Adrian Piper & MoMA & Painting Bathing

     I've been in a sort of weirdbad mood. With myself, with art. I've done very little on my planned zines, and then feel bad about doing art that's not that so end up doing nothing. I was offered a manager position at this matcha place but it turned out to be an instagram hellscape—syrupy colored drinks, CBD macaroons with powdered sugar pot leaves, free drinks for influencers—and the owner seemed kinda skeevy, so I didn't take it. The tip jar saying "just put the TIP in see how it feels" was a sort of final confirmation to get out. (The GM has gotten rid of it with my encouragement.) It's not that I didn't know those people were out there, but something about having to operate in their sphere felt unbearable. I don't know how to shake this bitter jaded feeling that we're essentially unreconcilable as a world. The news about Bourdain and then everyone's ensuing mental health hot takes absolutely made everything worse, so I figured I needed to get out of the apartment but not to try to be productive. Museums are good in that sort of "filling the brain energy tank" kind of way, though MoMA is never exactly not-crowded. 

     I knew nothing about Adrian Piper but people I like like her so that's enough of a start. Sometimes though, and especially in this mood, I unintentionally find myself bringing a combative energy to contemporary art. "Oh she became obsessed with Kant and took a buncha naked selfies? Great." I think about how many times I've moved and how much paper paraphernalia I've tossed out, while here we have some conceptual shading on regular-ass graph paper. But then I collect myself; I realize I'm bitter about these odds & ends being displayed because it means they're appreciated and apparently I do not feel appreciated. But whenever I show art it generally is, so it's mostly myself keeping myself hidden that's creating my own bitterness. When I read an essay, because it's not in an institutional setting, I get less tangled up and more able to engage with the ideas of it, and I'm still learning how to do that with other mediums. Her use of herself should be something interesting to me and my "unconventional self-portrature," a point of connection—if I put down her use of it I'm really trying to excuse putting down myself.  

 Adrian Piper

Adrian Piper

     Still, modern art museums don't really set audiences up for success in general—I really dislike audio tours but there's rarely enough (wall) text if you don't know what you're looking at. And even if what you're looking at is Kazimir Malevich's Black Square, which is exactly what it sounds like, some context really fukin helps.  This piece was also on display, with no text, and the guard gave a really horrible explanation that "These are all people that died from gun violence, and all lives matter y'know, and the MoMA is for stricter gun control, 'cus you know when people that aren't right in the head get guns…so if you want to show your support you can take a poster." The MoMA is handing out pictures of dead people and spouting ableist nonsense?? No, in this case the "text" was more misleading than if there'd been none. Though death of the author in this case does it matter, what does the pile mean to me with different explanations. 

     So I'm looking forward to reading more from/about Piper. Especially as a conceptual artist I think both the contextless impression and the later explanation can be part of a whole thing. I'm interested to see her approach to politics & art, as I'm always struggling with art as activism or as commentary, and her later work with racism & embodiment is still very timely. Her work has varying "weight" that I like, her Funk Lessons is really great and clearly a bit playful, but most of her images are not. In an odd echo to that poster a floor down, one of the pieces that sat with me was a black and white photo of Travon Martin with a red sniper-style target superimposed on him, with printouts for the taking. Along with the Civil Rights Era pictures of police brutality that called for the viewer to "not ignore what you know" this seemed particularly like the spectacle of Black pain many protested at the Whitney. The text "Imagine what it was like to be me" feels like an impossible request of a country that has no conscience. Was Travon's family consulted? Would it matter? Why were copies being offered of this image that could've been taken straight from some white supremacist reddit and already endlessly digitally duplicated? In this person's walkthrough they note that none seem to be taken, which thinking now also seemed to be the case, but having not seen the earlier calling card I had no juxtaposition, and the idea that this would be the exhibit "freebie" felt tasteless. Which well maybe the intention, I'm certainly still thinking about it. But now I'm also still bitter about art and myself and our unreconcilable world.

   Then going down the escalators I stop to look at an Andrew Wyeth piece, and then the Hopper piece next to it. Two of my favorite dead white men painters—they just capture a mundane estrangement I like to wallow in. I linger in a room of Matisse, I hadn't noticed the way he doesn't always bother trying to cover the canvas completely. Monet's Water Lilies is on display; I hadn't realized how large it is, how abstract it is up close. This is what I needed right now—a tamed study of style. Like forest bathing but in pastel pointillism. (or maybe I don't fight with these because I can't paint. because they have been so removed from politics despite the strangeness of cubism at the time.) I feel certain again that art can at least do something.

 Edward Hopper, Gayle on the F Train 

Edward Hopper, Gayle on the F Train 

    I've reached the end of my SFPC sketchbook and am re-enthused about the new one. The dead men have reminded me of something, encouraged me to draw however I want, and Piper has perhaps told me not to overthink my thinking. To make statement pieces and not focus on if they're trite. All of them make art that they like and that's what I should do too.