Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Day for Detroit

McSorley’s Bar, 1912
John Sloan
Oil on canvas
26 x 32 in.
Founders Society Purchase, General Membership Fund

I haven't posted in some time, but this is important. Tyler Green, the creator/journalist of Modern Art Notes has declared today A Day for Detroit in support of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). There is the possibility that much of DIA's important art collection may be sold as part of the city's bankruptcy proceedings. In support of the DIA, I have selected McSorley's Bar by John Sloan as one of my favorite works.

Please go to Mr. Green's blog and read more in support of this treasured institution. There are may ways you can support. Perhaps, like me, you can become a member of the DIA (I'll post my membership confirmation tomorrow). The city of Detroit needs it, the people of Detroit need it, the DIA needs it.

Go Tigers!

Friday, November 2, 2012

storm drain

Installation view, Gasser Grunert, "Where I Have Lived and What I Live For"

Rebecca Morgan
Installation View: "Where I Have Lived and What I Live For"
Gasser Grunert, 2010
all works believed lost

I believe that some of the art I make is good. I also believe that my best work is produced when I am making a lot of it. In addition, if the project is well conceived before I ever put a pencil or paint to surface, the result is better. It is sometimes as though the work makes itself.

Right now I have a set of two unfinished paintings tacked to my studio wall. They're stuck. I keep trying to complete them but I remain indecisive. I have been working on them for more than a year. Sometimes the size and complexity of work requires a substantial period of time for completion. These paintings are neither complex nor large. They were incomplete from the get-go.

Years ago, my inability to complete these paintings would have rendered me unable to complete any other paintings. It wasn't perfectionism, it was ego and fear and procrastination. I would have fixated on how profound their narrative was, how complete they needed to be. I am fortunate that my practice has broadened enough that have I now have more ideas than time, and I no longer believe my work to be so weighty that a particular project's failure can hinder the production of other work.

I have been thinking about this a lot in the wake of Sandy, and her devastating impact on artists in the New York City area. I have several friends who have lost not just whole bodies of work, but also the spaces in which they create them.  News photos of Manhattan's Chelsea galleries and Brooklyn's Red Hook studios break my heart.While this devastation is certainly less tragic than the loss of lives and homes, I feel so sad for the artists and the hours of dedication and skill they had invested in their work.

But I am hopeful. The artists I know will continue to make good and perhaps even better work. All of their knowledge and skill will be enhanced by the personal experience of this loss. The community of artists will be strengthened by it. I believe this.

I'm looking at these two paintings again and I'm going to put them away or get rid of them outright. If by some calamity, in 10 years, my work was all destroyed, I would much rather go forward with the sense of accomplishment of having  made a substantive amount of work, good and bad. I would value the experience and craft gained in the process of making that work. The real tragedy would be in attempting, achieving and then losing nothing.

To all of my tribe who have lost studios and work due to Sandy, my heart breaks for you. But really... I can't wait to see the work that comes next.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

from the outside

[People Looking at Political Posters on Street, Paris]
Rudy Burckhardt  (American (born Switzerland), Basel 1914–1999 Searsmont, Maine)
Date: 1934
Medium: Gelatin silver print
Dimensions: Image: 16 x 23.7 cm (6 5/16 x 9 5/16 in.) 18.9 x 24.9 cm (7 7/16 x 9 13/16 in.) Classification: Photographs
Credit Line: Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2009
Accession Number: 2009.278 Rights and Reproduction:
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

17 highly personal reasons that I’m conflicted about the teacher’s strike...
  1. teachers must be highly compensated when they do good work
  2. everyone who has a job must be evaluated at some point
  3. individuals who cannot fulfill the requirements should be retrained or replaced
  4. the battling egos of karen lewis and rahm emmanuel... rahm you’re short, karen you’re fat...get over it and think about the kids
  5. there weren’t student teaching opportunities at my graduate school, because the school’s faculty union prohibited them (as we were told by our department chair)
  6. teachers should not be considered daycare providers, social workers or medical practitioners
  7. I have applied to more than 600 jobs in the past two years and have only recently become a part-time employee earning not quite twice minimum wage
  8. if you exhibit at mccormick place you are not allowed to plug into an electrical socket or move a table even six inches, the union has to do it - and they’ll charge you for it
  9. parents need to be responsible for what their children do - not teachers
  10. 12.5 million people are unemployed in the united states
  11. “absolute power corrupts absolutely”
  12. in general, negotiation means compromise on both sides - this isn’t about “breaking” either side - i highly doubt that either the chicago school board or teacher’s union will be voting for the republican party - and if you’re voting for the green party - well i have no words
  13. books absolutely need to be provided the first day of class - shame on the Board of Ed
  14. the NATO summit - what a colossal cluster and waste of time and resources
  15. if standardized tests don’t accurately assess current curriculum, either the test, or the curriculum need to change
  16. there should be air conditioning in all public schools, but you’re going to have to reform the entire system of municipal building codes, permit acquisition and construction in the city to do this...good luck with that...(yes, talk to any architect who has worked on the city’s education facilities)
  17. I had a plumber walk out of my apartment because we had installed our own dishwasher 15 years before...because it was not union installed. never mind that the job for which we needed him had nothing to do with said dishwasher

i will support the union because i am a liberal and unions are the only institution where many individuals can be treated and compensated fairly - i just wish we lived in a country where individuals were respected in such a way that unions were no longer necessary.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Today is Memorial Day. Originally conceived to honor fallen Union soldiers after the Civil War, the holiday now honors all members of the U.S. Armed Forces who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country.

In 2005 we went to France. Paris was the main goal as we had wanted to experience it together for a long time, but we decided to begin our trip in Normandy. I’m so glad we did.

Seeing the tiny ribbon that is Omaha Beach and the lovingly cared-for graves of 9,387 soldiers that are buried there was a deeply moving experience. We were both moved to tears, and talk about that trip every Memorial Day. I’ve experienced the same complex emotions while visiting our National Cemetery at Arlington, Virginia. There, almost all of the graves are identical. A military cook may be found buried next to a Colonel.

I am neither celebrating nor criticizing war. It is a terrible thing, I’m certain the 400,000 individuals buried at Arlington would attest to that. Every American should be required to visit Arlington. Perhaps it might give us some perspective when we plan the activities of our holiday celebrations, and what we might pause to consider during them.

And to those that have served, thank you.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

the till is dry...

Last Fall I again experienced the semi-vagabond life, having been granted two significant artist residencies.  Thank you to both Oxbow and Ragdale for seven weeks and more fodder than I can possibly paint in the next several years. I am particularly focused on the work addressing truth and fiction in memory and nostalgia.

Because my mind is preoccupied with the visual work at hand, I am finding it hard to put pen to paper for blog content. (Yes, I often write long-hand.) Frankly, it's been a struggle to write since my return to Chicago in 2010. I don't want Art & Thinking to drift away, but have had to seriously consider its future. What to do, what to do....


Among new and old friends, peers, and acquaintances there are some seriously talented writers. Thus, I am inviting submissions to Art & Thinking. I cannot pay you, but will fully credit you and provide a brief bio. The work can be fact or fiction, poetry, prose, criticism, and/or opinion. My only caveat being that it concern contemporary culture and the arts - preferably those visual.  Submissions should not exceed 1000 words. Please DO NOT submit writing that could substitute as a press release for your upcoming event  - we can include that information in you bio. 

In addition, I want to profile visual artists and their work. Here, I must admit, preference will be given to Chicago-area artists. But anyone may submit.  Artists should submit a link to their website, an artists statement and a CV.

Please submit materials, questions. and/or comments to  I will then contact you to discuss the post.

Hope to see you here!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

rest ye merry gentlemen

Child with Christmas Card
Alden Finney Brooks ( 1840 - 1932)
Watecolor, graphite and gold paint on wove cardboard
Maria DeWitt Jesup Fund, 1989 Accession Number: 1989.299, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Christmas did seem pretty swell when I was a kid. Sure there was Santa and the presents, but there were many other aspects of the season that made it different than the rest of the year.  Christmas served to soften the blow of the cold and bleak months that would follow. It was a sensory event filled with good cheer.

One day you would arrive home and Christmas cookies would be baking. Decorating them required concentration and teamwork. Another afternoon, you would find the stair's bannister transformed with swags of pine, fruit, silver beads and pale green satin ribbon. There was the advent calendar, the cut paper snowflakes, the ornament guessing game, the army of plastic carolers (my father piped music outside the house) and barrage christmas lights adorning our home. At school we would practice our carols for the pageant and each Sunday at Mass we would light the advent wreath. There was often snow on the ground and we would skate at the park after school. And the Christmas cards! It seemed as though my parents received hundreds. I would pour over them trying to order them best to worst. Every activity coerced that heightened sense of anticipation for the great day.

As time went on things fell off. Would my father get called in for a delivery? Would my mother drink too much? Would I get their tree be done by Christmas? Would I do my parent's Christmas shopping for them? Would I have to wrap my own Christmas present, which in the end would be two pairs of pants from Marshall's, four sizes too small and one of which was torn. (Yes, my father handed me the plastic Marshall's bag and told me to wrap it for myself.)

When I began my own adult life. I wanted to recapture all of the good things. After all, Christmas was the one time of year when everything looked special and everyone was kind to each other. You could still decorate the house, have a beautiful tree, make great food to enjoy with friends and family, and send out the type of card that you would surely have ranked in your own  top five. You could recapture, I thought, the good parts of your memories, perhaps even invent new ones. But nostalgia is a tricky thing and anticipation guarantees disappointment. The two married together are positively dangerous. You wish for something that never really was and hope for something that won't materialize and in the end, you have another day with a lot of stuff that just needs to be wrapped up and put away in just a couple of weeks.

Oh, I had that heightened sense of Christmas spirit for a day and a half this year and it was nice, but I just don't have the energy anymore. I guess, in the end, the satisfaction will come from just trying to live in the here and now and demonstrating kindness and compassion towards my fellow man, no matter their race, creed or means. You know, the Golden Rule. After all, wouldn't that be the best way to honor the individual Whose birthday started this whole spectacle?

Monday, November 21, 2011

lead pipe

postcard IV, 40 x 40, oil and graphite on polymered paper, © 2011 sioban lombardi

Yesterday I read an article that only reinforced my cultural and societal pessimism around contemporary culture. The article in the New York Times, A Career Provocateur described performance artist Marina Abramovic’s program for the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art’s (MOCA) fundraising gala. Before I delve into my concerns regarding the event, I want to address some just plain stupid things stated in the article.

Obviously, the article's author is not well versed in the canon of contemporary art, hence the article’s placement in the style section, I suppose. Statements describing Abramovic as “a woman whose provocative works have made her, somewhat unexpectedly at 64, a darling of the increasingly incestuous worlds of fashion, society and art” articulate the author’s ignorance of Abramovic’s prominence in cultural circles. Unexpectedly at 64 - really? Flip back to 1974 and the artist’s work Rhythm 0. It changed the perceived boundary between artist and viewer, it changed feminist art and, if you really paid attention, it revealed the way people are willing to treat each other when given the opportunity.

The article also states that Ms. Abramovic is the first performance artist to wear couture. The author should check in with Yoko Ono. Yes, she’s a performance artist and yes, she’s worn couture. I’m certain that there are many more. Fashion and the arts have long had a relationship. Consider Coco Chanel and Jean Cocteau, Paul Poiret and the Ballet Russes, Andy Warhol and everyone, and Julian Schnabel and pajamas. It was sculptor Jana Sterbak that first created a meat dress more than 20 years ago, Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic. I so wish we were willing to extend our scope beyond the dubious talents of Lady Gaga and those parasitic Kardashian sisters. Conversations would be so much more interesting.

Finally, there is the shock expressed that Ms. Abramovic attended rehearsals carrying a $1500. Givenchy handbag.  What is she supposed to carry, a burlap sack? I love fashion, and were I as successful as Ms. Abramovic, I too would carry a beautiful handbag. I would prefer an Hermes Birkin or perhaps some bespoke Italian job. The myth of the starving artist is ridiculous and threadbare. As I’ve said before the cultural economy is one of the few remaining areas of independent production in the United States. Artists deserve to be paid for their work. Unfortunately, the so-called artists we reward have pink hair, lip sync and rely on Auto-Tune. Pity, when there is so much thoughtful work actually being made.

Well, that is enough ranting about clothes and ignorance. Let’s discuss Caligula.

If you recall, the article is staged around the fundraising Gala for MOCA. The entire evening appears to have been spectacle. Live performers whose heads protruded from holes in table tops, naked performers draped in fake skeletons as table centerpieces, cakes crafted in the shape of the artist’s naked body, a performance by Debra Harry. Ms. Abramovic is quoted stating. “But this evening is not about fancy dress and who [sic] have enough money.” Frankly, that is all it was about. The star-studded gala raised $2.5 million for the California museum.

Meanwhile, near that state’s capital (and across the country) the proles were coping with the abuse that peaceful students suffered at the hands of campus police.

I would like to pass this off as an LA thing, but it’s not. Frankly some of the best painting in the country is coming out of Los Angeles. But as a society, we are no longer capable of experiencing a work of art on its own merit. It has to be seen or heard with the assistance of an audio tour, television reality show, hired performers and a full day of scheduled programming. Just look at how many museum-goers choose to experience a work of art through the viewfinder of their smart phone. Museums have to keep up with this dumbing down and it’s expensive. Please don’t forget to stop in the gift shop.

Some theorize that the excess, failure and eventual collapse of the Roman Empire was due to pipes and cookware lined with lead. I doubt there is a lead problem in the Los Angeles drinking water. But I wonder when cultural institutions such as MOCA decided that their need for money, status and power was so great that the overindulgence displayed at this gala could fly in the face of attacks on personal liberty and the economic catastrophe playing out across the United States and abroad.

Shame on these institutions and shame on the artists involved. Sorry David.

Next post: the no complicit museum.