Saturday, May 17, 2014

Notebook fragment ("Dear Julie")

I asked my students to write letters and to make those letters into poems. This was a letter I wrote, after seeing Julie Ault's Macho Man, Tell it to My Heart at Artists Space this past winter.

Dear Julie,

I keep thinking about your show at Artists Space, Macho Man, Tell it to My Heart, which closed this past Friday, sadly. I wanted all my students to see it, all of New York really. Because it was transformative in a way that art is rarely transformative. All of those objects together, hung salon-style on the walls of the space, without plaque or caption. Without names art is leveled. We see truly the work itself—the pleasure it gives us—and its place within a larger ensemble. I went to the show with my friend Arnold. And between the two of us we could piece together who did most of the works. But then there were pieces we also loved and couldn’t attribute, like the painting of a girl washing the floor, all that water represented in bold, athletic strokes of green paint. The way her labor was desultory, joyous. We were left wondering who nailed a bag of marbles to the wall and placed one playing card beside it, a magical pairing of objects. Arnold said, why don’t more artists do that? I couldn’t believe you had two Paul Thek newspaper paintings. And I loved the Felix Gonzalez-Torres light bulbs, which I would have missed had Arnold not pointed them out. Often I wonder what our relationship to art should be. Your show illuminates this question. To acquire works as an act of friendship; to have all of these precious objects together as a reminder of what gives (and gives and gives) your life meaning. To mourn the dead because the objects—their physical proximity and placement among each other—make us feel that they are present again.