I Choose For You: Meg Chooses for Ishan (Part 1)

May 18, 2011  |  By
Filed under: Projects/Series

I don’t drink coffee, so let’s have a beer … My posts are always collaborations and are presented in two parts. Part 1 is a summary of a shared experience with my collaborator(s). Part 2 is a response, often in the form of a project created specifically for this blog.


I Choose For You

I met Bay Area artists Cheryl Meeker and Ishan Clemenco at Suppenküche in Hayes Valley for beer, grub, and a great chat. When our foxy German waiter came to take our order I felt adventurous and asked for a random beer that sounded interesting — which ended up tasting like moldy smoked meat. He simply whisked it away saying, “I choose for you.” He expertly chose my beer, my meal, and the theme for our collaboration! Cheryl, Ishan, and I chose works in the SFMOMA collection for each other to respond to according to parameters set by each selector. Breaking with my traditional two-part post, this collaboration will come in four entries.

Meg Chooses for Ishan Clemenco (Part 1 of 4)

Ishan, I choose for you Smoke Knows (2009), an incredible work by Pae White on view in the exhibition The More Things Change, which “draws from SFMOMA’s collection to present an extraordinary range of works made since 2000, offering a selective survey of the art of the last 10 years and a thematic and psychological portrait of the decade.” I chose this work for you because you create understated yet powerful works utilizing dry pigment — a complicated material that is both dense and transient at the same time. Pae has translated smoke into a large-scale textile, trapping the ephemeral nature of smoke into fabric (which is where smoke can easily leave its lingering remnants — odor and soot).

Pae White, _Smoke Knows), 2009; textile (cotton and polyester); 113 in. x 246 in. (287.02 cm x 624.84 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase; © Pae White, courtesy 1301PE, Los Angeles

Ishan Responds

I have selected an excerpt from an interview with Emile de Antonio which Barnett Newman gave two months before he died. It was conducted in front of his work for the documentary Painters Painting: The New York Art Scene 1940–1970 (1972). The interview was edited according to a thematic, roughly chronological scheme by Mitch Tuchman for a book of the same name.

“I think there’s a problem now that is to some extent misunderstood, and that this is that if you simply make a large super painting, bigger than a normal bourgeois home, that fills a whole wall, that you have by that simple fact eliminated the bourgeois life. I’m not so certain. I’m not so sure that a painting, just because it’s large and by itself eliminates the sense of a painting over a fireplace and fills the modern wall in somebody’s home surrounded by Mies van der Rohe chairs, is any less bourgeois. There’s more to the problem, it seems to me, more to the issue, than any old-fashioned idea of what an easel painting is. A painting can be bigger than anything that can go on an easel and still be, in my opinion, an easel painting.

“In the end size doesn’t count. Whether an easel painting is small or large, it’s not the issue. Size doesn’t count. It’s scale that counts. It’s human scale that counts, and the only way you can achieve human scale is by content.”

—Barnett Newman (1905–1970)

Below: Ishan Clemenco, smoke column: screen focus (2011), 1 minute, 58 second video of a column of smoke, focused through a screen aperture, which generates a vertical line, shot in natural light, before a silver-black ground.


Ishan Clemenco began his career as a composer. Private composition residencies with Lou Harrison (1917–2003) and poetics studies with Anne Waldman at Naropa Institute led to extensive Asian travels. After exhibitions at SFMOMA Artists Gallery in 1998 and 2001, he had his first solo exhibition of wall drawing with Takada Gallery in San Francisco in 2002. He was included in Steirischerbst:03 at Graz, Austria, and had a solo exhibition of wall drawing and works on paper with smART, in Munich, in 2003. The recipient of two Marin Arts Council Individual Artist Grants, Clemenco was a finalist for the Fleishhacker Foundation Eureka Award in 2004. His work was exhibited at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery in 2005, and in 2008 he was included in the exhibition Unlikely Arrivals, with Nina Zurier, Susan Martin, and Bill Berkson, at [2nd floor projects] in San Francisco. He was an artist-in-residence with Orchard Projects in 2009.

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