Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Remembering Sir Anthony Caro

By Kyle Gallup
Photo: Rex features from the post, Wise words: Anthony Caro, in The Telegraph.
I don’t look back. I look forward. But I think my job and the job of all serious artists is to keep culture moving, to keep sculpture moving." Anthony Caro at the Metropolitan Museum Roof Top
 - Anthony Caro quoted in CultureGrrl, October 25, 2013.
The news of Sir Anthony Caro’s death last week at 89 was startling for me. I knew him for over thirty years and I wasn’t prepared to say goodbye. From what I’ve read he was busy working in the studio until he died.

To so many artists, Tony showed abundant goodwill and an inclusive view of art and art-making. He conveyed a sense that we were all in this together. These qualities are what drew me toward him when we first met.

My initial encounter with Tony's sculpture came in 1980, at Boston’s Christian Science Plaza where twenty-three works from his ‘York Sculpture’ series were presented by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts for the city’s ‘Jubilee 350’ celebration. Later, I heard his commencement talk to the graduates from the Boston Museum School where I had enrolled as a transfer student and then tagged along as he gave critiques to more advanced students who were waiting in their studios to engage with him about their work.

 What he offered to all those who came in contact with him was a way to think about art, and the process of creating, as something personal yet large and deeply connected to the world. Art for him was something indelible, permanent, and real. I believe this gracious view grew from his generous spirit and desire to make a contribution.

Tony had a clear and concise way of thinking about process, and one’s connection to art of the past in all its variety and its visual, expressive possibilities. He mined all kinds of art and culture, calling forth universal themes, reworking them and making them new. He conveyed this, not only through his work, but also in studio visits with other artists. He encouraged others to look at the world with an open mind, to engage and connect with it. His interest in sharing ideas made talking with him a pleasure, always lively and interesting. I was fortunate to twice attend Triangle Workshop, the two-week summer residency that he founded in upstate New York. While working there, if an artist asked, he’d come around and make suggestions, never saying too much but hinting at possible ways of approaching a piece differently.

Triangle spoke to his sense of art-making as a collaborative enterprise. Even though Triangle met for just two weeks every year, it was a way for him to foster community. The workshop allowed him to share his passion for exchanging ideas. He was keenly aware of the isolation artists feel because we spend so much time on our own in our studios, and he related to this personally. He may have felt this in his own life as a young artist working in England. He relished the opportunity to travel and make changes to his working methods after meeting American artists.

Tony encouraged me to write to him and his wife—Sheila Girling, an abstract painter—in London to let them know what I was doing in my studio and what was being shown in New York galleries. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote about in my letters, what questions I may have asked him, or the views of art I may have offered, but he always answered my letters with long thoughtful replies. I’ve saved his and gone back and reread them over the years, always surprised by his honesty about himself, and his kindness and encouragement to me.

On trips to New York, Tony and Sheila visited me when I lived in Union City, New Jersey. It was way out of the way, but they somehow made it through the Lincoln Tunnel to my place there on Summit Avenue. They spent time looking at my work, bought pieces for their collection, and even enjoyed cubano sandwiches from the bodega across the street from my apartment. When I think of all the time and thoughtful support they showed me over the years, my sadness at his passing lightens. Anthony Caro spent his life creating art. He never tired of experimenting and sharing the richness of his experience with other people. I hope some day I will meet a young artist and offer the kind of open-hearted encouragement I received from him over the many years we were friends.

So long, Tony.

Kyle Gallup is an artist who works in collage and watercolor.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

David Park: California Dreaming

By Carl Belz

Writer’s note: The following essay was written for the brochure of a 1983 David Park exhibition at the Salander-O’Reilly Galleries in New York, NY. I have edited and revised it for its iteration here on Left Bank Art Blog.

David Park was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1911 and died of cancer in Berkeley, California in 1960. He never finished high school and did not attend college. He studied briefly at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles but was essentially a self-taught painter. Highly respected by his peers, he taught at the California School of Fine Arts – now the San Francisco Art Institute – between 1946 and 1952 and was a member of the faculty at the University of California at Berkeley between 1955 and 1960.
David Park teaching at the California School of Fine Arts, ca. 1949 (San Francisco Art Institute Archives,  Photo: William Heick).
In 1949, a year before Willem de Kooning began Woman I, Park turned his back on the Abstract Expressionist manner he had been practicing since the mid-1940s, destroyed all the abstract pictures still in his possession, and decided to return to the human figure for fresh inspiration.
He later reflected, “As you grow older, it dawns on you that you are yourself – that your job is not to force yourself into a style but to do what you want. I saw that if I would accept subjects, I could paint with more absorption, with a certain enthusiasm for the subject which would allow some of the esthetic qualities such as color and composition to evolve more naturally.”
David Park, Portrait of Hassel Smith, 1951, oil on canvas, 34 x 28 inches (private collection).
Park’s decision was initially questioned by his colleagues – it was called a failure of nerve – but within three years Elmer Bischoff and Richard Diebenkorn had opted to follow him, and by 1957 the Bay Area Figure Painting had become a nationally recognized movement.
Richard Diebenkorn, Girl Looking at Landscape, 1957, oil on canvas, 59 x 60 inches (Whitney) .
The California School of Fine Arts...Abstract Expressionism...David Park, Elmer Bischoff, Richard Diebenkorn...the Bay Area Figure Painting: The place and the style and the artists’ names tumble forth like a litany recalling the period when painters and sculptors around San Francisco encountered post-war modernism firsthand and established their relationship to it.
Elmer Bischoff, Orange Sweater, 1955, oil on canvas, 48 1/2 x 57 inches (SFMoMA). 
The encounter was focused at CSFA, where Douglas MacAgy became director in 1945 and at once brought to its sleepy academic orientation a sense of the urgency of contemporary art. Between 1945 and 1950 he hired not only Park, Bischoff and Diebenkorn but also, among others, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, and Ad Reinhardt. Of the latter three it was Still who became the dominant force at the school and through him it was Abstract Expressionism that became synonymous with contemporary art. Few artists associated with CSFA were unaffected by the new American art, by its emphasis on the gripping realities of paint and gesture and its existential vision of creativity as a moral act. Park was no exception, although what he took from Abstract Expressionism – what he learned of himself while engaging it – is nonetheless evident in pictures he painted after emerging from and rejecting it.
Clyfford Still, Untitled (PH-118), 1947, oil on canvas, 69 x 53 inches (Clyfford Still Museum, © Estate of Clyfford Still). 
We know little of the abstract work itself, as only a handful of the pictures he executed between 1946 and 1949 survive. Despite the lack of visual evidence, however, we do know something of Park’s feeling about his work during that period. Biographer Paul Mills quotes him as saying, “I was concerned with big abstract ideas like vitality, energy, profundity, warmth. They became my gods. They still are. I disciplined myself rigidly to work in ways I hoped might symbolize these ideals. I still hold these ideals today, but I realize that those paintings never, even vaguely, approximated any achievement of my aims. Quite the opposite; what the paintings told me was that I was a hardworking guy who was trying to be important.” To this, Richard Diebenkorn has added, “Park had an utter disdain for the New York School, because he felt New York put style absolutely first.”

“Big abstract ideas”...[ painted by]... “a hardworking guy trying to be important.” In this modest self assessment in which high ambition yields only ordinary achievement we’re likely to see the crux of David Park’s encounter with the all-or-nothing Abstract Expressionist ethos as it was articulated by Clyfford Still at CSFA and in turn to conclude that in abandoning AE he either quit it or failed it. But I believe Park’s decision went deeper; it entailed an intuitive grasp of what he could and could not use in Abstract Expressionism, a process of selection that in itself marked the coming to maturity of his artistic thought. Concomitant with that process was the further intuition that Abstract Expressionism, however appealing in terms of its urge to freedom and experimentation, was essentially foreign to his artistic temperament, and possibly foreign as well to the time and place where he was teaching and living and making his art.
David Park, Profile of Lydia, oil on canvas, 1952, 13 1/2  x 15 1/2  inches (collection of Helen Park Bigelow, Natalie Park Schutz and Hackett Mill, San Francisco).
For Abstract Expressionism was an urban style, bred with high ambition in artists’ studios against the background of an initially hostile public and in the immediate presence of transplanted Europeans who had witnessed and participated in the historic flowering of 20th Century modernism. All of which was far removed from the Bay Area, even somewhat incongruous in the CSFA setting where one could stroll in the courtyard at almost any time of the year, enjoy the flowers around the pool, and savor the embrace of light and color everywhere evident in the natural environment surrounding San Francisco Bay.
David Park, Two Bathers, 1958, oil on canvas, 58 x 50 inches (SFMoMA). 
In New York one may have needed myths to survive and anxious competition to grow on, but in San Francisco such an existential strategy was largely academic, a matter of words, art magazine reproductions, and a few outspoken personalities. Ironically, then, it was the soft-spoken Hans Hofmann, a titan among the Abstract Expressionists, a transplanted European New Yorker, and a visiting teacher at Berkeley more than two decades before Park and Bischoff and Diebenkorn got there, who fully grasped and summarized everything that could be said about the Bay Area experience – which he did in a signature 1960 abstract landscape resplendent with light and color, a painting he memorably titled Land of Bliss and Wonder, California.
Hans Hofmann, Land of Bliss and Wonder, California, 1960, oil on canvas, 52 x 60 inches (whereabouts unknown, Photo:  Estate of Han Hofmann). 
The difference between the coasts, between New York and San Francisco and the sensibilities the two cities engendered, is fully apparent in the best figure paintings produced by Willem de Kooning and David Park in the 1950s.
Left: David Park, Rehearsal, c.1949-1950, oil on canvas, 46 x 36 inches (Oakland Museum of California).  Right: Willem de Kooning, Woman, I, 1950-52, oil on canvas, 76 x 58 inches (MoMA).
Typically, de Kooning’s women are shredded and demonic, anguished presences articulated with a grimy brush and locked into inhospitable spaces that resemble pictorial combat zones. They have been called earth mothers and sex goddesses, at once alluring and repulsive, symbols of an American ambivalence toward women generally, creatures born of a love/hate relationship between the artist and his dime-store Aphrodite. Whatever, they are leagues removed, esthetically and conceptually, from Park’s figures, men and women walking a quiet street, kids riding bicycles, students on their way to class, young people in swimsuits standing on a beach, drifting in rowboats, playing volleyball. They were painted with a broad and loaded brush, quickly it seems, but with passion and understanding and sympathy for their common humanity, for the simple activities that engage their attention, for the rich texture of light and color that surrounds them, for the ample spaces they comfortably occupy.
Left: David Park, Mother-in-Law, 1954-1955, oil on canvas, 26 x 19 1/2 inches (collection San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). Right: David Park, Head, 1959, oil on canvas, 31 5/8 x 25 7/8 inches (Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of Edith S. and Arthur J. Levin).

Park’s world is as different from de Kooning’s as San Francisco is from New York – and just as different in relation to their modern historical sources as the French Fauves were from the German expressionists. But Park reached maturity not via Fauvism but via Abstract Expressionism, the new art of his own generation, which widely and persistently questioned the refinements of French taste, favoring instead an art that was more physical and immediate – an art that was “troublesome,” to use Park’s term. By 1949, however, four years of abstraction left him feeling that the pictures he was making were not his own and that subjects themselves might more meaningfully harbor the troublesome authenticity he sought – and thus did he commit himself to their challenge. Which is not to say he dismissed Abstract Expressionism entirely, far from it, for he took from AE fundamental attitudes having to do with both medium and message.

Richard Diebenkorn wrote in his 1983 appreciation of his friend and colleague that David Park was “in love with oil paint and its potential to become merde.” Park’s best paintings surely bear this out, for their surfaces pulse with spontaneously applied pigment that is indulged in and of itself as an unrefined and sensuous substance. The humanity of the mature pictures is obviously due in part to its figurative subjects, but equally – and in my opinion more deeply – it resonates in the passion and generosity with which Park handled his tools and allowed his medium to sing. In spreading across the full extent of each surface, his handling additionally ensures the pictorial wholeness that Abstract Expressionism demanded.
David Park, Rowboat, 1958, oil on canvas, 57 x 61 inches (Boston MFA).
And while the human figure provides a starting point and an anchor to sustain the absorption he was looking for, Park’s best paintings never stop with the figure, never become flaccid around the edges or in the interstices between the figures and their surroundings. Their surfaces are everywhere integrated and everywhere vital, yielding in tandem a bonding of form and content that demonstrates the depth of David Park’s understanding of Abstract Expressionism and of modernism generally. That they evolved after his 1949 decision to alter his art so that it would acknowledge the self he came to know as his at that time – that their style came from within rather than from without – equally demonstrates his deep understanding of modern experience itself, not only the autonomy that so importantly defines it, but its pleasurable warmth as well.  
David Park,  Four Men, 1958, oil on canvas, 57 x 92 inches (Whitney).

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

Monday, October 7, 2013

Lost Leonardo Portrait Discovered!

Leonardo, Isabella d’Este, painted sometime after 1499, possibly 1514, oil on canvas, 24 x 18 inches (Private collection).
The painting, along with 400 other works, was found in the Swiss bank vault belonging to an unidentified Italian family. It's clearly related to a chalk drawing (below) that Leonardo made of a Renaissance noblewoman in 1499.
Leonardo da Vinci, Isabella d’Este, 1499-1500, red and black chalk, white highlights, 61 cm x 46.5 cm (Musée du Louvre). 
Assuming it really is a Leonardo, this is bigger news than the Van Gogh discoveries last spring!  And there's good cause to think it is a lost Leonardo. According to the Telegraph, scientific tests indicate it's likely, and even more important as far as I'm concerned, my old UCLA professor, the great Leonardo scholar Carlo Padretti, says there is no doubt: “I can immediately recognize da Vinci’s handiwork, particularly in the woman’s face.” (BTW, I suspect the Telegraph got this quote a little wrong – I can't imagine Padretti referring to Leonardo as "da Vinci" – but maybe after 45 years he's been Americanized.) Padretti does seem to have some doubt about the tiara and palm leaf, but even if these were done by a pupil, so what. There are only about 20 authenticated Leonardo paintings in existence – what a find!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Art Roundup – The Lower East Side

By Charles Kessler

Three of my favorite LES galleries moved to new spaces this month, and they all have shows worth tracking down.

Invisible Exports, 89 Eldridge Street just south of Grand Street, Cary Leibowitz (until October 13th). 
This space isn't as convenient as their old one which was in the Orchard Street gallery row, although there are still plenty of galleries within a block or two. The new space is somewhat bigger and wider, but it's still too small for me to get a good photograph – at least with my iphone.
Cary Leibowitz, So Funny/It Just Occurred To Me/I Haven't Thought About Suicide In Weeks, 2013, Latex on wood panel, 48.25 x 29 inches.
In the early 1990s, Leibowitz went by the moniker "Candy Ass," and he still uses the saccharine colors of those days – in this show, not only are his canvases bubble-gum pink, but so are the walls of the gallery. For more about Leibowitz's art, see a well-written essay by co-owner Risa Needleman here.

On Stellar Rays, 1 Rivington Street (second floor) just east of Bowery, John Houck (until October 27th).
Installation view of John Houck photographs at On Stellar Rays gallery (until October 27th).
On Stellar Rays (check the gallery website for the origin of their strange name) moved to the second-floor space that used to be the Sue Scott Gallery. It's lighter and bigger than their Orchard Street one, and it's closer to all the galleries clustered around the New Museum.
John Houck, Left: Baby Shoes, Never Worn, 2013, archival pigment print, 27-3/4 by 20-3/4 inches; Right: Pointing Device, 2013, archival pigment print, 46-1/2 by 33-1/2 inches.
John Houck makes photos of colored papers and objects, then folds and collages the photos, and re-photographs them. He goes through this process of folding and collaging photos and re-photographing them multiple times. The end result looks like a Photorealistic painting. I guess you could say art has come full circle, and Houck is making photorealistic photographs. But unlike most Photorealism (and most photography for that matter), Houck's photos have the quiet orderliness of a Morandi and the sensual warmth and glowing color of a Sargent watercolor.

Canada, 333 Broome Street between Chrystie and Bowery, Joanna Milinowska (until October 20th).
It took about a year to renovate their new space, including four months just to get plans from their structural engineer. And I can understand why. They made major structural changes to an old building in a part of New York where it's not uncommon for buildings to fall down. The main space is in the back and it's relatively big and high for a LES gallery; and there's another, smaller space in the front, so there's some flexibility.
Installation view, Joanna Malinowska's A Hawk from a Handsaw, CANADA Gallery. 

But I must confess I'm disappointed; I'm not sure why in particular.There's something oddly ungainly about the space. Maybe it's too high, I don't know. Whatever it is, it's made worse by having the office overlook the gallery, like a guard station. And even though one of the four owners came down to greet us, and couldn't have been nicer (as they always are), it now feels more like an unapproachable Chelsea gallery than a typically congenial LES gallery. I'm NOT saying the gallery isn't congenial anymore – I just think the new architecture doesn't feel that way. Maybe that will change as they get used to the space and make it their own.

In other LES news, Marlborough, a quintessential uptown gallery, opened a branch in the same building as CANADA: Marlborough Broome Street, 331 Broome Street. Unlike other big-time galleries that opened in the LES (Sperone Westwater and Lehnmann Maupin for example), Marlborough's space is more typical of the LES in size and informality.
Installation view, Pizza Time, Marlborough Broome Street Gallery.
And their inaugural show, Pizza Time (until October 6th), is funny, funky, clever and well-researched. Who knew so many artists did work about pizza! Here's the list: Cory Arcangel & Michael Frumin, Catharine Ahearn, Uri Aran, Darren Bader, John Baldessari, Will Boone, Chris Bradley, Willem de Kooning, Michelle Devereux, Jonah Freeman & Justin Lowe, Samara Golden, Oto Gillen, Drew Heitzler, Martin Kippenberger, Andrew Kuo, Nate Lowman, Tony Matelli, Claes Oldenburg, John Riepenhoff, Reena Spaulings, Spencer Sweeney, and Mateo Tannatt.

Finally, Steven Harvey, 208 Forsyth Street, has a one of the best shows in the LES as far as I'm concerned: Katherine Bradford: Small Ships. 
Panoramic installation view of Katherine Bradford's "Small Ships" at Steven Harvey Gallery (until October 13th).
In spite of the primitive look of the work, Bradford is a skilled, veteran artist who knows her way around color, texture and drawing. The primitive feel adds to the immediacy and tactility of the work. For more on Bradford, see fellow blogger Kyle Gallup's post on Bradford's show at Ed Thorp last year. This exhibition closes October 13th – try not to miss it.

Here's a walking tour that will take you by all the galleries mentioned here plus many more along the route – especially on Orchard Street. It's about 1½ miles.

A.  New Museum of Contemporary Art, 235 Bowery (at Prince).

B.  Steven Harvey Fine Arts, 208 Forsyth St. (near Houston St.).

C.  Houston St. and Orchard St.

D.  Canal St. and Orchard St.

E.  Invisible Exports, 89 Eldridge St. (near Grand St.).

F.  Canada & Marlborough Galleries, 333 Broome St. (between Chrystie and Bowery).

G.  On Stellar Rays, 1 Rivington St. (and Bowery).

Footnote: Another good gallery, Bureau, will be opening in a new space at 178 Norfolk Street (just below Houston) on October 6th.