|The author with Alberto Giacometti's Head (Three-Quarters Profile) (Bust of Diego) |
and a Joy Division t-shirt.
Beyond Belief makes me nostalgic for my life in art in New York in the late 80s through the 1990s when I worked as a registrar and art handler at a gallery in SoHo that was dedicated to the display of identity-based artwork. One of the best artists who showed at the gallery was Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, whose work can be seen in Yerba Buena Gardens and in the recently reinstalled galleries of the Crocker Art Museum. Jaune told me I had to read Suzi Gablik, author of Has Modernism Failed?, a ground-breaking and deliciously nostalgic work from 1984. Gablik explores the spiritual underpinnings of Modernism in its earliest forms, such as Wasily Kandinsky and Kazimir Malevich, who saw their work as divine. And she bucks the important, later modernist critics such as Clement Greenberg for whom “meaning was a form of philistinism."
|The author with a few pieces by Wasily Kandinsky and Kazimir Malevich, |
and a Captain EO t-shirt.
The exhibition also makes me nostalgic for the first Ross Bleckner exhibition I saw in SoHo in 1988 when he seemed like he was the center of the art universe at Mary Boone Gallery; hearing about Ana Mendieta's early, tragic death in 1985; my discovery of Felix Gonzalez Torres and the Andrea Rosen Gallery in 1990; my first reading of "Concerning the Spiritual in Art,” a modernist manifesto that felt as earnest and determined as anything I'd read before it; my first sighting of a Mona Hatoum work in-print or in-person; my earliest viewing of a Giacometti, and just how personal and classic it felt. Seeing both Giacometti’s Head (Three-Quarters Profile) (Bust of Diego) and Rothko’s No. 14, 1960 at The CJM makes me so proud.
|The author with Ross Bleckner's Knights Not Nights, |
and a Modern Lovers t-shirt.
On the exhibition Beyond Belief's opening night I had my picture taken with the beatifically ninety-plus year-old art historian and curator Peter Selz, someone I've known long enough now in California to call friend. Along the way, I realized he was the one who had written that Rothko catalog in 1961 that I read as an adolescent. In fact, Selz gave Rothko his very first exhibition at New York's MoMA when Peter was a curator there. We stood together in front of the Rothko at the CJM. For a lingering, happy moment I was home, thirteen years old laying in my PJs on the carpet in the air conditioned dream and slowly placing the needle arm down to rest on the spinning black vinyl with the red Columbia record label.
|The author (all grown up) with Art Historian and Curator Peter Selz.|
History repeats the old conceits
The glib replies the same defeats
Keep your finger on important issues
With crocodile tears and a pocketful of tissues
"Beyond Belief", the song by Elvis Costello, likely composed as a purely modernist exercise of piecing together rhyming, found non-sequiturs, now seems to be about nostalgia.
James G. Leventhal is the CJM's Deputy Director for Development. James has 24 years of experience in arts administration including appointments at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. He has presented nationally on the use of technology for audience development and engagement in museums, and serves on the Board of the Western Museums Association. He draws almost every morning with his seven year-old son, hoping to create a life full of art and nostalgia.
Find him on twitter: @jamesgleventhal