1 POTTERY, POLITICS, ART: GEORGE OHR AND THE BROTHERS KIRKPATRICK, RICHARD D. MOHR (UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS, 2003) Scholar Richard D. Mohr delves into the lives of George E. Ohr and the brothers Cornwall and Wallace Kirkpatrick, showing how their amazing work is foundational to contemporary American art. The brothers were activists: One held the position of mayor; they had their own newspaper in Anna, Illinois; and their "radical Republican" wares had subversively anarchic implications that went over conservative Democrats' heads. (Reverse the party names, and it is a lot like our condition today.) George E. Ohr was a revolutionary. His work contrasted ceramics (precious objects covered in glaze) with clay (the abject material base) and teased out the conceptual implications of both. Along with awe-inspiring misshapen vessels, he produced photographs, text pieces, and performances--all of which seem freakishly prescient today. As Mohr declares: "The Ohrian truth is out, clay is shit, shit is clay. Glaze it, gussy it up with handles, it's still shit--for a misanthropic artist, the perfect medium."
2 AGNES MARTIN In an octagonal room at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, New Mexico, are seven identically sized canvases by Agnes Martin that can be contemplated while sitting on four stained-yellow benches designed by Donald Judd. Martin spent much of her life in New Mexico, and this room, illuminated by a skylight centered in the domed ceiling, offers the rare chance to see her work in the same light in which it was created, and in which it was first understood. Soon after my visit, I heard a recording of Martin's 1987 Skowhegan lecture, known as "Beauty Is the Mystery of Life," which completed my understanding of this brilliant artist.
3 "WACK! ART AND THE FEMINIST REVOLUTION," P.S. 1 CONTEMPORARY ART CENTER, NEW YORK This exhibition was a gift. All my thanks to its curator, Connie Butler. It made me realize that the most progressive ideas have already been articulated, and that artists are still searching for people to listen.
4 PETRA Petra, a nonprofit curatorial project started by Montserrat Albores in Mexico City, operates principally through appropriation. To paraphrase Albores (and mirror Petra's curatorial conceit): It is a site without identity and location, a chameleon-like entity that can exist only if objects in the world are there to be appropriated. Petra copies not only preexisting objects and texts but also itself, evolving as an object without memory and therefore without a future. Exhibitions have addressed evil and the double; a show opening this month in Mexico City takes as its subject possession. The exhibition will investigate authorship, and with it, the ego--a theme clearly relevant to Petra's collaborative identity.
5 MEVLANA MUZESI, KONYA, TURKEY The mausoleum of the thirteenth-century mystic Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi is the most ornate building. The interior, filled with turquoise, amber, and emerald, is lined with infinite sarcophagi draped in elaborate fabrics, each with a large to immense turban on top. One tries slowly and impossibly to take in every object; there is not a moment of space. Finally, one enters a square room that--while constructed with the same care and impeccable craft as every object passed--is nearly empty. Each detail--from the beauty of line in each plank of wood on the floor to the hand-marked plastering of the walls--becomes present. …