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The Sadness of Bad Thinking

February 22nd 2021


This is the last time we will dive into OBSzine, the online magazine Richard Milazzo edited four years ago. Let’s thank the brilliant graphic designer, Riccardo Vanni. Master of typeface and layout that has given me so much to work with in these posts.

I could tell you more about the various artists whose lives have crossed with mine all those years ago. It is awkward sitting here in Paris after leaving New York twenty-five years ago. It is significant, I say to myself. The two decades of being a New Yorker were important years. 1975-1995. So much happened. Makes my head spin to think about it when I catch myself thinking about age. I have no age at all. The process of spending time with artists, looking at work, visiting studios makes us all the same age, we remain the same proverbial age; we are young, expecting greatness just there at the next exhibition, in the next catalogue, the next dinner party. That sparkling ephemeral sensation of every second mattering, the works, the conversations, the presence of observations being churned up for all time.

Because it is for all time, this work we do together. What was exceptional about those years in the 80’s I would say from this distance is there was still the feeling of a generation after the upheaval of 1968. The decade that followed when I moved to New York was tough and gritty still. This patina consolidated into new genres by the 1980’s and the change-the-world ethos was crystallizing into new forms of address, which spoke truth to power, not in the ways we had seen before, but in new ways. Mixing aesthetic language with edgy commitment of a broader reach. Having been lucky enough to be in the eye of this storm, looking at the last four years felt even more painful and pathetic, which this magazine found the source of its heat.


Our collective discomfort, as a community was the gold Richard Milazzo wanted to mine when Lucio Pozzi invited him and it was this shared pain that made me agree to throw my thoughts into a short story to try and wind up my rage into something. Would you say, unexpected, fragmented, sweeping up feelings and observations like a contest between the wide angle and the microscopic close up, in a split second. That rage.

By the time we turn around in 2020 everything has congealed; the wider body politic corrupted to the point of self-harm. The world as one organism suddenly ill; everyone equally vulnerable, must stay put. As if the stupidities we tried to articulate in the first year of the administration became fossilized into a pandemic of unseen proportions, and here we are.

A year ago exactly my very old friends, James and Alexandra Brown drove off the road late at night in Mexico to their deaths. I had just seen them here in Paris at the Ai Wei Wei opening at Cahiers d’Art in November 2019. We made a date for a studio visit again. James and I had met in NYC in the early 90’s. Will write a proper tribute to him later, but when everything stopped last year this time, I was hurting from the sudden and seeming senseless death of these two artists that had accompanied me in my art life for decades. Every year I received a Christmas card with a photograph taken by James of their three children bigger and brighter than the year before. This pain again, which crops up again a month later with the Covid death of Maurice Berger and Germano Celant. Alone then in London it felt like the end of the world.


Memory has become a daily presence during this pandemic; images and voices pop into mind in the stillness of cold Paris winter, a city on its proverbial knees at 6pm daily. This past weekend was a euphoria I remember from the first warm afternoons at college when we threw ourselves en masse to sit on the grass in between our dormitories. Spent part of Saturday with new colleagues who have just opened their first gallery in the Marais. We went to see the Kiefer works at Le Bourget. Then walked in Palais Royal sitting on a park bench to balance lunch on our knees in the sun. Giddy to see new red tips of the tree branches pushing new growth.

A day of surprises, Kiefer still in full command of his enormous strength, was as heady as seeing Paris even for a few hours returning to pleasure, people sitting on curbstones in the sun sipping coffee from paper cups. Daffodils peeking in a multitude of directions, small violet snow drops in wet grass. Palais Royale is an oasis where French reflection about nature and architecture is met with pastoral grace. Unlike Hyde Park or Green Park everything is small scale, but it is ample enough to give the eye a horizon line through the noble trees dotted with the grey/green city park benches, and on one side the familiar green metal chairs that fill the parks of Paris, left where ever the last person had moved them.

Awkward balancing act little boxes of Japanese food elegantly wrapped in a cloth that could cover the knees, even in our coats and winter shoes. What a lark to be sitting in the sun, eating out of doors, surrounded by people in masks. Even a little boy brought his fleet of small cars and buses that he lines up next to his place on the curb while his parents fetched take out coffee. It feels like sacrilege to be grateful for paper cups and take out coffee. But with everything closed it is a party actually.


I culled the rest of the magazine to pluck images and texts that might put some kind of closure on this moment, if anything ever actually is closed. I laugh everyone tells me just to turn the page, Jill. Get over it. Move on. A young woman once said to me after my ex/late husband died, “someone dies, and you just sell everything.” As if it were as easy as that. But then actually I will die and everything will be dispersed. Maybe this is why I am so keen on telling you what I have seen and what I know. Because the rest is not going to last, have to get facts down, it is important.

Like the paintings of Sandra Chia, and Jonathan Lasker, Samantha Dietmar, captured my eye with Self-Pathetic. I want to call your close reading to Jonathan’s short text please take a moment. There is a lot to enjoy in this issue, which has not lost its importance as a tuning fork for the period we have lived through all of us between 2016-2020. I will not mention the former President by name, but the vacuum he carved out of the American heart is worthy of the commentary each contributor to this issue.

The conspiracy the character felt as her skin crawled in The Sadness of Bad Thinking is all around us still. It will take astute and relentless attention in our lives to combat the forces we know need to be pushed back; after all, it is safe to imply that art is meant to be the homeopathic remedy for everything that ails the human spirit. It is this optimism and vision that keeps us going to see it, and as always we still have a lot to do.