"You know, art can be something which can really disempower people, or it can be a vehicle which can empower people."
From "Art in the Twenty-First Century" Season 4 (2007)
How do contemporary artists respond to traditionally romantic ideals such as sentimentality, pathos, and the philosophy of art for art’s sake? This episode poses questions about the value of pleasure in art and features artists whose works are extended meditations on mortality, love, reality and make-believe. “Romance” is shot on location in New York, New York, Tivoli, New York; Kingston, New York; Los Angeles, California; Berlin, Germany; London, England; and Paris, France.
Early in her career, Laurie Simmons used photography as a tool to create a still and pristine reality. Simmons explains how she was able to bring her still photographs to life in her first feature film, “The Music of Regret” (2006). Drawing from the American Songbook tradition, Simmons composed lyrics and storylines for the musical, which featured a cast of puppets, dummies, and dancers. “My inner life about my own work was very theatrical and very narrative, but that’s something I was always afraid to express,” says Simmons. Viewers follow Simmons through portions of the three-act musical, which portrays complex emotions of love, loss, and regret.
Lari Pittman was born and works in Los Angeles. His references and background which inspire his paintings and drawings include the freedom and chaos of the city, his memories of growing up in Columbia and his “very, very strong Mediterranean core.” Despite a charmed childhood, Pittman explains that what keeps him “radicalized” is an awareness of this country’s attitude towards the gay community. He also explains how he draws inspiration from religious images and retablos as well as gardening and landscaping. “I don’t respond to the idea of nature at large. I prefer landscaping,” says Pittman, “…landscaping as a way to push back, a little bit, the chaos of nature…the kind of violence of it.”
Although she started out as a painter, Judy Pfaff was drawn to materials and sculpture. As she explains, “I found when I was a painter I couldn’t stop and until it was finished another thought didn’t enter. With the sculpture, they go on for months. It tells different kinds of stories...” The documentary follows Pfaff through the installation of a recent exhibition, one which is driven by sadness and loss, using tree roots, neon tubes, and plaster forms, among others, to explore the worlds of black and white. Pfaff describes how the show came into being after the deaths of several close friends, her mother, and her former teacher and mentor, Al Held.
“As I start a project, I always need to create a world. Then I want to enter this world, and my walk through this world is the work,” says Pierre Huyghe, who lives in both Paris and New York. Huyghe’s films, installations, and public events range from a small-town parade to a puppet theater, from a model amusement park to an expedition in Antarctica. “I’m trying to be less narrative, it’s more an emotional landscape that I’m trying to reach here,” he explains. Huyghe describes how, through the documentation of his scripted realities, he is “building a kind of mythology.” Huyghe believes that his exhibitions are not the endpoint, but rather “the starting point to go somewhere else.”