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The Studio Visit

November 6, 2009

After a decade of writing about art, I confess to a certain level of impatience and boredom with the gallery or museum experience. I’m jaded and need add a little juice to my art experiences. What I now prefer is to see the work  with the person who made it.  If the artist isn’t dead I want to see the work and hear what the artist has to say about it  in the same space. It’s the process not the presentation that really interests me. I think there has to be something of the artist present with the work, something juicier than the album notes, the terrible wall caption. There needs to be something that keeps the work in a living present, keeps it from becoming a part of the middle distance, a low-cal dessert.

Most of what I now write about results from studio visits. The studio visit between artists is an essential; the curiousity  and material I have as a writer originated with the studio visits.   The studio is the whole show; the process, choices, circumstances. Usually it’s the only way you find out who fabricates the work and why.  I’m especially interested in what’s pinned up on the wall.  How big is the space, headphones or speakers, what kind of music, is there a TV set?

Most of what you get out of an object depends on where you see it, especially if you can’t meet the artist or see the studio.Going to openings is never about seeing work it’s about clothing, sex and doing business while standing around eating bad hors d’oevres, drinking cheap wine and having desultory conversation with the artists.What could be worse than the press reveal?

There are a number of art experiences that should be avoided; docent tours, acoustiguides, the Whitney Biennial at its opening or on any subsequent weekend.  (In its favor, the Biennial is one of the best places in all the boroughs to take children. How much better can the flashing lights, tunnels and noisy videos be for a 6 year old)?

I’ll going to the L.A. Museum of Contemporary Art because its grand and rambling  architecture and its truly risky programming. I like the DeMenil in Houston because of it’s perfervid and disorganized collection, the bad lighting and the fact it has neither gift shop nor cafe. I like the odd architecture and odd exhibits at the DeCordova in Massachusetts. Two places I especially love at the University of Chicago are the Renaissance Society’s crazy hard to find space (where I first saw Kara Walker’s early work) and the Smart Museum as much for its name as its great uneven little exhibits. The Southwest Center for the Arts in San Antonio has a elegant space in a converted Sears Automotive repair shop and is one of the best spaces in South Texas.

These places  provide a range of public experiences, I respect and admire their educational goals. To my cloudy, jaded eyes they offer the sensory equivalent of listening to a CD rather than live music or reading a review rather than a book.  The best place for hearing music is at any kind of venue. Books are better read than condensed; the review should be a teaser, not a complete experience. People travel to Taliesin because it is where a great architect worked; you are standing inside his process.  The best part of the Pollock retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (New York 15 years ago) was a full scale copy of the space he worked in.  When I visited his real studio in Springs the immensity of what he was trying to do in a space the size of a small garage hit me in a way his work never has.Catherine Lee

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