5 Questions: Patricia Albers

Five questions to SFMOMA artists, staff, or guests. Some of the most interesting people come through the doors of SFMOMA. Patricia Albers is a local writer, curator, and professor. She was at the museum in mid-June to give a talk to SFMOMA and de Young docents on Joan Mitchell, who is the subject of her latest book.

Patricia Albers

There’s the generic interview question that goes, “If you could invite anyone to dinner who would it be?” What I want to know is, what would you serve?

I would invite the subject of my next book, photographer André Kertész, and his wife, Elizabeth Kertész. Since his English was only slightly better than my Hungarian, we’d have an interpreter, too. The food? I’m a vegetarian and don’t cook goulash or sausage dishes, so I’d serve pasta — everybody likes pasta, right? — with a big, colorful salad, and, for dessert, champagne cake with chocolate icing and chocolate ice cream.

If you could steal any artwork in the world to have up in your home, what would it be?

As long as we’re fantasizing, I’ll be greedy: Enrique Martínez Celaya’s Gabriela’s Laughter, Walker Evans’s Main Street, Saratoga Springs, Joan Mitchell’s Blue Territory, one of Mary Temple’s light installations, and a late Cézanne watercolor. Oh, and an El Anatsui wall hanging.

Other than your phone or keys, what do you always carry with you?

My favorite Copic Multiliner pen and (supposedly) a small pad for taking notes, but I can’t seem to keep track of the pad, so I end up using the backs of deposit slips and whatever scraps of paper I can scrounge.

What’s your favorite tool?

My first cup of coffee when I sit down to work in the morning because it gets my brain going in that quiet moment before the day’s complications hit.

What should I ask you?

You should ask me about my new biography of abstract painter Joan Mitchell, whose Bracket is in SFMOMA’s Fisher Collection. It’s interesting to watch people look at Mitchell’s work, and I know that some find it puzzling. She herself liked to compare it to lyric poetry, by which she meant, I think, that what she’s saying is inseparable from the way it’s being said. And, like poems, her paintings take time to sink in. I’m reminded of that Ed Ruscha quote: “Bad art is ‘Wow! Huh?’ Good art is ‘Huh? Wow!’ ”

You can find more about Patricia Albers here, including information on her books Joan Mitchell, Lady Painter: A Life and Shadows, Fire, Snow: The Life of Tina Modotti. Mitchell’s Untitled (1960) is on view at the museum in the second-floor galleries, and you can hear Albers discuss Modotti and Edward Weston here.

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