Central to Harold Bloom’s 1973 signal essay on poetry, The Anxiety of Influence, is the family romance: the struggle of individual poets to distinguish their practice from that of precursors, to emerge from the shadow of strong precedents. For Bloom, historical posteriority, or the fact of coming after another person, produces an anxiety that can either subsume the poet or be overcome. The success or failure of poetry depends on the poet’s response. Great poetry willfully misreads previous work, while weak poetry merely imitates.
Yet the eclecticism of the past three decades suggests that the anxiety of influence has waned as a creative stimulus. If there is anxiety, it seems to stem less from strong historical awareness than from having no dominant history, and hence nothing to react to. After a period of pluralism and in the age of wealth transfer—baby boomers will bequeath over $10 trillion in the next 20 years—might it be the family business rather than the family romance that is the apposite model?
This model focuses less on the immediate conflict between fathers and sons than on the evolutionary arc of an extended family through a century or more. The family is conceived of as an organic entity that each generation redefines for itself while preserving and accumulating wealth for the future. This family-wide, cross-generational scope is evident in Michael Rakowitz’s mutually supportive rapport with his chosen offspring, Charles Miller and Valerie Piraino, both former students of his. Rakowitz writes:
"Valerie Piraino’s work employs an elegant vocabulary of form and visual signifiers that address the issue of global amnesia that still surrounds the catastrophic events that have directly affected the lives of millions of Rwandans worldwide, including Valerie and her family. Charles Miller’s projects explore perceptual issues of cities and buildings through a means of mapping that incorporates his body as a measure for comparison with existing units and systems. In this investigation, Charles poses pertinent questions relating to societal and institutional standards, resulting in fascinating challenges to hierarchical relationships."
Rakowitz’s own contribution to DYNASTY, titled Return, is an ongoing work initiated in 2004 that recreates his Iraqi grandfather’s import/export business.
One similarity between the family business and the family romance is that success is elusive. An article in the December 2003 issue of Worth magazine estimated that only 30 percent of family businesses survive to the second generation, and fewer than 12 percent make the leap to the third. The article advocated a four-pronged strategy to improve the odds:
-Managing financial assets through trusts and other instruments
-Fostering human assets by acknowledging the unique individual strengths of family members
-Using intellectual assets by learning from life experiences
-Developing civic assets through philanthropic activity
While space precludes elaboration, it is worth noting that such strategies might be analogous to Bloom’s revisionary ratios, or means that poets deploy to overcome predecessors.
DYNASTY's curatorial team operated as a fictional family. Omar Lopez-Chahoud married Amy Goldrich, the sister of Sara Reisman, who in turn married Christopher K. Ho. As the Ho-Reisman branch of the family, we considered how we might generate a dynamic and enduring family tree that at once cohered and allowed for, even fostered, pockets of autonomy. One such pocket is Soledad Arias, Inc., who incorporated herself to facilitate collaborating with multiple participants in the text component of her artwork. Andrea Ray, whose Day after day is based on her own experiences with her child, invited Elke Lehmann into the family. Lehmann’s site-specific installations and public interventions address the physical and historical aspects of their sites, and at times amplify aspects of history and collective memory. Nina Katchadourian’s contribution, GRNAD OPENING, documents a misspelled awning sign, the kind one might see in multi-lingual neighborhoods. Katchadourian also shared her space with Chris Kubick and Anne Walsh. Working collaboratively under the name Archive, their project, Art After Death, offers alternative or “parallel” portraits of artists. Kubick and Walsh explain: “We ‘interview’ their spirits by bringing professional spirit mediums in contact with their work, and by employing the mediums as translators, or channels.”
As a family, we hope to extend to as many generations as possible. This desire is in part fulfilled by the addition of Zach Poff, a great-grandson. One of Poff’s recent sound installations, Displacement, sets up a network of recordings of the 2001 and 2005 presidential inaugural speeches. Spanning history, politics, architecture, language, economics, geography, and phenomenology, our family’s interests extend far beyond our initial expectations. We are idealistic in our ambitions and hope that the chain of relations in this family unit—a microcosm of the artworld system of artists, curators, and others—live on posthumously, after Dynasty closes, as a proposal for the possibilities of collaboration.