September 30, 2008

Gettysburg Cyclorama reopens on Friday

Cycloramas were a popular form of entertainment in the late 1800's, both in America and Europe. These massive cylindrical paintings were displayed in special rotundas and enhanced with landscaped foregrounds, life-size figures, and realistic lighting. The result was a three-dimensional effect that surrounded the viewers who stood on a central platform, placing them in the center of the scene. Hundreds were painted and exhibited in Europe and America during the 1800's, but with the invention of motion pictures, most panoramas were abandoned or destroyed. A few years ago I was transfixed by the Panorama Mesdag, painted by Hendrik Willem Mesdag in the 1900s. Located in Den Haag, Mesdag is the oldest panorma still at it's original site.

In the Washington Post, Philip Kennicott reports that this Friday, after a five-year and $15 million restoration effort, the panoramic Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama will reopen to the public. The painting has been restored to its original 377-foot-by-42-foot size and installed in a new rotunda. An entrepreneurial venture organized by Chicago retailer Charles Louis Willoughby, the panorama was painted by the French painter Paul Philippoteaux and a team of thirty assistants.

"The Gettysburg panorama was originally painted for Boston but brought to the small Pennsylvania town for the 50th anniversary of the epic clash. And there it moldered for decades. Philippoteaux's Battle of Gettysburg -- with its exploding caissons, agonized horses and chaotic disarray of charging soldiers -- is an occasionally dramatic but hardly great painting. In 1883, impressionism was in full flower, and Philippoteaux's compatriots -- Monet, Cézanne, Degas -- were revolutionizing painting. Panorama painters had become purely commercial artists, and panoramas were a decidedly middle-brow form (the artist of the Sedan panorama 'put this entire starched, blatant, dreary, petit bourgeois, feudal society onto canvas in a manner that is as thorough, embarrassing, and insipid as the society itself,' said one critic)....Looking at the painting today, you begin to wonder if maybe the medium isn't the message. Like cinema, panorama grew out of a scientific and enlightenment tradition and was championed by an industrial and entrepreneurial one. But the message of the Gettysburg Cyclorama (brought to the United States by a Northern businessman) is all about the nation perpetually trapped at the moment of the South's greatest glory. The industry of illusionism (which continues with video games and virtual reality) is placed in service of an almost feudal worldview, the 'lost cause,' which championed an agrarian economy that was out of step with the march of progress that would invent, popularize and rapidly forget the wonders of panorama."

Related posts:
Sanford Wurmfeld's non-mimetic panorama painting in Edinburgh

Richter's automaton paintings

Gerhard Richter's new project, "4900 Colours," comprises 196 square panels of 25 coloured squares that can be reconfigured in a number of variations, from one large-scale piece to multiple, smaller paintings. Richter has developed a new configuration of the panels especially for this exhibition, formed of 49 paintings of 100 squares.

"In The Telegraph, Alastair Sooke reports that "4900 Colours: Version II" may present an austere approach to picture-making, but the results are lively nonetheless. "A computer program arbitrarily selected the color of each square; the arrangement of panels was then decided on the throw of a dice. This means that the distribution of colors is entirely random, privileging chance and abstraction at the expense of figuration or painterly touch. By any standards, this is a disciplined, cerebral, even austere approach to picture-making. But the joy of the series is how amazingly alive and energetic each painting feels. Spend time staring at any one of them, and you quickly notice that the blocks of colour appear to be constantly rearranging themselves, like a giant Rubik's cube in perpetual motion. They have a visual hum and thrum, like a brightly coloured version of TV static. And even though we know that every hint of figuration has been eradicated, our eyes still comb the multicoloured tesserae searching for shapes and pattern."

At Bloomberg, Martin Gayford writes that it's a bit like seeing a whole display made up of nothing but Damien Hirst's dot paintings: instantly attractive and numbingly repetitive. Eventually, you work out that the point is as much conceptual as visual."

"Gerhard Richter: 4900 Colours, Version II," Serpentine Gallery, London, UK. Through Nov. 16.

September 27, 2008

Mary Heilmann: Not such a dumb girl

Mary Heilmann's exhhibition at Zwirner & Wirth features paintings and works on paper from the last three decades. Heilmann draws inspiration from her own experience, including the Southern California surf culture of her childhood, the San Francisco beatnik era of her teen years, the punk and new wave music scenes of 1970s and early 80s New York, and her formal training as a sculptor and ceramist. The paintings incorporate a complex amalgam of personal references, cultural influences, and craft traditions in an art practice that includes painting, painted ceramics, and constructed furniture. In October, the Heilmann retrospective organized by the Orange County Museum opens at the New Museum. Check out James Kalm's video of Heilmann's opening at Zwirner & Wirth.

Also read Dorothy Spears's profile of Heilmann in the NY Times. "Over time, she said, she has learned 'not to be cynical and sarcastic all the time, or just plain provocative with the fellas, to get them mad.' Still, her belated success gives her a longing for just one more round with the big boys. 'I wish Smithson would come back,' Ms. Heilmann said of her onetime idol, who died in 1973, 'and say, ‘Oh, you’re not such a dumb girl.’ '”

"Mary Heilmann: Some Pretty Colors," Zwirner and Wirth, New York, NY. Through Oct. 25.

Related post:
James Kalm interview with ART21 guest blogger, Hrag Vartanian
Mary Heilmann retrospective: injecting vernacular juice into abstract art

NY TImes Art in Review: Loeb, Brown, Ackermann

"Damian Loeb: Synesthesia, Parataxic, Distortion, and the Shadow," Acquavella, New York, NY. Through Oct. 7. Ken Johnson: "With its portentous Damien Hirst-like title, 'Synesthesia, Parataxic Distortion, and the Shadow,' it promises something more spectacular than the pleasant, conscientiously well made, illustrative paintings that make up this exhibition.Mr. Loeb produces what you might call Photorealist Melodrama. There is not much action in his paintings, but he has a cinematographer’s eye for suspenseful scenes."

"Cecily Brown," Gagosian, New York, NY. Through Oct. 25. Martha Schwendener: "The best way to view this show may be as a conceptual installation in which the catalog, the artworks and the gallery posit painting as a pornographic spectacle....It’s difficult not to notice, when standing in front of Ms. Brown’s paintings, that she is merely a competent painter rather than a great one."

"Rita Ackermann: Don’t Give Me Salad (Nurses)," Andrea Rosen, New York, NY. Through Oct. 18. Karen Rosenberg: "The works in Rita Ackermann’s 'Don’t Give Me Salad (Nurses)' chew up and spit out the pulp-fiction female stereotypes embodied in Richard Prince’s much-hyped 'Nurse Paintings.' (Ms. Ackermann makes no overt references to Mr. Prince’s pictures, but the comparison is inevitable.) The women in her paintings, drawings and collages sometimes wear white caps, but their wide-set alien eyes, skinny, neon-tinged bodies and violent gestures convey anything but nurture."

Read all the reviews here.

September 25, 2008

Glantzman: Searching for self

At ArtCritical, Cathy Quinlan reports that Judy Glantzman's work, on view at Betty Cunningham, has evolved. "In the first years this decade, Judy Glantzman’s paintings were of the single figure, painted and repainted: female, with multiple personalities and isolated in space. Suddenly, in 2004, there was a population explosion. It was as if these women had given birth to hundreds of disembodied heads. Or else, Glantzman had looked up to find herself on the subway where anyone not immersed in a newspaper or a novel studies everyone else’s facial expressions. Her method of painting also changed radically. Instead of painting and repainting the entire piece, wet-on-wet, every day, the paintings became an accumulative series of sketched heads and there was a desparate attempt to organize them—as totem poles, mandalas, crosses, etc. The viewer’s gaze moved quickly, paralleling the speed of the drawing, as if searching for someone (and not finding him). They could also be read as watching the play of fleeting expressions on a single face.

"In this latest series, another deep change has occurred. Vestiges of the stacked and circled heads remain, but they are often enclosed in a larger figure and a physical space is loosely suggested. Glantzman is using a greater variety of organizing tactics and approaching narrative space. She also singles out specific faces and other details for our longer contemplation. Drawing and painting alternate in an extremely fluid and unusual way in these works. Has a painter ever been compared to Aretha Franklin, the way she can be talking one moment and singing the next?"

"Judy Glantzman," Betty Cunningham Gallery, New York, NY. Through Oct. 11.

Reactionary painter puts money where his mouth is

Well-known Scottish landscape painter John Lowrie Morrison, speaking in National Gallery of Scotland on the Mound, has launched the second Jolomo awards, which offer a £20,000 first prize to the best young emerging landscape artist in Scotland. Morrison, whose own prolific output ensures that he earns about £2million a year from the sale of his original works, said that drawing and landscape painting was no longer taken seriously by Scottish art schools. Instead, colleges were in thrall to conceptual art, epitomized by Hirst's jewel-encrusted skull and Emin's unmade bed.

“It's about making a name for yourself, about celebrity; it's not about art. But in 20 years time, none of that will be looked upon as good art,” said Mr Morrison, who is best known by his signature, ‘Jolomo'. He singled out Emin's installation, 'It's Not the Way I Want to Die,' a representation of the roller coaster at Margate, for particular criticism. “Her work will not stand the test of time. The thing in the National Gallery of Modern Art just now - a pile of wood against a wall? I don't see anything in that. It does not excite me in any way. It doesn't even make me angry. ...A lot people don't want to be seen to be uncool. So they won't say anything bad, but a lot of the time this stuff is rubbish." (Via Mike Wade in The Times)

Applicants must be painters who:
a. Are currently living or working in Scotland and are aged 18 or over on 1st January 2009.
b. Have studied at one of the Scottish colleges of art, or in an art discipline at one of the Scottish universities or further education colleges, or at an independent Scottish art college, within the last five years.
c. If more than five years have passed since studying art at a Scottish university or college, or if the applicant has no formal qualifications, a body of work can be submitted which is proposed and approved by a suitably qualified referee, e.g. art lecturer, teacher, gallery owner.
d. The Jolomo Awards welcomes entries from artists with special needs.
e. Although entrants to the 2007 Awards may enter The Jolomo Awards 2009 for Scottish Landscape Painting, the winners of the 2007 Awards may NOT enter the 2009 Awards.

Deadline for submission is January 31, 2009.

Tom Schmitt at Howard Scott

In The Village Voice, RC Baker reports that Schmitt's years of painting make all the difference in these digitally-created formalist compositions. "The four orange squares in 'Quad' (2005) are divided by a gray grid; the transition between the two colors is as smoothly elusive as the intersections of colored light in Dan Flavin's fluorescent-tube sculptures. Although these small works are wrought with a computer and Epson printer, they convey a physicality that calls to mind Rothko's mystical joins of oil paint. While tools and materials change, there's no substitute for a patient eye, and Schmitt's been a painter for more than 40 years. Unlike most images disgorged from circuitry nowadays, these have the imposing beauty that comes only from experience."

"Tom Schmitt: Works on Paper, 1960-2008," Howard Scott, New York, NY. Through October 4.

September 23, 2008

Why painters keep painting

In the NY Times Holland Cotter explains why Giorgio Morandi kept painting, even after his hands became shaky and his eyesight started to fail. "You might ask other artist-poets this question: Joseph Albers, say, or Paul Klee or Agnes Martin or a New York artist I know who sits down at his apartment desk for two hours every day — only two, but always two — to embroider small squares of raw canvas with abstract patterns in silk thread. The work is close, slow and painstaking, done stitch by stitch, row by row — letter by letter, line by line — in calligraphic loops and tufts. An inch of embroidery, approximately the size of a sonnet quatrain, takes months to complete. But the work goes on. Because it is controllable reality. It is a form of thinking that frees up thought. It is time-consuming, but time-slowing, isolating but self-fulfilling. It is a part of life, but also a metaphor for how life should be: with everything in place, every pattern clear, every rhyme exact, every goal near." Read more.

Related posts:
Morandi: "I don't ask for anything except for a bit of peace which is indispensable for me to work."

September 22, 2008

"Francis Bacon was one of the greatest painters of the twentieth century..."

Thanks, Art Observed, for putting together this link list of articles about the Francis Bacon show at Tate Britain. Bacon, like Frida Kahlo, is one of those painters with whom every freshman art student falls in love. Later, after spending a few semesters in the studio, they're inevitably drawn to more challenging work.
Major Celebration Heralding Francis Bacon’s Centenary Opens at Tate Gallery in London [ArtDaily]
Francis Bacon: ‘The man’s a bloody genius’ [Guardian]
Video Commentary from Chris Stephens, co-curator of the exhibition [Tate Britain]
Francis Bacon at the Tate Britain [Times Online]
Bacon’s Darkness in a New Light [Wall Street Journal]
Reviews roundup: Francis Bacon at Tate Britain [Guardian]
London set for Bacon centenary exhibition [AFP]
Bacon Show Has $6 Billion Art, Horror, Corpses [Bloomberg]
Francis Bacon claims his place at the top of the market [Art Newspaper]
Francis Bacon: touching the void, video review of the exhibit [Times Online]

From a review roundup in The Guardian:
The Guardian
's art critic, Adrian Searle, admits to being an adolescent fan ("the grisly aspects of Bacon's art appeal to the teenage mind") but after looking at the artist for 40 years, he is still troubled by the "myth, rumour and anecdote about his life [that] have come to dominate discussion of his art". Searle writes: "Bacon fakes his boneless anatomies, and has the ingenuity to make us believe them, too. I vacillate between admiration and dismissal ... Bacon was a pasticheur, a mimic. He ended up imitating himself. This retrospective … is as uneven and overstretched as the artist himself was". He concludes: "I still ask myself if he was the real deal."

"Francis Bacon," curated by Matthew Gale and Chris Stephens. Tate Britain, London. Through Jan. 4.

Rothko edits Rothko

In The Independent Claire Dwyer Hoggs talks to Chris Rothko, Mark Rothko's son and editor of The Artist's Reality: Philosophies of Art, a new book of his father's writing. "'People imagine my father had a glamorous existence, but he lived mainly in slums,' Christopher says, as he settles into his chair. Mark Rothko's best-known paintings now sell for tens of millions of pounds, but during the Great Depression he lived hand-to-mouth, and until the last two decades of his life – which he ended with a razor blade, in his studio, early one morning in 1970 when Christopher was six – was largely unrecognized and unsupported by the art establishment. The artist's 45-year-old son is a psychologist, but has for the past eight years looked after the Rothko Family Collection and Archive with his older sister, Kate. Rothko's prolific body of work, mostly produced before people began to think of him as an artist of note, was often done at night, after a day of teaching, and at weekends. Part of the tragedy of his career was that he spent a lifetime struggling for recognition, then struggled to deal with it when he achieved it. 'I don't think he ever fully came to grips with it,' Christopher smiles. 'As soon as he became successful he began to suspect it, that maybe the painting was too easy because so many people liked it.'" Read more.

In The Guardian Adrian Searle reports that the Tate Modern's Rothko retrospective, on view through January, is a great show because it focuses on the materiality rather than the spirituality of Rothko's work. "Rothko was a painter, not a religion, and the curator, Achim Borchardt-Hume, has made an effort to rescue Rothko from his fans - even, perhaps, from himself....The show makes a careful study of Rothko's technique, his materials and paint application. One painting, owned by the Tate, is shown alongside close-up photographs of details seen under ultraviolet light, revealing the complex layerings and reworkings the artist subjected his work to. The painting is displayed on a false wall, with an aperture behind that enables us to see the back of the canvas. With their plum and red grounds, their orange and russet and grey and brownish hovering forms, the Seagram paintings always risked being taken for an overly tasteful colour scheme. Their mutedness can seem a kind of deluxe sumptuousness, to offset the brownish tinted windows of the Seagram building. On a bad day, and to an unsympathetic eye, Rothko can look cheap rather than deep. But he was also an intensely dissatisfied artist, who at his best pushed his paintings beyond his innate taste. He kept on working until the works became unfamiliar to him, as awkward in the world as he probably felt in his own skin. For all their premeditation, Rothko's approach to the Seagram paintings is often revealed in blunt and even slapdash touches and swipes of his house-painter's brush." Read more.

Kippenberger's complicated coherence at MOCA

Senior MOCA curator Ann Goldstein talks to Suzanne Muchnic in the LA Times about the Martin Kippenberger survey she has organized. "One can only understand Kippenberger through the breadth and volume of his practice," Goldstein says. "He produced hundreds and hundreds of works. I have settled on 250, but that doesn't account for the fact that one of those is a multi-part installation or that another work comprises 56 canvases and another, 47 drawings.

"Kippenberger claimed a position for himself as a publisher, curator and performer, as well as author of objects," she says. "He was keenly aware of the roles artists play and challenged ideas of authorship and originality. He cannibalized himself over time, recycled his images and worked with assistants and other artists to produce his work, even conceive of the work.

"He really complicated things, but through that complication I think one can see a coherence. My hope is that through the volume, one will have a clear understanding of Kippenberger." Check out the slideshow in which Goldsteiin discusses five specific pieces.

The book that accompanies the show documents Kippenberger's twenty-year career with works in many media--paintings, sculptures, works on paper, installations, photographs, collaborations with other artists, posters, postcards, books, and music. Among the major works reproduced are key selections from the "I.N.P. Bilder (Is Not Embarrassing Pictures)" and "No Problem" paintings of the 1980s; the 1987 exhibition of sculpture "Peter. Die russische Stellung" ("Peter. The Russian Position"); self-portraits in a variety of media; "Laterne an Betrunkene (Street Lamp for Drunks)"; the "Raft of the Medusa" cycle of the 1990s; the Hotel drawings; and the monumental installation, "The Happy End of Franz Kafka's 'Amerika.'" Accompanying the artworks is an essay by Goldstein; newly commissioned texts by art historian Pamela Lee, Kippenberger scholar Diedrich Diederichsen, and curator Ann Temkin; reprinted excerpts from a 1991 interview with Kippenberger by artist Jutta Koether; and an illustrated exhibition history, chronology, and bibliography.

"Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective," curated by Ann Goldstein. Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA. Through Jan. 5. Traveling to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, March 1- May 11, 2009.

Painting sympsium at The Phillips Collection in DC

On Saturday, September 27, artists, art historians and critics will be jawing about state of painting. "Although widely proclaimed dead in the 1980s, painting has returned to prominence in recent years." Participants include Yve-Alain Bois (Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton), Spencer Finch (Artist, Brooklyn, New York), Jonathan Fineberg (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), Blake Gopnik (The Washington Post), Suzanne Hudson (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), Dorothy M. Kosinski (The Phillips Collection and Center for the Study of Modern Art), Leng Lin (Pace – Beijing), Joseph Marioni (Artist, New York City), Stephen W. Melville (Ohio State University), Laura Owens (Artist, Los Angeles), Andrea Pollan (Curator's Office, Washington, DC), Richard Shiff (University of Texas), Elisabeth Sussman (Whitney Museum of American Art), Gordon VeneKlasen (Michael Werner Gallery). If you go, stop in the galleries and see Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series, which is up through October 26.

UPDATE: Tyler Green (
Modern Art Notes) attended the symposium. Here's his take on it:
And over this past weekend the Phillips Collection, America's first museum of modern art, a museum with a spectacular 1890-1940ish collection, held a symposium on painting in the 21st century, an area in which the museum has virtually no art and no curatorial expertise. (Perhaps this is why three dealers ended up on the day's program.) I attended. Some of it.

"My favorite part was a panel discussion on criticism and painting, during which Washington Post provocateur Blake Gopnik said that painters were responsible for what he considers to be the weak state of contemporary painting criticism. Call it the Gopnik Doctrine. On its own that's a pretty remarkable assertion, but it was flat-out amusing given the 'keynote address' that preceded it. The keynoter was Suzanne Hudson, who opened her talk by discussing the alleged death of painting (I could have sworn I heard Whitesnake and Richard Marx songs in the background) and then quickly moved on to painting's alleged death within the context of today's art market, inadvertently using ten minutes of whiplash to fuse two decades of cliches. The best part: Under the Gopnik Doctrine, painters are to blame for Hudson's talk. All of which isn't to suggest that museums shouldn't be interested in contemporary issues, just that they should try to engage within the context of what they do best."

Painting in the 21st Century," The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Saturday, September 27, 2008 10 am - 5 pm. Free with admission to museum.

September 19, 2008

Snaps of the 2008 Connecticut Biennial

Sal Scalora, former Director of UConn’s Benton Museum, and Janice LaMotta, owner of LaMotta Fine Art and former owner of Paesaggio Fine Art, have curated the Mattatuck Museum’s inaugural Connecticut Biennial, Speak to Me. According to their curatorial statement, “excellence in art making” rather than any specific theme was the selection criterion; thus, the work is conceptually diverse, and features new projects by young artists alongside work by older, well-knowns like Ellen Carey and Peter Waite. Take a look at these snapshots, check out the links provided, and try to guess which artists each curator selected. My choice for "Best in Show" goes to Gene Gort's video, Narcissus O.C.D. (click for an excerpt). Gort describes the video, in which a dog tirelessly tries to catch his image reflected in a pool of water, as "curious, funny and melancholic." I think it's a perfect metaphor for my life in the studio.

"2008 Connecticut Biennial: Speak to Me," curated by Salvatore Scalora and Janice LaMotta. The Mattatuck Museum, Waterbury, CT. Through Jan. 11, 2009. Artists in the exhibition include Krysten Bailey, Diane Brainerd, Ellen Carey, Deborah Dancy, Steven DiGiovanni, Ted Efremoff, Sam Ekwurtzel, Letty Fonteyne, Gene Gort, Zbigniew Grzyb, Nathan Lewis, Christopher Mir, Olu Oguibe, Yolando Vasquez Petrocelli, Caleb Portfolio, Kerri Quirk, Nelson Ramirez, and Peter Waite.

A complete post with images of each artists' work can be found at Connecticut Art Scene.

NY TImes Art in Review: Larissa Bates

In the NY Times, Karen Rosenberg wonders why Larissa Bates, whose small ink-and-gouache paintings are guys-only versions of Darger’s impish, militant Vivian Girls, wasn't included in the Henry Darger show at American Folk Art Museum. "In the 'MotherMen' series, centaurlike creatures give birth in the woods. The 'Lederhosen Boys,' young scamps with chubby limbs and blond curls, perform mysterious séances on rocky bluffs. The landscapes in most of these paintings are at least as interesting as the figures; their sources include Nicolas Poussin, the Northern Renaissance artist Joachim de Patinir and Persian miniatures. Paintings by the contemporary artist Hernan Bas, of dandyish young men in lush, windswept landscapes, also come to mind."

"If the paintings combine these diverse influences, the large mixed-media installation in the center of the gallery teases them apart. A life-size, gold-painted plaster figure of a headless MotherMan and three smaller papier-mâché Lederhosen Boys flank a mirrored platform. Embedded in this structure is a video monitor showing highlights from wrestling matches, as well as actors costumed to look like characters from the paintings. This diagrammatic piece is a wrong turn in an otherwise compelling fantasy world." Read all of today's reviews here.

"Larissa Bates: Just Hustle and Muscle," Monya Rowe Gallery, New York, NY. Through Oct. 18.

Peter McDonald wins John Moores Painting Prize

Peter McDonald's painting depicting an artist slashing a canvas has won this year's John Moores contemporary painting prize. "Fontana," by the Tokyo-born McDonald, reimagines the working practice of Italian artist Lucio Fontana, who made a series of works featuring canvases with slashes and holes. The painting, chosen from 40 works shortlisted for the £25,000 prize, was described by a judge as "one of the most inventive paintings I've seen". McDonald, 35, who studied art at Central Saint Martins and the Royal Academy Schools, said today he felt "ecstatic, very happy and shocked". "All the other works were really good so it was an added surprise," he said, speaking from the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. "I hoped the judges would appreciate the various layers [in Fontana]. I think of it as a painter's painting."

This year's jurors included artists Jake and Dinos Chapman, art critic Sacha Craddock, and painters Graham Crowley and Paul Morrison. Artist Crowley said the winning painting "acts as a tantalising and provocative glimpse into the way we think". (Via Natalie Hanman in The Guardian)

Related links:

John Moores Painting Prize: Shortlist released

Mie Olise Kjærgaard perches in Houston

September 17, 2008

Amy Wilson: Open book

Unlike contemporary text artists such as Laurence Weiner and his followers, the prolific Amy Wilson is more interested in the narrative use of language than in its semantic meaning. Her current show at BravinLee features her usual cast of innocent, skinny-legged girls, all dressed in micro-minis, surrounded by handwritten text bubbles containing confessional outpourings about politics, art, science, and metaphysics. The thematic focus of the show, The Myth of Loneliness, is a fascinating fifteen-foot-long handmade pop-up book in which her penciled text snakes around three-dimensional paper buildings, trees, trains, and bridges. While reading it, I got the discomfiting feeling that I was inside Wilson’s head, listening to her think. The text in one drawing revealed that when she was a child, she thought the constant activity humming in her brain was abnormal. In later passages we learn that as she grew up, she came to appreciate and indulge her mind’s constant agitation, which is clearly evident in the engaging drawings and books presented here.

"Amy Wilson: The Myth of Loneliness," BravinLee, New York, NY. Through

In Harms' way

Old painting pal Sadko Hadzihasanovic and I once decided that a painter can have good paint-handling and bad drawing, or good drawing and bad paint-handling, but bad drawing and bad paint-handling is a formula for, well, truly bad painting. Bendix Harms, in his second solo show at Anton Kerns, wants to prove otherwise. Despite Harms' stunningly bad drawing and impulsive, reckless paint-handling, his work manages to muster a memorable exuberance. The studied insouciance and sentimental imagery might suggest humble intent, but the monumental scale begs for attention, like a child who insists on doing cartwheels in the livingroom. According to the Kerns press release, Harms, who completes each painting in one session with no later revisions, wants to unveil the "emotional bare skin while elevating it to a universal level where the viewer's subjective response to his psychological nakedness stimulates feelings of liberation, and even shame."

Harms studied at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste (HfBK), Hamburg. His work has been exhibited at the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art (2007), the Prague Biennial (2005), the Tirana Biennale (2001), and in gallery shows in Munich, Copenhagen, Madrid, Hamburg, and Cologne. He lives and works in Hamburg, Germany.

"Bendix Harms: Lebenslieben," Anton Kern Gallery, New York, NY. Through Oct. 4.

John O'Connor: Recording small events, missteps, and changes of direction over time

In The Village Voice RC Baker reports that John O'Connor uses 'haphazard research' and personal obsession (body weight, lottery numbers, weather reports) as inspiration for his drawings, some of which are almost seven feet high. "This approach lends his charts and graphs a delectably organic feel, as layers of silky black graphite combine with bold colored-pencil patterns for an almost painterly heft. 'A Good Idea' (2008) resembles a pollen spore armored with letters and numbers, a hybrid of data and nature. The blend of odd shapes and enigmatic information draws you in, slowing down your mind so that your eye can marvel at the lush density of the images."

In The Brooklyn Rail, painter Eve Aschheim talked with O’Connor in his Queens apartment/studio about his life and work. Here's an excerpt.
What was the evolution of your use of chance, abstraction and conceptual processes?
In high school I was doing pen and ink drawings with lots of detail, very labor intensive. They could take a year to make. In college I saw my first abstract painting in an art history class. I didn’t know what abstract painting was, and didn’t understand how or why someone would make something like that. I started making my own paintings to figure out what abstraction was about. I was excited by it because it was unlike anything that I’d seen.

Rail: What college was that?
Westfield State College, a small state school where I grew up, in Massachusetts. I graduated from there in ’95. For a few years after, I played drums in a band. I tried to make art, but I didn’t know what to do and had run out of ideas—my work was really static. I felt isolated there, so I went to The Vermont Studio Center in ’97. It was the first time I met real artists working for a living and I also started to look at different types of art. In Vermont I was painting abstractly—textured simple shapes—with many paint layers.

There was one night in The Studio Center, when I painted this red square, kind of rounded like a TV screen. It was awful, I thought, “What was the point of making this thing?” It was a shape that I had no real connection to. I had been looking at stuff… I love diagrams and things that look casual and unintentionally interesting, like indecipherable notes, scrawls that came from somewhere that wasn’t an art place. So, I covered the red square with white paint and I walked over to the gas station that’s about fifteen minutes away.

Rail: Sure, I know that place.
I bought a big bag of chips, a huge coke and thought “This is it, I don’t know what to do, I can’t do anything that’s my own.” I felt like if I were an alcoholic I’d be drinking, but I came back and ate the bag of chips, drank the coke, and thought “Oh man, I gotta get outta here.”

[both laughing]

O’Connor: So I thought before I left I should just try to draw a little something on this piece. The paint had dried, but not completely, because I’d only been gone a little while, so it had a film. I drew this weird little circular squiggly thing and it tore through some of the paint and showed a little bit of the underpainting, but it also drew on top. It was in between a diagram and something you just draw. It was really simple and quick; it took half a minute. I wasn’t really thinking about it. I tricked myself by doing this thing and I loved it. I thought, “this is it!” It looked almost ghost-like. You couldn’t really tell what the form was; it didn’t really have a defined shape. I loved that painting. So I spent the rest of my time in Vermont trying to figure out how to recreate that moment.

I calculated how long it took me to walk to the store and eat the chips. I thought, “Okay if I use the same paint and do the same thing, can I make this same effect happen again?” I set everything up in the studio and walked out to the store and did the same thing. I tried, but I couldn’t get it right; the conditions weren’t perfect. When I went back to Massachusetts I did the same thing. I would set my alarm and get up in the middle of the night to do it again. I was obsessed with making this ridiculous shape. It was my attempt to get back to that moment to figure out exactly it happened so spontaneously—it was impossible, but that’s my personality. I eventually went to Pratt graduate school and saw a book of prints by John Cage, and thought “Wow, these compositions!”—the way they looked—unbalanced and that random color —was something I wanted to get in my own work

"John J. O'Connor: Flannel Tongue," Pierogi, Brooklyn, NY. Through October 6.

September 15, 2008

Morandi: "I don't ask for anything except for a bit of peace which is indispensable for me to work."

The big Giorgio Morandi survey that opens this week at the Metropolitan Museum features over 100 paintings, drawings, watercolors and etchings. In the New Yorker Peter Schjeldahl writes that painting for Morandi was manual labor, first and last. "For a time, he ground his own pigments. He stretched his own canvases, constantly varying their proportions. (In the Met show, there are almost as many different sizes of picture as there are pictures.) No one work builds on another. Infinitely refined, Morandi never succumbs to elegance. Even his effulgently pinkish floral still-lifes abjure virtuosity, though they beguile. (One might be made of ice cream; another stiffens to marzipan.) That’s because the exigencies of rendering—tiny slippages between eye and hand—constituted, for him, a permanent emergency, requiring incessant adjustment. (Rose petals may jam up like large people competing to pass through a small door.) He did not have a style. He had a signature: 'Morandi,' written large, often, to broadcast that a picture had done all it could. He is a painter’s painter, because to look at his work is to re-create it, feeling in your wrist and fingers the sequence of strokes, each a stab of decision which discovers a new problem....Morandi has never been a popular artist and never will be. He engages the world one solitary viewer at a time. The experience of his work is unsharable even, in a way, with oneself, like a word remembered but not remembered, on the tip of the tongue." Read more.

Born in Bologna on 20 July 1890, Morandi lived with his mother and his three unmarried sisters his entire life, but he was hardly a recluse. Every summer, the family went to Grizzana, in the Apennines, where he built a small studio. From 1907-13 Morandi studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Bologna and traveled around Italy to study Renaissance art. He took part in a group exhibition with the Futurists, but the association was short-lived. When Italy entered the First World War,Morandi enlisted but suffered a breakdown and was discharged. He taught drawing in elementary schools from 1916-29. During this period he was briefly associated with Metaphysical Painting, a movement typified by the enigmatic still lifes of Giorgio de Chirico. After Mussolini came to power, Morandi also exhibited with the semi-official Novecento group. However, his closest ties were with the rustic Strapaese movement, which advocated a return to local cultural traditions. In 1930 Morandi became Professor of Etching at the Accademia di Belle Arti, and his works began to be shown abroad.

Morandi emerged to international acclaim after the Second World War. He received the first prize for painting at the 1948 Venice Biennale, rapidly becoming one of the most respected Italian painters. However, he appeared to shrug off the attention, commenting, 'I don't ask for anything except for a bit of peace which is indispensable for me to work.' In 1956 Morandi traveled outside Italy for the first time. After retiring from the Accademia in the same year, he achieved greater concentration in his work. He won the Grand Prize at the São Paulo Biennale in 1957. The esteem in which Morandi was held in Italy is reflected in Federico Fellini's film La Dolce Vita (1960), in which his paintings are featured as the epitome of cultural sophistication. By this time, however, Morandi had withdrawn to work at his studio at Grizzana. He died in Bologna on 18 June 1964. (Bio via Tate Modern)

Top: Morandi in his studio. He was over six-feet-four-inches tall and had special tables made so that he could position the objects at eye level.
Bottom: A reconstruction of Morandi's studio inside the Museo Morandi at the Bologna Town Hall.
Photos are from the Museo Morandi website, which has much more detailed biographical info than the passage quoted from the Tate Modern website.

"Giorgio Morandi: 1890-1964," Metropolitan Museum, New York, NY. Sept. 16-December 14.

September 14, 2008

Ashbery and Naves: Completing the circle

This month well respected art critics Mario Naves and John Ashbery both present their collages in New York. In the NY Sun, David Cohen covers both shows. "Is there something intrinsic to the appeal of collage to writers — to moving bits of paper around in startling, revelatory juxtapositions? The coincidence of two shows of collages by writers of markedly different ilk — a sometime poet laureate and a member of the third estate — raises the question. John Ashbery is the subject of a display of collages, from those made during his undergraduate days at Harvard in the late 1940s, to a series of pieces from 2008 that use Chutes and Ladders boards as their support. Mario Naves, who is perhaps better known as an art critic for the New York Observer, has his fourth solo exhibition at Elizabeth Harris Gallery since 2001."

In the NY Times, Holland Cotter met with Ashbery in his Chelsea apartment. "To Mr. Ashbery the intermingling of artist and writer always made sense, because he was both, though his primary ambition while growing up in rural upstate New York was to be a painter. And not just any kind of painter, but a Surrealist....Mr. Ashbery’s artistic ambitions stayed high until 1945 when he got to Harvard, where, for practical reasons, they died down. 'There was no place to paint, so I stopped,' he says. But by then he was already writing a lot of poetry and starting to do collage. In addition to being the perfect dorm-room art, collage is the ideal writer’s art, not just because it can incorporate words, but because it can be done on a desk. You lay out your paper, glue and scissors, push aside the computer — or the typewriter, which Mr. Ashbery still uses for poetry — and you’re set to go....After talking about the past and worrying about the present, Mr. Ashbery says, as if slightly surprising himself, that making collages 'sort of stimulates my writing — there’s no fear of having my energy drained away.' A visitor ventures the idea that maybe, in some way, not directly, or definitively, the collages, and his critical writing, and his poetry, are all interrelated, and that the show ties a little knot? Mr. Ashbery considers this. Yes, he says, 'I can see how this completes the circle.'"

"Mario Naves: Postcards From Florida," Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York, NY. through Oct. 4.
"John Ashbery: Collages: They Knew What They Wanted," Tibor De Nagy, New York, NY, Through Oct. 4.

September 13, 2008

The meaning of making

In a recent NY Times art review, Roberta Smith lamented the fact that the current crop of artists seems to have opted out of skill-building courses like painting and drawing, replacing the direct connection to materials with theory and artspeak. Building a "density of expression," she suggests, is learned not through reading theory, but through looking at visual art, and more importantly, through the process of making traditional objects, like paintings. In my latest review in The Brooklyn Rail, I look at Jilaine Jones's exhibition of sculpture at the New York Studio School as evidence that "making" can indeed create deeper, more complex layers of meaning. Her work embodies a return to hand-making processes and craftsmanship, and re-establishes a premium on aesthetics over art theory and rhetoric. The implicit message in her emphasis may be that the cul-de-sac of transitory site-specific installation and collaboration in which we find ourselves is giving way to a renewed vision of individual authorship, density of expression, and the inexorable presence of discrete objects.

"Jilaine Jones: Sculpture," New York Studio School, New York, NY. Through Sept. 12.

Related posts:
Roberta Smith's advice to young artists: Learn to paint

September 12, 2008

Nicole Eisenman in Berlin

In ArtForum, Nicole Eisenman talks to Brian Sholis about her new work. "During the past fifteen years," Sholis writes, "New York-based Eisenman has created a self-aware and psychologically probing body of work that includes installations, animations, drawings, and, with increasing focus, paintings. 'I made the paintings in this exhibition throughout the past year, gravitating, as I often do, to particular images (both found and imagined). I put them in drawings and then on canvas, initially working on one at a time and then on several at once. When selecting paintings for the show and thinking about them as a group, I realized that they are all somewhat depressed or depressing and that what ties them together is their embodiment of different notions of coping. The world can be a depressing place these days. I don’t think I’m depressed—though I did experience something akin to a midlife crisis recently—but the state of the world, and my opinion of it, necessarily filters into the work.

'The earliest painting in the show is 'Coping;' it depicts people trudging through muck in a town setting, which directly preceded a revelation I had in the studio that it was time to try painting interiors. That in turn led to the canvas that depicts me in a therapist’s office. But the epiphany about painting interior spaces was less about the subject matter than it was about my need to push myself formally. I frequently paint vague outdoor scenes, like 'Coping' or 'The Fagend,' in which the figures are placed in an artificial, tableaulike environment. If you take the figures out of 'The Fagend,' it’s just a big bunch of abstract blocks with patterns on them. I liked that aspect and wanted to pursue it further. To do so, I debated taking the figures out of these canvases, but I couldn’t. I’m not ready—and don’t want—to make that jump. In a way, I couldn’t do it because I don’t know how else to make paintings. What would I pull from? If the figures aren’t included, these constructed worlds seem entirely removed from reality and rather self-indulgent. You need the figure—or, rather, I need the figure.'"

“Nicole Eisenman: Coping,” Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin. Through Oct. 18.

September 11, 2008

Christopher Ulivo: Armchair adventurer

Christopher Ulivo's show, recommended as Best in Painting by Time Out, opens this week at Susan Inglett. According to the gallery's press release, Ulivo's conceit is that he would like to be an Adventurer, but because of the the sheer daring and physical exertion involved, he has settled into the role of top notch Adventure Enthusiast. "In lieu of first hand experience, Ulivo draws his treatment of adventure and exploration from Hollywood, Penguin Classics, and a few dog-eared copies of National Geographic. As indebted to 'The Journals of Captain Cook' as to Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, the work takes on the mantle of modern day History painting, though on a somewhat smaller scale with much less drama and certainly no actual History."

Time Out's TJ Carlin visits Ulivo in his Bay Ridge studio.
"You have a live-work space," she ssays. "Tell me a little bit about your studio and what you like about working at home."
"The building where I live and work is in Bay Ridge. My great-grandmother bought two adjacent buildings here after emigrating from Naples. She placed most of her nine children and their spouses in the apartments. There were a lot of really colorful people growing up and raising children in these buildings. It was a living stereotype of old Brooklyn.My wife, Goska, and I have an apartment upstairs and I use the basement as my studio. The basement was, for decades, the meeting place for holidays, funerals and christenings. There is a lot of old dinnerware around and family photos bearing evidence of its use.I didn’t function nearly as well when I was working in one of those renovated studio facilities in Gowanus. Spending lots of time in a dusty basement is conducive to a certain strain of creative thought about the faraway world. That is why every year or so you hear about some guy in the Bronx trying to raise a tiger in his apartment. If he knew how to paint, he wouldn’t need the tiger." Read more.

Christopher Ulivo: Who Needs the Explorers Club Anyway" Susan Inglett Gallery, New York, NY. Through October 11.

Sue Williams's linemaking logic

In the Village Voice Michael Spies writes about his visit to Sue Williams's Montauk studio where they discussed work for her show, opening today, at David Zwirner. "Her studio space is tight, the walls sparsely adorned with small drawings and paintings made by her 13-year-old daughter, Charlotte.... To our left is a big window looking out onto a newly built McMansion, a real eyesore on this quaint beach street. To our right is a large painting, the last that Williams is finishing for her upcoming David Zwirner Gallery show, 'Project for the New American Century' (named for the infamous neoconservative think tank that has so influenced Bush administration policy). The painting, entitled 'Market Logic,' looks complete to me, but Williams can't seem to leave it alone. She spots a small line, squints at it, then wipes it away vigorously with a dry paper towel. 'A line has to be pleasant,' she says. 'It has to—you know—move in a certain way. If you're a writer, the equivalent would be the writer's use of syntax. It's something that's unique to the creator, your own world.'" Read more.

"Sue Williams :Project for the New American Century," David Zwirner, New York, NY. Through October 25.

Find stolen paintings, collect $200,000

An Encino art collection that included works by Marc Chagall, Hans Hofmann, Chaim Soutine, Arshile Gorky, Emil Nolde, Lyonel Feininger, Diego Rivera, and Kess van Dongen was stolen recently from the home of an unidentified elderly couple. They were in another part of the house at the time of the theft, and the maid was doing errands. The theft occurred in August but was just announced publicly this week. The thief (or thieves), who came in through an unlocked side door, grabbed the paintings and was gone within an hour. It's still unclear why the alarm system failed. In the LA Times, Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Andrew Blankstein and Maria L. LaGanga report that the theft is one of the largest art heists in Los Angeles history. Police announced a $200,000 reward for information leading to the paintings' return. But they would not elaborate on where the money came from, saying only that it was not a government source. The LAPD statement on the incident referred to a single "thief," but officials said they are not sure whether it was a lone suspect or a group.

"We try to gauge the sophistication of the thief, because it may give us an indication of whether [the artwork] will show up at a swap meet or a thrift shop," said Det. Donald Hrycyk of the Los Angeles Police Department's art theft detail, who has been investigating art thieves for 14 years. "Somebody may sit on it for a decade before trying to sell it overseas." Each painting is worth at least six figures, some upward of $1 million, said Richard Rice, a senior consultant for 21 years at Gallerie Michael on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, and the collection was on par with those of A-list Hollywood celebrities. "A collection of this quality that is so specialized -- these people had a passion," Rice said. "They were collecting artwork that was to the left of center. It wasn't mainstream. Most people, if they have wealth and taste, they collect things that are in the mainstream: Renoir, Degas, maybe Salvador Dali." Read more.

September 10, 2008

7 painters tell us their secrets

Next week the 25th winner of the John Moores Painting Prize, the UK’s largest contemporary painting competition with a first prize of £25,000 and total fund of over £35,000, will be announced. The Times' rounded up seven leading painters, including former winner Peter Doig, to "reveal the secrets of their work."

Peter Doig:
"I draw with paint, it's a slow process of layers and accident. I tend to work with the paint very liquid to begin with and then thicker as the painting progresses. It's not very healthy at all, it's so toxic, there are lots of fumes, it's not a good way to do it. I've been doing it for years now.I work on a lot of paintings, on rotation. I have some sitting around that I started at least five years ago."

Maggi Hambling: " I paint from life or from memory, I've only ever used a photograph for a portrait a couple of times and it's a photo of someone laughing, because Max Wall was the only person who could ever pose for me laughing convincingly for three quarters of an hour. I think photography's a dead, mechanical thing. It's easier, and cleaner, less confrontational - there's something ugly, and raw about painting, and that's much more challenging. Photography's the easy option. Boring."

Jack Vettriano: "I don't paint from life; I'm far too scared to do that. I don't know many artists who do, apart from, say, Lucien Freud. It's really to do with, sort of security. I don't want somebody coming in here to the inner sanctum who I don't really know or who hasn't been recommended to me. I'm far happier with somebody who I've been introduced to and who knows my work, and furthermore, somebody who understands that it's not a pervy old man trying to get his thrills, and that what I'm actually trying to do is put across life as it happens."

Gary Hume: "I don't have a sketchbook. I draw very rarely. I draw to compose paintings, or to get ideas down, but I don't sit and draw a vase of flowers or anything. I use it to try to make the composition work. I draw on to the surface of a painting, then I go straight in with the paint. I work on about five paintings at once, and I have them surrounding me as I work."

Cecily Brown: "One thing I do is to play around with scale. It's amazing how even just changing by a couple of inches can throw you completely. There are certain shapes, like an off square, where you almost can't make a bad painting. Extend it by a couple of inches and it's almost impossible to make anything half decent. I also try to constantly challenge colour. You're not supposed to use black out of a tube but I nearly always had, so I started teaching myself to make very rich blacks using other colours, blues and browns and greens, that led to a whole series of paintings that were mainly grey, but rich, and when you do use a bit of colour it's incredibly exciting. I now nearly always use these blacks and they inform one's knowledge of all the other colours. The longer I paint, the more nerdy I get."

Tomma Abts: "I have quite regular studio time, five or six days if I'm in a working phase and then maybe I go for seven, eight, nine hours a day, and the way I work is quite timeconsuming, so I actually spend a lot of time really painting, rather than some artists, who do a bit of painting, then stand back and look and think about it again. I spend a lot of time actually making the thing."

Chuck Close: "No one works on the paintings except me, and frankly I don't know why artists want to give their work to someone else to execute and then be businessmen. Why would I want to give away the fun stuff and be a CEO? So I get my assistants to do everything I hate to do and just sit there and paint, which is what gives me the most pleasure."

Related posts:
John Moores Painting Prize: Shortlist released
Mie Olise Kjærgaard perches in Houston

September 9, 2008

Studio Update: So long, little shack

When I recently vacated my summer studio shack at Habitat For Artists, Simon Draper, creator/curator of the unusual HFA residency project in Beacon, NY, asked me to write a brief essay on my experience. It's longer than my usual posts, and some of it may sound familiar from earlier Studio Updates, but I thought readers might be interested in how the experience ultimately shaped my work. Many thanks to Simon, Marnie, all the other artists, and, of course, the crew at Homespun Foods for making the best coffee in town. And special thanks to Dia for providing such glorious air-conditioning during that unbearable June heatwave, even if they still don't allow photography in the galleries.

Top: My shack is the yellow one on the left, Simon's is the blue one, and
Sara Mussen was assigned the one on the right. In the foreground you can see one of Simon's wooden constructions. Below: "Siding," an oil study on wood. At bottom: "Framing." The limited palette of this study corresponds with earlier paintings, whereas the palette in"Siding" reflects the expanded use of color in my new work. Each piece is 9.75" x 12," oil on wood, and the images are inspired by the shed architecture. I'll be posting images of new work on my website throughout the fall.

My Habitat
Having lost my studio in 2005, I initially adapted by working on projects that required only a computer and a desk: fiction writing, artist’s books, and digital installations. When I began painting again, I went small and, rather than composing multiple paintings at once, I worked sequentially, which requires much less space. By May of this year, I felt constrained by the small attic room where I’d been working, and kept imagining different studio scenarios. I know from experience that outfitting a new studio is a grueling, expensive process and heartbreaking when you have to move out. After talking to other artists facing the same dilemma, I concluded that setting up a new studio would interrupt my workflow, and that the studio would eventually become financially burdensome and geographically limiting.

The alternative was to keep the size of my work manageable, and find temporary space as required, on an ad hoc basis. Simon Draper’s Habitat For Artists project thus presented a fortuitous opportunity. My own quandary had seeded a broader interest in contemporary artists’ evolving studio needs and expectations (I wrote about the issue in "Lost in Space: Art Post-Studio" in the June issue of
The Brooklyn Rail), and Simon was on the same wavelength. My more particular notion was that two small studios in different communities could take the place of one big one.

Originally, HFA was conceived as a two-week intensive working residency period in May, followed by a big reception during which the artists involved would present the work they had made during their stay. As with most new projects, the founding concepts evolved, and soon HFA became a summer-long residency that kicked off, rather than ended, on that weekend in May.

In the days leading up to the reception, when not thwarted by thunderstorms, Simon and his team were busy getting the shacks sided and roofed. Since I was a latecomer to the roster, my shack was still in the framing stage when I made my inaugural visit on May 16. The opening reception was at noon the next day, and when I arrived in the morning, the chipboard siding had been secured and the roof attached. I fly-papered the exterior with reading material and digital images of past projects, and painted the siding to protect it from the weather.

I’d never met most of my new neighbors – Dar Williams, Richard Bruce, Alexis Elton, Kathy Feighery, Marnie Hillsley, Matthew Kinney, Sara Mussen, and Lori Nozick – but they were all there. I'd met Chris Albert at the blogger panel at Red Dot, and it was good to see him again. At the end of that first day, which included a wine-tasting and a stage performance by Flying Swine, I left a blank canvas, a new pad of drawing paper, and a set of pencils in the shed to use when I returned the next week.

Over the course of the summer, I spent most Mondays (sometimes Tuesdays, depending on the weather) in Beacon, working quietly in the shed. Although Simon had originally conceptualized the sheds as art objects unto themselves, he was flexible – wisely, I think – about how they were to be used. In the end, only one artist treated his shed like an art project per se, turning it into a large sculptural installation. Most of us simply adorned the outside with samples of our work, and then used them as studios. Every Friday and Saturday evening, Simon invited the community to see what was happening in the little studio shantytown he had created.

Looking over my notes from my time spent there, a few observations stand out. Most importantly, this was the first time in the past five or six years that I had worked without a computer by my side. Since spring 2007 I’ve been an inveterate art blogger (if you're reading this, you already know this!), and even while I’m painting, the laptop taunts me from across the room, pinging when new notes or articles land in my inbox, offering unlimited distraction in the form of Google alerts and blog-stat monitoring. In the shed I had a cell phone, but was otherwise free of modern technology. Working without interruption was like defragging a hard drive: all the different blocks of brainpower, usually spread over multiple tasks on any given day, were focused on the singular activity of painting. It worked. I completed numerous oil-on-paper color studies for a new series of paintings, which I started when I returned home. Until I unplugged at the shack, I'd nearly forgotten what an engrossing meditative state the painting process triggers.

Traveling to the shack was more time-consuming than working in one stationary location, but even though I painted less on days spent in Beacon, as my world expanded to HFA, my work grew richer. Exploring HFA’s larger artistic community in Beacon had unanticipated benefits. At the beginning of the year, I was entering an anxious transitional phase, unsure where I was going and armed only with faith that the discipline of daily practice would lead somewhere. Visiting Dia:Beacon for the first time and seeing installations by colorists Blinky Palermo and Imi Knoebel, I became fascinated by color relationships, value, and saturation. Dia, known more for their unadorned sculptures and installations by Minimalist masters like Richard Serra and Donald Judd, is certainly an odd place to discover color, but as the summer progressed I overcame my theretofore unexplored chromophobia and, starting in my shed, extended the limited, austere palette I’d been using for years to include the entire color wheel.

Working at the little 4’ x 5’ shack made me realize that the attic room I dismissed as too small and cramped is, in fact, more than enough space. Über-painter Brice Marden may have four gigantic studios (a 5,000 square-foot duplex in Manhattan, one in upstate New York, one in Greece, and one in Pennsylvania) that reflect his need to produce big quantities of large-scale work for many international exhibitions. Of course most working artists can’t afford this kind of extravagantly hermetic setup, but it may also be that fewer and fewer would actually welcome it. Getting out in the world, working among other people, and changing the physical circumstances of making art may seem counterproductive from moment to moment. But artists liberated from onerous commitments to space may end up freer, and more inspired, to just make art. I think that is one of the key insights that underlies Simon’s Habitat for Artists, and made it work so well for me.

Related articles:
NY Times reports on the surge of backyard sheds.

Elizabeth Peyton: Part of the lifestyle

Publisher's Weekly's Charles Dee Mitchell takes a look at recent and upcoming lists from publishers and sees several shared approaches toward producing and distributing books for different niches within the already niche market for contemporary art. "How are the major art book publishers addressing this growing market for contemporary art? How do they choose to commit time and resources to a project where the artist is hardly a household name, as is often the case with contemporary as opposed to classic art? 'The contemporary art world is still finite,' says Charles Miers, publisher of Rizzoli USA. 'An artist's success at auction or in galleries may not translate into [book] sales.” He adds, however, that in the past several years Rizzoli has revitalized its contemporary art program and now does four–five monographs a year for that market. At Harry N. Abrams, editorial director Deborah Aaronson says, 'We have always done well with contemporary art. The secret is to choose wisely, to choose the right artist at the right moment.'

"All the publishers interviewed for this article mentioned that increasing numbers of these contemporary titles are going into nontraditional retail stores. For D.A.P. that can mean placing books in such trendy venues as Giant Robot, the Los Angeles specialty store for Japanese youth culture, or new, hip fashion outlets like Opening Ceremony. Bergdorf's, Neiman Marcus and Stanley Korshak were all mentioned as retailers who will add what they see as the right book to their mix. Phaidon's catalogue for the New Museum's Elizabeth Peyton exhibition will be featured in major markets by Banana Republic, the exhibition's major sponsor. 'These stores are selling a lifestyle,' says Aaronson, 'and art is a part of that lifestyle.'" Read more.

Related posts:
Elizabeth Peyton's status update

September 6, 2008

Sarah Walker: Layer upon layer upon layer

In the press release, Sarah Walker claims to use painting "as a tool for perceptual recalibration that enables viewers to detect and intuit disparate spatial systems simultaneously." Well, OK, I guess so, but no need to be so rhetorically oblique and cerebral. Her mostly small, densely-layered compositions incorporate lattice-like structures, which suggest everything from cellular composition to microchips, with patterns from geology, nature, and architecture. In the San Franciso Chronicle, Kenneth Baker reports that Walker's use of digital imagery opens new pictorial possiblities, and that her work presents an apt visual metaphor for the complexity of our times. "In a culture seething with moving images, painting that asks us to take it seriously must acknowledge its own inertia. New York painter and former Bay Area resident Sarah Walker understands this, to judge by her involving new work at Gregory Lind Gallery. Most painters of Walker's generation realize that they have little or no hope of finding a fixed, describable detail of reality that might evoke the complexity of our historical moment. But abstraction - ongoing for nearly a century - and current technology for repatterning information have opened new pictorial possibilities. Walker apparently exploits some of them in complex compositions that appear to involve computer-aided design at some stage....Walker's paintings deliberately suggest snapshots of a process. But rather than try to evoke movement, they work on mobilizing the viewer's imagination, perhaps the only medium agile enough to comprehend the dovetailing of forces and facts that shapes the world."

""Sarah Walker: Beacons, Floaters and Lost Objects," Gregory Lind Gallery, San Francisco, CA. Through Oct. 11.

Rouault's comedy of errors

The current exhibition at the McMullen Museum of Art reveals Georges Rouault’s keen sense of disjunction, unintended consequences, and ironic reversals. This irony (a sometimes bitterly satirical one) was often glossed over by a conventional piety that suffused the interpretation and presentation of his work from the time of his death (1958) until the centenary of his birth (1971). Rouault’s world is a tragic comedy of errors, marked by uncertainty and misapprehension. Outward appearances misrepresent and betray deeper realities. Rouault himself summed up this vision most succinctly in several studies entitled (quoting Virgil’s Aeneid), “Sunt Lacrymae Rerum”—“There are tears (of grief) at the very heart of things.” In the Boston Globe Sebastian Smee reports that Rouault could be repetitive, but "there is more ugliness in his oeuvre than beauty, more soul-cramping constriction than liberating expansion," and he came out of the show convinced by the "authenticity of Rouault's vision, and moved both by his tenacity and his genuine originality."

"Mystic Masque: Semblance and Reality in Georges Rouault, 1871-1958," organized by Stephen Schloesser. McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA. A fully-illustrated catalogue, edited by Stephen Schloesser, comprises 15 essays based on new research by scholars from a variety of disciplines, including art history, history, theology, and French literature.

Related post:

The "touchingly strange" paintings of Georges Rouault

September 5, 2008

Ary Stillman: Rewriting art history on his behalf

In the Jewish Herald-Voice, Aaron Howard declares that history is harsh to painters. "In certain periods of art history, a few celebrity painters get the recognition, either because their art is appealing or their lives are intriguing. Consider the abstract expressionists, for example. The names Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko come to mind. In contrast, the name of Ary Stillman is recognized only by art scholars and a few Houstonians. Stillman left New York City in 1955, and settled in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and later in Houston. Once Stillman was away from New York, his name fell into obscurity as pop art emerged in the 1960s. And yet, Stillman’s latter works, particularly the ones incorporating Mexican mythology, are amazingly strong paintings. And, when Stillman’s paintings are viewed as a body of work, they seem to encapsulate the history of contemporary art in the first half of the 20th century." Read more.

Barry Lack, executive of the Stillman-Lack Foundation, is dedicated to making sure Stillman's legacy survives. "Ary was well written about and had a lot of one-man and group shows in the 1920s through the ’40s,” Lack said. "But in the 1950s, he lost his lease on his New York studio, and his health was failing. So, he left the New York scene. Critics have said this was a tactical mistake. In terms of strategic marketing – and you’d never hear this in the art world – an artist must continually brand himself. [You do that] by talking to art critics, getting written about and being researched – by creating a buzz about yourself.'”

Lack has organized a Stillman show this month at the Deutser Art Gallery in Houston. A big full-color catalogue, with an essay by Donald Kuspit accompanies the show. "“There are two elements to abstract expressionism,” Kuspit writes. “One is the idea of unconscious expression, especially Jung’s archetypes or what he called the ‘collective unconscious.’ This expresses itself in some code. Stillman found this code in some sense in the Mayan hieroglyphs, which he understood as an early language. There is a surrealist basis for this, what Breton called an observed and internal reality. It’s a surreal language with traces of familiar language. Breton and other surrealists went back to pictographs and Egyptian hieroglyphs, getting away from representation.

“The shapes, form and colors are in interplay. With Stillman, it’s part of a larger context of the interest in primitivism. It’s amazing how many artists and theorists were interested in primitivism. The Jewish side comes in with a connection to Kabbalah. The lettering of the Hebrew language is archaic. That’s the jump that [Stillman] makes from the Jewish side to his abstract side. He knew all this stuff and it filters in, but not explicitly. To my mind, looking carefully at his works, he has this sort of Hebrew-Mayan-pictographic idea that converges into a picture writing that turns into gestures. In Stillman’s case, there’s the Mayan gestural script informed by a Kabbalistic consciousness of the Hebrew alphabet. There’s a kind of Jewish mysticism behind these interesting visual shapes.”

Ary Stillman: From Impressionism to Abstract Expressionism," curated by James Wechsler. Deutser Art Gallery, Houston, TX. Sept. 6-Oct. 24.

September 3, 2008

MoMA hires Ann Temkin as Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture

In the NYTimes, Carol Vogel reports that the Museum of Modern Art has chosen one of its own curators, Ann Temkin, to succeed John Elderfield, who retired as chief curator of painting and sculpture in July. "Ms. Temkin said that one of her priorities would be to 'change our viewers’ experience in many ways,' especially by integrating painting and sculpture with other mediums. The Modern and many other museums still have separate departments for painting and sculpture, film and video, and prints and drawings. Ms. Temkin called that approach outdated. She said that she planned to 'reflect the way artists work today, where these divisions are far less prevalent.' She also intends to change the works in the permanent galleries more frequently. 'I’d like to mix the foundation of the collection in new ways, to animate those galleries so they are constantly full of unexpected revelations,' she said. Unlike Mr. Elderfield, whose chief scholarly interests ranged from artists like Bonnard, Picasso and Matisse to postwar artists like Bridget Riley and Richard Diebenkorn, Ms. Temkin is more firmly grounded in postwar and contemporary art, keeping up with many notable figures working today." Read more.

Related posts:
Tyler Green's three-part interview with Temkin from September 2007. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.
Culturegrrl miffed.

Art criticism crit: Paddy Johnson on Tim Griffin

Paddy Johnson at Art Fag City writes that ArtForum’s Editor in Chief Tim Griffin "offers up more art speak and over quoted scholarship in the first paragraph of this month’s Editor’s Letter, than should ever be necessary in a 1000 word summary of what’s in the magazine. 'A corollary of Marshall McLuhan’s famous adage that art is a 'radar environment' uniquely suited for making clear the effects of media in culture' Griffin begins, 'is his lesser known analogy between those effects and the sound waves that become visible along an airplane’s wings just before it breaks the sound barrier.'

"In other words McLuhan cited a physical phenomena that parallels mechanical and artistic methods of visualizing, tracking, and decoding the unseen, all of which he deems particularly effective in the field of media criticism. Art as a tool for effective media critique, is of course, only as powerful as the skills of those who use it, which makes a lot of McCluhan’s thoughts on the subject fairly idealized. But as Griffin notes, they are not without relevance. To the editor’s credit, he builds upon the original reference, even if he does fall into overwrought prose." Read more.

September 2, 2008

The Akus Gallery builds consensus

This week the biennial faculty exhibition opens at Eastern Connecticut State University, where I've been a full-time faculty member for the past eight years. This year's theme, appropriate for any scrappy art department, is "building consensus." My colleagues include Imna Arroyo, June Bisantz, Lula Mae Blocton, Terry Lennox, Andy Jones, Qimin Liu, Claudia Widdiss, Rebecca Moran Brine, Alexis Callender, Ted Efremoff, Brad Guarino, Patrick Hammie, Tom Hebert, Rolandas Kiaulevicius, Muriel Miller, Jay Nilsen, Afarin Rahmanifar, Jane Rainwater, and Beverly Roy.

"To form, increase, found, construct or strengthen, to create and establish as firm--these are a few of the many definition of the verb 'building,' new Akus Gallery Director Elizabeth Peterson writes in the catalogue's introduction. "But what does it truly mean to build consensus? For a collection of art professors working with individual vision, the notion of “building consensus" may seem an improbable and even undesirable task. They may, and often do, differ greatly in opinion and in methodology, and they draw inspiration from a multitude of disparate sources. What then draws them together? If it is neither style nor movement, neither method nor media, then it is surely a fundamental commitment to the men and women who study in this institution of higher learning. They are building consensus in order to achieve a collective goal of excellence in the visual arts.” The show, as always, reflects the diverse interests of my colleagues, and includes painting, printmaking, graphic design, illustration, animation, sculpture, and video.

Images: I have a couple drawings and one painting in the show. These drawings are part of a series of early studies for the tower paintings from 2007.
The one at the top is a tower in Labac, Austria. At left, the tower from the Air & Space Museum in DC. Ultimately the paintings became more abstract, less representative of specific towers. Pencil on Rives BFK, 7" x 10".

"Building Consensus," organized by Elizabeth Peterson. The Julian Akus Gallery, Eastern Connecticut State University, 83 Windham Street, Willimantic, CT. Through October 9. Catalogue available with an introduction by Elizabeth Peterson, essay by Anne Dawson.

Rothko's Chapel: Everyone's missing the suicidal artist's point

In The Guardian Jonathan Jones reports that his visit to the Rothko Chapel in Houston left him impressed, but troubled that Rothko's project is so clearly misunderstood by all the religious groups who meet there. "Locals use this place. In fact, they love it. They come not just as tourists but to meditate, pray, and talk somberly. They see it as a religious place and the art as spiritual. It is called a chapel, after all, and most Americans believe in God.It seems to me these people, and the other sincere believers I meet here, are missing the point about Rothko, too.

"This chapel has been here nearly 40 years, yet it has never really become a stop for art tourists. It's a living communal entity: coming here is not so different from visiting Baroque churches in Italy, and seeing the rituals that go on within them. It is not, as some critics claim, an austere, dead, modernist monument. It's a living chapel. People sing and play music here. But maybe they should look around a bit more - because this is one of the most compelling rooms I have ever been in. Its art simply swallows you up.

"The room is an octagon, which has a fascinating visual effect. As you walk in from the small lobby and see paintings ahead, there is the feeling of ambush: Rothko has got you surrounded. It's impossible to get away from his overarching vision. His paintings are bigger - much bigger - than you are. They are juxtaposed with those doorways that lead nowhere, that powerfully evoke the sinister closed doors at the corners of Michelangelo's New Sacristy at San Lorenzo in Florence. Michelangelo used sealed doors and sealed windows for one reason: to suggest death. Rothko's doorways are also portals of death. And they invite you to see the paintings as portals, too. For these are vertical rectangles, like giant black doors. They tower over you and pull you towards their madness. Stand close to one and you feel like you're about to totter into a void.

"The interpretation - repeated to me and originated by Dominique de Menil - of the chapel as a progress towards the lighter, warmer colours of the 'altarpiece' (an arrangement of three purple paintings that faces the entrance to the room) is inaccurate. The chapel does not have a single focal point. It does not offer progress towards a consoling vision. Instead, the last picture you see is the one you face as you walk towards the exit. It is the most oppressive of all. A black rectangle pierces a brownish container. It is a blackness of utter desolation, like looking into a waiting coffin. Any illusion of paradise the chapel might have engendered is dashed to pieces.

"And Rothko planned it this way. His chapel is one of the most overwhelming syntheses of art and architecture in the world. It is as compelling as the great Italian religious interiors he admired, yet as terrifying as Munch's Scream. It is a tragic theatre of emptiness, death's antechamber, the self-expression of a suicide. As such, the Rothko Chapel was destined to be misunderstood. Had it been understood, it would not have been built." Read more.