I thought of your title of your late shopping cart sculpture filled with discarded works, The Final Insult, today and also wondered whether I had awkwardly stumbled on the very reason you didn’t show very often—was it to protect yourself from the insults that are unavoidable in the smaller, less professional galleries. Let me explain: Charles and I rented a Ryder truck so that we could transport four large diptychs from my Home Economics series to Seton Hall University for their summer show. The group show of just a few artists was arranged by an established not for profit gallery that did not have their own truck or staff for art handling though they did help out towards the cost of transportation. The director of the gallery had called me up and asked that I be in the exhibition and told me that my image would be on the card. He was persuasive and convinced me to be in the show. I had not been sure whether I should be in the show because I believed that I most likely would be the strongest artist of the group as this was a gallery devoted to the unknown emerging artist, and I also thought that I would certainly be the only artist with gallery affiliation in NYC. But I am not a household name. I’m still emerging. Stella, you weren’t a household name either. Being a 54 year old relatively unknown artist is difficult with no manual of rules or etiquette to follow. I wasn’t sure whether it was good to be the strongest artist in a group, and I worried whether that would help my reputation or whether it would hurt it--but I didn’t know whom to ask. While I was glad not to be perceived as the weakest in the exhibition, I worried about my painting being surrounded by weaker art that was not as accomplished. But few organizations were asking me to show. I was in that awkward realm of having achieved some success but not the success appropriate for the originality of my diptychs. Should I only show at the Robert Steele Gallery every two to four years where all the artists are without question more or less equals? I like to keep my resume active and I haven’t decided like some of my peers to stop showing locally. New Jersey both benefits and suffers from being so close to Manhattan. From being part bedroom community just minutes away yet also part suburban and farther away rural. The art scene isn’t as concentrated as that in Brooklyn. Barry Schwabsky has left the country and no longer writes criticism for the NJ section of the New York Times. I was very fortunate to have gotten a review from him in 1998, one of his last reviews for the NJ section.
Stella, let me describe the mayhem: the University staff had started to paint their office walls and had moved the desks from the offices in front of two of my paintings. While nothing was damaged the show had been advertised. I wasn’t embarrassed anymore about picking up my work early because of my vacation schedule. I was now embarrassed about their lack of professionalism. I didn’t mail out many invitations. I mailed to my friends in the university’s area. I was glad to pick up the work without noting any damage but thought that the University was extremely inconsiderate and had an incomprehensible and total disregard for me. While I didn’t like the other abstract painting in the show even I didn’t think that furniture should be placed in front of their work. After working for ten years in a regional museum with a bifurcation between union staff and curatorial staff, I very easily became exasperated with the painters taking precedence over the artists or the intellectuals. The insult to my integrity was so familiar. I normally felt weak relative to artists with a reputation but this made me feel even weaker. I’ve never felt that New Yorker’s negative feelings about NJ were justified but this incident made me more insecure and angrier than ever about living in New Jersey. It was easy to forget that I could never have afforded my large and beautiful studio elsewhere. Artists don’t have negative thoughts about having a loft here as it’s so convenient to the city. But there are dealers who have said that they won’t travel here.
While I’m writing you Stella I’d like to tell you about another insult at another not for profit gallery. This time in Manhattan. Several years ago at the Educational Alliance, a not for profit gallery and school in NYC, mothers wheeled their strollers into the gallery every morning when they were dropping off their children for daycare. I happened to arrive early one day to visit my exhibition. It was transformed from a contemplative environment to a chaotic babble of young families . Again, nothing was damaged except my pride. But the strollers made me feel my insignificant place in Manhattan. I have devoted my whole life painting spiritual forms of communication. Was it too much to ask for the respect given to a minister, rabbi or priest? Would strollers ever be left in an altar in a church or synagogue? I believe a gallery is just as sacred, and a viable alternative to organized religion. I have felt since my adolescence that art is unique and certainly crucial to society’s development. To me and my world, it is just as important as those children in their strollers were to their parents. At the time, after years of persevering against the insulting odds I didn’t have the self esteem that allowed me to be strong and courageous in the face of an aggressive anti-intellectual society. I was able to persevere in my studio, making tough decisions and not accepting the easy solution to a problem but I was still not filled with ample bravado and assurance. I thought that if I were in the midst of the current fashion that I would have more courage and bravado. But then again, maybe I wouldn’t respect myself for following the trends rather than being a trend setter. With my expressive mark and my stretched fake fur I believe I am making an original statement while respecting history and today’s mass culture. I’ve loved kitsch since I was a graduate student in Chicago. I used to visit the Salvation Army stores throughout the city with friends searching for the cheap plastic of earlier decades or 1960s tawdry dresses constructed of glittery material. While my own painting did not yet draw upon my days of thrift shop searching it now forms the basis for my uses of fake fur today. But I”ve digressed Stella from my experience of an insult.