art news & reviews & Interviews. jeff bergman, editor

54th – The Thing and Betbeze

Betbeze install

The thing I have realized recently is that art is so often a thing. By this I usually mean an actual object but also a scene that might not produce an object. An experience is a thing if enough people get to experience it or if someone documents it well enough. Roberta Smith recently wrote of Chris Burden: “Few people saw Mr. Burden’s performances, but no matter: the best of them could be reduced to a vivid sentence or two that, once heard, stuck in the mind. By the mid-1970s, they formed a familiar litany of indelible acts and documentary photographs.” Burden didn’t make stuff at the time, but he made knowing about the act the thing itself.

As I spend time seeing and hearing sound art and thinking about the fleeting moment of sound I am invested in a broader idea of art that I have accepted, but never explored. I don’t want to do the whole art theory and philosophy course right now. I don’t care for authenticity as a yard stick for the value of art. Lets say that the thing we get, whether a shiny or pretty object or just a lost moment uncatalogued (but equally shiny and pretty, or ugly and bleak, in our mind) is the art we sought out.

And now, on to more things…


126 X 96 INCHES

Kate Werble gallery recently closed an exhibition of the work of Anna Betbeze. I am sorry this review comes so late. Anna Betbeze is a sculptor, a painter and a 4th or 5th generation descendent of arte povera but she probably won’t get labeled these ways. She’ll probably end up being called a fiber artist. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe Sheila Hicks and Rosemarie Trockel and even Ken Price didn’t mind their classifications and designations. Putting a name on Betbeze doesn’t matter, but nailing down the space in which she works does.

She began exhibiting her manhandled, cut, painted, dyed and patched Flokati rugs (basically Wookie shag) a few years ago. Her process led her to use towels to soak up dye, and lo and behold, those looked great too. And why the hell not, these things are so vibrant and full of luscious color that you might want to wear them around and you can. The artist created several large wall panels, tapestries (or canvases, dealer’s choice) as well as a number of dyed terry cloth robes. They are Big Lebowski straight from an acid flashback…and you could wear the robes! I imagine this having been fun for the opening but confusing for collectors.

Anna Betbeze Asbury empress

110 X 106 INCHES

The panels are large and they drape (point for “tapestry”). They are pregnant with color. The horizontal and vertical blocks patched together recall (dayglo) Sean Scully. As paintings the associations to Mary Heilmann would feel quite direct, but as stitched towels it was completely different. You want to wear these colors, wrap yourself in their warmth and wait and see if you end up a little purple for having done so. Betbeze is not just making, she is playing.

There was a giant white shag floor pillow in the shape of a hand. It was quite inviting in a children’s museum conversation pit sort of way. The playfulness in all of this work if commendable. I don’t think we give enough credit to the enjoyment of play in art. Here, perched in a white shag hand, draped in terry cloth the color of my 1980’s Jams, just outside the Holland Tunnel, Betbeze gave me the sense that in this market there is still someone willing to do bizarre at the bazaar. I have heard that when Dubuffet had his 1973 Guggenheim exhibition, the women who were close with the artist were all draped in silk capes with his signature red, blue, black and white trekking up the ramp, making a scene and playing his game. I hope Betbeze’s robes get more of these moments.

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