GILLIAN CARNEGIE

ANDREA ROSEN GALLERY | JANUARY 29 – MARCH 5, 2011

I received this moving e-mail from someone at Andrea Rosen Gallery. It starts like this:

 “Dear Jeremy, I hope you are well. I thought you’d be interested in a new show of paintings by Gillian Carnegie….”

I don’t think I know this person so technically for this stranger to call me by my first name, and to then hope for my well-being creates a kind of false…I don’t know…start?

I decided to write her back, asking why she was informing me of Carnegie’s new show. Why me? I’m thinking: Is there something I can do for you?

And then she responds that she knows I wrote on Carnegie for the Rail in 2007. That’s not saying much. Should I be flattered that a computer linked my name (sequence of letters) to the name (sequence of letters) of her painter?

Even if it were classified information, why hadn’t she mentioned in her first e-mail that she’d read my text on Carnegie and that maybe she’d identified with it. Or not. I would have been content had she written with a bit more oompf: “Carnegie has returned for another show at the gallery and even though she is no longer painting gorgeous women’s asses in a way that is surprisingly non-objectifying, I think you may still find her work of interest. So please come by the gallery, I’ll even give you a personal tour!”

It’s like in Cassavetes’s Husbands, in that endless, sloppy scene at that big table in the back of the dark bar, where they are taking turns singing old war songs and then that woman takes her turn, and Falk, Gazzara, and Cassavetes gang up on her and keep cutting her off, yelling at her to sing it again, but like you mean it!

Had I been addressed in a way that made me feel like she meant it, I might have risen to the occasion. I wouldn’t have even needed a personal tour.  Who knows, buoyed by the sheer ecstasy of a connection through words, I might have even found myself game to crank out a review on the spot, without even leaving my desk and shooting up to Chelsea to see the work in person. I might have been willing, in other words, to plunge right in, to leap off the diving board, to build water on my way down.

A letter like the one I am imagining could have really made me want to write. And that’s the thing: in my first text on the artist from a few years ago, I ended with a statement that says something like, “the painter should paint only if she’s in the mood.” Whatever that mood is. I think I also make mention of a bottle of wine. And like Carnegie, I too am an artist who wouldn’t mind being in the mood.

I continued to obsess over the poor gallery assistant’s last-ditch effort to get her boss’s show reviewed. Ordinarily I would have been sympathetic of her attempt to just do her job, but for some reason this time I began to boil over with rage. I started sending rant-mails to my other e-mail address. Anything to keep myself from pushing send on that swelling, harsh, unchecked e-mail to Andrea Rosen gallery, words I inevitably wouldn’t be able to take back.

The problem is that maybe the gallery girl pushed too hard. Maybe she dropped her little- too-lively a worm before my lazy eyes. On one hand, she’d gone too far, and yet I think what I really wanted was for her to go further. To get me aroused. See the dilemma?

Like the New York Times reporter who is not allowed to accept a gift, I knew I couldn’t accept the gift of her hope for my wellness. This would be like taking a bribe. She knows she can’t (or shouldn’t) flatter me into writing. And yet I wanted to believe, in a way, that she did care about me, and that her personal interest in me would release me from the tyranny and boredom of writing with dry, non-mischievous professionalism. So we were at a standoff. I’d say we both wanted the same thing: to get something cooking. In our work.

In this guise I guess I’m a journalist and I have to stick to this logic, even if it comes from my dubious effort to read between the lines of e-mails.  But I think she knows I caught her peeking out from behind a rock. I was like the shaky-handed, sharp-shooting, washed-up Gene Wilder in Blazing Saddles who discovers that he still may have it after all. This is why she wouldn’t come out and play in response to my next e-mail, which I probably shouldn’t have sent. Ugh. Nevertheless this was the end of our brief encounter; it went like this:

“I figured you knew of that review… but is there anything specific about that review? I mean, what more needs to be said? Didn’t I say enough already? Are you proposing that I just pick up the ball again and start running around in circles all by myself?”

And here is my fantasy of her rebuttal that never came: “Dear Mr. Sigler, I hope you are not well. But I have to say I loved your last text on Carnegie specifically because you explored some aspect of your own psyche, and the artist enjoyed your take on the work as well. And she mentioned that she would like to meet you sometime. That said, the only real reason to get back to work on this, to ‘say’ more on this artist, is that Gillian has produced a new body of work and advanced her position. There is, for example, a really dark, very captivating painting of a black cat sitting on the small landing of a staircase. I realize that you probably don’t read press releases and I’m not naïve enough to suggest that you read ours, but let me just say, Carnegie’s work has continued to develop. So the ball is back in your court! It’s your turn!  You can’t hope to be considered a serious art critic unless you keep the ball in play, right? In all due respect, Sigler, rather than wasting all this time playing funny little games, tangoing with me, procrastinating, why not use your rage in a productive way. I read your first essay closely and I have to disagree with you when you say that you have to be in the mood. Maybe you can access the muse even if you’re not entirely in the mood, even without the bottle of wine and the long afternoon nap.”

Dream on. Nobody in a gallery would have written such a letter—a fan letter, in a way.

The galleries do write fan letters, but for other players: the collectors! Besides, if I were being solicited by the gallery to really perform a function for them, they’d be complimenting me plenty, and in more overt ways than the old first-name-basis trick.

But it’s my fault because I showed them with my previous review that I was willing to crank out 2,000 insanely revealing words for zilch. And that’s not even for a notorious blog.

But maybe my larger concern is for our profession. The high-priced writer is being courted by the gallery to praise the show in the exhibition catalogue, and the no-priced writer (this is me) is being invited to praise the show in cheap ink, on cheap newsprint, in a free journal with the word “Brooklyn” in its name. But neither of us writers, whichever side of the fence we may find ourselves on at any given moment, is expected to explore. It’s all about doing the grunt work of ushering the show into the spotlight. Why is it that artists are expected to be radical while the art writers are expected to keep it all in check, to conform to age-old formulas of academic foot-notation? Shouldn’t we all be actively celebrating the delirious freedom of being in the art world, and not in some other industry? Or is the art industry just about a few C.E.O.-ish sociopath prima donnas surrounded by a bunch of ’fraidy cats? Shouldn’t we all be going for broke, from Richard Prince to Richard the Preparator?

So I’d like to leave it at this: I did my part already. I contributed to the buzz of this excellent British painter a few years ago, but I wrote what I wrote because I, presumably like the artist, had a bit of inspiration. I can tell online from my desk that the new paintings are really interesting, and I’d imagine that they look fantastic in person—so go see this show! But I have no more words on the artist’s new work right now. For some reason I only have something to say about the junk mail in my inbox.

Contributor

Jeremy Sigler

Jeremy Sigler is a poet, critic and teacher living in Brooklyn, New York. His long-awaited analysis of the poetry of Carl Andre is forthcoming from Sternberg Press.

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