In response to Jeff Huebner’s fair and fairly objective airing of Wesley Kimler’s “complaint(s)” in your June 26 issue, I have a few complaints of my own, and some points to add. For one, it’s too bad that Wesley has made some pseudo-bargain with the devil in agreeing not to discuss Alan Artner publicly; for what he should have said is that Artner was someone who took great delight in dancing upon the grave of many a Chicago artist from the 80s, giving a good review to one show only to cruelly pan another for no good reason other than because he could–as if to show that what he could help create he could also belittle into nonexistence. This, in the atmosphere of the late 80s, was uncharitable, low, and despicable. He is still up to the same tricks: old, tired, senseless tricks.
I used to be quite close with the painter Matt Straub, who I consider to be one of the people Wesley describes as “friends and colleagues whose talent has been met with such a lack of professionalism,” and who was more than once on the receiving end of such treatment by Artner. The 80s art scene ate young artists alive: friendships were busted up; promising careers were tainted by the greed and hypocrisy so very prevalent then. There is a mediocre movie by Julian Schnabel about Jean-Michel Basquiat that attempts to document this time. What was happening in Chicago was peanuts compared to New York, but still, it was happening. The show at Peter Miller (“Big City: Civilization As We See It”) was realized and organized by Straub, who made the big political mistake of not including Hudson of Feature Gallery in that show (he would later pay for that omission). Little did he know that the scene he would help create would turn so sour so fast. In 1989 we fled to New York, for our lives, it seemed, as if to say: “Let’s get the hell out of here!”
I remember sitting in Matt’s loft on Milwaukee Avenue and him telling me of two very exciting things: Peter Miller was very interested in his work and his idea for a show, and that he had gone to the studios of various artists, including Kimler’s, and was excited by how good they were, how good the show was going to be. I don’t recall him having an agenda, other than to (innocently, naively) focus on what he considered to be good painting. I never hear a word of acknowledgment, including in this article, about what he contributed to what was happening at the time. Or the fact that all of the artists, including Brenda Barnum and Linda King, contributed an excitement because they themselves were thrilled to be showing their work.
This crap about “Kimler isn’t what’s happening at the moment” is absolutely disgusting and thoroughly boring. Wesley points to the LA scene, and so I shall point to New York. Veteran artists and writers in New York are never tossed aside for the newest flavor in favor of a shallow and prepubescent trendiness which is at the heart of Joel Leib’s (and others’) comments about artists who are “setting the scene on fire right now.” It is just this sort of attitude, just this sort of garbage-heap mentality, which creates no scene whatsoever. Isn’t it obvious that the newest flavor tastes better when paired with what’s tried and true? People in New York and LA barely know a thing about what happens here, except, as Wesley points out, what a certain few other people decide to export to various shows. In New York they have perspective, they operate with a sense of history and are proud of, not threatened by, the ghosts of de Kooning or Pollack. They do not treat an artist, say, like Elizabeth Murray with contempt just because she is over 40 and has been living and making art in Soho since the 60s. Oh! How terrible! She makes a living from art and is not a recent graduate of an arts program! How passe! No. She is considered important, essential to the artistic hubris. She hasn’t been bumped out by gentrifiers nor tossed off a cliff by baby art-gallery owners.
Here the hubris is a heap of resentment and discontent, with artists behaving like a bunch of dogs fighting over one scrappy bone. Leib derides Lynne Warren for taking Wesley’s part, and she in turn must expend unnecessary energy defending what for her is simply a natural progression: she’s been won over. Who can blame her for not initially being sure? I remember how put off she was by the Straub-Kimler-Justis-Gissler coterie, and rightly so. They’d get right up in her face, all sweaty and masculine, and ask, “Why not us?” I could tell she was probably thinking, “Well, because I don’t like you.” Or your art. Or the fact that you drink and fuck like pigs.
The art scene all over America died a big death in the late 80s. In Chicago there was neither the brotherly love nor the venues to foster a resurrection, as happened in other cities. The only saving grace was a few institutions with built-in budgets and staff to cover the sad, gaping hole that the collapse (and the fire of ’89) left. How convenient! Galleries closing due to financial difficulty? No problem! Other galleries are moving, leaving? No sweat! More pie for us! Jim Yood is properly sheepish in Huebner’s article, because he invariably straddles both sides of the fence. He is worried that guys like Wesley may go too far, and yet he can’t hide his amusement, or pride, in the dedication such an artist shows. Wesley Kimler’s desire is that Chicago be as diverse and representative as it oughta be. I admire him for his optimism. I used to feel that way too.