"One of the suppositions which emerged early on from the seminar was the distinct possibility that it's the wrong artists who stop working; that they are the ones who were meant to carry on; it's everyone else who should have packed up and left." — Bob Nickas
On Thursday evening, White Columns held a release party for Surf's Up: The Aesthetics of Disappearance, a collection of "reflections on the artist who disappears." Edited by Bob Nickas, who is perpetrating something of a disappearing act himself (he has said he will no longer curate shows in New York City, and he no longer attends openings, dinners, and so forth), the book came out of a seminar he taught at NYU this semester called "Disappearing Acts." Which sounds like a great time.
Nickas fans will want to pick it up for his introductory essay, which brings Gretta Garbo and Howard Hughes into the discussion of self-absented artists, a topic the curator-writer has addressed in essays on Laurie Parsons, Lee Lozano, Cady Noland and others over the years. He shares that Noland told him back in 1994, "I don't want to have another show in New York for at least five years." And here we are, 17 years later. (He also brings up Maurizio Cattelan's supposed retirement and the Occupy movement, and describes Occupy Artists Space as "misguided.")
Seminar participants also contributed pieces, and there are a few choice ones, like an essay by Sam McKinniss about the 2007 suicides of artist Jeremy Blake and his wife, the filmmaker and writer Theresa Duncan, about which New York and Vanity Fair published articles.
Like McKinniss, the first work by Blake that I saw was the cover he did for Beck's Sea Change album, and I saw and admired his art at various Whitney Biennials. Then he and Duncan died. People like Parsons, Lozano, Noland, and the other famously-absent artists (Charlotte Posenenske, Bas Jan Ader, and Christopher D'Arcangelo, to name three more) had vanished well before I became seriously interested in art, but not Blake and Duncan, who once lived a few blocks from where I live, over in the rectory at St. Mark's Church on Second Avenue. Though I am embarrassed to admit this, since I never knew them personally, their story has always stuck with me, and has seemed to ask this unpleasant, awkward question: Who else among today's artists will vanish?
There is also a nice essay by Davey Hawkins about the California artist Gary Beydler, a onetime student of Robert Irwin, and his Hand Held Day film, which involved the artist holding a mirror almost perfectly still in the desert for 14 hours, to create a five-minute work in the 1970s. ("I drank and ate a minimum," Beydler is quoted saying.)
Surf's Up has four different covers (I opted for the one that features a young and sporty Hughes posing with a bicycle), and is printed in a first edition of only 100, so it seems destined to circulate rather elusively, much like many of the artists that it addresses.
And, on the final page, there is the image posted above, a poster for a concert in Central Park with Phil Ochs and other musicians marking the end of the Vietnam War, which is timely.