Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ten things I learned this year about exhibition organizing

1. It's a man's world.

2. Don't expect answers to the emails you write.

3. Names count for something.

4. Artists are not reliable.

5. Artists are reliable.

6. You've got to sell it.

7. It's what you make of an opportunity.

8. All you need is one other person to believe in you.

9. Art costs money.

10. You're in this alone.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Imaginary wandering

(click to enlarge)
(Kano Motonobu, The Four Accomplishments, mid-16th century)

Similar to the image above, a multi-panel screen at the Met depicting the four seasons and attributed to Kano Chokichi, was accompanied by this label:
Inspired by Chinese landscape scrolls in which the mind travels through time and space along rivers and mountain paths, this monumental landscape transforms an interior into a vast space for imaginary wandering. The quintessential Chinese theme of the scholar-recluse attuned to the natural world and enjoying its unsullied beauty reflected Confusian values and the contemplative bent of Japan’s military ruling class. A timeless quality is achieved here by a seasonal progression from spring and summer at right to autumn and winter at left. The elevated tone, strong delineation of forms, and rhythmically patterned brushstroke corroborate the work’s attribution to a Kano painter named Chokichi, who is traditionally believed to have studied with Motonobu (1476-1559).

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

assuming my thought processes are of interest

(Molly Stevens, India ink on paper, 44" x 60", 2009)

Since spring, when I first started drawing things as opposed to words, I have repeatedly found myself outlining emerging forms that at once resemble shoots, humans interacting, dicks, auras, and what I’m today considering to be rock mountains. In fact, it was Mantegna’s mountain that made me think this (see November 17th’s post).

I went looking for the painting at the Met and found the painting among other Renaissance works and schematic representations of landscape – rocky mountains in particular, which were often butted up against perfectly round halos.

(Swiss painter, 15th century)

While there, it became clear that I had to look at Chinese paintings. Sure enough, there the forms were again, peaking above clouds.

(Wang Hui and assistants, Chinese handscroll, 1698)

And to my amazement, they are certainly exact representations. Google:

(Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, China)

Today it is Krazy Kat that has me riveted, with its shifting lunar landscapes, something like Monument Valley, all the setting for a deeply human love triangle between a cat, a mouse and a pup. (Click to enlarge)

(George Herriman, Krazy Kat, circa 1940)

(Monument Valley)

This is all to say that it does seem that I will be drawing large landscapes for Donkey Trail – in color.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A talk with Carin Riley

(Philip Guston, Untitled (Cup), circa 1969-1973)

If anything on the Donkey Trail can be a sure thing, Carin Riley is a sure thing Donkey Trail artist. Wait till you see her paintings!

This week we went gallery hopping. Listen in:

Molly Stevens: Carin, we saw some pretty monumental work this week.

Carin Riley: Yes we did. Best of all was Philip Guston (McKee Gallery).

MS: I'd have to agree. When I came off the elevator and saw some of those small panels through the door, I think I threw up my arms and cheered.

CR: Yes, they were small paintings but the feeling was very large. That took me by surprise.

MS: Do you think it's because the images and the paint have such a sturdy presence that they feel large?

CR: They were small, but magnified. I noticed the animation and articulation of line more than the narrative. It seemed a whole world in a brush stroke; very confident painting with a hesitant line.

MS: It’s true. His lines are very alive, they have personality. It's funny that you say "very confident painting with a hesitant line," because that seems contradictory. How could confidence involve hesitancy? I get this somehow, but how would you explain it?

CR: I think that’s what makes him interesting. Following the lines in his work you can really see that he knows art history; although the paintings appear very linear, he packs a lot of Cézanne into a stroke. I’m going out on a limb, maybe, but that’s what occurred to me as I was looking at them. I’ve always been attracted to a continuous line in painting, but I was impressed how confidently he painted a broken line. Before, I had only noticed how he stitched a line, like in the white-hooded figures.

MS: I know he was very interested in De Chirico and also Pierro della Francesca. In terms of Cézanne, I think there’s a similar subjective-ness that doesn’t have a me, me, me quality; a kind of dispassionate observation of self.

Let's get concrete, though. We were really into this painting here:

(Philip Guston, Untitled, circa 1969-1973)

CR: This was my favorite painting in the show. It’s a very confident, worried painting with a lot of control and direction. The figure really does appear to be moving and resisting at the same time. At first I thought it was because of how he had used the large brush strokes in the background; and also because of the appearance of the underpainting pushing the figure forward. But then I realized that it was the short, animated red strokes. That’s where he threw himself into it.

MS: Here again, we have that contradiction. Confident and worried at the same time. Maybe he was confident about being worried. I like when you say "that's where he threw himself into it." I hear by that, that's where he took a risk.

CR: I mean exposed more of himself. It seemed more vulnerable to me than the other white hooded “selfs” in the show. The hoods are a bit of a mask. Not this one.

MS: I think we can compare:

(Paul Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1900)

CR: Yes this figure is his Mont Sainte-Victoire. N'est-ce pas? That’s a very confident mountain that Cézanne knew so well and painted in a very human way. And Guston painted this little figure that he knew so well with great assurance.

MS: With great assurance but also with shakiness, with questions.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Visual Appreciation

(click on image to enlarge)
(Andrea Mantegna, San Zeno Altarpiece (left panel), The Agony in the Garden, 1457-1459)

What a fantastic dead tree. Note the mushrooms at the bottom. They are familiar almost to the point of touch. I’m also bewildered by the ethereal body of the angel in the top right: truly other-worldly, reminiscent of vanishing deities in Tibetan art.

(Andrea Mantegna, The Adoration of the Shepherds, circa 1450)

The stumpy tree is really nice in the background of this Mantegna too. And how about that arched rock! Reminds me of the island of Staff in Scotland.

Which reminds me again of another Agony of the Garden by Mantegna (1460).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What's wrong with this picture?

A gallery twice forwarded my request to do a studio visit with one of its artists. I never heard from her.

I emailed an artist I kind of like requesting the same, having procured his address from his website. I never heard from him.

I visited an artist at her studio. We were together for two hours, wrapped in conversation, looking and sharing. She has not responded to my follow up email.

I emailed a friend who’s an artist about her work. Twice. Nothing.

This is a 4/5 person show in Chelsea gallery folks. Um...

I’m not going to beg. This may just end up being a three-person show. And probably the better for it.

David Hockney painting in plein air? No, there's nothing wrong with that picture at all. A show of recent landscapes is currently at PaceWildenstein on 25th.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Road Runner

(Hadrian's Wall)

Nils Folke Anderson: I’ve been thinking through some ideas for donkey trail.

Molly Stevens:Like what?

NFA: Well, for one thing, there's the idea of site-responsiveness, that relates to donkey trails I think.

MS: Sculptors talk a lot about site-responsiveness, I’ve noticed.

NFA: What have you been thinking?

MS: About site-responsiveness?

NFA: About the work/artists you've been seeing, the progress of the idea and show. Let's talk about that first and then site responsiveness.

MS: Deal. Actually, I'm a bit confused about the idea at this point, and I'm not sure what to do with the blog anymore.

NFA: Getting some dry mango…

MS: Yum.

MS: What does Donkey Trail mean for you these days?

NFA: A very rich idea to mull over and also to mull over with you.

MS: What's the idea again? I'm not being facetious.

NFA: Maybe more an image than an idea I suppose, of a donkey carrying something and making a trail in the process; or an image of a trail that a donkey makes and how that relates to what we're making and looking at. For example that site-responsiveness: on one hand I guess one could say that a donkey trail is site-responsive, that a donkey has limitations in terms of the terrain it can handle and it makes its way in the straightest line possible given the site.

MS: Right.

NFA: But then I’ve been thinking about the Le Corbusier essay we talked about as well. Using caterpillar tractors and dynamite to make big orthogonals is also a response to a site...

MS: Right The way I’ve been thinking about it is: when I make something, there's a figuring out as I go along, and that's donkey trail-ish. But, other than that, I'm at an impasse. Except that I was thinking of a visual presentation (like my text talk) but about the line. I was thinking [CONFIDENTIAL INFO].

NFA: There's also an aspect of patience and perseverance that I like.

MS: In making art, you mean?

NFA: And with donkeys.

MS: Right.

NFA: And a sense of humor.

MS: I agree.

NFA: And of simply doing one's best and making one's way.

MS: That's what art-making feels like. But, in your mind, how does this all translate into concrete terms, like actually making something, asking people to make something, writing about it. I think this is where I’ve been feeling lost.

NFA: I think some lack of clarity is part of the idea. This can get precious and annoying really easily, but it’s possible to be principled and rigorous and interesting and still not know exactly where things are heading.

MS: I agree. It can also be stressful.

NFA: And in concrete terms, a big part of this for me is simply finding an occasion to write, and discuss art with you.

MS: Ah, that sounds good! Have you been thinking at all about what you'd like to make for the show?


MS: I love that idea. I don't think artists want "curators" to help them develop an idea though too much. So I don't know what role to play here. So, wanna just talk about art?

NFA: I think your role is to simply make happen what you want to have happen. Mine too.

MS: Not sure what that is sometimes.

NFA: I have some ideas.

MS: Like what?...I am working on humongo drawings though.

NFA: amazing group show with tons of reviews; brisk sales of your work, gallery representation, museum shows, a community of artists, a lively presence as a blogger, a solo show of humongo drawings, etc.

MS: That puts a lump in my throat.

NFA: But is that along the lines of what you're aiming for, generally? I don't think these are the "right" or wrong goals, by the way. And I think the goals for the show are more particular and specific, but should be aligned with what we're aiming for generally.

MS: Of course! That's pretty much what I want exactly. So, you're hoping for the same with this show?

NFA: For the show, I hope it's something that- if I'd had no involvement in it- I’d still want to go see.

MS: Well put. I think a lot of this can be discussed on the blog; even if there's no correlation really with organizing the show, or maybe even the show itself.

NFA: Agreed.

MS: It's like the show is one thing. But the possibilities of the blog are far wider. Although I like seeing more than reading in many respects. And what you see, you can’t read in many regards.

NFA: On that note, I’ve been thinking about donkey trails vs. caterpillar tractor trails. Maybe we could have an ongoing post of images of each? This is getting at two modes of mark making or organization or response. For example, a road is typically a caterpillar trail, but then again a caterpillar tractor sometimes makes trails like a donkey. Does that make any sense?

MS: It does. In the south of France, the roads sometimes go around the mountain in a coil, and sometimes they just go right through the damn thing.

NFA: Precisemont (sp?)

MS: Close enough.

NFA: Not a good word to misspell.

MS: Road runner.

NFA: Indeed.

MS: Also a cartoon character running through a wall leaving his imprint. By the way, I'm reluctant to see Urs Fischer.

NFA: How come?

MS: I have a fuck you attitude to the hip and famous.

NFA: I’m pretty psyched to see it. Hype aside, I like his work.

MS: Yeah, I do too! I'm just jealous. Ah, all of Molly's lovely sides are coming out today.

NFA: So go beat him to the next punch!

MS: I’ve been thinking about it. But I think it's a fight I'm not up for. I'd rather just focus on what I'm doing. You going to give him a run for it?

NFA: Yeah, by just focusing on what I’m doing.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Multiple Offerings

Artists work solo for the most part and we like it that way, thank you very much.

At the same time, a little outside interest in our work usually goes a long way in advancing what we make. This is one of the reasons why it’s important to show. Other eyes make the work evolve.

It can be one of the curator’s roles to stimulate this evolution before the formal exhibition. Like a good editor, a good curator can offer a reading of or a challenge to the work in progress. This year, for example, I worked with an artist-curator who said, “These six, and make three more to complete it as a series for the installation.” That was hugely stimulating without being overbearing.

So rather than spreading out to visit as many artists as I possibly can to put together Donkey Trail, it makes sense to me to go down deeper with a few that I already know and admire. To be continued.

On another note completely, please admire the magnificently bold lines painted on the Greek vase above used for multiple offerings. Circa 2300-2200 BC. Now that’s old. On view now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Curate: from the Latin curare, to care.

Curator is not a word I throw around lightly. It’s a painstaking role, one that requires a patient, encyclopedic mind. As I see it, curators are people who wade through registries, visit artists in every corner of the globe and think in theories. Does any of this describe me? Not really. Do I think curators are the best people to put together shows? Not necessarily.

Artist-curator is a term that gets thrown around a lot. In my mind, it usually implies less research and a more personal approach to exhibition-making. Often what artist-curators do is livelier than what non-artist-curators might; and often artist-curators are self-serving.

What are other name options? In France, “commissioner” used to be what they were called. That’s even more self-important than curator. So no.

Considering the word’s root, caretaker might be a possibility. It’s a bit precious, however.

Organizer? Coordinator? Arranger? Planner? Presenter? Preparer? Schemer? Show-maker? Ringmaster? Socialite? Schmoozer? Friend? Co-host? Multitasker? Door-opener? Opportunist? Speculator? Investor? Entrepeneur? Leader? Scout? Explorer? Investigator? Inspector? Show and Teller? Head honcho? Chandelier Swinger? Gaze God? Donkey Master? Ass?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Donk Donk

Ripped from Living on the Edge:

What do you call a three legged donkey?
Wonky Donkey

What do you call a one eyed, three legged donkey?
Winky Wonky Donkey

What do you call a piano playing, one eyed, three legged donkey?
Plinky Plonky Winky Wonky Donkey

What do you call a blue suede shoe wearing, piano playing, one eyed, three legged donkey?
Honky Tonky Plinky Plonky Winky Wonky Donkey

What do you call a blue suede shoe wearing, piano playing, one eyed, three legged donkey who is in love?
Honky Tonky Plinky Plonky Winky Wonky Donkey looking for a little Hanky Panky

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A talk with Alyssa Pheobus

Alyssa and I had the following conversation after a visit at her studio on a recent rainy Monday evening.

Her upcoming show at Tracy Williams opens on November 6.

(Alyssa Pheobus, Endless House, 2009, graphite on paper, 72" x 53")

Molly Stevens:
So, first thing, did you know that I'm ten years older than you.

Alyssa Pheobus:
That's news to me.

Do you think that means anything?

Well, I'm sure it influences our interests, sense of historical perspective, sympathies with other artists, etc. And you have more experiences to draw on!

I guess so. I think there's a thing going on with artists born in the 70s. We're not into irony. That annoys us. (I like to talk in general statements.)


I think we're into authenticity but with some humor.

I think artists who are interested in authenticity can do it in a self-critical way without being ironic.

How would you generalize 80’s-born kids?

80’s-born kids are disconnected from the major world turmoils that were so present for previous generations. The result is that some become nostalgic for resistance movements, theory, activist tendencies, others could care less... I'm also speaking generally of course.

I love generalizations, actually. Do you feel disconnected?

Sometimes I do feel disconnected.

Me too.

How do your feelings of disconnection work? I mean, how do you experience them? How do they affect what you do/make?

I have a pretty strong sense of inner and outer. In fact I have a lot of voices from the outer and I wish they'd shut up sometimes. What about you?

In the day to day, I experience this disconnected feeling similar to what you describe.

When you approach a drawing, do you approach it from an outer or inner voice?

Drawing is totally personal and inward-looking, with outer (borrowed) voices being channeled inward all the time. I go into a fort of sorts when I'm working. And I think the work reflects that. It's very private, solitary. But usually I can re-enter my social obligations and talk about it later.

It's interesting though, your drawings don't cry out "inner voice."

No. But I think that’s because "inner voice work" has the problem of appearing naive, hysterical, wounded, wacky much of the time.

Well put. I think viewers and even artists look for that.

I'm proposing that an inner voice can be just as measured and calculated or poised as any other. It can be as expressive or non-expressive as you want it to be.

(Alyssa Pheobus, Harder, Harder, 2008, graphite on paper, 72" x 53")

I want to talk about chance.


Chance can have a lot of visual looks. What I mean is that chance can look wacky, or it can look measured.

Right, and chance can be politicized.

What do you mean?

If you want to invite chance into a situation (basically inviting disorder into a situation of stasis, or order) then you also have to acknowledge that there's a system in place that generates the possibilities. And choosing a system and its elements is meaningful, and certainly affects your outcome or outcomes.

Can you illustrate this idea?

This is a really simple one: Let's say you consult the I Ching to make a decision about something important; the choice of that system isn't random and says something about your world view.

In our work, we both rely on chance operations sometimes, which lead to new connections that can be more interesting than the ideas that are clearly laid out or programmed from the beginning. But when you get down to it, we give ourselves certain, very specific and individual options to work with.

But there's always room for chance no matter how specific you are.

You're right. There's always room for chance, but I still think we have more of a hand in setting up the stage for the chance to happen.

I agree.

I think chance looks very different in your work than it does in my work. What role does chance play for you?

Right now the work is following a one-thing-leads-to-another sort of path.

I think that gives the work vitality. But within a single piece, do you deal with chance?

Sure, I'll start with a form, then it turns out differently than I expected, suggesting a different text intervention, and so on. The chance often lies in the space between what you think you want or are trying to achieve and what you actually get.

That makes me think about the inner voice look again. What I mean is that your work doesn't have the expected look of chance. But of course, it's in there.

Right. I guess it's never foregrounded in the work, which is why this is an interesting thing to focus on. How does your work deal with or incorporate chance?

(Molly Stevens, [Untitled installation], 2009, acrylic on board, approx. 5' x 6')

For me, chance equals being loose, and that is somehow an ideal or goal for me. Because I've spent so much time being uptight. So, when I was doing words I wanted to give into "free-association" as much as I could.

Which implies a psychological one thing leads to another.


Do you think of your work with language or even images in psychoanalytic terms?

Yes. What about you?

Psychoanalytic ideas certainly influence me. But I don't think my work goes after the subconscious as actively as yours does. The subconscious is definitely tied up with questions of the authentic inner voice.

What I think I’m getting at is this: Although there's a surface difference between your work and mine - very different in fact - I somehow suspect there's an impetus that's the same that just ends up looking different.

Yes, while you're focusing on looseness, opening up a gate, I'm interested in a tighter language.

Tell me about that.

I guess my work takes words out of context to really focus in on them, also to lay a claim on them, to take them apart, disorient someone's supposed interpretation of them. But it's done with a slow, intense, almost devotional hand, one that’s very different from the speed and spontaneity in your hand.

(Alyssa Pheobus, The Comber, 2009, handmade paper, 60" x 40")

So the focus or concentration is a form of authentification for you? The word or line becomes yours, personal. If that's the case, then our shared impetus is making something that is our own, no matter how fleeting that possession is.

That sounds right...I'm cathected to certain words whereas you're releasing them, but both imply a desire to possess.

Let’s call this Part I of the Interview.

Looking forward to Part II. Maybe we'll change our minds.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Thursday, September 3, 2009

What I read over summer vacation

(Forrest Bess, Variations in Time, 1964)

I do what I’m told. So, when Balthazar asked that I read The Transformations of Lucius Otherwise Known as The Golden Ass (Robert Graves’ translation, adapted to modern language, a must.), I did.

A common worldview held among New Yorkers is that we each have a will, and it is this will that directs much of our lives. Discerning leftists among us will like to qualify this statement by noting that social class, race and gender also determine our course in life. Yes they do. But, even from this modified viewpoint, it is generally agreed that we individuals and groups of individuals have agency, and it is this agency that permits us to make decisions and act.

Dive into our summer reading, however, and the world becomes a less controllable place. Taken as a given is that we mortals coexist with apparitions, gods and deities; we drink potions and have portentous dreams; there are slaves and there are masters, eunich priests, bandits and whispering winds; and in our every experience, there is extraordinary violence and punishment, but also unutterable mysteries.

The gist of the story is this: a man of some stature gets his hands on a concoction that will turn him into a bird. But, as fortune has it, he becomes an ass instead, and spends a year experiencing his own sundry misadventures and encountering those of others.

Does this make the world a more luscious place to read about and visualize? You bet. Can it be a part of better art making that goes beyond folksy allegory? We’ll see.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Summer break

Nils and I have pressed eject until late August, early September. Until then, hee haw.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A recommended summer read and flic

The Golden Ass by Lucius Apuleius. (From Antiquity people!)

Au hasard Balthazar
, the 1966 French film directed by Robert Bresson.

(Still from Shaun Gladwell's video Storm Sequence, happily on view in the back room at Sikkema Jenkins, sadly only through today).

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Image Volley

I like what you said about - as I understood it - playing a bit more, using the time we have.

That sounds good. Any ideas on how to proceed?

Maybe a post of just images? I send one to you and you send one to me in reaction?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ahead and Down

to meander, to stumble, to look ahead and down at once, to be burdened, to be wily, to respond, to anticipate, to retrace, to resist, to submit, to draw, to inscribe, to pre-date, to carry, to bear, to forbear, to transport, to move, to choose, to be agent, to ruminate, to be an ass, to bray, to smell bad, to bare one’s teeth, to eat roses, to be fearless of heights, to be sure-footed, to drink at a stream, to fall in a stream.

Setback, breakthroughs, doldrums

MS: What we’re doing is a bit different than other curatorial experiments, don’t you think?

NFA: I think we're holding our concept more loosely, perhaps allowing for different questions, or rather more time for questioning. Part of what we're doing I think is to look for a different tone or attitude, and we're doing that with a pretty clear feeling of what that approach is but articulating it slowly over time.

MS: Right. This is usually the kind of thing that makes me incredibly anxious. But it really makes for a stronger foundation and better work, in my humble opinion.

NFA: Time is something that I'm constantly feeling I don't have enough of, that I’m rushing to do things and still not getting them all done, and I think that that’s a kind of trance that this process will help break down. Why not let some things unfold in a leisurely way? Before we started this I had kind of forgotten this question.

MS: Ah, for me, time's a bit different.

NFA: How is it for you?

MS: For me, it's that I'm late. In life, in general. The metaphor I have is the boat has already left without me.

NFA: It was the wrong boat.

MS: That's what they say. Also, I worry about things not coming together.Like May 2010, and we have no artists lined up.

NFA: Maybe that’s one of the advantages of art. If it fails it doesn't mean a thing. And on the other hand, the possibility is there to make something marvelous, more marvelous than almost anything else.

MS: How could failure not mean a thing?

NFA: You’re right. I disagree with what I just said about failure. If it doesn’t mean a thing it’s probably not a failure.

MS: I need to hear a bit more about that.

NFA: I mean you can only fail if you were hoping to succeed, and that's something you can feel and it means something.

MS: Who wouldn't hope to succeed? What's an alternative? Just experimenting for experimentation's sake?

NFA: I guess a process that spans successive failures, successes, setbacks, breakthroughs, doldrums, etc., and hopefully leads to, or becomes, or is, something marvelous. That's what I hope a different attitude about time will help us get to.

MS: That would represent a true liberation for me – that is, not to weigh in in a black-and-white fashion every step of the way. In other words, going with the flow and acknowledging it as just flow.