Monday, April 26, 2021

Here and There

Two summers ago, the last real summer, we went up to the Bay Area. One particular painting at SFMOMA, Zapatistas, by Alfredo Ramos Martinez, follows me to the Whitney in New York in early March of 2020, right before the world shit its pants. In between, during the 2019 holidays in San Antonio, I recognize a piece at Ruby City by Cornelia Parker from a similar one on the cover of In the Wake: On Blackness and Being by Christina Sharpe. I pick up reading In the Wake again in the summer of 2020, too late. At SFMOMA my mother stands next to a nice Clyfford Still painting for a photo, horizontal with jagged black forms haloing a flickering flame of red and orange. She and Michelle stand between two Ellsworth Kellys for a photo; two triangles together, two people together, two squares together. In New York Michelle takes a photo of me next to a painting by Lyubov Popova, Painterly Architectonic, from 1917. That painting is in a documentary I show to my students. Photos like this prove that artworks are real, that they are experiences in the world, more than just "images" or "content". Popova's forms are sharp when you just look, but when you see them, you see the precarious entropy shattering the surface, trying in vain to redraw her design. The second photo I took at SFMOMA on that trip was of a painting by Imi Knoebel that is also geometric pink and red with neutral colors like Painterly Architectonic. In researching Popova, I discover they made sneakers with imagery from her paintings on them. This disgusts me. I buy a pair in my size (men’s 9).

At the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford I take a photo of my mother taking a photo of Rodin’s Thinker. A month later at the museum at Pomona College, I take photos of photos on photos, Todd Gray’s infinite regression rabbit holes, worlds within worlds, framings and re-framings on scales human to cosmic. For the first time ever, I lay eyes upon a painting by Kaye Donachie at the Independent Art Fair in Tribeca. It appears to be a sad clown painting. For the first time ever in the states, I see work by Swiss painter Miriam Cahn here, startling vertical portraits of naked humanoids daring to be looked in the eye. Back in San Antonio, a work by Cruz Ortiz at Ruby City titled El Jesse Amado reminds about one time in college, for critique in a painting class, Cruz arrived early and installed a hanging installation in the studio with theatrical lighting and chairs around it in a circle. When we had all sat down and the critique began, Cruz, in costume, handed out photocopied pictures of actor Eric Estrada. Good times. 

The only photo I take from "Painting After All" by Gerhard Richter at the Met Breuer is of a painting depicting a blurry skull in the corner. The show opened the week we arrived; it closed a week later. After the Bay Area trip, in my studio I photograph a plastic skull on a broken plastic column. At the Whitney, Michelle poses in front of the full-size facsimile of Man, Controller of the Universe, the mural by Diego Rivera. The photo I take is an homage to one I took of her in front of the real mural at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, years ago. That mural is a recreation by Rivera of one destroyed by Nelson Rockefeller, Man at the Crossroads, at Rockefeller Center in New York, more years ago. In the movie Cradle Will Rock, Reuben Blades plays Rivera and John Cusack plays Rockefeller. In the movie Frida, Alfred Molina plays Rivera and Edward Norton plays Rockefeller. 

Before New York, in Culver City, Kristy Luck’s paintings hover between this world and another at Philip Martin Gallery. It is the last gallery exhibition I see in person in Los Angeles for over a year. Ree Morton at the ICA is the last museum show in LA I see. Right before Christmas 2019, at LACMA, the part of it they didn't tear down, we see a slow motion big bang in Black City by Julie Mehretu, an ominous storm of lines and bends and feathery marks, the eye of the hurricane is the eye of the viewer. If you’re close enough to see the chaos, you’re part of the chaos. Frothing seas of people on every floor of MoMa in March 2020, Michelle is a pink blur holding a coat in front of One: Number 31 by Jackson Pollock, the last image from the old timeline. Black City and One: Number 31 – across time and space and lunch, in my head, the two paintings finally meet. 

A stinging, crystalline glow surrounds the lost futures of the old world, what the stories were all leading up to, the next steps before the grand staircase collapsed. There were signs all around, in January 2020 I present two paintings in an exhibition called “Death Cult” curated by Max Presneill at the Torrance Art Museum. A large painting in the show is of a toothless skull by Cindy Wright titled LOL. So endeth the decade after the crash and before the plague, a no man’s land of scrambling meaning in forbearance, in deferment, automatically debiting income-reduced payments directly from your account. In the twilight moment after New York but before the big chill, the actor Max Von Sydow dies. I post an image of him from The Seventh Seal with a subtitle from one of Death’s lines, translated from the Swedish: Shall we finish our game?