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Review: Paul Werner at the Donnell Library. (53rd Street between Fifth and
Sixth Avenues, opposite the Museum of Modern Art, until May 6)

"Art," as Hegel put it, "is born of the spirit, and born again." I decided
to show with the Society of Scribes, at the Donnell Library in New York
City.  Dropped off my artwork, of course. Then I found out my work had
been hung upside-down.  So I circulated an e-mail notice, telling
everybody how flattered I was to be in the company of Matisse, whose work
also had been hung upside-down.

Well, you wouldn't believe the reaction. I had "embarrassed" the Society
of Scribes. I was "dishonest," and why didn't I grow up? My note was
"dripping with irony" - a telling malaprop. A few people e-mailed me
privately to tell me that they knew what I was up to. I asked them to tell
me what that was, since I wasn't sure myself, but I never got a response.
"The artist," as Alfred North Whitehead once put it, "doesn't know what he
knows..." oh, never mind...

Finally, last night I met with Jon Cory, the artist responsible for
hanging the show. Was this an embarassing accident? No? Was it a malicious
act? No. Jon simply felt that my work looked better upside-down within the
over-all "look" of the show, so he went ahead and hung it that way.

Now I was in a quandary. The "right" thing would be to storm and stress,
but that would just put me up against an artist's decision, and back on
the side of the artcrats, the whiners and the manipulators, those equipped
with what Henry James once called "the perpetual droop of the
misunderstood."  Jon's decision was puerile, callous, and very, very
silly; in other words:  sophomoric.  Also, I wonder why he only put MY
work upside-down.  Wouldn't it have been more interesting to put a
perfectly legible piece of calligraphy upside-down instead, or as well? Or
to put every work but mine upside-down?

And yet, his was an ARTISTIC decision. Dada may be passe, hanging artworks
upside-down is not so much anarchist as nihilist, especially when it
erases content for a pure reactionary formalism; but Jon, too, is entitled
to not "grow up." And after all, isn't my own art involved with
heteroglossia? Hadn't I organized a show at the Donnell about ten years
ago in which, precisely, the artist's voice (including mine), was
countered by the clamor of other voices? And wasn't I better off than Mark
di Suvero, whose friends once threw one of his sculptures into the Hudson
because "it looked better that way?"

The only possible solution: Jon and I decided to leave my piece
upside-down. I am deeply flattered (and mostly amused), to share in the
same ego-pricking enterprise that affected Matisse.  And to prove it, I'm
mailing out the following which is, of course, the original message:

Sincere thanks to the Hanging Committee for the Society of Scribes, at the
Donnell Library in New York City.

Thanks for hanging my work upside-down! This is an honor previously
bestowed on Matisse (notably at the Guggenheim Museum in the 'sixties).
Now at last I have something in common with that great artist.

Keep it up, folks (or down)!

Paul Werner, New York City

     DRAGONSBLOOD AND ASHES: a project to research and teach the
techniques of the Medieval scribe and artist.
     THE ORANGE PRESS: most recent titles: "Vellum Preparation:
History and Technique," and "Dragonsblood and Ashes: the Beta
     WOID: a journal of visual language in New York, including reviews,
listings and resources.

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