My Avant-Garde Education: A Memoir
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A wry and beautifully observed memoir about coming of age in the era of conceptual art.
Growing up in the suburbs―confused about his sexuality, about his consumer-oriented world, about the death of his older brother―Bernard Cooper falls in love with Pop art and sets off for the California Institute of the Arts, the center of the burgeoning field of conceptual art, in this beguiling memoir. The most famous, and infamous, artists of the time drift through the place, including Allan Kaprow and John Baldessari, not to mention the student who phones the Identi-Kit division of the Los Angeles Police Department and has them make a composite drawing of the Mona Lisa.
My Avant-Garde Education is at once an artist's coming-of-age story and a personal chronicle of the era of conceptual art, from a writer "of uncommon subtlety and nuance" (David Ulin, Los Angeles Times). It is a record of the wonders and follies of a certain era in art history, always aware that awakening to art is, for a young person, inseparable from awakening to the ever-shifting nature of the self.
him. No matter how often he’d tried to write her, he couldn’t think of what to say or how to say it. In fact, he hadn’t written to her in so long that he wasn’t sure Cindy was still his girlfriend or if she even lived at the same address. He stared into his hands and began to drone on and on about their relationship. Fortunately, Mr. Acconci stopped him and wrestled the subject back to art. “Take a pointillist’s daubs of paint,” he said, “or the splatters of abstract expressionism; what are these
against the glass. Compounding my mother’s isolation, my father was busy that year with a new investment: kosher burritos. These were flour tortillas stuffed with corned beef and slices of dill pickle, but not a shred of forbidden cheese to make the food treif. “What kind of rabbi is going to bless burritos?” asked my mother. I pictured a rabbi in a tallis and sombrero. Let me add here that my parents were anything but orthodox, and they certainly never kept a kosher house, yet they viewed the
to scratch their fleas and lick their crotches in the middle of the street, oblivious to the honking horns and screeching brakes. During one of those dinners, Emmett told me about his most recent trip to Germany. He’d gone there to mount an exhibit and to visit some of his old friends from Fluxus, a loosely knit group of international artists to which he’d belonged in the early 1960s. I had seen a few examples of work by artists associated with the Fluxus movement, their “events” and objects so
with Annie, who had spent the night taking photographs of herself behind a large cardboard “I,” her head, with its nimbus of frizzy hair, serving as the dot. The three of us chiseled away at bowls of rock-hard ice cream while listening to a rare recording of Schwitters reciting his poem “He She It,” his overwrought enunciation perhaps a parody of bombast: ok dog tak pack Karakte youroundyou youinyou God mercy you to live to run to strive to pardon giving youinyou tak pack
lathe of imagination and polished into a memorable phrase. I find myself depending on the words of others because I have so few of my own. If it weren’t for their words, I’d have to settle for the platitudes that occur to me reflexively now, bringing the added defeat of having to resort to stale phrases because I don’t have the wherewithal to invent my own. That Brian will die has become a fact so immense, I fear it will obliterate not only him, but the words I use to define our life together,