Sunday, October 30, 2011

Art News

By Charles Kessler

I wasn’t going to write about Gagosian’s Bob Dylan exhibition because I think it got more attention than it deserves, but people I know who care about art, and think about it, have asked what I think, so….
By presenting Dylan's art in the same gallery and at the same time as Jenny Saville's, Gagosian is suggesting they're in the same league. They're not. Of course it isn't Dylan’s fault that Gagosian showed his work, but every time Dylan had to deal with something a bit challenging, like hands or kneecaps, he sloughed over it -- the guy didn’t even try. And even compared to some other musicians, like John Lennon or Captain Beefheart, Dylan’s art isn’t very good. I mean let’s keep things in perspective — this is the work of a dedicated hobbyist; he's somewhat better than Eisenhower but not as good as Churchill.  

Another thing people keep asking me about is this new “Occupy Museums” movement. I think Hrag Vartanian nails it on the blog Hyperallergic when he writes: "Leave it to the art world to make everything about them…." And in another post he presents his objections in more detail:
If we’re going to change the way museums do things then we have to find them an alternate mode of funding. If rich patrons aren’t going to fund them then they’ll need a more grassroots approach (Kickstarter?) or maybe public money, but neither of those seem likely at the moment. ...Who gets to decide what goes into a museum of the 99%? That’s a bigger question I’d love to know the answer to.
There’s a lot going on in New York right now, but don’t miss David Smith: Cubes and Anarchy at the Whitney - it’s pure joy. The show originated at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art,  In the catalog, the curator, Carol S. Eliel, makes somewhat of a phony argument. She tries to refute the claim that David Smith only worked with cubes later in his career -- but who ever said that in the first place?
David Smith, Cubi I, 1963, Stainless steel, 124 x 34 x 33 ½ inches, (Detroit Institute of the Arts)
In any case, the work is glorious: inventive, sensual, playful -- note the little sphere on the bottom of Cubi I (above) propping up the precariously stacked stainless steel boxes. (BTW, despite its name, it's not the first Cubi sculpture.)
I’ve seen a lot of David Smith's work over the years, but the thing that got to me this time was the compelling illusion of the stainless steel dematerializing into ephemeral light. Maybe it was the way the work was lit that made the difference, but the calligraphic burnishing on the stainless steel created squiggles of light that floated in space in front of and behind the steel surface, transforming the steel into what looked like transparent gray scrim. You can see a little of this illusion in the photo below, but you really need to see the work in person and move around it to truly experience the illusion. 
David Smith, Untitled (Candida), 1965. Stainless steel, 103 × 120 × 31 in. The Estate of David Smith/VAGA, New York. Photograph by Jerry L. Thompson; courtesy the Estate of David Smith, NY.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art upgraded their website making it a lot easier to use. It now contains good reproductions of most of their collection, including many high-resolution images.
I'm working on an update of the Lower East Side galleries -- there are 15 new ones, about 75 all together. Incredible! And I'm also working on a map of Bushwick galleries. Stay tuned. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Curatorial Flashbacks #17: Writing About Art, Part 2

By Carl Belz

As promised, here are a few more short essays on individual paintings acquired for the Rose Art Museum where I was director from 1974 through 1998. (BTW To celebrate my appointment to that directorship, spouse Barbara scored an acquisition of her own, the car you see pictured in the photograph above. It’s a ’49 Mercury, and it was the car of choice among cool guys when I was in high school between ’51 and ’55. Also the car James Dean memorably drove in Rebel Without A Cause. I always wanted one, but being cool wasn’t in my arsenal back then, so I had to wait a while to get my Merc—like, about 20 years. But, better to be cool later than never cool at all, right?)
Jo Ann Rothschild, In Memory Of Edwin Rothschild, 1995, mixed media on canvas, 92 x 134 inches.
On my first visit to a studio, I like to take some time to get a feel for the space and the artist, so I usually just pace silently around for a while, looking as much at the art as at the postcards and reproductions tacked to the walls, the books and magazines lying around, and the tapes stacked next to the audio system—anything that might inform my comments on the work itself or, if I come up short on that score, might at least circle around the work and lead to a conversation about personal tastes in art or literature or music. The approach has generally worked well, but it carries no guarantees. When I first visited Jo Ann’s studio back in the seventies, for instance, there were no reproductions or books or tapes to talk about, just her paintings. And though they were very large and very abstract, signals of high ambition, they nonetheless left me cold, because they were very expressionistic, displaying a slash-and-burn manner that recalled the kind of New York School painting that had pretty much exhausted itself 20 years before and seemed able to survive only when laced with irony. But the paintings exhibited no trace of irony, so there I was, stranded by what my mother had always told me, which was, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” 

I must have said something at least vaguely encouraging—probably that I’d be interested in seeing how the work developed—because Jo Ann occasionally asked me to look at new paintings after that first visit. I remember one time around 1990 when she brought pictures to the museum, probably about 35 or 40 of them, and to my surprise not one of them measured more than a foot in either dimension. The images in a few cases loosely alluded to landscapes but otherwise remained abstract, and the surfaces with few exceptions retained the expressive handling I was familiar with. The size, however, was what most intrigued me, because I felt it indicated a questioning of gestural bravura, maybe even an urge to rein in the expressionist impulse that had previously been the work’s signature. The new direction looked promising, but it also looked experimental, as though the ideas it proposed had yet to be fully worked out. I talked a little more than before, but not much.

I was glad curator/friend Susan Stoops was with me when I returned to the studio in 1995. Concerned that I would again not really like the work and again be left with nothing to say, I hoped Susan would carry the conversation and maybe help me with a fresh perspective on the art. But that turned out to be unnecessary, for I was totally flattened by what I saw, yet I felt not the least bit awkward in not knowing how to articulate my response. The paintings were again very large—in Jo Anne’s attic studio, we could look at only one at a time—and they were still very abstract, but their abstractness was now radically open and expansive. With each canvas, I found myself thinking less about what Jo Ann had meant by the paintings than what the paintings meant in themselves, as though she had detached herself from them, stopped trying above all to express herself through them, and had thereby set free and allowed to sing the pictorial elements of drawing and color and space that she previously sought to bend to her will and possess as exclusively hers—as though she had found her voice once she stopped looking for it.

My experience that day was fully rewarding and instructive: rewarding, as a reminder that good artists can open even reluctant eyes if you remain open to them; and instructive, as a reminder that good art doesn’t need words, because it invariably speaks eloquently for itself. 
David Ortins, #2395P, 1995, oil and wax on wood panel, 68 x 44 inches.
Innovative techniques and new materials occasionally appear in art and quickly gain widespread usage, as collage did in the 1910s, or as acrylics did in the late 1950s, and their usage can initially seem to transform even the most ordinary pictures into objects of wonder. With acrylics, for instance, staining in the manner of Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland quickly became a dominant painting technique, and by the middle of the 1960s we were surrounded by acres of Color Field pictures, each of them seeming more glorious than the last. Such was their allure, and it was irresistible; their surfaces were everywhere soft and inviting, their color effortlessly spread and glowed, and light breathed life into them as generously as in nature itself. You probably think I’m exaggerating in saying these things, but that’s the way it really was. At least for a while. By the time the 1970s were under way, stain painting had lost a lot of its original freshness and become routine and predictable—like collage, which at this point has been so thoroughly academicized that even school children practice it with ease. Which is not to deny the significance of Color Field painting as a whole, let alone the significance of its major practitioners. I mean only to suggest that new techniques and materials can sometimes infatuate you on impact, only to then cloy the appetite on which they feed.  

The 1990s counterpart to acrylic staining in the 1960s is wax. Though wax has for centuries been available to painting in the form of encaustic, it took on new meaning with the highly personalized and autobiographic art that has proliferated during the past decade or so. Pick up a canvas or board, sketch upon it an image of a figure or paste upon it an old photograph, then pour on a coat of translucent wax and bingo, you’ve instantly got a visual metaphor for memory or some related emotional effect. In studio after studio I observed that practice, and I was at first as seduced by it as anyone else; remembering the sixties, however, I soon began to look harder at sure-fire effects that often failed to go beyond mere sentimentality, and I became wary whenever I encountered pictures incorporating wax.  

I had seen some of David Ortins’s paintings by the time Susan Stoops and I first visited his studio in 1994. He had been doing geometric abstractions that were executed on white wax grounds, but the wax mostly served to provide a clean support and didn’t call particular attention to itself, so it was accordingly unproblematic. The new pictures presented an entirely different situation. Instead of an overall geometry, the images consisted of two or three spare rivulets of color—red or yellow or black—that flowed easily from top to bottom in the center of each painting and dramatically exposed the wax ground, making it pictorially assertive where it had before been hardly noticeable. Forewarned, I would have thought the situation risky, but instead it took my breath away. Smooth and immaculate, the whiteness of the wax slab felt as pure as natural light, detached and impersonal, yet exhilarating. We were fortunate in being able to purchase one of those paintings for the permanent collection, and I especially enjoyed installing it once or twice in the company of our Louis stripe painting, because they communicated so meaningfully with one another, but also as reminders that the uses of new techniques and materials don’t always become cloying—in the right hands, they can actually make hungry where most they satisfy. 
Alex Katz, Ada With Superb Lily, 1967, oil on canvas, 46 x 51-1/2 inches.
Born in 1927, Alex Katz came to artistic maturity during the 1950s. Back then, one of the values we aspired to in presenting ourselves to the world was that of being cool. James Dean and Marlon Brando, for instance, were both cool. Their manner was sometimes hesitant, as if they were conscious of our gaze and wary of being looked at, on stage or before a camera—maybe anywhere—but it was also assured, suggesting inner confidence, being on top of the situation while choosing to hold back from it, and from us as well. The aloofness was cool, lending to their manner an edginess that kept us wanting, an edginess that Alex Katz must have grasped, for it is a characteristic feature of his paintings.

Ada is the artist’s wife, and she appears regularly in his pictures, sometimes with him or with their son Vincent, occasionally with both, but most often by herself, as she is here. Whenever she appears, however, you can be sure of one thing: she will be composed and ready to meet her audience, a model of urbane decorum, fully in control, and invariably in style, glamorous even when casually attired. Just was she is at the moment of this picture, seated in a canvas lawn chair, assertively facing us through her chic sunglasses, her formally pulled back yet clearly in order and tied with an elegant silk scarf, her sophisticated presence appropriately complemented by the Superb lily that rises behind her and completes what is indeed a strikingly dignified and superb image. There aspects are all carefully observed and recorded, making Ada seem familiar, and stirring in us the feeling that we might on another occasion have met her.

This is surprising in view of Katz’s generalized approach to his subject. His drawing is broad and crisp, silhouetting and flattening the figure in its space, and his color is applied in large, even masses that further reduce both subject and setting into schematic shorthand notations. Since we are in fact presented with very few specific details, how can we feel we might have met this person, that she is familiar? What kind of familiarity are we talking about?

I think it’s like the familiarity we feel in relation to movie stars or professional athletes or public figures we know through the media world, that is, in contexts for which they are always prepared and which are themselves tightly controlled, quick, and two-dimensional. Who could be more familiar than your favorite anchorperson on the local television news? Yet, as Marshall McLuhan first pointed out, when we happen to see such a person in the unstructured, extended, and three-dimensional world of normal everyday experience—say, at an art exhibition—we’re ironically uncertain if it’s the person we thought we were so familiar with. Wishing our two worlds to reinforce one another, we cautiously approach, “Excuse me, but aren’t you Ada Katz?” Cool.  

 Carl Belz is Director Emeritus of the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University.

Friday, October 21, 2011

De Kooning and the Figure/Ground Dilemma

By Charles Kessler

Given the quality of his work and his great range and inventiveness, de Kooning may be the best American painter of the twentieth century, but he wasn’t the most radically original. That honor probably goes to Jackson Pollock and Clyfford Still since they were the first to do away with figure/ground distinctions in their work -- the main innovation of American painting in the 1940's and 50's.
Willem de Kooning, Excavation, 1950, oil and enamel on canvas, 81 x 100 inches (Art Institute of Chicago)
It’s not that de Kooning never merged figure/ground early on -- his Excavation, 1950, began as an interior with figures but became so broken up that it's all one thing. But he never stayed with it in a consistent way like Pollock and Still who made it a characteristic of their art. (This can also be said of large scale.) 

This has NOTHING to do with quality. Merritt Parkway, 1959, is a great painting, but it still deals with figure/ground relationships like a traditional landscape,
Willem de Kooning, Merritt Parkway, 1959, oil on canvas, 80 x 70 1/2 inches (The Detroit Institute of Arts)
Willem de Kooning, Easter Monday, 1955-56, oil and newspaper transfer on canvas, 96 x 74 inches (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
whereas Easter Monday, like an Analytic Cubist painting, is broken up so much that there is little or no figure/ground distinction.  (You can see some great examples of Analytic Cubism at the ever-so-swank Acquavella Gallery, 18 East 79th Street, between Madison and Fifth Avenues. They have a major George Braque retrospective until November 30th.)

Without figure/ground distinctions, it's hard to create space in a painting; things get clogged up, they don’t breathe. It also usually means giving up shapes and forms, so as a result the expressive possibilities of the medium become limited. Is a field of color (Rothko, Newman) or layers of lines (Pollock) or a pile of shapes enough? Can you say much without forms in a space? And can you keep it up if you do?  Picasso never went all the way, and Monet's water lilies kept the distinction, however subtle. Even Pollock backed off in his later work.

Clyfford Still managed to have it both ways by maintaining an ambiguity as to whether or not something is a fissure in a field of color revealing part of another field of color underneath, or a unique, self-contained irregular shape. 
Clyfford Still, 1948-C, 1948, oil on canvas, 81 x 69 inches (Hirshhorn Museum)
De Kooning, in his late work, also figured a way around this dilemma by creating ambiguity. Follow a de Kooning line and it transforms into a ribbon then an outline of a shape or a contour of a volume that becomes a gaseous field of color all the while turning in and out of space.
Willem de Kooning, Untitled I, 1985, oil on canvas, 70 x 80 inches (Private collection, Germany).

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Some Thoughts about MoMA’s de Kooning Exhibition

By Charles Kessler

Willem de Kooning, Woman II, 1950-52, 76" x 58", oil on canvas, (MoMA)
I hope this exhibition puts an end to the myth that de Kooning's "Woman" paintings are misogynistic. Most of de Kooning's women, at least most of the ones I’ve seen, are powerful, sexually aggressive, and often outrageously funny. Perhaps people continue to have this misconception today because the most famous de Kooning painting, MoMA’s Woman II (above), might possibly be interpreted as misogynistic. But that painting is not typical. Compare it with this painting, for example:

Willem de Kooning, Woman with Bicycle, 1952-53, oil on canvas, 77" x 49" (Whitney Museum of Art).
(Sebastian Smee reported in his review of the show, that de Kooning told his brother-in-law, Conrad Fried, about seeing prostitutes in Amsterdam flashing their breasts for a fraction of a second (as advertising I assume). I think that comment is particularly relevant to this painting.)
Like Picasso, de Kooning uses color mainly to distinguish one shape (or brushstroke) from another rather than for what it does best: glow, resonate, breathe and interact with other colors. It’s not until the early sixties, with paintings like Rosy-Fingered Dawn at Louse Point (below), that he really deals with color, and then not again consistently until twenty years later, when he abandoned what he called “fitting in” — the placement of the parts of a painting so they interweave across the surface in an all-over manner (Easter Monday, 1955-56 - further below, for example). I believe this was precipitated, or at least reinforced, by de Kooning's dislike of Picasso’s late work which he saw in the fall of 1980 at the Picasso retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. Also at that time, Elderfield reports in the de Kooning catalog (p.450), “He told Judith Wolfe that he had become interested in Matisse because that artist’s work didn’t have the ‘fitting’ quality of Cezanne and the Cubists.”

Willem de Kooning, Rosy-Fingered Dawn at Louse Point, 1963, oil on canvas 80 x 70 inches (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam).
There are some surprising congruences with de Kooning’s work, especially his late work. His The Cat’s Meow (owned by Jasper Johns, BTW) reminds me of East Village Graffiti art -- people like Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf, or maybe even Carroll Dunham or Elizabeth Murray’s late work.
The Cat's Meow, 1987, oil on canvas, 88 x 77 inches.
 and there's this congruence:

Just saying.
Some of de Kooning’s work has so much going on and is so complex, they’re like nature itself. Check this out for example:
Willem de Kooning, Easter Monday, 1955-56, oil and newspaper transfer on canvas, 8' x 6'2" (Met).
Finally, on an entirely unrelated matter, what's with the dust bunnies all over MoMA? Has anyone else noticed? Don’t they ever vacuum? Weird.
Window overlooking Brazilian artist Carlito Carvalhosa, Sum of Days, MoMA installation, 2011.

My next post: de Kooning and the figure/ground dilemma.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Curatorial Flashbacks #16: Writing About Art

By Carl Belz

Friends occasionally ask if I like writing about art. I say “like” doesn’t quite do it. Writing is a challenge, the words often resist, as if they’re actually physical. While their meanings are in many cases elastic, they can’t just be pushed around, they deserve respect. Though pleasurable to work with, they’re neither toys nor mere entertainments. Still, when responsibly employed in the job of writing about art, the words invariably guide and enable the urge to clarify my experience of the object at hand and articulate its content. And when all of that comes together the writing can be highly gratifying. To suggest what I mean, I’m here reprinting a few short essays, each devoted to a single painting, which I initially penned in conjunction with exhibitions at the Rose Art Museum. The pictures were all purchases for the Rose permanent collection.

Tina Feingold, Bleed, 1997-98, oil on canvas, 30 x 24 inches
Bleed is dated 1997-98, indicating Tina worked on it over a two-year period, not unusual from what I know about her practice of embarking on a series by working on one picture for a few days, then starting a second, and a third, and maybe a fourth, at which point she’s likely to go back to the first one and add a couple of layers of color, or to the second, or the third, and so on, before beginning the fifth or sixth, for that’s how the series evolves, always back and forth, back and forth, layer upon layer upon layer, a matter of process more than product, as you can easily see if you look at the edges of the painting where the successive layers physically accumulate, as naturally as twigs and pebbles forming a line on the edges of a pond, into sensuous ridges of pure pigment gently rimming the surface but serving no pictorial function whatsoever other than to acknowledge how abundantly rich and rewarding the making of a painting can be, which, if you think about it, is actually saying an awful lot, and of a magnitude that you can easily imagine might require a couple of years to say, especially if you were determined to say it as fully and convincingly as Tina has, in which case you might also understand how the painting came to be titled Bleed.”

The painting, a gift from the museum’s Board of Overseers, was presented to the Rose during a reception held in my honor in June 1998, in advance of which curator Susan Stoops had asked me on behalf of the Board if there was an area artist I wished to see represented in the permanent collection whose work we had not yet acquired, and I thought immediately of Tina, because she had been a close personal friend for many years, seeing just about every exhibition I ever mounted, reading closely each of my catalog essays and providing thoughtful responses to them while prodding me to write more, sharing provocative books and articles I had overlooked, traipsing around galleries and museums with me when I wanted companionship, reporting on shows elsewhere that I was unable to get to, attending for a full semester every lecture on the history of contemporary art I delivered at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and telling me later that they regularly inspired her to go back to the studio and paint, all that and more, yet asking nothing in return, except maybe an occasional studio visit during which she would put up with my telling her to get rid of the image and go for abstraction and other stuff I doubt she wanted to hear, but that never impeded our conversation or affected our relationship other than to deepen it, which is why I thought of her in connection with this gift that has my name attached to it, and, as I’m sure you can see, why Bleed caries significances that range far beyond its being a wonderful painting.

Linda Etcoff, Still Life With “Chop Suey”, 1985, oil on canvas, 44 x 60 inches
As is her practice, Linda Etcoff carefully planned this picture before executing it from direct observation. This means she selected and arranged the trays and glassware, the Edward Hopper poster, the lemon, the umbrella, the cup and saucer, the ashtray and cigarettes, the flowers and vase and table, everything, even the colors of the walls and window. She selected them with the idea of creating a decorative ensemble to which each object would appropriately contribute in terms of design and color. Thus, not just any ashtray or pack of cigarettes would do, only the right ones, and thus, too, if the studio wall was initially white but the ensemble she envisioned called for blue, then she would repaint the wall before proceeding to paint the painting of it. In the painting itself the artist’s refined taste and scrupulous attention to detail are fully apparent in the crisp and exacting depiction of the objects and in the harmonious visual bouquet of their arrangement. We are presented with a high order of decoration.

Of course the painting is more than just decorative, more than just an attractive still life, a poster announcing the exhibition of an esteemed American master, and a view of the city outside the artist’s studio. Let’s look again.

A table with two trays and a vase of tulips stands in the immediate foreground; behind it on the right is a wall on which the poster is taped, and behind the wall is the studio window with a stool and still life before it. But wait: the window is not actually a window, nor are the stool and still life actually a stool and still life. They are parts of another painting, another Linda Etcoff painting that rests on an easel that stands behind the wall that stands behind the foreground table in the painting we’re actually looking at.

So we have three paintings in one: first, the painting we’re addressing, Still Life With “Chop Suey”; second, the unnamed painting on the easel in Still Life With “Chop Suey”; and third, the Etcoff painting of the Hopper painting reproduced in the poster, the title of which is Chop Suey. Paintings of paintings and of reproductions of paintings, art coming from art, as we know all art does. In this case, however, I want to say that that dictum lies at the heart of the painting, animates it throughout, constitutes its subject. Etcoff develops her art out of her own past, but equally she develops it out of the art of artists such as Edward Hopper, and thereby does she honor and extend the tradition of American realist painting. In the sheer quality of her picture, finally, she also—and notably—enriches it. A high order of decoration is invariably as meaningful as it is satisfying.
John Salt, Lunch Room, 1977, oil on canvas, 42-1/4 x 62-3/4 inches
This is a pretty bleak image. The lunch room is closed down, its windows boarded up. The Pepsi signs are weathered and dingy. There are graffiti on the on the wall, along with posters we can’t read, their messages forever lost. It’s been awhile since the place hummed with activity, if it ever did. Then there’s the car standing in front of the lunch room. It looks like an old Chrysler Newport, a newer model than the one my father bought in 1952—a dependable American car made by a dependable American company, a family car—but this one has sure seen better days. It’s banged up and filthy, its paint is faded. There’s rust around the wheel wells and on the rocker panels. The hubcaps are gone. The tires are probably retreads. Did someone park it there, or was it simply abandoned? It’s hard to say, just as it’s hard to imagine that it ever stood new in a showroom or that it was a vehicle for Saturday night cruising and good-time fun. It must have had another life, maybe several lives, but the pathos of its present condition effaces any past it may once have enjoyed. And finally there’s the snow, snow in the city, always dirty, never seeming really to be snow at all, just some kind of sloppy mess that clogs up the drains and forms deep puddles that make it impossible to cross the street, and you ruin your shoes anyway. Talk about the death of the inner city, you’ve got it here in spades.

When advanced painting jettisoned narration, which was about a century and a half ago, photography was there to rescue it for the visual arts, and with photography it remained, eventually giving rise to pictures that moved and told their stories through real time. (BTW If you think it’s merely coincidental that movies were invented at the very moment when vanguard painting was putting a stake through the heart of narration by eliminating all traces of the visible world and becoming totally nonobjective, then maybe you should think again.) It remained there, that is, as long as painting wanted to go in the direction of pure abstractness in the process of defining its separateness from the other arts, from photography, for instance, or literature and poetry. But that urge was pronounced dead by the 1970s when painting, via postmodernism, embraced anew all manner of concerns that had previously been discarded from it, including narration.

Yet, if you were schooled in modernist purity and felt an obligation to retain its moral imperative, and you also felt the appeal of postmodernism’s promise of freedom—which is how I see the situation of John Salt and other photorealist painters—how would you go about resolving your dilemma? Well, you could do it by using a photograph to make a painting that looks like a photograph. Because photographs are flat, they don’t violate the flatness of the picture plane that modernism taught you to honor, and because they’re inherently narrative, they free you to tell stories you want your paintings to tell, stories like the one about the car in the snow in front of the lunch room.

(This is the first of a two-part post)

Carl Belz is Director Emeritus of the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Chelsea Roundup

By Charles Kessler

Richard Serra is one of those artists, like Julian Schnabel and Jeff Koons, that I hate to love. I mean the guy is such a pompous jerk, but as I wrote  in a recent post, his obnoxious personality goes hand in hand with the chutzpa needed to make such powerful work.

This new work is massive sculpture -- more non-utilitarian architecture than sculpture, really. It practically touches the (very high) ceiling of Gagosian's 24th Street space, and it fills the entire space. As you walk through the labyrinth of massive steel walls that sometimes tilt threateningly overhead and other times squeeze you into narrow spaces, there are surprises along the way -- a sudden opening or an unexpected volume curving in a new direction. This is not at all like his past, more minimal, work -- it's very varied, beautiful, even artful. If you can't get there to experience it, the next best thing is this installation video.

The Paul Kasmin Gallery, 293 Tenth Avenue (at 27th Street) has a handsome show of Frank Stella's early work.
Frank Stella, Untitled, 1966, acrylic and fluorescent alkyd on canvas, 64 x 128 inches.
Like Serra, Stella has changed from his early minimal work. But I also think there's been a change in the perception of this early work, and this show corroborates it. What looked so minimal and non-art when it was made now looks complicated and down right beautiful, if not out and out decorative.


Another good show of older work is the paintings of the late Milton Resnick at Cheim and Read (547 West 25th Street). This show focuses on what I think is Resnick's best, the work he did from 1959 to 1963. Yet again, what seemed like minimal, monochromatic work, is now perceived as juicy, painterly, and lush.
Milton Resnick, Straw, 1982, oil on canvas, 80x60inches. (Click to enlarge).

Thursday, October 13, 2011

More Art News - I'm still catching up.

Apple Logo adapted by Jonathan Mak
The Times reports how this design turned into a controversy, but I like it as a tribute to Steve Jobs more than Chris Thornley's "original" version.


Pacific Standard Time (PST), the enormous series of exhibitions (170 exhibitions at 130 museums and galleries) that explores and celebrates Southern California's art history has begun with a bang and will continue banging for the next six months. The Art Newspaper has an excellent article on how the Getty Research Institute and the Getty Foundation joined forces to become a catalyst for this ambitious enterprise.

According to the New York Times, Dave Hickey thinks it's corny, boosterish and largely unnecessary, and maybe he's right, but I'm glad they're doing it. Under-appreciated artists like John McLaughlin are getting their due, and attention is being paid to long-ignored aspects of LA's history. I hope to see some of it.

Another bit of good new for Los Angeles: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has partnered with The Motion Picture Academy to create a new movie museum.  Los Angeles, amazingly, does not have a major museum devoted to film, and now one will be established near LACMA in the old 300,000-square-foot May Co. building.


The Guardian reports art historian Martin Kemp has proven that what Christie's rejected as a "20th-century fake" is really a lost Leonardo masterpiece torn from a 15th-century portfolio.
Against the odds, Kemp tracked the volume down, to Poland’s national library in Warsaw; the stitch-holes are a perfect match for those on La Bella Principessa, a portrait in ink and coloured chalks on vellum. It is overwhelming evidence, Kemp says, that the portrait dates from the 15th century – and not the 19th century, as Christie’s thought when it sold it in 1998 for £11,400 (it could fetch £100m as a Leonardo).
Possible lost Leonardo
I was pleased to read that a former teacher of mine at UCLA, Leonardo scholar Carlo Pedretti, agrees with the attribution. Good to see he's still in the game.

I remember Pedretti regaling us with his attempts to deal with the Italian bureaucracy in order to get permission to look behind a Vasari fresco in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence to see if Leonardo's famous Battle of Anghiari is still behind it. This was in the sixties, and, according to a recent Times article, they're still trying.


Clyfford Still, 1949 No. 1 (PH-385), oil on canvas, 105 x 81 inches (Estate of Clyfford Still).
 The Clyfford Still Museum is set to open in Denver (of all places) on November 18th. It will house a mind-boggling 94% of the artist’s total output -- 825 paintings and 1575 works on paper.  The Wall Street Journal reports that Dean Sobel, the museum director, has a chance to rewrite American Art History. Sobel says, "The goal for us is to put Still back in, to show the greatness of him and that he was the great innovator of the movement. He creates Abstract Expressionism before all the others." And Tyler Green, one of my favorite art bloggers, is already at it with a three-part article on Clyfford Still, here, here and here. I hope they succeed. I love Still.


Art Review Magazine has just published its list of the top 100 powers in the art world. If you care, Ai Weiwei beat out Larry Gagosian for number one.

And finally, via The New York Observer I found out about crochet street artist Olek's latest:
I haven't seen it yet, but I'd guess it's somewhat of an improvement over the original (below) -- at least until it gets raggedy.
Bernard (Tony) Rosenthal, Astor Place Cube (Alamo), 1967, 96 inches each side

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Saturday, October 8, 2011

I'm Back!!!

By Charles Kessler

I just came back from two weeks touring Spain, Tangiers and Portugal. It was great (need I say it?). But whew, I'm exhausted! I'm not complaining, mind you -- we loved every minute, but I'm exhausted. And coming home to an art scene as insanely full and hectic as New York's isn't helping.

Let me begin by telling you what I'm NOT going to write about: The Prado. It's beyond anything I can say -- period. The monumental paintings by Velasquez, Rubens and Titian and the boys are so grand, powerful, and resolved that they're beyond words, at least my words. Maybe some day I'll take a crack at writing about Goya's "Black Paintings" (especially his heart-wrenching Drowning Dog) -- the only body of work at the Prado that's unconventional enough and unresolved enough to allow me some room for discussion -- but that's it.
Goya y Lucientes, Francisco de, Dog half-submerged, 1821-1823, 131 cm x 79 cm (Museo Nacional Del Prado).
Later I'll write a bit about the Museo Reina SofĂ­a, Madrid's enormous modern art museum, but for now I want to report on some interesting articles and art news I've read in the last month or so.

British street artist Banksy has been in the news a lot. He directed a TV special called "The Antics Roadshow" for Britain's Channel Four on infamous pranksters. It was shown on Vimeo for a short time, but it's gone. Watch for a possible return. Perhaps more interesting is his (faked?) feud with "arch rival" King Robbo. The best reporting I found on this is on ArtInfo's website, here. Like Banksy's movie, "Exit Through the Gift Shop", one doesn't know what is real.

Calvin Tomkins, who has written about artists for The New Yorker for more than fifty years, was honored at the Whitney's annual gala, and he deservedly earned his own profile in the New York Times.

Speaking of profiles, the classy, veteran gallery dealer Paula Cooper has a great one in the Observer.

Even Larry Gagosian can't make a go of a bookstore
The Guardian's Jonathan Jones has written at least two perceptive and provocative posts while I was away: Was postmodernism born with Close Encounters of the Third Kind? and We need critics to define truly great art. How does he do it?

I'm only up to the J's -- more later!