Sunday, November 4, 2007

I'll Leave You Breathing.

4 November 2007

The reader who routinely checks this space might be forgiven for wondering what awol does when awol is not looking at art (or movies or theatre or dance; or listening to live music); or driving to or from it; or reading or writing – or blogging about it – since she hasn’t been doing as much of it as might reasonably be expected – in short, when awol is not exactly awol. By now everyone has some idea about what happens for me between 9 and 5 (or is it 9 and 9?) on most Mondays through Thursdays. But after 9? And after that? Round midnight?? It might not be midnight. It might just be darkness at noon – could be earlier, could be later. It might just as easily be over lunch as over dinner or a nightcap. It’s what we might call the haunting – as distinguished from the obsession. Of course there are obsessions – the most ordinary thing in the world – and therefore not worthy of comment. There are the concerns, the preoccupations public and private. We can admit the obvious ones: the body personal and politic; the private finance, the public exchequer; personal liberty, civic space; the zeitgeist, the civilization; the biosphere, the planet (I’m not sure where humanity fits into that scheme – all we can be sure of is that there’s too damned much of it – by somewhere between 2 and 3 billion units).

The haunting is something that takes place in three- and sometimes four-dimensional space – oscillating between the physical and the psychological, between the sensory and the purely cerebral, between historical time and the infinite now of consciousness. (Yes, maybe it is something of a Twilight Zone.) I could start by telling you where I’ve been the last couple of nights – but it’s not necessarily the most important thing. (As I was looking this over, I was interrupted by a telephone call from an art world friend who unluckily touched on this very point. I couldn’t offer him the assurance I think he was looking for – i.e., that these were important things, at least for artists or the serious art audience.)

So I’ll start with where I was the last couple of nights. Speaking of obsessions. Speaking of the most ordinary thing in the world. I was actually looking forward to the Tracey Emin show at Gagosian. She represented the UK of course at the Venice Biennale – but I hadn’t seen much coverage of it, aside from some rather pallid watercolors and monoprints; and so I really hadn’t seen new work by her in some time. Suffice it to say that I have mixed feelings about the notion of “confessional” art – and I really think her ‘breakthrough’ work (“The Bed”; the famous Tent that burned along with a number of other Saatchi works in London) went somewhere conceptually well beyond that pejorative. At one point in her career, she reportedly cited Munch as an influence; and one had the sense, not that she was emulating Munch, his particular line or style, or halting, bottled-up but explosive expressionism, but that she was exorcising the Munch of the mundane, the self-evidently abased.

The monoprint is an ideal vehicle for Emin’s project which, as far as I can tell, seems to be in the largest sense “The Tracey Emin Story” (exactly like that, quotes, caps and all). In other words, the cursory, smudged sketch set off again at one remove – the graphic equivalent of a quotation mark; the enigmatic/emblematic gesture reduced to a cipher. There’s little point, however, in any kind of analytic appraisal of the individual pieces or even an overall assessment of this particular show. Emin’s draughtsmanship has never been exactly anything to write home (or YOU, Reader) about; but that’s hardly her point (or maybe it is a point – but I doubt it). But the prints, drawings, embroidered pieces and paintings (there were also standing sculptures and works in neon, including the title piece, You Left Me Breathing) couldn’t carry the feather-weight of their titles. Emin overworked one title for both two- and three-dimensional work – “Trying to Find You” – and maybe it would have been a more appropriate title for the show. With Emin apparently unable to find “Emin,” in a variety of media and treatments, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that the crowd at Gagosian wasn’t terribly interested in even bothering to look. An oppressively bourgeois-looking crowd saw no reason to interrupt their pre-strike deal-making (or just posturing) with art-viewing; and having looked it over myself with some thorouhgness, it seemed pointless to try persuading anyone to do otherwise. Looking at some of the embroideries and monoprints, I suddenly felt a spasm of nostalgia for . . . . Feiffer. As in Jules Feiffer – his electric, agile, choreo-graphic narratives of neuraesthenic, neur-athletic pondering, posturing, negotiating, temporizing, expostulating, exasperating, coping and convulsing through thousands of cartoon panels over the years. Sex, exploitation, disappointment, disillusionment – were just four of the hundreds of themes, moods, controversies, conditions he explored over the course of a career that is far from over – with breathtaking, precision and lethal wit.

I have to reconsider Emin’s work – perhaps in its totality. I’m not being fair to the work right now. But there really isn’t a lot here for me to work with. You Left Me Breathing didn’t leave me laughing, thinking, gagging, or …. (Well I guess I’m still alive.) It didn’t leave me because it never arrived. Needless to say I got tired of waiting and soon left – for Fette’s Gallery (more on that in a minute) – but not before finally spotting Emin in the crowd – with someone who looked vaguely like Orlando Bloom. They blended in well with the Gagosian crowd.

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