very nearly done

I had my final art history class one week ago, which more or less capped off the semester (aside from the 15 or so page paper I still have to write in order to graduate). The last three classes were devoted to student presentations and all of the art history students (the MFA students made up at least a third of the seminar) essentially read their papers for about 15 minutes, set to a dozen or so images that rotated every minute or so. A minute is a long time to look at one image, or, as an alternative, stare at the person reading. I'm not a big fan of being read to, so that gave my mind some time to wander and contemplate this practice of reading papers for presentations. I went to two public lectures this semester as part of this class and they did it, too! Even Howard Singerman read his presentation to us, from his upcoming book on Sherrie Levine. Talk about disappointed. This is the guy who wrote Art Subjects, a book about the history of formally educating artists that I read while applying to MFA programs (and yet I still decided to pursue this degree!). I ate that stuff up, and yet I was bored to pieces during his lecture. Granted, I'm not a huge fan of Sherrie Levine's work, but I have to assume some of my lack of interest was caused at least in part by being read to.

Not to suggest that the MFA students were far superior; my presentation, for example, went over a bit, despite talking way too fast, and was fairly scattered. And I did have my presentation typed out, but more in a bulleted outline style (or "dots," like in the first episode of The Wire, which we've just started watching). And I read a few quotes. But I had 51 "slides" to entertain my audience while I gave my presentation. 51! At least they had something new to look at every 20 seconds or so. I don't know...Maybe I'm just cranky because now I have to write this thing and all the art history students clearly have their papers mostly typed out already.

Anyway, one of the ways I've put off writing this paper was a weekend trip to New York, to catch the Whitney Biennial and a few other shows. We took the bus down on Saturday morning, making our first stop, as usual, at the Doughnut Plant. Is it just me, or have their donuts gotten even tastier?! We shared four donuts, including the Valrhona raised (or "yeast" as they call them), the jelly filled (which was okay - the jelly was too much like the organic preserves I buy at Trader Joe's...probably better than the typical jelly donut goo but not what I was expecting), the "Blackout" (a chocolate cake donut with chocolate frosting, some sort of chocolatey bits on top, and filled with a pudding-like chocolatey filling...yum!), and the tres leches cake donut (I've never had the actual cake that is known as tres leches, but if this donut bears any resemblance, I can't wait to give it a go next time I'm at a good Mexican restaurant). From there we got settled at our home for the night and headed back out to Chelsea by way of the Mail Art show at the Center for Book Arts (I posted some pics on my class blog, as well as some commentary and comparison between that show and the next on our itinerary). There were two shows that seemed to cover both the hand-made and digital components of my class but, as I write in the class blog, I was fairly underwhelmed by the second, Maya Stendhal Gallery's From Fluxus to Media Art. It just seemed to have a focus that was not at all described in the show's press materials, which seemed odd.

I was already beat by this point but carried on, heading to Eyebeam for Leah Gauthier's Sow-In. I was really glad we stuck it out and went. It was so refreshing to sit in the large window area of the gallery, folding origami boxes from recycled newspapers and potting soil and herb seeds. Our herbs have yet to show much activity, but the exhibition and closing night event were immensely enjoyable. There's even evidence of our attendance on Leah's website.

From there we bid adieu to our Belgian companion up to this point and headed to Times Square to eat at Chevy's. Authentic Mexican it ain't, but we miss this "Fresh Mex" chain, so common on the west coast. With good Mexican food a rarity out here, we tend to take what we can get. And it's funny that visiting New York for me is like visiting a foreign country; I tend to feel guilty if I consume anything purchased from a chain restaurant. I find, however, that I'm caring less and less about that kind of thing the older I get. And New York is still America. Kind of.

Most of Sunday was devoted first to finding something for breakfast and, once our bellies were full, to the WB. I really should have blogged about it sooner because most of my observations from the three or so hours we were there are pretty vague now. We got the audio tour again, which I find really helpful - even when the Whitney posts a blurb below the basics, it tends to be incredibly formal. I can see that what I'm looking at is an installation composed of wooden 2x4s, broken mirrors, and paint, thank you. I like to take work in on my own, but contemporary art usually needs a little help in the context/meaning/intention arena. I'm not sure it's possible to get it all from the visual or physical impression of a work, nor is that even necessarily ideal anymore. I like to know why what I'm looking at is an installation of wood, mirrors, and paint. Sometimes the artist doesn't even know, but the museum's wall labels will rarely give any clues.

Otherwise, I vaguely recall a certain low-tech vibe as far as craft and construction go (think William Cordova, for example), and an embracing of failure mentioned by a few artists in the show (as in Ellen Harvey's Museum of Failure). I'm down with both of those trends, if you can call them that. As Neal pointed out, Photography kind of got the shaft this time around. On the other hand, there seemed to be a decent helping of various print media (including Matthew Brannon's installation, poorly represented by the website's one image). And I always enjoy a good replica (like Lisa Sigal's recreation of her old studio space). Some things I just loved (like Charles Long's sculptures, inspired by the flattened splatters caused by falling bird poo); and of course, some artists I felt were overrated by being included in the WB (I won't name any names but just point to this guy, for example, and this guy...I feel particularly justified with the second guy, having met and heard him talk about his work and feeling seriously underwhelmed by it all; I think I liked his work better before he came to talk about it). Film and video were sufficiently represented, but I didn't feel like I'd given myself enough time to watch it all. A proper tour of the WB really requires at least a full day; better to spend a few days, scattered out during the show's two and a half month run, but that would require living in New York or multiple bus trips, and I'm not sure I can handle the Chinatown bus experience more than once a year. Maybe one day I'll feel willing to cough up the $140 or so it takes to ride the train there and back...

Until then, I guess I should finish this paper so I can graduate already.

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