Friday, June 20, 2014


Or… The Curse of Coming from the Suburbs

My advice to anyone who wants to make it in the big-time art world is to remove the Scarlet Letter “S” (for “Suburban”) from your forehead. Scrub it off! Don’t leave a trace!

"Expulsion from the Suburban Garden of Eden"- oil on canvas, 48"x72"
Any hint that you are from the suburbs, born there, used to live there, currently live here, will immediately put you out of the running. A couple of years ago, just for the hell of it, I checked the hundred or so exhibitors at a Whitney Biennial and guess what, only one or two listed suburban addresses, not just New York, but anywhere else in the country. I’ve had friends who have tried to pass as city dwellers by giving phony addresses, but it just doesn’t work. It’s the Scarlet Letter “S.” You can’t get rid of it. An artist from the Suburbs? No chance! Dealers, curators, trendy arts writers can spot you right away.

"Loehmann's Dressing Room" -  oil and charcoal on canvas , 68"x104"
Is Suburban Art all that bad? Well, yes, most of it is. But so is what comes out of Brooklyn or Queens; 90% of that is dreadful as well, just a little more pretentiously avant garde and with better-written “explanatory” verbiage. The main problem I see with local art is that it suffers from two things: small working spaces (to do important work today you need space) and something an architectural historian friend of mine used to call the “Retardataire,” describing the lag between the main cultural centers and those of the outskirts. He was referring primarily to architectural styles but it also applies to the arts.  In Stamford, for example, most of the art I see was “hot” more than fifty years ago in New York. The train from New York City is slow; what can I tell you? And the Scarlet Letter “S” follows you everywhere.

"More Suburbia " - oil on canvas, 72"x46"
Many years ago (twenty maybe?) I trotted into the city with a box of slides and a viewer. I was reluctant to go but a friend persuaded me to tag along with her to see if we could find a New York City (SOHO) Gallery to show our work.  When we got to Ivan Karp’s prominent “O.K. Harris Gallery”, he was sitting there, looking at slides. He liked what I showed him and asked where my studio was - he wanted to drop by. When I replied that I lived in Stamford, he pushed my work away and said, “I only have a 20 minute radius.” When a prominent artist friend later talked to him about me, he said haughtily, “I never go to the suburbs to see art.” Mr. Karp, at least, was being honest about the Scarlet “S.”

Which leaves you/me with two alternatives: one is to move into the city, forget that you ever lived here, deny that your parents live here, that you went to school here; make up a story that you were found in a trash can on West Fourth Street and were brought up by friends of Allen Ginsburg in Greenwich Village. Or, you can do what I am doing: accept the reality that the Scarlet “S” is going to be on your forehead forever and just keep on creating. There’s much to be said for that!

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