he disliked in New York. Also, he didn’t feel these artists were properly represented in permanent collections. With help from huge organizations like the DIA, he was able to purchase large, former military buildings, and in 1986, opened the Chinati Foundation. It has now expanded to an incredible 340 acres. He also began the Judd Foundation, that focuses on the preservation of his own work. The collection features large scale work from Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, and John Chamberlain, to name a few. That is an incredible collection of art. From the massive amounts of art he created, to the expansive project Chinati has become, I respect his ambition and can see he created an art community here. When I was in college I went to Marfa for the first time. It was an amazing experience. Seeing what Donald Judd has created is inspiring. With an art compound that large, it is normally only able to be viewed through a guided tour. Except for one weekend a year, the Chinati Open House. During this time, you are free to wander through the extensive displays of art on your own. So far, during this open house is the only time I have ever visited Marfa. There are also normally plenty of free events that coincide with the weekend. The first year I went in 2007, my husband and I bought a tent, hopped in the car and headed West. Not knowing what to expect, we found an amazing community, fantastic art, and a pretty unique experience. The city had a free barbeque in the evening, after which Sonic Youth played a free show, and ended the next morning with the Chinati Foundation hosting a free breakfast. Did I mention the word free enough times? It was such a fantastic experience, the next year, 2008, I organized a trip with some classmates. There were ten of us on that original trip. Since then, eight of us have remained friends, artists, and a support system for each other. Beginning that year with everyone, the event began to change. No more dinners from the city. Still a free music event, but nothing as legendary as Sonic Youth. This has changed the number of people dramatically that attend this weekend. But that doesn’t detract from the real reason for going – amazing art. There are still lectures, screenings and readings that relate to the artist or project featured for the weekend. And of course, there will be the huge permanent installations, always amazing to contemplate in person. While a few other said they were going to come this year, ultimately, it was the eight of us that returned. We enjoy experiencing this unique adventure together.
The road to the Chinati entrance is dotted with a few older houses. We find that one of them belongs to the artists Julie Speed. Having seen her included in many shows, as well as seen books of her work at various museum shops, I am familiar with her art. We go in and find what an incredible studio she has. Wonderfully spacious, each room leads to another body of her work. There are three rooms, then a huge additional room, the largest in the house. Prints, paintings, and collages line the walls and shelves, displaying her extensive collections of work. As if that already wasn’t enough, her backyard view is of the huge concrete sculptures created by Judd, made up of fifteen displays of various cement blocks.
I recently had the privilege of seeing a huge portfolio of her prints at the Southwest School of Art (work in addition to what I was seeing here). Speed will be showing there next year and Kathy Armstrong, the Director of Exhibitions, had picked up her work. Speed was very friendly, as I discussed seeing her portfolio. She willingly shared her techniques on pieces there on display, as well as how she printed her own catalogs for some smaller exhibitions. The information was very helpful and it was nice that she was easy to talk to. I always love going to visit people’s studios. It is, of course, much more revealing than at a gallery space exhibiting only one body of the artist’s work. Arriving at Chianti, it looks like a few old buildings and a lot of desert. However, enter, and you find a world class collection of Contemporary Art displayed unlike any other museum. Donald Judd displays his permanent collection of metal boxes in two huge former airplane hangars. This is a personal highlight of the trip for me. Jim, a friend of mine, jokes that the hundred boxes no longer
make Judd a Minimalist. While there were one hundred works in the two buildings, they way they worked with the environment made it feel as if the room was empty. We discuss how important the environment is to minimalism. He said the way they are displayed here “cleanses the pallet,” and I absolutely agree. Placing minimalist pieces alongside artwork from other genres does interfere and take the piece out of context. This could be argued for almost any artwork, but I believe it is an important element for minimalism. The slick, fabricated metal boxes played with the reflection from the floor to ceiling windows. Sometimes where the piece ended and the environment began was blurred. I think that is what I find mesmerizing about these pieces. No matter where you are standing, the effect is the same. I had a difficult time choosing these photos in particular, so many were easily great examples of Judd’s intentions. Each I time I experience them, I understand a little more. Making this pilgrimage several times, I still continue to learn learn something new, each experience evolving my feelings about these permanent installations. On display in another building was a temporary exhibit of some more of Judd’s work, seeing his concepts realized smaller, in a third medium of wood. They have similar patterns to the
fabricated metal boxes, but are much smaller in scale, displayed on the wall, and have a much different feel. These pieces do not react with the environment. I’m not sure if these are considered studies or completed works, and I also contemplate the huge cement blocks. I have never considered those to be studies. Is it just the size that I am thinking about? Judd does tend to work on a massive scale. It’s interesting to see an artist work on a particular concept over such a long period of time. The original thoughts and ideas evolve, as all art should. It is just more obvious how they evolved on similar series of works. With Minimalism concerned with the formal elements, you can understand from these pieces that the scale and material are an integral part of his work.
Besides Judd’s metal boxes, my other absolute favorite permanent exhibit here is Dan Flavin. I have posted seeing his work in New York and Berlin, but this is one of my top two Flavin installations I have ever seen. The other is the fantastic piece at the Menil in Houston, taking up an entire building. This installation is much larger in comparison. Displayed in the center of six different U-shaped buildings, there are two pieces on each side, a total of four physical pieces in each building. Then there is the way they work together, expanding this installation further. This unique piece must be viewed from both sides to fully appreciate what he has created. Each side exposes a different color, working with elements of light and color theory. Like Judd, Flavin’s work is best displayed without interaction from any other art. The scale and concepts are enough to stand on their own. In fact, they thrive that way. The color pallet alternates buildings from pink and green to yellow and blue, eventually bringing all four colors to the last two remaining buildings. Flavin’s pieces also play with displaying the light from both an interior and exterior fixed location within the building, changing the perception in each installation. These pictures are not a very good example of how these pieces are experienced. Some things really cannot be captured on a camera. But I had to at least try to show you what I had experienced here.
We then headed a few blocks into town for the lectures. The main exhibition on focus this Open House is John Chamberlain’s huge collection there. Housed in a large separate building from the Chinati Complex, I had actually never been there. Both huge in terms of the scale of the work, as well as the number of pieces that were displayed, it was yet another impressive collection put together by Donald Judd. Saturday, there were two lectures and Sunday, there were three film screenings with or about Chamberlain. The lecture by Lynne Cook on his process was very insightful. Her introduction was very impressive, having an extensive resume that included working with world class artists at world class galleries and museums. It is a dream job to co-curate the Venice Biennale or an exhibit of Richard Serra at the MOMA. Definitely someone I should be looking to model my career after. When I think of working behind the scenes of an exhibition with big names, my thoughts always go to touching the work. That’s all I want to do. Be able to pick up a Cindy Sherman photograph or hang a Jasper Johns print. Really. I am getting chills thinking about that right now. And it’s a real job. Someone gets to unpack each piece of work for all these travelling exhibits and personally look over it for anything that may have happened when it was shipped. Of course, the curator has full access to the pieces without actually having to do the physical labor of installation. Cook discussed Chamberlain’s process, how when working, he was looking for pieces to “fit”. He visually knew when it was right. This is how most artists intuitively work, regardless of the medium. I don’t think anyone that is not an artist can really understand what that means. It sounds so flighty, maybe even a little poetic. Showing clips of a film on his work also allowed us to see his incredible studio! A massive warehouse stored huge piles of auto parts, sectioned by what type of part it was. It was pretty insane to look at. Occasionally, I get accused of being a hoarder when people see my collection of materials. However, it is a tiny pile compared to the enormous stockpile Chamberlain was working from. What a fantastic studio that must have been to work in!
Another reason for my excitement to visit Marfa: Prada Marfa. This installation by Elmgreen and Dragset was funded by Ballroom Marfa, but actually exists about 35 miles outside of Marfa, in
Valentine, TX. Completed in 2005, the non functioning store houses Prada shoes and purses from the 2005 Fall Collection. The non function is reinforced by the absence of a door handle. While housing these valuable commodities, the store itself will eventually deteriorate, decaying back into the landscape, I imagine looking like many of the tiny towns and houses in the area that only now exist as a remnant of the past. I saw this sculpture two years after it went up, in 2007. Now returning five years later , I begin to see the wear and tear the building is taking. Cracks have begun to appear on the facade. The transformation has begun. One of my goals is to see this building at sunrise or sunset. Having only seen photos online, it looks beautiful. This visit, however, had some disappointment for me. I had been wanting to do a photoshoot here for a while, so I found a camera and arranged for model months ago. Unfortunately, the week before the trip, she cancelled, leaving me without enough time to find someone else. This will have to happen another time. A few people don’t understand why I try to return here annually. It is the art, but it’s much more than that. Maybe I am cleansing my own art pallet, clearing my mind from racing imagery and over processed thoughts. The six hour drive (really 5.40) is a serene coast through the desert, removing yourself from the realities of everyday life. I can just be here. Even anonymous in other destinations, there is still an urgency rushing around you. That is all removed here, where life moves much slower and the art is such an important part of the community.