November 30, 2007

Rave reviews for Schnabel's new film in which a paralysed man dictates a memoir with his eyeball

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," directed by painter-filmmaker Julian Schnabel.

I'm a big fan of Julian Schnabel's films, especially Basquiat--what painter doesn't appreciate the scene in the art gallery with Willem Dafoe as the older, undiscovered painter who works as an art installer?--so I'm pleased to read that the new one is equally good. Back in October, Time Out New York's Dave Calhoun interviewed Schnabel before the film's premiere at the London Film Festival. Calhoun thought the film delightful. "It may sound odd considering the subject, a man committed to a hospital bed, almost entirely paralysed. But Schnabel carves beauty from Bauby’s situation, both from his experiment with how to represent Bauby’s condition from an interior viewpoint – ie literally through Bauby’s own eyes – and from the release felt by Bauby when he begins to experience the wonderful freedom of writing. Schnabel uses a mixture of first-person and third-person perspectives, a chopped-up chronology and footage such as icebergs melting and a terrific aerial shot of a skier careening down a mountain to represent Bauby’s life and illness. His film is anything but a sappy bedside drama that’s weighed down by its own misery. " Read more.

In the LA Times, Kenneth Turan writes that without Schnabel's visual intelligence, the action-challenged story could never have been made into such a successful film."Starting from Ronald Harwood's script, filmmaker Schnabel, who learned French to make the story in its original language and won the best director prize at Cannes for his trouble, has avoided the obvious pitfalls and made virtues out of necessities. His imaginative and sensitive film, starring France's gifted Mathieu Amalric, is simultaneously uplifting and melancholy, suffused with an unexpected sense of possibility as much as the inevitable sense of loss. This has happened in part because Schnabel, though he's directed two other films, is at his core a visual artist. Working with the exceptional Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, he has infused the proceedings with the kind of imaginative feeling for rich and fecund imagery he brought to his earlier 'Before Night Falls.'" Read more.

But in this week's TONY, Josh Rothkopf appears to be one of the few critics who isn't raving. "From his first Mary Boone solo show, art star Julian Schnabel has courted a provocateur’s stance: the bold, bearded enfant terrible who’s going to make you feel something, dammit. Succeed or fail, Schnabel would do it fully....but in The Diving Bell, Schnabel can’t seem to hit a consistent emotional tone. It’s not that his film veers wildly into sentiment, though it does that once or twice. Rather, it alternates with a fickleness between somewhat-dated pop grandeur, courtesy of U2 and Tom Waits, and the reservation of a much darker art film. Bauby is trapped in himself. Optimistically, Schnabel would like to fill such an ordeal with color, music and hot nurses. Wedding himself to Bauby’s real trauma, though, seems beyond him." Read more.

November 29, 2007

Kurt Kauper: Working from (someone else's) life

"Kurt Kauper: Everybody Knew That Canadians Were The Best Hockey Players," Deitch Projects, New York, NY. Through December 15, 2007.

Kurt Kauper presents nude portraits of old Boston Bruins hockey stars in a show at Deitch Projects. Last week in the NYTimes Art in Review column, Karen Rosenberg reported that reading Kurt Kauper’s nude portraits of the former hockey players Bobby Orr and Derek Sanderson as a rote comment on the fragile state of American (or Canadian) masculinity is too simplistic. "They work better as an erotic and personal tribute, one that draws on the artist’s childhood in a Bruins-worshiping Boston suburb; the neo-Classical figuration of Jacques-Louis David; and the overt sensuality of pre-Stonewall 'athletic' films."

Today in the Boston Globe, Geoff Edgers considers how the players are reacting to the paintings. "Not everyone is a fan. Orr didn't return calls about the paintings. And former Bruin Brad Park, who played briefly alongside Sanderson and Orr and looked at the works online, said he 'would not walk across the street to view this art. I see a picture of Bobby with some genitals, and a picture of Turk with some genitals. That's hard to take,' said Park. 'I definitely would think Bobby would be uncomfortable with it. Derek, in his heyday, would have posed for it.' Park also wondered how an artist could create a nude of a celebrity without permission. George Tobia Jr., an attorney at Burns & Levinson specializing in entertainment and copyright law, said Kauper could run into trouble were he to try to mass market Orr's image on T-shirts or postcards. But he has every right to paint him." Read more. Incidentally, Kauper, who was interviewed for the article, says that people always assume he's gay, when in fact he's not. He lives with his wife and kids in New York.

In the Phoenix "Free for All" blog, attorney Harvey Silverglate writes in greater depth about the legal challenges artists may face when we use images of famous people. "Some states provide more onerous restrictions on artists than others, usually under the guise of protecting the subjects who are claiming a property right in their own image or likeness. California, for example, has a robust "right of publicity", which people can invoke in order to control how their image is used. (This is no surprise, given the number of movie stars in that state who vote and make campaign contributions.) However, other courts around the country have limited the right to control one's image as a means of controlling publicity, given the obvious tension with the First Amendment's protection of free artistic expression. In 2003, a California court rejected rock guitarists Edgar and Johnny Winter’s lawsuit against D.C. Comics for publishing a comic book that depicted their bodies as being half-man, half-worm. The court explained that the comic book contained 'not just conventional depictions of [the Winter brothers] but contain significant expressive content other than plaintiffs’ mere likenesses.' The defamation problem, coupled with the 'right of publicity,' are legal issues that could give legitimate artists like Kauper headaches."

November 28, 2007

Emilie Clark's 12" x 9" future

"Emilie Clark: The Weeklies," Morgan Lehman, New York, NY. Through December 22.

Selected as one of this week's "Best in Show" by R.C. Baker in the Village Voice, Clark decided in 1995 to make one painting a week for the rest of her life, and she's still at it. R.C. reports: "Near the door hang a handful of blank, 12-by-nine-inch wood panels awaiting the brush. They hang in the last rows of more than 600 bold and colorful paintings that are ranged around the gallery in eight-high grids. Since 1995, the 38-year-old Clark has finished one painting a week, a series she intends to continue to the grave. Some individual works include grids of their own—a piece in the 1996 section featuring a painted gray network is immediately followed by one with half-inch wire mesh collaged over fat alizarin and yellow brushstrokes, and then a third panel with rows of small oval portraits in the background. Circles, sometimes framing text or images, other times in flat abstract designs or drippy coagulations, recur through the years. Clark's other work (which includes installations of drawings, paintings, and texts) employs themes concerning 'the history of natural history' and encyclopedic organizations of knowledge. According to actuarial tables, this vibrant project is in its youth—it should be fascinating to watch it grow up."

November 27, 2007

Pulp painting collection donated to the New Britain Museum of American Art

"Pulp Art: The Robert Lesser Collection" New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, CT. Through Dec. 30.

{Speaking of pulp art...look for my essay, "Richard Prince and the American Girl," in the December issue of the Brooklyn Rail.}

Produced by publishing houses such as Popular Publications, Street & Smith, Condé Nast, and Frank A. Munsey Company, pulp art book and magazine covers depict unsettling images of violence, racism, sex, and crime that were deemed unsuitable for household decoration. Thus, of the tens of thousands of pulp paintings created, only a fraction survive today. The rest were destroyed after printing. This exhibition presents 75 works from Robert Lesser's extensive pulp collection, which was shown at the Brooklyn Museum in 2003. Lesser has donated the collection to the New Britain Museum along with a million dollars to take care of it.

In the Hartford Courant, Matt Eagan reports. "There is a temptation to look at these posters as artifacts, glimpses into the buried soul of the 1930s, but that would be inaccurate. Consider the pulp character 'Doc Savage.' He is a lean, muscular and learned man whose DNA can be found all over Indiana Jones. And once economic catastrophe gave way to World War II, Hollywood decided to stop singing and started making something called film noir, whose heroes stepped off these pulp works of art and into immortality. Noir has remained a vital force in American popular culture, with its fingerprints in everything from 'Blade Runner' to 'Veronica Mars.' There is another reason to examine these paintings. The pulp art may have been painted for profit, but the artists who painted it knew their stuff."

November 26, 2007

Joan Linder: sloppy spontaneity meets obsessive precision

"Of Bodies and Buildings: Drawings by Joan Linder," Anthony Giordano Gallery, Dowling College, Oakdale, NY. Through Dec. 9. Check out Linder's website.

"In culture hyper-saturated by electronic imagery I use the traditional materials of a quill pen and a bottle of ink to create large-scale images that persist in exploring and claiming the sub-technological process of observation and mark making." Linder says in her online statement. " I am creating life size representation of figures and objects. There is a vital relationship that arises between the observer and the observed on a scale of one to one." In Newsday, Ariella Budick writes that "despite the haunted nature of their origins, the body-free bondage pictures at the Anthony Giordano Gallery appear delicately abstract and elegant. You might feel an undercurrent of aggression in the tensile quality of the ropes, in how convoluted areas congregate in some corners of the paper and go slack in others, but the knotty political nature of the images comes across almost subliminally....Joan Linder's intricate process, the way she works simply with pen and ink on paper, means that she can't disguise her mistakes. Whether her nib slips, she messes up the pattern, or a bottle of ink sloshes, leaving a big blotch, the errors she makes become integral, revealing the workings of her very individual hand. At one point, a huge spill appeared on the life-sized drawing of a couch she had been laboring on for months: 'I was devastated,' she recalls, 'but then it was OK. I wanted to do work that was a one-shot deal.' The contrast between the sloppy spontaneity of the blemishes and the obsessive precision of her line is what makes Linder's pictures so alive."

British fantasy illustration at the Dulwich Picture Gallery

"The Age of Enchantment: Beardsley, Dulac and their Contemporaries 1890-1930," curated by Rodney Engen. Dulwich Picture Gallery, London. Through Feb. 17.

This group of artists was intent upon borrowing from the past, especially the fantasies of the rococo, the rich decorative elements of the Orient, the Near East, and fairy worlds of the Victorians. Artists include Edmund Dulac, Kay Nielson, Arthur Rackham, Jessie King, Annie French, the Detmold Brothers, Sidney Sime, Laurence Housman, Charles Ricketts, Harry Clarke, Alaistair, Charles Robinson, Patten Wilson, Anning Bell, Bernard Sleigh and Maxwell Armfield. In The Observer, Lauren Cumming reports that the "
Dulwich Picture Gallery makes a point of showing what's known as illustration every winter. But they don't call it that and when one sees the original works full-scale, the sense that they are independent, do not hang upon the every word of some text, is conclusive and very striking." Read more.

In The Guardian, novelist AS Byatt looks beyond the bright-cheeked children and pretty dolls of the Edwardian illustrators to examine the menace that lurks within. "The Victorian fairy painters knew all about the inhumanity of fairies. They inherited a supernatural world from Fuseli's visions of nightmare. The great, mad Richard Dadd painted both The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream, in Come Unto These Yellow Sands and Contradiction: Oberon and Titania. His fairies swarm and are all sizes, like Kirk's minutest corpuscles. Their faces are strange, their preoccupations mysterious, their doings dangerous."

Brian Sewell reports in the Evening Standard that this show will bore the pants off kids, although having just taken my eight-year-old to the Richard Prince show at the Guggenheim, I can attest that a little naughtiness goes a long way toward engaging kids in art. "If this was indeed, as I suppose, an exhibition intended to enchant children during the Christmas holiday, to extend their perceptions of Santa Claus, the Advent calendar, the Christmas crib, the pantomime and Midnight Mass, the ancient pagan elements jostling the Christian, then those in charge at the Dulwich Gallery should have strangled the curator at an early stage in his preparations. His plodding employment of creaking scholarship, the sense of dull didacticism rather than delight, may well be suitable for such a show later in the year, but not now. This is an entirely personal response on my part believing, as I do, that there are many children in whom the fires of connoisseurship can be lit through fine illustrations in books addressed to them - but Beardsley's Yellow Book is adult stuff, and so too are the Ballets Russes (parents should go straight to John Richardson's biography of Picasso, volume three, out now, if they want their little ones to know the ins and outs of Diaghilev and co); and many of the subjects verge on mysticism and symbolism manipulated to express ambiguous states of mind, of fear and longing, and of dreams and ecstasies beyond the experience of children."

November 25, 2007

Inside Dave Muller's head

"Dave Muller: As Below, So Above," Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA. Through October 12, 2008.

The exhibition incorporates a wall-sized, diagrammatic timeline of chart-topping rock hits—found in Reebee Garofalo and Steve Chapple’s 1977 book Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Here to Pay—with an iPod shuffle-like radio station created by Muller that broadcasts a non-repeating soundtrack drawn from his personal collection of over 15,000 digital albums. In the Boston Globe, Geoff Edgers points out some of the legal questions involved with the installation. "Muller's use of the chart has created a complication. The artist considers his use of it appropriation; he likens it to the way a rapper might sample an older song. Though it is standard in the music world to pay royalties for such samples, in the art world, images and texts are regularly appropriated without compensation. Muller doesn't hide where the chart came from, even painting a roughly 2 1/2-by-3-foot panel featuring detailed information on Garofalo and Chapple's book as part of the mural. Garofalo, though, says he has mixed emotions about Muller's use of his chart. 'On the positive side, I get a thrill when I see a piece of work I did blown up to a 20-foot or 30-foot art mural in art institutions around the world,' Garofalo says in a phone interview. But Garofalo says he was upset that Muller didn't call him before he came to town to let him know about the commission. He learned of it from a friend who happened to visit the ICA and see Muller and his crew installing the chart. Garofalo says it frustrates him that the ICA's press release for the show doesn't mention him. 'It's complicated,' says Garofalo. 'In this instance, I feel like the term appropriation is a difficult term. In fact he's using 100 percent of the design, and it is the central design element of the installation.'

Also problematic is the sale of the radio station. Edgers wonders what the Recording Industry Association of America, known for suing college students who take part in illegal file-sharing, would think about Muller's willingness to sell a hard drive stocked with 399 days of music. 'It looks bad on paper because I'm basically selling a huge iPod,' Muller says. 'But in the world of fair use, in a way this is a self-portrait based on everything I've accumulated. If you're living with this piece and it's in your house, you're living inside Dave Muller's head. That's my take.'" Read more. For more info or to see images of Muller's work, check out his galleries, Barbara Gladstone and Blum & Poe.

Shanghai surprise

Like many NYC galleries, the one that represented me for several years in the late Nineties went out of business after the financial downturn caused by 9/11, and the owner, believe it or not, moved to Shanghai. Now it turns out that Shanghai is the place to be. In the Chicago Sun-Times, Kelly Carter reports that Shanghai's Suzhou Creek neighborhood is at the forefront of China's contemporary art scene. "Not long ago Suzhou Creek was full of abandoned factories, run down and unoccupied since the 1980s. But now the area, just 20 minutes by taxi from the happening Bund, Shanghai's famous waterfront street, attracts tourists -- and serious collectors -- eager to check out the slew of art galleries hoping to capitalize on the explosion of China's contemporary art scene, which Chicago's Zhou Brothers were at the forefront of two decades ago....When ShanghART opened in 1996 as the city's first independent gallery for contemporary art, the exhibition was on a few walls in a local hotel. Now ShanghART shows works by 30 artists from different media, including video to ink and painting to photo, in an enormous gallery opened in 2005 and debuted a smaller exhibition space in 2004 in the M50 Art District, right next to Suzhou Creek. Although the gallery works with artists from all over China, it focuses on artists in Shanghai, such as Zhang Enli's, whose work most impressed me. Here, pieces go for $2,000 to $500,000 and attract serious collectors. ShanghART and Art Scene Warehouse, owned by Canadian Sami Wafa, were among the first galleries in the area. Since then, dozens of other galleries have followed. When we strolled around the area I saw just one coffee shop but I imagine in time there will be quite a selection, just like in Factory 798, Beijing's well-known contemporary art district whose name comes from its original home: No. 798 Electronics Factory, a former weapons factory converted into a complex of studios, workshops and galleries beginning in 2002." Read more. Check out the German School Shanghai's webcam.

Shahzia Sikander in Sydney

"Shahzia Sikander," Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia. Through February 17. Visit her website.

Shahzia Sikander studied painting in the Indo- Persian miniaturist tradition before relocating to New York in 1993 from Pakistan. Her paintings, characterized by precise line and delicate touch, have a distinctive iconography that references history, mythology and popular culture, although she denies the imagery relates to her own experience. In 2006, she was awarded a MacArthur Foundation fellowship. In The Australian, Lauren Wilson reports that Sikander has been influenced by post-colonial theory and seeks to challenge the stereotypical opposition of east versus west. Despite the theoretical influences and academic research that inform her paintings, Sikander insists that aesthetics and intuition are more important than theory.

In the Sydney Morning Herald Louise Schwartzkoff reports that Sikander is creating a huge temporary mural at the museum's entrance in conjunction with the show. "To paint a three-metre-high mural on the entrance wall at Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art, the New York artist Shahzia Sikander is clambering on scaffolding and painting from scissor lifts to reach the highest corners. The work will take three weeks to complete, but will remain on the wall for less than two months. When Sikander's first Australian exhibition closes in February, the MCA will paint over her delicate shapes and swirling lines. 'That's just part and parcel of the work I do,' she said. 'It's quite ephemeral and it has a temporary relationship to the location.'" Read more.

November 24, 2007

Shimomura's deadpan memories of internment

"Roger Shimomura: Minidoka on My Mind" Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle, WA. Through Dec. 22.

Shimomura's new paintings explore his childhood experiences in an Idaho internment camp for Japanese-Americans during WW II. "After years of studious concern over content, I feel that I have either reached or sunk to a level of security where ideas for my work flow, unconscionably." he says in his statement. "It seems that at some point I no longer felt compelled to project my own point of view toward the things that concerned me. I found myself more interested in creating a visual forum that expressed ironic and contradictory attitudes towards these concerns." In the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Regina Hackett reports that Shimomura, now in his sixties, is ten times the painter he was when he was younger. "Roger Shimomura is a cool painter who gives hot subjects a deadpan edge. Like Masami Teraoka, he combines American Pop with an updated version of ukiyo-e, the woodblock penny prints from old Edo. When ukiyo-e prints popped up in Europe as wrapping paper, they gave 19th-century modernists who were tired of Renaissance-based Western perspective somewhere to go -- not distance to a vanishing point but distance in layers. From the shared base of ukiyo-e and American Pop, Shimomura and Teraoka have continued to diverge, Shimomura specializing in hard, flat color and Teraoka leaning into fluid line and delicate tonalities. Now in his late 60s, Shimomura's art has a much broader emotional range than it did formerly, which gives his subject depth beyond its Pop Art base." Read more.

November 22, 2007

Strassman, Kolodziejczyk, Slick in Boston

"Duane Slick: Paths of My Fathers," Nielsen Gallery, Boston, MA. Through Dec. 1.
"Shadowy and elusive in both form and content. That makes them fascinating to look at; they pull you in, but don't quite answer your questions. A Native American artist of the Sac and Fox Nation of Iowa, Slick takes the trickster coyote as his avatar."
"Ann Strassman: New Work," Kidder Smith Gallery, Boston, MA. Through Dec. 1.
Starssmans's Artist Statement- 2007: A riot of pigment applied with an athletic force-coming together to create life. There are no metaphors-just the magic of paint.
"Dorota Kolodziejczyk: Scenic," Julie Chae Gallery, Boston, MA. Through Dec. 8.
"She plays bait and switch with landscape, deftly treading the line between abstraction and representation. The artist stains and pours paint vertically on the canvas, sometimes prodding it with a brush, and then she turns the work on its side so all the verticals read like horizon lines. Those horizons build into shifty, spacious landscapes, but look twice and they flatten into an all-surface ode to color." Read more from Cate McQuaid's report in the Boston Globe.

November 21, 2007

Kentridge-fest at the University of Brighton

"William Kentridge: Fragile Identities," University of Brighton, Brighton, England. Through Dec. 31.

University of Brighton presents William Kentridge's new work on paper, installations and films, as well as The Soho Eckstein Series, the animated films for which he is best known. In The Guardian, Adrian Searle reports. "Kentridge is best known for his charcoal animations, for which he would draw, erase and redraw successive images on the same sheet of paper, photographing the process as he went. His most famous series of these, the Soho Eckstein films, follow the life and crimes of a white South African industrialist through the last years of apartheid and into the new democratic era. In the last Eckstein film, Tide Table (2003), the fat, ageing magnate expires in his deckchair on a beach while the world goes on around him. Writing in the Village Voice, Barbara Pollack compared the Eckstein films - none more than nine or 10 minutes long - with The Sopranos. The story seems as vast as a continent, but largely consists of what Kentridge leaves out, what is intimated but unseen; you have to make it up yourself. What is magical is how much Kentridge does with an animation technique that he has himself described as stone-age.

"In almost all of Kentridge's animated films, as soon as we recognise an image, it is replaced by another, in a tide of erased and redrawn charcoal. Kentridge lays waste to his images in order for them to tell their story. His use of anamorphic images - rather like the phantom skull in Holbein's The Ambassadors, that weird extruded shape that only reveals itself for what it is if we stand in a particular relationship to the painting - is meant to alert us to the fact that how we see things, and interpret events, depends on where we stand. Our judgments do not escape history. But Kentridge's filmic anamorphosis is also great fun. It is mesmerising, even though its subject is grim, as was Holbein's, reminding us that death is no respecter of persons. As Kentridge's range gets bigger, his focus just gets more acute." Read more. Watch videos of Kentridge videos on YouTube.

November 20, 2007

Hickey does Vegas

"Las Vegas Diaspora: The Emergence of Contemporary Art From the Neon Homeland," curated by Dave Hickey. Las Vegas Art Museum, Las Vegas, NV. Through Dec. 30. Travelling to the Laguna Art Museum in March

The exhibition features 26 artists who earned degrees in studio art at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). All of the featured artists studied with Las Vegas critic and curator Dave Hickey between 1990 and 2001, when Hickey taught art theory and criticism in the Department of Art at UNLV. (Hickey now serves in the English Department at UNLV as Schaeffer Professor of Modern Letters.) In the LA Times, Christopher Knight reports. "This metropolis is a distinctly American city, where modern art ideas originally forged in a European crucible often have the fit of a delicate glass slipper jammed onto the ungainly foot of an ugly stepsister. In that regard, Las Vegas is the new Los Angeles. Not so long ago L.A. was the place where culture was said to be mostly found in yogurt. Vegas, though, is still the kind of place where 'Swan Lake' is assumed to be performed as a topless revue, save for the incongruous ostrich feathers. 'Las Vegas Diaspora' takes that no-class, low-art slur and wisely runs with it, turning most every imaginable sow's ear into a startling silk purse. The aesthetic refinement is downright extreme. Dave Hickey, who was guest curator for the show (his wife, Libby Lumpkin, is the museum's director), came to the forefront of American art criticism -- snagging a MacArthur prize in the process -- nearly 15 years ago, when he audaciously argued that, of all things, beauty would become the art-issue of the 1990s. It did. The topic assumes an unexpected tone of militancy in 'Las Vegas Diaspora.' Beauty isn't offered as some timid escape from society's crushing woes, but as a sharp rebuke: Not that; this!" Read more.

Participating artists include: Rev. Ethan Acres (Muscle Shoals, AL); Robert Acuna (Los Angeles); Philip Argent (Santa Barbara); Aaron Baker (Chicago); Tim Bavington (Las Vegas); Thomas Burke (New York); Jane Callister (Santa Barbara); Bradley Corman (Vancouver, Canada); Jacqueline Ehlis (Portland); Curtis Fairman (Las Vegas); Gajin Fujita (Los Angeles); Sush Machida Gaikotsu (Las Vegas); James Gobel (San Francisco); Sherin Guirguis (Los Angeles); Jack Hallberg (Las Vegas); James Hough (Las Vegas); Shawn Hummel (Las Vegas); Carrie Jenkins (Los Angeles); Angela Kallus (Las Vegas); Wayne Littlejohn (Las Vegas); Victoria Reynolds (Los Angeles); David Ryan (Las Vegas); Jason Tomme (New York); Sean Slattery (Las Vegas); Yek (Singapore and Las Vegas); and Almond Zigmund (New York).

November 19, 2007

Saltz asks: What's MoMA's problem with women?

In New York Magazine, Jerry Saltz asks why there isn't more women's work hanging in MoMA's recently reshuffled permanent collection. "Not to sound like a broken record, but it has become bitterly clear that MoMA’s stubborn unwillingness to integrate more women into these galleries is not only a failure of the imagination and a moral emergency; it amounts to apartheid. Even the Met has integrated women into its twentieth-century wing, hanging four Florine Stettheimer paintings and a room of ten Georgia O’Keeffes.

"Obviously, MoMA can’t invent modern masters and new Cubists. By my count, only about one percent of all the art up to 1970 in MoMA’s Painting and Sculpture Collection is by women. The people who run this institution are earnestly trying to do the right thing; I’m not declaring them sexist bigots. Nor am I a quota queen, advocating that women be allotted their 51 percent: Art history isn’t about fairness. Nevertheless—and this is a vital point—MoMA’s master narrative would not be disrupted if more women were placed on view. In fact, that narrative would come to life in ways it never has before, ways that would be revitalizing, even revolutionary. Ask yourself if hanging any of the following artists would really ruin the narrative espoused by the museum: Barbara Hepworth, Louise Nevelson, Louise Bourgeois, Joan Mitchell, Dorthea Rockburne, Yoko Ono, and Florine Stettheimer. Or just take Alice Neel, a kind of American antihero (auntie-hero?) who painted in seclusion for nearly her whole life while raising children on her own in Spanish Harlem, and who arrived at an original figurative style that is simultaneously brooding, bizarre, and Pop-ish. She’s one of the better painters of the mixed emotions of motherhood, and maybe the best painter of pregnant women who ever lived. Or MoMA could explore the work of Hilma af Klint, the Swede who fashioned mystic-looking alchemical diagrams and who arrived at pure abstraction more than five years before the great Kasimir Malevich. Even Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keeffe are missing. There’s no Mary Cassatt. I could list dozens more.

"If the museum doesn’t own work by all of these artists, it needs to go shopping. For the hand-wringers who imagine this would trash the canon, I’ll note that cramming in 50 more paintings by women would still keep their presence below 16 percent. Of course, if MoMA removed some warhorses like Dine, Gottlieb, and Kitaj at the same time, things could get really interesting." Read more.

November 18, 2007

Romolo Roberti resurfaces in Chicago

"Romolo Roberti: An American Original," curated by Ken Probst. Robert Henry Adams Fine Art, Chicago, IL. Through Jan. 26.

Romolo Roberti, a prominent Chicago artist in the 30's and 40's , stashed over 250 paintings in a Mississippi lumber yard. Nearly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, the paintings were recently brought to the AHA Gallery's attention by the artist's granddaughter, Kathy McDaniel. In the Chicago Sun-Times, Kevin Nance reports that the paintings, which depict old Chicago in a pastiche of realist regional styles and sold poorly during the artist's lifetime, are worth a look. "Although Roberti achieved a certain renown here during the Depression years, he never quite caught on in Chicago. He was something of a loner, often at odds with art dealers (who apparently found his phantasmagorical paintings inspired by Dante's Inferno unsalable) and his 'nosy' neighbors at Tree Studios, who spied on him through skylights when he painted nude models. For years he worked as an itinerant decorator, periodically saving up enough money to work at painting full-time, only to hit the road again. Eventually he moved to Mississippi to be near his family and lived in a trailer park, where he continued to paint until a few years before his death. Relative to his fairly substantial output, he sold very few paintings in his lifetime. He's selling now. As of last week, the Adams gallery had sold about nine paintings at prices ranging from $7,500 to $55,000." Read more.

November 17, 2007

William Beckman's life studies at Forum


With a surgeon's attention to detail, William Beckman depicts the people and places closest to him: his family, his first home, and studio, all down to the last strand of hair on each head and smudge on every wall. In the NYTimes, Ken Johnson reports that in this new series of paintings, Beckman is showing his age. "He has been painting intensely realistic self-portraits for almost four decades, effectively tracking his own maturation from fair-skinned youth to the craggy 60-something who stares with thin-lipped, Clint Eastwoodish concentration out of the paintings in this exhibition. Mr. Beckman follows Northern Renaissance painters like Dürer and Cranach in his ambition to give the figure an uncanny sculptural vividness. Without neglecting any wrinkles, he gives skin a relatively simplified, waxy smoothness, which, along with flat, monochromatic backgrounds, enhances by contrast the detailed palpability of eyes, glasses and hair. His figures seem to exist in a space between two and three dimensions. Two portraits depict a man and a woman who look young enough to be Mr. Beckman’s children, and in fact they are. Another is a memorial picture of his first wife, Carol, now deceased. You learn these and a few other biographical facts from a weird but interesting psychoanalytic essay by the critic Donald Kuspit in the exhibition catalog. But you don’t have to know the back story to grasp that Mr. Beckman’s show is a meditation on youth, age and mortality. In this context there’s something almost funny about his bigger-than-life painting of himself in a leather motorcycle racing outfit, standing next to a shiny red motorcycle: the image of an aging boy-man who thinks he can escape death on a speedy toy."

 William Beckman, S. L. #3 (Chock Full), 2011, oil on panel, 18 x 20 inches

In the NY Sun, John Goodrich argues that Beckman, while creating highly realistic paintings, is no photo-realist and that his paintings lack passion. "His dense hues demonstrate the utterly different capabilities of color in painting and photography. At the same time, he seems to take photography's factual, evenly weighed detail as a paradigm of truthful rendering. His single-minded modeling — unmoved by the tension of a supporting neck, or the sudden emergence of an ear — deprives his images of the passion and, arguably, the individual truthfulness of the Northern Renaissance artists to whom his work has a technical resemblance."

"William Beckman," Forum Gallery, New York, NY. Through Nov. 24, 2007.

Image at top: William Beckman, Studio 4, 1991-2011, oil on panel, 60 x 49 1/4 inches
 

November 16, 2007

IMHO: The super-sizing of American museums

At The American Prospect, check out my take on the current infatuation with art museum expansion. "American art museums are experiencing an unprecedented growth spurt, from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento to smaller museums elsewhere. Museum directors argue that the expansions will better serve the public's need for more exhibition space and modern amenities. Less altruistically, they maintain job security by ramping up fundraising and construction requirements, and gild their résumés with impressive credentials. Art collectors queue up to donate money for stylish wings that will bear their names. Cities herald the projects as cornerstones for mammoth downtown development and revitalization projects. The media provide the fanfare, lavishly covering the initial announcements, building progress, and grand openings.

"But all this capital investment in high-profile architecture and fattened collections and programming -- this super-sizing of museums -- does not necessarily reward the art-viewing public. Museum directors and curators need to consider expansion plans more critically.

"Often such plans result in oversized, over-designed new structures that veer away from an initial vision of intimacy that the museum founders envisioned between the patrons and the artwork. All too frequently, new museum space is not even used to display additional artwork, but rather for cafés, gift shops, and administrative offices. Even when new construction does yield more exhibition space, the predominant hope of most museum directors is that the expansion will lure new donations by contemporary collectors. Work in storage tends to be viewed as unfashionable, irrelevant, or inferior. While new art may indeed come hither, it is less likely to sustain the museum's original atmosphere and, therefore, the goodwill of longstanding patrons." Read more.

November 15, 2007

Capps on Turner

"J.M.W. Turner," National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Oct. 1-Jan. 6, 2008. See images of Turner paintings from the National Gallery's collection.

In the Guardian Unlimited, Kriston Capps reports: "The Turner retrospective compares with another recent show at the National Gallery of Art: that of his less fortunate contemporary, John Constable. Constable plays the straight man to Turner's comic. The former painted the everyday near his home in Dedham Vale, while Turner would nurse an image using his imagination to suit his needs - not merely in his epic or historical painting but in his land- and seascapes as well. Even the signature spackle of paint that Constable would apply to his canvas surface to evoke light seems to find a parallel better in Turner's work: the mottle of reds and oranges he uses to evoke fire, sky and blood. Or subjects even more metaphysical, as in Death on a Pale Horse (1825-35)....The period that earned Turner so much derision - the sunset of his career, as it were - is one that has commanded tremendous interest from contemporary audiences. This retrospective reveals that Turner is more than a missing link. At a transitional moment in British culture and painting, Turner was a force of evolution."

Related Post:
J.M.W. Turner's poetic visualization of British history

Thiebaud at the beach

"Wayne Thiebaud: 70 Years of Painting," curated by Gene Cooper. Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, CA. Through Jan. 27. Traveling to the Palm Springs Art Museum in February.

Laguna Art Museum's 53-painting survey traces the development of Thiebaud’s signature style but also includes many of his lesser known figural and beach paintings. In the LA Times, Christopher Knight is completely surprised by Thiebaud's beaches and bathers. "Who knew?" he asks. "In these pictures the nearly squint-inducing light is almost always sharp and bright. Daylight whiteness near the ocean harbors neon-rainbow highlights, while shadows tend toward sky-reflective blue, rather than colorless black. Even the show's very earliest work -- a deftly handled 1936 oil-sketch on board, precociously executed when Thiebaud was 16 -- shows a mustachioed fisherman in a rain hat. This old man of the sea is one of 31 drawings that further flesh out the painter's realist affinities. Usually mischaracterized as a Pop artist, Thiebaud instead paints in traditional categories of still life, landscape and figure. He's also a formalist, plain and simple, most deeply concerned with the structural considerations of visual form in paint. Postwar American artists typically harnessed formal rigor to abstract painting, but he has applied it exclusively to realist subject matter."

November 14, 2007

Dylan's show at the Kunstsammlungen

"Bob Dylan: The Drawn Blank," curated by Ingrid Mössinger, Kunstsammlungen, Chemnitz, Germany. Through Feb. 3.

Kate Connolly reports in The Guardian: "The critical response has, so far, been positive. Some critics have even gone as far as to compare Dylan to Munch and Matisse, as well as to the German expressionists Max Beckmann and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, for his dark lines and bold colours. Edward Hopper has also been cited in the way in which it is the objects for the paintings that speak - the ships, bicycles, train tracks and bulbous TV screens - rather than the people, who are often portrayed as silent and anonymous, like the formless Guitar Player. 'The pictures that are on show would also be worth viewing even if Bob Dylan had never sung a note or written a line of poetry,' declared Burkhard Müller, art critic for the Süddeutsche Zeitung, in a swift riposte to those who might say that it is only because the artist is Bob Dylan that people are paying any attention." Read more. Munch and Matisse, as well as to the German expressionists Max Beckmann and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner? See for yourself. Here's a link to images of the paintings. Also check out a podcast that interweaves Dylan's songs with tedious interviews. (Hey, wait a minute, I thought the paintings stood up on their own?)

Related posts:
Tangled up in blue

Musicians who paint

November 13, 2007

Kanishka Raja at Tilton

"Kanishka Raja," Tilton, New York, NY. Through November 17. Also at Envoy, New York, NY.

Kanishka Raja blends pattern and decoration, Op Art, Indian miniature, doubles, mirrors, multiplies and textures to create complex psychological interiors. In The Village Voice, RC Baker recommends the show. "These 18 small canvases initially appear to depict the same vaguely modern space: suspended orange light fixtures, bookshelves, a big TV screen, a pair of doors. But differences quickly become apparent—floor tiles are laid at divergent angles, televisions transmit changing pictures, lights blaze at varying intensities. Raja executed the paintings over a period of three years, each without looking at the previous versions, delivering a dissonant frisson. Similarly, in a larger canvas featuring a mirror-image view of an airline terminal filled with empty cots, the center join is misaligned, like imperfectly married pages in a magazine spread." Check out an installation shot of his paintings at the ICA in Boston, 2005.

Sidney Nolan retrospective in Sydney

"Sidney Nolan: A New Retrospective," curated by Barry Pearce. Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Austrailia. Through Feb. 3.

Sidney Nolan produced as many as 35,000 paintings. His most prolific periods often came after a bad review, according to his adopted daughter, painter Jinx Nolan, who spoke with Louise Schwartzkoff of the Sydney Morning Herald. "He'd say, 'I'll show the bastards' and then he would have an extraordinary output of energy and paintings," she says. Elizabeth Farrelly, another SMH reporter, reviews the retrospective this morning. "It's very Australian, this heroic outsider stance, at once voluntary and involuntary; something we might even call a national self-image. And it informed Nolan's choice of subjects, as well as his trajectory....Even as a child, Nolan intuited his outsider status, recalling later a sense, in the school parade ground, of 'the atoms, or electrons or something, streaming through [him] at an enormous rate'. Nolan, like any painter worth his salt but a lot better than most, wasn't painting stories or people or nature. He was painting his own inner landscape, arid and luminous, peopled and charred. The mask was his own, as heroic outsider, doomed poet, martyr; his mask, and ours." Read more. See images of his paintings at Eva Breuer.

November 12, 2007

IMHO: Gallery for Rent in Connecticut

Alva Gallery has always been about both contemporary art and a commitment to the city of New London, Connecticut. Unfortunately, after trying to cultivate an art market for nine years and barely breaking even, Alva Greenberg has decided to close shop and pursue other interests. I stopped by the gallery on Saturday to check out their last show, where I met longtime Alva employee Susan Hendricks, a dedicated member of New London’s art glitterati. We chatted about what the gallery closing means for New London.

New London has always seemed like a place where artists and the arts should thrive: it contains scads of underused buildings ripe for studio space, and plenty of vacant storefronts. And in fact, civic-minded locals have tried to revive the city culturally by renovating historic buildings and rebranding New London as an arts community. But the reality is that landlords’ expectations for rent are too high, and there aren’t enough collectors to nourish the artists and galleries. Supporting the arts isn’t merely providing affordable studios and gallery space for exhibitions. People need to buy the artwork, and that is what hasn’t happened. Looking at the houses, yachts, and other indicia of a fat wallet, there are plenty of wealthy people in southeastern Connecticut. Imagine what might happen if people started buying art from galleries and living artists instead of the poster shop at Ikea. The CT Commission on Culture and Tourism generously provides educational programming for artists and arts organizations, but that may not be the best allocation of resources for revitalizing arts in the region. A campaign aimed at wealthy people to promote the purchase of original artwork might be more effective. If more galleries close, artists may have to start selling their artwork on eBay and Etsy, where a more clued-in audience awaits. In that event, gallery owners will move on to other more remunerative endeavors, and New London will be the poorer for it. Heiress Alva has deep pockets, so she has been able to stick with it for almost a decade, but other gallery owners lack that kind of staying power.

It is not that the work arising from smaller areas like southeastern Connecticut, outside the cultural radii of New York and Boston, is inherently unworthy, or the shows poorly conceptualized. The current exhibition, curated as usual by Alva, is loosely based around the notion of “Ceremonies and Celebrations” – a well-considered concept for a thematic group show that is at once broad enough to elicit diverse artistic interpretations and sufficiently defined to keep them on message. Traditionally curators establish a theme based on current issues and ideas they detect among art makers, then select specific pieces to examine and refine that theme. In this exhibition, Alva posited a general idea, and aptly asked artists whose work she admired to submit artwork they felt addressed the idea in some way. The work submitted to the show, however, doesn’t fully articulate a cohesive point of view. Much of it smacks of the proverbial student art project, doggedly and obviously exploring the assigned thematic conceit. Yet some pieces do manage to quietly embrace the theme while still standing strongly on their own....

Read the entire article at Hank Hoffman's Connecticut Art Scene, where I will be writing occasional reviews and commentary.

Related posts:
Mysteries of Pittsburgh
IMHO: Artists Retreat

The Soviet Social Realism of Geli Korzhev

"Raising the Banner: The Art of Geli Korzhev," The Museum of Russian Art, Minneapolis, MN. Through Jan. 5.

Marianne Combs of Minnesota Public Radio reports: "Geli Korzhev's most critically acclaimed work was painted in the '50s and '60s, at the end of Stalin's reign. As a socialist realist painter, his art was supposed to glorify the common worker, by presenting his or her life and work as admirable, no matter how much they suffered. In one of his most famous paintings, 'Raising the Banner,' a determined man picks up the red flag of a fallen soldier and replaces him in battle. In an interview, Korzhev said the painting was not inherently political. 'I depicted a heroic act common to all mankind, not a specific action of a communist,' said Korzhev. "Personally I share the ideas of communism, therefore I called the painting the way I did, but the painting itself isn't about communism, it is about a heroic act. The flag could be any color.'"

Steve Rogers' working vessels

"Steve Rogers," Gallery 1683, Annapolis, MD. Through Nov. 18.

Steve Rogers, a painter and model boat builder is a member of the American Society of Marine Artists, has painted many of the working vessels of the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays, as well as those of the Maine seacoast. Janice F. Booth reports in The Capital: "With names like 'Quiet Cove,' 'Girdletree at Oyster Point' and 'Red Neck and Gizzard,' Mr. Rogers's work often focuses on sturdy skipjacks or crabbers. Shore grasses, water and sky wrap these sturdy vessels in lush color and light. Under Steve Rogers' practiced brush, the rusty gunwales and marred hulls take on the dignity of wizened elders. He explains that his paintings 'capture the toughness and durability of everyday working boats and the sheer beauty and stark terror of the weather and waters they work in. I've always painted,' said Mr. Rogers. 'I paint what interests me, and I am amazed that people want to buy the paintings ... I'm definitely of the Brandywine School of Painting ... American realism.'" Mr.Roger's work will be exhibited in the The Rahmi M Koç Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. The museum is dedicated to the history of transport, industry and communications.

November 11, 2007

Julie Mehretu returns to Detroit

"Julie Mehretu: City Sitings," Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI. Through March 30.

Julie Mehretu, born in Ethiopia and raised and educated in Michigan and Rhode Island, explores the unwieldy issues of mobility, social organization, political entanglement, and global competition in her large abstract paintings. Mehretu is interested in the lifespan of cities--how they are built, dismantled, and rebuilt over time, yielding structures and spaces that reflect ongoing urban change. Her paintings follo
w the same process. As she layers and erases information from her compositions, each new level becoming a foundation for new iterations, stories, and identities. Five of the paintings, completed specifically for this exhibition, demonstrate her preoccupation with multiple, often conflicting, viewpoints.

In the NYTimes, Hilarie Sheets interviews Mehetru in her NYC studio.
“I’m interested in looking backwards in time, and putting the United States’ behavior in the world right now and the coming together of the European Union as a fortress in a context and history of behavior,” Mehretu said. “It’s also looking back at who you are as an individual. You’re not just this person who’s from your own specific experiences, but the collective experience of what makes you who you are because of time.”

Note: On Nov. 23 the Detroit Institute of the Arts will reopen to the public after big expansion designed by architect Michael Graves. The curators have rehung the museum's entire collection in an effort to attract a wider audience. At a recent fundraising gala, the patrons seem pleased with the $158 million overhaul.

November 10, 2007

Mark Greenwold's small-scale painterliness

Mark Greenwold: A Moment of True Feeling 1997-2007,” D C Moore Gallery, New York, NY. through Nov. 10 (today).

Mark Greenwold's tiny paintings, which he works and reworks, can take up to a year to complete. He says spending so much time looking at and thinking about a single work is a form of resistance against much contemporary painting, which he feels mostly emphasizes large scale gesture.

In The Brooklyn Rail, John Yau reports: "If other artists working in a highly comprehensive way, particular in the exploration of fantastical situations (Julie Heffernan or Scott Hess, for example), fall far short of Greenwold’s achievement, it’s because he is neither programmatic in what he does, nor is he interested in delivering messages to the viewer. For one thing, he isn’t just after images; he also can convey the nubby feel of a terrycloth bathrobe, the smoothness of patent leather shoes, the stiff curly hairs of a hirsute body, the soft spikiness of a cat’s fur, the fragility of insect wings and the hardness of their barbed legs. The combination of touch and sight is just one of the many disquieting pleasures his paintings offer. Despite his combinations of things both of this world and not of it, the paintings never devolve into any sort of literalism, metaphor, allegory, morality tale, social commentary, personal anecdote, or transcendent or uplifting moments. These scenes are loaded, but they are not—and this is especially true of the work of the past decade—stories. In fact, their resistance to assimilation is very much what they are about."

In the NYTimes, Roberta Smith reports: "The painting’s surfaces and abstract tangles provide respite from what Mr. Greenwold, in the catalog’s self-interview, aptly calls his art’s 'emotional cubism' (using the critic James Wood’s phrase). As the eye boomerangs from face to face, trying to make sense of things, the surfaces invite (and reward) a concentration very much like the one that created them. This small-scale painterliness, encountered where a pristine glasslike surface might be expected, keeps Mr. Greenwold’s art fresh, as does his sharpening of the tensions always at large in figurative painting. The point is that no art style or medium is ever over. It may be on life support or in remission, but resuscitation is always possible, often using techniques that are among the oldest in the books." Read more.

November 9, 2007

Grant Barnhart at OKOK in Seattle

"Exact Change: Paintings by Grant Barnhart," OKOK Gallery, Seattle, WA. Through Jan. 3.

Although this article is mostly a profile of OKOK owner/director Charlie Kitchings, Regina Hackett includes a bit about Grant Barnhart's exhibition, which opens tomorrow. "Painting in oils with his hand and drawing in graphite powers and solvents with a brush, Barnhart is an everything-all-at-once artist. His cacophonies cohere without narrative or central structure. In their exuberant sweep, they ransack art history to engage the present moment. The artist most ransacked is Robert Rauschenberg, whom Barnhart notes anticipated and welcomed this kind of recycling when he said, 'I always have searched for a point of view that a participant could change.' In studying reproductions of the original everything-all-at-once artist, Barnhart found a structure for his own loose-limbed, painterly adventures. Each painting in 'Exact Change' is a specific tribute to one of Rauschenberg's, although with the exception of 'Happy Ending,' none immediately evokes the source." OKOK is dedicated to showing work by painters who are committed to and understand painting, not multimedia artists who might use paint at some point.

At art blog Dangerous Chunky, Carolyn Zick previewed the exhibition. "I found the work lively. His strength is revealed via a deft hand at illustration, counter balancing the 'post' expressionist use of materials." Check out Barnhart's website to see more of his work.

November 8, 2007

Homework assignment: Art Blogger Survey, Part II

The entire survey can now be found at Homework assignment: Art Blogger Survey.


November 7, 2007

Is it animated painting...or painterly animation? (Helpful links to videos included.)

"Animated Painting," curated by Betti-Sue Hertz. San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, CA. Through Jan. 13.

Is it animated painting...or painterly animation? You decide. SDMA presents 25 videos by 14 artists who have used traditional painting and drawing methods as the basis and inspiration for digital animations.
While some artists maintain the practice of painted, drawn and handmade images , others work with live action sources and then digitally recode them into painterly language. Artists include the Barnstormers, Sadie Benning, Jeremy Blake, Sebastián Díaz Morales, Kota Ezawa, Ruth Gómez, William Kentridge, Ann Lislegaard, Takeshi Murata, Serge Onnen, Julian Opie, Wit Pimkanchanapong, Qiu Anxiong, and Robin Rhode. I've linked the artists names to online videos and/or infomation about their projects. Check out the short preview at SDMA's website. Note to artists: if there are better sites to view your work, send me an email with the info and I'll update your link.

In the Union-Tribune, Robert L. Pincus reports: "
Works of the kind seen in 'Animated Painting' will never replace paintings or drawing themselves any more than videos have. But they can give the picture a different life, with new possibilities for artist and audience. In a sense, these films are a fulfillment of the Renaissance model, which viewed advances in technology and rational knowledge as vital to art. You have to think Da Vinci would have embraced the fusion of film and drawing. But like Kentridge, Qiu and some of the other artists in this show, he would have wanted the fusion to embody the mysteries of existence, too." Read more.

In the LA Times, Leah Ollman speaks with curator Betti-Sue Hertz. "Animation in the commercial industry and mainstream media is permeating everything, more and more." Hertz said. "If you turn the TV on, pretty much every commercial is a combination of live action and animation. It's in the mainstream culture on a daily basis, and artists are saying, 'What can I do with these techniques, these technologies? How can I push them into a more subtle language?' " Read more.


Rosemarie Beck(1923-2003) in NYC

"Rosemarie Beck: Paintings, Abstraction into Figuration, 1952-1966," Lori Bookstein, New York, NY. Through Dec. 1.

In the NY Sun, John Goodrich reports: "
Rosemarie Beck (1923–2003) enjoyed early success working in an Abstract Expressionist vein, but it left her unfulfilled. Her 10 paintings at Lori Bookstein show the intriguing progression of her work in the '50s and '60s, as it evolved toward the figurative, narrative-driven work of her later years....Beck's colors became more varied, and her forms more distinctly defined. 'Robert' (1965) is especially appealing — a fortuitous blending of careful method and eager observation. 'Studio with Lovers' (1965–66), too, boasts lively rhythms, though its complex meshing of opaque forms shows the intellectualizing tendency — of both compositions and subjects — that would increasingly mark her work. To my eye, the mythological scenes of her later years sometimes show literary impulses overwhelming purely artistic ones, but the paintings now at Bookstein catch the artist at a poignant point, when the act of representing was itself a wonder." Read more.

November 6, 2007

Crime-obsessed Walter Sickert's paintings of prostitutes

"Walter Sickert: The Camden Town," curated by Barnaby Wright. Institute of Art Gallery, London. Through Jan. 20.

In the Telegraph, Richard Dorment reports: "Reacting both to the slick academic nudes exhibited at the Royal Academy and to the tepid Impressionism of artists associated with the New English Art Club, Sickert developed a gritty, tactile art, which caught the look of people living hand-to-mouth. Applying opaque oil paint with slashing, stabbing brushstrokes, he makes us aware of the weight and texture of coarse skin and flabby stomachs, sagging breasts, and massive thighs. Sickert never allows us to see the faces of these women because to do so would be to grant them an identity, and therefore humanity, that the prostitute's client would not see....Sickert followed with fascination the lurid coverage of the murder and its aftermath – the arrest and then acquittal of Robert Wood, the only suspect. This was the beginning of a series of paintings which we know today as the Camden Town Murders. Once again, each canvas shows a nude woman lying on an iron bed in a sparse room – but now she is joined by a clothed male figure seated beside her or standing above her."

Martin Gayford writes that these are "wonderfully sleazy images, of naked women and clothed men in dingy London rooms. When first exhibited, they were described by The Observer as 'the utter depravity of a particularly unsavoury phase of life.' In that respect these pictures, and Sickert's other Camden Town Nudes, could be said to fall into a grand British tradition. From Hogarth to Tracey Emin, squalor is a mode at which British artists have long excelled."

Isabella Kirkland's species studies

According to the NYTimes science blog Dot Earth, blogger Andrew C. Revkin examines efforts to balance human affairs with the planet’s limits. Supported in part by a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, Mr. Revkin tracks news from suburbia to Siberia, and conducts an interactive exploration of trends and ideas with readers and experts. In a recent post, Revkin examines Isabella Kirkland's Taxa series. "Isabella Kirkland, from Sausalito, Calif., has created a remarkable series of 3-by-4-foot canvases, called Taxa, on the history and future of biology. The six paintings, each of which took about a year to create, memorialize species that have vanished from the planet during the ascent of humans; those that are finding new niches as humans spread plants and animals around the globe; those collected or harvested illegally or too aggressively; American species in decline; and — most hopefully — animals and plants that were thought to be extinct, or on the brink of vanishing, but have come back. They are done in a style that might best be described as a mix of Dutch Master and 'Where’s Waldo?' They are full of hidden things worth looking for." Visit Ms. Kirkland’s website, where you can zoom into the canvases to look at individual species, with a detailed key alongside. She is represented by Feature, Inc. in New York.

November 4, 2007

Toledo in Princeton

"El Maestro Francisco Toledo: Art from Oaxaca, 1959-2006," organized by the Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts at the University of Texas at El Paso. The Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ. Through Jan. 6.

Dan Bischoff reports in The Star-Ledger: "Toledo is a later generation modernist. He turned away very early in his career from the overtly political art, often expressing intense socialist values, that predecessors like Rivera and Orozco championed. Drawing on family fables and 16th-century Spanish natural histories, Toledo helped reinterpret much of the Zapotec symbolic universe for modern times. That's why his work involves a menagerie of animals, many of them not quite what the Europeans conceive of as beautiful, like toads and iguanas, scorpions, rabbits, bats and so on. Often these animals are engaged in violent or sexual acts, and they are not entirely creatures from Zapotec lore (animals from the works of Franz Kafka or Georges Bataille also put in iconographical appearances), but his work has a Native American-style focus on nature. Animals in this tradition are more than a lens held up to experience -- they are forces in nature, in their own way representations of human nature, too." Read more.

Gabriel de Saint-Aubin drawings at the Frick

"Gabriel de Saint-Aubin," curated by Colin B. Bailey, Kim de Beaumont, and, from the Louvre, Pierre Rosenberg, and Christophe Leribault. Frick Collection, New York, NY. Through Jan. 27.

This exhibition includes fifty drawings and a few paintings and etchings that range in subject from ancient history to portraiture to the decorative arts, and include the images of contemporary Paris for which Saint-Aubin is best known. Ken Johnson reports in the NYTimes: "Because Saint-Aubin’s drawings are so unclassifiably diverse, it is easier to say what they are not than what they are. They are not romantically wistful like drawings by Watteau. They’re not solidly realistic like Chardin’s, morally instructive like Greuze’s or lubricious like Boucher’s. What his drawings have is a nonstop graphic liveliness, an extraordinarily sensuous way with materials and a hypersensitive alertness to the real world....Many of Saint-Aubin’s works are so subtly made and so full of minuscule details that they can be fully appreciated only with the help of magnifying glasses, which the Frick thoughtfully provides. Technique, however, is not the main attraction. The beauty of his work is not just in how tiny he could make things but also in how much formal, representational and poetic complexity he could compress onto a page....The delight he found in the act of drawing is still wonderfully infectious." Read more.

November 3, 2007

Homework assignment: Art Blogger Survey

At Grammar.police, Kriston Capps invited art bloggers to answer the questions Peter Plagens formulated for his Art in America roundtable discussion about art blogs: "Of course the great advantage to the blogosphere over print media is its boundlessness," Kriston writes. "After reading the Art in America roundtable on art blogs by Peter Plagens, my one complaint—beyond the fact that the article isn't available online—is that a Plagens's questionnaire really calls for a survey."

Although this post falls outside Two Coat's relatively narrow focus on painting, here are my answers to the Plagens questions.

What's the purpose of your blog?
I started Two Coats of Paint because I was interested in exploring and sharing art criticism from regions other than my own. Each day, I read through my bookmarked sites for worthwhile reviews and articles about painting. I used to print them out and store them in a three-ring binder. Eventually I realized that other people might welcome a digest of painting criticism, especially painters, painting students, collectors and curators, so I started Two Coats of Paint. [UPDATE, January 2010: In retrospect, I realize that I started gathering these articles as a way to assuage my doubt about painting's relevance--I'm fascinated by artists who believe wholeheartedly in the process of painting. In effect, Two Coats of Paint is part of my art practice, a journalistic undertaking, and also a community for painters and art wirters.]

What are the boundaries of your blog?
Two Coats posts excerpts from articles about painting and related topics such as drawing and printmaking. I’m drawn to articles that offer insights into the notion that painting is a lifelong process. I don’t make posts about painting thefts, auction prices, the art market, acquisitions, musical chairs among museum administrators, museum expansion projects, or other business-related items. I do have a penchant for the odd “celebrities who paint” stories, and tales of long lost painters who re-emerge after painting in obscurity for thirty years. I try to maintain a diverse mix in terms of location, gender, race, and age.

Joy Garnett's NewsGrist blog as doing a great job of "placing art within a sociocultural and political context." What I see on NewsGrist is a magazinelike interspersing of short profiles, exhibition reviews, op-ed pieces on how other people are covering things, and Village Voice–like political takes. Why are blogs in general better positioned than print to do what he describes?
I’m not sure it’s quite that simple. Placing art within a sociocultural and political context has mainly to do with the writer, not the medium. Blogs and the web may afford the well-qualified writer with a more expeditious and versatile vehicle for disseminating his or her ideas and gleaning a wide range of reactions to those ideas, but the substantive input has to originate with the blogger as opposed to the blog.

Why can't blogs go further, to the point where there's hardly any discernible difference between artist and critic/commentator, blog and work of art?
Blogs can go further, to the point where the skill and nuance of the syntheses that they provide may converge on art itself. A great art critic like, say, Arthur Danto, occupies a place in the art world that arguably rises near that of an Ellsworth Kelly or an Andy Warhol. But I think there will always be some distinction between the two insofar as the reporter/critic must always depend on artists to provide the raw material – the fodder – for his or her collations and deeper reflections. And again, how closely the blogger approaches the status of artist depends on the individual blogger’s skills, talent, and interest in turning the blog into an art project, not the medium per se.

What scope and degree of editorial control do you exercise over your blog?
I completely and exclusively control the content of my blog. Having said that, I have some help with editing and research. My husband, a non-fiction writer and experienced editor, sometimes edits the longer pieces, and contributes ideas for posts. He is keenly interested in art but doesn’t have a background in it, so sometimes I think he’s baffled as to why some stories make the cut and others don’t. Still, he often finds well-written articles out there that I’ve missed.

What about posting comments from readers, and what about anonymity?
TCOP doesn’t post comments because my purpose isn’t to engage in a fluid, ongoing conversation with the readers. Instead, my mission is to gather interesting reading material in one place and make out-of-the-way articles more accessible. (Note: TCOP added a Comments feature in February 2008)

What's "trolling," and why don't some of you allow it?
I don’t have comments, so I have no firsthand experience with trolling.

Is trolling really so easily identified and universally bad? Is having posters register a solution?
See above.

What about liability coverage?
I’m trying to raise painting’s visibility in a digital world, help under-recognized artists, and provide an engaging read for painters and a good virtual hang for those interested in painting. Since I always give credit to writers, liability doesn’t seem to be an issue. I've had artists and writers send me thank-you notes for including their work (or commentary about it) on TCOP.

What's the economic model of your blog?
I’m used to working compulsively and intuitively for little compensation. Accordingly, my economic model is essentially that of an artist: I work long hours, and if anyone appreciates my effort, that’s good. When I finally put a stat counter on my site, I was genuinely surprised at how many people were actually reading the blog. Maintaining Two Coats provides a distinctive existential clarity; I’ve grown intellectually and in some ways emotionally attached to the process, even without direct monetary compensation.

How do you see your blog's relation to the established print art media?
Clearly Two Coats of Paint relies on the print and online media to provide content. I suppose my editorial model would be something along the lines of a daily online Utne Reader for painters and painting aficionados – that is, a highly selective filter for existing published articles which I think would engage that audience. At the same time, I think my own point of view will become more pronounced in the presentation of blog material, and plan to include more of my own commentary.

What's the relationship between your blogging and your work in the print media?
Without Two Coats, which I started in May 2007, I wouldn’t have been writing articles at all. I’ve had two articles published this fall, one in The American Prospect and one in The Brooklyn Rail. They addressed subjects outside Two Coats’s relatively narrow scope, and by publishing them in other journals, I hoped they would raise the visibility of the blog, which they have. (Update: In January 2008, I became a contributing writer at The Brooklyn Rail, and in 2009, began writing for the New Haven Advocate.)

How do you attract readers/posters other than by word of mouth?
Most of Two Coats’s readers fortuitously stumbled upon the blog when searching for an artist or critic. Others found the blog through links on other people’s sites. Participating in the Blogger Show in New York and Pittsburgh, publishing articles elsewhere, and posting comments on other bloggers’ sites have all helped build Two Coat's readership. Mentions in Regina Hackett's blog and Charlie Finch’s slap-down of art bloggers on artnet also raised the site's profile.

In general, is blog art criticism more open and liberal, and print criticism more closed and conservative?
The unedited, immediate nature of blogging encourages impetuosity and therefore leads to some pretty brutal criticism, if that's what you mean by "open and liberal." Take a look at PaintersNYC for an example. Every few days, the blog posts a single image of a painting that is currently in an NYC gallery show. A group of regulars and a few stray visitors then have a go at the artist/artwork in the comments section. It’s horrifying but at the same time entertaining, like watching a hurricane on the weather channel. At any rate, I'm sure being the featured artist must be painful. (Update: PaintersNYC is on indefinite hiatus.)

Some people say that there's a dearth of art criticism at length on blogs. Is this true? If so, does it have more to do with reading on a computer in general, or with art criticism in particular?
Perhaps the most salient reason art criticism is shorter on blogs is that for bloggers, maintaining the blog is a second (or third) job. I would love to write more commentary and reviews, but forging well-written criticism takes more time than posting a few links to worthwhile articles. I am a artist and professor as well as a blogger, so my time is divided and all the more limited for each task.

Art magazines come out once a month. Newspaper art reviews usually appear once a week. Blogs appear more or less daily, and sometimes have updates by the hour. Do you think that the faster pace of blogs will start to affect the pace of art-making.
The introduction of computers has increased the pace of art-making for many artists, but I don’t think the faster pace of blogs will have much effect on how artists work. Unless, of course, it's to make the pace slower. Some artists get sucked into the blogosphere and neglect their artwork.

Is there more good art being made by more artists in more places than at any time in history? And if so, what's the reason?
I would agree that there is more art being made today, and the main reason is that the art market is so robust. But I wouldn’t say that the art is palpably better – or worse – than it has been in the past simply because I don’t think the judgment as to quality can be made on a day-to-day basis. In my view, the merit of an artist’s work has to be determined in the context of a path of personal artistic development that requires years to take shape. What the artist has made this week doesn’t seem like a sufficient basis for assessing quality, at least not on any deeper level. Many of the young artists working today won’t continue making art if/when the art market crashes. And many will give up art-making altogether when they turn thirty because the benefits yielded by the artist’s life are so often more elusive than those from other vocations. Only rarely will an artist whose career is severely truncated enrich an aesthetic or alter it in some enlightening way.

Do blogs help correct the geographical bias in print art criticism, i.e., the tendency to think that most of the important stuff happens in New York or Los Angeles, and the difficulty of art outside those places to get national attention?
The blogosphere makes it easier to promote art and artists who are working outside New York and Los Angeles, but since the art market isn’t developed and collectors haven’t been identified and cultivated in those areas, all the publicity in the world doesn’t necessarily translate into sales or an exhibition in NYC or LA. Most of the under-recognized artists who continue making art into their thirties and forties have teaching positions, independent wealth, or a talent for and dogged commitment to grant-writing or inventive self-promotion. Finding a way into the market from an outside position is tremendously difficult.

One index of a city's gravity as an art center is young artists—perhaps recent MFAs—from elsewhere coming to set up shop. Is that happening in Philadelphia and Portland?
The enduring dilemma faced by art school grads is this: Do I go to New York or LA where living expenses are high and I have less time to make art, but a better opportunity to make gallery contacts? Or do I stay in a less expensive area where I’ll have more time for art-making, but fewer opportunities for making gallery contacts? It’s a tough one and everyone has to answer it for themselves. If they go somewhere like Pittsburgh, where the housing is cheap, the artist density is thick, and exhibition opportunities are plentiful, artists will probably be tied to their day jobs for years to come because art collectors are scarce.

Is there any constructively negative edge to your blogging and, if so, what is it?
The only negative edge to Two Coats of Paint is that I like the odd snarky article about, say, Damien Hirst or other overrated art stars like Jeff Koons, for whom making art seems to have become big business rather than an authentic calling. I also like to poke fun at celebrities who take up painting to make a buck. I don’t think it’s necessarily constructive, but it amuses me.

Let's throw something back into the mix: naked human ambition.
The name recognition and goodwill that well-crafted blogs generate may translate into access and opportunity, and it would be disingenuous for me to claim that such prospects were not elements of my motivation for undertaking the blog. But even if I wind up one of those artists who dies with three thousand paintings stashed in the attic, being part of the dialogue about painting would have been worthwhile in and of itself.

Where will your blog be in three to five years?
In three to five years, I hope to be writing more reviews and commentary, curating shows, and continuing to paint. I've just been invited to contribute occasional reviews to a regional blog called Connecticut Art Scene. I’m not sure how Two Coats will fit in, but I’ll maintain the blog until it seems like a burden.

Shepard Fairey in London

"Frank Shepard Fairey: Nineteeneightyfouria," StolenSpace, London. Through Nov.25.

On the occasion of Fairey's inaugural London exhibition, The Guardian reporter Alex Rayner talks to scoundrel, chief propagandist and provocateur Shepard Fairey, creator of the ubiquitous "Andre the Giant" stickers. "What sets Fairey apart from other graffiti fanatics is the scale of his Giant campaign. The Andre image predates most other street-poster graffiti artists and Giant heads have been plastered up in Japan, Russia, Italy and Paris, as well as numerous sites throughout the UK and the US. Even British stencil artist, Banksy, cites Fairey as an influence. 'I think he really liked how prolific I was,' says Shepard, seated in the Brick Lane warehouse which will serve as his gallery. 'When he travelled almost anywhere, he'd see my stuff, and he knew that it was mostly me putting it up.' He puts some of his determination down to an unfortunate source. 'I'm diabetic,' Fairey says. 'I'm probably going to die 15 to 20 years before most other people. So, it's just the meaning of life thing: what does it all mean?' The wiry 37-year-old then laughs a little, before adding: 'it means nothing!'" Read more.

German history paintings: Dix, Grosz, Beckmann, Meidner and Steinhardt

"Allemagne, les Années Noires," or "Germany: The Black Years," organized by Annette Vogel and Bertrand Lorquin. Musée Maillol, Paris. Through Feb. 4.

In the NYTimes, Alan Riding reports: "It can be argued that Impressionism killed off historical painting, and with it the tradition of portraying military victories on canvas. Yet the genre was not quite dead. Early in the 20th century history painting made another appearance in art, and this time, stripped of glory and heroism, war was finally shown in all its ugliness....For four years, Europe’s soldiers pummeled one another mercilessly. And the artists among them were trapped in the mayhem... 'Allemagne, les Années Noires,' makes a different point: that the most prominent of these war artists — Otto Dix, George Grosz, Max Beckmann, Ludwig Meidner and Jacob Steinhardt — were all German....Cheerful stuff it isn’t. And if the aim of these artists was to use the past to warn about the future, they evidently failed: by 1937, most of them had fled Germany, and their work was on display in Hitler’s infamous exhibition of 'degenerate' art. Yet many decades later, their art still carries a punch, their pacifist and humanist message somehow transcending Germany’s 'black years' to remain relevant. In that sense they have been vindicated in their belief that artists have social and political responsibilities. On the other hand, it is that very conviction that dates them. "

November 1, 2007

Mysteries of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is overflowing with non-profit galleries. Due to the availability of generous funding from the Carnegies, Mellons and other industrial barons, these galleries don’t need to sell the art to make a buck. I’m not sure that’s a good thing for the local starving artists, but it explains why Pittsburgh is awash in digital media and installation projects. The website for the Mattress Factory Art Museum, touts “art you can get into — room-sized environments, created by in-residence artists.” Artists are encouraged to apply by submitting examples of previous work but not to lodge specific proposals. MFAM prefers that the artists respond to their surroundings during the residency, kind of like an extended, cerebral improv night at a local comedy club.

During a recent visit to deliver work for the Blogger Show at Digging Pitt Gallery, I was fortunate to see MFAM’s three permanent 1983 James Turrell light installations. The pieces, which were created specifically for MFAM, seem to pose eloquent spatial and aural mysteries about the character of human perception. Also on the itinerary was "Elusive Signs: Bruce Nauman Works With Light," featuring some of Nauman’s pre-1985 neon pieces, at the Warhol Museum. Although the pieces are amusing and provocative, they aren’t nearly as resonant as his later video work.

After a day spent listening to voiceovers, ambient noise, and other sound installations, I was glad to stumble upon a quiet show of contemporary Australian Aboriginal paintings at the downtown gallery Space. Although the dotted patterning associated with Aboriginal art goes back thousands of years, it wasn’t until 1971, when a schoolteacher suggested that the sand painters experiment with acrylic paints, that Aboriginal artists began painting on canvas. The abstract paintings, made by the artists from a town called Utopia, are informed by traditional stories and creation myths of the Aboriginal people. At first glance, the paintings all look the same, constructed with a simplified language of line, dot and short brush stroke, but within this common language, each artist’s work reveals an idiosyncratic distinctness. Molly Pwerle’s muddied colors and heartbreakingly irregular lines; Susie Hunter’s bright, cartoonishly playful flower patterns; and Gloria Petyarre’s assuredly consistent, undulating patterns all suggest something intimate and unique about the individual artists and their daily experience. This was the biggest painting show in town, and it was organized by the Robert Steele Gallery – a commercial gallery from New York, which represents all the artists in the show. The implication may be that local painters lack local support.

Exhibitions:
“New Works from Utopia,” organized by Robert Steele Gallery, NY. Space, Pittsburgh, PA. Through Dec. 31. Reviewed by Kurt Shaw in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Our Way, Contemporary Aboriginal Art from Lockhart River,” curated by Sally Butler at the University of Queensland. Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY. Through from Nov. 16. Reviewed by Nicole Cotroneo in the NYTimes.

"Elusive Signs: Bruce Nauman Works With Light," curated by Joseph D. Ketner at the Milwaukee Art Museum. The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA. Through Dec. 30.

“James Turrell,” Mattress Factory Art Museum, Pittsburgh, PA. Permanent installation.

"The Blogger Show," Organized by John Morris and Susan Constanse. Digging Pitt Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA. Through January 12.