It was in our wanderings around Paris that I really grew to know and love Georgia. Friday afternoons when Georgia was in town was our day. We took turns in choosing what to see, where to go — the Palais de Tokyo, Jeu de Paume, Louvre, small galleries in the 8th or the Marais, the Pompidou Centre — what mattered most was that we went together. We gossiped and shared the details of our daily lives en route, because once in front of art, our conversations would be focused, inspiring, intellectual, and always about art. Georgia opened my eyes and my heart to so much about art, and along the way, to a Paris I would never have otherwise seen or known. With art as with people, Georgia was patient. She always stopped to look and to listen to what the images were saying, what they wanted us to see. When we saw Giorgio de Chirico, La Fabrique des rêves at the Musée d’Art Moderne, I confidently declared everything after room number three to be impoverished: I was ready for the café. Georgia wasn’t so sure, ignored me, kept walking, and insisted we take the exhibition seriously. At room number five, when I was itching to drink coffee, Georgia quietly turned around and announced, “Okay, now we need to think about what’s going on here and why it’s not working.” Again and again, she would push me to know what I was looking at, what it was asking of me, and why I wasn’t prepared to engage in its conversations.
With art as with people, Georgia’s greatest quality was to give everything and everyone a chance. This did not translate to her praise of or attraction to everything she saw. But Georgia always began with a belief in the intentions of a work of art.
Georgia in Paris; Photo by Frances Guerin
We often disagreed on what we did and didn’t like. We had long arguments over Georgia’s admiration for Alex Katz, Mona Hatoum, Pipilotti Rist and that genre of postmodern art that apparently disparages the same world it represents, but keeps its concerns on its surface. And my veneration for abstract painting was never shared by Georgia. But in our disagreement, our understanding of what we were seeing, opened up in otherwise unimaginable ways. There were, of course, exhibitions that we loved together. I remember the Jimmie Durham exhibition, Pierres Rejetées, again at the Musée d’Art Moderne. The brilliance of this work took time to reveal itself, and as we talked about what we saw, and after patiently waiting for the work to expose itself to us, Georgia and I laughed out loud. We discovered such delight in the complexity of Durham’s works, and a humor not meant to be associated with conceptual art. The very well-behaved French visitors tiptoed around the obtrusive and often clumsy objects, casting glances askance at the two foreigners being tickled by Jimmie Durham’s art. For Georgia, art had to be taken seriously, but it was never precious. Her readiness to express her response out loud, to enjoy, to be touched, and to be changed by art, came not from a reverence for it or any mystical quality it may hold inside. Art belonged with us in the ups and downs of our daily lives. In the same breath, for Georgia, everyday life was a work of art.
Dog in a bag in the Marais, Paris; photo by Georgia Fee.
For Georgia, the art exhibitions of Paris continued well beyond the galleries and museums. Some Friday afternoons it would take us hours to walk from one Marais gallery to the next because we had to stop to look, with the same care and attention, at the shop window displays, the dogs in panniers, the door handles, the ladies in all their glory, as life passed us by on the streets. Georgia’s eye was trained to detail. While most of the rest of us march onward to the next gallery, in anticipation of the “real art,” Georgia knew full well that art, like life, was found in the crevices and cracks that gave substance to our everyday.
Georgia’s comfort in the streets of Paris and her love for the people who roamed them spilt over into her conversations with the artists we would meet and interview, either formally or casually at an opening. Together we met and interviewed Harun Farocki and Rodney Graham following the opening of their joint exhibition at the Jeu de Paume. While it’s difficult not to fall into a philosophical intellectualism when talking to Harun Farocki, Georgia immediately set the tone and opened up the most convivial conversation when she warmly shared, “I like your t-shirt.” And at the Louvre, following a series of films by Mark Lewis and a panel discussion with a number of prominent intellectuals, while the renowned and the published danced around the artist, no one really knowing quite what to say, Georgia went straight up to him, introduced herself and said, “I gotta tell you, I felt so nauseous when I watched Forte.” Of course, this was the response Lewis had anticipated, and the two of them went on to enjoy a long conversation about the film. Meanwhile, all the renowned and published stood and watched, incredulously. Why had they not asked that question, they wondered?
Georgia and Frances; Photo by Frances Guerin
There can only ever be a handful of people in one lifetime with whom it’s possible to live and to learn through conversations inspired by art. At least, that has been my experience. Georgia was, for me, one such person. Our conversations were as creative in their process as the art that generated them. Georgia’s generosity, her love of art, her love of life, of Paris, and above all, her enthusiasm for the unique individuals who made innovation happen, were woven into every one of our conversations. Without Georgia, my wanderings through Paris art exhibitions have become a solitary pursuit, but my goal is to keep our conversations alive. I look and I listen, carefully, always remembering with each new work of art to ask myself: what would Georgia be saying to me now?
(Image on top: Jimmie Durham, Encore tranquillité, 2008, avion, pierre, 150 x 860 x 860 cm; Courtesy de Pury & Luxembourg, Zurich / photo credit: © Roman März)