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Overheard at the ICA

Post #1269 • January 5, 2009, 11:55 AM • 36 Comments

(Scene: At home. January 4, 2009.)

Yours Truly: This is the last day of the Tara Donovan show at the ICA. We should probably go and see it.

Supergirl: What kind of stuff is it?

YT: She builds installations using commonplace objects, like giant ceiling-hanging sculptures out of foam cups. It'll be fun.

SG: ...

(Scene: ICA cafeteria Water Café.)

SG: Well, we finally got a table. I can't believe it's so crowded. I was expecting a sleepy midwinter Sunday. There must be a hundred and fifty people in line to get into the museum.

YT: I had no idea. I think I'm calibrated to the Miami Art Museum, where you could go on a Sunday afternoon and it would just be you and the other three people who cared about art. And there would be no clam chowder. (eats)

SG: You'd think that with the downturn in the economy, spending on art would be one of the first things to go. I guess we should take the crowd as a positive financial indicator.

YT: The ICA's all privately funded, too - nothing comes from the city. They lease the land from a developer for a dollar a year. I'm going to buy us a dual membership. One of the things you're supposed to do as an artist is join the local museums, just for the sake of networking and knowing who's doing what, if nothing else.

SG: Would they ever show your work?

YT: It's hard to know. You'll see when we go upstairs.

(Scene: Upstairs. SG is reading wall text for Gerard Byrne.)

SG: He's blurring boundaries and juxtaposing things.

YT: Wow, really? I love it when artists juxtapose things. That's my favorite.

(Scene: ICA Collection show.)

SG (In front of Josiah McElheny): This is trippy.

YT: Huh? They have one of these up at the MFA right now. There was a mirror piece at the entrance too, remember? (reads wall label) Oh, he's from Boston.

SG: What is this over here?

YT: Marlene Dumas. She's having a big show at MoMA right now that traveled from Los Angeles. An absolutely wretched painter.

SG: Although, technically speaking, this is figurative painting, and it is here in the local contemporary museum.

YT: Where there's life, there's hope.

(Scene: Foster Prize exhibition. Video by Catherine D'Ignazio shows briskly edited shots of a woman walking down various hallways and exiting through various doors.)

SG: Oh, come on.

YT: Um... the message here is... I guess we're supposed to leave?

(Scene: Foster Prize exhibition, installation by Andrew Witkin.)

SG: ...

YT: ...

(Scene: Foster Prize exhibition, installation by Joe Zane.)

YT: Gee, the Foster Prize winners run the whole gamut of art, from installation to video installation.

SG: There were those Rania Matar photos.

YT: Feminism, Islam - she's got some nice hot topics to work with.

SG: Is all the work in this room made by the same person?

YT: Come out here.

(SG and YT exit to hallway overlooking the waterfront.)

SG: This is my favorite of everything we've seen so far.

YT: It's hard to beat.

(Scene: Beneath the Tara Donovan ceiling-hung foam cup sculpture.)

Young man (to friend): Wow, that must have taken a really long time to put together.

SG: We should do this to cover up the popcorn ceiling in the bedroom. Except we'll use Starbucks cups.

YT: That would be a bold statement about consumer culture.

SG: I'll take that grant now, thank you.

YT: If you look at who else won the MacArthur, you see scientists working on the most difficult problems known to man. Granted, any art is going to look pretty inconsequential in comparison, but still...

Little girl (to mother): Wow, that must have taken a really long time to put together.

YT: I keep thinking of how hard it must be to dust this.

(Looking at Tara Donovan Scotch tape installation.)

Old woman (to daughter): Wow, that must have taken a really long time to put together.

SG: So, when the exhibit is over, do they pick it up and transport it?

YT: No, she builds another one.

SG: How can this be in somebody's collection then?

YT: ...

Man (to wife): Wow, that must have taken a really long time to put together.

(Looking at Tara Donovan button sculpture.)

SG: Look, it's all buttons.

YT: Buttons.

SG: That's cool. It's like corals, made out of buttons.

Man (to companion): Did you see this? It's all made out of buttons.

Companion: Wow, that must have taken a really long time to put together.

(Scene: ICA gift shop.)

YT: Ooh, a wobbly chess set!

SG: We're not buying that.

YT: Look, it's a Tara Donovan bowl made out of paper clips.

SG: You're wrong.

YT: And coasters made out of pebbles.

SG: I'm not really seeing anything I need here.

YT: I want that new collection of Fairfeild Porter essays but I think I get a bigger discount at the MFA.

(Scene: In the car on the way home.)

SG: The wall of folded Mylar looked nice, looking through it towards the water. The other way, it didn't work as well.

YT: I liked that one too. Her work is certainly likable.

SG: But it's not like a Rothko, which is simple but doesn't make me think I could go home and make one. There's an elegance to that. Whereas this stuff, I feel like I could get some plastic cups and go to town.

YT: They're labor-intensive and they produce a trippy sensation, because you can't tell how they were made until you look at them up close. Like the straw piece - up close, you get jillions of straws; from a distance, you get a big, snowy landscape. They justify a certain amount of staring. She's good at generating that gee-whiz effect, but the effect wears off after a while. As art it just seems insufficient somehow. I think installation has finally found its Arcimboldo.




January 5, 2009, 12:11 PM

That should be in the New Yorker. It must have taken a long time to put together.

I will endeavor to get used to the new format.


Chris Rywalt

January 5, 2009, 12:32 PM

I second OP: I will endeavor to get used to the new site design. Also, this piece is as good as anything the New Yorker runs. That's a compliment -- I like the New Yorker.

Regarding dusting Tara Donovan, I wrote much the same thing. Seems like the reactions to her work run the gamut, don't they?



January 5, 2009, 12:45 PM

Well, as always, I hate the new design, but I'll get over it. I mean, what is this, neo-William Morris? Of course, that's infinitely preferable to neo-Neo Rauch, so thank goodness for small favors.


Chris Rywalt

January 5, 2009, 12:53 PM

Neo-William Morris? I was thinking it was more tweedy.



January 5, 2009, 12:54 PM

As for Donovan's work being likable, so is Britto's--assuming a sufficiently infantile mindset, which appears to be relatively common. I'm not sure this stuff even qualifies as middlebrow. So when is the M. C. Escher blockbuster show opening? Very soon, surely. Supergirl must be thrilled.



January 5, 2009, 1:01 PM

Chris, you do know which William Morris I'm referring to, right? As in Arts and Crafts movement?



January 5, 2009, 1:04 PM

I was thinking of William Morris. I briefly considered a grass-and-flower motif in aqua.

Meh, the comment form looks a little junky. I'll work on it.


Chris Rywalt

January 5, 2009, 1:32 PM

I thought you meant the William Morris agency.

Ha! No. I looked up William Morris online. What I see there strikes me as rather more rococo than Franklin's humble tweedy wallpaper here.



January 5, 2009, 1:36 PM

Not aqua, Franklin. You want teal. Or maybe a nice, pale burgundy. How about a William Morris-Aubrey Beardsley combo? That could get you far, you know.


Pretty Lady

January 5, 2009, 1:37 PM

I like the new site design, except that it's wider than my screen. Have some compassion for those of us still using 13" G3 iBooks.

And yes, this is funny enough to be in the New Yorker. I would say something clever, along the lines of 'having enough time to put a Tara Donovan sculpture together seems to be the only prerequisite for getting a grant that enables one to put a Tara Donovan sculpture together', but my brain is too foggy to do so.



January 5, 2009, 2:28 PM

It just came to me. If Tara Donovan is a star(let), that means Edward Leedskalnin is a major, undiscovered master. Who's Leedskalnin, you say? Well, you're probably some rube who's not from Miami, but I'll educate you. Edward Leedskalnin is the man who built, presumably single-handedly, the famous Coral Castle, which makes Donovan look like a rank amateur. Just google Coral Castle Miami, and prepare to face true genius.



January 5, 2009, 2:32 PM

Oh, and Franklin, I seriously doubt Marlene Dumas is at all wretched. Her work, of course, is another matter, but she's doing very nicely, thank you.


Bunny Smedley

January 5, 2009, 2:53 PM

As well as the New Yorker, I'm also reminded of Alan Bennet observing people observing art - although your post hinges less on the intrinsic hilarity of middle-aged women from the north of England, and hence is actually much funnier.

The new design, for its part, appears to be based on the tiles in the loos of the National Liberal Club. Just saying etc.



January 5, 2009, 3:09 PM

Bunny, do they admit folks of your political persuasion into the National Liberal Club? I guess that is indeed liberal of them...

The pattern is based on a sample of Japanese decorative paper.

Thanks to all for the kind comments on the post. And I know that changing the design is never popular, but it was needed, so thanks as well for your patience.



January 5, 2009, 3:21 PM

Happy New Year everyone.

Franklin, I thought you studied design?

This new design is butt-ugly, it's visually offensive what were you thinking.

That's it for me, I can's stand looking at it.

PS, for you market traders, we're in a new bull market.


Brian Sherwin @ Myartspace Blog

January 5, 2009, 3:27 PM

First time visiting this blog even though I've known of it for some time now. Not sure what your blog design looked like before, but this works fine enough for me.



January 5, 2009, 3:34 PM

Franklin, I don't care what George wants. You are NOT doing neo-Neo Rauch.



January 5, 2009, 3:42 PM

You don't think that this would make a handsome motif?


Victoria R.

January 5, 2009, 3:53 PM

Re #8, my dear Sir, William Morris is not rococo. Rococo is some degenerate French foolishness, and we all know how that turned out, don't we? Mr. Morris was a proper British gentleman, or proper enough, at any rate. Very sensitive and such like, and hardly given to continental perversions. Please be more careful in future.



January 5, 2009, 4:04 PM

Hey Franklin, I'm not trying to be mean but the design sucks.

Just because you know how to do something doesn't mean you should.

Four columns is a waste of space, there's really no need for them.

The space between the columns, the background bars, with the triple outline stripes on the columns, is too busy and visually distracting.

The background pattern is too contrasty and hence too busy.

I have some questions over the line spacing it seems a little fat but I'm not sure it it's that or something else/

Sorry I know you worked very hard on this but I think it still needs some work



January 5, 2009, 4:17 PM

i am guessing that this new design is some kind of experiment.

it does come off arts and crafts or victorian. very stodgy, drab feel.

the main offense to me is the background color, which should be white or atleast a lot closer to white.



January 5, 2009, 4:51 PM

Actually, 1, black on white designs are really doing a number on my eyes, so that's definitely not up for discussion, and generally I made an effort to dim the total quantity of light coming off the screen without going to a light-on-dark design (which causes text to get jumpy to my eyes). I basically looked at the other art blogs, which put a lot of effort into looking current (sans-serif fonts, white backgrounds, lots of pure color and unmoderated rectangles) and decided to go in the opposite direction. I flirted with a Greek theme, which just didn't work, and then looked at some of the few examples of Japanese binding I have in my library. It proceeded from there.



January 5, 2009, 5:33 PM

BTW, the reason for the four columns will become clear once the current left-hand column expands. Sorry, PL - at least the ads are bearing the brunt of the clipping.



January 5, 2009, 6:10 PM

Actually, Franklin, I'm starting to be OK with this new look. The more I think about it being a reaction to the prevailing fashions on proper art blogs, the better I like it.

As for that hideous image you linked to in #18, it looks like David Hockney lampooning some hack 19th century academic painter. Please don't do that again.


Chris Rywalt

January 5, 2009, 6:55 PM

Well, Franklin, it's your blog. I associated you with austerity, minimalism, and simplicity. Now I see I was wrong. You're a flocked wallpaper kind of guy. All we need now is a gold-veined mirror wall.

Seriously, I imagine it's just some getting used to. I understand how hard it can be to redesign a Web page so don't think I'm knocking your effort.

As to Your Royal Highness, I apologize unreservedly for besmirching, however slightly, the character of Mr. William Morris by associating him with decadent continentals.



January 5, 2009, 7:57 PM

My feeling is, I can deal with the yellow paper with the serif font, but I'd like to see a background that is more juxtaposed (which is your favorite, after all. I thought maybe woodgrain, to keep it warm... like an old timey desktop, I guess.

Either that, or red velvet flocking and the gold-veined mirror... it would remind me of going to my cousin's house for Christmas as a kid.

Tara Donovan doesn't put these things together herself: she has a team of apprentice slaves assisting her, probably just 'cuz doing so would look sooo great on their cv...

Happy New Year!



January 5, 2009, 8:46 PM

Keeping the Japanese angle, how about some stylish, refined, sensitive Utamaro prostitutes as background? You know, something uplifting.



January 5, 2009, 10:56 PM

not that you asked...but...

i mainly really like this. i agree that it's a matter of getting used to. the pale yellow background is easier on the eyes and i don't mind the green at all. yet for some reason (that i haven't figured out) the four columns just feels wrong. too wide. maybe i'm a symmetry freak, but i keep wanting to bump the "recent posts" underneath the "" box.

in the meantime, LOVE the post. definite "shouts and murmurs" material. i went to the ICA before leaving town and had pretty much the same reaction that you and SG did--especially when it came to the foster prize people. (and you wonder why i've turned to writing?) also, that mylar piece cut into the wall was my favorite of the tara donovan works. it was poetic. oh--i forgot--i'm not supposed to use that word in the art world, am i?


that guy

January 5, 2009, 11:26 PM

I like the new layout. Although I have to zoom in so I don't see the brown wall paper. Kind of reminds me of grand ma' house.



January 5, 2009, 11:47 PM

Looks like a web page that sells chocolate BUT who gives a damn as long as we have our kvetching room back.

Pretty Lady I think your foggy brain is pretty sharp.

Tara Donovan is a type specimen of an artist that hit an absolute up to date mainstream brainless idea and is riding it into the sundown. It works into infinite variety, always with the ever-so-subtle kick of insane complexity. I believe she won the McArthur award. Like most of the other winners, she is perfect for it.

I hate to get started, George, but where the hell is that bull market coming from? Looks like an Ostrich market to me - head in the sand and butt in the air.



January 6, 2009, 6:16 AM

I got the Japanese thing Franklin. Very nice. If you had started off with an image of a great piece of Zen calligraphy, everyone else would have got it too. It may strike some as Victorian because the Victorians picked up on Japanese pattern. Much better than the black and white. The warm glow of the off white panel is very easy on the eyes.

We saw a great dance and music performance at the ICA last year. They have a beautiful theater. Going back to the early 80's they were always just too cool by half, but I've seen some great shows there (the old ICA) and stodgy old Boston needs them. We saw Marlene Dumas at the Met on Sunday. Interesting that her best paintings were of her daughters, as with John Currin, whose paintings of his children are also quite lovely.

Did you see Rachel Whiteread's collection of dollhouses at the MFA by any chance? It's wonderful.



January 6, 2009, 7:47 AM

As alluded to above, Ms. Donovan is indeed a MacArthur Fellow. The ICA is having rather good luck lately - she picked up the honor two weeks before her show opened, and the museum slated Shepard Fairey for a show in February 2009 before his image of Obama became ubiquitous.

David, I'm glad the design is working for you. As for the Whiteread installation, I did see it, and I was underwhelmed. I'm sorry to say that it looked like an elaborate model railroad set, minus the meticulousness.


Bunny Smedley

January 6, 2009, 7:47 AM

It's bad enough, Franklin, that the National Liberal Club has such a magnificently coherent interior, tiles and all - what's unendurable is that while the far less morally defensible Reform Club is, if anything, even more splendid, while the Carlton is rather dowdy and White's, of course, being properly reactionary, still doesn't allow women to darken its doors. No wonder I stay inside looking at the internet so much.

Anyway, this is mostly just to agree with David's point, which is that this off-white (ecru? beige? not yellow, surely??) is much easier on the eyes than cold bright white.



January 6, 2009, 10:34 AM

Not ecru - more like flax.


Chris Rywalt

January 6, 2009, 11:41 AM

I went through a phase of trying to get nice warm papery backgrounds on my Web pages. Eventually I dropped it because the juxtaposition -- there it is again! -- of the crappy Windows font rendering on top of whatever niceness I came up with got to be too much. Windows has improved enormously in this regard, although I still feel font rendering should be better. I'd rather see something indistinguishable from print -- possibly impossible with active displays. Although LCDs have the potential to solve that; yet so far they're not handling it quite right. The latest solution is to use subpixel rendering, which means using the little reds and blues and greens individually to antialias edges. Theoretically the human eye can't see those little colored pixels, but in practice, I notice them. Maybe eventually LCDs will be dense enough to make it work.



January 6, 2009, 11:59 AM

Can you make a powerpoint template to go along with the re-design? That would be wonderful!



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