I’ve always been a night owl. I think and work better once it’s dark outside. The world is quieter, it recedes. This exhibition was a meditation on sleeping, dreaming and insomnia.
Isabella Blow died on May 7, 2007. She committed suicide. I never met her. I admired her from afar; I have no idea what I would have said to her if we’d been in the same room. I am a fairly reserved person, Isabella Blow seemed to be anything but reserved (though she said in interviews that she was shy). Her death made me very sad.
In the late winter of 1980 I was sixteen years old and had a habit of wandering the Art Institute of Chicago, looking for dead friends and teachers. I had read my mother’s college art history textbooks; I thought I understood the basic idea, which was progress; each generation of artists improved upon and contradicted the artists that had come before them. But as I roved through the dim galleries of Impressionist masterpieces I didn’t feel capable of joining that conversation, which was over long ago. The contemporary galleries full of Minimalism and Conceptual art did not speak to me. Medieval altarpieces fascinated me but the religious impulse that inspired them did not.
Teratology: invented in the nineteenth century, by Etienne and Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, teratology is a now seldom-used term for the study of human monsters. Monsters was also a term used by the medical profession to describe people afflicted by a wide variety of conditions, including dwarves, giants, hermaphrodites, Siamese twins, midgets, and men and women born without arms and or legs.
A Feast for the Mnemonist is dedicated to “S.”, the mnemonist in A.R. Luria’s The Mind of a Mnemonist. S. was a man with a more or less unlimited power of memory; he could remember virtually everything that had ever happened to him, from infancy onward. He was able to commit long lists of words to memory, even unfamiliar words, or words in foreign languages, and recite them back in order, or backwards, even after years had elapsed. His difficulty was not in remembering things, but in forgetting them when they were no longer needed.
This was a solo exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center. It was mounted in one of the first floor Michigan Avenue galleries. Many of the pieces were responses to superstitions, many were self-portraits and some were both. This show included work that had been part of An Abridged History of Magic the previous year.
The pieces in this show all refer to various manifestations of magic: spiritualism, stage magic, seances, witchcraft. The history of magic has been made by people who deeply desired to believe in magic and people who were pleased to take advantage of that belief. In art and fiction everything is possible. These drawings honor the beauty, ingenuity, and charlatanism that constitute the history of magic.