March 31, 2008

Small work: Fab Fair four

The Armory Show, Pulse and Red Dot had plenty of painting to look at this year, but here are four artists whose work called out to me despite the modest, don't-look-at-me size.
Moyna Flannigan at Doggerfisher, Edinburgh. Last year in The Guardian Flannigan’s work was compared to 18th-century social satirists like Hogarth, but with a peculiar kitsch, distinctly 21st-century alienation. "The overall effect is alarming, a mix of sentimentality and nauseous unease.” A Yale grad, Flannigan has also had shows at Sara Meltzer in NYC.
Thornton Willis at Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York, NY. Willis, 72, recently had a retrospective at Sideshow in Brooklyn. “Over the years, I have presented various statements about my paintings,” Willis wrote in 2002. “For the most part, I have chosen to write about the act of painting itself, and what might constitute authentic inquiry into Abstract Space and Process. I try to create in my work a real space, quite simply a real object for people to look at. I would ask that people really look at the work and not read anything else into them.”
Sara Eichner, Sears-Peyton Gallery, New York, NY. Eichner’s obsession is meticulously combining architectural pattern, fragile color, and perspective. “The record shows a battle between the effort to create exact repetitions of pattern in perspectival shifts and my inevitable failure to achieve perfect marks and neatness.” Eichner writes on her website. “Couched within a rigorous grid distorted by perspective, my mistakes and variations in stroke are set off by the structure and humanize the end result.”
Angela Dufresne, Monya Rowe, New York, NY. Dufresne paints imaginary tree house structures with frenetic, vibrating line and brilliant color. Even with the overwhelming amount of work at the fair, Dufresne’s paint handling stopped me in my tracks.

March 30, 2008

Art Bloggers @ Red Dot open discussion

Thanks everyone for coming to the art blogger panel discussion. I'm sure the audience had more to contribute, so the panel questions (we didn't get to all of them) are posted on the event blog. Feel free to post your own responses. If you post them on your own blog, please provide a link in the Comments section.

At artblog.net Franklin Einspruch, made a link list of the bloggers who stopped by the Red Dot panel and said hello: Hrag Vartanian, Chris Albert, Steven Alexander, Olympia Lambert, James Kalm, Chris Jagers, Megan and Murray, Andrew Robinson, Pretty Lady, Brent Burket, Harry and Jennifer Swartz-Turfle.

Check out Hrag Vartanian's blog for an amusing post about the panel discussion.

March 28, 2008

Lame review of the week: O'Sullivan reviews Sillman at the Hirshhorn

Arts generalist Michael O'Sullivan 's clueless Washington Post review of Amy Sillman's show proves why more painters and artists must start writing. "There's something underneath all that paint in Amy Sillman's new solo exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, one of the museum's 'Directions' shows devoted to up-and-comers. The artist, a rising star in the contemporary art scene, calls it 'conceptualism.' I say it's a gimmick." O'Sullivan continues by describing Sillman's process, which involves having friends sit for portraits. She redraws the portraits numerous times from memory, and these distanced drawings become the basis for her paintings. For O'Sullivan, the fact that the paintings are abstract is a problem.

"The paintings look, for the most part, like inanimate objects," he complains. " Sillman describes one, aptly enough, as resembling a mattress strapped to the roof of a car. At least the drawings look like people, however cartoonish (or 'cartoonal,' an artspeak neologism the artist seems to prefer). That's by design. These aren't portraits, after all. Rather, the artist says, they're 'investigations' of the space between figuration and abstraction. More artspeak? Yup. And nothing especially new, either. Don't worry. Sillman knows it, calling the process by which she boils down drawings of recognizable subjects to unidentifiable abstractions 'a short-term version of what it took Mondrian a decade to do.' (That's Piet Mondrian, who was reducing natural objects to black-and-white grids accented by rectangles of primary color almost a century ago.) All of which gives rise to questions. For starters, if all this has been done before, what exactly is the point? As curator Anne Ellegood writes in her catalogue essay, Sillman's paintings don't represent things, but ' feelings in all their nebulous and difficult-to-identify ugliness.' But if that's the case, why are they so bloodless?

"And that's the problem with conceptual art," O'Sullivan finally declares. "As much as the underlying idea may be worth contemplating, it isn't often that it inspires much -- I don't know -- passion. Sillman may have put it best. In describing the shifting of her attention -- away from her friends and their complex, sometimes even fraught interrelationships to a focus on the canvas and its formal issues -- this is what she says: 'It's basically just moving from being in a relationship with those people to being in a relationship with an oil painting.'" Clearly O'Sullivan is unable to apprehend or appreciate Sillman's meaning, either in words or paint. Perhaps he would be more comfortable writing for the sports section. Read more.

"Amy Sillman: Third Person Singular," curated by Anne Ellegood and Ian Berry. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC. Through July 6. Traveling to the Tang Museum, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY, July 19- January 4
Related posts:
Amy Sillman's "Suitors & Strangers" in Houston

Saltz: Old is gold

March museum openings

Julia Jacquette: "I'm a sucker for house porn"

Ariella Budick reports that Jacquette bases her virtuosically executed paintings on photographs from glossy shelter magazines. "Chandeliers glitter, massive gilt mirrors festoon palatial bathrooms and crystal decanters cast dappled reflections across silver trays. With their voluptuous sheen and creamy glow, the canvases reproduce that sense of money. 'I'm creating a collection of luxurious homes for myself, but the project is intentionally a complete failure because I can't go into them or possess them,' she explains. 'I admit that I'm completely sucked in by the imagery of beautiful homes that permeate our culture right now.' Jacquette and her husband inhabit a tiny tenement apartment on the Lower East Side, but living small hasn't prevented her from dreaming large. The paintings deal with her ambivalence about manufactured desire. Like the 17th century genre painters who gave themselves over to the visual study of shiny objects in silver, glass and brass, she sees hints of divinity and mortality in the passion to acquire and consume." Read more.

"Julia Jacquette: Domestic Desire," University Center Gallery, Adelphi University, Garden City, NY. Through April 18.

March 27, 2008

James Nelson's coiling, sausagey shapes

In the Philadelphia Inquirer Edith Newhall reports that the faint, lacy pencil-rendered patterns in James Nelson's drawings of a few years ago have given way to bolder, darker, charcoal ones. "Nelson's recent drawings from his series 'Head of a Girl (in play),' at Gallery Joe, also introduce obvious humor to his work. The series' title, taken from the traditional description of a portrait of any anonymous young female sitter, is used here to unite Nelson's subject matter, the backs of women's heads-specifically their hair. Remember Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the 16th-century Italian painter famous for his portraits of people whose heads are composed entirely from vegetables and fruit? Nelson invokes him more than once. He also brings to mind late Philip Guston and the Chicago Imagists, in particular Christina Ramberg. He manages this, though, not through images of hair - or anything remotely realistic - but through configurations of coiling, sausagey shapes. There are several works here that take the hair idea to the limit, such as a deeply vertical drawing, possibly a nod to Rapunzel-length hair, that is an all-over pattern of worm and shell-like shapes, not unlike a horde of heads as seen from above. Eccentric, yes, but a very elegant drawing nevertheless." Read more.

"James Nelson," Gallery Joe, Philadelphia, PA. Through April 26

"Mediocre art in expensive frames"

Two Coats of Paint won't get to the fairs until tomorrow, and I suspect we'll love the sheer volume of paintings (a good antidote to the Biennial's lack thereof), but Paddy Johnson at Art Fag City declares the Armory a snooze. "With even more boring art than usual hanging on fair walls, even those who typically enjoy The Armory Show are likely to find it stale this year. Flowing money may inspire ill considered risk taking, but at least there’s some energy to it. Catering to this year’s more considered collector, galleries bring their safest fan fare; lifeless corporate art variations now stretch across the pier as far the eye can see. Sikkema Jenkins, Lehmann Maupin, and Sean Kelly, was a particularly bad area of real estate, each featuring more than their fare share of mediocre art in expensive frames." Read more.

Also, check out ArtCal's special blog coverage of the fairs. And Don't miss the ArtBloggers@ panel discussion at Red Dot on Sunday.

Related posts:
Art Basel Miami: Swimming in Pigment in The Brooklyn Rail
"A No Paintings Biennial would've at least made everyone hysterical"
Painting is only the prop"

"Bitter slog" for painting in the Whitney Biennial


March 26, 2008

Brian Rutenberg: "I believe in the power of art that has strong ties to a specific place but also has universal berth"

Brian Rutenberg's recent paintings are influenced by Cubism, which he calls the "delicious conflict between naturalism and abstraction or… bending the laws of nature to fit the laws of art," but Hans Hoffmann's influence is unmistakable. In The Village Voice, RC Baker reports that Rutenberg's canvases may at first recall corporate-lobby paintings, "but he goes hammer and tongs at the medium, busting up colorful Hofmannesque slabs with cascading grids. There's a ballast of dark rhombuses anchoring a number of these works, leavened by a descending, misty light, and while some of the chromatic collisions grate, others (such as a plummy black chunk against spring-green tendrils in 2008's Calabash 2) bring a blunt lyricism to the fore." Read more.

"Brian Rutenberg: Palmetto," Forum Gallery, New York, NY. Through April 19.

Deborah Brown loves animals

At artnet, blogaphobic Charlie Finch writes that his old pal Deborah Brown has captured the feeling of Pier 25 and other natural NYC sites in a new series of paintings at Lesley Heller Gallery. "These paintings arrive none too soon, as tacky glass high-rises obliterate much of the sparse nature of familiar New York. Now the cranes tend to topple rather than spread their wings and fly. Brown’s painting 'Gowanus,' for example, profiles a cormorant against the sunset drenched canal of that name. 'San Remo' shows a solitary hawk skimming one of the West Side’s classic sandstone buildings. 'Tram' depicts one majestic pigeon embarking via skytrain for Roosevelt Island. Brown has always been a minimal portraitist of the single animal; her compassion far outstrips that of Mother Nature. But our new New York situation draws a new message from her cozy, familiar tropes: New York resident, that pigeon is you!" Read more.

"Deborah Brown," Lesley Heller Gallery, New York, NY. March 28 through Apr. 26.

March 25, 2008

Self-hallucination suggesting a multiple organ transplant performed by a surgeon with a degree in Surrealism: Carroll Dunham's early work

"Self-hallucination which initially suggests a multiple organ transplant performed by a surgeon with a degree in Surrealism" is how Klaus Kertess described Dunham's aesthetic back in 1983. In the NYTimes, Ken Johnson writes that many elements seem to arise from an instinctive, quasi-primitive intuition, but other parts suggest a more intellectually sophisticated play with the codes of Modern painting. "In some works organic forms are entwined around straight-edged, horizontal stripes. In others there are passages of brushy Abstract Expressionistic marks or lines defining Cubist spaces. Confettilike fields of colored dots hark back to Pointillism, while cartoon outlines of bulbous forms evoke Pop Art’s appropriation of comic books. R. Crumb’s underground comic drawing is in the mix, as is the classic Surrealism of Dalí and Miró. What these paintings add up to is a kind of delirious, barely contained psychic pluralism. Various dualities and contradictions play out: between wood and paint; abstraction and representation; geometry and biology; the phallic and the vaginal; body and mind; nature and culture. In contrast to the monochrome painters of the ’70s (Brice Marden and Robert Ryman) and the Neo-Expressionists of the ’80s (Julian Schnabel and Anselm Kiefer), Mr. Dunham did not try to achieve formal or stylistic unity in these works. Painting was a joy-riding vehicle for realizing and delighting in the contradictions and complexities of consciousness." Read more.

"Carroll Dunham: Paintings on Wood, 1982-87,” at Skarstedt Gallery, New York, NY. Through April 5.

March 24, 2008

Show of the week: James Siena At Pace Wildenstein

From the press release: James Siena’s new work, completed in 2006 and 2007, includes approximately 20 enamel paintings on aluminum or copper and 60 works on paper created with mixed media, including ink, graphite, gouache, color pencil, and Conté crayon on paper or board. This exhibition includes Siena’s signature abstract paintings but also debuts a new working method, as evidenced by the drawings on view. Known for densely patterned paintings, gouaches and drawings generated by the artist’s adherence to algorithmic systems, Siena has, in recent years, begun to vary the rigidity of those systems and the rigidity with which those systems are implemented. The result has been works which appear more chaotic and most recently, and surprisingly, a series of drawings where the twisting lines and forms transform into tortured faces of old men and women.

James Siena first experimented with images of the human figure in 1994. In these early works, he abstracted and flattened the body into one continuous line. Its compression into a single plane resulted in what reminds us of immense line drawings created in Ancient Mesoamerica. Thirteen years later, the figure reemerges in Siena’s work, this time in the form of abstract personages and “little old men” drawings. The Personages, which are similar to the earlier line contours, provide a bridge between the algorithmic and purely figurative works. Siena’s recurring motifs—the recursive comb, the non-slice and the like—and his experimental ways of working, continue to emerge and evolve through the familiar and not so familiar work exhibited in this show.

A catalogue with writings by artist Mark Greenwold and Mark Strand, a recipient of numerous literary awards including the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry (1998) and an American Poet Laureate (1990-91), and contributions by poet and curator Geoffrey Young and the artist himself will be available at the exhibition.

"James Siena," Pace Wildenstein, New York, NY. March 28— April 26

Related posts:
In conversation: James Siena with Chris Martin in The Brooklyn Rail, November 2005
"Let me tell you this story—Fred introduced me to Mike Ballou and Amy Sillman. Two bodhisattvas of the art world. Amy put together a show at Four Walls about painting, I showed a really oddball work that has never been shown since called “Meltdown.” It’s 48 by 40 inches; it’s just black and white. It’s the endless line painting; it’s very much like what I did when I was a kid. It’s incredibly stupid and I kind of scandalized the crowd by saying I was a stupid artist and artists were basically stupid. I was trying to make an anti-elitist remark. I didn’t know I was being provocative. I was trying to level us all—make us see that we’re all just cultural workers. We are no better than bus drivers; let’s just chill out… But there was an uproar! It was awful! I mean, people were furious with me. And I’d see them at openings, you know, and they’d say, 'You’re that guy who said that stupid thing about stupidity!'"

At Ed Winkleman's blog in 2005, Ed declares Siena "Artist of the Week"

March 23, 2008

"Painting is only the prop"

At Catherine's Art Tours blog, art historian and critic Catherine Spaeth assesses the importance of painting in Whitney Biennials past and present. "One of the things that strikes me about this show is the stated embrace of failure. In her own voice, Ellen Harvey says through the headset that her painting installation Museum of Failure: Collection of Possible Subjects and Invisible Self-Portraits (2007) 'is a monument to failure, the ghost of the piece that might have been...hand made representation is automatically a failure - let’s start off by failing as extravagantly as possible.' Photography appears in two ways - first as the hole in a carnival prop, through which one puts one’s head, and second in the carefully rendered self-portraits, taken from photographs that have obliterated their subject by a flash in the mirror. It is the naive and false despair of the beginning art student, struck by inadequacy in the face of nature and photography. Why the feigned appeal to such misunderstandings and false anxieties? Harvey's failure is just another parody of a diehard narrative that keeps re-appearing because we can congratulate ourselves for knowing it. Photography and the death of painting: Standing between the trompe l’oeil wall of obliterated self-portraits and the discomfort of a bank of fluorescent light, perhaps we are to feel obliterated by the flash as well? The overwrought machinery of it fails me, and I respond to this as rhetoric, as just another move in the game to legitimize the ambition to simply keep on painting. And this is what Ellen Harvey excels at, it is all about finding that one little hook in order to maintain sheer continuity in fear of its end. Painting is only the prop." Read more.

The nakedly emotional bravura of Howard Hodgkin

Alan Hollinghurst writes in The Guardian that Howard Hodgkin, now in his 70s, continues to make reckless,unanswerably new paintings."In many of his paintings, Hodgkin famously works with a found frame, which is then lavishly painted over. They intoxicate by being all paint, and even on the smallest scale can overwhelm you with their refusal of conventional distance and distraction. But increasingly now he is leaving the bare board clear, as the ground of the painting itself, and as the margin in which the business of the picture raggedly stops or starts. Your attention is still drawn to the means and the medium, but in a different way....You always want to get close to a Hodgkin. The sensory, sometimes visceral impact of a painting when first seen is followed by a long, evolving negotiation with it, a move into intimate reverie and speculation. The marks he makes, often with a large brush heavily laden with different-coloured paints, are among the great virtuosities of modern art. Their immediacy and bravura strike you from across a room, but as you get closer and closer they draw you in to what seem little landscapes in themselves, yielding up greater and greater riches, and even giving a slightly hallucinatory sense of their being other paintings within the painting, a sort of dreamlike double take. Instinct and spontaneity are at one with inexpressible mystery." Read more.

"Howard Hodgkin," Gagosian Gallery, London. April 3-May 17.

March 22, 2008

Pathetic Fallacy (Second Version): Toby Ziegler in Santa Monica

In the LA Times, Christopher Knight reports that 35-year-old British artist Toby Ziegler skillfully mashes up art history and current technology with cheerful, pungent eccentricity in his first solo show in the US. "At once funny, ambitious and loaded with style, the work impresses by virtue of a disarming complexity. At the Patrick Painter Gallery, a two-panel painting repeats one basic motif in each canvas, surrounding it with radically different contexts. The lower portion of both large canvases shows a lumpy shape bound by a thickly painted, shaggy red line and dotted with a pattern of neatly contoured ovals in red, orange, yellow and white. Resolutely abstract, the colorful shape nonetheless evokes a Technicolor sunset amid billowy clouds. In a similar manner, the hand-painted patterned ovals suggest digital printing techniques without mimicking computer graphics. " Read more.

FYI: "Pathetic Fallacy (Second Version)" is a sculpture of a small-scale mammoth, a tragic creature that exists only in our imagination. The title, "Pathetic Fallacy" describes the literary term of assigning human qualities to an inanimate object.

"Toby Ziegler: The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse," Patrick Painter Gallery, Santa Monica, CA. Through March 29.

March 20, 2008

Non-bombastic: Blue and white, red

The fiercely-contested presidential election, energized by the Iraq debate, is bombarding us with patriotic imagery: the waving flags, the campaign buses plastered with candidate logos and slogans, the stars and stripes on bumper stickers all over town. I'm frustrated by the iconographic baggage imposed on cadmium red, titanium white and ultramarine blue. It's difficult to squeeze these three simple colors onto the palette without conjuring either the patriotic fervor of the confident American or the doubting irony of the protester, but I'm trying anyway. See images.

The complex privacy of James Bishop

James Bishop's relatively rare drawings and paintings—which American poet and art critic John Ashbery once called “part air, part architecture”—combine European and American traditions of postwar art are on view at the Art Institute of Chcago. His approach is marked by a poetic, reductionist tendency in which he creates form through color alone. Inflected by subtle shading relationships and a geometry that abandons the hard-edge abstraction used by many of his contemporaries, his work is grounded in the physical process of painting and in the interplay of color. In the Chicago Tribune, Alan G. Artner reports that Bishop, 80, who has lived in France since 1958, was a member of the quieter branch of Abstract Expressionists. "That is evident from the forms and treatment of the earliest piece on view, as well as the decision made decades later to abandon the large size of his works on canvas in favor of paintings on paper sometimes smaller than a playing card. The process that originally went from elemental preparatory drawing to highly finished canvas he seemed to reverse with an art of intimate utterance and tentative expression....The smaller work on paper creates a new atmosphere of complex privacy, as if the artist were singing softly under his breath of things in art history that the public might or might not grasp but were of intense interest to him. Here the cleanness of the work on canvas gives way to a shagginess that prizes the finish of single pieces less highly than rough extended series in which the twists and turns of pictorial thought can be fully worked out." Read more.

"James Bishop: Paintings on Paper 1959-2007," organized at the Art Institute of Chicago in collaboration with Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich, and Josef Albers Museum Quadrat Bottrop, Germany. Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL. Through May 4.

Amy Sillman's couple fixation

In the Washington City Paper Maura Judkis reports that the “he” and “she” of Amy Sillman’s solo show at the Hirshhorn Museum, “Third Person Singular,” describe the couples Sillman sketches and then, on a separate canvas, reduces to abstraction. "These black-and-white drawings inspire her bold-hued paintings with touches of cubism, color field, and strong lines that keep the eye darting around the canvas. For Sillman, the observation of her selected couples is as important as the process of painting. 'Drawing gave me license to stare at them…looking at them makes me the ‘other.’ My psychiatrist gets a gleeful look on her face when I talk about it,' she said in a dialogue for the museum catalog. The shallow tangles of limbs in her drawings make way for more therapy fodder—Sillman said the hundreds of layers of oil paint on each of the 13 canvases conceal anxieties and feelings about coupledom." Read more.

"Amy Sillman: Third Person Singular," curated by Anne Ellegood and Ian Berry. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC. Through July 6. Traveling to the Tang Museum, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY, July 19- January 4
Related posts:
Amy Sillman's "Suitors & Strangers" in Houston

Saltz: Old is gold

March museum openings

March 19, 2008

Zimmerman saws wood in Chelsea

For Andrew Zimmerman's first solo show, he has cut wood panels into wavy strips with a jigsaw, and reassembled them to create an organic geometry. The pattern becomes exaggerated when the strips are reassembled, leaving varying widths between the strips and then gluing them to an underlying piece of wood. Drawing with the saw, Zimmerman creates the illusion of two-dimensional drawn lines, but in reality they are three-dimensional sculptural grooves. The inconsistencies and unplanned occurrences that happen when cutting freehand give the work, which is flatly painted with rich enamel, a human dimension. "The foundation of my work grows out of the rich history of modern painting, from Jean Arp to Frank Stella to Richard Tuttle." Zimmerman says. "I'm interested in exploring the intersection of painting and sculpture, of art and design, of the handmade and the mass-produced." Zimmerman's humble intentions are evident in the work.

"Andrew Zimmerman: Expansion Series," Sears-Peyton Gallery, New York, NY. Through April 12.

March 18, 2008

Dallas: David Bates paints Katrina's victims

David Granberry at the Dallas Morning News writes about David Bates, whose recent paintings presented at Dunn and Brown Contemporary depict the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The majority of the paintings consist solely of human faces, and remind me of haunting Max Beckmann figures combined with Marsden Hartley landscapes. The individuals portrayed appear overcome with grief for their jobs, their homes, and especially their city. Granberry reports: "Tall and lean, the dark-haired Mr. Bates wears bookish glasses and a neatly cropped Van Dyke that make him look younger than he is and a lot like the college professor he never became. This is a new kind of show for him, one undertaken, he says, from a sense of feeling driven, as though he had to do this. He's surprised and pleased by the reactions. 'People never came up to me in the past and thanked me,' he says with a laugh, 'for painting a magnolia.'" Read more.

"David Bates: The Storm," Dunn and Brown Contemporary, Dallas, TX. Through April 12.

March 17, 2008

Ann Craven speaks in Cambridge

New York-based artist Ann Craven paints wistful, Disneyesque images of birds and deer with a delicate, unhurried touch. She also paints the moon from life every night, and canvases striped with color or black and white. In an essay about her work, Josh Smith writes that the problem with much representational art is that it is too sure of itself, but Craven doesn't fall into that trap. "What gives a subject so much importance that it warrants an artistic rendering?" Smith asks. "Often representational painters completely misunderstand the whole idea of art. They think art is about doing things competently with just a touch of panache. That is indeed one kind of art, but not a very interesting kind. Great representational art looks right through its subject. The subject serves as a vehicle for an expression or idea, not a crutch or publicity gimmick. Ann Craven’s work does not go around to openings with a limp and a cigarette between its lips. Playing games is not an option in her paintings. These paintings just come in and get the job done....Ann seems in a way, unsatisfied with everything she does. That’s why she keeps working away constantly. The birds and the moons are both simple ideas. Is not the challenge to make something as simple and successful as possible? When it comes to painting, it is best to sneak all of the meaning in through the back door. Ann does not burden the viewer with issues or problems. The issues and problems are there, only they are disguised as the moon, a deer, a bird. "

Ann Craven will talk about her paintings on Thursday, March 20, 6:30 pm. The Center for Advanced Visual Studies MIT, Cambridge, MA.

Iraqi painter Karim Alwali meets Jasper Johns and Mark Rothko

In the San Francisco Chronicle Meredith May reports that Karim Alwali, one of the most recognized abstract painters in Baghdad, is now painting memories of his homeland in a tiny apartment in San Jose. "Before the war, Alwali's work was on permanent display at the most prestigious museum in Iraq, Gallery Hawar. Now all he has left are a few paintings he was able to smuggle out of the country in August. He joined a network of 25 Iraqi refugee families in the Bay Area, where he must start over in a new culture and find a way to get noticed in a community already congested with artists....A caseworker is bringing him to art parties to help him network. Now he's trying to bring a renaissance to Iraqi art, using his status as a 'recent witness to history' to tell the story of his beleaguered country. He made a wooden, fold-out panel representing Al-Mutanabi Street, with burn holes, blood smears, ancient calligraphy and Koran verses. 'When I entered the U.S. I tried not to get surprised, but I failed in front of the beauty of San Francisco,' he said. And by beauty, he means abstract painters Jasper Johns and Mark Rothko. Alwali took a train to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on his third day in the United States, and stayed for eight hours, staring at their work." Read more.

"All power to the hardboiled intellect"

Peter Schjeldahl writes about the Color Chart show at MoMA: "Predominant are attitudes of ironic detachment that derive from Marcel Duchamp, whose rebuslike canvas of 1918, “Tu m’,” with its represented commercial color samples, begins the show. Is it outlandish—a reductio ad absurdum of the Duchampian, even—to regard color, the most emotionally affecting of visual phenomena, without emotion? It is. That’s the kick: all power to the hardboiled intellect. The idea’s repertoire of cleverness feels played out now—as well as undermined, even at full tilt, by the irrepressible talents of true colorists. Be they ever so cool, Ellsworth Kelly, Andy Warhol, Dan Flavin, and Blinky Palermo can’t help stirring the heart, through the eye, with hues as cleanly gladdening as French horns in the morning." Read more.

"Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today," organized by Ann Temkin. Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY. Through May 12.
Related posts:
Readymade color at MoMA

MoMA's sexism resurfaces (again)

March 16, 2008

Links: Musicians who paint

For readers like me who are drawn to dopey famous-people-who-paint stories, The Observer's Casper Llewellyn Smith points out five painter/rockers today.
Marilyn Manson The controversial goth rocker paints disturbing watercolours. His first show, The Golden Age of Grotesque, was held in Los Angeles in 2002 and was likened by one critic to the works of a 'psychiatric patient given materials to use as therapy'.
Ron Wood The Rolling Stone studied at Ealing Art College and often paints portraits of famous people. Art critic Brian Sewell called him 'an accomplished and respectable artist', and The South Bank Show devoted a show to his work.
Paul Simonon Another art school alumnus, Simonon kept on painting after he became the bassist for the Clash, but stopped after the band made it big. He is now a respected painter of London landscapes.
Joni Mitchell The singer-songwriter says that she is 'a painter first, and a musician second', and has been working and exhibiting since the Sixties.
John Squire The Stone Roses guitarist has been heavily influenced by Jackson Pollock's action paintings and his most famous work appeared on the cover of the band's eponymous debut album. Read more.

March 15, 2008

John Currin confesses in British press that stupidity is liberating

John Currin's recent paintings, which will be presented by Sadie Coles HQ in London this April, feature pornographic images that Currin found on the internet. In The Independent, David Usborne reports that Currin is trying to cast these new works in the context of Islamic fundamentalism. "Specifically, the furious reaction in parts of the Muslim world to the publication by a Danish newspaper in 2005 of a cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohamed. But this is where Currin, almost embarrassed by the murkiness of what he is saying, takes the conversation. 'It's just ridiculous I know, but I should preface this by saying that with everything I do there is usually a kind of alternate structure for the reason I am doing it.' Indeed, settling on some kind of rationale for a new project is akin, he says, to pulling on your collar before serving in tennis.

"Few things motivate, meanwhile, more than anger and that is what was stirred in Currin by the cartoon furore. He was infuriated first by the tirades of some Islamic clerics against the cartoon and was then doubly dismayed by what he considered the cowardly response of the West and its media. 'I found it incredibly dispiriting that the New York Times and Time magazine wouldn't publish the cartoon. After people had been killed over these things, they wouldn't show people what it was about. You could not find it anywhere.' He goes on: 'I am caught up in a lot in fear for Europe and fear for the West, that we will lose the war against Islam. And it is a war against Islam, I think.'

"At this point, I have to confess to losing Currin's thread a little. Are these paintings therefore some kind of repudiation of our political correctness? Or perhaps a celebration of our freedoms, now under threat, including the freedom to disseminate porn? Something like that, he says....'Often, I find myself attracted to ideas that are ill-advised and bad,' he offers. 'It's not because I want to shock people or show how open-minded I am, but for some reason stupidity is a theme for me in painting and I find it liberating... I don't know why, but I feel freer. But perhaps there is some need I have to redeem this silliness with something really solemn and sombre and beautiful.'" Read more.

Matt Connors at Canada

In his first solo show at Canada, Matt Connors presents a predictably sloppy version of modernism. Although I don't see the "rigor of an Ellsworth Kelly " that's mentioned in the press release (are they pulling my leg?), the awkward color, not-quite geometric shapes and flat-footed paint handling have a certain haphazard appeal. Clearly impulse, rather than the "careful plotting" outlined in the statement, is the artist's strength. Connors, who received his MFA from Yale University last year, has recently exhibited work in group and solo shows at The Breeder in Athens, LuttgenMeijer in Berlin and China Art Objects in Los Angeles. He lives in Los Angeles.

In the NY Sun, Stephen Maine declares that Connors' installation is like a cocktail party. "In his meticulous installation, paintings are paired off as if in conversation; the visitor just drops in....Accordingly, each of these paintings is meant to flow into and prop up another. 'Reading Room' does this literally, deploying two paintings as sculptural elements, arranged on a shallow shelf. Upon a white canvas with black rectangles marking its corners leans another, slightly smaller and deep blue. At that painting's center is an irregular grid that looks something like a picked-over box of chocolates. In its allusive imagery as well as the dynamic relationships among its constituents, Mr. Connors's exhibition equates social and pictorial space, and wittily chips away at the distinction between art and life." Read more.

Kind of like a cocktail party at a really nice loft, where the drinks may be weak, but the atmosphere and conversation make hanging around worth your while. Frankly, I find the installation fetishization currently permeating gallery and museum exhibitions a bit like overwrought interior decoration.

"Matt Connors: Enjambment," Canada, New York, NY. Through April 20.

Related posts:
Jukkala doesn't name names in New Haven

Love letter to painting in LA

March 14, 2008

"A No Paintings Biennial would've at least made everyone hysterical"

Jerry Saltz writes that the Whitney Biennial curators obviously have eyes for installation, sculpture, and video only. "There are 81 artists in this show, only seven of them painters by my count. Four of them—Olivier Mosset, Robert Bechtle, Mary Heilmann, and Karen Kilimnik—have been lauded for years. The youngest painter, Joe Bradley, 32, contributes three works that are boring, puckered versions of Ellsworth Kelly. These curators seem to think that painting is incapable of addressing the issues of our time or that it’s passé. I suspect Momin and Huldisch didn’t want to include painting at all. Although that kind of academic orthodoxy is moth-eaten—a medium has potential until the ideas it addresses are exhausted—it’s a shame they didn’t go all the way with that notion. A No Paintings Biennial would’ve at least made everyone hysterical." Read more.

Related posts:
"Bitter slog" for painting in the Whitney Biennial

2 Biennial artists in the MassArt family

NYTimes Art in Review: Edward Wheeler and Edgar Bryan

Roberta Smith on Edward Wheeler (1912-92), a contemporary of Philip Guston (1913-80), who offered among the sharper alternatives to Abstract Expressionism. "Wheeler’s work started to resurface about 15 years ago. In the face of AbEx’s big scale, open gestures and abstract purity, he cultivated tightly wound geometries that were fiery in color, finely diced and full of hints of disjointed figures and faces. His style — sometimes called Indian Space Painting — took cues from Northwest Coast Indian and Pre-Columbian art, comic books and European masters like Klee and Miró. The free-flowing pixelated compositions, while full of angles, owe something to automatist drawing." Read more.

"Edward Wheeler in Context," David Findlay Jr. Fine Art, New York, NY. Through March 22. Artists include Will Barnet, Gertrude Barrer, Robert Barrell, Byron Browne, Peter Busa, Stuart Davis, Howard Daum, Dorothy Dehner, Hananiah Harari, Roberto Matta, Bryan Osburn, Alfonso Ossorio, Richard Pousette-Dart, Robert Reed.

Roberta Smith reports that Edgar Bryan's first NYC solo is so low-key that he must be trying to prove something. "Deft subtlety disguised as wry, inept wistfulness has always been Mr. Bryan’s strength. Here he aims it at painting as a bravura activity: New York debuts as aggressive declarations; and oil paint as female flesh. Anyway, he’s using acrylic. Perhaps to come across as the anti-Currin or the un-Balthus, Mr. Bryan concentrates on two of painting’s oldest subjects, the female nude and the still life, the latter using only vases and jugs. Both kinds of 'vessels' seem made up, or borrowed from comic books, along with the alternately pale and saturated off-key palette....In the end you may find yourself watching Mr. Bryan’s every move in these sweet, sharp meditations. A self-portrait shows the artist crouching at a toy easel, working on a small, relatively thick-surfaced abstraction. The work personifies his central oxymoron: sincere irony." Read more.

"Edgar Bryan," Zach Feuer, New York, NY. Through March 22.

March 13, 2008

Jukkala doesn't name names in New Haven

The current show at Artspace in New Haven, CT, highlights seven painters whose abstract work focuses on elements of color, shape, and surface. The imagery alludes to structures, figures, and recognizable forms, yet remains abstract and unnameable. The painters include Matt Connors, Keltie Ferris, Chris Martin, Carrie Moyer, Baker Overstreet, Palma Blank-Rosenblum, and Chuck Webster. In his Connecticut Art Scene blog, Hank Hoffman wonders if representational abstract art is a contradiction in terms. "Possibly, but the show offers an argument otherwise. The imagery in most of these paintings straddles the line between representation and abstraction, teasing perception with the suggestion of recognition." Read more.

In the New Haven Advocate, Stephen Vincent Kobasa
finds the paintings challenging. "Even the title labels, deliberately placed at a remove from their works, give no easy answers. Chuck Webster’s 'Slow Path' serves as a looping segue to the flatworms in drag, waiting to divide, by Pamela Blank-Rosenblum, followed by her machine maps. Matt Connors’ 'This Will Break' and 'Complete Removal…' are puzzles of relation, the colors tugging at each other like some dysfunctional family still in love. 'Pom-Pom Painting' by Chris Martin suggests the mad tracery of errant pinballs on their several journeys." Read more.

'Unnameable Things," curated by Clint Jukkala. Artspace, New Haven, CT. Through March 29.

Bill Jensen's long and winding nature trail

His current exhibition at Danese focuses on a large group of black and white, ink and tempera works on paper, made between 2005 and 2008, referencing Chinese landscape painting and Sumi ink drawing. Jensen, 63, is still exploring how gesture and process can communicate emotional and spiritual content. Also included is a selection of richly colored paintings on paper that incorporate dry pigment, hand-mixed with egg and oil tempera In a 2002 review, Mario Naves wrote that Jensen's paintings “with their weathered surfaces, spectral presence and tangled calligraphy, encapsulate – sometimes brutishly, at other times with a biting elegance – the terrible beauty of the elements.” Jensen has dedicated the exhibition to Al Held, a longtime friend who died unexpectedly in 2005.

"Bill Jenson: Notes from the Loggia," Danese Gallery, New York, NY. Through March 15.

Gelsy Verna, 47, passed away unexpectedly, cause of death unknown

On Tuesday afternoon, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Art Department announced that painting professor Gelsy Verna had died unexpectedly. The cause of her death is unknown. Derrick Buisch, an associate professor who worked closely with Verna, said he was not sure when Verna passed away, but colleagues were worried after she did not show up for work. “The most important thing is to understand what a deep loss it is to our department—how this is completely sudden,” he said. Verna's five-year-old daughter Clara is staying with close family friends. Images of Verna's work and studio can be found here. Video interview here. Read and write tributes to Gelsy at the family's memorial website.

Born in Haiti in 1961 to a family forced into exile, Verna grew up in Montreal and came to the United States to attend college, earning a bachelor's and master's degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1990. After teaching at the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History 1992-2000, she accepted a position at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Her work involves a mixed media collage methodology that often combines painting and drawing materials along with printed matter. She worked on paper and consciously merged the appropriated printed symbol with direct evidence of the hand-made mark. "My work continues to use the collage, found images and intuitive process in its approach." Verna said. "My interest in the intuitive process has led me to pay attention to the work of artists that work through intuition and use reproduction and order as well....The work of artists of the African Diaspora, the production of art from other cultures outside the Western canon... is of great interest to me." While issues of race, gender and stereotyping were all of interest to Verna, the search for personal and collective identity was of primary importance. Her work alludes to the juxtaposition of political, geographic and other contradictions that all play their roles in shaping a sense of personal place and identity. Her work had been included in shows at Exit Art and the Princeton Museum of Art.

March 12, 2008

Art Bloggers @ Red Dot

Artbloggers @ Red Dot, Sunday, March 30
10:00 to noon
Event blog: ArtBloggers@
Who are all these bloggers? Joanne Mattera and I have organized an informal panel discussion during the Armory Fairs, and we hope all the curious bloggers (and blog readers) will stop by and take part in the dialogue.
Confirmed panelists include:
Edward Winkleman
• Carol Diehl, Art Vent
C-Monster (Who is she?)
• Paddy Johnson, Art Fag City
• Me (Sharon Butler), Two Coats of Paint
• Moderated by Joanne Mattera

Red Dot Fair
Park South Hotel
122 E. 28th Street, bet. Park & Lex
New York, NY
Look for the “Art Bloggers @ Red Dot” sign in the lobby to direct you to the conference room.
Leave a comment or send a note [twocoatsofpaint{at}gmail{dot}com] to let us know you're coming, or just drop in. We're looking forward to a lively discussion with all the NYC area bloggers, as well as others in town for the Armory Fair. Maybe James Kalm will bring his video camera. Go to the event blog for more information.

March 11, 2008

Marie Thibeault's extravagant wreckage in LA

In the LA Weekly Doug Harvey reports that Thibeault was riveted by the imagery that emerged from the maelstrom of bad weather and inept government after Katrina. "As the title Keeping Things Whole suggests, Thibeault is less interested in romantic ruins than in paradigms of continuity emerging from the wreckage — a timely and elegant metaphor that holds as true for the practice of painting and Western civilization in general as it does for the infrastructure of the 9th Ward. Superimposing supersaturated fragments of the devastated landscape observed from multiple perspectives, the paintings tremble on the brink of unintelligibility, until the outline of a swimming pool or silhouette of an abandoned car snaps the context into focus. Even then, it isn't long before the image destabilizes, and the viewer is forced to grope for a new balance. Destabilization is central to Thibeault's practice. An accomplished colorist, she deliberately painted the Keeping Things Whole works under twilight conditions, so that their extravagant, sometimes challenging color schemes would incorporate a healthy dose of chaos, possibly surprising the artist (and her audience) with a new kind of beauty." Read more.

"Marie Thibeault: Keeping Things Whole," Jancar Gallery, Los Angeles, CA. Through March 15.

Joy Garnett stops the passing glance

This is the last week to see Joy Garnett's show at Winkleman. In Time Out New York, Jennifer Coates reports that the four large paintings in the exhibition look like they could be representing imaginary places, but they are in fact based on news photos from the Internet. "By charging her source material with Munch-like painterly intensity, the artist transforms impersonal images that ordinarily warrant a passing glance into scenes that rivet the eye. The results throw into sharp relief the vast differences in 'speed' between painting and photography: Between the time it takes to snap a picture and create a canvas, and the degree of contemplation required for looking at art as opposed to perusing pictures on the Web. In Noon, a rainbow of colors explodes from some unnamed site, and indeed whatever events led to the violence in this image could have taken place almost anywhere at any time. Similarly, Night uses a simple palette of red, black and white to depict the smoldering aftermath of 9/11, but despite Garnett’s evocation of glowing flames and structural remnants, one wouldn’t necessarily know that this is the World Trade Center. In her hands, a pervasively familiar yet traumatic event becomes strangely anonymous. Reducing complex events to fleeting impressions can run the risk of trivializing them. Yet by memorializing images like these, which have been the focus of global media attention, Garnett makes them symbolic—and gives them a history outside of current events."

"Joy Garnett: New Paintings," Winkleman Gallery, New York, NY. Through March 15.

March 9, 2008

Charles Cohan's terminal hieroglyphs

"In what may be the smallest art gallery in the United States, you can discover the whole world." Blake Gopnik reports in The Washington Post. "Or at least its airport terminals. Atlanta, Berlin, Vilnius, Bangkok, Calgary -- all up there on the walls of Curator's Office in Washington. Charles Cohan, a 47-year-old printmaker and art professor based in Hawaii, has transformed diagrams of these terminals and 43 others into a room-filling installation called 'Airfield.' Each terminal is represented by a simplified aerial plan of its facilities, turned into a clean black shape and printed onto a 22-inch square of fine paper. 'I've always been interested in the way in which knowledge is ordered and codified,' says Cohan, 'and in its translation into the artistic medium I'm working in.' His almost-abstract prints, with their luscious blacks, can look as much like letters or symbols or hieroglyphs as like diagrams of actual structures. Cohan is also fascinated by the high-security 'nether zone' of the airport terminal itself. He cites 'the contradiction between the supposed freedom the airport represents, in terms of arrival and departure and transport and travel, and yet within that there is increasing security and surveillance. With the luxury of the freedom of travel, there is anxiety in the hub or epicenter of that travel, which is the terminal.'"

Agnes Martin daydreams

In The Brooklyn Rail, Jeremy Sigler makes a pilgrimage to see Agnes Martin's last drawing. "I went to Agnes Martin’s drawing show at Peter Blum Gallery not so much to see a comprehensive museum-quality retrospective of Martin on paper (which it most definitely is), but to satisfy my curiosity after receiving the show’s announcement card, which pictured a single, 3-inch doodle. Not only was the curvy drawing entirely uncharacteristic of Martin’s mature style, but, more sensationally, the announcement claimed it was the last drawing the artist ever made prior to her death in 2004.When the card arrived, I stared at it for a long time, my mind gripped by an imagined narrative. I pictured the 92-year-old Martin, a solid, elderly hermit with boyish hair, standing in a sublime, light-infused painting studio filled with iconic, extremely reductive canvases. In my daydream, Martin was completing her swan song—that single looping gesture—when her pen dropped to the paper in slow-mo, her arm gone limp and her lifeless body collapsing to the floor. Compelled by such high drama, no doubt orchestrated by the show’s curator—presumably Peter Blum himself—I dropped my pen and dashed over to Wooster Street to see this novel, enigmatic gem in person...

"Up close, despite the work’s authenticating mat and frame, I was surprised to find the volumetric, somewhat figurative contour line drawn on a tiny piece of seemingly inexpensive paper, 3.5 by 2.75 inches, that whispered sacrilegiously of Staples. Drawn in Bic black, in person the line was, quite frankly, auraless, calling to mind nothing so much as a potted African Violet....Uh-oh. I quickly shot back to my Martin fantasy, involuntarily searching for a new frame of reference. This time I landed not in a luminous transcendental space but a blasphemously ordinary geriatric environment. I imagined the artist at her kitchen counter, speaking into a rotary phone while surrounded by towers of discounted prescription bottles and Agatha Christie novels. I hallucinated Martin with the beige receiver pinned between her ear and shoulder, agreeing on a time to be picked up and taken to her next doctor’s appointment, as she mindlessly doodled on her pad—producing this underwhelming work that was never meant for a gallery wall. In this far less idealized image of the artist at work, and of Martin’s last piece, her pen never dropped, nor did she, well… die. Her 'last' drawing failed to live up to the metaphoric EKG monitor I’d first envisioned. Which is not to say it didn’t serve to reawaken my interest in her work." Read more.

"Agnes Martin: Work on Paper," Peter Blum Gallery, New York, NY. Through March 15.

"Bitter slog" for painting in the Whitney Biennial

"Devotees of painting will be on a near-starvation diet, with the work of only Joe Bradley, Mary Heilmann, Karen Kilimnik, Olivier Mosset and (maybe) Cheyney Thompson to sustain them. Hard-line believers in art as visual pleasure will have, poor things, a bitter slog. But if the show is heedless of traditional beauty, it is also firm in its faith in artists as thinkers and makers rather than production-line workers meeting market demands. Not so long ago, Whitney biennials were little more than edited recaps of gallery seasons. Much of the art in them had already been exhibited in galleries and commercially preapproved. By contrast, the Whitney commissioned the bulk of what appears in the 2008 biennial expressly for the occasion. If some artists failed to meet curatorial hopes, others seized the chance to push in new directions. Whatever the outcome, the demonstration of institutional faith was important. It means that, for better or worse, the new art in this show is genuinely new." Read more of Holland Cotter's review in the NYTimes.

Peter Schjeldahl reports in The New Yorker that the few painters in the show are well chosen and register keenly. "The veteran abstractionist Mary Heilmann is famous for what may at first look to be fast, brushy messes but which hang together with the mysterious cogency of free jazz. Three new pictures that are challengingly woozy, even for her, broadcast a smiling sympathy with the show’s bravely irresolute youngsters. Karen Kilimnik, with a typical installation of girlishly romantic canvases on themes of bygone European aristocracy, in a room with a pretty chandelier, offers similar reassurance, to the effect that confused feelings are a problem only if you insist on making them one. Sharply surprising is the inclusion of taciturn paintings of benumbingly ordinary suburban streets by the finest of the first-generation photo-realists, Robert Bechtle, whose style has hardly varied in more than forty years. But take their philosophical measure: a stony refusal to believe that we ever know what we see, put to a test of things—dull houses, parked cars—that seem too obvious to merit even passing attention." Read more.

Related post:
2 Biennial artists in the MassArt family

March 7, 2008

Tracking proto-feminist Loren MacIver

Check out my article about Loren MacIver in The Brooklyn Rail's March issue.
"In my first college painting course, which I took several years after completing an art history degree, my teacher Arnold Trachtman said that my painting of the bathroom sink reminded him of Loren MacIver’s work. I had no idea who she was, and without the convenience of the Internet, never looked her up. But 20 years later, when I saw that the Alexandre Gallery was presenting an exhibition of her paintings, I recalled Arnie’s offhand remark and made a pilgrimage of sorts up to 57th Street.

"After seeing MacIver’s work, I wondered how such an accomplished and distinctive painter could have flown so completely outside my radar. A lifelong New Yorker, MacIver died in 1998 at 90. The Pierre Matisse Gallery took her on in the late 1940s, back in the days when galleries rarely represented women, and kept showing and selling her work for fifty years. The prevailing story is that she was largely self-taught, and that what minimal art training she had consisted of Saturday classes at the Art Student’s League when she was ten. It’s said she did not crave fame, and was reticent about her work, which depicts the objects and incidents of her daily life in a fragile, ethereal style reminiscent of Marc Chagall and Paul Klee. Although her name isn’t as well-known as female contemporaries like Georgia O’Keefe, she represented the United States at the 1962 Venice Biennale, had a retrospective at the Whitney, and placed work in many prestigious collections....

"Unlike the iconic painters of the day—the Pollocks, Newmans, Rothkos, and Reinhardts—who were intent on changing the course of art history, she eschewed theory and resisted the urge to contrive elegant commentary to satisfy art critics. 'I have no theories of art,' she said in a 1993 ArtNews interview with Jonathan Santlofer. 'I don’t know if that’s good or bad. It’s just me.'" Read more.

Related post:
NYTimes Art in Review: Loren MacIver

2 Biennial artists in the MassArt family

My alma mater sent this notice today, and since the Whitney Biennial's painting selection is pretty skimpy, I'm passing it along as my primary coverage of the event. "Massachusetts College of Art is pleased to announce that two of the MassArt family are included in the Whitney Biennial 2008 from March 6 - June 1, 2008 in New York. Heather Rowe '93 and Assistant Professor of Film/Video Gretchen Skogerson follow a long tradition of MassArt alumni in the Biennial such as Jack Pierson '84, Christian Marclay '80, William Wegman '65, Sam Durant '86, Glen Seator '83, Richard Phillips '84, and others as well as faculty such as Taylor Davis (Studio Foundation)." And by the way, don't forget to donate a few bucks to the Annual Fund.

March 6, 2008

Student reporter flummoxed by abstraction

In Washington State University's Daily Evergreen, student Zachariah Bryan declares that he hates abstract art. Apparently “Red Player," a Jack McLarty painting hanging in the school library, sparked Bryan's diatribe. "The main problem I have with abstract art is, however absurd the art may seem, it is supposed to actually have some kind of deep meaning." Bryan writes. "Once the original shape is completely pared away, the viewer is purportedly given a profound clarity as to what the art portrays. This clarity usually comes in the form of a person scratching his head in complete perplexity. The meaning is completely dubious. It is anyone’s guess as to the true meaning of the piece and the only clue an audience might be granted is the title which, even then, could result in more bewilderment. I loathe how abstract art tries to be something more than just art. While interesting in theory, the idea that art can achieve a deeper meaning in the shearing of form is completely ridiculous when it reaches the tapestry. McLarty’s painting only epitomizes the bafflement abstract art often provides. The art form only serves to baffle the viewer or conjure crackpot conclusions from yuppies." Jack McLarty's work is represented in numerous collections including the Salem Art Association, the Hallie Ford Museum, the Portland Art Museum, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Smithsonian. Read more.

Related post:
Honesty in art criticism at Brandeis

Bold and brainy: John Zinsser and Ruth Root

In the NY Sun, painter/critic Stephen Maine usually provides an entertainingly illuminating read. This week, Maine considers abstract painters Ruth Root and John Zinsser. "Creative maturation is a tricky business. While no one talks about 'developing a style' anymore, many artists do look to refine their approach to core material and intellectual concerns, to take possession of and fully occupy a distinctive zone of operations, without lapsing into formulaic solutions. John Zinsser and Ruth Root are established, mid-career painters who have both arrived at just such a juncture of experimentation and branding. In current exhibitions, at Andrew Kreps and James Graham & Sons, respectively, these bold and brainy formalists demonstrate heavy investment in the visual mechanics of pictorial experience, with quite different takes on such fundamentals as color, surface, drawing, and the presence of the painting as an object. Both augment their art historical influences with allusions to popular culture. In different ways, they find a balance between brashness and polish, hedonism and austerity." Read more.

"Ruth Root," Adrew Kreps, New York, NY. Through March 16.
"John Zinsser,"
JG Contemporary, New York, NY. Through March 8.

March 5, 2008

MoMA's sexism resurfaces (again)

At her well-tended art blog, Joanne Mattera's specialty is geometric abstraction, so naturally she stopped by to see "Color Chart" at MoMA this week. Joanne disgustedly reports that the exhibition presents a powerful Y chromosome. "Of the 44 artists in the show, 38 are men and six are women. This is the curator's privilege, of course, but I wonder how such broad parameters could be so exclusionary. You should see Color Chart. It's a visually powerful show, but to my mind it's half a show. Spend some time with the two large Jennifer Bartlett pieces--each an installation of enameled squares in her signature dots and grids (alas, no pictures available from the MoMA website)--and Angela Bulloch's lightbox that flashes the colors of the Macintosh 0S9 operating system (ditto). While those colors are flashing, imagine the reductive color fields of Marcia Hafif, the macro-pointillist compositions of Alma Thomas, the undulating geometries of Bridget Riley, the dyed floor sculptures of Polly Apfelbaum--and make your own list while you're at it." Read more.

Related posts:
Readymade color at MoMA

March 4, 2008

Willats's conceptual tower drawings in Berlin

In ArtForum, Saskia Draxler recommends Stephan Willats's show at Galerie Thomas Schulte in Berlin. "This exhibition consists entirely of conceptual drawings produced between 1983 and 2007. They are not project sketches for the installations and social interventions for which he has been known since the late 1960s but, rather, are discrete artworks. The 'Conceptual Towers,' 1984–2003, are drawings of residential towers that are shaped like the eccentrically designed flower vases Willats collects. He once remarked that certain architects build houses as design objects and not as urban spaces for communication or living, and that these structures are then inhabited by people who surround themselves with lifeless design objects. The diagramlike compositions in the 'Democratic Grids Series,' 1989–2002, feature variously colored squares grouped together like endlessly expandable, hierarchy-free structures, which Willats calls 'democratic surfaces.' Connected by arrows that are meant to represent directions of communication, each of the squares depicted in 'Democratic Grid No. 6,' 1990, represents a different human role: worker, lover, teacher, neighbor, creator, director. The grid shown in 'Acid (LSD) Grids,' 1989, includes larger rectangles with psychedelic spirals ringed with purple, orange, and green. Willats is interested in relationships, movement, and the way people and objects interact; his favorite subjects are, he claims, 'networking,' 'self-organization,' and 'communication.' Yet despite their source material, Willats’s whimsical studies are less sociological investigations than aesthetic methodologies for finding the patterns of form and the fields of forces in human behavior and urban design." Read more "Critics' Picks."

"Stephen Willats: Democratic Mosaics and Conceptual Towers," Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin. through March 8.
Related posts:
Keeping our distance

Precisionist Elsie Driggs retrospective at Michener Museum
Tower news

Smokestack symbolism in Demuth's paintings at the Whitney

Readymade color at MoMA

The Museum of Modern Art's "Color Chart"explores what happens when contemporary artists assign color decisions to chance, readymade source, or arbitrary system. Midway through the twentieth century, long-held convictions regarding the spiritual truth or scientific validity of particular colors gave way to an excitement about color as a mass-produced and standardized commercial product. In the NYTimes, Karen Rosenberg reports that "the show is a rejoinder to the notion of color as the province of formalists, and to the idea that Minimal and Conceptual art comes only in shades of black, white and gray....Ms. Temkin’s thesis owes much to the British artist and writer David Batchelor, whose book 'Chromophobia' (2000) is a thorough and witty cultural history of color, including in its thematic discussions 'Heart of Darkness' and the movie version of 'The Wizard of Oz.' Regrettably, photographs from Mr. Batchelor’s series 'Found Monochromes of London,' a visual diary of white rectangles glimpsed during his daily travels, have been tucked away near the museum’s sixth-floor bathrooms. As Mr. Batchelor writes: 'The color chart divorces color from conventional theory and turns every color into a ready-made. It promises autonomy for color; in fact, it offers three distinct but related types of autonomy: that of each color from every other color, that of color from the dictates of color theory, and that of color from the register of representation.' In other words, we are far from Goethe’s 'Theory of Colors' and from the deceptive relationships of Josef Albers’s homages to the square." Read more.

"Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today," organized by Ann Temkin. Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY. Through May 12.
Related posts:
"All power to the hardboiled intellect"

MoMA's sexism resurfaces (again)

March 3, 2008

March museum openings

At artnet, a roundup of exhibitions opening in March includes Directions -- Amy Sillman: Third Person Singular at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today at the Museum of Modern Art; In the Forest of Fontainebleau: Painters and Photographers from Corot to Monet at the National Gallery of Art; Earl Cunningham’s America at the American Folk Art Museum; A New World: England’s First View of America at the Yale Center for British Art; Utagawa: Masters of the Japanese Print, 1770-1900 at the Brooklyn Art Museum.

Naming opportunity in Connecticut

Are you, or an art collector you know, drawn to the idea of having a fine art center named in your honor? At Eastern Connecticut State University, the Studio and Performing Arts Departments are planning a big new center for the arts that will include a gallery, theater, art studios, computer labs, practice spaces, classrooms and more. A donation of 5 million bucks will do the trick. When you think about it, it's less than the price of a decent Richter at auction, and far less than a naming opportunity anywhere else. Perhaps you would like be the Peter and Paula Lunder or Alex and Ada Katz of Connecticut? Click here to learn more and get contact information.

March 2, 2008

June Wayne still acting out in Hollywood

In the LA Times, Suzanne Muchnic visits with 90-year-old artist/activist June Wayne. Rutgers University, which established the June Wayne Archive and Study Center in 2002 when Wayne donated a large collection of graphic works, recently published "June Wayne: The Art of Everything." The richly illustrated, 464-page book documents her work from 1936 to 2006. The Bibliothéque Nationale in Paris has a complete set of her prints. Individual works are in dozens of other public collections, and she has compiled a huge international résumé of exhibitions. She's still so full of energy and ideas that she says that getting old is a terrible handicap. "'Nobody makes business deals with someone my age. . . . A show is not less than a year away always, and sometimes three or four. If I want to take on a big project, people look at me and ask, 'Is she going to be around?' With a keen sense of justice and a compulsion to articulate her ideas, Wayne has been visibly and audibly 'around' for a long time. A champion of free speech and artists' rights -- and a thorn in the side of conservative politicians -- she joined an artists' union in 1938 and testified before a congressional committee on behalf of a failed effort to preserve Works Progress Administration art programs as permanent agencies. Fifty-two years later -- in 1990, when the National Endowment for the Arts was under attack for funding exhibitions deemed offensive by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and others -- she delivered the keynote address to the annual meeting of the College Art Assn., the nation's largest organization of visual arts professionals. The anti-censorship lecture, 'Obscenity Reconsidered,' brought thunderous applause and a standing ovation. Wayne's activism has often overshadowed her art. But she is still ensconced in the light-filled industrial building in Hollywood where she has lived and worked for decades."

Any artist who has been discouraged by their dealer from undertaking more experimental work will appreciate Wayne's tongue-in-cheek advice to young artists. "I've always had a problem with the fact that I don't have a signature image," Wayne told Muchnic. "If I have already addressed a problem, I move it along. That's a terrible mistake. When I advise young artists, I say to them, if you want to be successful, develop one thing and do it all the time. But you must teach it to a lot of other people who are not quite as good as you are. They go out and educate the masses to your image and you come along, having done it slightly better, and you make the money. The artist needs not only a signature image but a lot of imitators. And since I keep changing, I obviously have not taken my own advice." Read more.

“She is the doyenne of American printmaking. Her fame rests as much on her efforts to revitalize printmaking in the United States as it does on her dazzling lithographs...Ms. Wayne is an artist in search of the sublime.”– Benjamin Genocchio, New York Times

“Her prints, paintings, and tapestries address many of the great themes of our times…her art is a map of our era.” – Judith K. Brodsky, Rutgers University, from the preface to the new book

"Her work has been responsive to the evolving history of art during her long lifetime… it is difficult to think of a parallel achievement in terms of its breadth, humanity, ambition, and sweep.” – Arthur C. Danto, Columbia University, from the introduction to the book

Hot metal burns in Pittsburgh

Artists Carley Jean Parrish and Ed Parrish witnessed their Etna home and studio burn to the ground on January 17. They lost all the work they had made for "Hot Metal," a new exhibition organized by Ed Parrish and planned for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's largest Downtown gallery SPACE. The Tribune-Reveiw art critic Kurt Shaw reports that "with no insurance, the Parrishes are now hard at work rebuilding their lives. But they did manage to pull together that art exhibition. The show must go on as they say. And they even managed to put their own work in it, though quite a bit different than planned....'My wife and I were both planning on having our work in the show, but most of what we were working on got destroyed (in the fire),' Ed Parrish said. 'So, these are parts that we scavenged from our studio. Then, a week after the fire, which kept us up all night, we just stayed up all night down here and built this through the course of the night.' So devastated, Carley Jean Parrish could barely muster any more effort. Her 'Extensions' is sad and poignant commentary, being simply a wad of melted extension chords hung on a hook near the entrance to the gallery." Read more.