Monday, December 20, 2010

Carmen Herrera Paints On + Wojnarowicz Film to Travel

It sometimes is the case that great artists, especially highly original ones or who do not fit the artworld's templates and expectations, may work an entire lifetime and get little or no recognition or notice, and less remuneration.  Okay, that sounds a bit depressing, but here's a positive story, about Cuban-born, New York-based artist Carmen Herrera (1915-), discovered at age 89, that has been reported several times over the last year, though I like these two pieces, one in The Telegraph and the other in The Guardian UK, most of the ones I've read about this artist.  Both show Herrera to be a hoot, as sharp as a knifeblade and as candid as an open window, with a wit and way with words. (Her poor assistant.) But she also sounds like she could be fun to spend some time with, before you became a bother and prevented her from doing her work, which she is evidently (and thankfully) going to do, with aplomb, until she can't any more. So, take it away, Carmen Herrera! (from the The Telegraph interview, conducted by Helena de Bertodano, "Carmen Herrera: 'Is It a Dream?" reposted at Repeating Islands (by Lisa Paravisini):

‘It’s a very selfish way of doing things – I [Herrera] have to work on it for a while before I come to a decision. Sometimes it takes weeks and sometimes I get stuck.

I get very mad and sometimes I win and sometimes the picture wins. I hate being interrupted when I am working but now I am interrupted all the time.’ She looks at me accusingly and laughs.

‘Really, fame is ridiculous. I didn’t used to bother anyone and no one bothered me. Now I am paying because they are paying me.

‘The money is useful because at the end of life, to my amazement, you need a lot of help. Otherwise I would end up in a nursing home. And I dread that.’

Herrera has four helpers who rotate around the clock, enabling her to stay in the home she has occupied for decades.

I ask her when she moved in. ‘About 18 years ago,’ she says. Bechara, who sits in on part of the interview, intervenes. ‘Come on, darling, 18 years ago! You came here in 1968.’

‘You are very nasty, Tony,’ says Herrera. ‘When you are 95 you will forget your own name.’

If you happen to be in London, her work is currently on exhibit alongside work by Peter Joseph at Lisson Gallery, London NW1, until 29 January 2011.

Red with White Triangle (1961)

As has been widely reported, the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution bowed to crass political pressure when it removed the 4-minute excerpt of late artist David Wojnarowicz's (1954-1992) film "A Fire In My Belly" from its landmark queer portraiture exhibit, "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture." As the Chicago Tribune's Lauren Vieira reported on Saturday, it was only a month into the show's run when the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, the outfit run by Bill Donohue, denounced the film as "hate speech," based on an 11-second clip in which ants crawl across a crucifix.  Shades of L'Age D'Or, etc. The lachrymose incoming Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH), also slammed the work as a waste of taxpayers' money. Said the museum in a December 6th statement, the "Hide/Seek" exhibit would "continue as planned," until February 13, 2010, without Wojnarowicz's film, which allegedly "distracted from the overall exhibition." Ah, thuggery.

In response, some supporters of this particular artist and artwork, queer art and artistic freedom in general, and the rights of public museums not to be bullied have staged protests in Washington and New York City.  Vieira adds that a number of private museums and institutions across the country also have obtained permission from Wojnarowicz's estate to show the film; one will be the University of Chicago's Smart Museum of Art, which like several other Chicago-area museums plans to show it early next year, from January 4-February 6, 2011, accompanied by a faculty panel discussion. I am glad that other museums have decided to respond by highlighting the work of Wojnarowicz, who at his death had become one of the most important of the first wave of American artists and writers, and persons with AIDS, addressing the AIDS crisis and its devastating effects. Google to find out if "A Fire In My Belly" is screening near you, and if you're in Chicago in January, the Smart Museum's info is available here.

The 4'11" clip from "A Fire in My Belly" (from semiotexte, via YouTube)


As for Haley Barbour's repellent comments today grossly revising the history the white supremacist Concerned Citizens' Councils, please see my blogpost of yesterday, and look carefully at the map of the slavocracy in 1860. Barbour is a Mississippian, and not of the progressive type. I need say no more.

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