Friday, March 13, 2009

I was talking to another curator yesterday, and the subject of this blog came up. "How do you have time to write a blog?" she asked. "I don't have time to read your blog, much less write one of my own."

How do I have time? The answer is that sometimes I don't. Hence my failure to alert you to the Kathryn Cornelius talk last night in which I participated--organized by my favorite gallerist without a gallery, Fabian Bernal.

Of course, you were probably at the James Turrell lecture at the Hirshhorn, anyway. Still, we had a decent crowd, and plenty of Kathryn's work on view, including videos playing on monitors or projected on walls all over the house.

I was pleased to be able to introduce Kathryn; I've been a fan for a few years now, and have always enjoyed writing about her work--see here, here, here, here, and here.

I tried to provide some historical perspective for performance and conceptual work; I also tried to explain the generous spirit I see at work in Kathryn's pieces. Ask Kathryn why she does what she does, and the answer she'll give you sounds almost quaint: She makes her work because she genuinely wants to improve the quality of people's lives. This to me sounds tremendously old fashioned, and makes me think of descriptions of art as a form of life enhancement given by early modern connoisseurs like Bernard Berenson. (Of course, Berenson saw art as a rarefied, academic activity, inspiring disinterested contemplation. Kathryn's work is definitely interested.)

I think contemporary artists tend not to buy into the modernist belief in revolutionizing or transforming life as we know it. I might expect someone doing Kathryn's kind of interactive, sometimes theatrical pieces to keep things firmly tongue-in-cheek, conveying a sense of the powerlessness of art, of its lack of ability to transform much of anything, save for in very constrained or controlled situations, or through deliberately goofy utopian ideas, ironically expressed.

Instead, Kathryn readily accepts the ways in which managers and office workers try to order and make sense of their lives. She's an early adopter, willing to put new technology or social networking platforms at the center of her pieces. She's also unafraid of the maxims of both corporate culture and new age self-help, and she finds a commonality between them and the language of continental theory types like Pierre Bourdieu.

A few people left her talk convinced that they'd just experienced yet another performance, and not a proper artist's talk: Kathryn offered a power-point presentation brimming over with vocabulary lessons, names of authors writing on management and communication, and exhaustive analysis of her entire body of work--which she broke down into categories based on, yes, a business book.

Anyway, my apologies if you missed it. Next time I'll try to give you a timely heads up!


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