Art Rant

So here I go running my mouth in the cover story of Scene Magazine about the new direction a non-profit arts space here in Cleveland is going. I may be harsh, but I stand by it. The online edition has a fun photo of me, however the print edition is weird and I look like I have brown hair. I don’t have brown hair dangit! Never!

Anyways, the one mistake in the article is that I never actually showed at SPACES beyond the member’s show. The exhibition of women painters was something that was on display when I first moved here from Los Angeles, so I became a member because I figured that it was the kind of place suited for me.  I’ll be honest, SPACES didn’t impress me much even when Susan Channing was the director. I never got mailings, the website was hardly updated, and don’t make me recount the debacle of how they botched a sale of my work, only to return it to me with a damaged frame and no apologies (but that’s a whole story in itself). I know of other artists who moved here wondering what the deal was as well; let’s be honest, SPACES wasn’t showing too many things that interested me even then. The only time I went was a Ron English talk after the film festival.

I give the new director credit in making SPACES more active and visible, more together in their communications and better at marketing overall. To be honest, the sale of the building may not be a bad idea. The building is great, but the location is suspect at times. I missed a friend’s exhibit once because I couldn’t find parking to save my life; other times you dodge bums and crackheads that come at you like Pac Man ghosts. To make the place “homeless” however may be a bit extreme, it is bad enough the turnover of galleries in Cleveland, let alone now that Asterisk Gallery will be closing after 10 years. We need more, not less.

Look, I went to CalArts when it was all concept and theory. I had 3 classes where I actually drew or painted in a workshop setting in the 4 years I was there. I had people like Charles Gaines, Thomas Lawson, and Sam Durant as teachers. The whole process was that you think really, really, really, hard about your concept and then maybe finally do it after years of talking, and thinking and talking. The catch was, they didn’t teach you much on how to execute it — let alone ask if you knew how. How many people even knew how to draw? Who knows. Hell, we didn’t take a class on art hazards in the studio until our 4th year! That didn’t fly with me, but I endured it. So I have done animation, video art, installation pieces and even performance art. I’m not a moron, I get it. That’s my problem with Christopher Lynn’s attitude and the attitude of those who only want the conceptual shows at SPACES; they think that if you don’t like it, that must mean you don’t get it, are stupid, or are just another Ohio hick who doesn’t know what’s going on out there in the real art world. I get it, I’m not a moron and I’ve seen and done it. So maybe the reason I don’t like it is because the execution or the concept bores me! Or as one artist in my studio building put it after reading that “Art Works” paper done by SPACES, “it sucks!”

Here’s my thing, I don’t hate conceptual art. You do, however, have to make me give a damn. There has to be something stunning enough to me that I want to read all the damn text and sit through the whole video.  A gal at CalArts once made a wetsuit for a helicopter and it lay on the floor with 6 running hairdryers. Not only was the craftsmanship on the wetsuit amazing, but the whole thing made me WANT to know more and read her whole manifesto. Kurt Ralske does amazing video and books that are heavily conceptual, not to mention he actually invents programming and equipment just for his pieces. Yes, he invents them! Now that is experimental in my book — and I’m not just saying I like him because he used to be mister Ultra Vivid Scene. I don’t want to see  a bunch of twigs leaning up against the walls and 8 pages of text plastered next to them. I don’t want to see some guy living in the gallery watching TV and jerking off as a statement about something-something you don’t give a damn about (I’ve seen that already and it was lame).

I just hate the idea of concept and theory at SPACES being all they will show. And frankly, I don’t see why there can’t be a balance. My work comes with a concept that is ever growing, and my work has text, but I also make with the pretty and am visual. I don’t think hard about that part, it is an impulse and just what I do. I don’t like to over think it, it will just ruin the process for me if I do. I’ve seen concept married to the visual in great ways, but it doesn’t happen often if the artist is just content with the theory and not the execution. There is too much I see that looks like the projects students did in 1st and 2nd year foundation class at CalArts. For the most part, it just doesn’t interest me — it doesn’t interest many people depending how it is done — and to only exhibit those works is cutting out a huge segment of the audience. It is a hard sell especially when you are supposed to be an organization that is serving the community. This isn’t The Barnes Foundation where only the select few were chosen to see the art collection and it wasn’t open to the public.

Art doesn’t have to be entertainment or be pretty all the time, but you do have to make people care. If you can’t make people care, then perhaps you better re-think what it is you are going for. Or go back to the drawing board.

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4 Responses to “Art Rant”


  1. 1 Diane Fleisch Hughes 09/04/2010 at 7:30 am

    Hey Arabella, just found your blog and I couldn’t agree with you more! I want the visual,I want color and beautiful linework, even if it doesn’t make sense, and once I’m drawn in then I want to know what the artist was thinking, why he/she did what they did, their “concept”. I’m old school, my art school experience was drawing / painting /sculpting from 9-5 mon – fri. Every artist has a concept – Show me the talent, I don’t want to read about it. BTW you look beautiful in the picture, even with brown hair.

  2. 2 OneMoreTime 09/04/2010 at 9:45 am

    Thanks for articulating the whole ‘new’ SPACES direction so well.

    You’re so right….the trouble with alot of art we’ve been seeing around here during the last, oh, decade(conceptualism, found art, collage, video art) is that it just feels like retread.
    If you like or liked it anyway, you probably don’t care and can just go and enjoy it most anytime.

    But I think that most seriously art-oriented people go to shows to see something new and fresh. Or at least somewhat new and fresh. And what SPACES has been ‘showing’ over the last couple of years by and large hasn’t felt like that. It’s felt insiderish and clubby. Not the way to draw the general public in.
    I did like the ‘Detour’ show, but how many times in a year can you feed on something like that? Personally, I got my fix once a year at Ingenuity.

    I’m so bummed about Asterisk closing-by and large I felt like the shows Dana mounted were fresh and diverse and full of well-crafted art. You could usually see the thought and effort that was put into them.
    And each opening was, for me, an intrigue. Asterisk and a few other galleries there in Tremont really made you feel like we have a legit community of serious artists on the West Side. OK, well, we have but we’d lacked the concentrated venue/community that Tremont’s become. The old SPACES showed some interesting stuff but was stuck over there at the Viaduct all by itself.
    But still, it was a long-term, dedicated gallery space. A smaller, lower budget West Side version of MoCA but still a serious gallery. And a great escape from the ubiquitous Kincade-ism of anything west of Lakewood. 🙂

    So now what? The west-side art scene slowly devolves back into a dicotomy of either crafty/Kincaidy art or the far out/esoteric (conceptualism definitely in this camp)?

    Wah. Don’t really have any good ideas on how to help Dana except to maybe have a ‘rent-party’ type thing periodically. So he can both afford to hire someone to take the load off him physically and financially AND get back to making his OWN stuff.
    Then SPACES wouldn’t be so critical as far as a west-side venue of serious, diverse art.
    Responses? Thanks for letting me rant.

    • 3 vendettabella 09/05/2010 at 8:34 pm

      Thanks! Yes I’ve been getting lots of emails with other little tid bits I wish I had known before, but essentially many people haven’t, or don’t plan to, renew memberships.

      Asterisk always had very well curated shows where there could be paintings, sculpture, video and installations all together but they would form a cohesive show all around. I understand Dana is tired and it wasn’t really a business venture but more a way of doing something he loved. I wonder what it’ll do to the Tremont Art Walk though, since it was a main anchor and reason people went? There are several good galleries in Cleveland (Front Room does amazing shows but the schedule is never updated) and Wall Eye, William Rupnik and a few others on the westside. Cleveland galleries always seem to run into the same problem though: lack of ambition and communication. They don’t send out press releases, let alone try for national press. Sometimes you are lucky to find out about a show 3 days before it opens.


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