Sunday, December 20, 2009


One the artists visited by Mera Rubell during her 36 studio visit has stated that "When she went on about how hard it must for me to be working without a community she said 'by community I mean working without several writers writing about your work'"

See what I mean? This woman already knows one of the key ailments of the DC art scene.

The hottest new thing in painting is 94

After six decades of very private painting, Ms. Herrera sold her first artwork five years ago, at 89. Now, at a small ceremony in her honor, she was basking in the realization that her career had finally, undeniably, taken off. As cameras flashed, she extended long, Giacomettiesque fingers to accept an art foundation’s lifetime achievement award from the director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

Her good friend, the painter Tony Bechara, raised a glass. “We have a saying in Puerto Rico,” he said. “The bus — la guagua — always comes for those who wait.”

And the Cuban-born Ms. Herrera, laughing gustily, responded, “Well, Tony, I’ve been at the bus stop for 94 years!”

Since that first sale in 2004, collectors have avidly pursued Ms. Herrera, and her radiantly ascetic paintings have entered the permanent collections of institutions like the Museum of Modern Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and the Tate Modern. Last year, MoMA included her in a pantheon of Latin American artists on exhibition. And this summer, during a retrospective show in England, The Observer of London called Ms. Herrera the discovery of the decade, asking, “How can we have missed these beautiful compositions?”
Read the New York Times story about Cuban-born Carmen Herrera, the newly-discovered wunderkind of painting.

Mera Rubell in my Studio (Last Part)

Part I here and Part II here and Part III here.

As I noted yesterday, the studio visit was done, and Mera Rubell and her entourage was about to leave (I think I was the last studio visited), when she turned around just outside the door and asked "So what do you think of the Washington art scene?"

If you are a reader of this blog you already know the answer that that immense question, and I began to answer her. I told her how DC area artists were very lucky in many aspects and that (in the opinion of a world traveler and frequent flyer with an interest in art scenes) this region had one of the most vibrant and best art scenes anywhere in the world. I also told her about how diverse the artwork and artists were, and I told her about Art-o-Matic as a magnet for gathering artistic energy. I told her about the wealth of exhibiting opportunities that abound in our region. I told her about the many artists' groups that deliver support and community and advice to local artists. I told her about the strong sense of artistic energy that soaks into everything around the nation's capital.

She asked me about the local museums and I began to peel the scab from the other side of the coin, the negative side of the DC art scene; the side that outsiders see; the side that many focus on; the side that symbiots feed upon.

I then submitted my opinion, based on my observations and discussions with artists and dealers over the years, about the lack of attention that local museum curators give to our area's artists.

I suggested that it was easier for a local museum curator to take a cab to Dulles to catch a flight to Berlin to go see the work of an emerging artist than to catch a cab to Georgetown to do the same. I offered that this was perhaps because our museums saw themselves as "national" or "international" museums rather than a city museum and thus ignored their own back garden.

I also offered that the new Katzen Arts Center was a refreshing change from that and that it was the only local museum to have a connection to the local art scene. Several entourage voices agreed with me and explained to Mera about Jack Rasmussen's (Katzen Director and Curator) deep DC area roots.

She asked me about the Washington Post and about specific writers there. "This is an informed person beyond one's wildest guess," I thought to myself as I unloaded with all cannons on the local newspaper.

I described for her how the Post has decimated its visual arts coverage in the last few years. She asks me informed questions about specific writers. I realize that this is a woman who already knows more about many of the inside parts of the DC art scene than most of the writers tasked with writing about it.

I give her my opinions and back it with specific events: the critic who once wrote about a print without realizing that it was a copy of a well-known Picasso painting - I give it as an example of that critic's suspicious art history background; or the writer whose snarky writing has improved over the years, but still betrays the writer's scant training in writing about art. I talk about the writer who got caught discussing a show that he'd never been to; I mention the ones that got fired because of ethical issues. I mention the art critic who covers New York galleries but seldom DC galleries.

DC is a small town and everyone knows about all that happens here. And you reap what you sow and right now some pens filled with apathy and ennui and snarkyness are reaping the caustic results of my opinions. I'm back in the groove on a different, if favorite subject of mine, and I've got the ears of one of the world's most influential art persons.

I'm talking too fast, but I know that she's absorbing it all. She asks me about a specific critic and wants to know what I think of the critic's writing. I give her an honest answer, which comes out somewhat more positive than I would have expected.

"Is that writer the best one to write about what goes on in DC and about DC artists?" comes the question, at least I hear it that way.

"No," I answer very quickly.

I predict her next question when she asks, "then who?"

I give her a name, and I am pleased that several voices in her entourage, agree with me immediately.

"Then why isn't that writer covering this event?" she asks of them, not me.

Someone explains about the writer recusing from covering the event because of a relationship with one of the artists. "That's stupid," she opines, "the critic could have just recused from covering that artist." [Update: Since then I have been told that this wasn't the case and that the critic in question didn't recuse himself].

I keep to myself how in DC it is a certain impossibility for writers and critics not to have some sort of relationship with some of the artists they cover.

Someone adds that the writer in question is the only one who really has a finger on the pulse of DC area artists.

She soaks it all in, but I suspect that she may be asking questions to which she already knows the answer.

They leave and I'm on Cloud 9 and I play the Beatles' White Album with a smile on my face.

This electric person is going to do wonders for DC artists and erase decades of neglect from our press and from our museums... Helter Skelter baby!