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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

July 29, 2013

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

I'm unveiling my two latest paintings today. The one above, which is 57" x 38", is called Heavy is the Head. It's acrylic. I'

m not stretching it. Instead I'll embed grommets across the top and bottom to screw it to the wall. Would you like to buy it?

Call me at 413-442-1879 or email me at grier@mac.com.

Almost all my paintings are for sale, a fact I usually fail to mention.

Now here's the second painting, one I started on a sweltering day early last week. The initial thing I painted was 88 in giant orange numbers. That was the temperature. The 88 was eventually obliterated and the image below is what I ended up with.

This one is slightly larger, 60" x 40", but like Heavy is the Head it's unstretched and is acrylic, except for the small rectangle at the bottom left, which is a sheet of photo paper which I colored. The title: Guard my Sleep.

I suppose recognizable objects don't belong in abstract paintings. My defense is that Willem de Kooning put women in some of his, as in Woman V below.

But the more I look at Guard My Sleep I would have to say that it is figurative rather than abstract. Anyway, category isn't as important as the image. Strictly speaking Heavy is the Head could be called figurative too.

 

July 25, 2013

 

 

"Art is difficult," Anselm Kiefer said in an interview with The Guardian newspaper in 2011. "It's not entertainment." I don't agree with Kiefer when it comes to his own art.  Much of his art packs an emotional wallop and you don't have to have a PHD to feel it. But I think this piece, the 82-foot-long Narrow are the Vessels is difficult.  So I've tried to read the poem Etoits sont les Vaisseaux (Narrow are the Vessels) from which Kiefer took the name for this sculpture which will be one of the features of the new Kiefer building that opens September 27 at MASS MoCA in North Adams.

Written in 1957 by Saint-John Perse, a French diplomat and Pulitzer Prize winning poet, the poem itself is difficult. I figured if I read it I would be better able to understand this sculpture with its undulating slabs of concrete with their thorns of rusted rebar. (During it's prior three-year residency at the museum I worried that some running child would poke out an eye on one.)

Etoits sont les Vaisseaux is a seven- or eight-page section of a much longer ode to the sea, Amers. From my reading this part of the poem is an ode to sex which he sees as an affirmation of life over death. I read that it is considered one of the great erotic sequences of French literature. But to get to the eroticism is about as easy as fracking for oil.

Like much Romantic poetry, this work is hard to take. At least for me.  I was supposed to read Romantics like Keats and Shelley and Byron and Wordsworth for a course when I was a sophomore at Brown. I hated them and as a result never gave them a real try. One night I got so angry at these guys I threw the book across the room.

If I had been assigned Perse, I think I would have destroyed the book page by overwrought page.

But I'm going off subject. Perse provided the title. And from his pages he seemed to equate "vessel" with a number of things: a bed for lovemaking, a ship, a wave, a woman. (Offhand, I would rule out a bed because sleeping on it would be torture.)

"...One same wave throughout the world, one same wave since Troy....The swell rises and is made woman. The sea with the belly of a loving woman kneads untiringly its prey. And love causes the singing, and the sea the rocking of the cedar bed on its boards of the curved hull on its joints. Our bed rich with offerings and with the burden of our works...." (Placing Narrow are the Vessels next to Kiefer's News of the Fall of Troy, as seen in the photo below, was a great tie-in with the poem's "one same wave since Troy.")

Some of the poem is actually quite beautiful I have to admit. "I have unleashed the lightning, and its quest is not in vain." Maybe I should give it another chance.

Much romantic poetry is overblown in its Alas's and O's, it's pretentious language and its grandiosity. When reading Perse I wondered whether Kiefer could be hit with the same criticism. But then I decided there is no real comparison in the two men's work. Kiefer's is muscular. Perse's isn't.  

 

The Independent's review of the 2007 White Cube gallery show that contained much of the work to go in this new building (see my July 18 post), said this:

"Great art is about transformation. And transforming experience and transforming materials are what Anselm Kiefer specializes in. The contrasting themes of destruction and recreation, violent upheaval and spiritual renewal underpin much of the artist's work," said The Independent in its review of the 2007 White Cube gallery show that contained much of the work to go in this new building (see my July 18 post).

 

And a MASS MoCA press release about Narrow are the Vessels said: "rolling ribbons of concrete evoke rubble, the aftermath of war, natural disaster and structural failure of immense proportions."

That fits my first impression when I wrote in 2008, "It looks like the elevated freeway collapse in the 1989 San Francisco earthquake.

We'll all have plenty of time to contemplate whether it's wave, woman, bed, ship or an evocation of the aftermath of war or natural catastrophe, or something else altogether. It is going to be housed at MASS MoCA for the next 15 years, and perhaps much longer. (It will be closed from December 1 to May 14 annually. I haven't found out the why of that.) Maybe in those years I'll come to the conclusion that it's message is a weighty as its mass - or as deceptively simple.

 

This photo is of Narrow are the Vessels as it appeared on the lawn of its owners, art collectors Andrew and Catherine Hall, in Southport, Connecticut. Ultimately the Halls, after loosing a court case about its appropriateness in the town's historic district, found a new home for it at MASS MoCA.

 

July 18, 2013

(Revised July 19 by additional text and photos of Anselm Kiefer and Christine and Andrew Hall.)

 

A big fan of MASS MoCA and Anselm Kiefer, I was terrifically excited by last week's announcement that a building is being erected at the North Adams museum that will be devoted to the German artist's work. Kiefer, sometimes called the poet of war, is one of the great artists of our time - and, I think, of all time. This is one of the 31 paintings by the 68-year-old Kiefer that you will see in the 10,000 square foot building - a seasonal facility that will be closed each winter. It's grand opening is September 27.

This is another. They are part of a series 2004 series called For Chiebnikov.

 

They will be hung three deep on facing walls as they were in this 2005 exhibit staged by London's White Cube Gallery. At the time the Guardian newspaper said the paintings "explore a world of rusting hulks and deserted shores. They're as disturbing as the obsessive Russian poet who inspired them." Chlebnikov theorized that major naval battles that shift the course of history recur every 317 years or in multiples thereof, an idea Kiefer acknowledges is "complete nonsense." Nevertheless the Kiefner drew inspiration from the obscure Russian's ruminations.

An integral part of the canvases are the lead ships Kiefer made and attached to the canvases. As you can see from the examples at the top, these are ships that have fallen victim to fighting in World War II, America's last good war and Germany's bad war. Kiefer, who was born in Germany shortly before the Nazis were defeated in 1945, grew up amid the devastation that had been wreaked upon his country, amid the German guilt for the Holocaust, amid the brilliant U.S. effort to help his nation rebuild instead of tramping on Germany's neck.

Here's a shot of Kiefer at that White Cube show.

Also on view at MASS MoCA will be Kiefer's 82-foot-long concrete sculpture "Narrow are the Vessels." That's only fitting because this 40-ton piece is the reason why the building devoted to Kiefer is being erected.

 

Andrew and Christine Hall, who are shouldering the cost of the new building, had installed Narrow are the Vessels on the lawn of their Greek Revival home in Southport, Conn. (The sculpture is on the right in this photo of their house.) Southport's Historic District Commission didn't think the sculpture was appropriate on a front lawn in the district. After a judge sided with the commission, Andrew Hall approached MASS MoCA about giving the piece temporary sanctuary at that upstart North Adams museum. That sculpture, along with a half dozen Kiefer paintings, were given a place of honor there from 2007 to 2010.

Now the relationship cemented between the Halls and MoCA Director Joe Thompson because of that Southport flap is paying even bigger dividends. In addition to the building, the 30 Chlebnikov paintings and the concrete sculpture, a large canvas has been commissioned, and Kiefer's installation Women of the Revolution will be shown.

Thompson hopes it will pave the way for more collaborations with collectors and institutions to add more single-artist facilities to the sprawling 19th century mill complex MASS MoCA calls home. The advantage to major collectors - the Halls have 5,000 pieces - Thompson says is that they can put their work on display at less cost than creating their own museum.

"It's a good model," says Thompson because MASS MoCA has the space, the know how and the audience to make it work.

The Kiefer building is the second at MASS MoCA devoted to a single artist. The first was an existing empty mill that now offers a spectacular display of the wall drawings and paintings of Sol LeWitt. LeWitt helped design the four-floor space but died shortly before it opened in 2008. The display - the largest of LeWitt's work - was a partnership between the Yale University Art Gallery, the Williams COllege Museum of Art and MASS MoCA.

 

Kiefer's work will be on display for 15 years and LeWitt's for 25. But in both cases there is an option to extend.

 

This is the new Kiefer building located across the flood control chute from the main parking lot.

Looking properly industrial but breaking from MASS MoCA's brick mill tradition, it was designed by Kiefer and his architect, Bill Katz, and is built on the foundation of the factory's water plant. The photo below shows part of the sky lit interior.

 

 

The new facility will be closed in the winter, admitting visitors only from May 15 through November 30th.

In a press release MASS MoCA said the Hall Art Foundation beside paying almost all the costs of the building will also cover incremental operating expenses, including utilities and security. Maintenance of common grounds and access roads will be shared. Costs of visitor services, box office and marketing will be borne largely by the museum. Last, but certainly not least, we have the Halls, Christine and Andrew, below. He is an oil trading legend for whom black gold has paid off big. See this article from Bloomberg Businessweek to read about his "retirement" on a Vermont farm, where some of their 5,000 paintings are on display.

 

 

July 7, 2013

 

Photo by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Occassionally you see a cloud so dramatic that you have to photographic. That was the case on July 4 when Babbie and I strolled down to the Blue Anchor at Pontoosuc Lake to watch the annual display of fireworks along the West Shore.

I misused the word strolled. When you walk with Babbie you don't stroll. As always I had to work hard to keep up with her.

Anyway there was this magestic cloud over the mountains. I was glad to walk faster than is comfortable to get in position to take this pictue. Sometimes, just sometimes, you're in the right place at the right time.

This made up for my failure to get a stunning cloud shot the day before. Again it was a massive column of cloud that formed a dramatic profile of a man's strong face and it's dd

 

July 3, 2013

 

Photo by Eliza Cooney/All Rights Reserved

 

Susan Hartung and I face off after taking down our work at the Lenox Library benefit art show, Brushes for Books. We showed up with the same hairdo on a hot, humid day when it - guess what - rained.

My friend Nancy, who is a student of my ponytail, had Babbie call my attention to a piece on page D4 in today's Eagle headlined Fashion blogger gets BET apology.

"BET is apologizing to a fashion blogger who says it made him tone down his feminine look to appear on the network's pre-awards show," the article said. "On his blog Monday, Scott, who is openly gae, said he was told to change his outfit - a flowing black tunic and black pants - to a more conservative suit. He also said he was asked to pull his long hair back in a ponytail and not to wear heels."

The network said the situation, which Scott said "made me feel ... that something was wrong with who I am as a person, was caused by "series of unfortunate miscommunications from both parties."

In a minor league sort of way I can sympathize with him. A lot of people I know have called my new look "ridiculous." But I like it except for sleeping. I don't like the way the long hair feels on my neck and ears, especially on hot nights. It feels like sleeping on a nest of itchy fur. I've never heard a woman complain about it so I guess it's just a matter of getting used to it.

So why did I spend months letting the hair grow? I was tired of the way I looked.

 

 

 

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