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It's Nelly's World

White Out

alec vanderboom

I have lots of new experiences (even if at my age the occurrence of the truly new has slowed down a bit). For instance, at this moment, I'm listening to my absolute favorite new music, Sleigh Bells. But sometimes now, when I feel like doing something new, it's actually old: a reconnection with something that once was new, and important. Vastly important. Get-under-my-skin-like-chiggers important. For me, this is art of the sixties, seventies, and some of the eighties--the part that contained neo-geo (some of it).

I reconnected with this part of me by visiting DIA Beacon again recently. And what I encountered in the halls of this enormous ex-factory (which, should it not be currently housing seminal works of contemporary art for all to see, would actually make a splendid home and party space for me and my friends [that includes you]--all three hundred thousand square feet of it
. Give or take. Will install pool and bowling alley).

It was like coming home to myself, wandering and standing, moved anew, before the works that formed me. I don't know how they did that, but I think the experience of first seeing Agnes Martin and Robert Ryman, Joseph Bueys and John Chamberlain, Walter De Maria and Robert Smithson, scored me right across the flesh, leaving a permanent scar. This stuff resonated with some part of me, made me feel fluttery, excited enough that I wanted to collar passersby and cry, "Do you see what's going on here? I mean, do you see this surface, this sensual, worked-over surface? This painting that appears to be on
ly white/only black--it is not, and it . . . " Every passerby in New York City can thank their lucky stars I never actually did this. Gawd.

This post is intended to be the visual analogue to the formative-record-albums post of a while back, and which got so many people remembering what music made them (and collaring-passersby excited). But I wonder: Does everyone have formative art, in the way they have forma
tive music?

If there was one single piece that turned me quite around, it was one by Richard Serra (well represented by other pieces at DIA Beacon). Installed at the exit of the Holland Tunnel, it was the purest expression of what sculpture is I had ever seen. It was both theory and practice at once, in a stripped-down, compressed, infinitely subtle, powerful package. It used the speed and vantage point of the car, in which the viewer sat, encountering the piece as if from inside a movie camera. That's when you got it, smoothly and fully, that sculpture becomes another sculpture every second, flowingly, as the viewer moves around it. In its immovability, it moves. Or moves you. Or som
ething. Damn this gets me bollixed up. Always did. The head wants to burst. But I think that's the point, too.

Another revelation at DIA was re-learning that Warhol could be better, realer, than the Warhol who has been beatified in art-history texts.
The installation here, Shadows, stops you cold. It is a bit of a religious experience, standing in the middle of the room (or reclining on the conveniently placed kneeling-pad, er, sofa) and being eaten alive by the slashing black and chrome-hard color.

Some have expressed the opinion that the reverence shown to this particular art, sanitized and en-altered in this rich-people's church of accepted high art, kills its intent. Yeah, I'm sure it does. (We got nailed by the black-clad guards with their little headsets, for letting our kids go and explore the art by themselves. They could take their own time, bypass what they wanted, spend time with what they wanted, say what they wanted. But no: Children must not be in the galleries unaccompanied. They might fall into the Heizer holes in the floor; they might touch a piece of glass from the pile that is Smithson's Map of Broken Glass, now immobilized in a way I can't believe Smithson ever meant. You must stay with your parents! Horrors. What would Warhol have said?)

Nonetheless, standing in front of Chamberlain's mashed-car hunks made me happy. Discovering Bruce Nauman's neon in the basement disturbed my son. He saw things in the De Maria that I didn't. This was formative for him. In the second half of life, he will reconnect with it. Or with things, unimagined by me, unseen yet by him, that will mark him. What marked you?