Matthew Offenbacher: Enthusiasm is the opposite of coolness.
  • Kelly O
  • Matthew Offenbacher: "Enthusiasm is the opposite of coolness."

Sherry Markovitz: It could be scary or comfortable. Thats territory I find interesting.
  • Kelly O
  • Sherry Markovitz: "It could be scary or comfortable. That's territory I find interesting."

Rodrigo Valenzuela took up photography because he was too bored with how long a painting takes.
  • Kelly O
  • Rodrigo Valenzuela took up photography because he was "too bored with how long a painting takes."

There were so many people at the Frye Art Museum on Wednesday that all the Stranger staffers in the room had to get out of their seats; even then, there weren't enough seats for everyone. Several people had to be turned away, including Lori Goldston and Robin Held and Korby Sears. That sucked, although it's a good problem to have: More people than we expected wanted to come inside on a beautiful summer evening to drink Smirnoff cocktails and have a substantive conversation about art. And the Frye is just such an ideal place—air conditioned, brilliantly curated, open to all kinds of art forms. You know the Frye itself has a Genius Award, too, right? And did you know they're the sponsor of this year's visual art award? God bless the Frye. (Even still: That auditorium will only fit as many people as it will fit. In case you were a ticket-holder who didn't get in and you want to know what happened: The previous two events in this Genius series were also sold out, but even on those sold-out days, there were about 10 empty seats, so we figured we could oversell a little for the visual art event. We were wrong. Sorry about that. We're learning.)

Jen Graves moderated the conversations with Offenbacher, Markovitz, and Valenzuela. She did very little talking herelf, probably because she's already written about all three artists and what makes them geniuses in A&P. The floor was given over to the artists entirely, for them to talk about whatever they wanted to talk about and for the audience to ask whatever they wanted to ask. Conveniently, it was an audience packed with geniuses (Jeffry Mitchell, Wynne Greenwood, Sarah Bergmann, Susan Robb, Victoria Haven…) But I have to say, personally, I wished the format had allowed Jen to talk more; hearing Jen talk about art does wonderful things to your brain.

Matthew Offenbacher (wearing a new pair of pink-and-blue shoes) went first. He responded to the prompt to talk about his work by talking about a bunch of other artists' work instead. Jen mentioned in her introduction that the artist Emily Pothast once wrote that Offenbacher's paintings are "freakishly egoless," and the freakish egoless-ness prevailed. "I'm going to try to do something a little different," he said, before showing slides of work by Roy McMakin, Claire Cowie, Sherry Markovitz, and others. Only one slide in his deck was an image of his own work (in that image above). He talked about his concept of "enthusiasmism," saying, "Enthusiasm is the opposite of coolness." Someone in the audience asked him, vis-a-vis his enthusiasm for all these other artists, how he deals with artistic rejection and what the biggest "No" he's ever gotten was, and Offenbacher said, "I don't think my process of dealing with rejection is different from anyone else's. I get really despondent… I'm totally blanking on a big 'No' I've encountered. I mean, there've been so many. Like, constantly."

Sherry Markovitz spoke without notes and showed slides of many of her paintings and beaded sculptures. The intimate, personal naturing of her sharing is striking; she often said things like, "This was after my father died" or "This was after my mother died" or "This was after my son was born." She showed this piece and pointed to the child in front, with that very white face, a distressingly white face. Is she dead? Or wait, are you just reading too much into it? Maybe she's just happily napping? "It could be scary or comfortable," Markovitz said of the piece (recently shown at Greg Kucera Gallery). Markovitz also interrupted slides of her work with unexpected images, for instance a photo she took of her husband's ear. With reference to schools of theory (minimalism, conceptualism, feminism), she was asked how much her work comes from the brain and how much of it comes from the heart. It's "all" from the heart, she said. "I pay attention to form and content but it's all in the service of the spirit."

Rodrigo Valenzuela was not able to be at the Frye in person, because he's in the midst of a residency on the East Coast, so we projected a prerecorded interview Jen did with him. Since we're on the internet and all, you can watch it, directed and edited by Evangeline Spracklin:

Next week is the literature event, with Neal Stephenson, Maged Zaher, and APRIL Festival. Do not miss it! And get there early for Smirnoff and saving-yourself-a-seat! Here's more info about it and here's where you can buy your ticket.