Thursday, November 02, 2006


I attended the New Museum-sponsored panel discussion on "Passion" at Cooper Union last night, flanked by This Broad and That Broad of Broadsheet fame. As I strained to see and hear (the Great Hall at The Cooper Union was clearly designed to prevent doing both at the same time), I felt an odd sense of competition with the Broads. I found myself thinking about how they might recount the evening (would their account be better than mine? would most likely be much funnier) and got surprisingly jealous when This Broad (or was it That?) took a few notes at one point. I also found myself wondering whether or not I should share my initial impressions, especially when I thought they were particularly poignant (i.e., if they read that same idea here later would they register that dreaded disappointment of recognition, "Hmmmpf, he said that last night, I can't believe he's offering it up as 'fresh' in his post"). All of which just made me realize that in addition to Bambino, my beloved gallery artists, politics, and new experiences (like eating a sheep's head), I must be quite passionate about this blog and that passion is highly illogical sometimes.

But then, saying that, I still find myself wanting a satisfying definition of "passion," which is kind of what I expected to take away from the panel discussion, but didn't quite. Which isn't to blame the panel, mind you. Moderated by the remarkably well-prepared and gracious Massimiliano Gioni (Curator at the New Museum and co-founder of The Wrong Gallery), the panel included "Marina Abramovic, performance artist; John Richardson, independent scholar and author of A Life of Picasso; Wylie Dufresne, chef and restaurateur, WD-50; Hans Ulrich Obrist, Co-Director of Exhibitions and Programs and Director of International Projects, Serpentine Gallery, London; and Jerry Saltz, Senior Art Critic, Village Voice." Each panelist discussed the topic of his/her most well-known passion, but, well, perhaps that's just it. Perhaps discussing a topic is the antithesis of passion. Perhaps "passion" can only be defined by doing, whether that means performing, cooking, writing, or curating...perhaps stopping to deconstruct and communicate why or how or when, inevitably stalls the engine, or deflates the balloon, or (would someone with a passion for analogy help me here?) I don't know, but the evening was a somewhat frustrating staccato of gems and lulls.

A big part of that, again, was the design of the Hall. The folks to our right kept moving out of the aisle (to view what was being projected on the side screens) and then back toward the center (to see the panel when they began to talk again). We sneered them into stopping after a bit, but I couldn't blame them for the yo-yo seating dance.

I'm really awful at recounting actual quotes at such events (unlike some bloggers, I wasn't taking notes ;-p), so I'll share general impressions of the seminar, rather than go panelist-by-panelist. Two of the panelists were highly animated in their discussion, which is kind of what I expected with a topic like "passion": Wylie Dufresne, who in addition to being charming seemed to be even more conscious about staying on topic than Gioni, and Jerry Saltz, who unquestionably owned the evening, prompting Abramovic to suggest at one point that he should have his own TV show. Indeed, if you've ever heard Jerry lecture, you'll know that in addition to his other talents, he possesses that distinctive genius that allows him to be both insightful and entertaining. After a humor-filled opening about his profession, Jerry showed a slide presentation of a trip to Robert Smithson's Sprial Jetty. I won't reveal the content of that presentation, in case he is planning to show it again, but it demonstrated "passion" perhaps more convincingly than any other visual presented, and got the longest ovation. Personally, I sat there in awe.

The billing for this event had been slightly misleading however. On their website, the New Museum titles it "Passion: For Love or Money?" but there was little discussion of anything much related to money until the Q&A segment when an audience member asked whether fame was a disruptive element in passionate pursuits (my alliteration, not his...yes, I'm passionate about alliteration). Jerry responded with a brilliant quote he said he had just heard and which particularly applies to the blogosphere, IMO: "In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people." There were other parts to the quote, but that summed it up best, IMO.

In the end, however, the frustrating sense of not getting to the heart of the matter was best defined by a young man in the audience who asked whether we're all too busy (making the money we need to survive) to be really passionate. He used the analogy of a hamster on a treadmill being unable to make art (which prompted That Broad to point out how that owed more to his being a hamster than being on a treadmill, but I digress....), and I immediately felt I understood his frustration, but realized that at no point had anyone in the panel (not Marina who has risked her own health for her work, not John Richardson who has embarked on a project so all-consuming it defies belief) suggested that one could seek his/her passions without sacrifice. Jerry cheered that young man on, insisting that "you can do it...I know you can." And then it hit me...perhaps passion is not best illustrated by high drama or grand gestures (those are cariactures of passion), but rather by a steely determination, a quiet but confident belief that what one is doing is not only important, but essential. Asked about doubt by another performance artist, Marina said being an artist to her is like breathing. She never stops to think whether she should breath. She has to breath, or she will die. If that ain't passion, it's something even better.


Anonymous mark creegan said...

Passion means suffering

11/02/2006 10:15:00 AM  
Blogger kurt said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11/02/2006 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger jafabrit said...

Enjoyed reading your blog entry. I agree with your statement :"a quiet but confident belief that what one is doing is not only important, but essential"
I did once try (when I was part of a cooperative gallery quite a few years ago)to make art to appeal to the public and for sales. Bad idea for me since I felt the work I produced was meaningless and I had compromised myself. so I do what I do irregardless because I have a passionate need to.

11/02/2006 12:29:00 PM  
Blogger This Broad said...

Ed, your competitiveness is so unnecessary! We at BS are absurdly slow and by the time we get it together to post, it will seem like we attended another event altogether.

Still gathering my thoughts,
Ms. This

11/02/2006 05:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Passion for art doesn't mean great art.

At least the real passion for art can be better gauged when you are making it on a remote island with not anyone else to watch, when you have pulled out the motivation of the ego or any other motivation than the joy or personal quest of doing it.

Some artists, I'd wish to ask them "Are you doing art for art's sake or are you promoting your persona"?


Cedric Caspesyan

11/02/2006 05:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Or maybe you come to a point where you are so passionate about art that it becomes always great and there is no need anymore to dig out the greats about it.

In other words, is being passionate about art criticism the same as being truly passionate about art?



11/02/2006 05:42:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Ed, your competitiveness is so unnecessary

I know...I can't help's so silly and all icky capitalistic...I'm taking medication for it (well, if Jack Daniels counts). :-)

11/02/2006 06:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ed, you are so cute. if you liked girls i would so like you.

11/02/2006 11:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Woooo !

11/03/2006 12:46:00 AM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Don Quixote had passion.

The idea that the current milleu doesn't lend itself to passion is absurd because passion doesn't care about your credit card bill or your boss or health insurance. The young man in the audience is talking about the time to persue and develop one's passion completely, without fear.

It is true that following one's passion is harder, logistically, than it used to be. There is more money and less money at the same time, and I wonder how that shapes the passion of emerging artists, who I am sure feel less comfortable with failure than artists without high-interest credit cards did.

BTW, Rosemarie Fiore's new paintings are interesting, Edward. Great show.

11/03/2006 07:44:00 AM  
Blogger patsplat said...

I attended this panel, and I am getting tired of Jerry Saltz and Marina Abramovic -- the joker and the humorless.

Jerry Saltz's Woody Allen-esque persona is endeering and entertaining. His timing is impeccable, his jokes are hilarious. But then he becomes serious and starts begging artists to make as much art as possible. I'm sure he means well, but the promise comes off as condescending: throw your life into your work, and maybe I'll make you into a joke. Perhaps about how you are famous to 15 people.

It was hard for me to take Marina Abramovic's off hand comment that she enjoys torturing her students. This is a personal complaint, I have a friend who studied under Abramovic. From what I have observed, the experience drains all of one's momentum. It is dishonest to teach students to flagrant spend themselves into artistic bankruptcy. While I find her work more compelling than Paul McCarthy, I don't know any of her students who have joined the stage.

These contrasting personalities talk about risk but not about the difference between a blind and a calculated risk. My question is: Why should the (young) artist take such risks -- sacrifice themselves?

To me, these artists sound like a football coach driving a kid to victory and a knee injury on Friday night.

11/04/2006 02:55:00 AM  

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