A curator’s day: part two
This is part two of this post. This is last week’s post. Google told me to turn right, and that the artist’s street would be on the left. It wasn’t. Nor was it the next block or the next. Once again, time was running out (I have a compulsive hatred of being late) and I had no idea where I was. Google, fool me twice shame on me! I went in the other direction but realized the street name changed, so that was clearly wrong; I stopped at the corner traffic light and realized I was in the middle of a complex intersection with cars weaving to get around me, driving straining to get a glimpse of the fool parked in the middle of the busiest street in Sacramento. Raining. Lost. I called Ogden and he gave me the proper directions and said he’d look out for me. I got to his house and was let in by his gracious wife, who explained that he was somewhere out in the rain looking for me. He showed up after about ten minutes, during which time I got to see his large, lovely home, also filled with wonderful art. Notably, he had a wonderful small portrait of himself by Mel Ramos, from the early 60s, in which he appears to have stepped out of the tv show Mad Men. Also an abstract expressionist painting by Ramos! And an amazing, seminal, full-scale toilet sculpture by Robert Arneson which marked his break with “polite” ceramics.
Ogden is an elegant, athletic, quiet man in his sixties. His large studio is packed with paintings. He quietly pulled out work after work. I had to slow him down; “I’m a slow looker,” I explained. He started with small works with shadowy figures and wooden, painted frames a la Roy De Forest. Then a large work that was a recapitulation of or meditation on, late Guston, who seems much on Ogden’s mind, or at his brush, right now. Then works based on found photographs: 19th century cowboys posing like any other group of workers; labor strife–workers vs. goons–from the 30s; figures against ab.ex. backgrounds. All wonderful with hues that were so rich, saturated, apt that my synesthesia was stimulated and I wanted to eat those colors. I selected half a dozen for the upcoming show and was done. He walked me out to my car, gave me a shortcut to the freeway, and I was gone. I thought during the ride, again, what a privilege and pleasure it was to meet such committed and talented people as my job, and how despite the weather and getting lost twice, it had been a great morning. Fifteen minutes later, halfway to Davis, I realized that I’d left my briefcase in Ogden’s living room. I had to turn off the freeway, ended up on another freeway, doubled back, found my way in the opposite direction on the original freeway, found the exit and got back to his house in fifteen minutes. And headed off for work, again.
Back at the gallery I had two meetings with graduate students with whom I had to negotiate the details of their assigned spots in the upcoming MFA show, which I curate. The MFA show is supposed to be an object lesson for them in the realities of professional exhibition. They’re supposed to deal with things like deadlines, documentation of their work, editing of their work, and the reality principle that in the real world they can’t get everything they want from a gallery. It’s a difficult lesson for some of them, especially if they have the impression that they need to be uncompromising to be successful. Then I had a phone conversation with a faculty member on how to negotiate loans from a New York gallery for the upcoming exhibition that he is going to guest-curate. The gallerist wanted to know if we would pay for making prints if the photographer didn’t have any available for loan; the faculty member, appropriately, asked me. I want to support the guest-curator, so I gave him a small budget for printing and am trusting his judgment, though I wonder if I’m being manipulated for some free printing…. Then I had a request from Jock Reynolds, an old friend who was my teacher at SF State (though we’re basically the same age), who is the director of the Yale Art Gallery, and who got his MFA at Davis. Jock was one of the organizers of an outrageous series of performance art events at Davis in the seventies, called Out Our Way. He asked me if we had any documentation of those events in our archives (we don’t); or failing that, would I check out if the theater department might? I adore Jock and would do anything for him–I owe him more than I could ever repay. At 4:00 on a Friday–when normally nobody is around at a University–I was lucky enough to enlist the help of the chair of the theater department, who just happened to be working late, interviewing prospective grad students. He and I ran around to a few office to try to discover where 4o-year-old records might be. Miraculously, at the end of this long, odd day I found myself digging through the dusty binders hidden in a remote office of the theater department. Lo and behold, there they were: clearly labeled and neatly organized negative strips of the Out our Way events, waiting over the decades for a lone researcher to come calling.
The people we meet, the things we create, the projects we pull off, all leave traces behind us, and map out the slalom course of our life’s work. A career passes before you know it, full of exhilaration and frustration, full of detail, and over quick as a frenetic, rainy day.