Junk bonds for Hollis Simpson’s whirligigs

Photo from Meghan MacDonald
Photo from Meghan MacDonald

The NEA grants I wrote about yesterday also include $59,000 for a sculpture park in Wilson for Hollis Simpson‘s whirligigs. I fell in love with these things during a tour with Juan Logan, who is helping match color with the restoration project.

Wilson is an old tobacco town that has strong infrastructure from busier days but has experienced tough times. Wilson is lucky to have Simpson, whose works attract people from all over. When I was there, a woman from Connecticut drove through on her way to Florida just because she wanted to see the whirligigs. The town is betting on more people like that coming through, having lunch, spending a little dough, and helping to bring jobs back.

It’s interesting to see how the folk art of an old retiree who tinkered in a field with machines and reflectors is now the centerpiece for a kind of town revitalization project. I think of it as investing in junk bonds — because it’s coming from stuff that was actually junk.

The park opens in November.

NEA grants for the Mint Museum and public design in NC

Despite the sequester and the automatic 5% Federal budget reduction, the National Endowment for the Arts has announced $26.3 million in grants. North Carolina has two projects, including:

… Raleigh won a $40,000 grant for Structures for Inclusion 14, a national conference on public service architecture and community design , and Charlotte got $40,000 for the Mint Museum of Art Inc. for documentation and digitization of the museum’s collection.  [Miami Herald]

On staying put

Photo and reclaimed license plate by Jamie Dorobek
Photo and reclaimed license plate by Jamie Dorobek

The other day was the panel discussion at Green Hill where old-time New York art worlders advised young artists to come to New York (or at least a major art center). The advice was mixed about how long to stay or where specifically to go. But the message from everyone was that you need to spend time in the center.

Paddy at ArtFCity has the opposite advice: Don’t go to New York.

Her reasoning is financial as well as about 21st-Century connectedness. With real estate in the city so prohibitively expensive and the technology to share across geographies, artists don’t have to live on Rivington to show images to an LES gallery. As proof, she says the most exciting shows she’s seen in NYC have been by artists living outside the city.

In talking about MICA students staying put in Baltimore, she hits something very true and of the moment in its thinking: that art can be made anywhere and communities of artists are all over the place. Our brains are becoming less hierarchical because reality seems less hierarchical. The art world, which used to be a clear structure supported by New York, now seems more rhizomatic and diffuse with nodes in many places. Not only do you not have to be in NYC to make interesting art, you don’t have to be in NYC to make interesting art that makes it in NYC.

But that returns us to the next question: do you have to be in NYC — or have a relationship to NYC — to make a living doing very contemporary work? Because in this way art and life can be very separate.

What’s on your radar?

Applying for grants? Interested in what’s happening around you? Check out Creative Capital’s On Our Radar:

… a searchable database featuring nearly 400 projects that advanced to the second or third round in last ye4ar’s highly competitive Film/Video and Visual Arts grant round. Although these projects were not ultimately funded, we feel they are projects to watch, and we invite you to explore them. This site will be online until August 31, 2012.

How to be an art star

Louise Bourgeois, Maman, 1999.
Louise Bourgeois, Maman, 1999.

Yesterday was the great panel discussion between Peter Plagens, Lilly Wei, and Miles Manning at Green Hill. Today they’ll be sitting in on Pecha Kucha presentations by North Carolina abstract artists (which I think I’m going to miss). Starts at 10am!

One of the funniest parts of last night was Peter Plagens’s step-by-step plan for taking over the art world — or at least become a famous artist. After saying that his advice to art graduates now is “Go to L.A.,” he ran down the Plagen plan:

1. Move to a major art center (which means Los Angeles or New York, says Plagens, because Chicago has “that school thing”)

2. Go to every opening and hang out with as many artists as you can

3. Work as an assistant for a major artist

4.  Do something big or controversial, like covering a building in tar or digging an enormous hole in the middle of something

5. Disappear for a year (this is the “counterintuitive part” of the plan)

6. Come back to the art world with marketable work that can sell

At this point everyone laughed and talked over each other.

Wei said “And if you’re a woman, just wait 50 years to be acknowledged.”

To which Manning rejoined, “Or divorce your husband like Louise Bourgeois.”

Louise Bourgeois’s own advice to young artists? “Tell your own story, and you will be interesting … Don’t get the green disease of envy. Don’t be fooled by success and money. Don’t let anything come between you and your work.”

Success is a job in Greensboro

Regionalism is dead. Long live regionalism! But seriously: if you are an artist you need to be in New York. Or LA.

So went the panel discussion with Lilly Wei, Peter Plagens, Miles Manning at Green Hill Center tonight. The three New Yorkers were brought in to talk about the art world and give a cosmopolitan take on what’s happening with artists, galleries, critics, and collectors.

Wei is a curator; Plagens an artist and critic for Newsweek; and Manning a gallery director (whose Elizabeth Harris gallery was always one of my favorite stops because they champion painting). They have come to town to meet with North Carolina artists.

The three surveyed the current show at Green Hill and approved. Plagens said “This seems like contemporary painting. Period.” Manning added that “Regionalism is over. This show could be in New York.” (It was understood by all that this is a good thing.)

The show, which includes work by Brett Baker, Mark Brown, Ashlynn Browning, Bonnie Melton and Philip Lopez, is full of good stuff (look for my blogging about it soon). I see what Plagens means; the work in Green Hill is in dialogue with work that a lot of Brooklyn abstraction is engaged with.

Wei kept it from being a sing-along of the Internationale by bringing the crowd back to earth, however. “It’s not the same art world,” she said. “If you want to be making work of its time, you do have to be at the center at some point.”

This argument permeates the presence of these three. It goes like this: The art world’s center is in New York. For artists in North Carolina to be relevant, they must have a relationship to the art world’s hub. These three are here to meet artists and make connections.

The panelists agreed that a lot of great art is being produced outside of New York, but how important is it for artists to live or go there?

Painting is “an in-the-flesh thing,” said Plagens. He explained that Manning’s gallery, Elizabeth Harris, which specializes in mid-career and mature painters, just couldn’t exist in Greensboro. But that doesn’t mean artists and galleries can’t use the internet to connect and share and use the digital world.

As a North Carolina success story, Manning pointed to Brett Baker. Artist-blogger Baker is in the group show currently at Green Hill and also shown by Manning’s gallery, which picked up on his work from a gallery-goer’s comment and followed the digital path to eventually see the work in person.

Tomorrow I will post Peter Plagens’s map to art world superstardom.

**Update: Here’s a link to the Plagens map on how to create an art career.

Success is a job in New York



Lee Krasner’s place among Irascibles

Photographer Nina Leen’s 1950 photograph of 18 American artists has become an icon of Abstract Expressionism and art history. All the big boys of New York mid-century modernism are there: Pollock, Rothko, Still, Motherwell, and de Kooning.

This generation has been lionized as a hard-drinking group of men who lived as hard as they painted. They came together to protest an exhibition at the Met that would ignore their work.

Irascibles' protest letter
Irascibles’ protest letter

One curious exception to this group of 18 has always bothered me: where was Lee Krasner? She has a tough-as-nails reputation and she was married to Jackson Pollock. Her paintings are great and she was one of the first artists in New York to work completely abstractly. If he could get in the photo, why not she?

There is one woman in the photograph, Hedda Sterne, and she is on record saying “They all were very furious that I was in it because they all were sufficiently macho to think that the presence of a woman took away from the seriousness of it all.”

In a talk today at the Weatherspoon Art Museum, art historian/biographer Gail Levin helped shed a little light on this topic. According to Levin, who became pals with Krasner as a grad student in 1971 and even wound up moving to the Hamptons, it was Krasner who took the phone call from Barnett Newman when the photo was being organized. She passed the phone to Pollock and the rest is history.

So why didn’t Krasner get in? According to Levin, Krasner was bitter her whole life about not being included. There were 28 original signatories on the protest letter, so many relevant artists didn’t appear in the photo — Louise Bourgeois among them. Krasner’s name is not on the original protest letter, but she certainly had every right to belong in the group. So the fact that she passed the phone to Pollock doesn’t answer any questions.

Was she ever asked to participate? Did she ever ask to participate? Is this a case of self-censorship caused by a sexist environment?

A different story Levin told at the Weatherspoon might relate. When she was a child going to synagogue in Brooklyn, Lee Krasner hated the fact that men and women were separated. She had to sit in the upstairs gallery with all the women and girls while the men sat downstairs. When feminists in the 1970s organized separate shows for women, Krasner balked. Becoming a separate group left a bad taste in her mouth and reminded her of the separation that occurred in her childhood.

Could Krasner have restrained herself from joining the Irascibles out of a distaste for joining separate groups? After all, the group of 18 were explicitly setting themselves apart as different kind of artists.

Hedda Sterne, meanwhile, said being in the photograph was the worst thing that happened to her. She said she became known more for that photo than for the 40 years of art work she did afterwards and that her membership in that group defined her.

According to Krasner, the only reason Sterne was in the photo was because her gallerist Betty Parsons made it happen. This could be Krasner’s sour grapes because she had no such advocate, or it could also be a disapproval of how groups work in the first place.