Art After Modernism-Fall Semester 2013

I Am For… A Response to Claes Oldenburg’s “I Am for an Art…”

      I am for my body in motion, for it’s everything-catching-up-aftermath that never goes away. I am for my arms heavy-, limp-, numb-painting the color of dirt during many lost hours, hearing Yumeji’s Theme over and over somewhere in the distance. I am for understanding how little it matters that the poetry of my body is understood by the masses. I am for my edges and down and slow and straight, and wobble and fall. I am for bubble bath memories in Hettie’s house, of singing “The raaa-aain in Spaaa-aain stays maaa-aainly in the Plaa-ain.” I am for rolled down stockings in the parlor on Sunday and spitting “chew” into Elvis’ Coca-Cola bottle. I am for the mystery of remembering and forgetting, of “Ole!” and holes filled with breathed secrets. I am for the painted Angkor Wat trees that permeate my mind.

I am for guppies with artful tails that fan like silk in water, for guppies that die and float rancid explaining more gently than Warhol’s car crash that death is the alternative to living. I am for honor medals, real I love yous, and when he said “People remember how you say things more than what you say”. I am for Marilyn’s gold, blonde, and sorry sorrow.  I am for “help me”, and one glass eyeball sitting on a nightstand, for tiny red newspaper pencils stacked messy in a dusty box. I am for shiny plastic streamers blowing out from a front porch fan, and garage and funeral parlor ads on Jesus fans in a Southern Baptist Church somewhere in Charlotte. I am for generations of women snapping green beans together for dinner even if I never did it, (Did I?) and for Alzheimer’s-three-hours-long cooked three-bean salad. I am for crab apple stomachaches, stones turned in a drum. I am for thinking we had arrived and getting out of the car on the railroad tracks. I am for synecdoche’s imparted perplexity I keep trying to figure out.

I am for the boulder that refused to roll over my iron bridge celluloid memories. I am for the rope that broke and singed my flesh. I am for my body motionless like concrete, and for the fear that always comes after being too still. Too small. Too tired. Too weak. Too late. I am for rocks that look like body organs and volcanic outcrops that offer songs from wind. I am for metal that conforms to my will, and mind-malleable circuit boards that on and off, blink and spin. I am for PNP, gravures, and neutralized toxic waste, for respirators and gloves that supposedly save. I am for rattlesnakes that hide, for garter snakes in the hallway, and gopher snakes that are seven feet long, for never-ending desert dust and thankful tears for rain. I am for cotton gins and bolls threaded with my ancestor’s hair. I am for best-tool-scissors-arms and half-naked women on pedestals in boats going who knows where. I am for Picasso’s wounded women on horseback, for Aunt Bea’s dancing down the stairs, and for Peggy Phelan and Joan Jonas leading the way. I am for my art’s infection, obsession, affection, shame, and pain.

I am for my Mother’s wails upon my shaven head, and the years long challenge of “why don’t you ever shave!” I am for last night’s garlic standing too close for comfort and laughing anyway. I am for “I hope you get this done before I die, so we can have more time.” I am for the mother-daughter, daughter-sons mutual gaze. I am for taking chances on “Sorry your art doesn’t fit our mission” and “Yes, we’d love to have you here.” I am for keeping the guts to do all of it after all. I am for eschewing the “fourth wall”, whatever the hell that is and I don’t care. I am for having my picture taken next to one of many Duchamp fountains and posting it on my status page anyway. I am for recording sounds of art openings and taking cell phone videos of my feet walking through museums. I am for the creak and groan of all walls that try to speak, for the dddzzzzzzddddd of electrical wires, and emptied gas neon waiting in storage facilities. I am for dreaming I created hundreds of water bottles formed from the Rio Grande’s empty basin sand, and for seeing they’d been run over by four-wheeling bastards around the turn.  I am for bending too much, leaning too far, reaching too tall, for knees and shoulders that scream. I am for singing about yellow stars to her heart hoping she would live, but Grace couldn’t make it in the end.

I am for all artists I don’t give a rat’s ass about and those whom I revere. I am for art’s histories shredding apart with blood and spit, a typewriter, glue, and many a gray hair.  I am for Arnold Newman’s sweet old man kiss upon my cheek, for Darius Himes’ “Nice work, you’ll go far”, and even Charles Haid’s “Your all a bunch of Girl Scouts here” when he couldn’t get his way. I am for renting out rooms, sanding hundreds of painter’s panels, having yard sales to gain nothing much for squeezing out money from my sweaty hands for education and the creation of all I can be. I am for what throws me toward art passion and for what doesn’t feel right sometimes at all cost. I am for Stallabrass’ matter of fact, for Warhol’s branded act. I am for “The Rise of the Sixties”, before that, the future, and everything in-between. I am for dots, spins and Murakami’s monopoly set, for the colors blue, green, and dishwasher sized art…paperback sized too. I am for Gursky’s 99 Cent. I am for tchotchke and fine, and yes I DO have a spine, in case you are wondering by now. I am for memories that corner bend the individual, lean on and sway the collective, and blend us in real histories. I am for art that is smashed in our fictions and will never end. I am for Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 after Isobel didn’t rear end down a snow deep ravine. I am for this year’s biennale and the next, and all of the Documentas too. I am for the art of Claes and my grandmother’s violets drawn with precision of pen and yes, of revolutionaries who believe in responsible free will too.

I am for the words, and, and, and AND. And I am for Dan Fox’s Freize where he doesn’t see Jesus on his toast.[1] And I am for art that is yours and art that is mine. I am for the meandering creative mind and a sharpness in self. I am for an auto-focus art, bio-focus art, and multi-focused art that is all of this, AND more.


[1] Dan Fox. “Dear Claes…”. In “State of the Art” in Frieze Magazine, Issue 148, June-August 2012. http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/dear-claes-/. Web.

Reading List:

  • Thomas Crow. The Rise of the Sixties: American and European Art in the Era of Dissent. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1996. Print.
  • Charles Harrison and Paul J. Wood, eds. “Andy Warhol (930-1987) Interview with Gene Swenson”, Art in Theory 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Pp. 747-749. 1992. UK: Blackwell Publishing. Print.
  • Claes Oldenburg and Emmett Williams. Store Days. New York,Villefranche-sur-mer, and Frankfurt am Main: Something Else Press, Inc. 1967. Print.
  • Julian Stallabrass. “Consuming Culture”, Contemporary Art: A Very Short History. New York: Oxford University Press.  2004. Pp. 50-69. Print.
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