During the Coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.
Daniel Wiener, who received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2012, grew up near Los Angeles but has lived in NYC for thirty-nine years. A professional artist since 1977, Daniel’s first show was at the Stephen Wirtz gallery in San Francisco, held shortly after his graduation from UC at Berkeley. In 1982 Daniel was awarded a fellowship for an unusually long stay at Yaddo, which inspired his exodus to the East Coast. Daniel was affiliated with Lesley Heller Gallery, until it closed due to the Covid 19 pandemic, where he had a one-person exhibition titled Wide-eyed & Open-mouthed in September, 2019. In response to this show, Bomb Magazine published an interview with Daniel and Fawn Krieger called The Space of Intimacy: Daniel Wiener. He is currently working on a series of painting-like bas-reliefs made from self-hardening clay based on a technique he developed at Dieu Donne. Daniel lives and works in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn.
AS: How are you coping?
DW: I have listened to stories for as long as I can remember. My grandfather told me stories at bedtime. As a teenager in the 70s I listened to the Firesign Theater late at night, and in my early 20s to noontime stories on Pacifica radio. In the late 80’s and 90’s I listened to books-on-tape when they were really books on cassette tape. During the best of times—now and before— at work in the studio and really, during the rest of life, I listen to audio books to mollify my over-active inner editor so I can work without being constantly interrupted by lacerating self-doubt. Pre-pandemic, half the time I listened to murder mysteries and the other half to literary fiction. Now I am listening exclusively to genre fiction, avoiding anything challenging. Challenging times call for easy escapes? I am listening all day long in the studio, in the kitchen, while walking, and in bed when struck with insomnia. I am working my way through this list of The Essential Crime Novels of Los Angeles https://crimereads.com/the-essential-crime-novels-of-los-angeles/ which I highly recommend for anyone who is similarly afflicted.
I am having difficulty working on artwork so sometimes I watch TV in the studio. In the image below I am watching Better Things, an unusually realistic comedy about a single mother raising three highly spirited and fantastic girls. It is a relief, nowadays, to spend a few hours in the madness and beauty of family life, instead of comparing charts of the COVID19 death rate. And don’t forget, walking the dog (oh for the love of the dog) and phone calls to much missed friends.
AS: Have you had a show or other creative opportunities canceled?
DW: Lesley Heller Gallery closed permanently not long after “sheltering in place” began. I had shown there for many years and Lesley had been an indefatigable supporter of my work. I wish her the best of the best, and I know the feeling is mutual.
As bummed as I am to have my gallery closed, it is especially important now to create alternate opportunities. I work with an artist collective called Romanov Grave <http://romanovgrave.com> which has a site, not unlike Art Spiel. Since the beginning of the pandemic I have increased my commitment to this project as a way to connect to the art community and as a way for artists to feel connected. It is important for art work to continue to have a public platform while isolation is required. We have been posting artist’s work and writing regularly and have tried, particularly, to include artists whose shows were closed due to the pandemic.
AS: Has your routine changed?
DW: We have been very lucky. Both my spouse and I have worked from home for many years for both our creative work and our income-producing work. We are used to being around each other much of the day. My studio is in my home. Our day- to-day life is similar to life before the pandemic. Buying food, seeing people, going to events, being able to do something on the spur of the moment have all been disrupted. But these small disruptions are negligible compared to those suffered by many others.
AS: Can you describe some of your feelings about all this?
DW: I have been experiencing what I call the low dread, a low-grade emotional discomfort that underlies all activities.
One of the “themes” of my recent art work are the ambiguities of being face to face. Is our communication more direct, less mediated, when we are in each other’s presence? It is hard to know now that we are all absent from each other.
In One Art by Elizabeth Bishop she writes:
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
In the comic beginning of this poem Bishop suggests with a light touch that we can learn loss if we practice it and clearly there are many opportunities to practice. In the end, though, loss is never mastered. There is so much loss now, – people, jobs, educations, time, relationships, “our normal lives” – more than ample to practice. We are losing everything. But we will never master loss, these losses, nor should we.
AS: What matters most right now?
DW: Mutual dependency, and the awareness of our mutual dependence. How many of us get sick is dependent on how many of us are careful about physical distancing. Businesses and cultural enterprises cannot open without healthy citizens and the expectation of reasonable health care. Nothing functions without the underlying structure of intricate dependencies. Our mutual dependence became so obvious once everything shut down.
My biggest concern now is that we elect leaders to institute social policies that acknowledge and bolster our mutual dependence.
And on a smaller canvas I hope artists, curators, art writers, administrators, gallerists will be able to acknowledge our mutual dependence. There is no art without all of us. Big institutions, storefront galleries- we are all connected. Fancy pants curators, scrappy new-coming enthusiasts. Older artists, mid-career-ers, the young and idealistic. And I suppose, the elusive collectors too.
AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?
DW: The road ahead is uncertain. In a way there is no road. The established contours of a path into the future have been erased. The potential landmarks along the way are unknown, undefined and empty. This is uncertainty at a new scale. It is not just a question of how will artists continue but what will be considered art. Will our conception of art be the same after this or transform in ways as yet unconsidered? Will we recognize it as art? In the past aspects of the culture would change, but now the terms of the culture, themselves, are up for grabs. An equivalent uncertainty is true for all aspects of society. – Work, business, events, transportation, travel, tourism, sports, nation-states – what will they be after the pandemic.
For the first time in my 65 years, I have no idea what will happen. I am unable to envision a realistic road to the future because it has no edges.
Despite this I am working hard to fight off my inner naysayer. Perhaps the uncharted future will create opportunities for “better things”. If nothing else, the pandemic will end some day, and we will be able to indulge in our escapist impulses by going to the bar at the corner and chatting with the strangers next to me.