Category Archives: contemporary art

At the Strangers’ Gate

I just finished reading Adam Gopnik‘s latest book At the Strangers’ Gate:  Arrivals in New York.  For anyone interested in art, and particularly contemporary art, I encourage you to read it.

Let me just say, however, that there may be some bias at work here.  I’m a huge fan of Gopnik’s writing.  I find it easily accessible , despite his  knowledge and creative thought that far surpass my capabilities and capacities. He is a superb essay writer:  in Paris to the Moon, the book about his family’s years living in France, he ably discussed politics, philosophy and history, while grounding the narrative in the quotidienne-his daily life with his beloved, Martha and their children.

I may also be biased because he speaks fondly and respectfully of Canada.  American born, he was raised  in Montreal;  Martha is Canadian born.  In 2011, he delivered (and subsequently published) the fiftieth anniversary Massey Lectures for the Canadian Broadcasting Company entitled Winter:  Five Windows on the Season.  (Is there anything more Canadian than discussing the weather?)

At the Strangers' Gate: Arrivals in New York, Adam Gopnik

At the Strangers’ Gate: Arrivals in New York, Adam Gopnik

In the chapter SoHo, 1983  Gopnik begins by recounting the story of how he and Martha were able to secure an apartment in SoHo.  It remains the strangest and luckiest thing that has ever happened to us.  He reports that… The SoHo we moved to in 1983 was still a village, a village of art.  He makes the case that New York, and specifically SoHo, was the art capital of the world in the 1980’s.  He discusses how the art produced was a product of its environment, and, of course, the cultural and economic influences of the decade.  He provides an insider’s view of the era with engaging physical descriptions and anecdotes:  This is how a Saturday morning in SoHo would unfold in the middle years of the 1980s…… you would inevitably bump into friends, eyes set professionally aslant from the work of looking, and exchange a warm greeting and a few terse words about the things just seen.

It’s his reflections about the art and art making, the dealers and buyers, and, really, the meaning of art at a specific time, in a specific place, that are most insightful.  The social life of those Saturday mornings was at least as important as the chance for solitary looking.  All art serves a double function, and the double function of American visual art by the eighties was as both a mark of generational identity and a luxury good for the wealthy.

At the Strangers’ Gate serves a double function, too.  It’s an entertaining, amusing read (you won’t want to miss the candy factory story)  as well as an insightful analysis of art, artists and culture in North America.

Beatriz Milhazes

Thanks to Sarah Thornton’s 33 Artists in 3 Acts I was introduced to Beatriz Milhazes.  I was immediately intrigued by her, as she was brave enough to talk about the ‘B’ word:  BEAUTY.  It isn’t the most popular idea or goal in contemporary art….quite the opposite.

Ms Milhazes says, Human beings want something beautiful to live with.  That is not a shallow desire.  It affects our well-being.  
She goes on to say, We have the feeling that the world doesn’t need artists because art doesn’t meet our basic needs to survive.  But that’s not true.  Even the most primitive cultures have decorative art. (33 Artists in 3 Acts, p. 339)

Beatriz Milhazes

Beatriz MilhazesBeatriz Milhazes
She qualifies her stance on beauty:  I don’t want easy beauty.  I want conflict.  I want intensity, strong dialoguing, challenging eye movement.  (33 Artists in 3 Acts, p. 340.)


She is certainly accomplishing that in her work.  To learn more about her art, and, in particular, her unique process of collage/painting, you can click on this short  video (produced by Philip Dolin and Molly Bernstein for the James Cohon Gallery.  The glimpses of Rio de Janeiro alone are worth viewing.)

When Sarah Thornton asks Beatriz Milhazes What kind of artist are you? she replies:
I tell my friends that I’m like a bank worker.  I come to the studio five days a week and do my job.  I pay attention to detail and try not to make mistakes. (33 Artists in 3 Acts, p. 344.)

Now if only we had time to zip over to Hong Kong (!) to see her show at the White Cube.

33 Artists in 3 Acts

I just finished reading 33 Artists in 3 Acts, by Sarah Thornton.  If you are interested in contemporary art, then I highly recommend it.

Sarah Thronton

I was surprised at how well written it is: easy to read, entertaining and very accessible.  Not exactly the descriptors one can use, unfortunately, for some of the current writing about contemporary art. It’s no surprise that Ms Thornton has written for The Economist, the Guardian, Artforum and The New Yorker.

The book is divided into short chapters that chronicle interviews with artists such as Ai WeiWei, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons and Cindy Sherman.  The settings include the Venice Biennale, artists’ studios and art galleries on five continents.

In the course of her interviews, Ms Thornton poses the question, What is an artist? to the various artists.  The answers are sometimes amusing.   Andrea Fraser, a performance artist, can’t answer the question.  She says, “The more you think about it, the worse it gets!”