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Mickey Cartin


by Charlie Finch
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It's always a pleasure to visit the New York digs of the eclectic collector Mickey Cartin, as I did last week, After all, who else can rotate On Kawara, Albert York, Fred Tomaselli and a variety of choice Old Masters to winning effect, as there is always a new arrangement whenever I espy Cartin's walls and pet his splendid bulldog Leo?

But reflection, after a few visits, reveals an underlying and quite rigid theme to Cartin's collecting philosophy: he has an almost Talmudic attachment to language and the interpretation thereof, even the two brilliant sculptures by Charles LeDray, featured in the latter's Whitney survey a few seasons back, are littered with either tiny costumes or lights worthy of Judah Maccabee, which speak to a high love of the rational or the search thereof.

The Agnes Martin on view (a late, light chalky painting that looks like it needs a cleaning but does not), shimmers in pinks and sky blues that are far more optimistically lyrical than the run-of-the-mill Agnes you might find at Dia Beacon. And the Tomaselli, yellow ochre marijuana leaves, buried in burnt umber, resembles the Dead Sea Scrolls.

It is surely no accident that Mickey Cartin is a first-class book collector (worthy of the famous Oddfellows bibliophile club in Boston) who, when he kindly praised my recent Artnet Magazine piece on David Hume, proceeded to show me a first edition of Hume's Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, one of the prizes in the Cartin library.

So there is nothing Mickey Mouse about Mickey Cartin's depth of scholarship or rabbinical quest: he owns a number of On Kawara date paintings, he has been both selective and generous in accumulating work by his late pal Sol LeWitt and his Josef Albers holdings look as strong together as anything Albers at Yale or MoMA.

Particularly complex are some large-scale word paintings by Alfred Jensen and a brace of Morandis, whose off-white patina smiles shyly in the state-of -the-art lighting with which Cartin illuminates his holdings. One wonders what ruminations pass through this rather mercurial and often skittish fellow's mind when he is alone, contemplating what he has wrought. Does Mickey wonder, in the words of Paul Simon, whether he "is the tailor's face and hands"?

Because for Mickey Cartin, God is not just in the details of that which he selects and sees, it is the details which are the first step in his own quest for the order that must add up to God.

CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).