On Politics and Art

Rob Storr interviewed Felix Gonzalez-Torres in 1995. Felix identified Helen Frankenthaler as the most successful political artist alive, and then told about the invitation he received in 1989 to participate in the State Department’s Art for Embassies Program:

It has this wonderful quote from George Bernard Shaw, which says, “Besides torture, art is the most persuasive weapon.” And I said I didn’t know that the State Department had given up on torture – they’re probably not giving up on torture – but they’re using both. Anyway, look at this letter, because in case you missed the point they reproduce a Franz Kline which explains very well what they want in this program.

4/06 update: Creative Time has since removed this interview, and only one other place, the Queer Cultural Center, is hosting it. To make sure it stays out there, I’m reproducing it in whole on greg.org, just because. [note: I formatted it for easier reading.]

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Well Hung

When our DC neighbors’ rather inconsiderately left their wireless networks turned off this morning, I ran over to the Hirshhorn to see their new, temporary installation of the permanent collection. It’s pretty fresh, with room to breathe. A lot of wall and floor space is devoted to newer work, which had always gotten short shrift in the Hirshhorn’s rather staid, historical hang (like a history teacher in May, having to cover “WWII-to-present” in a week).
There are moments of real enjoyment, if not brilliance, but the limitations are the collections’ (pretty good, with a few greats), not the curators’. Turning from the all-black wall (Ad Reinhart, Frank Stella, Richard Serra) to find a rarely seen Robert Smithson spiral sculpture perfectly framed in the doorway is awesome, even if it doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
Maybe it’s my skewed NYC perspective, but the installation takes a luxurious approach to space; Wolfgang Laib pollen carpet has a huge gallery to itself. In an equally giant Ann Hamilton room, ceiling robots periodically sent sheets of white paper fluttering to the floor. Some tourists frolicked in the resulting paperdrifts, flailing goofily to catch the falling sheets. Their photosnapping attempts to capture what is, essentially, an experience, didn’t fare much better.
It’s always good to see a Tobias Rehberger, even if it’s taped off like a crime scene; and they thankfully purged a lot of the tchotchkes that made the sculpture hallways so avoidable.
One thing I don’t understand, though, is the Hirshhorn’s embarassing practice of selling its old mail. Seriously. There are two milkcrates in the giftshop, full of minor auction catalogues, reports, and obscure 1970’s exhibition brochures from other museums. Priced are based solely, it seems, on binding type. It’s enough to make me take a stand, Tyler Green-style: lose the trash bins. Or, at least, start throwing out more interesting stuff.

At the Hirshhorn Museum yesterday

At the Hirshhorn Museum yesterday (originally to see the Ernesto Neto installaion before it closed), I kind of fixated on the work of Anne Truitt, which is in the “Minimalism and its Legacy” installation on the lower floor.
I wasn’t familiar with Truitt’s work, but a quick Google search shows an embarrassingly long and distinguished career (embarrassing for me not to know about it, that is). Go ahead, try it. Truitt was a central figure (along with Judd and Andre, but “championed,” for better or worse, by Clement Greenberg) in the emergence of Minimalist art in the 60’s. Yet unlike the canonical Minimalists, her work never sought the complete elimination of content. It seems obvious to me (although no shows seem to have been done to examine it) that the surge of artists using minimalist vocabulary (Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Robert Gober and Ellen Gallagher are among the most obvious) to biographical, emotional and political effect can relate directly to Truitt’s work. (One of Truitt’s earliest sculptures was–and wasn’t, of course–a section of picket fence, which suggests Gober’s various playpen/crib sculptures.)
Surprisingly, Truitt’s still alive and cranking away (although from the tone of this interview in Artforum, “cranking” isn’t the steely-yet-genteel artist’s style) right here in Washington, DC. And looking at the consistency of her more recent work, she continues to pursue her interests, while being somewhat inexplicably underappreciated by the current art world/market. [Here is Daybook: The Journey of an Artist, Truitt’s well-reviewed diaries. Buy it. I did.]
Oh, the Neto piece is great, btw. I’d seen a couple of less successful ones lately and wondered if he’s been in a slump, but the strong sculptural quality of this one was really nice. Since it was rice and styrofoam, it didn’t smell, but it did have so many visual references to genitalia (think mons, orifices, and billygoats moving away from you, not the “wombs” the brochure delicately alluded to) that an arts funding crisis would’ve broken out if conservatives didn’t feel oh-so-comfortable with their grip on this town right now.