Jan Verwoert at Frieze Magazine and The New Museum

by Art Fag City on March 2, 2009 · 8 comments Events

Art Fag City, Mary Heilmann, Save the Last Dance For Me, 1979, painting
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 Ondák with the late Július 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.

  • http://www.sarahsmizz.com smizz

    Don’t be fooled by Jan Verwoert’s writings and lecturers.
    He did a very similar theme for the Sheffield, uk 08 Biennial – Yes, No, and Other Options (which ironically should have been called Yes and NO Other Options). http://www.artsheffield.org.uk/as08/index.html

    He did this whole text as a curatorial framework as the crux of not over performing for the art world and its institutions. I saw the talk (before the show opened), it gave me optimism… and got me all hyped up!

    I then went to another talk, where he was at. And to my disappointment – his talk was exactly the same as the previous. He performed the very thing which was supposedly propose alternatives to performing in this over-worked paradigm of which we live in.

    The show was just a visual essay to his text. It didn’t allow the space for dialogue. The pressure to performed proved too much for the show and indeed Jan.

    I just don’t really understand people who put so much energy into creating these texts, and theories and curatorial frameworks if they, themselves do the complete opposite to which they are preaching.

  • http://www.sarahsmizz.com smizz

    Don’t be fooled by Jan Verwoert’s writings and lecturers.
    He did a very similar theme for the Sheffield, uk 08 Biennial – Yes, No, and Other Options (which ironically should have been called Yes and NO Other Options). http://www.artsheffield.org.uk/as08/index.html

    He did this whole text as a curatorial framework as the crux of not over performing for the art world and its institutions. I saw the talk (before the show opened), it gave me optimism… and got me all hyped up!

    I then went to another talk, where he was at. And to my disappointment – his talk was exactly the same as the previous. He performed the very thing which was supposedly propose alternatives to performing in this over-worked paradigm of which we live in.

    The show was just a visual essay to his text. It didn’t allow the space for dialogue. The pressure to performed proved too much for the show and indeed Jan.

    I just don’t really understand people who put so much energy into creating these texts, and theories and curatorial frameworks if they, themselves do the complete opposite to which they are preaching.

  • Art Fag City

    Well, actually, that’s the next post (I think). I won’t know for sure until I’ve written it, but I’m very skeptical when it comes to how all this gets applied to art. The problem is that while this talk feels very liberating to the practice, it feels like an awful burden on art.

  • Art Fag City

    Well, actually, that’s the next post (I think). I won’t know for sure until I’ve written it, but I’m very skeptical when it comes to how all this gets applied to art. The problem is that while this talk feels very liberating to the practice, it feels like an awful burden on art.

  • Art Fag City

    Well, actually, that’s the next post (I think). I won’t know for sure until I’ve written it, but I’m very skeptical when it comes to how all this gets applied to art. The problem is that while this talk feels very liberating to the practice, it feels like an awful burden on art.

  • ak

    I like this Paddy…. and I guess I would’ve liked to have seen the lectures. What’s nice about it is that art writing/art theory/art discourse–as much as I can tell–is not really that interesting because it seems to be the only field where you can say something and it’s never challenged, or perhaps more accurately, you can say something and it’s accepted uncritically, not thought about in any way and just enters this murky world of pseudo-philosophy/not-that-interesting commentary. I very much look forward to your follow-up post. I read Verwoert’s Frieze essay and unless I missed something (I really didn’t read it that closely) it didn’t really seem that interesting. I may read it again. Maybe.

    This reminds me, longingly, of Robert Storr vs. Okwui Enwezor, Francisco Bonami, et al. in Artforum a few months ago… a undeniable element of childishness was at play there but it was very interesting… so rarely am I compelled to re-read and really, closely read some piece of “critical” art writing, as I was with those wonderful exchanges and the source material (reviews of Storr’s Biennale). Without dialogue–when it is just one somewhat amorphous, certainly unstructured, and possibly vacuous essay after another getting released into the world, one after another, that is–then art discourse isn’t really discourse and it won’t be very relevant and will just be “‘subjective’ information about art,” the “conversation” by “commentators.” like the “news.”

    mebbe i’m wrong. certainly there is good art writing, but too much fluff disguised as academic writing gets uncritically accepted. actually this last part doesn’t really apply to Verwoert–i dont’ think you can characterize the frieze essay as academic. I did like the beginning, though, about narcissism and megalomania–or am i just reading myself into that.

    This actually turned out to be an unfocused rambling. Sorry.

  • ak

    I like this Paddy…. and I guess I would’ve liked to have seen the lectures. What’s nice about it is that art writing/art theory/art discourse–as much as I can tell–is not really that interesting because it seems to be the only field where you can say something and it’s never challenged, or perhaps more accurately, you can say something and it’s accepted uncritically, not thought about in any way and just enters this murky world of pseudo-philosophy/not-that-interesting commentary. I very much look forward to your follow-up post. I read Verwoert’s Frieze essay and unless I missed something (I really didn’t read it that closely) it didn’t really seem that interesting. I may read it again. Maybe.

    This reminds me, longingly, of Robert Storr vs. Okwui Enwezor, Francisco Bonami, et al. in Artforum a few months ago… a undeniable element of childishness was at play there but it was very interesting… so rarely am I compelled to re-read and really, closely read some piece of “critical” art writing, as I was with those wonderful exchanges and the source material (reviews of Storr’s Biennale). Without dialogue–when it is just one somewhat amorphous, certainly unstructured, and possibly vacuous essay after another getting released into the world, one after another, that is–then art discourse isn’t really discourse and it won’t be very relevant and will just be “‘subjective’ information about art,” the “conversation” by “commentators.” like the “news.”

    mebbe i’m wrong. certainly there is good art writing, but too much fluff disguised as academic writing gets uncritically accepted. actually this last part doesn’t really apply to Verwoert–i dont’ think you can characterize the frieze essay as academic. I did like the beginning, though, about narcissism and megalomania–or am i just reading myself into that.

    This actually turned out to be an unfocused rambling. Sorry.

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