Monday, June 29, 2009


I'm not a big football fan, but when I was young there was a venerable star of football, name of Walter Payton. He was asked by some breathless sportscaster, on the occasion of his umpteenth SuperBowl game, what he thought about it. His response was unforgettable, being so out of character in a competitive profession, "If the SuperBowl is so super, why is there one every year?"

On my recent birthday, Lady Moments of Clarity gifted me a new copy of Art in America (June/July 09), which I began reading this morning. It's the Venice Biennale preview issue, and it's all Biennale this and Biennale that: The Very Epitome of Contemporary Art in the World will Soon Be on Display in Northern Italy. If you're anybody, you won't be missing it. Book your gondolas now.

What first caught my eye (because it was near the front, and I'm devouring this thing page by ad-laden page) was Dave Hickey's essay, "Revision 9: Idiot". Hickey has the grace to be what he is, an art critic, without assuming the pretension of social commentator, or some kind of mystic arbiter of what is true. The essay is firmly, fixedly and relentlessly tongue in paint-smeared cheek [and left me goggling at the thought that art critics are often asked to curate shows(!) Like, isn't that —to use Hickey's favorite word—"creepy?" Or, to use my preferred phrase — a "conflict of interest?"].

Because Hickey kept calling himself an idiot, he nearly persuades on candidness points alone, but he wanted to make very clear that contemporary art isn't really all that big a deal —"lacking historical authority" as it does— and yet poseurs and powerbrokers try to make the Venice Biennale into the Big Deal of big deals. I mean, really, if you're going to go all pretentious about it, why insist on the Italian for 'biennial' (Bee-en-NAH-lay), but not for 'Venice' (Venezia)?

What do you do when your dream comes true? I read — I'm not sure where— of an artist that always wanted to have a show in a certain museum, struggled for years, and finally achieved it. And then lost all interest in art. That's one of the saddest stories I've read—which, admittedly, had little character development, a thin plot and an endless denouement. But if that person was you: I'm so sorry.

For the rest of you, consider your goals, and your motivations... set milestones for progress rather than wishes for validation, check yourself internally, and make sure you have a next step.

Ms. Moments-of-Clarity has recently walked up to a milestone, patted it in a friendly sort of way on its stubby point, smiled with gratitude, and is resuming her journey. She's in the Tucson Museum of Art's Biennial 2009, and in a town chock full of artists, that's pretty super.

Turtle Rock, near Gila New Mexico,
journal entry, c. 2009. Approx 5"x5"


Barbara Muir said...

Hi Edgar,

You're scary sometimes. Here's the secret, Nothing -- really nothing is a big deal, unless you think it is, and even then... you'll get over it.
I don't mean life and love, I mean the wheels that turn, the powers that be. I like the word Biennale, but that's because I'm going to be in the Florence Biennale this year. My Italian roots (a couple of generations back) are from Florence, but I don't speak more than a word here and there. I say don't knock the Biennales until you've tried them, and good for Miss
Moments of Clarity. She belongs in every Biennale as do you. Love your painting.

Take care,


Edgar said...

Thanks for sharing the secret, Barbara! I'm completely in agreement -- and you, Melinda, and all the other Biennale participants deserve all the exposure and recognition you can get. I know I love a good art show.

But as for the secret: could you forge it into a mystical cross, that will slay the Powers That Be? Because what really torqued me isn't that there's going to be an art show so big it takes two years to make it happen (that's better than the SuperBowl!), it's that the Powers That Be want to take credit for a) determining what's important b) shutting out millions and c) being a more awesome and jealous Power That Is than all the other Powers that Are. That's right: they mostly criticize each other about how to put together the biennials. News flash to the Powers That Be: it's not about YOU.

Did you know there is a "Biennial of Biennials?" I guess that's where the aesthetic-theorists-turned-arbiters-of-Truth share info on where to timeshare in the "off" years.

Marian Fortunati said...

Good to hear from you again Edgar...

Got married in Venezia, but don't even pronounce my own name the correct way.... Should be 4 2 not E... instead.... fortune ahhh tiii

There will always be those that want to tell us what is good... and there will always be those that follow...

Glad you are on the blogscope again!

Barbara Muir said...

Hi Edgar,

Okay I know what you mean. It's the art snob thing that's bugging you. I used to work as assistant editor of an art magazine. Oh colour field where is thy sting? At the time a canvas had to be all one colour and nothing else to be considered "good".
Now the downtown galleries are all high realism (which I seem to have been doing this week -- unconsciously moving towards placating maybe? OMG!)

Thanks for making me think about it. Having been up to my eyeballs in that world, I no longer worry about it. Dead rabbits in glass car crashes,and other gruesome subjects in 3D using real rabbit carcasses. It doesn't matter. You decide what's good. You are. Melinda is. You believe it.

Take care,


Melinda said...

One of the best memories of our drive through New Mexico was your reading the Biennial article in Art News. We all laughed and laughed as the junipers, chamisa and storm clouds watched as our car raced by returning to Tucson.

What fun. I'd like to read some more of your thinking on this subject. The author had some interesting things to say and you could expand on them.

Jeffrey J. Boron said...

Good read Edgar, and nice sketch.
A good friend of mine is always wondering if we are the only ones who realize that the jurors in many of these shows are often our contemporaries and in competion for wall space in galleries, huh?!

Speaking of "Art In America" I just finished reading Ron McClarity's novel of that title, and if you get past the first couple of chapters your sides will be sore from laughing out loud as you continue! I made the mistake of trying to read it while recovering from a very sore bad back...yeah "it only hurts when I laugh", became a whole new adventure!


Marian Fortunati said...

Hope you are well, Edgar!!
Happy Holidays.