WHERE IS THE ART OF THIS CENTURY?

by on Oct.09, 2012

I have a dirty secret that is literally dirty; it is surface, all substance, and maybe nothing substantive. It started when I was a toddler and my parents bought a massive abstract painting that hung in the living room of every house in which I lived until I hit double-digits, a bloodbath of teal and peach with pollock-style pitch splattered all over it. It was the first painting I ever saw, hated, and loved.

It started with Clement Greenberg and followed me around the Lower East Side when I moved to New York and spent mornings chainsmoking and writing poems on the walls of grocery stores with oil sticks when I had stayed up too late writing and woken up too early, everyone else in the apartment sprawled out on settees clutching copies of Baudrillard. Like most things that really happen to me, it sounds made-up, and overly romantic.

 

Recently I woke up in a bed and spent the morning looking at pictures of the light in Marseilles. Plus, my best friend just came back from Paris; she went to Gertrude Stein’s salon and was visited by Toklas’ ghost.  We spent her first day back in our own New York salons, exchanging new paintings, new poems, changed perspectives from a week of solitary cigarettes in different fall rain. When she came back it got dark too early for the first time and we went crepuscular in the pursuit of a new emotion.

Alice B’s ghost visits Stephanie Berger at 27 Rue de Fleures

 

Where is the Art of This Century?

 

Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery

I work now as a bartender and I get to look at a lot of credit cards. One that I saw the other weekend had the strangest design, it turned out to be a painting by a friend of the holder. The man who paid with the card showed me a series of some of the most beautiful contemporary abstracts I have seen followed by a photograph of the artist being suckled by a cat. Both men lived in Amsterdam and the painter, who had what could only be called an American sense of recklessness, had only exhibited in tiny galleries in his home country.

Before attending a party at The McKittrick hotel I watched a man sculpt a crowd of faces out of white spraypaint on the black back doors.

Once on an afternoon I met a tall man with wild hair at a show at a gallery across the street from my favorite coffee-spot. He was babysitting a crop of paintings by a former model. Most of the paintings were made entirely of black paint on unprimed canvas; there could be no mistakes. The artist, whose name is Peggy, was a covergirl in the 60s, and used to pass out packs of bubblegum filled with baseball cards emblazoned with her face.

“Rachel” — Peggy Serdula

 

Peggy Guggenheim made a century of paintings without ever once having to pick up a brush. Clement Greenberg took what was true and made a theory of absolute surface. When the post-war painters in America were trying to cope with the wrecking of the world the figure had to ride off into the atomic cloud. Where is the art of this century? It will not go up in a mushroom bloom.

The day after I attended a poetry reading by which I mean I missed the reading and made it to the bar I wandered all night and all morning and found myself at a gallery on Orchard Street at a show called Agro Crag. Montevidayans of the Nickelodeon generation will recall the Agro Crag from Guts, the show that taught us all about the limits of human achievement. The paintings were new and made of paint, and they were not ashamed.

 

 

One night before I spent much time on the western side of this island I was walking through Chelsea with a poet who was unabashed about the archiving of his personal papers. For a poet, he said, it’s the one money-shot we get. He talked about the deplorable splitting of the 80s, how the galleries grew unfriendly and even the poets were so busy staking invisible claims that no one had the energy, after all the pointless turf wars, to notice what was happening.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning and it is raining, I can barely walk through my room because it’s not a room so much as a mattress-filled studio, and the cat who lives with me and loves me too much is smudging his paws in neon pastel dust and I walk down the street where I live and think about the impending end of the age. I read books that maybe ten other people read and I take them to parks and it rains on the pages and I am not treating the artifact like shit I am just showing it its place in this century.

When I go to gallery shows and poetry readings I put on makeup and hair accessories, I wear something sparkly or short or both, I drink what I shouldn’t pay for and feel all the boredom of the dying sun. Then I go to some home and take my hair out of its braids and usually someone shows me something and I am so immersed in the art of this century I think it must be so important to be alive; I think, this is the reason we keep talking about this.

“This” being Art, what we’re here for, why we engage. The art of this century is in an imaginary landscape. The art of this century is in the basement of an apartment in Bushwick or a loft in the midwest or a dorm room somewhere deep in the South. The art of this century is on an iPhone on a forearm or screen-printed on a pair of Forever 21 sweatpants. Or, it is languishing in a gallery on the Upper East Side. Or, it is dead; the whole century is dead.

Where are you, Peggy Guggenheim?

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