Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Week at the Met

By Charles Kessler
Rendering of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's new front plaza as envisioned by the Philadelphia design firm OLIN
Holiday visitors to New York will do well to just spend all their art-viewing time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In addition to sixteen small exhibitions (not a typo!), here’s what's on view now:
  • Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years (until December 31st). I wrote about this show here.
  • Extravagant Inventions: The Princely Furniture of the Roentgens (until January 27, 2013).  Some of the most inventive and elaborate 18th Century furniture you’ll ever see — and this was the age of great furniture.
  • Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop (until January 27, 2013). The exhibition traces the history of manipulated photography from the beginning of photography in the 1840s through the early 1990s, when photoshop and other kinds of digital manipulation took over.
  • George Bellows (until February 18, 2013). I saw it at the National Gallery and was surprised at how little I knew of his range and how modern he was.
  • African Art, New York, and the Avant-Garde (until April 14, 2013). An exhibition of the African art and artifacts originally owned in the 1910s and 1920s by such New York avant-garde artists and patrons as Alfred Stieglitz, John Quinn, and Walter Arensberg. Unfortunately, displaying a lack of respect, the exhibition is installed in a crammed and makeshift space in the middle of the wide corridor running through the Pre-Columbian and African collections (see photo below), so it's difficult to concentrate on the work. It's a fascinating show, well deserving of a better space; and it comes with an excellent catalog that’s a real bargain at only $10.
And of course the Met’s outstanding Matisse show, In Search of True Painting (until March 17, 2013) — I haven't recovered quite enough to write about it, but I'm getting there. My third visit should do it.

But I do want to write about the Met's Bernini: Sculpting in Clay (until January 6, 2013).
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Head of Saint Jerome, c. 1661, terracotta, 13 13/16 x 11 5/16 x 9 inches (Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Alpheus Hyatt Purchasing and Friends of the Fogg Art Museum Funds, 1937.77).
Bernini probably made several thousand of these terracottas, but since they were thought of as rough drafts for his marble and bronze sculptures, not as works of art of any worth, only 52 of them are known to have survived. A remarkable 39 of these, and 30 related drawings, are in this exhibition. To the contemporary eye, these clay studies are significant works of art in themselves rather than a disposable means to an end, and they are prized for their liveliness, for the personal touch of the artist, and for the raw physicality of the materials.

I haven’t found any edifying reviews of the exhibition, and the Met’s exhibition website, ordinarily a fount of information, is mysteriously sparse. The exhibition catalog, as one would expect, is scholarly, detailed and filled with photos — but it's a pricy $65. There is, however, a nook where you can sit down and comfortably peruse the catalog.

The best free information I found is the Met’s press release, which isn’t easily accessible, but you can find it here.  As for photos, the exhibition site has four instructional videos, but only ONE photo; and taking photos of the exhibition is verboten. But to give you a taste of the work, here are some photos I took from the exhibition catalog with my iPhone, and some images from the invaluable website of Harvard University's Fogg Art Museum (they contributed 15 terracottas to the exhibition).
Detail of the face of Angel with a Crown of Thorns, ca. 1667-68, (Kimball, AP 1987.02b).
Detail, Angel with Crown of Thorns, (Louvre RF2312).
Bernini, Charity with Two Children (detail breast feeding), 1634, terracotta, 41.6 cm high (Musei Vaticani, - 2423).
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Half-Kneeling Angel, c. 1673, terracotta, 11 1/4 x 6 11/16 x 8 1/16 inches (Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Alpheus Hyatt Purchasing and Friends of the Fogg Art Museum Funds, 1937.66).
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Angel Holding the Scourge, c. 1667-1669, terracotta, 11 9/16 x 6 1/8 x 6 5/16 inches (Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Alpheus Hyatt Purchasing and Friends of the Fogg Art Museum Funds, 1937.68). 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Art News — Mostly

By Charles Kessler

Yale Community Expansion Preview. Photo: Mike Marsland.
  • Video of James Panero from the New Criterion and the Wall Street Journal, about the Bushwick art scene.
  • The end of ArtCat Calendar. After listing more than16,000 exhibitions at 2,000 plus venues since  November 2004, the lack of advertising revenue has forced Barry Hoggard and James Wagner to call it quits. Too bad. ArtCat was an invaluable resource for listings and for short reviews of lesser-known exhibitions. 
  • The Washington Post reports the Corcoran Gallery of Art will remain in its historic Washington home. Good!

My Favorite Left Bank Posts of 2012:

The Top Ten Art Exhibitions of 2012:
Henri Matisse, Still Life with Yellow Curtain, Anemones and Fruit, 1925, oil on canvas, 31 ½ x 39 ⅜ inches (Private Collection).
1 - 10: The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Matisse: In Search of True Painting. Yes, all of the top ten! It blew me away. I'm speechless. I mean that literally — I have nothing to say! I'll be going back a few times so I'm sure I'll recover.

Recommended Reading:

Irving Sandler, the guest editor of the December/January issue of the Brooklyn Rail, with the help of Elizabeth Baker, Phong Bui, and Amei Wallach, came up with 14 questions to ask art critics about the state of art criticism today. He got answers from more than 20 critics. Among my favorites were Peter Plagens and Barbara Rose (whose take on Gerhard Richter I agree with: "Richter has slid into mannerism, formula, repetition, and mass production").

"The Strangest Art," a review by Wendy Lesser of A History of Opera: The Last 400 Years, by Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parker, is both entertaining and insightful, not only about opera, but about art in general:
Opera must be one of the weirdest forms of entertainment on the planet. Its exaggerated characters bear little relation to living people, and its plots are often ludicrous. Yet it demands from its audiences real involvement, real sympathy, even real tears. Mothers constantly fail to recognise their sons, sisters their brothers, husbands their wives, but we, sitting at a distance of hundreds of metres, are expected to penetrate all the thin disguises. Women dress as men posing as women—mainly in order to make love to other women—and nobody turns a hair. And on top of all this, people sing all their lines: not in the way you or I might sing, in a lullaby-ish, folk song-ish mode, but inhumanly, extremely, with a visible awareness of their own remarkable achievement.
... Opera’s unreality, it turns out, releases it to be something more real than most fictions, because it can acknowledge and still transcend that unreality. 
And a long New Yorker article, compelling throughout, by Joshua Foer about an amateur linguist who invented "one single language that combined the coolest features from all the world’s languages." The article covers everything from a discussion of Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase" to linguistics as art. There's even a surprise ending involving Ukrainian terrorists.
“I had this realization that every individual language does at least one thing better than every other language,” he said. For example, the Australian Aboriginal language Guugu Yimithirr doesn’t use egocentric coördinates like “left,” “right,” “in front of,” or “behind.” Instead, speakers use only the cardinal directions. They don’t have left and right legs but north and south legs, which become east and west legs upon turning ninety degrees. Among the Wakashan Indians of the Pacific Northwest, a grammatically correct sentence can’t be formed without providing what linguists refer to as “evidentiality,” inflecting the verb to indicate whether you are speaking from direct experience, inference, conjecture, or hearsay.

Why I love New York:
The best way to counter hate: NY Times video by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. In Times Square, protestors counter an anti-Islamic speech by pastor Terry Jones ... by singing the Beatles. Full article here.

FINALLY from palindromist Barry Duncan:
When I hear people talk about the upcoming Mayan apocalypse, my childhood flashes before my eyes. I'm not thinking that the end is near, I'm just remembering the regionally distinctive utterances of my South Jersey playmates: “Give me back that baseball. It's Mayan!”
Well, if the world does end on the 21st, two days before my 56th birthday, I'll always be a palindromic age, which isn't such a bad deal. After all, an apocalyptic event can't be reversed. Or can it?

Time: RIP.
Oh, shall a man?
It's '12, no?
Evil, all.
It's Mayan, huh?
Nay, am still alive on 21
st, in a mall. Ah, shop!
I remit.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Duncan 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Mannerism at the Morgan

By Charles Kessler
Eastroom, Pierpont Morgan's Library
If you’ve never been to the Morgan Library and Museum, go — you’ll love the over-the-top opulence of Pierpont Morgan's library and the lavish residence of his son, J. P. Morgan. (I wrote about the Morgan and some other small east-side museums here.)

I do have some mixed feelings about the new renovation. The Morgan used to be a secluded, scholarly place frequented mostly by print and drawing aficionados. I loved it, but I never felt quite comfortable there — it was a bit intimidating. The airy openness of the 2006 Renzo Piano expansion and renovation made the museum more inviting but also made it less of a special and hallowed place. It’s wonderful though, all the more so because of two exhibitions currently on view: Fantasy and Invention: Rosso Fiorentino and Sixteenth-Century Florentine Drawing (through February 3rd) and Dürer to de Kooning: 100 Master Drawings from Munich (through January 6th).

Lovers of Early Italian Mannerism (the few of us out there) shouldn't get too excited. The Rosso exhibition is modest; it has only one painting (an unfinished one at that) and about 20 drawings taken mostly from the Morgan's collection. The Drawings from Munich show includes a few Mannerist drawings as well. Nevertheless, there is more Mannerist art here than is usually available, so enjoy.

(There are only a few important Early Mannerist paintings in American museums. The LA County Museum has a great Rosso as does the Boston MFA; and the Met and Frick each have a portrait of a young man by Bronzino, here and here (although they're really more Late Mannerist); and the National Gallery has a Pontormo portrait; but that's about all that come to mind. Some museum needs to do a major Early Mannerism exhibition.)

Mannerism is indeed mannered in some ways: it tends to be idiosyncratic, artificial and contrived (as opposed to naturalistic), and it's sometimes over-elaborate. As a result, it takes a bit of getting used to. But it’s not mannered in other, more important ways: it's not stilted, affected or lacking feeling — at least not Early Mannerism as practiced by Jacopo da Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino in Florence, and Parmigianino in Rome. (Late Mannerism is where you might find empty virtuosity and bizarre, outlandish subjects that are meant to shock just for the sake of shocking. Sound familiar?) “Anti-Classical” or better “Anti-High Renaissance” might be a more descriptive term for it since it was a reaction against the restraining ideals of the Italian High Renaissance.

As great as Italian High Renaissance art is, it had a restrictive aesthetic ideal and limited expressive range, and it must have been difficult (or boring) for artists to sustain it for long. Images had to be convincingly realistic yet more idealized than real life; likewise space in paintings had to be rational yet removed from our own world. The art had to be balanced without being rigid, theatrical but serene, monumental but intimate — all that, and the subject matter had to be profound (think Leonardo’s Last Supper).

A case can be made that the artists most associated with the Italian High Renaissance, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael, quickly tired of it in its purist form (from about 1495 - 1515) and launched the change to Mannerism.
Leonardo da Vinci, St. John the Baptist, c.1513-1516, oil on walnut wood panel, 27.2 x 22.4 inches (Louvre, Paris).
For example, a late painting by the master himself, Leonardo da Vinci, St. John the Baptist, is weirdly, and uncharacteristically, creepy. Rather than depicting St. John the Baptist as a wiry, haggard Old Testament prophet in the traditional manner, Leonardo made him androgynously effeminate, placed him in an indeterminate dark space, and gave him a mysterious gesture and smile. Not exactly High Renaissance traits.

Raphael too, in his later paintings, violated classical ideals. His Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary is highly charged emotionally (it's the moment when Christ falls and his mother pitifully reaches out to him); the figures are piled up into a crammed and hard-to-decipher space; the composition is not symmetrically balanced in the High Renaissance manner but instead it's a dramatic diagonal; and Christ isn't even the focal point of the composition.
Raphael, Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary, c. 1516, Oil on canvas (transferred from panel), 318 x 229 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid.
And of course Michelangelo's Last Judgement, if not the Sibyls in his earlier Sistine Chapel, were models for the Mannerists.

So with Rosso’s Holy Family, the figures are attenuated and the proportions elongated; figures are pushed up to the surface in a tense and compressed space; the Virgin's nipples disconcertingly show through her dress; and there's an odd mix of Christian and pagan imagery (John the Baptist is wearing a grapevine crown like Bacchus). Most disturbing is the Virgin's 3-finger super elongated claw-like hand that's at once graceful, tender and sinister. (Someone I struck up a conversation with suggested she might be suffering with Morfan's Syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes, among other horrors, long, thin fingers — not that Rosso required a basis in nature for his expressive purpose — unlike Leonardo.)
Rosso Fiorentino, Holy Family with the Young Saint John the Baptist, ca. 1520, oil on panel, 25 x 16 ¾ inches (The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Photo © The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore).
Compare this Rosso with a quintessential High Renaissance Holy Family by Raphael:
Raphael, Madonna of the Rose, 1516, oil on panel transfered to canvas, 41 ½  x 33 inches (Prado).
Rosso makes no attempt to create a plausibly real scene in a real space. What's being depicted is not ordinary human activity, and it's not an idealized scene either, but rather it's an almost hallucinogenic, spiritual ecstasy more akin to medieval mosaics in spirit than to the High Renaissance. This ecstatic emotion is conveyed by the glowing colors and the swirling, rhythmic brushwork. (The painting is unfinished so it's probably rougher and less polished than it would be if he had finished it — but still.) In the Rosso, St. Joseph and St. John are so emotionally overwrought they seem to be dissipating visually.

Detail, head of St. John The Baptist. 
One other thing. Rosso's Virgin and Child look at us; they address us. We're not just outside observers passively watching a holy scene, but instead we are made to be active participants — and that's unsettling.
Jacopo da Pontormo,  Male Nudes, c.1520, red chalk on paper, no size given but about 18 x 10 inches.   
Also in the exhibition is a drawing of male nudes by Pontormo. Like Rosso's painting, the figures are  elongated, placed in a shallow space and pushed to the front; in addition, the figures are in precariously balanced poses and have spooky vacant eyes (probably an exaggeration of the manner of his teacher, the High Renaissance painter Andrea del Sarto). As a result, the figures have a haunting ethereality and otherworldliness about them.

And in the Dürer to de Kooning: 100 Master Drawings from Munich exhibition there are some other terrific Mannerist or proto-Mannerist drawings:
Fra Bartolommeo, Self Portrait, 1510/12, black chalk heightened with yellow wash on gray paper, 15 x 10 ½ inches.
Jacopo Pontormo, Two Standing Women, after 1530?, red chalk on paper (Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich).
There are other great drawings in the Munich show that have nothing to do with Mannerism, including this marvel:
Rembrandt (1606–1669), Saskia Lying in Bed, a Woman Sitting at Her Feet, ca. 1638, pen and point of brush and brown ink, about 9 x 7 inches.
And finally, there's this:
Willem De Kooning, Standing Man, c.1951, graphite on card, 20 x 32 inches.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


By Charles Kessler

Art News:
The Doria Panel - copy of Leonardo's Battle of Anghiari.
  • The BBC reports Italy's art-theft police have located a 400-year-old copy of a lost Leonardo da Vinci fresco -  the Battle of Anghiari.
  • The New York Times reports that the next Whitney Biennial will be organized by three curators, and each will be given their own floor of the Whitney.  Good move — the curators won't need to compromise on the selection of the art, and they won't have to cope with another curator's art when they're installing the show. The 2014 Whitney Biennial curators are: Stuart Comer, the film curator at the Tate Modern in London; Anthony Elms, an associate curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia; and Michelle Grabner, a professor and the chairwoman of the painting and drawing department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. 
  • Damien Hirst: Jumping the Shark, an article by Andrew Rice on how Hirst has ruined his art market, is getting a lot of attention — maybe because people hope it's true. "For all his celebrity, Hirst’s stock in the art market has experienced a stunning deflation. According to data compiled by the firm Artnet, Hirst works acquired during his commercial peak, between 2005 and 2008, have since resold at an average loss of 30 percent." To put things in perspective though, the last painting of his that sold at auction went for $1.3 million — a 50 percent decline from its peak, but still ....
  • The Getty Museum has developed what might be the first digital scholarly museum catalog — not a print catalog that's been put online, but a catalog developed from the beginning to be digital. And a nifty one it is. It's Ancient Carved Ambers in the J. Paul Getty Museumand The Iris, the Getty Museum's blog, has a post on how it was done, and how it's different from a print catalog. 
Exhibitions I haven't seen (yet):
Three paintings of Laurette by Matisse (image taken from the New York Times website). 
Roberta Smith gave a glowing review to the Met’s Matisse: In Search of True Painting (open to the public today through March 17th). I found it inspiring that after writing art criticism for almost forty years, she can still be wildly excited about an art exhibition: "... one of the most thrillingly instructive exhibitions about this painter, or painting in general, that you may ever see." (There aren’t any photos of the exhibition on the Met’s website, but the Times has some good ones here.)

Another show I'm looking forward to is the Morgan's Fantasy and Invention: Rosso Fiorentino and Sixteenth-Century Florentine Drawing (until February 3rd).
Rosso Fiorentino, Holy Family with the Young Saint John the Baptist, ca. 1520, oil on panel, 25 x 16 ¾ inches (The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Photo © The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore).
I guess Mannerist art isn't all that popular, at least it isn't shown very often, but I love it — and this should be a good opportunity to see twenty paintings and drawings by Andrea del Sarto, Jacopo Pontormo, Giorgio Vasari and other Florentine Mannerists.

I hadn't been to Williamsburg in more than a year, so last Saturday I thought I'd check on what's happening with the galleries there. Well, not much unfortunately. About three quarters of the galleries listed on WagMap, the main listing website for Brooklyn exhibitions, are no longer in business; and half of the rest (six galleries) were closed when they were supposed to be open (including Pierogi's large space, The Boiler). With the possible exception of Yoon Lee's exhibition in Pierogi's smaller space on N. 9th Street, I wasn't impressed with the shows I did see. So unless things pick up, go to Williamsburg for the restaurants, nightlife and shopping, not for the art.

Recommended reading:
  • Bach’s Music, Back Then and Right Now by pianist Jeremy Denk in The New Republic is a book review of Reinventing Bach by Paul Elie. It's an incisive analysis and appreciation of Bach's music. Here's a sample paragraph:
ONE GREAT advantage Bach has over Beethoven is counterpoint. Late in life Beethoven obsessed over Bach, working at counterpoint and fugue feverishly—as if to purify himself, to escape from the heroic sonata forms that he had brought to their apex. In a “song without words” by Mendelssohn or a nocturne by Chopin, you usually have the opposite of counterpoint: a melody over repeated chords or a texture of arpeggios—that is, filler, something to make the chords last some time while the melody melodizes. There is a hierarchical distinction between foreground and background, between the prominent main voice and the backup band. But in “true counterpoint” no voice is the lapdog of a melody; each voice lives independently. For us humble listeners, whose lives are filled with filler, this seems like an unattainable miracle: everything counts.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Carrie Mae Weems Odyssey

By Carl Belz

Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video, edited by Kathryn E. Delmez, with contributions by Kathryn E. Delmez, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Franklin Sirmans, Robert Storr, and Deborah Willis. Frist Center for the Arts in association with Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2012. Published in conjunction with the exhibition organized by the Frist Center for the Arts, Nashville, TN, September 21, 2012-January 13, 2013. Travel itinerary: Portland Art Museum, Oregon, February 2-May 19, 2013; Cleveland Museum of Art, June 30-September 29, 2013; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, February-May, 2014.

Curator Kathryn Delmez begins Carrie Mae Weems’s artistic odyssey in San Francisco in 1974, when “ a friend gave her a camera for her twenty-first birthday, and she quickly realized the potential of documentary photography to be a tool for tangibly expressing abstract political and social theories,” yet right from the start she allows Weems herself to articulate the odyssey’s impelling mission as “my responsibility as an artist is to…make art, beautiful and powerful, that adds and reveals; to beautify the mess of a messy world, to heal the sick and feed the helpless, to shout bravely from the rooftops and storm barricaded doors and voice the specifics of our historic moment.” The exhibition, which in the catalog is chronologically structured, invites us to observe the odyssey as it unfolds through nearly 30 series combining images, texts, audios and videos, each introduced by brief curatorial comment. Here, a sampling of representative excerpts:

Family Pictures and Stories, 1978-84: “Together, the photographs and narratives create an in-depth and realistic portrait of a middle-class African American family. The book is meant to stand in contrast to the 1965 Moynihan Report, which blamed ‘the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society’ on a weak family structure.”

Ain’t Jokin’, 1987-88 and American Icons, 1988-89: “In these two series, Weems demonstrates how aspects of mainstream popular culture can perpetuate the entrenchment of negative stereotypes and debilitating prejudices…Weems’s intent in both series is for viewers to acknowledge the persistence of an undercurrent of racism in American society and to consider…their potential role as accomplice, be it as participant, consumer, or silent witness.”
Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled (Man and mirror) from Kitchen Table Series, 1990. Gelatin silver print, 27 1/4 x 27 1/4 inches. Collection of Eric and Liz Lefkofsky, 115-128.2010, promised gift to the Art Institute of Chicago. © Carrie Mae Weems. Photography © The Art Institute of Chicago
Kitchen Table Series, 1990: “The images trace a period in a woman’s life as she experiences the blossoming, then loss, of love, the responsibilities of motherhood, and the desire to be an engaged and contributing member of her community…Although Kitchen Table Series…is loosely related to her own experiences, Weems strives for it to reflect the experiences of Everywoman and to resonate across racial and class boundaries.”

Sea Island Series, 1991-92: “Weems became interested in the unique Gullah culture found on the Sea Islands off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina while studying folklore in graduate school…Because of the islands’ physical isolation from the mainland and their majority black population, the residents were able to retain many aspects of African culture throughout the period of slavery and into the present day.”

Slave Coast, 1993 and Africa, 1993: “A desire to examine more deeply the history and legacy of slavery spurred Weems to travel beyond the southeastern United States to Africa, stopping first along the so-called slave coast of western Ghana and Senegal. The photographs of now empty but once important centers along the slave trade route, such as the holding facilities on Goree Island, move beyond documentary. Powerful words summon the fear, humiliation, and helplessness inevitably felt by the recently captured Africans as they waited to embark on the treacherous journey across the Atlantic to a life of slavery.”

The Hampton Project, 2000: “Hampton Project” critically examines the connection between race and education as experienced at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University). Founded in Virginia in 1868, the school provided an education and vocational training for recently freed African Americans as well as young Native Americans. Despite largely good intentions, the students were stripped of cultural specificities in favor of conformity and forced assimilation. Weems reveals and grieves for this loss…”
Carrie Mae Weems. The Edge of Time—Ancient Rome from Roaming, 2006. Digital chromogenic print, 73 x 61 in. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. © Carrie Mae Weems
Roaming, 2006: “Weems reflects on the collective human experience in the series Roaming, created…during her residency at the American Academy in Rome. Here she wanders like history’s ghost through the streets and landscapes of various Italian sites, pondering humanity’s past and present condition…A sense of the passage of time, human accomplishment, and an individuals’ relative insignificance are simultaneously evoked as she stands before once grand monuments and sweeping vistas.”

There you have it, a small taste of the social and political concerns driving the Weems odyssey, along with some of the thinking that informs it and its steadily broadening and deepening scope. In the context of the art of our time, Weems emerges from the curatorial comments and essays, and from the essays of the catalog’s guest contributors as well, as quintessentially and definitively postmodern—in the conceptual grounding of her serial practice, her interdisciplinary approach to media, her wide-ranging appropriations and ironic inflection, her probing cultural and institutional critique, and perhaps above all her reliance on performance and the multiple identities it affords as a vehicle for her message.

Concerning which, I think Robert Storr says it best: “Indeed, like a moving-picture auteur, she is the director, set designer, costumer, and star of her own unmoving pictures. By stepping in and out of multiple roles in a manner that only the most inattentive viewer could miss, she signals not only her complete authorial control over every aspect of her production…but her frank admission that nothing in it is ‘natural,’ least of all the part she plays as omnipotent conjurer.”    

And here’s the bottom line: “The author can be anything she wants to be, anything she can imagine being—in art as distinct from life she can ‘fly’…and the viewer can accept what she has to offer without doubting the authenticity of her impersonations since their explicit artificiality is publically posted.”

And there you have postmodern freedom, the grail central to the Weems odyssey.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Art News

By Charles Kessler

Sorry for the blogging hiatus — Hurricane Sandy has taken up a lot of my energies both physically and mentally. I’m thankful the storm didn’t affect my property, but friends and neighbors here in Jersey City, being so close to the Hudson River, were terribly impacted — some still have no power. Some have no homes.
Volunteers helping to clean up in Downtown Jersey City
I’ve always felt that the Historic Downtown section of Jersey City, where my wife and I have lived for 30 years, is like a small town in a large city next to a giant metropolis. Well, the small town caring and neighborliness exhibited during and after the hurricane has shown this to be the case in spades. And the volunteer efforts have been awe-inspiring. (Go to if you'd like to volunteer or contribute.)
The Raving Jaynes, Amy Larimer and Jamie Graham, Your Move Modern Dance Festival, Jersey City.
One of the many uplifting events that occured in Jersey City during the worst of all this was Your Move, a modern dance festival that took place at Art House Productions. In spite of the winds, flooding, lack of power, transportation difficulties, and the grand finale, a nor'easter that left 6" of snow, the co-producers Avianna Perez, Morgan Hille Refakis and Meagan Woods (all superb dancers and choreographers themselves) were able to pull off this four-day event. And it was a major event indeed, involving 18 choreographers and about 50 dancers from all over the area, some from as far as Philadelphia. This was the third year of this festival, and not only were the dances as outstanding as  I’ve come to expect, but the festival provided the relief and joy we so desperately needed.

Hurricane Sandy cleanup, 27th Street west of Eleventh Avenue, Chelsea.
The Chelsea Gallery District also suffered heavy damage. Thursday evenings is when Chelsea is usually packed with people going to art openings, but walking around Chelsea last week was a sad, disturbing and surreal experience. Mixed in with a small and somber art crowd were workers in white hazmat suits and respirators cleaning out basement and ground-floor spaces. It was dark because many street lights were still out, and street-level galleries that would ordinarily be lit up were closed or undergoing repairs. Dumpsters and dumpster-sized, noisy generators were everywhere, and debris from flood damage was piled high along the sidewalks.
22nd Street, Chelsea.
It’s difficult to see how the smaller, more marginal (and often the most vital) galleries will be able to recover. At minimum, flooring and drywall will need to be replaced, and in many cases expensive hazardous waste cleanup will need to be done; plus there is the the loss of records (Eyebeam lost most of their archives). Worst of all, a lot of art was damaged, and I suspect most of it was uninsured. And after all that, there's a good chance insurance rates will increase to the point where it will be impossible for small galleries to survive. You can read more about it here and here.

Bushwick wasn't much affected by Hurricane Sandy, and once transportation was restored to the area (surprisingly quickly) it was pretty much business as usual. Several galleries in 56 Bogart happen to be showing particularly handsome art: Momenta Art and Studio10 have striking video installations by Ira Eduardovna and Richard Garet respectively; THEODORE:Art is showing ravishing large drawings by the talented Juliette Losq; and Slag has seductive, tactile wood sculptures by Mark Lawrence. It seems handsome has become the new intimate.

Two new galleries opened in Bushwick. The hyperkinetic and innovative artist/gallerist Peter Hopkins left Bogart Salon and started another gallery, ArtHelix (no website yet). It is currently located at 102 Ingraham Street, a large space across from Brooklyn Fireproof. Over the weekend the poet Barry Duncan created palindromes based on the names of people coming into the gallery.

Ted Hovivian, the owner of 56 Bogart, the building housing the Bogart Salon, announced that the Bogart Salon will remain, but the “focus of the Salon will be redirected, and it will be reformatted” — whatever that means.

Another new gallery I have high hopes for is Auxiliary Projects. It is run by two well-known multidisciplinary artists, Jennifer Dalton (who shows with the Winkleman Gallery) and Jennifer McCoy (who has a show now at Postmasters). They will be working with various artists to offer small, hand-made, unique works that can be sold for under $300 (see photo below for an example), with the worthy aim of reaching out to people that love art but can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars.
James Huang, Gospel of Skills - Camper, 2012, wood, mahogany, basswood, aluminum, 7 blade, 4 x 4 x 1 inches. $225 at Auxilliary Projects.
Their tiny space (about 200 SF) is located at 2 St. Nicholas Avenue on the corner of Jefferson Street, and it’s open Saturday and Sunday from 1pm - 6pm, and by appointment. Until they get their intercom working, call (917) 805-7710 to be let in. It’s worth stopping by just to talk to these smart and enthusiastic women.

According to the blog Getty Iris, SCI-Arc, the southern California architecture school, has put their entire archive online. The easily searchable archive is composed of, among other things, audio and video recordings of interviews, symposia, performances and discussions from as far back as the 1970s. There are videos of Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne, Eric Owen Moss and Pritzker Prize winners, including Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas.  Also included are artists such as David Hockney, Robert Irwin, Mike Kelley and Diana Thater; filmmakers; critics; theorists; and cultural historians such as Paul Goldberger, Dave Hickey and Greil Marcus.

The Metropolitan Museum placed 600 of its catalogs and bulletins online, including 368 out-of-print ones. They are free and can be searched by title, keyword, publication type, theme or collection. Click here for the site.

This isn’t a new online resource, but Google Art Project is growing and becoming more useful. They now have high resolution images of more than 32,000 works from 151 museums and arts organizations worldwide. In addition,  Google Indoor Maps now provides floor plans for more than 30 museums in the United States including all the Smithsonian museums, The Art Institute of Chicago, The deYoung Museum and dozens more worldwide.

Jackie Wullschlager has a rare interview with the reclusive artist Frank Auerbach in the Financial Times.
 “This will be the most uncomfortable lunch you’ve ever done” said Auerbach to the interviewer.

"International Art English" by Alix Rule and David Levine in Triple Canopy is an intelligent analysis of international art jargon.

"The State of Political Art After a Year of Protest Movements" by Martha Schwendener in the Village Voice:
"Is contemporary art politically useless? Does it serve only as a bystander, offering smart academic responses—or worse, packaging revolution into edgier-than-average commodities to sell to the very elites that these movements challenged? Does art lay the ground for future insurrections, or merely undergird a whole system of capitalist thought and institutions that have to be changed before anything else can change?"
Kyle Gallup tipped me off to "Pondering ‘Pissarro’s People’" by Dana Gordon in The Jerusalem Post:
"How much was it owing to anti-Semitism that Pissarro was essentially left out of the canonical development of modern art, though he was one of its main progenitors? Was he the Moses of modernism who led his colleagues to the promised land, but was not allowed in?"
The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones, reviewing the Roy Lichtenstein retrospective at the National Gallery in Washington (until January 13th), asks: “Was Roy Lichtenstein a great modern artist or a one-trick wonder?”

Then there is this article: “10 reasons not to write about the art market” by Sarah Thornton. Thornton, who wrote the perceptive book Seven Days in the Art World, now declares the subject is too corrupt to write about. (The article seems to have disappeared from the web, but I managed to download it before it was pulled.) Here are her section titles for each of her reasons:
1. It gives too much exposure to artists who attain high prices.
2. It enables manipulators to publicize the artists whose prices they spike at auctions.
3. It never seems to lead to regulation.
4. The most interesting stories are libelous.
5. Oligarchs and dictators are not cool.
6. Writing about the art market is painfully repetitive.
7. People send you unbelievably stupid press releases.
8. It implies that money is the most important thing about art.
9. It amplifies the influence of the art market.
10. The pay is appalling.

Wade Guyton at the Whitney (until January 13th).
This show has been getting raves, for example from Roberta Smith at the Times and John Yau in Hyperallegic. And I can understand why — this is clever, imposing and tasteful art. But I have misgivings, and since Guyton’s work plays into one of my pet peeves, I’d like to comment.
Wade Guyton, Untitled, 2010, Epson UltraChrome inkjet on linen, 84 × 69 inches. Collection of the artist. © Wade Guyton. Photograph by Lamay Photo.
I HATE it when artists make art that's ostensibly abstract and back it up with some conceptual schpeel or some other shtick. Let the work stand on its own and take responsibility for it. And I find it especially irritating when the work is propped up by ideas as cute, and ultimately as meaningless, as these are. ... There — I feel better!

Here are a couple of exhibitions worth seeing that one could easily over-look. Don't.

Hans Hofmann: Works on Paper from the 1940s, New York Studio School, curated by Karen Wilkin (until  January 5, 2013). The drawings in this exhibition demonstrate Hofmann's inventiveness and range more than any exhibition of his paintings I ever saw; and it strongly makes the case for him as one of the seminal Abstract Expressionists.

To go along with the exhibition, Wilkin organized yet another excellent panel discussion a couple of weeks ago. It was with artists Walter Darby Bannard and Frank Stella, and art historians William Agee and Karen Wilkin. The panel agreed that Hofmann should be more generally acknowledged as one of the great Abstract Expressionists. They speculated that he might be under-appreciated because he was a generation older than the other artists, he didn't hang out and fight with them in bars, and he was basically a cheerful person — not as romantically dramatic and intense as say Pollock and Still.

The New York Studio School has an excellent series of free lectures and panel discussions — check here for details.
Elisa D'Arrigo, Dyad (15), 2012, glazed ceramics, 9 ½ x 12 x 7 inches (Elizabeth Harris Gallery).
Elisa D’Arrigo at Elizabeth Harris (until December 22nd).
I know I’m a sucker for ceramics, but this is an especially good show. The work has the quirky biomorphism, rich resonant color and lush surfaces of Ken Price’s ceramics — no small achievement. But in addition, the sculptures seem simultaneously hard and soft; and there's an uncanny suggestion of raw and inflamed flesh in the cracks and crevasses.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Sixth Avenue in the Village the Friday BEFORE Sandy.
York Street, Downtown Jersey City, October 31, 2012.
Hudson River Walkway, Jersey City.
Entrance to the Holland Tunnel, November 2, 2012.
Charging Station, BJs, Downtown Jersey City.
Art House Productions's Open Mike, November 2, 2012 — pure joy!

Palindromist Barry Duncan:


Bossy: a Sandy. Monster.
Past it now.

Eyes met system's eye. I won't.
It's a plan.
I frets?
No. MyDNAsays: Sob.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Duncan 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Regarding “Regarding Warhol”

By Charles Kessler

Andy Warhol, Self-Portrait, 1967, acrylic and silkscreen on canvas, 72 x 72 inches each, (Detroit Institute of Arts). Is Warhol being contemplative, or is he giving us the finger?
Some thoughts on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition, Regarding Warhol: Sixty Years, Fifty Artists (until December 31st):

  • Compared to Warhol's work in this exhibition, almost all the work looked minor to me. Jeff Koons held up better than most, but Richard Prince seemed especially weak. I’d like to see how Warhol would do in a show that included major work by Pollock, Dekooning, David Smith, Johns and some other heavy hitters of the last half of the twentieth century. I think he might hold his own, but it would be nice to be able to see. 
  • The 1962 Big Campbell’s Soup Can is still exciting. I never noticed the very faint hand-drawn pencil line in the white space just above the red at the top of the label. Such designer drawing!

Andy Warhol, Big Campbell's Soup Can, 19¢, acrylic and graphite on canvas, 72 x 54 ½ inches (The Menil Collection).

Just because people made portraits during this period doesn’t mean they were influenced by Warhol.
Alex Katz, Lita, 1964, oil on canvas, 60 x 60 1/8 inches (The Museum of Modern Art).
  • Some surprises in the show — for me at least:

Vija Celmins, Time Magazine Cover, 1965, oil on canvas, 56 x 40.6 cm © the artist. 
Hans Haacke, Helmsboro Country, 1990, mixed media.
  • Warhol never expected anyone to watch his eight-hour movie Empire, 1964, for its full length. His original intent was to project it on a wall like a painting, and he was surprised when there was a request to show it in a movie theater. Although he had no objection to others sitting and watching the full film, Warhol himself was never this foolish.
  • Nico's "screen test" is not a good example of a Warhol “screen test” because she was used to being photographed (she was a model) and, as a result, she doesn’t display the self-consciousness that I love so much in his screen tests. (The same is true with Dennis Hopper’s screen test.)  Nico did look gorgeous, though.
  • I don’t see how Basquiat fits in this show even if he did collaborate with Warhol on some paintings. In fact it’s possible Warhol wanted to collaborate with Basquiat because they were so different.

Some thoughts on the Metropolitan Museum's panel discussion about the influence of Andy Warhol:
The  Rogers Auditorium at the Metropolitan Museum was relatively empty for the panel discussion last Sunday. Did people know something I didn't? 

The panel seemed promising. It included Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, considered by many to be the best up-and-coming curator in the world right now; Arthur C. Danto, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Columbia University; and Louis Menand, Professor of English at Harvard University and on the staff of the New Yorker. Mark Rosenthal, independent curator and co-curator of the exhibition, was the moderator. But it was disappointing. Arthur Danto didn't show, and Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev just rambled on, paid no attention to the topic, and made no sense. She said the most influential artist of the twentieth century (not the last half — the entire twentieth century!) wasn't Picasso, or Duchamp, or Warhol. The most influential artist according to her was — wait for it — Joseph Beuys!!!. Matisse didn't even deserve a mention.

Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe's Lips, 1962, synthetic polymer, silkscreen and graphite on canvas, 165 1/2 x 163 inches (Hirshhorn).
My time wasn't completely wasted though. Mark Rosenthal made a couple of interesting points. He thought Warhol was making ironic reference to Dekooning with his monumental painting, Marilyn Monroe's Lips, 1962; and he said Warhol's exhibitions were always installations.

And I got to walk out of the Met with Marla Prather, the co-curator of the exhibition. We talked about the trouble they had exhibiting Warhol's "Silver Clouds". The "Clouds" had to be filled with just the right amount of helium so they would float around and not all gather in a corner of the ceiling or sink to the floor. That was also the reason for the fans, which I didn't remember seeing at one of the original exhibitions in Los Angeles. (Where, BTW, one of the "Clouds" escaped the gallery and flew into the Los Angeles smog.)

Andy Warhol, Silver Clouds, first shown in 1966 at the Castelli Gallery in New York.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Art on the Right and Left Banks this Weekend

By Charles Kessler

Friday night was a good time to be in Bushwick if you wanted to see a wide variety of  Performance Art. At Agape Gallery I saw Variations, a performance by Elise Rasmussen. She directed two actors (Corey Tazmania and Niall Powderly) in various re-enactments of possible scenarios of the 1985 death of Ana Mendieta, the wife of the well-known minimal sculptor, Carl Andre. Andre was tried and acquitted of her murder, but the circumstances remain suspicious to a lot of people. 
Ana Mendieta and Carl Andre
(Medieta was less then five feet tall but went out a very high window to fall 33 stories to her death; she was phobic about heights and wouldn’t go near those windows; they had a history of drunken fights; and Andre had scratches on his face.) The performance got more interesting when the audience started to make suggestions, and it became pretty intense when a few people talked about the pain of their own phobias and experience with suicide. 

Next I went to Grace Exhibitions Space for the Performing Arts. Since 2006, Grace has been an important venue for performance artists from all over the world, and Friday night was no exception. There were performances by artists from Switzerland, Berlin, Estonia, France and, of all places, Kentucky. There was Beat Poetry by Ron Whitehead, an older poet from Kentucky; a chaotic, frankly silly, extravaganza by the Estonian group, Non Grata; 
Voluntarily Out of Focus performed by Non Grata Group from Estonia.
(This panoramic was taken with my nifty new iPhone 5 camera — click to enlarge.)

and the Swiss artist Saskia Edens did one of the best performances I’ve seen in a long time. She carried a thin sheet of ice around to about a dozen people, and she and they would blow on it, melting enough holes so it eventually fell apart. It was an elegant, beautiful, erotic and moving experience, and one that required extraordinary endurance. Why she didn’t pass out and/or get frostbite I can’t imagine.
Breath by Saskia Edens, Grace Exhibition Space.
The 22nd annual Jersey City Studio Tour took place this weekend (my how time flies!). It’s no longer a tour of artists' studios, at least not primarily — instead it’s a citywide series of art exhibitions and performances. Among the highlights was a group exhibition organized by Pro Arts in the Tenmarc building, an enormous space that was generously loaned to Pro Arts for the tour. 
Jersey City Studio Tour exhibition, Tenmarc Building
It’s nearly impossible for a group show like this to look good, but there was plenty of excellent work, and Nimbus Dance Works and Bollywood Funk presented some delightful dances. 
Nimbus at Tenmarc
(Later that day Nimbus invited the public to watch them rehearse for a rare staging of Charles Weidman’s 1936 classic dance, Lynchtown. The dance will be presented in several venues in New Jersey and New York. Don’t miss it — it's powerful stuff!)
Drawing Rooms — a former convent turned exhibition space in Downtown Jersey City
The Tour showcased a beautiful new exhibition venue, a three-story former convent in Downtown Jersey City (see photo above). Organized by Victory Arts Projects, each artist was given their own modest but nicely proportioned room. It’s an ideal space to experience intimate art, although I imagine it would be equally suitable for large installations. It has the potential to be one of the most important art spaces in New Jersey.
 Mazz Swift and Amelia Hollander Ames playing in an historic row house in Downtown Jersey City.
Sunday was a concert by Con Vivo to benefit the Embankment Preservation Coalition, an organization dedicated to preserving an imposing elevated stone railway structure.  Technically the event wasn't part of the tour, although the artists Jessica Dalrymple and Gregg Kreutz, owners of the historic row house where the benefit took place, were on the tour. The event was a warm, neighborly, civilized way to spend the afternoon — and for a good cause. 

The weekend ended with a crawl of trendy bars (the new Jersey City) and at Uta Brauser’s Fish with Braids gallery (a venue more typical of the funky old Jersey City I knew and loved).