December 27, 2015

Open Letters: a Correspondance with Chilean Art Writer Ignacio Szmulewicz, 10

This is the 10th letter in a series of letter writing about art between Ignacio Szmulewicz and me. I've never met Ignacio in person but yesterday we did speak on Skype (only with voice, neither of us being "presentable" enough for video).

Hello Ignacio,

We just talked on Skype and you told me that you will be changing continents next week so that our correspondence will no longer be transatlantic. You noticed we were in opposite mindsets: you, anticipating 2016, having “trouble to differentiate fantasy from reality”, whereas my mind is only moving slowly in its direction. Nature has a way of slowing me down like that, as if time is (blissfully) standing still. I’m a little anxious for it to move on once I get back to Berlin. 

I read your letter aloud to my friend Kovo (the letter had this beautiful sound to it that sought its way out) and he, being a French philosopher, recommended me, upon hearing your lamentation on blue sky, to read Charles Baudelaire : “Les rêves et les féeries sont enfants de la brume.” ("Dreams and fairy tales are children of the mist.") You talked about clouds, abstraction, and free thinking; Baudelaire about how England, Flanders and half of France is plunged in fog, and Venice bathes in lagoons, creating an idealism that makes one dream and imagine the beyond - “art made up of studio dreams and the faraway look of the imagination lost on the grey horizon.”

It made me think about how art writing can touch upon elements that make up the invisible setting of culture, like the experience of light. Regarding contemporary art’s discourse, I’m thinking more about the discotheque with its strobe light projected on a fog produced by the machine. Or what about that particular brightness that comes from artificial lighting - did it lead to neon savviness and a flashbulb intellectuality in the arts?

The Velvet Underground performing. Photo: Steve Schapiro

And what about sweat? Has an art writer ever considered something random as transpiration? Grace Jones did when writing her memoirs I’ll Never Write My Memoirs. Only an unconventional, open mind like the one of Grace Jones can come up with such an unlikely element of culture: “I was, abstractly, sweating on the front cover of Living My Life, either because I had been in a fight after some kind of argument [...] or because I had just sex with someone, somewhere. Or perhaps I was thinking about the world around me, and what was happening after all those parties, and all that togetherness. The sweat of the 1980s, of anxiety and threat, was very different from the no-holds-barred 1970s disco sweat.”

If you haven’t read Jones’ book yet, I can strongly recommend it. But you asked me a question: do I contradict myself? What first comes up to mind, is that I sometimes have to revise my opinion about an artist, and I must admit that this process (yes, it’s a process) is painful, it hurts. I have a nice story about my favorite Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers (the one with the basket of broken eggs and the pot of mussels), and this story was told to me by his widow Maria Gilissen. Broodthaers disliked Max Ernst’s work. Yet, once he came upon a catalogue that made him turn his mind about Ernst. So he bought it and brought it back home (he was very particular about his library), but after one day studying it, he stormed out of his study and told Gilissen to throw it out immediately: he had been right about Ernst anyway. 

I would like to know about your library. Do books weight you down at a moment like this, when you’re moving? 

I didn’t answer your question about the discussions I have when talking about art criticism. Let me answer by asking a question: what are new perspectives in art criticism? 

Warm regards,



  1. Ink project d'encre for a paper which drink drops like think tank ideal ideas make a flop à moins de jeter l'ancre ou de s'arrimer à la lisière d'une flaque for lack of material...conceptual or not. Kovo

    1. c'est le même artist qui fait une conversation sur l'art avec un chat, tu te rappelle: