Mary Heilmann, Save the Last Dance for Me (1979). Image Via: Frieze
Jan Verwoert lectured for three days running on the future of medium-specific practices after Conceptualism at the New Museum, thereby closing out the last session of Night School, an Anton Vidokle project in the form of a temporary school. Given the large amount of thought and material to respond to, our post on the subject won’t go up until after I’ve had a chance to review all my notes. That being said, those wishing to bone up a bit before we officially launch the discussion should read Verwoert’s feature, titled “Life Work,“ in Frieze Magazine this month.
Amongst the more refreshing aspects of the article is Verwoert’s simple description of common professional frustrations and dilemmas. It feels strangely liberating, even if it doesn’t provide the road map we’d all like out of contemporary life. But that’s the point. The unresolvable tension between balancing and not balancing life and work similarly manifests itself in art work– in what Verwoert describes as “determinate indeterminacy”. Structurally the piece is a bit hard to follow, so I’ve summarized the major life points below.
- If we believe there’s so much more to life than work, and art ideally represents that “so much more,” then why is the luxurious position of not having to separate the two so desirable?
- If there’s no distinction between work and life, how do we mark the difference between colleagues and friends? Is it worth even trying? According to Verwoert we should make some distinction, because everyone is “professionally friendly.” Readers however are left to their own devices when distinguishing between the two.
- The practical concerns of “how to continue” production are the most difficult. To paraphrase Verwoert, “Getting out of art school and figuring out to make enough money to maintain a studio practice sucks, and so does the phase immediately afterward, which involves trying to stay relevant, since the art world is fickle and careers fragile. Of course, spend too much on your career, and you begin to seem careerist.” Nobody likes that, so Verwoert suggests Conceptual art and Fluxus might be an ethos of anti-professionalism. He also puts forth the known mid-life crisis phenomenon– the realization after many years that none of the artist’s success were desired anyway, and why shouldn’t they just pursue their real, often secret love?
- Verwoert poses the question: Is the most courageous act heroic surrender — to paint that last painting — or to continue? He claims the latter, though I’ll note this only holds true for the people for whom that choice worked out.
From here Verwoert goes on to write about the work of Mary Heilmann, Tris Vonna-Michell, Roman OndÃ¡k with the late JÃºlius Koller, Vojin Bakic and others. For the time being however, I’m going to leave the art to fend for itself, if only because we’ll be discussing that aspect of his presentation in greater detail later in the week. I will note however that only a fraction of Verwoert’s thoughts on Mary Hailmann’s, Save the Last Dance, actually progress his thesis. It’s primarly exposition.