FOR A GRAY DAY
If, like me, you feel that the record prices for minor work by marginal talents like Christopher Wool or the orgiastic anticipation of gross partying at Art Basel Miami Beach seriously detract from the spiritual experience of viewing art, there are two shows you ought to see: Kiki Smith’s retrospective on the last stop of a national tour at the Whitney and Agnes Martin’s paintings from the 1980s at the DIA Beacon.
I confess to not having given these two artists much thought over the years, because painfully drawing forth tragic beauty from the grayest matter is not normally my thing, but these two shows forced me back to the basics of what art is. Here are two female artists known as solitary, eccentric loners stripped of the romance such an identity would give a man. The blue-gray strips of light that Martin demarks perfectly conjoin the soul of an older woman with the barren, beautiful landscape she looked at every day. The somber muddy entrails that Smith births, whether they look like crows, intestines, spermatozoa or dolls, bespeak the streets of New York on the shortest, coldest day of the year. They are her fetid brain cells spackled against the wall.
What unites the work of Martin and Smith in these two shows is a kind of negative joy; reminds me of what my late uncle used to tell his pals in the 1930s when he was a precocious teenager reading Schopenhauer, "We are all just holes in the air."
Money and parties are one thing, they have their place, but they are not art. The white walls of Dia Beacon and the black floors of the Whitney Museum are perfect backdrops to two masters of their craft communicating peace and dread. That they happen to be women is both incidental and essential, and these women know what, despite what you read in the magazines, any woman knows, that the price of things, especially works of art, isn’t measured in dollars.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).