Saturday, February 27, 2010

On The Culver City Gallery Scene

First of all, about half of the galleries aren’t in Culver City, they’re on La Cienega Boulevard, which is in Los Angeles. La Cienega, 30 - 40 years ago, was the main gallery street in LA, but that was a section of the street further north where the street is narrower and the neighborhood very upscale. This is a very different La Cienega -- a downmarket, wide, heavily trafficked street, and an unpleasant one to walk on.

Nevertheless, the galleries are close enough together to walk to all of them -- although no one in LA would do that -- they’d drive even if it’s just a few blocks. Most galleries have two entrances, one in front for the few pedestrians, and another for people who park in the parking lot in back (see below). Since most people park in the lot and enter through the back, there isn’t much pedestrian activity or street life.

The galleries that are actually in Culver City are more pleasant to stroll, not because there’s less traffic on Washington Boulevard, where most of the galleries are, but because the city of Culver City built a landscaped median strip down the middle of the street making the street less bleak, and easier and safer to cross. (BTW, what happened to the one Jersey City was supposed to build on Columbus Drive?) The city also did a lot with sidewalk lighting, landscaping and street furniture, to make gallery-going more hospitable.

And there are some surprises along the way: galleries that, from the outside, seem to be tiny, LES-type spaces, are spacious inside; and, near the intersection of Washington and La Cienega, the Los Angeles River flows -- with water in it for a change.

The galleries are airy, single-story storefronts with skylights and clean white walls -- more Chelsea than LES. I was hoping for a more cutting-edge scene, something like what I saw in Chinatown here a few years ago, but the Culver City scene is staid -- competent but unadventurous. I don’t think it was just a matter of timing, I had a good look in the storage areas of most of the galleries so I can be pretty sure they’re showing good, but ordinary work. Two shows I liked in particular were powerful, large, drawings by Shay Bedimus at Koplin Del Rio, and a revelation of a show at Cardwell Jimmerson, a gallery specializing in past Los Angeles art (and LA does have a significant art history). In this show the gallery and the artist, Lloyd Hamorol, reproduced work shown in 1966 at the Rolf Nelson Gallery in Los Angeles.

Shay Bedimus , “Repose”, 2009, tattoo ink and mixed media on drafting film, 40” x 49”

Opening reception of Lloyd Hamrol: 5x9

Unlike Chelsea, the dealers are friendly and eager to talk (to me at least, my friends were bewildered by it). And I learned a lot from them. Several complained that people in LA don’t buy art; a director of one of the best galleries, told me that only 30% of his sales are to people from LA, and that he sold more art to New Yorkers. Another dealer, after learning I'm from Jersey City, gave me a pass to the Pulse Contemporary Art Fair, one of the fairs concurrent with the Armory Show in New York. Now how often would that happen in New York?

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Getty Center vs. Los Angeles County Museum of Art: From Exhilarating to Depressing

I spent a few days in Los Angeles last week and came away with many highs and lows that can be summed up by the two major museums in the city. I’ll be posting on the Culver City gallery scene later.

Architect Richard Meier’s Getty Center, like the Acropolis, sits on a hill in harmonious balance with nature and itself. A tram brings visitors from a street-level parking structure into this perfect, self-contained world filled with light. It’s a visual delight from every angle.

On the other hand, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA - even the acronym is inharmonious: Lak-Ma - ech) is a mishmash of clashing architectural styles jumbled together into a chaotic mess. The buildings are out of scale and proportion, the galleries are shabby - -the whole place is depressing. There were so few people there it felt like a shunned resort that had seen better days or an old-fashioned natural history museum. Even great art (and there is some) looked pathetic in that environment.

Most surprising was the lack of natural light both inside and OUTSIDE -- almost every courtyard and walkway was covered and/or surrounded by high, blank walls that blocked the light. The run-down galleries housing the permanent collection have dark floors and no natural light -- this in Southern California yet!

The Getty, on the other hand, revels in light. The buildings are clad with creamy white Italian travertine that softly reflects the sun. Strategically placed glass not only allows in light, but reveals some spectacular views (none intrude on the art though). And best of all, a computer-assisted system of louvers and shades adjusts the light so that the it is never direct or blindingly bright.

The light is so glorious, and makes the art look so good, I kept thinking the work was over- restored or fake! Paul Cezanne's Young Italian Woman at a Table absolutely glowed. I guess I never saw a Cezanne under such beautiful natural light before because the simultaneous effects were astounding. I kept telling a friend I was with that I never saw Cezanne paint with such a bright blue before, and he pointed out that I was actually looking at an unpainted area between her fingers and on her scarf, and the color was a simultaneous effect from the adjacent oranges and yellows. Knocked me out.

Paul Cezanne, Young Italian Woman at a Table, c. 1895-1900

And, to top everything off, their dining room served the best food I ever had in a museum (including the Neue Museum’s Café Sabarsky which is really good), served in a beautiful, large, airy room with spectacular views. It’s a little pricy, but definitely worth it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Comment on "Unexpected Theatricality" *Post

Paul Sullivan's comment on my "Unexpected Theatricality" post is so good, and well written, I didn't want it to get lost -- so I'm posting it below:

The bird's cute, Charles. It looks like a Casio keyboard made for Fred Flintstone.

About the suggested decoration of the Parthenon marbles, I have to disagree. I buy the gaudiness, but not the busyness of the design.

The sculptures' theatrically broad gestures are designed to play clearly to a well-sited, but necessarily distant viewer (a couple hundred ft, I'd think, to mitigate foreshortening). The amount of painted detail shown here at best would have been undiscernible and at worst would have obscured the comprehension of the figures.

It's also quite possible that the statues were re-painted yearly as a way to excite and surprise the "same, old" crowds. This amount of detail might have been unnecessarily expensive.
I like what you have to say about the Last Supper as proscenium stage. I've always wondered about the disconnect between da Vinci's desire to push the illusion of real space and the space he actually depicted. The refectory is a narrow, tall room with a vaulted ceiling, and yet, da Vinci's space is classical and boxy with a flat, coffered ceiling. The mismatch makes no sense unless da Vinci wanted to evoke a "staging" of the Last Supper. If he had tried to continue the architecture of the refectory into the painting as if the Last Supper was taking place in the refectory, the church authorities might well have objected. The observant cannot be participants, only viewers.

The refectory as a theater doesn't seem a stretch. The power of da Vinci's illusion may thus be felt fully with no ambivalence. The brothers witness a re-enactment at each meal just as prayers are offered anew at each meal.

I am fascinated by that uneasy line in Renaissance and Baroque art on the proper place for Patrons in the artwork they financed of religious figures and events. They may be shown, but only on the periphery, allowed to witness, unremarked by the halo'ed. I always liked the obstreperous Cornaro clan, though, doing their best to upstage the Ecstasy of St Theresa.

The Ecstasy of St. Teresa by Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini for the Cornaro Chapel of

Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.

Side detail of The Ecstasy of St. Teresa

One could be cast in a supporting role such as Michelangelo portraying Nicodemis in his Florentine Pieta 50 years later. I am always kind of shocked how conspicuously Nicodemis/Michangelo's bare hand grabs hold of the bare arm of the fallen Christ with no cloth in between as iconographical decorum warrants.
Michelangelo, The Deposition ("The Florentine Pieta") c. 1550

I'm curious where you go next with these ideas. This is a good opening. The Greenaway is beautiful.

fyi, this is a link to see the room virtually. I never knew there was another painting at the other end.

thanks for making me think.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Money for Artists

Pro Arts is working on an innovative fundraising event for art projects: Art Eat-Up. To quote the Art Eat-Up site:
Art Eat-Up is a food, drink and entertainment event with a twist; for a small donation, guests eat a delicious meal, enjoy good company and musical entertainment, and vote for the most worthy art proposal on the menu that night. All profits collected go to the winning artists to realize their project, which will be displayed at the next Art Eat-Up event. It is a great way to network, meet new people, have fun and provide support for a local art project. Art Eat-Up provides individual grants for artists, connects artists to each other and to the greater community and promotes the artistic livelihood of our community.
It will be held on Saturday, March 13, from 6 to 9 pm, at Villa Borinquen’s 1st Floor event space (396 Manila Ave.). Suggested donation is $20. The deadline for proposals is March 1; the submission guidelines can be found here.

The Jersey City Independent just published an excellent post on it, and you can find that here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Duchamp and Friends

Marcel Duchamp, Fresh Widow, 1920, Museum of Modern Art

Marcel Duchamp’s work is displayed in what is probably the worst room in MoMA’s permanent collection -- if you can even call it a room at all. It’s more of a large landing for the old stairway in the middle of the building. But maybe installing it there wasn’t such a bad idea. Duchamp’s work -- raw, informal, non-artful -- handles the casual space well.

This isn’t to say Duchamp’s work is casual or offhand -- it's just the opposite. It’s deliberate and mindful, even if it sometimes uses chance; and I always feel with his art that a human being has made choices and decisions, however absurd. And, as a corollary to this, Duchamp’s work, with the possible exception of some of his Readymades, is fabricated by hand. Of course almost all art is hand-made, but Duchamp’s is emphatically so, and we strongly experience it as such.

Back side of Fresh Widow

This hand-made quality was brought home to me when I took a good look at the back of Fresh Widow -- a miniature French window (a typically bad pun) whose glass is covered with black leather that Duchamp insisted “should be shined every day like shoes.” (Given the cracks on the leather, I doubt if MoMA honored this request.) It’s displayed near a wall, but not right up against it, so the back of the work can be easily seen. (I wonder if Duchamp included exhibition guidelines for this as he did with several other works.I also wonder if the glass case Fresh Widow is displayed in was Duchamp’s idea -- I doubt it.)

Btw, in the same room are paintings by Duchamp’s friends and colleagues Man Ray, John Covert and Katherine Dreier. They all worked with Duchamp to establish organizations (The Society of Independent Artists and the Société Anonyme) that exhibited and promoted modern art and educated people about it. Duchamp also made a modest income advising such great collectors as Walter Arensberg (whose collection is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art), Peggy Guggenheim and Katherine Dreier (mentioned above, whose collection went to Yale and MoMA).

For someone so reluctant to promote or sell his own work (or even admit to making art at all), Duchamp seemed to have had no trouble doing so for others. I can relate to that!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

How To Comment

  1. Click on “COMMENTS” at the end of each post (a new window will pop up)
  2. Write your comment in the box provided
  3. Type the word verification (it’s to prevent spam)
  4. “Choose an identity” -- it doesn’t have to be a Google account; you can use your name (without a URL if you want), or even make it anonymous

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Unexpected Theatricality

An illustration showing the likely colors of the dinosaur Anchiornis huxleyi, Evidence Builds on Color of Dinosaurs, New York Times, February 5, 2010 and National Geographic.

When we think of the art of classical antiquity, certainly Greek Classic Art, we think of somber, pure white marble sculptures. Likewise, when we think of the Renaissance, especially the Italian High Renaissance, we conjure up balance, restraint and idealization. But a performance and two exhibitions (unfortunately, only one still ongoing) remind us how important theater and theatricality were.

The Sackler Museum at Harvard had an exhibition a couple of years ago, “Gods in Color: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity.” It was a show of about a dozen scientific reconstructions of what Greek Classic sculptures really looked like. I unfortunately missed the exhibition by one day, but the reproductions I saw in the catalog were mind-blowing (see below). Not only were Greek Classic sculptures painted, but they were painted in garish, bright colors and flashy patterns. And don’t forget, these works were settings for grand theatrical events -- the Panathenaic festivals and processions

Reconstruction of a Trojan archer from the west pediment of the Temple of Aphaia on Aegina ca. 490-480 B.C, in "Gods in Color" at Harvard's Sackler Museum

More recently, in a one-day event, film director Peter Greenaway used theatrical lighting to create the illusion of light shining on Leonardo’s Last Supper (c. 1495-1498) from a now-bricked-up window of the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie. That is, Greenaway re-created the window, light and shadows that existed when Leonardo was painting the fresco and that he used to reinforce the perspectival illusion. Witnesses were astounded at how miraculously three dimensional this made the painting look.

The Last Supper, even the ruin we know today, is extravagantly theatrical: it’s very large (about 15’ x 29’) and Christ and apostles are on an elevated plane, like a proscenium stage, that realistically continues the space of the room In addition, the original was flamboyantly colorful. This can be seen in a digital reconstruction of The Last Supper created by the media company, Leonardo3 (see below). Not only are the colors bright and contrasting but, similar to Classical sculpture, Leonardo painted brightly colored and elaborately patterned tapestries on the walls. When the work was in good condition, before it deteriorated and was vandalized, and before a door was installed below Christ, it must have felt like you were in a dining hall having supper with Christ and the Apostles, witnessing a highly agitated and dramatic moment -- when Christ told them “one of you will betray me.”

This theatricality and staginess shouldn’t be surprising since Leonardo was very involved with theater. He designed a revolving stage in 1490 (never built), and arranged the settings, masks, and costumes for wedding celebrations, parades and festivals. He even made a mechanical automaton lion for the the new King of France, King Francis I, on the occasion of his solemn entry into Lyon in 1515 (see below). The robot lion took a couple of steps, kneeled on one knee and pulled open its chest with its paws, revealing a profusion of golden lilies. A reconstruction of this lion, and many of Leonardo’s other inventions, as well as the high resolution digital reproduction of the Last Supper discussed above, can be seen in the exhibition: Leonardo Da Vinci’s Workshop, Discovery Times Square Exposition, 226 West 44th Street, until March 14th (tickets are about $20). The exhibition is an odd combination of serious scholarship and commercial hype (it’s in the same space as a Titanic artifact exhibition) but well worth a visit. Besides, it’s a look at what museum exhibitions might be like in the future (material for another post).

Friday, February 5, 2010

I Love Surprises

Doug Wheeler, Untitled, 1969

Sprayed lacquer on acrylic with neon tubing

David Zwirner Gallery

David Zwirner, Primary Atmospheres: Works from California 1960-1970 (until February 6th --sorry). This show got a lot of attention, and rightly so. It included all the people associated with Los Angeles “Light and Space Art” of the sixties and then some. Helen Pashgian, who was unjustly excluded from the group, probably because she was (oh my God!) a woman, is represented by some small cast resin globes, and her work fits perfectly. There’s also a piece by Laddie John Dill -- sheets of glass stuck in sand and lit from below by argon light. Dill is not usually associated with this group because he went on to make different work -- paintings made with concrete and glass -- but this work also fits.

I must say, after all the nasty things I said about LA “Light and Space Art” and “The Cool School,” the show looked great! I think possibly after all the heavy art in Chelsea -- the nagging political or identity art, the difficult and obscure conceptual art and the huge and showy theatrical spectaculars -- so prevalent in the last few years, it was a relief to see something that was just mindlessly beautiful. I know this seems like a backhanded compliment, but I don’t mean it that way.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Monet's Water Lillies at MoMA

Monet, Water Lilies, Reflection of Weeping Willows, 1914-28, MoMA

Until this show (MoMA through April 12), I guess I was always too busy looking at the interior of Monet's Water Lilies to really appreciated the many ways Monet framed these paintings. I don't mean the wood frames around the paintings, I mean the painted ones within the painting.

You can see the ways Monet ended his paintings before the edge even in these poor photos taken with my iPhone. His Water Lilies don't continue indefinitely beyond the frame, but rather come to a definite end before the edge. He'd leave a few inches unpainted (like Pollock did with his classic drip paintings), he'd curve the brushstrokes back around, or he'd change the hue, value or texture of the brushstrokes as they approached the edge. This not only creates an ending to the paintings but, more important, makes the paintings self contained -- makes the paintings a thing existing in our world, not an imaginary picture behind (and beyond) the frame. Monet learned the lesson of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon well.

Monday, February 1, 2010

More Bauhaus

I went to the day-long Bauhaus symposium organized by the Museum of Modern Art. They had some brilliant speakers and I learned a lot, but I was disappointed they didn't really say anything about what, for me, made the Bauhaus show a revelation. What really struck me about the show was how warm, varied and sensual the work was, instead of the usual cliche about it being mechanical and impersonal. For a brief but insightful essay on The Bauhaus as I experienced it, check out Robert C. Morgan's article, "The Bauhaus Idea" in the December/January Brooklyn Rail.

More on Richard Tuttle

Metal Shoes, 6 © 2009 Richard Tuttle and Gemini G.E.L. LLC

Detail: Metal Shoes, 6 © 2009 Richard Tuttle and Gemini G.E.L. LLC

And while I’m on Tuttle, a word about two current exhibitions of his work: Metal Shoes, new prints at Gemini G.E.L. at Joni Moisant Weyl (until February 27th) and the well-named Seeing Intimacy at the Craig Starr Gallery (Until February 13th).

Tuttle’s works on paper are especially understated and subtle -- everything counts. So at the opening of his Gemini prints show, I asked him about the frames and if they were a problem. He gave me a good answer, as far as it went. He said artists keep the size and shape of the work in mind as they work on it. This makes sense here since he chose the frames.

I should have asked him about the glass, because that influences his work much more than the frame does. His work, so intimate and so involved with surface and subtle color, is more affected by glass than most. Maybe he considered that with these prints. Maybe he used the glass -- the reflections and glossiness -- to make the images even more subtle. But I feel the loss of intimacy with the work is a problem. After all, glass literally separates you from the print.

In any case, it’s unlikely Tuttle intended the frames in a show of about a dozen works on paper, mainly from 1972, at the the Craig Starr Gallery. For one thing, during this period, Tuttle hung his work unframed. And these frames are particularly obtrusive: antiqued gold in most cases, and one (“Blues Overlapping”) a shabby silver frame with a deep box for a mat.

I don’t want to bash this show -- it’s engaging work from one of his best periods, and it only required a little extra effort for me to overcome the frames. I just want to make a point about what I call “the Fluxus paradox.” Art sometimes radically changes when it leaves the care of the artist. Fluxus art was casual, non-precious and unpretentious. Now that it’s been painstakingly preserved and carefully framed, or displayed (under guard) in glass cases (see the Fluxus Preview, 4th floor, MoMA), the work has become formal, precious and pretentious -- i.e. just the opposite of the original intent.