Choire Sicha, former director at Debs & Co., now writes for The New York Observer and elsewhere. An anecdote (entirely true!) about myself and pal Stafanie Nagorka has snuck into the last paragraphs of his recent review of Michael Kimmelman's new book, The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa. Here are a few excerpts from that review, including our tale:
It’s clear that Mr. Kimmelman likes and respects artists. And he’s wise to have found himself this niche. Daily arts criticism is grueling; it requires a constant, intense clarity possessed by very few. And I presume that the best way to remain unsullied by the resurgent importance of the marketplace in the art world is to turn to the lives of our largely non-commercial saints.
The Accidental Masterpiece is Mr. Kimmelman’s quiet explication of the philosophy that guides this daily work.
The book reaches a climax with one of his favorite topics, the great outdoor artists, particularly Michael Heizer. These are difficult folk, rugged outsiders with big personalities: Donald Judd, James Turrell, Walter De Maria. Mr. Kimmelman writes, "It occurred to me, talking with [Heizer], why all these artists chose enormous western states … to work in: perhaps they imagined no puny eastern state was big enough to hold two of them." Which is a funny line, and therefore totally worth it, but surely the megalomania of the earth artist is not very different from that of the i-banker?
[...]As a travelogue, The Accidental Masterpiece rings absolutely true, and just lovely.This is what Mr. Kimmelman means:Two artists I know (and once represented, when I was misguidedly an art dealer), a sculptor, Stefanie Nagorka, and a painter, Joy Garnett, took a trip together to Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty in Utah’s Great Salt Lake. Although seeing the Jetty—and, as Mr. Kimmelman points out, making a pilgrimage of the flight and the difficult drive is an essential component in the pleasure of that sort of artwork—was impressive and meaningful to them, they were most taken with something else.This something else was orange flags on sticks. The flags are used in Salt Lake City, apparently, by street-crossers. Little baskets of them wait at the intersections. Although this civic program had only begun there in 2000—it had spread from Washington State and has since made it as far as Washington, D.C.—the flags seemed like the amazing remnant of some ancient and foreign ritual.And it was the mystery of the orange flags—site-specific, and magical, and alien—that transported them artistically. And so, of course, they had to have them. They stole some, and brought them home with them.Choire Sicha is a senior editor at The Observer.