One of the lasting myths about artists is that they are mad geniuses-- opting out of society and living in near starvation in a bohemian lifestyle. Choosing a sparse life of the barest necessesity to give breath to a richness of vision. The visionary artist and visionary madman often overlap.The murderous mad Carrivagio who faked his own death or so we think, Van Gogh who cut his own ear off, Klimt who spent his last days in an a sanitarium. Madness is part of life and perhaps in those moments of we are deeply human. One particularly fruitful intersection of art life and madness is art Brut, a branch of European outsider art, which is tied to the mental hospitals in Germany and France. I once herd Phyllis Kind, the notable outsider art dealer say that there are two kinds of obsession, those that you can momentarily let go of during your normal day and those obsessions that regardless of your will, won't let go of you.Some artists are called to art, from birth probably, but it is always in them and some artists come to art out of discovery that they cannot live with out it. In Rilke's letters to a young poet he poses this all important question to a young student, "ask yourself" he says, if in your darkest hour "...must I have art in order to live?" Rilke insists that art is not a profession, no one he says needs an artist. An artists must have a deep inner need for creating. The artist Bruce Nauman came to art by way of studying behavioral psychology. While in school he took an art class and this forever changed his life--he is one of the most influential living artists. Much of his work comes from his passion for psychology and the dark, complex working of the mind.At first I found his work too obscure and difficult. This was my fault, I simply didn't understand what Nauman was getting at.
Private World in Public Spcace
I saw his work in four major museums in four different cites and never grasp his voice and nuances. This is because Nauman is hard to exhibit in a museum, the work because grand, larger than life, elevated to a higher level by the austerity and reverence of the museum. Nauman's work is full of reverence, but for small, everyday, overlooked miracles. The first Nauman piece that grasp me and never let go was this kind of inescapable human moment. On two TV screens facing each other Nauman jumped up and down, saying "No,No,No,No" over and over in a haunting but natural repitition. Instantly his obsession became mine. I still live that piece in my head every time I picture it--the sound and movement simply perfect.The exhibition "Slightly Unbalanced" in the Yates gallery at the Chicago Cultural Center presents works of art expressing in some way neurosis. As the curator noted it is always a problem creating a thematic exhibition and trying to find works that fit the theme--you run the risk of having art work simply illustrate an idea. It is better to have art work in mind and let the idea somehow evolve. If any work in the exhibition somehow holds all the contradictions of neuorsis and art it is the Bruce Nauman work. On first entering the exhibition there is a small empty room larger than a walk in closet, but not much larger. A bare lightbulb hangs from the ceiling. It is like stepping into one of the unknowable frames that always seem to box in figures in Francis Bacon paintings. The void of the empty room does not feel of emptiness. Sulfur yellow light flickering from the naked bulb overhead gives the room a lonely feel. There is a strangeness and de ja vu a familiarity that arises and a voice from the walls mumbles unintelligible at first. If emptiness is letting go, not holding on to ideas or desires, the space in the room is displaced by a voice and idea. "Get out of my head" and "Get out of this room" repeat over and over in a haunting way. The voice arises and passes, and arises again, till the sound sticks. We cannot get out of our heads anymore than we can get the sound we are hearing out of our head. Nauman knows all our world is bound by our mind, but he shows us something more-- a kind of radical acceptance of what is. The voice is like a dynamic meditation, focusing on a repeated mantra it becomes the sound of what is happening.
Childhood: Our youth is a rich source inspiration.
Wednesday, January 30
at 9:16 PM