Monday, December 28, 2009

Alfred DeCredico, 1944-2009

Alfred DeCredico, "Landscape in Color #2," 2005. Mixed media on canvas, 31" x 25."

It felt like a punch in the stomach when I heard that Al DeCredico died this past weekend. We hadn't spoken for years, but I somehow thought he would always be around if I wanted to talk to him. He was bigger than life in every category.

I started at RISD In September of 1983, and in the first semester of my freshman year I was lucky enough to draw Al for 2D. I didn't know who he was, I didn't know what 2D was, and I didn't have any idea what the fuck art was for that matter - I was a dummy from a working class suburb with a certain flair for drawing. Al is the guy who showed me how to see and think and make things like an artist. I felt like my head was splitting open and loved every minute of it.

He was arrogant, brilliant, foul-mouthed, and had an awesome command of a huge variety of media: he was a painter with a stunning facility, but also made sculpture, reliquary boxes, prints, drawings, ceramics, and blown glass. He expected you to make things just as well as him, and would tell in no uncertain terms when he thought you were bullshitting.

When I got the chance to teach 2D in 2007, the first person I thought of was Al. I hoped I could do it like him; take a bunch of teenagers and show them what art was, why it was important, make them really feel it the way he made us really feel it.

Al showed me that the dreary mediocrity of everyday life wasn't the only way - there were whole worlds you could open with you skill and imagination and commitment. How do you thank somebody for something like that?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Paintings I Like, pt.41

Today was an unusually lovely day here in NYC so I played hooky from the studio. I wound up going to the Met and brought my little point and shoot so I could document a second installment of "Sunday at the Met." Here are a few of the things I looked at today:

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Super Girl vs. Wonder Woman

Rachel Alexandra, top, winning the 2009 Preakness Stakes. Zenyatta, bottom, taking down the 2009 Breeder's Cup Classic.

Are you spending sleepless nights wondering whether to lend your support to Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta for Horse of the Year honors? I know, we all are. For two thoroughly biased opinions click here and here for articles in Thoroughbred Times by Jess Jackson and Jerry Moss. Jackson is Rachel Alexandra's owner and Moss and his wife own Zenyatta.

Just the facts:

Rachel is a three-year-old filly who has won 11 out of 14 races in two seasons. In her superlative 2009 campaign she won all eight of her races and broke a string of records: She won the Kentucky Oaks by 20 1/4 lengths, the largest margin of victory ever in that race. She became the first filly to win the Preakness Stakes since Nellie Morse did it in 1924. She won the Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park, putting up the fastest time and the largest margin of victory ever in that race. She beat the boys again in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, and her crowning achievement was becoming the first filly to ever win the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga, beating colts and older males. Wow!

Zenyatta is a five year old mare who has raced for three seasons, and is on the short list of undefeated thoroughbreds. She tied Personal Ensign's record of thirteen for thirteen when she took down the Lady's Secret Stakes at Santa Anita, and surpassed it when she became the first female to win the Breeders Cup Classic in what had to be the most thrilling race of 2009: She raced dead last in the early stretches, spotting the field more than 10 lengths. She was still 7 lengths back and in ninth coming into the far turn, but at the top of the stretch Mike Smith wove her through a wall of horses and into the six path where she won going away. Holy mackerel!

Winners of the Eclipse awards will be announced on January 26.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Praxis of Axes

In 1911, an ancient stone hand-axe was discovered in Norfolk, England. It was made by a neanderthal, and is believed to be in excess of 200,000 years old. The axe was cut from a piece of flint which had a fossilized shell on its surface, and the maker clearly designed the tool around it, carefully centering it and making sure the bottom of the shell was roughly parallel with the bottom of the axe.

This surprising example of the artistic urge predates spoken language by more than 100,000 years. Written language does not appear until about 4,000 years ago, making it a new thing by comparison. Neanderthal man couldn't have explained why he chose to decorate his axe because he didn't know how to speak. The majority of his day was most certainly occupied with the serious business of not dying, yet he took the time to do this.

Many of the major currents in art since the beginning of the twentieth century, specifically modernism, post-modernism, and the widely varied aftershocks of post-modernism (often subsumed under the umbrella of critical theory) all have something in common - they ask art to justify its own existence. Modernism asked art to purify itself from within in order to prove that the experience it provided was unique and couldn't be had in any other cultural sphere. Post-modernism and its many tributaries asked art to police institutions of power, those attached to art itself as well as many from the society at large

There is something moralistic embedded in both of these attitudes about art - they suggest that art is something frivolous unless it can prove itself not to be. Under all of these regimes, the urge to create and to enjoy the fruits of the creative process are not valid in and of themselves. Simply making qualitative judgments about art objects is not enough - indeed, the very notion of quality has been under siege for quite some time - art must have a more important job than just being art, a job that can be proven to be of great value to the society.

But if the neanderthal art is any indication, it would place the aesthetic urge right behind eating, reproducing, and seeking shelter, and considerably earlier than speaking. It would have to be considered one of the first things early humans did as they became less like animals and more like people. Viewed in this way, it would seem that the positions outlined above are quite superfluous, tantamount to making people justify the fact that they are hungry or sleepy.

I believe it was Richard Serra who said that art should never be deprived of its uselessness.* As it turns out, there's a real profundity in its uselessness, and in point of fact, that's wherein its actual utility resides.

*Someone please correct me if I'm wrong in this attribution.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jiffy Pop?

According to a story in the Times, The Hirshhorn Museum is getting airbags. This should substantially add to museum safety - it's a little known fact that hundreds of people each year are maimed or injured in freak art viewing accidents.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


According to a thing I just read in the Times, the Velvet Undergound's very first performance was 45 years ago yesterday at the Summit High School Auditorium in N.J., opening up for a band called the Myddle Class.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Wayne Gonzales at Paula Cooper Gallery

Today I saw a show that easily gets my vote for best new paintings of 2009: Wayne Gonzales at Paul Cooper Gallery.

The pictures above don't do the paintings justice, you really have to stand in front of them to see and feel their genuine power. They glow like they're lit from behind, they expand and contract, they seem to shift around right in front of your eyes. They're disorienting in the best possible sense; their scale is completely indeterminate, they could be tiny Christmas lights or exploding stars. There's a note of Bleckner and a hint of Richter, but I could care less - I was blown away.

The show stays open until Dec. 18, and Paul Cooper Gallery is located at 521 w 21st St. in Chelsea. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tuesday, December 1, 2009