last week jane irish and i went arthopping in nyc, cutting it a bit short on account of the storm. i finally saw the whitney 2; i see why architecture critics have rolled over for it. however, the frank stella retrospective left me (trying to keep it positive here) indifferent. i'll just skip the polemic and say people are really going to have to take some time to explain to me what is actually worthwhile about stella, especially everything after the '50s. jed perl (in nyrb) and others have entered into an alleged issue that allegedly arises because stella insists that items like this are paintings.
first off, who cares? but second: no, man, words don't mean whatever you want them to mean. that's a sculpture; look it up in the dictionary. fortunately nothing turns on this: the work is what it is whether we call it a painting, a sculpture, a relief, an installation, a watchamacallit, a thingummy, mistah charlie, etc. oh stella, like maybe serra, is in the grand gigantic swaggering dicky ego phase, kind of the last gasp of modernism: he still dares to be meaningless! if that's a painting, it's manspreading like a motherfucker.
but we also saw an amazing exhibition in chelsea of a person who i think is one of the most underrated artists of the last many decades: yoko ono. many still know her as the woman who broke up the beatles or whatever, but i think that if she did, that was a service to the world. but artistically, it is unfair to associate her with 'glass onion'. anyway, the thing reproduces a truly lovely and decent and radical 'conceptual' work from 1966 (in general, yoko is among the earliest and the very best of the conceptualists). in one room there are river pebbles, cushions, and a network of string dangling from wall to wall, something like an eva hesse or faith wilding string piece (i've been thinking about fiber arts).
[eva hesse, from 1969-70]
but people are encouraged to mess with the string, and even though chelsea was pretty darn dead on a mid-jan wednesday, a number of people were ducking around the string like limbo, or retying knots, or tacking string designs to the walls, or writing on the walls, where the penciled lines appeared as extensions of the string.
in the back room was 'mend piece' which is a table with shattered crockery, string, tape and glue.
you sit around with people mending - and people were - then set your mended assemblage on a shelf on the wall. this is first of all a critique of a million aspects of modernism and western art, and also the whole thing was beautiful and poetic and decent, and the gallery spaces so active and spirited and conversational.
a lot of conceptualism is clever or even intellectually deep, though rafts of it are not. i still remember living for decades (no wait, it just seemed like decades) near bruce nauman's neon sign on the baltimore museum, flashing "violence, violins, silence'; conceptual art as hyper-familiar and trivial pun, way up there on top of that building.
that is some lame-ass shit. but yoko's best stuff is not only really very intellectually deep (there is a much more sophisticated critique of the artworld in yoko than in nauman), but it also actually means something, and what it means is something good, something wholesome, something that changes the way you feel in a good way. that itself makes it suspicious as art i suppose. but heavens what are you doing to yourself if you reflexively, much less reflectively, respond to decency with suspicion?