Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Destruction is the shadow side of creation. Anything that can be made can be unmade. Last night, two works of art I made were destroyed, hacked to pieces by a large man wielding an axe.
How did things come to this?
A simple answer is that I have completely run out of patience. My reservoir of patience has been drained gradually, after long months of not selling artwork and barely even selling my books. I'm on all kinds of social media, sometimes spending 8 hours a day scheduling updates. But what good does that do me when so many of my Twitter followers aren't even real people, or are only following me because they want me to follow them back?
I have run out of patience with people who say they like my art but never buy anything. I have artwork at different price points, the lowest being my $9.99 art eBooks. And I take credit cards. But not excuses. Not anymore.
I have run out of patience with people not coming to my events. Doesn't matter if they are on a weekday or weekend, during the day or at night, in the city or in the suburbs, accessible via public transit or adjacent to a large, free parking lot. Doesn't matter if I send out invitations months in advance or at the last minute. Doesn't matter if it's an opening or closing reception, if the work I'm showing is old or new, if it's a solo show or a group show. People aren't coming.
I have run out of patience for the unsold artwork that crowds my studio. I've entered shows to try to get rid of it, but it keeps coming back. The two pieces that got chopped up last night have been around since 2007. Smother has been in too many shows to count, and I couldn't even sell Untitled (Green) on eBay a few years ago. I have begun to feel deeply resentful toward my unsold artwork, seeing each piece as a bill I could have paid, an outfit I could have bought, a trip I could have taken.
And so I decided to risk everything and conduct a crazy experiment. Its premise was simple: do people care if my art gets destroyed?
No, they don't. Well, why should they? I'm not famous. My art isn't worth millions. I'm not represented by a fancy gallery. But I needed to see if somehow, in spite of that, somebody might think that Smother or Untitled (Green) was at least worth the cost of my materials.
Of course, it might have helped if people who like my art, like the ones on my e-mail list or the ones who "Like" my art page on Facebook, had actually been in the audience last night. They could have walked away with original art for as little as $50. But they didn't.
But I knew that my art could get destroyed before going into this. It's a crazy gamble, and I've been taking a lot of risks this year. I needed to see what happened. I was hoping that, whatever happened, I'd come out of this feeling less angry and disappointed. But nothing has changed and I still feel angry and disappointed. But at least now I have more room to make more artwork, which, seven years from now, if still unsold, may be doomed to the same fate as Smother and Untitled (Green).
Saturday, August 9, 2014
René Magritte has taken over downtown Chicago. It is impossible to escape his influence, as his images are featured in so many unexpected places, from store windows to bus shelters to tourist trolleys.
I was already familiar with his work and have been a fan of Time Transfixed since high school. It's part of the Art Institute's permanent collection and I included it in a tour I gave to fellow students as part of a research project I did on science in art. I talked about its relationship to the theory of relativity.
So when I first heard about the big Magritte show at the Art Institute, I knew I had to go. And everywhere I went were the posters reminding me about it. Sadly, I am once again living on a shoestring, trying not to spend too much, unable to afford simple luxuries thanks to all I wasted--I mean spent--on my art practice this year.
But the museum came to the rescue. They had a special night of "surreal pricing" in which visitors were allowed free admission in exchange for giving an object of surrealism that would become a part of its permanent collection. And that was how I was able to see the amazing Magritte show.
The gallery is dark. The walls are painted a deep, cool gray color. The night I was there, it was packed with people, but eerily quiet. Everyone in attendance had somehow come to the unspoken agreement that in the presence of such great art, they needed to whisper. Even the children spoke in hushed tones when their parents asked them what they thought about the artwork. It was as though the patrons all believed that they were in a holy place. And as an artist, I was impressed by the size of the crowd, their eagerness to see the work, and by the idea that surrealism is finally, nearly a century later, an art movement the general public seems to understand and appreciate.
The show is very well organized. It is easy to see how the pieces in Magritte's full body of work relate to one another. It was fascinating to see so many of his paintings in the same place, and to see the work he did in other media, including sculpture and illustrations for surrealist magazines.
If you're wondering what object I submitted as my cost of admission that evening, here it is:
It's a miniature sofa I made for a top-secret project I haven't told you about. It was quite an ambitious undertaking, inspired by a sofa I saw at NeoCon this year from Aceray.
Armed with a detailed tearsheet and my drafting tools, I attempted to fashion a miniature sofa from posterboard, fabric, foam, metal beads, and balsa wood.
But I wasn't happy with how it came out, and decided that I didn't need it anyway, so I gave it to the Art Institute. While looking at the Thorne Miniature Rooms during my visit, I realized that I had chosen a good home for my little sofa.
I returned to the museum two weeks later to see the one night exhibition of the installation of all the surreal objects. The good thing about getting there so close to closing time was that I got in for free and had just enough time to take these pictures. As you'll see, the museum is calling the installation The Price of Admission.
It's an interesting array of objects. They seem to tell many different stories via free association and stream of consciousness. Just when the whole amalgam started to look like something pulled from a junk drawer, I found brilliant and beautiful artifacts, ranging from the mundane to the sublime. Like the show itself, it challenged my thinking.
The show will continue through October 13th and I plan to see it again before it ends. The official website is here.