What I Did on My Summer Vacation
I stumbled onto an interesting convergence while sitting on the deck of a lakeside cabin in New Hampshire. While my wife finished up a burdensome freelance project that was imposing on her vacation, I was reading Mira Schor’s A Decade of Negative Thinking and watching to make sure my son didn’t fall into the lake. I was also intermittently following Twitter and saw Craig Platt’s invitation to submit work to him for a show called “Stay at Home.”
The show will be at his home and will include work made by others in their own homes (rather than in a studio), exploring how the constraints of raising children have been dealt with by a variety of artists. I thought of the drawings I did just after my son was born. I had moved what art supplies I could to our apartment so I could continue to work while doing what I could to help; being gone from the house and leaving my wife alone with “the Critter” for long hours while I was on a painting vacation was out of the question. The resulting drawings seemed to point to a new direction. Platt’s invitation seemed like a great chance to re-examine, and possibly exhibit, that work. Owing to the limits of Twitter and my own inattention, I did miss that his intent is for the show to focus on stay-at-home moms. I queried about stay-at-home dads, and Platt said he’d need some convincing.
I was already considering the issue of gender separation in curating. I had just finished reading Schor’s essay “Generation 2.5,” with its discussion of the debate on the inclusion of men in shows on feminist art, such as the “Bad Girls” exhibitions of 1994 curated by Marcia Tucker and Marcia Tanner. I was also skimming through Robert Pincuss-Witten’s “Introduction to Maximalism,” which includes the idea that “figure painting of interest today has stressed the private talisman, a sign of an intensely peculiar personal episode. Perhaps the success of feminist art occasioned this.” Considering the contradiction between Schor’s and Pincus-Witten’s views, separated by nearly twenty years and each given different weight (one, a section of a well-thought-out book; the other, a few lines meant to serve as a bridge to a broader idea in a rather short essay), Platt’s project raises some interesting questions for the present.
First off, my intention is not to ape some conservative argument about the “difficulties” that political correctness has imposed on the white male in this polymorphic age. Not only are the statistics on the opportunities in the art world clear (as Schor readily and efficiently points out), but the issues confronted by stay-at-home fathers and mothers are particular to each. (Even in the case of our family, where I try to carry as much of the weight as I can, I think it’s safe to say that our division of labor is not 50/50.) However, it appears that “Stay at Home” is not really looking to explore how working from home has influenced artists and changed over the years, or even what it means right now. If this were the case, I think I might have more of a chance at changing Platt’s mind, as fathers today are spending more time at home with their children than their own fathers did, and they (we) might bear representation. Instead, it appears that stay-at-home moms simply form the set from which the work for the exhibition will be drawn.
It’s not a show about stay-at-home moms; it’s a show by them, which certainly makes sense, as it would likely be difficult to cull a body of work tailored to a concept as specific as staying at home. As the curator of a survey, Platt will need to connect the works included to themes beyond that of the conditions of their making. He will also be forced to grapple with some thornier issues relating to power, gender, and selection (and I infer that some have been raised by women interested in the show), but I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, based on his enthusiasm relative to the scale he’s working with. He is proposing to give an opportunity to many who may not find it easy to gain access to exhibition space, and he will himself live within the exhibition. The success or failure of “Stay at Home” will depend on how he shapes the pool of work and talent he can draw out of other homes and into his own.