December 31, 2007

Michael Craig-Martin: U is for Cynic

"Michael Craig-Martin: A is for Umbrella," Gagosian Gallery, London. Through Jan. 31.

In The Observer, Rachel Cooke writes that Craig-Martin has been turning out work that is repetitive, mundane and just a tiny bit cynical. "Craig-Martin has never stopped being interested in the meanings we invest in quotidian objects: the hope is that by reducing them to a set of formal characteristics, we are better able to scrutinise these meanings. The problem is that I, for one, am getting pretty sick of these objects. I'm bored, too, of his 'when is a chair not a chair?' routine. In the Gagosian show the paintings in the first room form what you might call an alternative nursery primer. 'A is for Umbrella': do you see what he did there? Against flat backgrounds of Blackpool rock colour, the artist has reproduced his familiar outlines: a lightbulb, a belt, a sandal, a metronome. Over these he has then painted a single letter or, more often, a short combination of letters that spells out a word: GOD, SEX, WAR. These groupings appear to be arbitrary and, thanks to the way they're painted (overlapping, and in such dazzling hues), it takes a while to work out what makes up each one. But even once your list is complete - on Untitled (War) 2007 are the letters W, A and R, and the outlines of a sandal, a belt and an umbrella - what have you got? The gallery notes (as yet no catalogue is available) witter bravely on about 'narrative tension' and the 'relation between line and colour, word and image', but this is just a stab in the dark. These paintings defy analysis: Craig-Martin's only point is that he does not have one. Once, he turned glasses of water into oak trees; now, it seems, he turns gallerists and critics alike into masters of invention." Read more.

December 30, 2007

Joe Amrhein still in Florida

"Joe Amrhein: New Work," Red Dot Contemporary, West Palm Beach, FL. Through Jan. 5.

In today's Palm Beach Post, Gary Schwan's audio Art Lesson! column features Joe Amrhein's painting Infinity, 2007. "Amrhein is a former sign painter who runs a Brooklyn art gallery when he's not painting bold pictures that usually deal with words. Pompous words of the type often produced by writers for the major art magazines. This painting is a departure in that he's dealing with numerals — namely the numbers 1 through 9. The picture retains an in-your-face brashness of the type associated with, well signs. But the rhythmic composition and under-drawing is more painterly than his other word-based constructions in the show " Hear the audio.

Remembering Robin Utterback

"Remembering Robin Utterback," curated by Clint Willour. Galveston Arts Center, Galveston, TX. Through Jan. 5.

On March 30, 2007, well-known Houston painter Robin Utterback was pronounced dead after being pulled from a fire at his studio. Later police learned that Utterback had actually died from multiple stab wounds inflicted by his partner, Cliff Gaylord, who threw himself under a train later that same day. "Remembering Robin Utterback" is a tribute to this legendary Houston painter. In the Houston Chronicle, Lisa Gray reports that "the exhibition tries bravely to wipe out the particulars of Utterback's death, to make people forget the lurid tragedy and remember the brainy art. Clint Willour hung the show chronologically, with several works representing each of Utterback's different periods. You see the big fields of color, the focus on lines, the period when he deconstructed the canvas and painted on strange twisty shapes with holes, so that wall behind them shows through. There are no new works from the estate — Willour didn't want the show to seem like a sales pitch — so the show ends with the Strasbourg faces from 2004 and 2005. For the show's catalog, to be published later, Houston Museum of Fine Arts curator Alison de Lima Greene has been wrestling with those faces' meaning: What was it that moved Utterback to recognizable shapes? She can't be sure, but she believes she understands them now. Plague ravaged Strasbourg in the 1300s, and the city's art is full of demons that signify disease. She thinks Utterback may have seen those works as a metaphor for AIDS, the plague that in the 1980s and '90s decimated his own circle of friends. More specifically, she thinks Utterback must have seen Strasbourg's old wheat-grinding mills, where flour chutes were decorated with grotesque masks. Those floury, ghostly faces were supposed to ward off disease and scare evil away." Read more.

December 29, 2007

Cranch's transcendental landscape paintings at the Lyman Allyn Museum

“At Home and Abroad: The Transcendental Landscapes of Christopher Pearse Cranch,” curated by Nancy Stula. Lyman Allyn Art Museum, New London, CT. Through Feb. 24. Travels to the Newington-Cropsey Foundation, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, NY, March 17 through May 31, 2008.

Despite a fifty-year career as a landscape painter, Christopher Cranch’s paintings are little known. Instead, he is best known for his poetry and his ties to the New England Transcendentalists. Like Thoreau writing of the daily trials of life on Walden Pond, Cranch attempted, in his landscapes, to express the correspondence between nature and deeper spiritual concepts. At the Lyman Allyn, a small regional museum in New London, CT, housed in a charming Neo-Classical building designed by Charles A. Platt, curator Nancy Stula has organized a comprehensive show of Cranch's work. In the NYTimes, Benjamin Genocchio reports that Cranch's paintings, although grounded in transcendental theory, are hard to differentiate from those of his peers. "American Transcendentalism was a spiritual philosophy that emerged in New England in the early 19th century. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were among its disciples. At its core was a belief in the possibility of direct access to the divine through nature, without any kind of mediation from the church, prophets or the Bible. Nature itself, it was believed, was a kind of perfect spiritual state. As a landscape painter, Cranch ventured out into nature in search of the miraculous, something that would touch his soul. He began painting romantic mountain vistas with lonely frontiersmen in the manner of the great Hudson River School painters Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand and Frederic Edwin Church, with whom he often exhibited his paintings in major group shows. Durand, in particular, was an early mentor and guide. Ms. Stula argues in the exhibition catalog that 'what distinguishes Mr. Cranch’s landscapes from those of other American landscape painters is that his paintings can be seen as a visualization of transcendental philosophy.' I am not sure about this statement, for given that Cranch’s paintings are often so similar to those of his peers, it can be hard to tell one from the other. What properly distinguishes Cranch, it seems to me, was the explicit desire to have his nature paintings seen as a visualization of the divine." Read more.

December 28, 2007

Jacob Lawrence: Painting as aesthetic object or historic narrative?

Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series: Selections From the Phillips Collection,” Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY. Through Jan. 6.

Undoing the Ongoing Bastardization of ‘The Migration of the Negro’ by Jacob Lawrence,” Triple Candie, New York, NY. Through Jan. 20. Slide show.

This exhibition, originally organized by the Studio Museum in Harlem but presented at the Whitney for conservation reasons, includes seventeen panels from Lawrence's sixty-panel Migration Series, and is being written about more for what's not in the show than for what is. The tempera panels portray the flight of more than six million African Americans from the impoverished communities in the rural South to the industrial cities of the North. Years ago, the original sixty panels were split between the Phillips Collection and the Museum of Modern Art. Moma got the even numbers, and Phillips the odd. Triple Candie, protesting how the museums split up the series, is presenting reproductions of the entire series, which was last seen in its entirety at MoMA in 2001. This is the first time all the images have been shown together in Harlem. In the NYTimes, Holland Cotter writes that both exhibitions are worth seeing. "One outstanding reason to visit the 'Migration' show at the Whitney is to see it in the context of another of the museum’s current exhibitions: the Kara Walker retrospective. If you want an immediate sense of Lawrence’s far-reaching influence, here it is, in the work of a brilliant younger artist who has taken his narrative impulse, in all its dynamic complexity, in innovative directions. ...And there are two good reasons to visit the Triple Candie show: It presents the complete 'Migration of the Negro' series, or a version of it; and it shows it in the Harlem neighborhood where Lawrence created it, a neighborhood that became predominantly African-American as a direct result of that migration. I was just as moved to see the series in reproduction there as I was to see it complete in its original form at the Whitney six years ago, if for different reasons. What’s more real, after all, art or the feeling of it? History or the telling of it? Medium or message? We know the conventional market wisdom. It’s important to have the alternative." Read more.

Related posts:
Kara Walker's racy cutouts arrive at the Whitney
Blogger/art dealer Edward Winkleman's take on splitting the series and the Triple Candie response.

Carousing with the Ashcan School boys

Life’s Pleasures: The Ashcan Artists’ Brush With Leisure, 1895-1925,” curated by James W. Tottis. New-York Historical Society, New York, NY. Through Feb. 10. Artists include Robert Henri, John Sloan, William Glackens, Everett Shinn, George Luks, George Bellows, Jerome Myers, Guy Pene du Bois, Walt Kuhn, Edward Hopper, and Rockwell Kent.

John Sloan’s New York,” Museum of the City of New York, New York, NY. Through Feb. 24.

The artists of the Ashcan School liked to have fun. They dined in fancy restaurants, hung out at McSorley’s men's tavern, went to the theater, the circus, and trips to Coney Island. Teddy Roosevelt was their hero. In the NYTimes, Ken Johnson reports that these two exhibitions of Ashcan art depict the old New York they loved. "In 1916 a staff member of the socialist magazine The Masses objected to the insufficiently high-minded 'pictures of ashcans and girls hitching up their skirts on Horatio Street' by Sloan, George Bellows and others of the Henri circle that illustrated the magazine. Elevated or not, the Ashcan painters were drawn to what they saw as the vitality of the lower classes. Bellows’s 1907 painting 'Forty-two Kids,' in which a gang of mostly naked boys swims off a decaying Hudson River pier, is not an indictment of poverty but an anti-academic celebration of unsupervised freedom, spontaneity and play. Favoring a brushy, gestural application inspired by the paintings of Hals, Velázquez and Manet, the Ashcan artists were action painters who mirrored the flux of reality with the flux of their brushwork, and, sometimes, by intensifying light and color. See, for example, Shinn’s extraordinarily luminous paintings of theatrical productions....

"In 1913 disaster struck the Ashcan School in the form of the Armory Show, which, by introducing European avant-gardists like Picasso, Matisse and Duchamp to America, caused the near-total eclipse of native realism.
If Ashcan painting looks like a dead end today, we should not forget that it gave birth to two indisputably great American painters: Edward Hopper and Stuart Davis. It might also be said that the Ashcan spirit returned in Abstract Expressionism, a movement that favored visceral action over aesthetic refinement. Willem de Kooning’s famous line — 'I always seem to be wrapped in the melodrama of vulgarity' — could have been the Ashcan motto."Read more.

December 27, 2007

Gopnik asks why: John Alexander retrospective at Smithsonian American Art Museum

"John Alexander: A Retrospective," curated by Jane Livingston for the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC. Through March 16.

In the Washington Post, Blake Gopnik takes aim. "We've all come across actors too fond of their thespian skills. They rage when their characters are mad, wail when they're supposed to be sad and turn every hint of an accent into a Meryl Streep moment. The pictures of John Alexander, a 62-year-old Texan long based in New York, overact in just that way. Almost 70 of them are now on view in Alexander's first retrospective, which recently opened at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and will go on to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Alexander's frantic vision of the Crucifixion, titled 'Go Jesus Go,' is aflame with lashings of golden paint slapped down over midnight blue. It's less a true nightmare than a bad dream after chili....I'd place Alexander somewhere up there among the 5,000 or so best artists in the country. Which is more than enough to justify his continuing to paint and collectors' continuing to buy him. What I don't understand is why our national art museum, with such limited exhibition slots and an already iffy reputation for its contemporary programming, would want to highlight such a secondary figure. Alexander has barely had a significant museum show since the early 1980s, when his good friend Jane Livingston first displayed him at the Corcoran, where she was a talented chief curator. Livingston, now working freelance, also organized this show; her boss at the Corcoran, and again for the current survey, was Peter Marzio, now director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. By curating Alexander into our national museum, Livingston is billing him as one of our next Gilbert Stuarts, Edward Hoppers, Jackson Pollocks or Jenny Holzers." According to Gopnik, that's more than Alexander's modest talent can bear. Read more.

Burgoyne Diller's polite abstraction

"Burgoyne Diller and Hard-Edge Abstraction: Underpinnings and Continuity," Spanierman Gallery, New York, NY. Through January 5. Along with examples by Diller, the exhibition includes art by Karl Benjamin, Ilya Bolotowsky, Lorser Feitelson, Alexander Lieberman, Helen Lundeberg, Howard Mehring, Leon Polk Smith, and Angelo Testa.

In the 1930s, Burgoyne Diller, influenced by Mondrian, Kandinsky and other early adopters of abstract painting in Europe, played an influential role in the development of abstract painting in America. As head of the mural division for the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project from 1934 to 1938, Diller promoted abstraction as a unifying language of optimism and equality. In the NYSun, James Gardner finds the Spanierman show historically inaccurate, but charming nonetheless. "Seeking to plump up the art historical heft of a largely forgotten American master, the Spanierman Gallery would have us believe that Diller was essential to the genesis of the hard-edge abstraction that emerged at the end of the 1950s....Hard-edge abstraction, associated pre-eminently with Barnett Newman, was a reaction to the so-called gestural abstraction that had dominated the New York School since the end of World War II....In the work of Burgoyne Diller (1906–65), as well as in that of several other artists in the Spanierman show, it is surely possible to find a comparable degree of geometric severity. But in their effects and in their relation to the previous history of art, these paintings are very different from the hard-edge abstractions of Newman and his many followers....Both factions of the New York School — the gestural and the hard-edge — parade a self-confidence, an almost ornery self-assertiveness, that is practically ill-bred compared with the shy, Dutch introspection of Mondrian (and his American followers). That is to say, there are a lot of right angles both in Diller and in Newman, but if they are largely academic in Diller, in Newman they acquire a new and almost polemical force." Read more.

Mala Iqbal's radiant calamity at PPOW

"Mala Iqbal: Washed Away," P.P.O.W, New York, NY. Through January 5.

In The Village Voice, RC Baker's picks this week include Mala Iqbal's garishly vivid, Disneyesque landscapes. "Imagine Max Ernst's 'Europe After the Rain' (a corrosive 1942 painting conjuring the shattered landscape and psychological devastation of World War II) spray-bombed with Day-Glo colors—that will give you some idea of Iqbal's dazzlingly painted vistas. Or picture the Summer of Love four decades on, all its psychedelic energy and bubbly hope curdled by pollution, acid rain, and global warming. The title of the seven-foot-wide ' In Sight of Coconino' (2007)—which features a sky as livid as a lava flow, yellow mountains formed from blocky graffiti letters, and a lake of fluorescent acrylic drips—references the classic comic strip ' Krazy Kat;' perhaps Ignatz Mouse and Offissa Pupp will escape the coming storm in the little blue boat painted near the center of the canvas....But don't let Iqbal's drips, splatters, sprays, and brushy pyrotechnics fool you into thinking you're watching a Bob Ross landscape tutorial on LSD (rather than PBS); her techniques create canny compositions in which blurred contours serve as both animator's focus-pull and effusive abstraction. The warring moods—environmental armageddon? FEMA apocalypse? bootleg Disney?—feel just about right for our age of calamitous abundance." Read more.

December 26, 2007

85-year-old Grace Hartigan shows new work in Baltimore

"Grace Hartigan: New Painting," C. Grimaldis Gallery, Baltimore, MD. Through January 5.

In the Baltimore City Paper, Kate Noonan reports that Hartigan continues to explore familiar themes in her paintings of brides, starlets and reinterpretations of famous portraits from art history. "In addition to the art-historical paintings that dominate the exhibition, Hartigan continues to progress with other ongoing subjects, including the icons first portrayed in her series of paper dolls inspired by Tom Tierney's book 'Glamorous Movie Stars of the Thirties.' In 'New Painting,' she raises questions about racial and sexual stereotypes by depicting several actresses who were celebrated for their 'exotic' sensuality. Two dynamic images of minority women draw you in with their bold colors and dripping surfaces. The crimson and gold-washed 'Maria Montez' conjures the fiery sensuality of a hot-blooded Latin seductress, while the nude tones that compose 'Josephine Baker' allude to the former burlesque performer's erotic 'Danse Sauvage.' The graphic quality of the outlined figures and their names emblazoned on solid-colored backgrounds recall art deco advertisement posters, but as with her art-historical interpretations, Hartigan asserts her presence by undoing the precise flatness of the surface. By allowing paint to drip down the canvas, Hartigan creates an effect that is at once sultry and sinister, marring the perfect beauty that brought these women fame in their own time." Read more.

Marion Majori's close-up of Chuck Close

"Chuck Close," produced, directed and edited by Marion Cajori. Directors of photography, Mead Hunt, Ken Kobland and David Leitner; song “Portrait of Chuck” by Philip Glass, performed by Bruce Levingston; released by Art Kaleidoscope Foundation. Film Forum, New York, NY. Running time: 1 hour 56 minutes. Check out a "brushcam" Quicktime movie of Close applying paint.

"Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration" organized by the Blaffer Gallery, the Art Museum of the University of Houston, has been traveling around the country since 2003. Now CC fans can see this compelling documentary-film portrait of Close's own life. In the NYTimes, Matt Zoller Seitz reports. "This film lets Mr. Close frame the highlights of his life and career, including his upbringing in strait-laced 1950s Monroe, Wash.; the pivotal role he played in the 1960s and ’70s downtown art scene; the spinal-column blood clot that landed him in a wheelchair in 1988 and made it difficult to paint without mechanical aids and help from assistants; and his struggle to create innovative, significant representational paintings in an era when photography seems to have rendered such art irrelevant. More mesmerizing, however, is the attention that Ms. Cajori, who died in August of 2006, devotes to Mr. Close’s process, which entails blowing up photographs by way of a grid system and rerendering each section as a huge, abstracted square. The technique somehow combines uncanny intimacy and intellectual distance, much like Ms. Cajori’s splendid movie, which captures Mr. Close at work via a combination of probing close-ups of paint-daubed canvas and wide shots that situate him within his work space." Read more.

Related post:
Close Scrutiny

December 24, 2007

Words Smith loves to hate

In the NYTimes, Roberta Smith takes issue with current art jargon, particularly the newly fashionable use of the word "practice" to describe the artmaking process. "When it comes to fashionably obtuse language, the art world is one of the leading offenders. Academic pretensions flash through like brush fire, without a drop of cold water splashed their way. 'Reference' and 'privilege' are used relentlessly as verbs, as in 'referencing late capitalism' or 'privileging the male gaze.' Artists 'imbricate' ideological subtexts into their images. Some may think such two-bit words reflect important shifts in thought about art, but they usually just betray an intellectual insecurity.... Another lamentable creeping usage is not only pretentious, but it distorts and narrows what artists do. I refer to — rather than reference — the word practice, as in 'Duchamp’s practice,' 'Picasso’s studio practice' and worst of all, especially from the mouths of graduate students, 'my practice.' Things were bad enough in the 1980s, when artists sometimes referred to their work as 'production,' but at least that had a kind of grease-monkey grit to it. The impetus behind practice may be to demystify the stereotype of the visionary or emotion-driven artist, and indeed it does. It turns the artist into an utterly conventional authority figure." Read more.

December 22, 2007

Painting reviews from the North Pole

"Emmy Skensved," Greener Pastures Contemporary Art Gallery.Through Jan. 13. "Nada Sesar-Raffay: Swing," Edward Day Gallery.Through Jan. 6. "Lynne McIlvride Evans: Tourists Welcome--A Chapel of Recent Paintings," David Kaye Gallery. Through Dec. 23.

Snarky Gary Michael Dault reviews these Toronto painting shows in the Globe and Mail. Note to last-minute shoppers: The Globe and Mail thoughtfully includes price ranges of the artwork along with the exhibition information.

Excerpts from Dault's reviews: "Emmy Skensved's pictures are built upon a vivacious embrace of the decorative - upon her obvious fondness for ornate borders, for sweeping curves purloined from baroque, rococo, and Empire styles), for pattern, and for abrupt contrasts between graphic congestion and openness. By pouring her acrylic pigments (she works almost solely with black and white) directly onto glass and letting them dry there, she can then slice into the pigment and, having cut out a cartouche or a length of filigree, can carefully lift that segment of limp paint from the glass and position it upon the canvas. By repeating this process, she gradually builds up her often dazzlingly complex pictures - to the point where they look infinitely more assembled or constructed than just painted."

"The good part is that Nada Sesar-Raffay paints like an angel. The bad part is that she paints like an abstract-expressionist angel. Sesar-Raffay piles the colour on and swirls it madly about and, for some reason or other, it doesn't go all muddy and turgid, as might have happened in less capable hands, but remains so hot and fresh, it's almost fragrant. A big painting like the incendiary Wild Kiss, for example, is 24 inches high and 96 inches wide, and it writhes toward you as if it were a heaving thing about to engulf you in its endless heat."

"The title of Evans's exhibition is an intriguing one: Tourists Welcome. Its subtitle, A Chapel of Recent Paintings, is not, however, quite so endearing. 'I am interested in the relationship between worship and tourism,' the artist writes in her gallery statement, 'and the physical barriers churches sometimes use to keep the tourists out of sacred spaces.' Two really good subjects, the first infinitely more so than the second."

Pard Morrison bakes pigment in Denver

"Pard Morrison: 50 Ways to Fall in Love," Rule Gallery, Denver, CO. Through Jan. 5.

Pard Morrison, who says that the fusion of surface and medium in his paintings is a metaphor for the human condition, describes his work as a hypothetical conversation between Donald Judd and Agnes Martin. In the Denver Post, Kyle MacMillan says it's a defining show for Morrison, and reports that we should keep our eye on him. "With this smart, sophisticated body of work — 24 pieces in all — this major young talent has arrived. He has become, quite simply, one of the states' top abstract artists. While his basic working method remains the same — color pigment baked onto aluminum — Morrison, to his credit, has matured beyond earlier pieces that consisted primarily of long bands of color on groups of horizontal or vertical bars. Unlike those previous pieces, which were constraining and a bit forced in their way, these new offerings use the full spectrum of colors and an array of subsets thereof and incorporate a much richer array of compositional structures. Morrison served as an assistant to famed minimalist painter Agnes Martin and was significantly influenced by her in many ways, including his titles, such as 'Love Prayer' or 'You're So Lovely,' which are distractingly sentimental verging on cloying." Read more.

December 20, 2007

Per Kirkeby at Michael Werner

"Per Kirkeby: New Paintings," Michael Werner, New York, NY. Through Jan. 19.

Per Kirkeby is interested in relationships: between nature and architecture, matter and light, abstraction and metaphysics. In this exhibition of 10, 3 x 4 foot, paintings, all made in the last two years, he continues the exploration. In the NYSun, Stephen Maine reports. "Preventing these paintings from becoming a parlor game is their earnest sense of investigation. Repeatedly, the viewer's attention is returned to the pictorial mechanics of the representation of form and of space. The nature of the image is inconclusive, even evasive, since the mark of Mr. Kirkeby's brush can suggest crinkly bark, or a rippling river, or ruts in a dirt road. They don't try too hard to please. They have a take-it-or-leave-it insouciance. Mr Kirkeby prefers not to sew things up, but lets rough marks stand alongside each other unfinished and unresolved. He compensates the viewer for this hurried, harried facture with a newly expanded, darkly radiant palette. Though the paintings are presented as a series, the show avoids the tedium of 'seriality' for its own sake, engaging a wide expressive range that brings to mind the efforts of other painters to come to grips with a particular motif. In the early 1890s, Monet painted numerous views of a stand of poplar trees along the bank of the river Epte and there found a rigid but satisfyingly contrapuntal compositional structure with which he experimented, in his epochal manner, with the optically dematerializing effects of variously filtered light. Mr. Kirkeby is not Monet, nor even a Monet for our time. He doesn't use much white, and dirt, not light, is his thing. So he digs, with an admirably workmanlike focus and self-criticality." Read more.

Charles Shaw's precisionist geometries

Charles G. Shaw,” Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY. Through Dec. 22.
Manhattan Modern: The Life and Work of Charles Green Shaw, ” Archives of American Art, New York, NY. Through Feb. 7.

Roberta Smith reports in the NYTimes. "Like his writing, Shaw’s paintings paddle serenely through various painting genres, among them, Synthetic Cubism, Surrealism-tinged biomorphic abstraction and a more straight-edged, planar variety related to De Stijl and Precisionism. His colors feel filled in and fresco thin; their shapes often seem to hang like starched laundry from drawn lines that stretch edge to edge. Despite his numerous debts, Shaw managed to make some styles his own, and never more than when his work became cautiously physical. In 'Polygon No. 34,' a painted wood relief from around 1937, he starts out in the vicinity of Jean Arp, another friend, but his fluttery white shapes overseen by a sunlike red disc form a distinctly American landscape. At the same time he expanded one of his Precisionist geometries outward to the edges of a stepped panel, making one of the earliest shaped abstract paintings in this country, although it also resembles a Sienese altarpiece." Read more.

What's a drawing anyway?

"Drawing the Line: 20th Drawing Show," selected by Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons. Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts, Boston, MA. Artists include Cree Bruins, Lana Z. Caplan, Matthew Cleary, Mark Epstein, Gonzalo Fuenmayor, A. Jacob Galle, Jenine Haard, Robert Hernandez, Annie Heisey, Yasemin Kackar-Demirel, Jason La Croix, Jeffrey Marshall, Lior Neiger , Bob Oppenheim , Dave Ortega , Marilyn Pappas, Mia Pearlman, Evelyn Rydz, Pat Shannon, Jennifer Schmidt, Leslie Schomp, Michelle Samour, Jill Slosburg-Ackerman, Nancy Murphy Spicer, Maxine Yalovitz-Blankenship.

In the Boston Globe, Cate McQuaid applauds the nerviness of the show, but thinks some of Campos-Pons' choices cross the line. "Juried shows can be haphazard; this one, featuring work by 26 artists, hangs together well, and despite a few missteps, the work is generally engaging. But the inclusion of certain pieces - particularly a handful of videos - seems beyond cheeky. To me, drawing must include a gesture made by hand. A couple of animated videos may fall under the gestural umbrella, but A. Jacob Galle's '4.11.04 ice cutting,' a grainy, black-and-white video of a guy chopping ice out of a frozen lake, doesn't cut it. Jennifer Schmidt's three-channel digital video installation 'Tulipomania/Everquest' features a montage of photos of tulips and tulip motifs; occasionally, an emblem of the flower appears on all three screens, as if you've a hit the jackpot. This piece has nothing to do with drawing. I also question Cree Bruins's installation of black-and-white photos, mounted like piano keys on the wall, each depicting a notched strip of blank film. It's a clever, jazzy piece, but it's not a drawing. Matthew Cleary's poured-paint installation is eye-catching, but it's a painting." Read more.

December 18, 2007

Merlin James' elusive architecture

 Merlin James, Yellow Roof, 2007, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 21.875"

Merlin James, House and Tree, 2007, acrylic on canvas, 25.875 x 26 inches

Glasgow-based Merlin James' small architectural paintings invite various associations – domesticity, industry, nostalgia. The mix or alternation of functionality and ornament, and the reference to models or source images, create resonances with the artificial structuring and 'building' of the paintings themselves. In The Village Voice, RC Baker compares James' paintings to an old favorite, Albert York. "Rarely more than two feet on a side, James's paintings depict various structures absent any activity—a stone viaduct traverses a gorge, muggy light blurring the heavy arches; a twilit office building casts a triangular shadow into a vacant lot. In 2007's 'Yellow Roof,' the bright colors of what might be a carnival attraction have been dryly dragged across the canvas, finding harmony with the gray sky. James achieves real drama by sometimes shifting hues over rough textures, the colors implying one shape, while the underlying surface suggests another form already occupying the space. For inspiration, this Glasgow-based artist uses small-scale models cobbled together from studio detritus, passages cribbed from other painters' backgrounds, and buildings glimpsed in old photographs. Like Albert Pinkham Ryder (or, more recently, Albert York), James paints scenes that remain compellingly elusive even when you're looking right at them."

"Merlin James," Sikkema Jenkins, New York, NY. Through Jan. 12, 2008.

December 17, 2007

Recommending Beverly Ress

On the art blog Working, Amy Wilson, on a break from writing a stack of recommendation letters, wonders why her talented friend Beverly Ress isn't an artworld big. In a 2007 art review for the Baltimore City Paper, Deborah McLeod described Ress's work. "These meticulous colored-pencil drawings float on expanses of white paper and share the paper's large open fields of emptiness with corresponding cutouts," she wrote. "Connected through a paper umbilical cord to its originating opening--which, importantly, is not severed during the process--the released cutout reaffixes to the page, made sculptural through the artist's folding and bending techniques.... Ress' visual product is an equally miraculous event in and of itself." Wilson, who has known Ress for several years, in writing her letter, remembered how much she loved Ress's work. As she sat writing the letter, she began asking questions that artists who have representation rarely ask. "Why the hell am I even writing this letter, anyway? Shouldn’t they just give her the job flat out because her work is so amazing? Shouldn’t she be writing letters for me instead of vice versa? She’s a woman (yes, I think this has a lot to do with it); she lives outside of NYC; her work doesn’t photograph well; her work is minimal and sedate although it often takes on difficult (ie, not-so-pretty) subjects; her work hovers between various formal boundaries of sculpture/installation/drawing which make it difficult to fit into the marketplace. She’s also just a really nice person who - while she’s really smart and articulate and certainly no pushover - isn’t a forceful schmoozer. She’s just a nice, normal person who cares deeply about her practice and it’s really annoying that somehow that’s not enough for her to be a big shot." Read more. Check out images of Ress's work for yourself at

For Benjamin Edwards, progress is a hollow concept

"The New Future," curated by Kristina Bilonick . District of Columbia Arts Center, Washington, DC. Through Jan. 13. Artists include Urban Scout, Jade Doskow, Jo Wonder, Benjamin Edwards.

In Washington City Paper, Kriston Capps zeroes in on lone painter Benjamin Edward's cynical vision of the future. "Outwardly, Benjamin Edwards’ world looks pleasant enough. Sure, the traffic’s a bitch: His geometric-abstract paintings portray dense grids of bustling avenues of flying symbols, crisscrossed by boulevards of floating patterns. But as crisp and clean-looking as his urban landscapes are, they reflect the artist’s cynicism about the world around him. 'I lump the utopian and the dystopian together, into one category,' says Edwards, 37.... Edwards’ work certainly fits the show’s title. If anything, his cityscapes—based on models he creates using 3-D modeling programs and other software—appear to suggest the distant futures of science-fiction cornerstones like Blade Runner or Minority Report. But the artist stresses that he’s addressing present-day reality. '[The work] has a sci-fi flavor to it because the aesthetic is hyperbole or exaggeration,' he says. 'But that’s how I feel the world really is, whether we see it or not.' The varied, colorful elements in Edwards’ works become further transformed and distorted in his final paintings based on the digital images, and his separation of source objects from their meaning speaks to his central thesis, inspired by the work of political philosopher John Gray: Is progress now just a hollow concept, lost in so much noise?" Read more.

December 15, 2007

Painting Miami green

Exactly one week ago I was grabbing yet another cup of coffee in Miami, wondering how I could get to all the fairs before my Sunday mid-morning flight. The answer, of course, was I couldn’t. I saw a stunning number of good paintings by unfamiliar artists from all over the country, and left feeling as though I’d missed truckloads more. Most of the galleries couldn’t have been more gracious and helpful, especially at Aqua, Aqua Wynwood, and the spunky upstart Fountain. Thanks also go to Flow organizer Matt Garson who invited the first annual Art Blogger Miami Beach cohort to convene during the Curators' Brunch in the Flow lobby. If you didn’t make the fairs this year, plan to go in 2008 (book your room now) because most of the Miami fairs are all about painting. To see jpeg proof, check out Joanne Mattera’s art blog and Kriston Capps’ Flickr page. Once I get the experience in perspective, I'll craft a longer essay that may run in the February edition of The Brooklyn Rail, where I've signed on to be a regular contributor. Admittedly, all the fairs are mainly about commerce and volume rather than a refined aesthetic, and seeing a recent Ellsworth Kelly hanging in Matthew Marks' crowded booth was mildly disturbing (I kept wondering if EK, notoriously particular about how his art is installed, knew one of his paintings was hanging in a cubicle), but overall I came away energized, with many ideas for future projects.

December 14, 2007

Yau on Reed

"David Reed," Max Protetch, New York, NY. Through Dec. 22.

This is Reed's fifteenth solo show with Max Protetch. In the Brooklyn Rail, John Yau defends Reed against critics' who derogatorily label Reed an old-fashioned Color Field painter. "There are a number of reasons that I can think of as to why Smith, Saltz, and others have problems with Reed’s paintings. They don’t look like anyone else’s paintings; they aren’t surrogates, citations or parodies, which, at some basic level, suggest that they possess the quality of originality. And since originality is dead, this aspect cannot even be acknowledged, much less discussed. Serious painters who believe in painting, however problematic, have all the status of a leper in today’s art world, and those who believe that they are the 'healthy' ones are often quite smug about their position." Read more.

IMHO: Richard Prince and the American girl

In the Dec/Jan issue of The Brooklyn Rail, read my essay on visiting the Richard Prince Show at the Guggenheim.

"I spent Black Friday in the city with my nuclear family. I wanted to see the Richard Prince show at the Guggenheim, but my eight-year-old daughter Lena was not keen on the idea. She’s a clever girl, with a fine instinct for negotiation. My husband and I eventually agreed to take her to FAO Schwartz if she’d go to the Guggenheim. In retrospect, it was like a specially curated double feature for the biggest shopping day of the year, exploring Americans’ mysterious and intimate relationship with desire.

"Having navigated swarms of well-heeled people through displays of plush-toy pit bulls, Barbie paraphernalia, larger-than-life stuffed animals with $5,000 price tags, and survived the inevitable Festival of No that accompanies any shopping trip with Lena, we arrived at the museum around 3 PM. We adults were eager to proceed unimpeded to Mr. Prince’s snide riffs on pop culture. But the ticket seller, noticing our small companion, raised an eyebrow and pointed to the sign on the counter warning parents that some of the content may not be appropriate for children. If Lena had been reluctant to see the 'Richie Prince' show originally, now she was curious.

"We started at the top and wound our way down. When we got out of the elevator, Lena looked over the rail. This was her first visit to the Guggenheim, but she appeared to have divined Mr. Prince’s prankster spirit when she asked what would happen if she spit on the people below...." Read more.

December 13, 2007

Fetching Freud's etchings

"Lucian Freud: The Painter’s Etchings," curated by Starr Figura. Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY. Dec. 16 through Mar. 10.

The press release says the exhibition presents the full scope of Freud's achievements in etching, including seventy-five examples ranging from rare, early experiments in the 1940s to the large and complex compositions created since his rediscovery of the medium in the early 1980s. At amNew York, Emily Hulme reports that Freud's portraits, both the paintings and etchings, are intimate and frank. "The works can verge on grotesque; his nudes are particularly shocking. Depicting both men and women in states of recline, the works give no thoughts to the comfort of the viewer. Imperfect, blemished bodies are presented with no apology. The images aren't pretty, and there's an awful lot of genitalia on display here, but the overall emotion elicited isn't revulsion, but wonder. His gaze is unflinching out of a commitment of honesty to and intimacy with his subjects -- who are, after all, his mother, his daughter, his friends and other people important to his life." Read more.

On Artnet, querulous Charlie Finch suggests that the show, well, sucks. "The show consists of one painting per room surrounded by inferior etchings, based on said painting, done from life on the easel, probably by some intern at MoMA last week, but purportedly by Freud. I won’t embarrass the elite galleries who shipped this product into MoMA by naming them, but Marie-Josee and Henry Kravis made a point of glad-handing the crowd of nobodies at the opening, so I guess someone was having trouble unloading this trash at the gallery level. Back in 1991, no respectable New York gallery would touch Lucian Freud, because he was considered a self-involved hack who could neither think, paint or draw with any facility. Then, New York art dealer Brooke Alexander did a courageous show of miniature Freud self-portraits at Brooke’s Wooster Street space which led to a reconsideration." Read more.

In the NYTimes, Roberta Smith admits that the show has a few dead spots, but finds it riveting nonetheless. "Tough as Mr. Freud’s paintings are, his etchings are somehow even starker, more raw and brutal. They bring the violence of his rendering style closer to the surface. Compared with the loamy explorations of Mr. Freud’s paintings, the etchings might almost be X-rays. The best show us sides of the image, like scaffoldings that have been partly draped with nets — often hallucinatory patches of lines, gouges, hatching and crosshatching. The frenetic marks lead lives of their own while somehow also coalescing to imply flesh, features and expression, in varying degrees." Read more.

In the NYSun, Lance Esplund's review is mixed. "Mr. Freud early on began to pursue, and to be seduced by, marks and effects in his work, rather than building form. And if his work is any indication, he usually cannot tell the difference between the two. Swirling lines and heavy crosshatchings in his prints and the crusty buildup of lumpy paint in his oils suggest a hardwon eccentricity — a workman ethic and an expressionist angst that are immediate and physically present. His most common subjects are distorted, misshapen, seemingly scarred portrait heads with pig noses, and 'Naked Portraits' — obese female nudes and naked, sprawling, spread-eagled men lying with dogs or abandoned on couches as if on sinking ships. The pictures suggest that the artist was getting at the heart of existential matters. His marks, however, no matter how agitated or thick, often merely scratch the surface or actually collapse the forms they mean to build or describe — an hypocrisy that is increasingly felt the more impastoed and disturbed the marks." Read more.

And Karen Rosenberg, also at the NYTimes, avoids the skirmish and suggests that William Feaver's hefty, $138 volume, "Lucien Freud," might be a good addition to your Christmas list. Unless, of course, you're celebrating with Charlie Finch.

Janice Biala retrospective at Tibor de Nagy

"Biala: I belong where my easel is..." Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, NY. Through Jan. 5.

Janice Biala (1903–2000), Jack Tworkov's kid sister, lived and painted among the art and literary intelligentsia in New York and Paris for over sixty years. In the NY Sun, John Goodrich suggests that a little attention is long overdue. "Biala lived in the company of remarkable artists and writers. Spanning nearly 40 years, the paintings and mixed-media collages now on view at Tibor de Nagy Gallery reflect her unpretentious pleasure in her visual surroundings: the street scenes and monuments of France, Spain, Italy, and Morocco. Her admiration for Matisse shows in her simplified descriptions and planes of bright but subtly adjusted colors....All of Biala's paintings seem touched by a tough ingenuousness — never sentimental or naïve, but slightly nostalgic in their playful intimacy. Suffusing them is the outlook of a painter who has found what she needs and knows what she wants to do. The results glow with a wondrous candor." Read more.

December 12, 2007

Skuodas reverberates in Cleveland

"Audra Skuodas: Reverberation," 1point618 Gallery, Cleveland, OH. Through Dec. 21. See images of Skuodas's earlier work at Moti Hasson Gallery.

Skuodas continues her delicate exploration of the tension and attraction that maintain the cosmic order. In the Cleveland Free Times Douglas Max Utter, waxing poetic about the six 5' x 6' paintings included in the show, reports that Skuordas presents bright hymns to the human spirit. "During the past 40 years, Oberlin-based artist Audra Skuodas has contemplated the nervous edge of self as it fits quivering into a vision of cosmic energy, tinted and tainted by history. Over the years her solitary, willowy human figures have seemed to depict Skuodas herself, or perhaps a spiritual twin, floating like the curling melody of a slow song across a staff of thin, wavering lines. Very often this visual music takes place on long, horizontal or vertical sheets of vellum, stretched out like arms reaching toward a distant time or place, upward to an elusive, universal tune. They're about loss and longing, presence and origins, about loneliness, hunger, beauty, dreaming and what it means to unfurl emotions like damaged flags into the breeze between worlds. Her current show at 1point618 Gallery, Reverberation, evokes music, physics and the fragile dance of human personality in about equal proportions." Read more.

December 11, 2007

More Pattern & Decoration in Hartford

Post Dec: Beyond Pattern and Decoration,” Joseloff Gallery, University of Hartford, West Hartford, CT. Through Dec. 23.

Joseloff Gallery presents work of the original P&Ders from the 70s and 80s along with work by artists who incorporate the P&D sensibility in their work today. In the NYTimes, Benjamin Genocchio, who recently lambasted the P&D show at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, appreciates the sense of irony in the newer work. "The selection of work also points up differences between the contemporary interest in color, pattern and texture and the works of the Pattern and Decoration movement. In fact, the contemporary artists in the show seem to have a very different sort of inspiration, stemming from the fact that, unlike their 1970s peers, they are not reacting against anything — pattern is ubiquitous in contemporary visual culture; just another tool with which to make art. No wonder, then, that a sense of irony, even parody pervades the use of pattern and decoration in the contemporary works. Mr. Tomaselli incorporates marijuana leaf motifs into his decorative arrangements, while Eduardo Sarabia makes exquisitely painted pots and vases that look like boring old ceramics until you realize that the imagery is topical, violent and erotic. We are a long way here from a reaction against the austerities of minimalism." Read more.

The blessed and the damned

In The Times, Olivia Cole reports that Spanish painter Lluis Barba unveiled his version of Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights at Art Basel Miami Beach. "So what could be more easy on the eye than a 21st-century reworking of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights? Painted in 1504, with three panels showing the Creation, Earth and finally a tortuous, flesh-rending Hell, it is perhaps one of the most terrifying paintings of all time. At this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach – an art supermarket patronized by millionaires – the Spanish painter Lluis Barba unveiled his version, which features artists, friends and stars alongside Bosch’s original legion of the blessed and the damned. It is, apparently, a comment on the art world." Read more.

December 10, 2007

Schjeldahl on Lucas Cranach the Elder

"Lucas Cranach the Elder," Städel Museum, Frankfurt, Germany. Through Feb. 17. Slide show.

As an antidote to all the reports on contemporary art and the art market in Miami, check out Peter Schjeldahl's essay in The New Yorker on the Cranach retrospective in Frankfurt. Cranach's work, which was painted back in the 1500s during tough times of the religious Reformation, speaks to contemporary audiences. "There are contemporary tangs to this most bewildering paragon of a cohort which included the Leonardoesque Albrecht Dürer and the dazzling Hans Holbein the Younger. Cranach was a sometime religious revolutionary and a full-time entrepreneur. In his work, early strains of late-Gothic blood and guts give way first to courtly high styles, then to pictorial propagandizing for the new theology of his friend Martin Luther—even as, strangely, Cranach continued to oblige Roman Catholic clients. (Those were intricate times.) He rivalled Dürer and Holbein in portraiture, and he developed product lines of delirious erotica and hilarious genre scenes. Buyers seemingly couldn’t get enough of his 'ill-matched couples;' fatuous geezers or crones acuddle with gold-digging babes or young bucks. With a prolific workshop, so well coached that its authorship can be hard to distinguish from his own, and with businesses in real estate, publishing, and a liquor-licensed pharmacy, Cranach became one of the richest men in the Lutheran stronghold of Saxony. He was three times the mayor of Wittenberg. As an artist, he siphoned his era’s chaotic energies into wonderments of style. His re-visionings of humanity are philosophically resonant and lots of fun." Read more.

December 5, 2007

Florida artists, slouching toward Miami

The art-buying hordes have descended on Miami for Art Basel Miami Beach. Artists from Miami and neighboring communities are torn. Is it an opportunity to expose their work to a wider audience, or is it an unwanted intrusion to be scrupulously avoided? Ashlee Harrell of the New-Times Broward Palm Beach presents a roundup of artists who have decided to participate. "Some artists, with no gallery to call home, have rented houses in South Beach, and one insolvent artist even plans to wander the fair in homeless garb as a piece of performance art. The themes of the artists' works don't seem to follow any particular pattern, though at least one masterpiece screams, 'I was created in South Florida.' That would be the painting with the lifelike vagina, and the dildo set up alongside it, meant for literally fucking the art. Other works explore the macabre, the link between crashed cars and life obstacles, the mentality of an athlete, the historical connection between hallucinogenic plants and religion, and, yes, the horror of ABMB itself." Read more.

For daily coverage of ABMB, check out these excellent (and often hilarious) art blogs: Art Fag City and C-Monster.

What's in Warhol's time capsules

In the Telegraph, Warhol Museum archivist Matt Wrbican reveals that, of the 610 capsules, only 19 have been fully cataloged; 91 have been inventoried; and 40 or so have been peeked into, with notes made of their more interesting contents. All the rest are still unopened, kept in the vast, climate-controlled storage room. Thanks to a $650,000 grant by the Andy Warhol Foundation, the digital cataloging of the entire collection has begun. Three full-time archivists will spend the next three years painstakingly opening up and going through all the remaining boxes. Read more.

The Guardian's Ed Pilkington watches as capsule # 350, dated October 1983, is opened. "There was a moment of intense expectation as he used a scalpel to cut through the tape. Inside was an envelope stuffed full of used stamps, a German magazine marking the 20th anniversary of JFK's assassination, and a sampler for Maxwell House with the coffee granules still in the sachet. So far so ordinary. More evocatively, there was a poster advertising the opening night of the club Limelight, and a flyer for a party at Studio 54. Buried further into the box was a biography of James Dean by Warhol's friend David Dalton, and a copy of Lionel Richie's album Can't Slow Down, still in its cellophane wrapping. Not the most vintage time capsule, perhaps, but redolent enough of some of Warhol's preoccupations in the early 1980s. A richer catch is TC 64, one of the first to be fully itemised and studied. The box contains entries spanning a 10-year period from 1961 to 1971, several of which are highly charged. There is an invoice from MGM records from 1969 that gives that year's earnings for the Velvet Underground and Nico: $8,935.29. And there is a get-well card from Edie Sedgwick, Warhol's then close collaborator, after he was shot at close range in June 1963 by a hanger-on at the Factory called Valerie Solanas. 'Darling Andy,' Sedgwick writes. 'I was horribly upset to hear how you were severely injured. I am saying prayers for you. Don't know how much good they do, but at least you will know I care, and care tremendously.'" Read more.

Eva Lake's "Richter Scale" rocks Portland

"Eva Lake: Richter Scale," Augen Gallery, Portland, OR. Through Dec. 29.

Carolyn Zick at Dangerous Chunky raves over Eva Lake's new show in Portland. "Eva Lake’s exhibit is called "Richter Scale," and with good reason. The paintings optically bounce off the wall as you enter the gallery. After having had the pleasure of following her work through a few years, this is definitely Lake’s strongest body of work to date, and there is a lot of it. Contained in 12"x12″ panels are luscious colors each fighting for your attention - assembled in a variety of configurations across the walls....Eva has said she is aiming for each work to be an actual experience, and the live wire contrasting color combinations found in each panel do come alive. Electric is a good adjective to describe what surrounds you as you stand in Augen’s front gallery, and gorgeous is another - this is a painter who knows the depths of saturation." Read more.

December 4, 2007

Stegner's hot cops at Bellwether

"Jansson Stegner," Bellwether, New York, NY. Through Dec. 22.

In ArtCal Zine, Joshua Johnson reports that Stegner has left behind the brushwork and personal touch seen in his previous work in favor of something more aloof. "Stegner’s subjects, police officers, are portrayed in a mannerist style, lounging in ideal naturalistic settings. That mannerism is one of the first notable features of this work, and its historical pedigree lends his paintings their conceptual heft. The sixteenth century mannerist period dovetails nicely with the current state of the art world in the midst of high American imperialism — the printing press revolutionized media, commerce was expanding on a global scale, and the changing religious environment led to political and cultural strife. Art was changing too; the classical canon was abandoned, and artists began to stress intentional distortions. Arguably, we face a similar situation today in which the modernist canon has been abandoned for post-modern...Stegner’s brush no longer seems to battle with his characters, but historicizes them with a sense of psychological detachment. Throughout the show, Stegner maintains a singular format, his hot cops lounge idyllically, alone, their gaze averted and introspective. These figures betray their humanity and our self-recognition. Looking at these pictures might feel like looking at a display case in the Museum of Natural History: the animal has been stilled in a pose that only mimics the life it once had."

Paul McCartney and Mark Wallinger news

According to This is Nottingham, Sir Paul McCartney has become obsessed with Jan Vermeer's painting "The Guitar Player." English Heritage, who owns the painting, told Paul that the painting isn't for sale at any price, but if it were, art expert Bart Cornelis said it could be worth more than £50 millon. Apparently Paul, a well-known art collector, paints, too, but hates being called a "celebrity painter." In 2002, when the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool presented "The Art of Paul McCartney," his professed aim was not to win critical acclaim but to further his artistic and creative output by getting a little feedback. And, by the way, speaking of celebrity artists, last night artist/actor Dennis Hopper presented Mark Wallinger with the $50,000 Turner Prize at the Tate Liverpool gallery. Accepting the award, Wallinger urged the government to "bring home the troops. Give us back our rights. Trust the people." He said his project, "State Britain," a meticulous re-creation of Brian Haw's anti-war protest in Parliament Square, was the best thing selected this year, and thus felt no obligation to feign humility.

Related posts:
Dylan's show at the Kunstsammlungen
Musicians who paint

December 2, 2007

Ellsworth Kelly film arrives in Boston

"Ellsworth Kelly: Fragments," produced by Edgar B. Howard and Jo Carole Lauder, directed by Edgar B. Howard and Tom Piper. Distributed by Checkerboard Film Foundation. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA. Showing Dec. 13, 16, 19, 22, 29.

Since the beginning of his career, Kelly's emphasis on pure form and color, and his impulse to suppress gesture in favor of overall spatial unity have played a pivotal role in the development of abstract art in America.
This hour-long documentary elucidates the complexity of Kelly's work. In following Kelly as he revisits the Paris of his early twenties, the film uncovers early influences that became leitmotifs he would return to, reiterate, refine, and re-work for decades to come. Insightful commentary is provided by scholars and critics including Robert Storr , Anne d'Harnoncourt , Alfred Pacquement , Ann Temkin and Roberta Bernstein. In the Boston Globe, Cate McQuaid reports that it's not the usual biopic, but rather focuses on Kelly's art."Howard lets the building blocks of Kelly's aesthetic tumble through the film with a kind of brio and seeming randomness that match the artist's working style. It's only toward the end, when Kelly takes us to Chartres and points out the rotating orientation of the square panels in the cathedral's north rose window, that we see a line tying so many of Kelly's own slightly spinning, squarish paintings together across the decades." Read more.

Related post:
"Ellsworth Kelly: Fragments" at FilmColumbia Festival

LA painters work like there's no tomorrow, er, I mean yesterday

In the LA Times, Christopher Knight (the art critic, not the former Brady Buncher) tries to make a case that LA painters have revived the medium that New York killed in the Seventies because they don't have to contend with the historical baggage. "Unlike New York, Los Angeles never had an established reputation as a painting town. That might help to explain the abundance of painting now: Without history's heavy baggage, the field seems wide open -- ripe for the picking....Today actual painting is a staple in gallery exhibitions from Santa Monica and Culver City to mid-Wilshire and Chinatown. And paintings made by L.A. artists are everywhere. Lots of them are by younger artists, under 45. When California's deep recession of the early 1990s eased, galleries exploded across L.A. Now they number well into the triple digits. The number of painters, promising and accomplished, has likewise mushroomed. Painting -- of all kinds -- is as prominent as any other art in the city's galleries....Usually it's just one person in a room, with a flat plane and some colors, trying to juice the corpse and make it dance. That's the real legerdemain facing anyone determined to be a painter, whether the student who asked the original question gets the support of her teachers and peers or not. Painting isn't dead -- or, more precisely, it always has been and always will be. The perpetual trick is to give a painting life." And don't miss the slide show that accompanies the article, "45 painters under 45," if you want to see what kind of paintings they're showing in LA.

In San Francisco: Ouadahi, Bhujbal, Soloman

"Driss Ouadahi: Another Place, Another Me," Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco, CA. Through Dec. 8. Drawing upon a lifelong interest in architecture, Ouadahi creates a hybrid language of structural design and abstract painting that infuses the rigid form of monotonous buildings with color and light. Broad, multi-colored brushstrokes define volume and depth, but also humanize the buildings' repetitive geometry. In the San Francisco Chronicle, Kenneth Baker sees references to Mondrian, Barnett Newman, and other modernist artists who relied on the grid to neutralize compositional values. "For all its richness as painting," he writes, " Oadahi's work hints at a bleak view of the contemporary world as a heedlessly urbanizing project."

"Suhas Bhujbal: A Quiet Town," Dolby Chadwick Gallery, San Francisco, CA. Through Dec. 8. Bhujbal, who lives in the Bay Area, paints images of buildings remembered in his hometown, Pune, India. Loosely painted and filled with light, the work is firmly rooted in California tradition. Baker writes that the paintings "look nostalgic next to Oadahi's: wistful for a humbler collective life and for a brighter future for painting than it appears to have. Painting itself has begun to look utopian in its anticipation of a public committed to looking carefully and appreciative of educated effort."

"Nellie King Solomon: Folded Pours," Brian Gross Fine Art, San Francisco, CA. Through Dec. 22. Solomon investigates movement and chance in these energetic, gestural works. Baker says that the work , compared to earlier paintings, feels transitional and congested. "In most of the five pieces on view, heightened mystery tips over into disinteresting disorder."

Monumental absence at the New Museum

Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st Century,” curated by Richard Flood, Laura Hoptman, and Massimiliano Gioni. New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, NY. Through March 23.

The only notable thing about painting in the New Museum's inaugural show is its absence. In the NY Times, Roberta Smith reviews the exhibition, which she sees as a nervy dare to all curators. Quit equivocating, take some risks and start a brawl. "This show says no to a lot: expensive materials or fabrication processes that result in shiny (read lulling) surfaces. It says no to heavy machinery and computers, to displays of bravura skill. ('Unskill' is one of the words in the show’s useful glossary.) It says no to feeding the stream of paintings, installation works, big-screen videos and Dolby-sound films that turn today’s biennials and international exhibitions into such entertaining spectacles. It also turns its back on the most usual suspects, including Jeff Koons, Bill Viola, Gerhard Richter, Matthew Barney, Louise Bourgeois, Rachel Whiteread and even Banks Violette."

December 1, 2007

Pattern and Decoration revisted in Yonkers

Pattern and Decoration: An Ideal Vision in American Art, 1975-1985,” curated by Anne Swartz. Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY. Through Jan. 20.

The HRM presents the work of 11 artists prominent within the movement in the 1970s: Cynthia Carlson, Brad Davis, Valerie Jaudon, Jane Kaufman, Joyce Kozloff, Robert Kushner, Kim MacConnel, Tony Robbin, Miriam Schapiro, Ned Smyth, and Robert Zakanitch. In the NYTimes, Benjamin Genocchio isn't charmed by the handiwork. "A celebration of patterning and color doesn’t necessarily make great art. Looking at this exhibition also made me question whether Pattern and Decoration was an art movement at all. Some of the 35 works assembled here seem so widely divergent in spirit and style that you wonder what they had in common. Cynthia Carlson’s and Valerie Jaudon’s paintings are akin to Minimalism, while Brad Davis’s art is pure Pop Art kitsch. Perhaps the movement is best understood as a temporary aesthetic alliance of artists with varying agendas. Explored artist by artist, this show contains some interesting and worthy works. While they may not have a powerful claim on art history, they do have much to tell us about the American art world of the 1970s and ’80s....In recent times art historians have tried to re-brand Pattern and Decoration as a sub-sect of feminist dissent. Anne Swartz, the show’s curator, takes this approach in her essay in the exhibition catalog, arguing that Pattern and Decoration artists 'embraced the joyful, pleasurable, optimistic, and inclusive aspects of feminism.' This feels somewhat like critical overreaching, for most if not all feminist art of the era was concerned not with joy, but with rage."