Right: Vase: © Alyson Shotz, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Derek Eller Gallery
On the top corner left : Zig Zag Brillo (Black & Blue), 2017, by Charles Lutz. Top right : Elongated Fold (Vase)2020, by Alyson Shotz.
We are rarely able to identify the catalyst for a total change of mind. But I know when my approach to life with art changed. It was March 24, 2020, when the Brooklyn sculptor Alyson Shotz shared a painfully poignant image on Instagram – one of wilted flowers in a sagging terracotta vase. It was a long-distance collaboration at a time of great separation between Shotz and fellow artist. Carrie Mae Weems. Based on his Recumbent Fold series, where Shotz drops unglazed porcelain slabs from varying heights onto the floor, his vases are made as gifts for friends like Weems, who took the shot. With the art world in free fall, I desperately wanted to telegraph my deep personal support for artists, whom I have long considered essential workers. So I bought a vase.
For the previous 15 years, I had followed a strict axiom that all artwork I acquired should be protected by glass, without exception. As an art journalist, filling my New York home with works that reflect my values and my aesthetic is imperative. I took no risk with my precious Tara Donovan and Ed Ruscha impressions or my Fried Zipora drawings, which I made sure were forever safe from a handyman toddler or a gesticulating friend’s cocktail party. New Yorkers, after all, exist vertically.
Once our upstairs neighbor let the tub run and the water seeped through my ceiling, dangerously close to, among other things, a Clifford Ross photograph appropriately depicting a breaking wave. Luckily, the room was wrapped in museum glass. So until then, sculptures, which are exposed and vulnerable by nature, were prohibited. However, I convinced myself that a semi-functional vase was not quite a sculpture. Surely with the world in quarantine, I could protect this modest-scale object from ruin.
Months have passed. The weight of a new reality has settled over the city. My bedroom became my office, papers and coffee cups merging on every surface. Yet, during the chaos, I continued to break my rule. The next acquisition was a work on canvas (unframed!) by the artist Fred Wilson, which is known for upsetting cultural symbols. The painting I have chosen renders the flag of Western Sudan devoid of color, an austere motif that Wilson uses to reveal the flow of African history. The speckled cotton background evokes the slave trade. Whenever I start to worry about its durability, I hear the voice of famous deceased collector Donald Marron telling me to “trust the art”. It was his philosophy, according to his son, as he and his sister raced randomly on scooters around the house. If you just trust the art, you’ll be fine.
Last fall, I took the plunge on a second sculpture, a piece of Charles Lutz which reimagines Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes from the mid-1960s. Lutz taught himself how to replicate Louis Vuitton’s handcrafted trunks, taking Warhol’s concept of authenticity to the extreme. There’s my Brillo x Vuitton on the living room floor, in the way of my vacuum cleaner or my child’s bouncing tennis ball. After the past two years, I’ve come to realize that everything in life is fleeting – there’s no way to protect ourselves or our treasured possessions from the unknown. Yet works of art, like people, are surprisingly resilient and will withstand disaster.
I am now awaiting the arrival of a new table of Tariku Shiferaw, whose work, presented at Art Basel Miami Beach last year, stopped me dead. The paint is comprised of shimmering deep blue acrylic, with Shiferaw’s signature black bars all over the surface. It conveys the immediacy, the colors of an urgent emotional and political landscape. I know the canvas might fade next to the casement windows. Or maybe it will otherwise be damaged when a friend’s coat brushes against it at a dinner party I hope to host one day. These are risks that I now accept. Finally, I trust the art, which makes these works even more powerful.
Jacoba Urist is an art writer living in New York.
This story originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE
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