February 28, 2009

Pierogi updates the online Flat File, opens another space in Brooklyn

While the rest of the art world seems to be contracting, Joe Amrhein of Pierogi is taking advantage of the more reasonable real estate prices and opening a second space. "Someone has to do something to make everyone feel better," he told me a couple months ago. On Saturday, March 7, Amrhein's new space, The Boiler, opens at at 191 N. 14th St. in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. While Pierogi will continue to house the Flat Files and feature one-person exhibitions, The Boiler will host larger-scale sculpture, painting, installation projects, performances, screenings, and readings. Other Pierogi news: The online Flat Files, completely overhauled for the first time in years, are now searchable by artist, media, and other tag types. Amrhein has vowed that the online Flat Files, which feature hundreds (thousands?) of inexpensive works on paper, will be updated regularly, and that new artists/artwork will be added. If you have a chance, check out some old work in my Flat File drawer.

February 26, 2009

Clara Fialho loves love

In the Philadelphia Inquirer Edith Newhall reports that Queens-based Clara Fialho is the latest Brazilian artist to bring vivid color back to Brazilian painting in her show this month at Bridgette Mayer in Philadelphia. "Fialho's fanciful paintings search further back for inspiration than Beatriz Milhazes' mash-ups of modernism and psychedelic art or Elizabeth Jobim's curvy geometric allusions to Yves Klein and late Matisse. Fialho says that some of her images come from her dreams - she subscribes to the theories of Carl Jung - and that her paintings 'are often the product of a struggle against society's moral dissipation, a personal disenchantment with the material world around me.'

"But these delicately rendered images of orbs, totems, pinwheels, and jellyfish clustered together in magical landscapes also are reminiscent of the brilliantly colored feathered masks, crowns, capes, and back plates of indigenous Brazilian tribes - ceremonial decorations tied to their creation myths that have been worn by tribesmen for centuries. Occasionally, Fialho's paintings veer too close to Hundertwasser for comfort; the late Austrian painter of candy-colored, hyper-busy compositions seems to appeal to a lot of young artists. Klee and Miro come to mind, as well. For the most part, though, her visions of paradisiacal places seem unique and genuinely felt." Read more.

"Clara Fiahlo: I Love Love," Bridgette Mayer Gallery, Philadelphia, PA. Through February 28.

Katherine Bradford at Edward Thorp

I live in a seaside tourist town (this weekend is the "Cabin Fever Festival") so I'm surrounded by impressionistic paintings of boats, water, beach, drawbridge and so forth. In the group show of gallery artists on view at Edward Thorp, Katherine Bradford's paintings prove that ships and the sea are not necessarily the trite, shopworn subjects I thought they were. In an old issue of the Brooklyn Rail, Bradford spoke with Chris Martin and Peter Acheson about her work. Here's a quick excerpt:

Martin: You spend a lot of your life up in Maine. Has Maine affected your painting light and sense of landscape?
Bradford:
Well, it’s funny. I started painting when I was living in Maine, and the last thing I wanted to do was be a boat painter living in Maine. In fact this ocean liner painting, “Lost Liner”, comes a little bit from Maine. You can see it’s stranded on a beach. This is what the beaches look like in Maine, they’re mudflats. Also the big painting “Desire for Transport,” has this Maine ocean feeling with a horizon line with islands in the distance. I read that the painter Enzo Cucci said that he doesn’t paint the ocean, he paints the presence of the ocean. I’m trying to paint a feeling about what it’s like on the open seas at night—a really intoxicating feeling....I think we’re trying to speak a language, a visual language, and it takes a long time to develop a very personal vocabulary. It certainly took me years and years to find my own voice. And I wouldn’t say it has anything to do with age; it had to do with sticking to it, and doing it a lot, like an athlete. At the same time, it doesn’t mean that you know what you are doing—you just have to trust in being the blind mole.

"New Work: Gallery Artists," Edward Thorp, New York, NY. Through March 7.

Me-me-me careerism vs. the new generosity

As the Guest Blogger at ART:21 today, I take a look at a few artists who embody the pragmatism and ingenuity of the new Obama administration. "Artists who garner the most attention in any given time period are those whose work, explicitly or implicitly, reflects the deeper political sensibilities of the era. Right now, contemporary artists to watch are those who have turned away from the traditional egocentric focus and embraced the communitarianism associated with Barack Obama’s campaign and now with his administration. Artists who project a me-me-me attitude and are consumed with obsessive careerism look shabby and regressive. While the art world rallied around commerce in the Bush years, it may zone in on community in the Obama epoch. Despite the demoralizing art market downturn, the art world has been infected with President Obama’s inclusive “Yes We Can” spirit, finally catching up with the small cadre of artists and art bloggers who were the first to adopt decentralized, community-minded art practices that fully embraced American pragmatism and ingenuity. If this shift is any indication, generosity may be the defining value of the new era." Read more.

February 21, 2009

Peter Schjeldahl's insouciance

In The New York Review of Books, Sanford Schwartz considers Peter Schjeldahl's unique contribution to art criticism. "Schjeldahl addresses us in a conversational prose that moves from point to point with the speed and ease of some high-tech instrument. He is a writer whose colloquial approach masks both a rather uncolloquial feeling for the tautest way of getting his point across and a word connoisseur's desire to show off his collection. He will drop into sentences 'mystagogic,' say, or 'beamish,' or present us with 'accessory japes,' 'conjuries of tiny freehand strokes,' or 'forms of concerted indulgence.' At the Venice Biennale he encounters 'jet-lagged, hectic miens,' while El Greco is called 'a pictorial rhapsode of militant piety.'

"Schjeldahl's voice is equally layered. It is one in which the teasing insouciance of the class wit—the writer who can note that Rubens's nudes have 'the erotic appeal of a mud slide'—is threaded together with a born ombudsman's need to mediate between the issues of the moment (artists and what they are up to) and the community in his care (principally the art world but with a nod to anybody who might be tempted by a visit to a gallery or museum). Running alongside these Schjeldahls, and making him, confoundingly, as much an elitist as an egalitarian, is a less temperate writer whose quest is to pinpoint the highest artistic achievement, a subject he looks at aesthetically and morally.

Schjeldahl can penetratingly conjure up the sensuous life of an artwork, but he is most engaged when he can feel an artist pushing his audience beyond merely formal delights. 'Beauty isn't beauty,' he writes, 'if it doesn't inspire awe for a specific proposition about reality.' We infer from his writing that the vast majority of artists who have lived do not expand our consciousness. And artists or artworks that are, as he says, merely 'likable,' or don't have bite, are, in a phrase heard more than once, 'more trouble than they are worth.'" Read more.

Bloggers Paddy Johnson, Anjali Srinivasan, and Yuka Otani get Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Writing Grants

The Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program has announced the grantees for the final round of its three-year pilot phase. Designed to encourage and reward writing about contemporary art that is rigorous, passionate, eloquent and precise, as well as to create a broader audience for arts writing, the program aims to strengthen the field as a whole and to ensure that critical writing remains a valued mode of engaging the visual arts. This is the first year that art bloggers have been eligible to apply. Representing a range of genres from scholarly studies to self-published blogs, the 27 selected projects, listed below, are united by their dual commitment to the craft of writing and the advancement of critical discourse on contemporary visual art. The grants range from 7,000 USD to 50,000 USD in four categories—articles, books, short-form writing, and blogs/new and alternative media—and support projects addressing both general and specialized art audiences. (Via ArtCalZine Twitter)

Art Bloggers:
Paddy Johnson, Art Fag City (Blog/New Media); New York, NY (Congratulations, Paddy!)
Anjali Srinivasan and Yuka Otani
, Post-Glass Artists: Glass Guerillas (Blog/New Media); Columbus, OH and New York, NY

Other categories:
C. Carr
, Some Kind of Grace: A Biography of David Wojnarowicz (Book);
New York, NY
Jessica Chalmers, Update on the Transgression Economy (Article); South Bend, IN
Darby English, Abstracts of Intimacy (Book); Chicago, IL
Michèle Faguet, "Pornomiseria": Origins and Recontextualization of a Critical Term (Article); Berlin, Germany
Mia Fineman, Phoning It in (Article); New York, NY
Joseph Grigely, HUO [Hans Ulrich Obrist] (Book); Chicago, IL
Mark Harris, Publico: Five Years (Article); Cincinnati, OH
Kathryn Hixson, Particular: Essays from the Middle States (Short-Form Writing); Evanston, IL
Branden Joseph, Lee Lozano: Grass Piece (Book); New York, NY
Douglas Kahn, Arts of the Spectrum: In the Nature of Electromagnetism (Book); San Francisco, CA
Jonathan Katz, Art, Eros, and the Sixties (Book); Philadelphia, PA
Judith Russi Kirshner, Voices and Images of Italian Feminism (Article); Chicago, IL
Christy Lange, Exhibition Reviews of Emerging Female Photographers (Short-Form Writing); Berlin, Germany
Annette Leddy, Robert Watts's Spage Age Home (Article); Los Angeles, CA
Julian Myers and Edgar Arceneaux, Mirror-Travel in the Motor City (Book);
San Francisco, CA and Los Angeles, CA
Frances Negrón-Muntaner, The Art Came From Her (Article); New York, NY
Viet Nguyen, An Eye for an Eye: The Vietnam War in Contemporary Art (Article); Cambridge, MA
Peter Plagens, Bruce Nauman—The Venice Projects (Article); New York, NY
Lyle Rexer, Sights Unseen: the Rise of Abstraction in Contemporary Photography (Book); Brooklyn, NY
Joan Rothfuss, Topless Cellist: The Improbable Life of Charlotte Moorman (Book); Minneapolis, MN
Alix Rule, Back to School: Learning Communities in Contemporary Art (Short-Form Writing); Berlin, Germany
Judith Stein, "The Eye of the Sixties": A Biography of Richard Bellamy (Book); Philadelphia, PA
Roberto Tejada, Mexico City Specific (Book); Austin, TX
Lori Waxman, 60 Wrd/Min Art Critic (Short-Form Writing); Chicago, IL
Jonathan Weinberg, Pier Groups: Art Along the Manhattan Waterfront (Book); New Haven, CT

February 20, 2009

Another Yuskavage show in NYC

A few years ago in the NY Times, Ken Johnson wrote that Lisa Yuskavage's paintings were sly, soft-porn fantasies of pneumatic women in hazes of auto-erotic reverie. "Some will say that she is subversively toying with the male gaze; others, noting the melting light in her pictures, that she is mainly a fine painter. Still others might read her overheated style as a spoof of a certain Old World painterly kitsch. Underlying all that is the daring exploration -- at once carnal, mystical and funny -- of forbidden zones of feminine experience and desire. It all makes an exhilarating, mysteriously ambiguous visual poetry." Is it completely uncool to say I hate these paintings? I know they're really well painted, but...

Art Observed covers the recent opening of Lisa Yuskavage’s second solo show with David Zwirner. Check out the James Kalm Report here.

"Lisa Yuskavage," David Zwirner, New York, NY. through March 28.

February 19, 2009

Good drawing show in Culver City

At Kinkead Contemporary in Culver City, "Drawn" examines the role of drawing within an artist's larger practice. The exhibition features four artists whose works on paper provide a deeper understanding of both their discipline and their process, while inviting the viewer deeper into the thinking behind their work in general. Michael Jones McKean, a sculptor, produces collages mirroring the assemblage of his larger works. Bettina Sellmann is the most traditional of the group; many of her drawings directly relate to her watercolor on canvas paintings. Jered Sprecher's gouache works on paper serve as an experimental proving ground for his paintings. And Kevin Zucker produces smaller drawing versions of his larger conceptual works on canvas. The drawings in "Drawn" demonstrate different approaches, while highlighting each artist's primary practice of art making.

"Drawn," Kinkead Contemporary, Culver City, CA. Through March 28.

February 17, 2009

Laurie Fendrich: Preparing for a retrospective

Last spring Mary MacNaughton invited Laurie Fendrich, a professor of fine arts and the director of the Comparative Arts and Culture Graduate Program at Hofstra University, to mount a retrospective at Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps College, in Claremont, CA. In Brainstorm, her weekly blog at The Chronicle Reveiw, Fendrich describes how it feels to unwrap and revisit all her old work.

Since hanging several of the older paintings on my studio wall, I’m finding myself sitting in my painting chair, staring at them in bewilderment. Who painted those pictures? I mean, I know who painted them — I painted them. But looking at them reminds me of the times I’d visit my mother, long after I’d become an adult, when she’d show me old drawings she’d found that I’d made in the third grade. I’d look at them and feel absolutely nothing.

Hanging next to new paintings that are in progress, the old paintings invite comparison to the new ones. I’d like to say that my paintings have become demonstrably better — that they’re more mature, or refined, or something like that. Instead, I can’t shake the feeling that everything’s more or less the same. I’m reminded of what an artist friend told me many years ago — that painters are lucky if they come up with even one good painting idea during a lifetime.

I also can get an entirely different feeling — that the older paintings are better than what I’m doing now. All my paintings clearly derive from the same hand. Oddly, my older paintings are simpler, more classical and restrained than my newer ones. You might say they’re less raucous and happy, more stoical and quiet. You’d think it’d be the other way around, wouldn’t you? Shouldn’t paintings evolve naturally from youthful ebullience to mature sobriety? Nothing’s predictable in art, that’s for sure.

Micchelli: How art can effect political change

At Art:21 Blog, the Flash Points guest blogger series is focusing on art and politics this month. Today, Brooklyn Rail writer/editor Tom Micchelli, after seeing a performance of The Investigation, a 1966 documentary drama by Peter Weiss (1916-1982), considers how art can effect political change. "The question implies an integral, activist role within a progressive agenda, yet the history of politics and art since Jacques-Louis David is fraught with paradoxes and complexities. Art’s essential element–its ability to transcend the circumstances of its creation–can be best described as 'news that stays news.' But to do so would be to quote the radical modernist American poet and Fascist sympathizer, Ezra Pound. And so you begin to sense the difficulty of the problem. Political change requires a collective engagement with a clear set of goals. While self-criticism is helpful and at times mandatory, nothing can be accomplished without a steadfast commitment to the cause. Art’s staying power is embedded in its interrogatory, multifaceted, subversive, uncomfortable and often self-contradictory apprehension of truth." Read more.


February 16, 2009

Triple Candie reopens: "Because we saw artists as complicit with the problems we were seeing, we were motivated not to work with them"

Shelly Bancroft and Peter Nesbett are reopening Triple Candie this month at 148th Street, just west of Amsterdam. At ArtInfo, Chris Bors sits down with the husband-and-wife team, who are also the co-publishers of Art on Paper, to discuss the future of Triple Candie and its controversial past. "In 2006 the gallery took a provocative new direction when it decided to present two exhibitions consisting of re-creations of artworks by well-known artists mounted without their permission. “David Hammons: The Unauthorized Retrospective,” consisting of photocopies of the artist’s work from Web sites, catalogs, and brochures, was followed by “Cady Noland Approximately,” a fake survey of the notoriously reclusive artist’s oeuvre that used copies of her work made by Triple Candie and four other artists. Noland — who had stated that she doesn’t want her work shown in public and asked galleries to remove it from shows — garnered a great deal of sympathy as a result of the project, including from such critics as the Village Voice’s Jerry Saltz, who suggested that she sue the gallery.

"Indeed, many have had similar reactions to Bancroft and Nesbett’s strategy of forgoing artists in creating their exhibitions, but one thing can’t be denied: The two have made a bold statement that at the very least deserves considered analysis. Rather than cheerleading for artists and boosting careers, Triple Candie has taken the lonelier path of challenging the art world by turning tradition on its head.

"What is the first exhibition? We are opening with an exhibition of floral still-life "paintings" that we bought at El Mundo, a big economy department store around the corner from the new Triple Candie. The paintings are sold as anonymous objects without authors, dates, or histories. In fact, they are reproductions of lesser-known Old Master paintings that somewhere in the distribution channel — between China and Harlem — lost their identities. In that way, the exhibition will tie into our "Anonymous Artist Projects" from 2004 and 2005.

"Our second show will be a Picasso retrospective that doesn’t include any real Picassos. That would be impossible to realize in Harlem; probably only MoMA and a few high-end commercial galleries could organize it. We’re going to create surrogates of the Picasso artworks, probably large pieces of cardboard cut to the scale of the actual paintings with a small reproduction taped to each. To anyone visiting the gallery, it will look like an exhibition in the midst of being installed — the moment right before the artwork arrives. We will be waiting for it to arrive for the entire show.

"You have created shows that you call 'exhibitions about art that are devoid of artwork.' What do you hope to gain by tweaking the established exhibition models of most spaces? Our program is decidedly anti-material and anti-market. We are very much against the fixation and fetishization of the object. These are meant to be ephemeral exhibitions, and we recycle most of the material from show to show. It’s fundamentally about this sort of fleeting temporary experience dealing with issues of art history. A lot of our shows were realized when the art market was going through unprecedented growth. The greed that we saw in the art world was coupled with the greed that we were seeing in society at large, so we tried to do shows that shifted the emphasis. Because we saw artists as complicit with the problems we were seeing, we were motivated not to work with them." Read more.

February 14, 2009

Hello Wikipedia, it's the blogosphere calling

If you have any experience contributing to Wikipedia, you'll appreciate "Wikipedia Art," an online project launched today by artists Scott Kildall and Nathanial Stern. Of course, by the time you read this, the whole project may have been deleted by the anonymous band of pedantic Wikipedia editors (see Update below). The artists want everyone to sign on as Wikipedia contributors and keep the project alive.

Here's an excerpt of Kildall's and Stern's Wikipedia entry for "Wikipedia Art:"

"It was performatively birthed through a dual launch on Wikipedia and MyArtSpace, where art critic, writer, and blogger, Brian Sherwin, introduced and published their staged two-way interview, 'Wikipedia Art - A Fireside Chat.' The interview ended with Stern declaring, 'I now pronounce Wikipedia Art.' Kildall's response: 'It’s alive! Alive!'

"Within one hour, it was marked for deletion. Following that, the Wikipedia entries on Stern, Kildall and Sherwin suddenly had Wikipedia standards problems which were non-existent before (in Stern's case, for nearly 2 years before). Later that day, in response to Kildall and Stern's call 'to join in the collaboration and construction / transformation / destruction / resurrection of the work', Shane Mecklenburger linked every word on the page, a move to 'clarify' which arguably highlighted the Quixotic, absurd utility of Wikipedia's enterprise. Artintegrated erased highlights from the original article only that were made by Shane Mecklenberger referencing Robert Rauschenberg's 'Erased Dekooning'.

"The Wikipedia Art page is a self-aware exploration of Wikipedia's mission of collective epistemology. It enacts and describes Wikipedia's strengths, weaknesses, potential, and limits as both a system of understanding and as a contemplative object of beauty. It demonstrates how a Wikipedia page can transcend the medium of Wikipedia while retaining its basic utilitarian Wikipedia function. The page is similarly a self-aware example of the strengths, weaknesses, potential, and limits of new media art. Wikipedia Art also calls into question the basic function and purposes of the encyclopedia itself. "

Don't forget to check out the ongoing debate on Wikipedia Art's "Articles for Deletion Page," where you can watch the Wiki editors spar with artists and advocates over the project's right to exist. Ironically, Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, does not accept online sources (like art blogs) to verify references. Even more curious are the unsophisticated ways they apply their Guidelines for Notability...but that's another matter.

Update: The "Wikipedia Art" entry was deleted from Wikipedia on 2/15/09 by "Werdna," an eighteen-year-old Wikipedia buff from Australia who recently graduated from high school. Werdna (real name Andrew Garrett) has been tinkering with Wikipedia since he was 14 years old. According to his user page, Andrew thinks that "we should delegate decisions to trusted users instead of involving the whole community in everything; that democracy is the worst system of government, except for all the other ones that have been tried; that it is perfectly fine to specialise away from article-writing, so long as you're doing something useful; and that we should give the fairy penguin populations more rights and freedoms."

"Wikipedia Art's" Facebook Group can be found here. A list of project collaborators can be found here.

Munch: Navigating the messiness of his own present

The Munch exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, curated by Jay A. Clarke, brings together approximately 150 works, including 75 paintings and 75 works on paper by Munch and his peers. It is organized around the following themes: loneliness and solitude, the street, anxiety, love and sexuality, death and dying, the bather, and nature.

In the NY Times, Roberta Smith writes that the exhibition shows Munch navigating the messiness of his own present. "Most of Munch’s figures are not mad, but paralyzed by oceanic feelings of grief, jealousy, desire or despair that many people found shocking either for their eroticism, crude style or intimations of mental instability. We see his subjects alone, in couples or small groups in settings whose opulent colors and odd forms, whether indoors or out, are always removed from reality, located in some artificial, stripped down place where color, feeling and form resonate in visual echo chambers....The exhibition leaves no doubt about Munch’s singularity as a giant of the imagination and of modernism. Several artists here — Max Klinger for example — vacillate all over the dial from academic to radical. Munch simply broke the dial. His disdain for normal technique and finish, his love of long, somewhat slurpy brush strokes that were more stained than painted, made all the difference. They enable him to give new voice to the rawest emotions, to be dramatic without sentimentality, and to fuse process, subject and content.Revealing the context of the outer Munch, this extraordinary show only intensifies our appreciation of the inner one, by making his emotional honesty and his radical approach to painting all the more obvious and undeniable."

Chicago Tribune critic Alan G. Artner calls the Munch exhibition "among the institute's finest of the last 30 years, reminding us again that while its strengths in other periods have been considerable, few museums in the United States have matched the depth and breadth of its efforts on behalf of art of the 19th Century....Munch alone makes for a deep experience. But then the show includes as many works by major and minor contemporaries. So every theme is not just represented but explored. And for each piece by a familiar artist, such as Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Claude Monet, there is at least one counterpart by an artist known to Munch but new to us. Anna Ancher, Harriet Backer, Jean Charles Cazin, Magnus Enckell, Hans Heyerdahl, Christian Krohg, Eilif Peterssen—these are only some of the artists with whom he showed kinship. Each of their works gets a substantial entry in the exhibition catalog, but if you look closely at wall labels, you'll also see where they were exhibited or published and, thus, how Munch himself encountered them."

"Becoming Edvard Munch: Influence, Anxiety, and Myth,"curated by Jay A. Clarke. Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL. Through April 26.

February 12, 2009

Flashback to the 1960s: The Park Place Group

In the February issue of Art in America, Frances Colpitt writes about the Blanton Museum's show, "Reimaging Space," which featured abstract paintings and sculptures created by the Park Place Group artists. Intrigued by the article, which featured several artists I've never heard of, and drawn to the installation images, particularly those of Mark di Suvero's sculptures (at left, "The A Train," 1965-67), I looked up the exhibition online. It turns out, between 1963 and 1967, the testosterone-y Park Place Gallery group included sculptors Mark di Suvero, Peter Forakis, Robert Grosvenor, Anthony Magar, Forrest Myers (omg--he made the huge tourquoise and purple exterior wall piece at the corner of Houston and Broadway), and painters Dean Fleming, Tamara Melcher (the only woman), David Novros, Edwin Ruda, and Leo Valledor. Back in the day, the group was at the center of the art world, but their work has largely been ignored in chronicles of 1960s art because their aesthetic was at odds with prevailing styles. The show, which came down at the end of January, examined the impact of this little known but influential cohort.

From the press release:
"Park Place artists were united by their multifaceted explorations of space. Their abstract paintings and sculptures, with dynamic geometric forms and color palettes, created optical tension, and were partially inspired by the architecture and energy of urban New York. The group regularly discussed the visionary theories of Buckminster Fuller, Space Age technologies, science fiction, and the psychology of expanded perception, and these ideas become essential to their work. Dean Fleming's paintings of shifting, contradictory spaces were intended to transform viewers, provoking an expanded consciousness. Di Suvero's allegiance was to Einstein's Theory of Relativity, and his kinetic sculptures explored gravity and momentum in space.

"By assembling a selection of major works not seen together since that era—as well as photographs and documents chronicling the group's activities—this exhibition opens a new window on the art world of the 1960s. In doing so, it reveals the decade to have been a period of much richer artistic possibility than standard art histories suggest. According to Guest Curator Linda Dalrymple Henderson, 'Reimagining Space' is meant to 'encourage new, more subtle readings of the 1960s and to direct attention to the superb Park Place artists who have not received the critical attention they deserve.'"

"Reimagining Space: The Park Place Gallery Group in 1960s New York," curated by Linda Dalrymple Henderson. Blanton Museum of Art, Austin , TX. Through January 18, 2009.

February 11, 2009

Bonnard: One tough son-of-a-bitch?

Mario Naves says Bonnard (1867-1947) is an artist beloved by many, but not by all. "His luminous pictures of fruit baskets, breakfast tables and keening, afternoon light have engendered surprising rancor. Only those 'who know nothing about the grave difficulties of art,' wrote art critic Christian Zervos shortly after Bonnard’s death, could admire pictures as 'facile and agreeable.' Picasso famously loathed Bonnard’s art: 'That’s not painting, what he does.'

"In our own time, art historian Linda Nochlin fantasized about 'plung[ing] a knife' into a Bonnard canvas for its presumed feminist affronts. New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl described Bonnard’s paintings as 'masturbatory' and 'eye candy.' Writing in the catalog, art historian Jack Flam mentions how Bonnard has been dismissed as 'lightweight.' 'Bourgeois' is a common epithet.

"Better abuse than neglect, but even then, Bonnard suffers. Mr. Flam points to the artist’s fortunes in the academy: 'Many people who teach general courses in twentieth-century art simply leave him out.' He traces Bonnard’s 'invisibility' primarily to narrow historical strictures. Sure, his innovative work with the Nabis is an important Modernist pit stop. But mostly, Bonnard was a mousy guy given to meditations on place, intimacy and loss. How sexy is that?

"....Bonnard’s art unsettles, not least because its seductions are irresistible. He brought to the pictures a chromatic density seemingly contradictory to his feathery touch. Color smolders into fruition, gaining in luxuriance and acidity. Bonnard’s brush—skittering, self-effacing and relentless—glances upon objects, but puts them in the service of mood: We recognize things, but the image itself is suffused in a haze of paint. His sometimes infuriating modesty can’t disguise his aesthetic rigor. As a painter, he was, as a friend notes, 'one tough son-of-a-bitch.'

"What to do about great artists whose peculiarities prevent them from efficient categorization and Major status? You can celebrate their underdog marginality or you can question the received wisdom. Bonnard may well piss off people because he’s no one’s idea of a revolutionary, but his mastery is irrefutable all the same. He’s just that good. " Read more.

Pierre Bonnard: The Late Interiors,” Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Through April 19.

February 10, 2009

Thanks Birdie

Are you familiar with the art blog Dear Ada? I discovered it a few months ago over on Alla Prima's blogroll, and immediately added it to the Two Coats link list. Maintained by a blogger named Birdie, Dear Ada features images and links to different artists' work that catches Birdie's eye, mostly small-scale paintings and drawings. Today, Dear Ada has featured some paintings from my 2007 tower series. "Beautifully crafted and smartly composed, it's the color palettes that are sending me over the top. Subdued and restrained they all but hum with energy just below the surface." Gee, thanks, Birdie, whoever you are.

"Not that the writer’s job was to write a lot, or to register the self with a splash, but to get his or her real experience down"

In the New Yorker Adam Gopnik's piece about John Updike reminds me how much painting and writing have in common. "John Updike was a fine colleague, a beaming platform presence, a valued contributor, a welcome visitor to the office, a genial supporter of younger writers—just a freelance writer living in Massachusetts, as he puckishly described himself. And, the hard part for his colleagues and friends to square, he was also one of the greatest of all modern writers, the first American writer since Henry James to get himself fully expressed, the man who broke the curse of incompleteness that had haunted American writing. As well as any writer ever has, he fulfilled Virginia Woolf’s dictum that the writer’s job is to get himself or herself expressed without impediments—to do so as Shakespeare and Jane Austen did, without hate or pause or protest or obvious special pleading or the thousand other ills that the embattled writer is heir to. Woolf meant not that the writer’s job was to write a lot, or to register the self with a splash, but to get his or her real experience down: all the private pains and pictures, the look on a loving parent’s face when humiliated in a school corridor, or the way girls smell in football season—to get it down and fix it there for good. Updike, to use a phrase he liked, got it all in, from snow in Greenwich Village on a fifties street to the weather in the American world." Read more.

February 9, 2009

Joan Banach: GeoAb with a shot of vulgarity please

When Tom Micchelli stopped by Small A Projects, he was puzzled by Joan Banach's dark, virtually monochromatic hard-edged abstractions that looked like they belonged in MoMA, circa 1959. Until he recognized her delight in the vulgar. "Not that her work is crass—on the contrary, it is the last word in sleekness and serenity—but something closer to vulgaris, 'of the common people.' Put another way, it is Pop without Warhol. It doesn’t entertain the viewer with hot colors and masscult signifiers, but plays a game of quiet seduction by hitting High Art marks while delivering the graphic intrigue of a Mike Mignola dark-on-dark cover for Hellboy or BPRD. While this interpretation may seem conjectural, Banach appears to encourage it—not merely by co-opting a Hollywood illusionistic technique, but also through her exhibition announcement, which features a film still from William Cameron Menzies’s ultra-camp 1936 British sci-fi flick, Things to Come. A retro-futurist paean to scientific progress, the movie’s naïve faith in humanity’s capacity to rise above barbarism may be as obsolete as matte painting in the age of CGI, but we have felt a resurgence of it lately, a twinge that the idealism of the past may just be the sole path to the future. (In this regard, Banach’s title for her exhibition, 'Citizen,' not only harks back to the honorific of egalité from the French Revolution, but also eerily prefigures the much-remarked-upon opening of Obama’s inaugural address, 'My fellow citizens' instead of the standard 'My fellow Americans.')

"Banach’s peculiar mash-up of elite and populist forms can be viewed as a contemporary echo of Metaphysical Art’s cannibalization of Cubism: formalism at the service of pictorialism (and Banach’s titles, such as 'Avatar' and 'Metaphysician,' read like self-conscious distillations of Giorgio de Chirico). By injecting an aesthetic endgame like geometric abstraction with a shot of the vulgar, Banach slaps it awake to unconsidered possibilities and unintended interpretations. This can feel off-putting if you don’t give the paintings a chance, but I think it’s where Banach takes her most formidable leap of faith—to escape hermeticism at the risk of tackiness—and her stark, somber pictures can leave you feeling more guilty pleasure than you’d ever expect." Read more.

"Joan Banach: Citizen," Small A Projects, New York, NY. Unfortunately, the show ended in December.

February 7, 2009

Thanks, Hank Hoffman, for writing about my project in Hartford

Hank Hoffman at Connecticut Art Scene reviewed "Lost and Found," a show at the Connecticut Commission for Culture that includes my recent project "The Search For Moby Dicks." Here's what he had to say about it.

"I took in 'Lost and Found,' a show featuring works created by artists who have received Commission fellowships. According to the statement about the show, these are pieces created by artist 'who sift through their cultural, visual and physical surroundings to create new moments and objects from the fragments they collected.' This is art as a process of taking the varied materials of everyday life and investing in them creative energy and personal spirit. We live in a recycling culture, on a constant quest to make it new. There is a drive to find the personal and individual in that which appears old and worn out, whether that means physical objects or artistic practices. With many of these artists, that process begins with the need to look intently....

"Occasional Connecticut Art Scene contributor Sharon Butler's multimedia work approaches these ideas from a different angle. 'The Search for Moby Dicks,' a PowerPoint presentation and accompanying digital photographs on paper, document her quest for the great white whale. But rather than riding the high seas to slay the mythical mammal—which, at any rate, would violate international treaties and inflame good environmentalists everywhere—Butler is searching for the way the name of Herman Melville's novelistic creation has migrated from high culture into a more prosaic, often commercial, use. The project consists of finding and documenting businesses named 'Moby Dick' throughout North America and Europe and then telling the story of the search. Butler photographed the establishments and interviewed owners and managers as to why they chose the name. If Lindroth, Schultz and Erickson are turning detritus into culture, Butler (in a sense) is in search of the way culture turns into detritus. (That she then reinvests in her discovery on the cultural plane could make one's head swim.)" Read more.

"Lost & Found – Fragments Assembling Realities," organized by John O'Donnell. Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism Gallery, Hartford, CT. Through February 6. Through February 6. Artists include Pam Erickson, Bob Gluck, Linda Lindroth, Cynthia Beth Rubin, Susan Schultz, Rashmi Talpade and Claire Zoghb.

Phelan: "Its like fuss fuss fuss fuss fuss and then swish"

On the occasion of her recent exhibit "Ellen Phelan Still Life" at Texas Gallery, which was on view from December 11, 2008 to January 24, 2009, Rail Publisher Phong Bui paid a visit to Ellen Phelan's Upper East Side home to talk about her life and work. Here's an excerpt of their conversation.

Phelan:
First of all, and most importantly, I have to surprise myself in the act of painting which means I would make something happen that I couldn’t have predicted so I often will kind of glaze over the whole thing or a part of it with a color that isn’t necessarily related to anything underneath it. You know, its sort of daring because you work work work to get the image and then you say, “All right, goodbye image. Let’s see what happens next.” Something like that. At the best of times it does something that you couldn’t have predicted that feels more like what you’re after, so it’s really about trying to get to this elusive illusionistic place without a lot of the baggage of conventional means weighing on your shoulder.

Rail:
And that entails a serious slippage.

Phelan:
Slippage, yes, whether it’s faster or slower. I must say at this point I’m not trying to paint one way or another. All I really care about is getting to the image and the space that can work with it; whatever gets me there is fine....

Rail:
One of the most striking features about your work, while working in different genres, from formalist abstractions to psychologically charged paintings of antique dolls, from meditative, poetic still life to pastoral landscape, you always manage to create a common thread that tends to blur the boundary between perception and memory. By that I mean memory as being pieced together; we make hypotheses in our perception, which fills the gaps of memory, reconstructing the most plausible picture of what happened in our past. This process, according to some psychologists, is divided into two categories: one is referred to as “visual illusion,” the other called “false memory.” You know, visual illusions are usually immediate whereas false memories seem to develop over an extended period of time. And when the two collide with each other, we get what is called boundary extension.

Phelan:
Or the way in which the number of cells you have in your retina that process visual materials is not as big as we think, so your brain does a lot of filling in of the blanks. Similarly William James thought of stream of consciousness—he coined the term in his book, Principles of Psychology—being a condition that can include perceptions or impressions, thoughts incited by outside sensory stimuli, and fragments of random, disconnected thoughts. The Russian neuropsychologist Alexander Luna contended that visual memory was more like snapshots. Of course I’m becoming more and more interested in the physicality as well as the visual reception of the viewer in terms of how they see the art object, but it’s also scale and distance. And what I like about taking photographs is that it is so fleeting. The result of the image is like walking through a room and glimpsing something or seeing something in passing. Also more of the landscapes are about looking up or looking down. Catherine Murphy deals with this issue in her paintings.

Rail:
You’re right. However big or small some of her imagery tends to be, they always have the right scale.

Phelan:
Exactly. For me, the dolls didn’t need to be too big to convey their sense of monumentality. Also, it’s about how much information you need to give for the viewer to experience the form as being a complete form. Otherwise incomplete perception is not bad either. On a more practical level in terms of the making process, if you looked at my paintbrushes you would see what a schizophrenic person I am, because they’re either little tiny brushes or they’re great big brushes. So its like fuss fuss fuss fuss fuss and then swish. Painting is for me an art of edges really. Read more.

In 2010 a traveling retrospective, "Ellen Phelan: Theme and Variations, 1972-2009," organized by MaLin Wilson Powell, will open at the McNay Museum in San Antonio, Texas.

February 6, 2009

Hofmann's push-pull at the Rose

This winter the Rose Art Museum presents work that painting guru Hans Hofmann created for architect Josep Sert’s Chimbote Project in Peru. Created for a series of murals, the nine painting studies form a concise example of Hofmann’s strengths as an abstract painter and modernist visionary. All were created in 1950, a fertile period in which Hofmann produced more than fifty paintings and completed numerous writing projects that reveal the formal and conceptual intricacies of his intellectual concerns and creative processes. Writings identified by the first line of the “typescripts,” as they are called include revelatory pieces such as “When I start to paint…,” dated April 1, 1950 and “In this moment…,” dated Nov. 25, 1950.

In the Boston Globe, Sebastian Smee reports that Hofmann, who was 70 in 1950, comes across as a profoundly agitated artist. "He was a great teacher, remembered so well by his students that this aspect of his life's work is routinely placed front and center. He was also, as a painter, a late bloomer - and when he did bloom, his efforts had a bursting, haphazard quality, like hose water pressurized by a thumb....Full of thrusting energy and frequently beautiful, it's a show I can recommend wholeheartedly. And yet Hofmann was patently not a genius. He was something else again - an adventurous, animating figure capable of painting scintillating abstractions, but in the end someone so absorbed in process and form that he was liable to forget what he was painting for. Where Pollock bewitches, expending terrific energy on achieving images of unearthly calm; where de Kooning's twitching, slipping brushstrokes make different strains and speeds of feeling haltingly cohere; and where Rothko's paintings make fuzzy fields of warm and cool color breathe with a kind of beautiful soul-ache, Hofmann's paintings excite and impress, but rarely move."

"Hans Hofmann: Circa 1950," curated by Michael Rush. Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA. Through April 5.

February 4, 2009

Pocket Utopia Salon report: Moving beyond ObamArt

After suffering through eight years of dangerously misguided Bush administration policies, we all heaved a sigh of relief when Barack Obama was sworn in as the forty-fourth president of the United States. That Bush’s presidency dragged the nation into peril and disrepute certainly made the American people eager for a new administration. But it was President Obama’s conspicuous brilliance, extraordinary charisma, uncanny cool, and historic standing as the country’s first African-American president that invested his victory with such poignant hope. On Inauguration Day, the capital was so jammed with exuberant onlookers that media reports described scenes of pedestrian gridlock and cell-tower overload. The art world, like the rest of the country, is smitten.

From our swooning embrace of Barack Obama and his family, a new genre of art has emerged: ObamArt. Shepard Fairey’s ubiquitous 'Hope' posters, Robert Indiana’s 'Hope' logo based on his well-known 'LOVE' statue from the sixties, and countless other artworks, many shown at the 'Manifest Hope' exhibition in Washington, radiate an earnestness and sincerity at odds with the art community’s traditionally critical distance. On January 18th, Austin Thomas and I held a salon at Pocket Utopia in Bushwick to discuss the phenomenon, and to consider how our art making and exhibition practices might evolve in the ebullient age of Obama. We styled the event a 'think tank' in light of its political content, put out an open invitation to all art bloggers, who are arguably the best informed members of the art community, and a formidable group showed up to prognosticate.

We discussed how, at first, the Obama-themed paintings and posters were generated to raise cash for the campaign. But then artists, themselves enchanted and no doubt genuinely keen to mark this moment in time, began capitalizing on the public’s infatuation with Forty-Four. Although presidential portraits are usually commissioned shortly before they leave office, the iconic Shepard Fairey image became part of the U.S. National Portrait Gallery’s collection even before Obama was sworn in. Elizabeth Peyton, whose solo show of apolitical celebrity portraits had been hanging at the New Museum since October, tacked on a painting of Michelle Obama and her daughter Sasha after Obama won the election. Not only did the museum add what is generally agreed to be a mediocre piece to the show, but it then put out a press release casting the painting as a celebration of Obama’s victory. Rumors circulated that the painting later sold for $60,000. Artists, it seems, came to realize that Obama euphoria was good for sales as well as the soul.... Read the entire story in the February issue of The Brooklyn Rail.

Related link: Time Magazine's Flickr gallery of ObamArt.

February 3, 2009

CoBrA: The filter of nostalgia ultimately defangs the beast

In ArtForum Karen Kurczynski reviews three recent sixtieth-anniversary exhibitions dedicated to CoBrA, at the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique in Brussels (where the new Two Coats of Paint header photograph was taken), the CoBrA Museum voor Moderne Kunst in Amstelveen, and the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam. "Formed in Paris in 1948, Cobra connected an international group of artists (from many more cities than just the 'Copenhagen/Brussels/Amsterdam' its acronym indicates) isolated by the war and eager for renewed collaboration. Karel Appel, Constant, Corneille, Christian Dotremont, Asger Jorn, and Joseph Noiret all signed the collective’s manifesto; Pierre Alechinsky and others joined shortly thereafter. Together, they aimed to reanimate modes of spontaneous expression as a collective and materialist endeavor (inspired equally by neo-Marxism and by the philosophy of Gaston Bachelard)....

"With more creative installation in a contemporary vein, the museums could have established the radicalism of Cobra, replacing the nostalgic restoration signaled by the endless photographs of days long gone (which postered the central courtyard in Amstelveen) with ongoing cultural interventions. The opportunities to demonstrate Cobra’s resonance with recent practices would have been rich: Their poet’s cage had dramatized the museum as a violently controlled space; Heerup’s sculptures on a bed of coal implied links between raw materials, political power, and community. These works anticipate contemporary interventions within art institutions, such as Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Coco Fusco’s 'Two Undiscovered Amer-Indians Visit the West' performances of 1992, which added the rhetoric of colonial otherness to Cobra’s playful staging of the poet as criminal, and Rirkrit Tiravanija’s 'JG Reads,' 2008, a film and plywood construction documenting poet John Giorno’s writings and studio. In the Tiravanija work, the unfinished construction implied a speculative arena, however modest, rather than an expansion of museal space via materials recuperated from a safely historicized avant-garde.

"Outside Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands, Cobra is still criticized for the qualities celebrated in those locales: its primitivist inspiration from children’s and outsider art and the paradox of its attempts to politicize painting (a project that was, in fact, always already doomed in the eyes of the Situationist International, formed later in 1957, by Jorn and Constant). Yet the uneven aesthetic 'quality' of Cobra’s production—which challenges the very definitions of quality and taste—is a fascinating problem never addressed by the group’s defenders. Moreover, Cobra’s redefinition of gestural expression through disposable and multimedia formats finds its echo in the output of more recent collectives such as the Royal Art Lodge and Forcefield—and it is highly significant that, as history repeats itself, such groups have rarely managed to exist more than a few years without succumbing to some sort of individualist, marketable, and institution-friendly production.... I can only hope that the next major Cobra exhibition will present the collective in all its radical contemporaneity: for its insistence on the politics of artmaking, its rejection of specialization, its adamant collectivism, its aesthetic of spontaneity and de-skilling, and its groundbreaking exhibition design. The anniversary shows only saw this legacy through a filter of nostalgia, which ultimately defanged the beast." Read more.

Update: After reading this post, Arthur Nieuwenhuijs writes from Paris that he has created a website for Dutch painter Jan Nieuwenhuys 1922-1986. Jan, Constant's brother, was also a founding member of Cobra. "Jan was more expressive in his work than as a person, so he stayed most of the time in his studio and had very few expositions." Mr. Nieuwenhuijs reports. "Most of his art friends from Cobra became well known artists. Most collectors and musea know Jan's work but for the public he is the unknown and lives in the shadow of his brother Constant." Check out Jan's comprehensive website here.

February 2, 2009

John Wood: Making small, busy abstract paintings seem big

In the San Francisco Chronicle Kenneth Baker reports that Bay Area painter John Wood has the rare knack of making small, busy abstract paintings seem big. "Some strike the eye almost like scaled-down reproductions of themselves. Wood gets a tremendous quotient of gestural energy into his show at the phone-booth-size Hyde Street Gallery. Yet the smallest pieces measure considerably less than a foot square. The gestures involved cannot be expansive, but they evoke a vision that is. Wood works frequently on pale blue paper that he mounts on panels. It provides a kind of muted drone beneath the staccato lines and troweled passages of acrylic. Neither submerged allusions nor the paintings' considered titles provide any obvious justification for Wood's declaring a piece such as 'What We Have Instead' (2008) finished. His pictures stand as pure assertions of conviction, if not of confidence, in their artistic adequacy. Their very openness to dismissal forms part of their appeal."

"John Wood," Hyde Street Gallery, San Francisco, CA. Through Feb 20.