All summer on Standard Culture, we’ve been exploring the wonderful world of wetness—from the founder of WET, the '70s and '80s cult magazine of gourmet bathing, to the charmed life of Narcissa's dewy lettuce. Now we turn to something a touch more elusive, if no less liquid: the role of fluidity in the life and work of the artist and East Village icon Francesco Clemente.
Clemente is a familiar face at The Standards, whether attending a reading by the young poet Cleo Wade in The Penthouse of The Standard, East Village, or dining with Purple pals at Narcissa during fashion week, but somehow he remains a mysterious, dare we say, mystical figure. One of the living legends of the 1970s and 80s downtown art scene, Clemente is best-known for his watercolor portraits—moody renderings of faces both well-known and anonymous—that teem with life and emotion. However, the water runs deeper. While much of Clemente’s work involves portraiture, and often self-portraiture, the pieces are less concerned with representation than with the fluidity, or indeed, the slipperiness of the self.
In talking with Clemente it becomes clear that fluidity is something the artist thinks about a great deal. Which is why we were intrigued to learn that the centerpiece of Clemente’s current exhibition at Mass MoCA are encampments—tents, in fact—with frescos created by the artist and Indian artisans. We wondered if, perhaps, the artist was finally setting up camp. Not so. The latest works are as fixated on the transient as ever.