Look. We have a problem here that creative people are learning to circumvent. The economy is awful, and while auction-house prices are staying weirdly 1%-er high, the rest of the art world—discrete art scenes, city by city—are still experiencing a hell of a financial sinkhole. This is when artists do what Tina Fey writes about in her autobiography: when faced with an obstacle, you simply have to think (via the wisdom of Sesame Street): “ Over! Under! Through!”
Artists with talent and a strong will to survive, who find themselves without gallery representation, are having to do whatever they have to do to get their work out there. This is the type of economy when obscure or otherwise overlooked non-profits can turn themselves into true heroes of the moment by grasping the opportunity to get the best shit being made into their spaces. A good non-profit curator and board needs to take advantage of this. Very few artists will say “No” to the offer of an exhibition right now. (Even rich and famous artists seem willing to try out a venue they might have dismissed in 2007. I’m having a field day at Fort Worth Contemporary Arts. In the last six months, every artist I’ve asked to show in the space has said yes, whether I’m in a financial position to ship the work or not. This includes Matthew Collings, Liam Gillick, and Martin Creed—later for that one, given his recent run at Nasher—Rufus Corporation, etc. Even Sadie Coles Gallery seems very happy to see Angus Fairhurst’s gorilla get a new airing in my space. Luckily the gorilla normally lives in Dallas.)
Margaret Meehan is a talent whose time is straddling the awkwardness of this moment. Nearly everyone who sees her work wants to see more of it. She had a good run of it when she lived in DFW, with Cynthia Mulcahy (one of the most discerning of art dealers), then of course the big Pretty Baby show at the Modern, and very solid solo and group shows at Road Agent and other places. She was on her way. (When the economy tanked and Road Agent shut, she was offered other gallery homes in Dallas, which she turned down, for reasons concerning a phenomenon I swear to god I will get into in a near-future column.)
Meehan, who in this massive disclaimer I will admit is a friend of mine, is my friend for a lot of reasons, but I will stress this: I cannot be friends with crap artists. I won’t do it. I don’t have the time or the will. Meehan’s art caught my eye before I got to know her, and then I just happened to fall for her as a person, as well. That’s how the world works. Pauline Kael would have told you that years ago.
When I walked into her show at Women and their Work right after it opened weeks ago, and this is the last weekend you can catch it, by the way, I went all stupid. It’s a museum-grade show in an unexpected place, for free, with no docents or guards hanging over you. I was praying I would like it, of course, but what happened was this: I went into a kind of Beavis and Butthead brain-fog trance, which I only do in the face of really, really good work. My usual ability to articulate shut down. I laughed a lot, and also felt sad and defeated and elated. In the face of great art I turn into a pure instinct machine, a dog-like animal that wants to smell and then pee all over the territory and then force everyone else to sniff it. “See! See! This is awesome! Look at this!”
I was relieved to read in the New York Times last weekend that Samuel Beckett found writing about art he liked very problematic. He would sit in front of an artwork for an hour if he really liked it and all he could say or think was: “Wonderful. Wonderful.” If that prolific and genius man can go dumb in the face of great art, then my far less talented ass can too. And while it may be my part-time job to describe and discuss and even sometimes review art work, I find myself at my philosophical bullshitting talkative best (think Gillick on a chatty day) when I’m having to explain or defend something I’m not so sure about. It’s easy to bullshit when there’s not much to lose. But put me in front of a great De Kooning and I just start to sob like a baby. Fuck words.
(A tangent: I don’t have much to say about the gorilla at FWCA, and that’s not because there’s not much there. It’s because that piece speaks for itself. It’s so packed, in its 1100 pound bronze mass, with emotion and meaning that it’s kind of stupid to attempt to one-up it with language, and I write this with the utmost respect for the flexibility and generosity of our language. That whole cliché that everyone misattributes to Elvis Costello but was actually coined by Martin Mull and often used by bad artists of all types to dismiss criticism—“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture”—is wrongheaded. We do communicate ideas and feelings and experiences through language, of course, and there will be people who for geographical reasons will not be able to see Meehan’s show. So I should review it for them. I could review it for them. But I won’t.)
Because her show encompasses generations of bile, exploitation, aggression, and nerve, mostly about the complexity of women’s place in our recent history, and she does it all in an 800 square foot space that we might have walked right past on another day, in another year and in a better economy, and she accomplishes it all without a saying a single word. The show is her communication, and I can’t one up what she’s done with words, and she’s too important to me to let down with a wordy review. Let me just assure you then, in a tiny nine-word “review”: There is subtlety, anger, beauty, and there is blood.
What more can an art lover ask for in a show?
So why do I have to tell you anything other than “Go see it.”? This is Glasstire, which I assume you are reading because you’re in Texas, and Austin is central. Get in your car.
I don’t want to write a review. I want to sit in that space, I want to lick the polished cast aluminum boxing gloves and gaze at the giant quiet photographs of the fighting albino Victorian wolf woman, and stroke the shimmering black punching bag and listen to the death-metal soundtrack that accompanies the show, and then listen as well to your own Beavis chortle when you walk in and confront it all, and I don’t think Beckett would blame me for a moment.
Margaret Meehan: Hystrionics and the Forgotten Arm
Women and Their Work
Through November 12, 2011