Friday, July 27, 2012

Marcia Tucker

While visiting the Catriona Jeffries Gallery a few months back, the gallerist, fresh from her trip to Frieze, pushed into my hands the two books she read on her flight home, one of which was an autobiography entitled A Short Life of Trouble: Forty Years in the New York Art World by Marcia Tucker, a book I took with me on my most recent flight to Berlin.

Autobiographies, biographies and memoirs are not generally my thing. At best they operate in the same way portraits do, providing particular kinds of information in a particular kind of way. Gertrude Stein understood this, as did Lucian Freud. That said, what I enjoyed most about Tucker's book is her identification with a particular moment in NYC, when, in the mid-1970s, the MOMA and the Whitney took a breather from contemporary art, and curators like Tucker, who brought with them emergent social issues (feminism) and formal innovation (post-conceptual practices), were pushed aside.

Although Tucker does not make it clear in her book, her forced resignation from the Whitney came not from a museum wanting to refocus on its collection but from (board) pressure after her 1975 Richard Tuttle survey. This would have been a great opportunity for Tucker to expand on artists working in the post-conceptual milieu, the influence of commercial galleries on museums, and the behaviour of museum boards, but alas, A Short Life is less a critical autobiography than a confessional one, built as much for a general audience (the kind of audience evoked by those who routinely fire the Tuckers of the world) as an art audience (all nine of us).

Something I wish the book included (and this is a question for the book's editor, Liza Lou) are some of Tucker's essays and letters, particularly those related to her more significant exhibitions, such as the Tuttle survey, which represented a turning point/last straw in the "New York Art World," one that gave us neo-expressionist painting in its place, something Tucker seemed to be parodying (inadvertently or otherwise, though again she does not elaborate) with her "Bad Painting" exhibition of 1978. But maybe that book is coming. Or maybe it came and went.

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