August 31, 2007

Learning to love abstraction (with footnotes)

“The Abstract Impulse: Fifty Years of Abstraction at the National Academy, 1956-2006,” at the National Academy Museum, New York, NY. Through February 2008.

Benjamin Genocchio reports in the NYTimes: "The fabled conservatism of the National Academy, longtime home of the retrograde and anachronistic in art, has faded over the years as this venerable institution has increasingly sought to attract new, younger members and audiences. But the reactionary spirit of yesteryear lingers. 'The Abstract Impulse: Fifty Years of Abstraction at the National Academy, 1956-2006,' drawn from the museum’s collection, illuminates the troubled history of abstraction at the academy over the last half-century. It may not be a great show, but it helps to explain how this once celebrated museum and school lost much of its prestige....The current show, comprising 47 paintings, sculptures and works on paper, spotlights the work of academy members, many only recently elected, who took part in movements like Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Kinetic and Op Art. Members, or academicians, are professional artists elected by peers who then donate representative examples of their art to the academy. In this way the academy has amassed a collection of more than 7,000 works." Read more.

Lance Esplund, in the NYSun suggests that the National Academy can't seem to purge the academicism: " As I have said in the past, the National Academy and its museum, which has recently mounted important shows of Jean Hélion, David Smith, and Louis Michel Eilshemius, are a crucial part of the New York art world. But sometimes they just don't get it. Lately, the National Academy has attempted to shake off the dusty label of 'figurative.' In recent years, it has included installation, video art, and, increasingly, abstraction in its exhibitions. It has also admitted abstract artists as academicians. But, as 'The Abstract Impulse' demonstrates, academic thinking, applied to figuration or abstraction, painting or installation, is no less academic." Read more.

Rethinking William Bouguereau

"In the Studios of Paris: William Bouguereau and his American Students," Frick Art & Historical Center through Oct. 7. Originally curated by the Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Sept. 17-Dec. 31, 2006. Also installed at the Appleton Museum of Art, Ocala, Florida, Feb. 9-Apr. 29, 2007. Artists include: Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942), Minerva Chapman (1858-1947), Eanger Irving Couse (1866-1936), Elizabeth Gardner (1837-1922), Robert Henri (1865-1929), and Anna Klumpke (1856-1942).

Mark Roth reports in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Bouguereau's fame was cut short by the arrival of Impressionism: "More than 100 years after his death, Bouguereau can still provoke diametrically opposed views. Either he was the one of the finest oil painters of all time, or he was an unimaginative, sentimental portrayer of hackneyed themes....The Impressionists and other modern artists took center stage, leaving academic lions such as Bouguereau and Englishman Sir Lawrence Alda-Tadema in the wings. The denigration of Bouguereau's reputation began not long after his death in 1905. In a history of modern painting two years later, German critic Richard Muther wrote: 'William Bouguereau, who industriously learnt all that can be assimilated by a man destitute of artistic feeling but possessing a cultured taste, reveals even more clearly in his feeble mawkishness, the fatal decline of the old schools of convention ...'"Read more.

Kurt Shaw in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review focuses on the perfectionism in Bouguereau's work: "A prolific perfectionist, Bouguereau created more than 800 paintings in his lifetime, all nearly as perfect as the next. 'He is so technically skilled on every level,' Frick curator Sarah Hall says. 'When you look at his work you can see the underpinnings of academic drawing, this great line quality. He's known as a master of hands and feet, and he shows (this skill) off....But as visitors will see, Bouguereau's influence can be seen in all his students. With an eye on beauty and a hand trained to perfection, he guided them to an ideal in which exquisite drawing, refined forms and the perfection of human anatomy come into focus as a stunning achievement.'" Read more.

August 30, 2007

The second wave of the Soviet avant-garde

"Nonconformists on Red Square" The Historical Museum, Moscow. Through Sept. 17

Tatyana Gershkovich reports in the Moscow Times: "'We didn't drink, we didn't smoke, we weren't bohemians, and we didn't want to engage in ideological debates,' says Vladislav Zubarev, an artist and a prominent member of the second wave of the Soviet avant-garde. He wants to divorce the idea of 'unofficial art' from its connotation of dissidence. 'We avoided all confrontations with the state,' he said. 'We just came together to make art, to think about what is essential and spiritual, and to escape the banal materialistic preoccupations of that time.' Zubarev is one of the 21 artists featured in the exhibition 'Nonconformists on Red Square,' which opened Aug. 14 at the Historical Museum. The diversity of the works on display demonstrates the impressive range of style, motif and technique that is grouped under the label of 'unofficial' or 'nonconformist' art....While patronage of their art endows contemporary artists with greater exposure and resources, some critics argue that acceptance signals the death of the avant-garde. Zubarev bristles at the question of whether the avant-garde can exist without an ideological opponent: 'We are the spiritual avant-garde, and politics has nothing to do with it.' "Read more.

Provincetown pigment

"Eric Aho, Peter Hutchinson, Peik Larsen, Sarah Lutz," DNA Gallery, Provincetown, MA. Through Sept. 16.

"Tabitha Vevers: Eden," artSTRAND, Provincetown, MA. Through Sept. 12.

Cate McQuaid reports in the Boston Globe: "Aho is a master of tone and texture. In 'Truro Beach,' his loose, broad brush strokes brawl into one another, evoking the turmoil of a cloud-filled sky and the force of surf hitting shore. Hurling this way and that, those strokes appear spontaneous and out of control, yet Aho is exacting with details. He interrupts this storm of paint with two still passages: the blue-black water and a calm patch of pink, almost iridescent sand in the middle of the painting. Between those two placid areas, water clashes with land, and the paint rises off the canvas in a thick impasto. Above, the sky roils in layers of color, mirroring the violence of shadow and light in the foreground....Vevers's art, which stylistically brings to mind early Renaissance paintings and Persian miniatures, describes a population destroying itself with pollution. Her people, always nude and positioned on the shoreline, often with factories in the background, have mutated. They sport three legs or, in "Mammasupial," too many breasts to count, not to mention a couple of pockets in which to tote several infants." Read more.

Joanne Mattera covers the Provincetown shows on her blog with lots of pictures: "At DNA, a large loft upstairs from the Provincetown Tennis Club (!), a group show that included Eric Aho and Sara Lutz was terrific. Aho, whom I know of as a painter of fairly reductive Vermont landscapes, did some pink-hued, sweepingly gestural dunescapes of Truro (Edward Hopper country), the town just west of here whose spectacular bluffs face Cape Cod Bay. Lutz makes a particular kind of abstraction that looks sweetly pretty from a distance and which turns out to be more satisfyingly stringent when you get up close."

August 29, 2007

Todd Chilton: accepting imperfection

"Todd Chilton: Recent Paintings," Raw & Co Gallery, Cleveland, OH. Go to Todd's website to see images of his paintings.

Douglas Max Utter reports in The Cleveland Free Times: "Chilton's six crisp, introspective oil on canvas paintings are engaged in a search for some word, some clue, trapped between paint, canvas, and simple, even primitive formal ideas. His paintings often take place on a surface nuanced by much under-painting. Like subcutaneous levels of history and influence, these emphasize a feeling of contingency already inherent in Chilton's roughly rendered lines of paint. No search for certainty or inevitability drags this work away from a plainspoken acceptance of imperfection." Read more.

August 28, 2007

Anyone can paint

Daniel Kilkelly reports on Digital Spy: "Kate Moss has started painting over the past few weeks, as she attempts to get over her split from Pete Doherty. The supermodel has impressed her friends with the quality of her creations, and is now planning to show off the artwork to a wider audience. A source told the Daily Star: 'A friend of hers had a look at her collection and encouraged her to show her work in a gallery. So she is now set to show off 11 of her favourite pictures as part of an exhibition in London's East End in two weeks' time.'" Read more.

Fernando Botero Abu Ghraib paintings go to UC Berkeley

Jesse Hamlin reports in the San Francisco Chronicle: "In April, the artist, who lives mostly in Paris, e-mailed Professor Harley Shaiken, director of the Center for Latin American Studies, who had organized the show, to say he'd decided to give the works to UC Berkeley. He wrote that because of the school's academic stature and 'openness of spirit,' he wanted the pictures to reside there permanently. 'We were stunned. It was well beyond our wildest dreams,' said Shaiken, who relayed the offer to the chancellor, whom he praises for taking the risk of showing these provocative works and supporting the belief that 'a university deals with ideas.'" Read more. See images.

In the San Francisco Chronicle in January, when the show was hung at the Berkeley library, Louis Freedberg wondered why the paintings weren't shown in a museum: "The only other place they have been shown in the United States was last November at New York's private Marlborough Gallery, which has been showing and selling Botero's work for decades. Some museums may have had security concerns. Look at what happened to the Copabianco Gallery in San Francisco, which was forced to close in 2004 after it showed a painting depicting torture of an Iraqi detainee, and the gallery was vandalized and its owner assaulted. Some museums may have rejected the Abu Ghraib series for artistic reasons (even though Botero's less serious works are in the permanent exhibitions of many U.S. museums). SFMOMA says it wasn't offered the exhibit. Then there's the likelihood that some were scared away by the content." Read more.

Roberta Smith reviewed the show when the paintings were hung at the Marlborough Gallery in New York: "These paintings do something that the harrowing photographs taken at Abu Ghraib do not. They restore the prisoners’ dignity and humanity without diminishing their agony or the injustice of their situation. Mr. Botero does this, as painters always have, through manipulations of scale, color and form. He has also made surprisingly astute adjustments to his own daffy style." Read more.

Richter "happy it wasn’t a failure"

Gerhard Richter's Cologne Cathedral south transept window, unveiled this week with a special mass. Cologne, Germany.

On artnet, Kimberly Bradley reports: "Prior to the unveiling, some observers had thought Richter’s design too modern and abstract. But three clerestory windows in the south and north part of the chancel -- produced around 1300 -- contain a chessboard-like grid similar to Richter’s design. The artist wasn’t aware of this, but his new window links the eras. 'What baffles me is how it fits into the rest of the church,' said the cathedral’s master builder, Barbara Schock-Werner. 'It looks like it’s always been here. And the light just flows through the colors.' The usually reticent Richter, who claims he’s 'happy it wasn’t a failure' and that 'it’s exciting that it’s an artwork that can’t just be taken down,' has already been approached by the Cathedral of Reims, where French kings were once crowned, to design a window in that Gothic church."Read more.

Scroll story clouds history at SF's Asian Art Museum

"Telling Tales: Illustrated Storytelling Scrolls," organized by Forrest McGill. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, CA. Through Oct. 21.

Peter Schurmann writes on the New America Media website: "The Korean king kneels, hands clasped in a gesture of submission. Above him looms the Japanese empress, at the head of an armada and clad in full samurai armor with sword outstretched. His armies defeated and his lands occupied, the king swears his country’s eternal loyalty to the Japanese throne. No, this is not a screenplay for some epic Korean drama, though it has all the elements. The scene comes from a fourteenth century scroll depicting Japan’s legendary sixth century conquest of Korea's Silla Dynasty. Part of the exhibit Telling Tales at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum, the scroll has stirred controversy within the Korean community. It has also highlighted challenges the museum faces in drawing the line between art and history....Young Kee Ju, editor of the Korea Daily, says that the exhibit is 'problematic' because it 'distorts the history of Korea’s relationship with Japan.' Although the painting is a piece of art, he says its antiquity lends its contents historical weight, particularly for viewers unaware of Korea’s past." Read more.

August 27, 2007

So are they really Jackson Pollocks?

"Pollock Matters," curated by Ellen Landau. McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA. September 1-December 9.

Geoff Edgers reports in the Boston Globe: "That's a question, perhaps the question, surrounding the exhibition 'Pollock Matters,' which opens Saturday at Boston College's McMullen Museum of Art. Though the show features about 170 pieces, including paintings, drawings, photographs, and letters, the highlight promises to be about two dozen small drip paintings discovered in a storage locker five years ago, labeled as works by Pollock. Studied by scientists and argued over by art historians, the paint-spattered pictures will be on view for the first time. They're being displayed in the last of seven rooms housing the exhibit." Read more.

Ken Johnson, also at the Boston Globe, says the paintings are wonderful, and that whoever made them deserves our congratulations: "The brown paper wrapper in which Alex Matter says he found the paintings had the words 'Pollock Experimentals' scrawled in pencil on it, but the paintings don't look experimental. Most of them look like they were made with decisive intentionality and well-understood technique, and they are brought to a state of finish that the word experiment would seem to abjure. That almost all have been restored - many twice - may account in part for why they look so fresh, but that can't be the only reason for why they are so optically gripping." Read more.

Greg Cook in The Phoenix says the show's importance isn't in the paintings themselves, it's in the creative connections between the artists: "The art here is mostly minor stuff, including lesser works by Krasner, Hofmann, Alexander Calder, and Pollock. The point is the connections: Krasner funneling Hofmann’s ideas to Pollock; Matter funneling his friend Calder’s biomorphic abstraction to Pollock; the Matters helping bring Pollock to the attention of dealer Peggy Guggenheim; Matter’s photos inspiring a Hofmann drip painting." Read more.

Oh well. Long after I initially posted these reviews, Randy Kennedy reports in the NY Times that according to scientists, the paintings are, in fact, fake. "A forensic scientist said yesterday that a large group of paintings discovered several years ago and thought by some to be by Jackson Pollock included many containing paints and materials that were not available until after the artist’s death in 1956. At least one was painted on a board that was not produced earlier than the late 1970s or early ’80s, said the scientist, James Martin, in a lecture last night sponsored by the International Foundation for Art Research in Manhattan. Mr. Martin was commissioned to examine the paintings in 2005 by their owner, Alex Matter, the son of Herbert and Mercedes Matter, artists who were friends of Pollock’s. Mr. Matter has said he found the paintings, made in Pollock’s signature drip style, in 2002 or 2003 in a Long Island storage container that had belonged to his father. Although Mr. Martin, who is based in Williamstown, Mass., completed the analysis last fall, he has said he did not release it earlier because Mr. Matter’s lawyer told him he would face a lawsuit if he did so. It is unclear why he chose to go public now."

Deborah Muirhead's abstract paintings tell tales of early African-Americans

"Deborah Muirhead: Fly Away," Purdue University's Stewart Center Gallery, West Lafayette, IN. Through Oct. 7.

Tim Brouk in the Journal & Courier reports: "In 1991, a large burial site for some of the earliest African-Americans was excavated in posh lower Manhattan. The graves dated back to the 1700s and were almost missed during construction of a new federal courthouse, another big building for New York City's skyline. The discovery deeply affected Deborah Muirhead, a University of Connecticut painting professor. Some of the graves contained only fragments of bones and only a few hundred out of the vast graveyard were found. The discovery helped start Muirhead on "Fly Away," a series of abstract works created from 1994 to 2006...." Read more.

August 26, 2007

Those who can, teach

"Fitz Henry Lane & Mary Blood Mellen: Old Mysteries and New Discoveries," curated by John Wilmerding. Cape Ann Historical Museum, Gloucester, MA. Through Sept. 16.

Cate McQuaid reports in the Boston Globe: "A fascinating and provocative exhibit at the Cape Ann Historical Museum that compels viewers to compare works by Lane, a master of the luminous seascape, and Mellen, his student, assistant, Gloucester neighbor, and sometime collaborator....The question of Mellen's participation in Lane's painting process is intriguing. Artists have worked with assistants and apprentices for centuries; often a canvas coming out of the studio of Rubens or Bellini, say, may have had the artist's signature, but was the handiwork, in part, of an assistant....Wilmerding puts works by Lane and Mellen side by side to elucidate their techniques. Often Mellen copied directly from Lane, so the canvases appear to be twins. Mellen, the childless wife of a minister, had studied art in school. Working with Lane, she proved to be deft and light-handed, a very good painter with a penchant for yellows." Read more.

In the Boston Phoenix, Greg Cook explains the confusion over Fitz Hugh Lane's name correction to Fitz Henry Lane, and suggests that the error raises doubts about other FHL scholarship: "The discovery that we’ve had Lane’s name wrong since at least 1913 has prompted questions about what else scholars have gotten wrong about him. Notably what Wilmerding has gotten wrong. He is part of a handful of scholars (others include Barbara Novak and Theodore Stebbins Jr.) who’ve been credited with pioneering scholarship of 19th-century American art. Wilmerding’s 'find' was Lane, one of several artists who had fallen into obscurity with the rise of French Impressionism and Modern art. Lane’s work now commands top prices — Skinner Auctioneers in Boston got $5.5 million for Manchester Harbor back in November 2004....In 2003, the Cape Ann Historical Museum acquired a pair of portraits that were attributed to Lane and said to depict Joseph Stevens and his wife. Wilmerding had written to a previous owner: 'Short of a firsthand look the portrait does indeed seem to be from Lane’s hand. While it is cruder than his familiar marine scenes, it is very much like the few known portraits that he did do.' But a photo of Stevens has turned up that doesn’t resemble the man in the painting. And infrared scans by Cleveland Museum of Art conservator Marcia Steele find 'very minimal, if any underdrawing.' Lane usually made 'extensive underdrawing in his paintings. He was meticulous.' This doesn’t prove that the portraits aren’t by Lane — perhaps he used a different technique for his rare portraits — but it raises doubts." Read more.

Rough around the edges

Kenneth Baker reviews two painting shows in the San Francisco Chronicle.

"Jimi Gleason: Vapor and Edge: Paintings," Toomey Tourell Gallery, San Francisco, CA. Through Sept. 29. "In this canvas, the stirrings around the edge have an almost narrative energy. In other pictures Gleason seems to conjure, only to mock, the impression of a Rococo frame. Even at their least suggestive, the edge details deliver a sense of the painter having swept drawing aside to clear a space for 'pure' abstraction....We might even see his pictures as allegorical defenses of something ideal against the incursion of everything real, except viewers seeking sensations of transcendence. But in opening up radiant emptiness repeatedly, Gleason's pictures begin to look emptier, the more of them we see. One impresses, a roomful depresses."

"Marlon Mullen: Paintings," Jack Fischer Gallery, 49 Geary St., San Francisco. Through Sept. 1. "Mullen's developmental disability would appear to render him incapable of 'meaning' his work as a trained painter might, because even intention - the first dimension of meaning in art - depends on comprehension of what other practitioners have attempted. So perhaps Mullen's work prompts us not to overestimate the value of intention or of any of the other facets of artistic meaning, not when something has the inherently persuasive visual force that his art does."
Read more of Baker's reviews.

August 25, 2007

IMHO: Art criticism crit

In maintaining Two Coats of Paint, I've read a great many art reviews and noticed a pronounced scarcity of explicit, differential value judgments - i.e., "this is good" or "this is bad." Here are a couple of ideas that help explain why art criticism is so much less snarky and opinionated than it might be.

In practice, the role of the art reviewer depends substantially on the target audience and social context. In smaller communities far from cosmopolitan arts centers, the reviewer is more likely to be a booster than a critic. In local newspapers and regional general-interest magazines, art reviews often consist of little more than rehashed press releases. With no designated art critic on staff, the arts-writing portfolio is up for grabs. Writers unfamiliar with either art history or contemporary art shy away from making value judgments because their frame of reference is - quite understandably - small. Since serious art criticism plays an important role in career advancement, however, the artists themselves suffer. A good review from a well-respected critic can establish an artist's reputation. Their art work sells, their prices rise, and better exhibition opportunities present themselves the next time around. Without reasonably sophisticated art criticism, the cycle breaks down, or at least slows considerably.

This dynamic may also keep serious critics from writing negative reviews: if a critic can help make a career, he or she can certainly break one, too. For this reason, critics tend to wait until an artist has reached a certain level of demonstrable professional achievement before they will consider writing about their work. Eminent critics like the New York Times's Roberta Smith generally examine the artist's work in relationship to the artists' stated goals and past projects, and through the dual lenses of history and contemporary art. With a multitude of shows open at any given time, and so few art critics to write about them, it makes sense that the best critics want to write about the shows they deem the most resonant. Thus, while artists may correctly interpret critical silence as a tacitly unenthusiastic or negative value judgment, the actual content of informed art criticism is predominantly positive. The more entrenched this standard becomes, the smaller the role that explicitly discriminating value judgments will have in reviews.

--Sharon Butler
Two Coats of Paint {twocoatsofpaint.blogspot.com}
August 25, 2007

This comment was originally posted on Art Journal's FlyOver blog.

Artists making a difference in the community

Douglas Brown profiles Denver artist Darrell Anderson in the Denver Post: "Anderson did not graduate from an art college. He didn't spend his youth studying his craft with different masters. Anderson never could get into galleries, he says. He just painted, and got involved with the community. He'd attend chamber of commerce after-work events, and paint attendees. Sometimes, they would buy a painting. Sale or not, the businesspeople would chat with Anderson, who would tell them: "I'm going to teach you that you deserve art in your life." Soon, the referral network began humming, and people started paying him for portraits and landscapes and anything else they thought might look good behind a couch or above a kitchen table.
He attended art shows and sold his work. Events - big golf matches, for example - commissioned him to do the artwork for posters. He has traveled the world, working on art projects.

'He is committed to the community, committed to the arts, and whenever there is anything going on in the arts community, he is there, he has a presence there, and he contributes,' says Denver Art Museum director Lewis Sharp. 'He touches so many aspects of the cultural life of this community, and he has worked in such a positive way with school kids on large art projects, to decorate construction barriers and things like that, all of them very creative.' Read more.

A dilettante's guide to art: 1001 Paintings You Should See Before You Die

 In the Smart Set Morgan Meis, a founding member of Flux Factory, reviews Stephen Farthing's book, "1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die," 

"Sometime in the middle of the 19th century painting started to get a little screwed up. It began to worry. Painters stopped simply doing what they were doing and started spending more and more time trying to figure out what they were doing and why. They got into the 'What Is?' question. 'What is Painting?', 'What is Art?' 'What Is…?' It’s hard to blame them for it. The 'What Is?' question was in the air. Chalk it up to the vast and traumatic transformations that ushered in modern times. Everybody was trying to figure out what was different and what was still the same. In painting, the biggest change was in the abandonment of representation as the central task. Nobody was interested in problems of perspective anymore, in figuring out how best to make the world of three dimensions look vaguely like itself on the canvas of two dimensions.

"And yet, for some reason, people still felt the desire to paint. Who knows why? Maybe it was just the need to hold on to a little tradition even as so much else was being swept away. Maybe it was the hope that an old practice could remake itself in a new world. Whatever the explanation, painting managed to remake itself and painters rushed into the 20th century with purpose. They had discovered a new subject matter, painting itself, and they were hot to show off its possibilities. Painting took on a double task, not just to do what it was doing, but also to make a claim about what it should be doing. Painters started talking about painting within their own paintings....

"Nothing follows anything inexorably in 1001 Paintings Before You Must See Before You Die. The only thing inexorable is that, in fact, you must die and, therefore, must also go out and see some paintings before you do."  Read more.

"1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die," by Stephen Farthing (Editor). Cassell Illustrated (9 Nov 2006)

August 24, 2007

Cameron Martin's neonoir experience

"Neonoir," curated by Cameron Martin. Howard House, Seattle, WA. Through Sept. 22. Artists include Dike Blair, Michael Byron, Judith Eisler, Wayne Gonzales, Angelina Gualdoni,George Rush, Helen Sadler. Martin writes in her essay: "For me, the contemporary noir image can highlight a new kind of sublimity, in which our fear of an identifiable moral lapse is charged with a longing for the belief that such a thing exists. Painting, with what some would call its outdated insistence on singularity, the importance of the maker, and the relevance of emotional content, is perhaps the perfect platform on which to articulate this sense of subjective disenchantment." Read more.

Regina Hackett reports in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; "In 'The World Without Us,' Alan Weisman imagines what the Earth would look like if we were no longer on it. 'NeoNoir' at Howard House presents its opposite -- a world with nothing but us and what we have wrought. Fortunately for 'NeoNoir,' art thrives on contraries. A self-absorbed premise becomes a pleasure thanks entirely to the power of the exhibit's participants: seven East Coast painters chosen by Cameron Martin, a Seattle painter living in Brooklyn." Read more.

Eric Fischl: Face time in the Hamptons

In the NYTimes, Martha Schwendener reports: "The show at the Parrish, 'All the More Real: Portrayals of Intimacy and Empathy,' stems from discussions between Mr. Fischl and Ms. Falkenberg, who met when Mr. Fischl saw a film at the museum about the strategies artists use to elicit responses from viewers. With Mr. Fischl’s ruminations on the death of painting and Ms. Falkenberg’s catalog essay, which considers what she calls the “tentative emergence” of realism, 'All the More Real' has the makings of a rather conservative, backward-looking show. Yet on the walls and in the galleries, it doesn’t necessarily feel that way....The exhibition feels at times like a master class led by Mr. Fischl, although a somewhat anachronistic one. Painting is hardly dead. And humans will undoubtedly be making images of themselves, in some medium, as long as they make art. Walk around Chelsea today and you’ll see no dearth of figurative painting. You also might discover young abstract painters who claim that they are in the minority and that the art of the last 15 years has shunned abstraction, banishing it to the sidelines." Read more. Artists include Vito Acconci, Diane Arbus, Ross Bleckner, Louise Bourgeois, Chuck Close, James Croak, Emily Eveleth, Till Freiwald, Lucien Freud, Tom Friedman, Karel Funk, Tim Gardner, Tierney Gearon, Robert Gober, Joan Goldin, Jeff Hesser, Y.Z. Kami, Elizabeth King, Gustav Klimt, Loretta Lux, Alexandra Moore, Ron Mueck, Catherine Murphy, Alice Neel, Catherine Opie, Evan Penny, Jenny Saville, Egon Schiele, Claudette Schreuders, Joan Semmel, Cindy Sherman, Do Ho Suh and Cynthia Westwood.

“All the More Real: Portrayals of Intimacy and Empathy” curated by Eric Fischl and Merrill Falkenberg. Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, N.Y. Through Oct. 14

August 23, 2007

Jacqueline Humphries: catching the light

"Jacqueline Humphries,"Albert Merola Gallery, Provincetown, MA. Through Aug. 30

Cate McQuaid reports in the Boston Globe: "Glitter is kitschy, glitter is glam; glitter is saccharine and pretty. The painter Jacqueline Humphries throws all that to the wind, deploying glitter with nuance and care in some of the wonderful abstract paintings she has up at Albert Merola Gallery. Her sparkle doesn't denote sentimentality, nor does it push her paintings over the top. Instead, it adds another tone to her complex harmonies of light and reflectivity." Read more.

Snowblind in Pittsburgh

"Snowblind," curated by Thad Kellstadt. Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, SPACE, Pittsburgh, PA. Through Sept. 15. See images from the show.

Kurt Shaw reports in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: "For several years now, Kellstadt has been the Pied Piper of Pittsburgh's 20- and 30-something artists. Having an enviable post with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, he has been behind the scenes of numerous exhibitions at Wood Street Galleries and SPACE, not to mention the Trust's two smaller galleries at 707 and 709 Penn Ave. And, having an amiable personality, he has made friends with countless artists and art aficionados since moving to Pittsburgh from the Columbus, Ohio, area years ago....One wall of the gallery is covered with a collaborative piece, 'Change of Address.' It pretty much sums up the underlying transient theme of the show. It seems, when looking at the multiple images of airplanes and automobiles mounted on variously shaped pieces of scrapwood, that these young artists are trying to drive home the idea that nothing is permanent, perhaps except for memory. But even that is fleeting." Read more. Work by Heidi Anderson, Corey Antis, Chad Gordon, Christopher Herron and Josh Tonies.

August 22, 2007

Engaged in Pasadena

"Touched: Artists and Social Engagement," curated by Noel Korten. Armory Center for the Arts, 145 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, CA. Through Sept. 2.

Holly Myers reports in the LA Times: "The show is as earnest an exhibition as its rather clunky title implies, but -- thanks to a thoughtful selection of artists and plenty of room for ambiguity -- one that steers clear of the dogmatism and sentimentality that often plague discussions of art's social virtues...Curated by Noel Korten, the show assembles 16 artists who've taught at the Armory at some time since it opened in 1989 and whose approaches, according to Korten's introduction, are characterized by a concern for 'ideas or issues that are current in public discourse.' The wording, one gathers, is purposely vague: The focus isn't so much on the issues themselves as on how these issues drive each artist and on the methods by which they're woven into the work. The spectrum ranges from openly activist to downright oblique." Read more. Artists included in the exhibition are Kim Abeles, Edgar Arceneaux, Lynne Berman, Nancy Buchanan, Bia Gayotto, Joel Glassman, Olga Koumoundouros, Rodney McMillian, Katherine Ng, Mark Niblock-Smith, Davis & Davis, Ed Coolidge, Shirley Tse, and Liz Young.

American-art collectors Peter and Paula Lunder believe the collection speaks for itself

Robbie Brown reports in the Boston Globe: “Peter Lunder, the former Dexter Shoe Company president, and his wife Paula, who live in Maine and own a home in Boston, have assembled one of the nation's largest and most valuable collections of American art. Appraised at $100 million, the Lunder portfolio comprises 500 works by American masters….But they just don't talk publicly about it. Even after the couple pledged their entire collection to Peter's alma mater Colby College in May -- one of the largest art gifts ever to a liberal arts college -- they declined all interview requests. 'We appreciate the interest in us and in the Colby Museum,' Paula Lunder said recently when reached by telephone at their Scarborough home. ‘But we don't talk to the press.’” Read more. Artists in the collection include: John Singer Sargent, James McNeill Whistler , Mary Cassatt, George Inness, William Merritt Chase, Winslow Homer, Paul Manship, Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keeffe, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, and Jenny Holzer.

Callum Innes: the painter's process

Callum Innes ‘From Memory’ Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge. through Sept. 23. Organized by The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh. The exhibition was previously shown at Modern Art Oxford, and will be at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney in November 2007. Read more about the artist.

Rebecca Rose reports in the Financial Times: "Callum Innes is a painter’s painter. Innes has become known for his series of large paintings which exhibit a controlled similarity in tone and design. From afar, they are meditatively beautiful. But from close up (a vantage point no painter can resist), the brush and paint marks appear more tentative, as if they have been reworked or rubbed out. At other times they seem joyously free-spirited, as if the artist had stood back to see which way the paint would run." Read more.

August 21, 2007

Street art and mural news

Note to emerging artists, upstart galleries and other publicity seekers: street art and mural projects always generate more media coverage than gallery shows, although not necessarily from the art critics. Because of their public visibility, these projects are treated as "news," and as we all know, news stories receive far more space than arts coverage. Here are some recent articles.

In the Philadelphia Inqurier, Joseph A. Slobodzian reports: "A city appeals board this afternoon unanimously rejected an Historical Commission order to remove a mural painted on the wall of a building at 410 S. 15th St. The Board of Licenses and Inspection Review took just eight minutes to decide that Dee Chhin's The Death of Venus could remain on the wall where she painted it more than six years ago." Read more.
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In the NYTimes, Christopher Hall reports: "Behind the 150-year-old granite walls of San Quentin State Prison lies a brutal world of physical confinement and mind-numbing monotony, a place where violence constantly threatens. It is not a place where you expect to find beauty, and perhaps this best explains the dumbfounded reaction of a first-time visitor to the prison’s cavernous dining hall, where six epic murals — each measuring roughly 12 feet high by 100 feet long — depict a populist vision of California history. Remarkably powerful and almost unknown to the outside world, the sepia-tone murals were created more than 50 years ago by a young Mexican-American prisoner who, after serving four years for possession of heroin, went on to a successful career as an artist. Painted mostly in a style that recalls Diego Rivera or Works Progress Administration murals from the 1930s, they almost certainly would have been protected long ago with a landmark designation if they were in a building to which the public had access. But hidden away in an overcrowded and decaying prison whose own fate is up in the air, the murals face an uncertain future. The murals’ creator, Alfredo Santos, was 24 when he arrived at San Quentin in 1951 in the back of an ambulance." Read more.
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Sonia Moghe, Associated Press writer, reports: "The idea behind 5 Pointz [in Queens, New York] was to give people a legal outlet to spray-paint as much graffiti as they like on the five-story building — without ever having to worry about getting busted. 'The purpose of this building isn't to eliminate graffiti and to be a cure for the graffiti problem,' said Jonathan Cohen, 34, who runs 5 Pointz. 'It's a place where you can take what you do and push the boundaries to a point where you're doing something that there's no way you can do illegally because you have plenty of time.'" Read more.
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Blake Gopnik ruminates in the Washington Post: "The painting also shares Picasso's love of printed symbols and lettering, both in Roman and in foreign scripts. It has a big red arrow, boldly outlined in white then again in black, pointing left along its bottom edge. There's a pile of distorted Chinese characters adrift in the picture's middle. Disjointed English texts scattered across the picture's surface read 'A.Y.T. AUTO SERVICE A.Y.T.' and 'www.auto-ayt.com' and, down at the bottom, '202-797-8800.' Call that number and the phone might very well be answered by Gary Zhu, owner of this and three other A.Y.T. auto-repair shops. Two years ago, he says, he paid $4,000 to have the picture painted on the blank outside wall of his 14th Street garage. He says the eye-catching mural has been very successful in promoting his business and raising its visibility. But he also insists the painting's not a work of art. It's only advertising, painted by a Hispanic customer named Frank whose further particulars he's now mislaid." Read more.

Embedding artists with the troops

In The Observer, Ruaridh Nicoll reports:"Peter Howson never took to the role of official war artist. The Glasgow-based painter had such a grim time during his trips to Bosnia in 1993 that he turned to drink, drugs and, latterly, religion. He created paintings of such brutality that even the hardened curators at the Imperial War Museum flinched. The army also struggled. An officer who showed him a shattered body in a shelled bus was frustrated when he failed to draw. Complaints were raised when he revealed scenes he had not witnessed; one of a woman with her head in a toilet being raped. It damaged his reputation....Steve McQueen, the Turner winner who has held the position since 2003, has been spitting about the army's refusal to help him. 'For the military you are just a token artist,' he told one interviewer. 'You're in the way.' After a brief, frustrating trip to Basra early on - 'I knew I'd be embedded with the troops, but I didn't imagine that meant I'd virtually have to stay in bed' - he has been barred from returning. The reason given is that it's too dangerous." Read more.

August 20, 2007

August cool

In a shortlist for NY Magazine, Rachel Wolff recommends these shows as a respite from the grueling NYC humidity:

“The Abstract Impulse,”
at the National Academy Museum through February 2008
"A visual time line of the museum’s 50-year love-hate relationship with abstract art."

Lance Esplund reports on the show in the NYSun: " Lately, the National Academy has attempted to shake off the dusty label of 'figurative.' In recent years, it has included installation, video art, and, increasingly, abstraction in its exhibitions. It has also admitted abstract artists as academicians. But, as 'The Abstract Impulse' demonstrates, academic thinking, applied to figuration or abstraction, painting or installation, is no less academic."Read more.
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Richard Pousette-Dart, Guggenheim through September 25
"Textured mid-century abstractions by the 'action painting' pioneer."
See a roundup of reviews and a link to the show on Two Coats of Paint.
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“Peter Young: 1963–1977," P.S. 1 through September 24
"A sizable retrospective of Young’s dizzying curves, dots, and grids."
Read a review and link to the show on Two Coats of Paint.

August 19, 2007

Compare and contrast: ambiguous and complex relationships to nature

“Suburban Sublime,” curated by Lucia Sanroman. Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, San Diego, CA. Through Sept. 23.

“Condensation,” paintings by Adam Belt. Quint Contemporary Art, La Jolla, CA. Through Sept. 1.

Robert L. Pincus reports in the San Diego Union-Tribune: "Belt's exhibition, 'Condensation,' captures this attitude in a thematically subtle, visually provocative fashion. In a concurrent exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, 'Suburban Sublime,' some of the artists do so more aggressively. Though not intended as such, this multi-artist presentation, mostly culled from the collection, can easily be seen as a companion show to his....Even in our troubled times, when the ecosystem of the globe appears imperiled, art can still find a way to delight as well as provoke us. This is what the works in 'Condensation' and 'Suburban Sublime' suggest. They may not offer cause for optimism, but neither are they thoroughly bleak." Read more.

Edwin Dickinson's forgotten gothic melodrama

"Edwin Dickinson: The Provincetown Years, 1912-1937," Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Provincetown, MA. Through September 23.

In the Boston Globe, Ken Johnson reports: "Unlike those artists generally counted in the first ranks of American painters in the pre-Abstract Expressionist era, Dickinson did not forge a single, formally pared-down modern style. Rather, he worked in two distinct modes. He produced the large narrative paintings like 'An Anniversary' that sometimes took years to finish and that seem to belong as much to the 19th as to the 20th century. And, working quickly in single sessions, he made landscape and maritime paintings that have a fresh, airy, modern feeling.Continued....The artist never pulled together the two sides of his creative nature -- the slow and the fast, the complex and the simple, the visionary and the perceptual. The split persisted throughout his post-Provincetown career, during which he divided his time between homes in Wellfleet and New York. Had he found a way to integrate the two sides, would we remember him today as one of the greats of 20th-century American art? Perhaps. But maybe it's just as well that he remain a semi-secret treasure. That way, each new generation of art lovers can wonder upon rediscovering him, 'How come we never heard of this guy?'" Read more.

August 18, 2007

Marlene Dumas receives €55,000 Düsseldorf art prize

Jennifer Allen reports in ArtForumt: "Painter Marlene Dumas has won Germany's prestigious Düsseldorf art prize, worth €55,000 ($74,875). As the APA and DPA report, the South African artist—who has lived in the Netherlands since 1976—was chosen to show in the Dutch pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1995. In addition to participating in Documenta in 1982 and in 1992, Dumas was honored with a retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2001. The Düsseldorf prize, which was awarded to Bruce Nauman last year, will be presented to Dumas in an official ceremony in the city this fall." Read more. See images of her work on the Saatchi Gallery website.

LaBute premiere: "The Shape of Things" at Bernard Toale Gallery in Boston

Terry Byrne reports in the Boston Globe: "Neil LaBute's drama 'The Shape of Things' explores often misguided assumptions about both art and relationships. For the newly launched Spontaneous Theater Project, the play's setting in an art gallery became an opportunity. Performances will take place in the Bernard Toale Gallery in the South End Aug. 23-Sept 1. 'When you're working on a play that asks questions about what is art, the decision to perform the show in an art gallery was not only a practical choice, but an aesthetic one as well,' says project member Bobby Kennedy." Read more. Labute promises a "provocative discussion about the nature and value of art." Visit the web site.

Tangled up in blue

Charlie Finch reports on artnet: "In 1974, after living in Woodstock with his young family for seven years, Dylan moved back to MacDougal Street and began taking intense painting classes with a mystic Abstract Expressionist named Norman Rabin in a studio above Carnegie Hall. Dylan enjoyed the camaraderie of his fellow art students, whom he described as 'cops and housewives,' and learned from Rabin a mysterious world lesson, which Dylan characterized as 'the past, present and future being in the same room' simultaneously, presumably without the reverse dialectic of T.S. Eliot’s Burnt Norton. This essential realization, experienced through the act of intensive painting, inspired Dylan’s great disc, Blood on the Tracks, especially the color-drenched series of snapshots, Tangled Up in Blue." Read more. "Bob Dylan," over 200 paintings based on drawings and sketches published in a book titled "Drawn Blank" in 1994. Chenmitz Museum Art Museum, Berlin, opening Oct. 29.

Artist's legacy: Alice Neel

"Alice Neel," directed and written by Andrew Neel. Institute of Contemporary Art and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA. Various dates through Oct. 7.

In the Boston Globe, Cate McQuaid reviews the film: "Andrew Neel splices old footage of interviews with his grandmother alongside his own talks with her sons, other family members, scholars, and friends. On camera, the artist comes across as sweet and benign; in the 1970s she appeared on 'The Tonight Show' and charmed Johnny Carson. Yet both her sons, while declaring their devotion to her, often bristle. Because of their single mother's choices to be an artist and not to partake in New York's art community in Greenwich Village, but instead live in Spanish Harlem, she consigned them to a childhood of poverty. 'I was hurt by Bohemian culture,' bitterly reflects Richard Neel, the filmmaker's uncle. Richard grew up to become a lawyer; his younger brother, Hartley, became a doctor." Read more.

August 17, 2007

Guggenheim's Pousette-Dart show draws reviews

"Richard Pousette-Dart," curated by Philip Rylands with Luca Massimo Barbero. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY. August 17- Sept. 25. Exhibition travels to Galleria Gottardo, Lugano, Switzerland, October 10 to December 22. See NYTimes slide show of the exhibition.

Peter Schjeldahl reports in the New Yorker: "Pousette-Dart’s blowzy spirituality is a trial, what with the cornball mandalas and hieroglyphs. But his heavily worked surfaces, stippled with jewel-like pats of color, often invoke uncanny light, suggesting fluorescent stucco. They entice the eye. Whether the mind follows is in question. Pousette-Dart is either a lonesome prophet of higher values or the best bad painter of his generation—or both. Marginalized in histories of Abstract Expressionism, he longs to be your special friend." Read more.
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Roberta Smith in the NYTimes: "Pousette-Dart’s work fits in all over the map of American art. At the Guggenheim he comes across foremost as the patron saint of American painting’s wide-ranging visionaries and eccentrics. With their bold colors, encrusted surfaces and luminous orbs, his paintings don’t so much hang on the wall as float in front of it, where they look alternately like planes of granular light and slabs of jeweled stucco. His affinities range through a host of texture-mad stipplers, dotters and checkerboarders who came both before and after, from Charles Burchfield to Alfred Jensen and Jess to Ralph Humphrey and Robert Irwin." Read more.
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In the NY Sun, Lance Esplund reports:"The show, which is generally best in its early stages, is also heavier on some types of painting and lighter on others. Whether this is by curatorial choice or curatorial predicament is unclear. But it presents us, somewhat misleadingly, with a streamlined trajectory in which the artist appears to have gradually emptied out and pared down his paintings compositionally, and moved toward his signature all-over, impressionistically stippled and squiggling fields with subtle shifts in color and little or no geometry. Though shimmering and intense, these works, which are the most prevalent in the show, are the least successful paintings of Pousette-Dart's long and uneven career."Read more.

Painter-turned-director Greg Mottola scores with "Superbad"

Greg Mottola, graduate of Carnegie Mellon's School of Art (notable grads: Andy Warhol, Jonathan Borofsky, John Currin), directed "Superbad," which opens in theaters today. Rumor has it that instead of submitting a screenplay with his application to Columbia's film school, he opted to submit a graphic novel. After graduating with an MFA in the early nineties, Mottola wrote and directed "The Daytrippers," (1997) which, according to the Superbad website, was shown at the Cannes Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival. Besides directing episodes of "Undeclared," he directed several installments of HBO's "The Comeback," Lisa Kudrow's hilarious but inexplicably short-lived satire of celebrity reality shows.
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Scott Foundas in the Village Voice: "Directed by Greg Mottola (an alumnus, like Hill, of Apatow's short-lived TV series Undeclared), Superbad is duly ribald and often achingly funny, brewed from the now-familiar Apatow house blend of go-for-broke slapstick and instantly quotable, potty-mouthed dialogue. ('I'm so jealous you got to suck on those tits when you were a baby,' a wistful Seth tells Evan after an encounter with his friend's amply bosomed mother.) But what sets Superbad far apart from the American Pie series—indeed, what earns it a place alongside American Graffiti, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Dazed and Confused in that elite strata of high-school comedies destined to stand the test of time—is its sweet, soulful vulnerability, particularly as it becomes clear that the only thing Seth and Evan feel more anxious about than losing their virginity is the thought of losing each other, in the fall, when they head off to separate colleges. That naughty-but-nice approach might seem something of an Apatow cliché by now if the characters themselves didn't ring so true. Make no mistake: Superbad is a movie about getting wasted and getting laid, but it is above all an ode to the end of teenage innocence in all its wonderful, horrible splendor." Read more.
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David Denby reports in The New Yorker: "The character Seth airs his memories (which we see in flashback) of a time when he was a little boy and couldn’t stop drawing penises. A kind of exuberant art show follows, with page after page covering school desks—simple line drawings of magnificent organs and phallicized trees, artillery, and towers. The sequence is hilarious and charming—a child’s garden of verses for our time." Read more.
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At Salon, Stephanie Zacharek proclaims: "The movie doesn't need any superfluous redeeming qualities: Its pleasures and charms lie in its very crudeness, in the way the characters' thoughts begin in their dicks and spill out of their mouths, completely bypassing their brains." Read more.

August 16, 2007

A minimalist in Edinburgh

"Michael Craik: Razed to the Ground," Amber Roome Contemporary Art, Edinburgh, Scotland. Through Aug. 30. Visit his website.

Susan Mansfield in The Scotsman: "Paint is built up in layers to create an effect which is almost three dimensional, then colours are added, a restrained palette of greys, pinks and blues. Yet, in these flat planes of colour, he still manages to evoke perspective and create a play of light which recalls the buildings from which the patterns have been drawn....Craik celebrates patterning, focusing on the geometry of squares or hexagons. His is a contemporary minimalism for an urban audience. Its cool precision and detachment might not be to everyone's taste, but there is no questioning his skill." Read more.

According to The List: "There can be an arresting intimacy in small paintings. The artist’s relationship becomes that much closer and more private, the intentions more modest. Certainly this seems to be part of the appeal of Michael Craik’s most recent works, all of which are painted on slim aluminium projected slightly out from the wall. This gives them an obvious physicality, yet it must also provide an ideal smooth support for Craik’s slick, flattened colours to be applied. Though more abstract than representational, much like his previous paintings, the influence of geometrical shapes found in modern architecture is pervasive." Read more.

August travel tip: Warhol outpost in Slovakia

Stephanie MacLellan reports in the Toronto Star: "When Andy Warhol thought about his 15 minutes of fame, he probably didn't expect any of them would be spent in this one-street town of less than 7,000 people in the northeastern corner of Slovakia. Yet there he is, multiplied in six different colours, larger than life on the wall of a Communist-era apartment block....Warhol never set foot in Medzilaborce, but his parents came from the even-tinier village of Miková, 15 minutes away. That was enough for the Andy Warhol Museum of Modern Art to open in Medzilaborce in 1991 and for the town to jump on the bandwagon by plastering his image across its public spaces. But mention Warhol's name to residents, and the reaction you're most likely to get is a shrug." Read more.

Elizabeth Murray: tributes and obituaries

In ArtForum, Linda Yablonsky reports that the "Elizabeth Murray Praise Day" at the Bowery Poetry Club, sponsored by Agnes Gund and Daniel Shapiro, "provided a blend of the poignant and the comic that threatened to bring it closer to a Saturday Night Live skit shredding avant-garde performance practice than an actual art-world remembrance....One after another, her friends forced back tears as they recalled her difficulties and triumphs, and shared welcome pieces of her wisdom. 'Get a boyfriend, she told me,' reported Mary Heilmann, who is, at sixty-seven, Murray’s close contemporary. 'This is a great age for having sex!' Alice Hartley and Hettie Jones both recalled Murray’s years as the unofficial art teacher at the Downtown Community School; Jones read from a children’s book for which Murray had designed the cover. Judy Hudson told a hilarious story about Murray’s dressing down of a DJ in an Amsterdam club. Sophie Murray Holman, who is about to enter San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater, took the mic to read a tender letter to Murray from family friend Stuart Hanlon, who let on that Murray was utterly in character to the end, when, he wrote, she 'winked good-bye.' It was hard not to choke up." Read more.

In New York Magazine, Jerry Saltz writes: "Murray mixed things that others kept separate, melding the abstract and the geometric, the private and the public, the formal and the organic. Her subjects are often vaguely recognizable and include canoodling shoes, wiggling beds, fetuses, coffee cups, and broken hearts. All these shapes seem to probe or penetrate one another. In 2005, I asked Murray about the implications of sex and love in these shapes. I knew her, but not that well. Nevertheless, she looked me right in the eye and, out of nowhere, kissed me on the mouth. I was dazed. This act somehow encapsulated her work for me: an imposing combination of formal exuberance, intellectual rigor, lusciousness, troublemaking, and humor, with undertows of darkness and psychology. Once, when asked by an interviewer where she fit into art history, Murray responded, 'That way of seeing historically belongs to the guys. The greatest part about being a woman in the world of painting is that I’m not really part of it. I can do whatever I want.'"Read more.
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In the LA Times, Mary Rourke writes: " While her work appears at first to be purely abstract, human figures soon emerge, along with tables, coffee cups and other items from domestic life. 'A Murray painting is easy to recognize,' wrote Deborah Solomon in a 1991 profile of the artist in the New York Times. 'More often than not it consists of a big canvas loaded up with forms and colors that bounce off one another in an anarchic, ebullient way.' Many critics noted the cartoon-like quality of Murray's images, which she attributed to her childhood fascination with comics. The playfulness, however, did not disguise ominous undertones, critics observed.

'Murray's paintings have long possessed a clownishness that embraces dark and light, a slapstick joy coexisting with abject terror and rue,' wrote reviewer Stephen Westfall in Art in America magazine in 2006. Such complexities add to the 'psychological intensity' of Murray's art, he wrote. Read more.
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Richard Lacayo writes for TIME: "Murray's big shaped canvases, with their declamatory colors and cartoonish references to bodily form and household objects, were playful in all the best and smartest ways. Her work was youthful, but never puerile. She could be childlike without ever being childish. Like Howard Hodgkin, or for that matter Matisse, she offered us a bright, beckoning palette as a point of entry into all kinds of sophisticated reckonings with form. She drew inspiration from comic books and Tweety Bird, but also from Stuart Davis and Miro. And of course from every area of ordinary domestic life. All those cups, and shoes and children's toys — she took the "womanly" household realm and reminded us that it's the place where magic happens."Read more.

In TIME, Lacayo later writes: "By the early 1980s Murray was routinely breaking out of the confines of the standard rectangular canvas, going instead for supports shaped like thunderbolts, clouds or shapes-with-no-name that she would combine sometimes into complicated puzzle pieces. Working in a jumped-up palette of citric yellows, Band-Aid pinks, acidic greens and plum purples, she made pictures that were semi-abstract, but full of teasing references to the outside world, like the outlines of shoes and tables. Or two conjoined canvases might take on the shape of a cup and saucer or a storm cloud. And everywhere there were hints of the human body. A comical bean shape might appear to reach out to an adjoining bean by means of a vaguely phallic extrusion. Circles and pellets suggested fingers or toes, mouths or eyes. The pictures were captivating, witty, so flat-out pleasurable that they made you a little nervous. Could art this delicious possibly be any good?" Read more.
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Roberta Smith writes in the NYTimes: "Elizabeth Murray, a New York painter who reshaped Modernist abstraction into a high-spirited, cartoon-based, language of form whose subjects included domestic life, relationships and the nature of painting itself, died yesterday at her home in upstate New York. She was 66 and lived in TriBeCa and in Washington County, N.Y. The cause was complications of lung cancer, said Douglas Baxter, president of PaceWildenstein, which has represented her work since 1995....Ms. Murray belonged to a sprawling generation of Post-Minimal artists who spent the 1970s reversing the reductivist tendencies of Minimalism and reinvigorating art with a sense of narrative, process and personal identity. Her art never fit easily into the available Post-Minimal subcategories like Conceptual, Process or performance art. This may have been because her loyalty to painting, which was out of fashion, was unwavering. At the same time, her blithe indifference to the distinctions between abstraction and representation or high and low could put off serious painting buffs." Read more.
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Two Coats of Paint suggests that Murray was a neo-feminist icon: "Unlike earlier painters such as Joan Mitchell and Lee Krasner, who felt childrearing would dilute their focus and diminish their ability to paint, Murray opted to have kids. For a female artist who has spent every available hour of her adult life in the studio, choosing to have a child is a difficult decision, for it prompts a relentless, daily, internal debate over whether she should be with the family or in the studio. Either way, guilt is inescapable, like having paint spatters on her shoes. Some artists, like Judy Chicago, intellectually recognized the importance of motherhood and explored it as a theme in their art, but never came to the conclusion that raising children, one of the most primal of human experiences, could actually strengthen and inform their work."
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In the Huffington Post, Ellen Susman reruns an interview with Elizabeth Murray from over a year ago:

"ES: You began making art in the 60's, you got married, you moved to NY and while you were teaching art, and trying to make art, you had a child. What do you remember about juggling career and motherhood?

EM: A lot of conflict and guilt, because you know, the minute your baby comes out you fall in love with them and you also feel this incredible protectiveness that I've never felt before.

ES: What about the guilt?

EM: I think for some women the identity with baby is total and complete. I think mine was with Dakota, too, but at the same time there were other things I wanted to do in my life that I wanted as much as I wanted a child.

ES: Did you consider yourself a feminist?

EM: I didn't really think, am I, or am I not a feminist woman? I was just trying to be a painter." Read more.

August 15, 2007

Art for the centrally isolated at Cornell

"Recent Acquisitions: Contemporary Art," The Herbert F. Johnson Museum Of Art at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. Through Septmeber 30.

Arthur Whitman reports at Big Red and Shiny: "To those well-versed in contemporary art, the selection of work in 'Recent Acquisitions' is likely to have a wearisome familiarity. Many or perhaps most of the artists will be familiar. Most of the art seems to fall into into well-worn modes. And (not unusually for such work) much of the art here walks the line between the endearingly offbeat and the gratuitously twee. (The best example of work falling into the latter category is an untitled figure sculpture by Lucky de Bellevue made out of variously hued pipe cleaners and partially supported by a cane.) But of course, the Johnson is not a big city museum. Located in Ithaca, in upstate New York, the local viewer is five, six, or seven hours away from Boston, New York City and nearly every other regional contemporary art enclave. So, the show serves an obvious pedagogical function--an art of today sampler for the 'centrally isolated.' And there are some modest pleasures for us jaded sophisticates too. " Artists include: Beatriz Milhazes, Notice-Forest (Breakfast Street), Diana Cooper, Mark Fox, Russell Crotty, Ellen Gallagher, Kerry James Marshall and Kehinde Wiley, Julie Mehretu, Cecily Brown, Chloe Piene Read more.

Sylvia Plath was a teenage artist

Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath's Art of the Visual, edited by Kathleen Connors. Oxford University Press, USA (October 26, 2007)

Francesca Martin reports in the Guardian: "In the book Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath's Art of the Visual, editor Kathleen Connors reveals illustrated childhood letters that Plath wrote when she was seven, which were found in the Plath family attic in 1996. There are also schoolbook sketches, portraits and a series of photographs and paintings from when Plath was an art student at Smith College, Massachusetts, including this self-portrait. The works were all completed by the time Plath was 20, at which point she decided to concentrate on her writing." Read more.

Lost in the beginnings of infinity: Pousette-Dart at Guggenheim

"Richard Pousette-Dart," curated by Philip Rylands with Luca Massimo Barbero. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY. August 17- Sept. 25. Exhibition travels to Galleria Gottardo, Lugano, Switzerland, October 10 to December 22.

From Antiques and the Arts Online: "Pousette-Dart was a founding member of the New York School, which included Willem de Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, Hans Hofmann, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. Active in New York from the early 1940s, Pousette-Dart made essential contributions to the Abstract Expressionist movement. He was among the first of the Abstract Expressionists to be given a solo exhibition (Artists Gallery, New York, 1941), and between 1941 and 1942 he was the first of the group to paint large-scale canvases, including 'Undulation,' which anticipated Jackson Pollock's breakthrough to mural-scale work in 1943." Read more.

August 14, 2007

IMHO: Elizabeth Murray, a neo-feminist icon

On Sunday, at her home in upstate New York, Elizabeth Murray died of complications from lung cancer. She was duly renowned as a passionate, energetic, and ambitious painter whose work is in collections all over the world. Yet Murray is rarely credited with helping to forge a neo-feminist vision of the triumphant, uber-artist who is also a dedicated mother. Unlike earlier painters such as Joan Mitchell and Lee Krasner, who felt childrearing would dilute their focus and diminish their ability to paint, Murray opted to have kids.

For a female artist who has spent every available hour of her adult life in the studio, choosing to have a child is a difficult decision, for it prompts a relentless, daily, internal debate over whether she should be with the family or in the studio. Guilt is inescapable, like having paint spatters on her shoes. Some artists, like Judy Chicago, intellectually recognized the importance of motherhood and explored it as a theme in their art, but never came to the conclusion that raising children, one of the most primal of human experiences, could actually strengthen and inform their work.

Murray had her first child, a son, in 1969, before her work was well known, and her daughters in the eighties when things were undoubtedly more financially secure. It’s clear from Murray’s paintings that raising children, rather than diminishing her art-making capacity, inspired her. Her paintings channel the screaming, fractured energy and frustration that come from being both an artist and a mother, but ultimately transcend specific circumstances to make a more universal statement that is neither masculine nor feminine.

In a book accompanying a traveling exhibition of Murray’s paintings and drawings in the late eighties, Murray offers a paragraph about each painting in the show. The one concerning “Can You Hear Me?” – completed in 1984 – stands out. The painting, consisting of shaped canvases with undulating forms of a table and exclamation mark, is mostly blue, with bright green, yellow and red accents. “The formal challenge,” she writes, “was to allow the structure of the painting to remain fragmented while making the table and the room out of it. It’s just one of those paintings where everything felt necessary once it began to come together.”

Murray herself openly embraced the notion that we should paint what’s in our subconscious. Although she was quick to dismiss any observation that she painted domestic life, something similar to what she mused about “Can You Hear Me?” could be said of an artist’s embrace of motherhood. In any case, something exquisite about life came together in her art.

—Sharon Butler
Two Coats of Paint /twocoatsofpaint@gmail.com
August 14, 2007
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Murray discusses her paintings with her daughters in "Family Critiques Work," a short quicktime video clip on the PBS ART: 21 web site. Watch clip.

August 13, 2007

Preserving the Berlin Wall puts murals at risk

Adam Williams at Reuters: "Politicians and artists urged Berlin's authorities on Monday to let them rebuild the longest surviving section of the Berlin Wall before it decays beyond recognition as a reminder of the city's grim history. In the spring of 1990, when most of the city was itching to tear down its most hated symbol, 118 artists from 24 countries flocked to Berlin to paint murals on a 1,300 meter (1,500 yard) section of the wall, turning it into the East Side Gallery. Exactly 46 years after the Wall was built around capitalist West Berlin -- ostensibly to protect communist easterners from its influence, but in fact to prevent them fleeing there -- the gaudy Gallery is now one of Berlin's top tourist attractions." Read more.

The art of restitution

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's "Berlin Street Scene" (1913–14), on view at Neue Galerie, New York, NY. Through September 17.

In the Village Voice, Morgan Falconer reports: "This show celebrates its arrival, bringing together similarly debauched urban imagery by Kirchner's Berlin contemporaries. But while Street Scene is the showpiece, others outstrip it in decadence. George Grosz's drawings are particularly arresting: Some are carved up by slanting light that reveals bare bottoms and clandestine meetings; one shows a sailor, packing a pistol and knuckle-duster, literally digging for gold on the edge of town. If the streets are bad enough, the scene indoors is worse: Among several images of downcast nudes are Christian Schad's Two Girls (1928), which features a pair of women reclining, sad-faced and semi-naked, as they pleasure themselves in this astonishingly frank depiction." Read more.

In The New Yorker's Critic's Notebook, Peter Schjeldahl comments: "Anchoring a strong little show of contemporaneous Berliners including George Grosz, Otto Dix, and Christian Schad, “Street Scene” is as good as German Expressionism gets. How good is that? Spiky and crackling, fast but not loose, it pictures two purposefully strolling prostitutes in red and blue dresses, with fancy hats, behind a man seen from the back (a phallic shape) and another (the artist) whose head and hand swivel weirdly askance. The background teems with men riding, or running to catch, a horse-drawn trolley. The top-heavy composition, funnelling energy downward, jolts. But, as usual with Kirchner, show-offy style trumps both formal poetry and narrative drama. " Read more.

In the NYSun, David Cohen reports: "The Neue Galerie is a treasury of Austrian and German art from the early 20th century. Not only does it show excellent examples of fine and applied arts of that period and place, but it also recreates the haute bourgeois surroundings of its early patrons — despite the anti-establishment rawness or the utopian simplicity of the various movements and styles: Expressionism, Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), the Bauhaus. Any museum has highlights, but because of the excitement surrounding the enormous sums paid for certain key works at auction by the museum's benefactor, Ronald Lauder, the Neue Galerie tends to be top heavy with its masterpieces. In the case of two of the most spectacular works on display, Gustav Klimt's portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (1907) and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's "Berlin Street Scene" (1913–14), the works came to market through restitution, the legal process of returning to rightful heirs works that had been stolen or obtained under duress from persecuted Jews during the Third Reich" Read more.

August 12, 2007

Muralists at work in Baghdad

Stephen Farrell in the NYTimes reports: "Dead blocks, they call them, the most visible legacy of the latest war in a city with a long history of wars. Many murals have focused on the glories of Iraq’s pre-Islamic civilizations in hopes of avoiding the ire, and bullets, of Islamist militants, who have killed or driven out thousands of Iraqi artists. For four years these vast concrete slabs have slowly crept through Baghdad, snaking along road, river and sidewalk as they shut out light and encircled ministries, palaces and districts. Now, confronted by the inescapable presence and likely longevity of these blast walls, the city has hired two dozen Iraqi artists to soften their harsh gray solidity by using the city’s past to hide its present. Jamaat al-Jidaar, they call themselves: 'the Wall Group.' Paid modest stipends that start at about $15 a day, they have spent the past month squatting on scaffolds painting images of warriors, kings and myths from past millennia onto 52 slabs of 12-foot-high concrete beside the Tigris River....Perhaps uniquely for artists, usually intent on creating an enduring legacy, the Wall Group’s members look forward to the day their work is destroyed. 'If the security situation stabilizes enough that they throw my work of art away, that will be for the sake of my city,' artist Tahar said. 'The most important thing is for Baghdad to be secure, that children are not being killed. Even if it is at the expense of my art.'" Read more.

Pioneering modernist Helen Lundeberg's WPA mural restored

The History of Transportation Mural Works Project Administration (WPA) Arts project, completed in 1940 and designed by Helen Lundeberg. Located in the Art Park at Manchester Blvd and Grevillea Avenue.

Daniel Hernandez in the LA Weekly reports: "The mural represents a renewed sense of identity for Inglewood, which can’t seem to shake its reputation as a hotbed of gang violence. The reality is that Inglewood was once the “cultural center” of the South Bay, home to swanky department stores and car dealerships, said Diane Sambrano of the Historical Society of Centinela Valley. In many ways, that New Deal vibe still lingers over the city. There’s something classic and old-school optimistic about some aspects of Inglewood, from its residents to its cleanly manicured streets. At its new location, The History of Transportation sits directly under the LAX flight path. Planes soar overhead, from behind the mural, as if springing from Lundeberg’s vision. On Saturday, docents from the historical society will appear in 1930s period dress, hoping to emphasize the mural’s ties to the history of Inglewood and the region that spawned the aerospace industry. The mural, like its artist and its community, is worth celebrating. " Read more.

Suzanne Muchnic reports in the LA Times: "Sixty-seven years after it was installed in Inglewood, with great fanfare, and six years after it was removed for restoration, in deplorable condition, Helen Lundeberg's massive WPA mural "The History of Transportation" has a new home. The 60-panel, 240-foot-long artwork runs along a curved wall in the new Grevillea Art Park, close to Inglewood City Hall and High School....This is quite a comeback for the mural, which was badly battered and disfigured before it underwent treatment at Sculpture Conservation Studio in West Los Angeles. Made of petrachrome, a terrazzo-like material composed of crushed rock embedded in tinted mortar, the artwork was built to last. But two panels were destroyed by wayward vehicles; others were cracked and buried under layers of graffiti." Read more.

Warhol vs. Banksy: celebrity, satire and voyeurism

"Warhol Vs Banksy," The Hospital, London. Through Sept. 1.

Louise Jury in the Evening Standard reports: "Duncan Cargill, The Hospital's creative director, said: 'Implicitly, Warhol is defending his title, but Banksy makes for a formidable challenger as he has received maximum exposure since 2000. As soon as we announced we were going to do this show I received emails from people all over the country who revealed they had fantastic [Banksy] work, and would we be interested in showing it. They were very different from the collectors who have lent Warhols.' Among the highlights are four portraits by Warhol of the individual Beatles that have never been seen in Britain. The artist met the band when they were together, but the work dates from after their split. The exhibition showcases work which demonstrates how Banksy was influenced and inspired by Warhol." Read more.

Kahlo's hidden letters published in Mexico

Javier Espinoza reports in The Observer: "'My Beloved Doctor' is a bilingual compilation of the letters Frida Kahlo exchanged with Dr Leo Eloesser between 1932 and 1951, which remained hidden for 50 years after her death...Finally the one part of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo's life that has remained secret - at the orders of her former husband, fellow painter Diego Rivera - has been revealed in a new book published in Mexico. It tells the contents of a series of letters that Kahlo exchanged with her physician, and confidant, after she suffered a miscarriage in 1932, describing the devastation she felt when she realised that she could never have Rivera's child. The new material is certain to fill out the biography of one of the most fascinating artists of the 20th century, whose colourful life, which included a reputed affair with Trotsky, rivalled her art." Read more.

August 11, 2007

Herbert Bayer collection exposed in Denver

"Herbert Bayer Collection and Archive," curated by Gwen Chanzit. Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO. On permanent display.

In the Denver Post, Kyle MacMillan reports: "When the Denver Art Museum was campaigning for passage of a $62.5 million bond issue to fund its much-trumpeted expansion, it pledged that the added space would allow visitors to view significant parts of the collection previously in storage. One area where that promise has been fulfilled is the institution's Herbert Bayer Collection and Archive. With more than 8,000 objects covering virtually all aspects of the one-time Aspen resident's diverse output, it offers the world's most comprehensive look at the famed artist and designer. While scholars have long appreciated this 27-year-old holding, it has been nearly unknown to the general public because little of it has been exhibited until now. A lobby area and corridor outside a boardroom and auditorium in the lower level of the museum's Hamilton Building have been designated as a permanent gallery for rotating Bayer selections.Read more.

Ala Ebtekar: responding to contemporary geopolitical crises

"Ala Ebtekar: Drawings on paper mounted on canvas," Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco, CA. Through Sept. 1.

Kenneth Baker in the San Franscisco Chronicle: "Born in the United States and raised here and in Iran by his Iranian parents, Ebtekar finds himself positioned to respond as few American artists can to contemporary geopolitical crises. His work stages its own confrontations of tradition and postmodernity, reflecting mutely on graver, more literal ones in the world at large....Ebtekar's manner of working on splayed pages may bring to mind some of the unforgettable collaborative works of Tim Rollins and KOS. In fact, as a teenager, Ebtekar was one of the Kids of Survival and now has found his own uses for their practice of responding to books by imposing images on them." Read more.

Daniel Mendel-Black's thick gush of pigment

"Daniel Mendel-Black: Naked Paintings," Modernism, 685 Market St., San Francisco. Through Sept. 1.

Kenneth Baker in the San Franscisco Chronicle: "The juiciness of his paint and his supercharged color make Mendel-Black's paintings appear almost naive in their exuberance. They look like what we imagine someone might produce if only descriptions of abstract painting survived, no actual examples or reproductions. The irony of Mendel-Black's performances shows mainly in his use of slack grids to give the paintings a measure of coherence. There and, inadvertently, in the very ambition to make abstract paintings, rather than images, 'communicate(s) the awkward grace of the living world.' Mendel-Black does not seem to realize that he participates in one of the great, doomed projects of modernism: to free expression and understanding from mediation." Read more.

August 10, 2007

NY Times Friday art reviews: Marlène Mocquet, Old School

"MARLèNE MOCQUET Recent Paintings," Freight & Volume, Chelsea, New York, NY. Through Aug. 17

Roberta Smith writes: "The work of the young French painter Marlène Mocquet may be something of a guilty pleasure, but what good is taste if it doesn’t betray you? Working very small, on raw canvas, Ms. Mocquet treads lightly on a twisting trail that winds from Redon to August Strindberg, then to Miró, Klee and Tanguy, and ends up near Sempé, Edward Koren and Saul Steinberg. Additionally, she exploits paint’s possibilities with flair, working thick, then thin, dripping, pouring and staining. She also has a wonderful feeling for jewel-like colors....Like Indian miniatures, these works reward close study."

"OLD SCHOOL," Zwirner & Wirth, New York, NY. Through Aug. 31

Martha Schwendener writes: "In a city of museums fully stocked with old master paintings, why should anyone care to see lesser ones in a contemporary-art gallery? Because viewing a Brueghel next to a Holbein is one thing; alongside a Karen Kilimnik and a John Currin, something else. This is hardly the first generation of figurative painters to “discover” the old masters. But where Picasso mined Velázquez, and de Kooning looked to Rembrandt and Rubens — mostly to resolve issues of space and composition — the contemporary painters in “Old School” are interested in what might be called the proto-Surrealist sensibility of art that explored fear, desire and fantasy centuries before Freud." Artists include: Louis-Léopold Boilly, Michaël Borremans, Paul Bril, Glenn Brown, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Jan Brueghel the Younger, Lucas Cranach the Elder, John Currin, Berlinde de Bruyckere, Carlo Dolci, Battista Dossi, Hilary Harkness, Julie Heffernan, Karen Kilimnik, Master of Female Half-Lengths, Christopher Orr, Djordje Ozbolt, Elizabeth Peyton, Michael Raedecker, Wilhelm Sasnal, Anj Smith, Jacob Van Swanenburgh, Richard Wathen, Jakub Julian Ziolkowski, and others.

Read all the reviews.

The tale of the street art Splasher

In NY Magazine, Sam Anderson chronicles the ongoing hunt for the Splasher, the radical, young—and possibly lovelorn—conceptual-Marxist street-art supervillain: "Here at the beginning, then, why don’t we just lay out the mystery, the so-called facts, as plain as we can make them. In the fall, some anonymous figure started vandalizing the city’s most celebrated vandalism—by which I mean not traditional seventies-style spray-paint graffiti but a relatively new, gentrified outgrowth of that tradition that’s come to be called “street art”: multimedia works of astonishing polish and complexity and beauty, often created by artists without a 'street' bone in their bodies. Many went to art school and have grown-up jobs and lucrative gallery careers and are terrified of the cops and traditional graffiti crews. Over the past ten years, as street art has become big business—upscale art shows in London and Tokyo, advertising contracts, waves of positive media coverage, blogfuls of groupies—it’s generated exactly the kind of internal backlash you’d expect in a subculture conceived of as guerrilla warfare against consumer culture. The Splasher epitomizes this backlash. In the middle of the night, about six months ago, this vandalism vandal started hitting the scene’s most acclaimed masterpieces, works that might have gone for $10,000 or $20,000 or $30,000 in a gallery, with big sloppy splashes of housepaint—teal, white, purple, yellow, electric blue. Beneath the splash he—or she, or they, or (who knows?) us—would leave a manifesto ranting, in Marxist jargon, about commodification and fetishization and the author’s intention of 'euthanizing your bourgeois fad.' From November to March, the splashes arrived in bursts, busy weeks interspersed with long fallow periods. By the end of the campaign, observers counted nearly a hundred of them. Read more.

The critics respond: What is painting?

'What Is Painting?" curated by Anne Umland. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY. Through September 17

In New York Magazine Jerry Saltz writes his own narrative for the exhibition: "The revisionism of this show works partly because it is so seamless. Except for one or two cases—a generically decorative canvas by Beatriz Milhazes and a conventional monochrome by Shirazeh Houshiary—inclusions don’t feel too forced or political. One room contains a handsome Minimal painting from 1969 by William T. Williams, an African-American artist not often on view at MoMA; in the same gallery, there’s a vivacious geometric configuration by the overlooked Japanese artist Atsuko Tanaka. These paintings predict work by artists like Gary Hume, Sarah Morris, and Odili Donald Odita. Their inclusion helps establish that modernism’s creation myth is wrong: The history of painting didn’t only happen in New York in the Cedar Bar among aging white alcoholic men."Read more.

In The Village Voice, Christian Viveros-Faune laments: "It's emotionally draining to play this game with Umland, particularly as her fussy four-works-to-a-space schema lends (deliberately) zero context and (quite accidentally) little insight to the value of these and other individual pieces. These predictable combinations, at their best, only suggest cold, arbitrary connections, as time-bound as any chronology that Alfred Barr—MOMA's far more decisive founder—invented circa 1940 to trace the influence of Cubism. For further proof, observe the meeting between Gerhard Richter's self-portrait (in which the artist is depicted with the theorist Benjamin Buchloh) and John Currin's The Gardeners—an encounter that should rightly produce fireworks. Instead, flanked as they are by a Chuck Close portrait and a Cindy Sherman print in an attempt to score muddy points about the figure and photography, the blustery confrontation between these two contemporary masterpieces fizzles into an awkward colloquy, an elevator how-do-you-do, while two other perfectly good works of art are scandalously reduced to useless bystanders. Much less than the sum of its parts, 'What Is Painting?'—despite a provocative title shared with a John Baldessari piece—is an exhibition conceptualized, if not actually curated, by committee. It offends no one (because it takes no risks), squanders the museum's deep and rich catalog (because it cherry-picks to illustrate not the best contemporary painting but contrived ideas about painting), and most egregiously apes curatorial models developed by other, younger institutions with a fraction of MOMA's artistic, financial, and authorial acumen."Read more.

In Time Out, Sarah Schmerler calls the show "the worst of MOMA": "Unland's selection will alienate many, if not most, visitors. Are you looking for paintings that open luminous windows onto another world, hold mirrors to the soul or just revel in their color-rich surfaces? Too bad. Would you like an answer to the exhibit’s titular question? You’ll have to look elsewhere. Umland has more theoretical, and ultimately misguided , ideas about that, too. To make matters worse, she never clearly expresses them to the public. Instead, she presents what she calls a “kaleidoscopic” (curatorial code for scattered) exhibition “dedicated to the principle of questioning”—i.e., the sloppy postmodern assertion that no question has a real answer." Read more.

In The Village Voice, R.C. Baker recommends the show: "This big, brightly didactic survey of painting movements since roughly 1965 feels a bit like the Astor Place Kmart—blocky white spaces filled with disparate goods of mixed quality. Culled from MOMA's collection, the paintings are generally hung in groups of four so that affinities or clashes between artists and styles come at you from all points of the compass....John Baldessari's own text painting could be an epitaph for this column or any other critique, reading in part: 'Art is a creation for the eye and can only be hinted at with words.' Amen, brother."Read more.

Daniel Kunitz in the NY Sun: "The delightful proposition of "What Is Painting?" — a broad survey of art from the 1960s to today, drawn from the Museum of Modern Art's contemporary collection — is that we have utterly lost our way: We no longer have any idea what painting is, and we are much better for it. Loosely chronological and with an equally relaxed thematic structure, the show makes its argument largely through the variety and quality of the work on view." Read more.

Dan Bischoff writes in The Star-Ledger: ""What Is Painting?" is a summer show at the Museum of Modern Art, a discrete sampling of the museum's vaults that has hung 50 paintings in a series of 12 open galleries, sort of like a party held in a hotel hallway. A really expensive party, of course....The open ar rangement of mini-"galleries" is meant to allow the visitor to make visual correspondences across time and styles, but it also suggests a certain continuity of cultural confusion that arcs across the entire post-modernist era." Read more.

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