Unreal Nature

December 28, 2017

Impossible Not to Be Misunderstood

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… Realizing that it was impossible not to be misunderstood gave me an enormous sense of freedom.

This is from Preface to Solar System & Rest Rooms: Writings and Interviews, 1965-2007 by (of) Mel Bochner (2008):

I became a published writer more or less by accident. … I was out of work, out of prospects, and out of money. In assessing my marketable talents, I thought the one thing I might be able to do was write the short reviews that appeared in the back of art magazines. … I was able to get an appointment with the editor [of Arts Magazine], Jay Jacobs, a dapper, former features writer for the New Yorker, who asked my why I thought I was qualified to write art reviews. When I answered that it didn’t seem very hard, he burst out laughing …

… In my naiveté it never occurred to me that reviewing was anything more than a job to pay the rent, or that anybody took what I wrote seriously. That all changed in June of 1966 after the publication of my extended review of “Primary Structures” at the Jewish Museum. Not long after it came out, I was invited to a birthday party for the painter Jack Tworkov, a first-generation Abstract Expressionist, who was the father of a close friend.

[line break added] Most of the other guests were also well-known New York School painters. After drinks were served, the conversation turned to an “outrageous” article in the new Arts Magazine, by an unknown writer, about the “Primary Structures” exhibit. My biggest surprise was not only that they all had read it (these were famous artists; didn’t they have anything better to do?), but that they were all so angry about it.

[line break added] “Don’t these young guys know that minimalism was done by the Russians fifty years ago?” “This is only a rehash of the geometric abstraction we fought against in the 1930s.” “They’re trying to destroy everything we accomplished.” At this point, I owned up to being the author and tried to defend my ideas. But instead of calming things down, it made them even more agitated when they realized that the barbarians were already inside the gate.

It wasn’t only the older generation that responded with hostility. At a Whitney opening I was accosted by a friend, a serious young painter, who announced, “You’ve joined the enemy, I’ll never speak to you again. You’ve become a writer.” A few nights later, at Max’s Kansas City, I was introduced, for the first time, to an artist I had written about very positively. He immediately attacked me for misunderstanding his work. When I asked what he objected to about my interpretation, he shouted, “My work is the cry of dying babies in Vietnam. Every unit represents a dead baby.”

Realizing that it was impossible not to be misunderstood gave me an enormous sense of freedom.

My previous post from Bochner’s book is here.

-Julie

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