February 26, 2010

A 2010 Whitney Biennial biopsy

In their opening remarks on Tuesday, the 2010 Whitney Biennial curators Francesco Bonami and Gary Carrion-Murayari confessed that they approached the selection process (gasp) open-mindedly, without a preconceived theme. Fortunately, the exhibition itself faithfully reflects their intent, presenting a resonant sampling of contemporary art practice. That is not to say that the show selection is thematically unfocused or ungrounded. To the contrary, much of the work manifests a rediscovered attention to physicality in various ways: in its preoccupation with human vulnerability, in its juxtaposition of figuration and geometry, or simply in its palpable materiality. Notable examples include “H.M. 2009,” Kerry Tribe's double film projection about an epilepsy patient who lost his short-term memory in experimental brain surgery and Nina Berman’s arresting images of former Marine sergeant Ty Ziegel, who was severely disfigured in a suicide bombing in Iraq; R.H. Quaytman’s series “Distracting Distance,” which riffs on the physical act of perception; and Suzan Frecon’s huge minimalist paintings, which embrace the labor intensity of making an art object that is intended to last.

Other work has a more tangential but still evident connection to the body. A case in point: the Bruce High Quality Foundation’s projection of a sardonic video on American history onto the windshield of an old hearse. The overarching emphasis on the body, combined with provocative content, signals an optimistic new direction that reframes two enduringly important aspects of contemporary art: the senses and the visual, as opposed to merely the cerebral; and collective optimism, as distinct from unbounded egos.

Unlike the last Biennial, which offered very few canvases, 2010 features paintings around every corner. In line with the broader theme of physicality, the inclusion of so much painting signals the importance of sustained physical engagement and a renewed interest in the lifespan of the art object. Here are images from the eighteen painters (and artists who use related media) included in 2010--an impressive, thoughtfully curated exhibition.

Note: Excerpts about each artist are pulled from the Whitney's press materials and link to the full text.
"Scott Short considers the concepts of authorship and reproduction. He begins by photocopying a blank piece of colored construction paper onto a blank piece of standard copy paper—a method that results in seemingly random black-and-white patterns printed on the copy paper. He then copies that copy, repeating the process multiple times and continuing the random patterning process. Once the artist selects a final permutation, the abstract image is then photographed, formatted as a slide, and projected onto a primed canvas. In the final stage, Short painstakingly recreates this image, taking care to remain true to the particular patterns and shapes generated by the machine."

Charles Ray presents a room filled with flower paintings on paper.
"Aurel Schmidt’s intricately detailed drawings include objects and creatures such as flies, condoms, and cigarette butts that are pieced together to form larger figures. Master of the Universe: FlexMaster 3000 is a portrait of the Minotaur, the half-man, half-bull mythic creature who represents both creation and destruction."

"The central motif in R.H. Quaytman's series is the Marcel Breuer–designed window in this space, which appears in Quaytman’s restaging of the Museum’s Edward Hopper painting A Woman in the Sun (1961). The artist K8 Hardy stands in for the woman in the sun. Silkscreened optical patterning attunes viewers to the physical act of perception, while trompe l’oeil depictions of the panel’s edges remind the viewer that the paintings are physical objects rather than simply images."

"Dawn Clements draws directly from objects or images; she never invents elements to complete a picture. Her dedication to working from images—in this drawing she uses parts of My Reputation paused on screen—often results in gaps or omissions and a flattening of space and time. The result is an image that appears seamless but is in fact uncannily distorted—a constructed portrait of a space, both physical and psychological."

"Roland Flexner expands the definition of drawing by creating intricately detailed works of ink on paper using only his breath, chance, and gravity as tools."

"Jim Lutes integrates representation and abstraction through his use of images and lyrical marks in the same pictorial space."

"Suzan Frecon plans her images carefully, first deciding on the dimensions of the work and the paint colors to be used (often grinding her own pigments to achieve the desired effect). She then figures out the precise imagery in sketches, using geometric formulas as well as her own visual intuition to create related forms in which dissonant features are suspended in balance."

"In these enigmatic portraits Storm Tharp investigates the performance of identity and the point where the myth of a person supercedes reality and becomes truth."

"Maureen Gallace finds inspiration in the modest edifices and rural environs of her native New England. She paints intimate landscapes featuring serene, unpeopled houses. Deceptively effortless in their appearance, Gallace’s paintings take shape through careful observation and decisive omission."

"Inspired by the seventeenth-century Spanish still-life tradition, Lesley Vance carefully arranges and lights objects such as fruits or shells. The artist then photographs these arrangements, and the resulting images serve as the basis for her abstract paintings."

"Tauba Auerbach’s methodical compositions deconstruct the conventional ways visual and perceptual information is conveyed. To produce these paintings, Auerbach manipulates large pieces of raw canvas into various configurations through folding or rolling. She then lays the canvas out flat and paints its surface with an industrial spray gun aimed at different angles to achieve a trompe l’oeil effect. By creating an object in which two supposedly discrete states—flatness and three¬dimensionality—are merged, Auerbach confronts the limitations between these states, revealing an ambiguity that is often overlooked."

"Robert Williams’s watercolors picture a world in which the laws of physics wreak havoc on suburban neighborhoods and tommy gun–wielding cowboys with tomatoes for heads haunt the forests."

"Reminiscent of Dadaist photomontages from the 1930s such as those by German artist Hannah Höch, Ania Soliman's montage is a hybrid of two digital images, sourced from the internet. The accompanying panels of text are written by the artist and informed by her research and impressions on the subject of the pineapple and its historical significance."

"Julia Fish produces paintings that approach abstraction but in fact derive from the imagery of her home, studio, and garden. Her most recent series, Threshold, comprises six paintings (three of which are on view in 2010) that depict the space between two rooms."

"Verne Dawson investigates the continuities between ancient culture and contemporary life through myths, folktales, and traditions that have vanished or become detached from their origins and meanings. Dawson is also concerned that we have lost our connection to the natural rhythms that governed our ancestors’ lives."

Note: Not all images shown are in the exhibition.

Roundup of early 2010 Biennial reviews and articles:
Holland Cotter: At a Biennial on a Budget, Tweaking and Provoking
Todd Eberle: The Whitney 2010 Ambienalle
Charlie Finch: The Thrift Shop Biennial
Howard Halle: The Whitney finally figures out how to put on a Biennial
Paul Laster: Surveying the 2010 Whitney Biennial
Jerry Saltz: Change we can believe in
Sebastian Smee: Whitney show is an anthem to the awful
Linda Yablonsky: Women's Work

February 24, 2010

The anti-disembodied

On view at the Whitney: Dawn Clements, "Mrs. Jessica Drummond's ('My Reputation,' 1945), " 2010, pen with ink on paper, 87.5 x 240." Collection of the artist; courtesy Pierogi, New York

In the February issue of The Brooklyn Rail, the ARTSEEN editors and advisory committee applaud Roberta Smith for the stand she takes in Post-Minimal To The Max and encourage her to continue developing the ideas she lays out in the essay. Smith suggests that current museum shows "share a visual austerity and coolness of temperature that are dispiritingly one-note. After encountering so many bare walls and open spaces, after examining so many amalgams of photography, altered objects, seductive materials and Conceptual puzzles awaiting deciphering, I started to feel as if it were all part of a big-box chain featuring only one brand."

The good news is that the 2010 Whitney Biennial, which I saw yesterday during the press preview, goes beyond the coy, disembodied international art practices that Smith laments, and presents a new attention to physicality, in terms of object, process, and concept. Objectmaking and sensual experience (sight, sound, touch, movement) are combined with conceptual strategy to create a wonderful, compellingly complex show, which opens to the public today. I'll post a Biennial report which will include plenty of painting, but, in the meantime, here's an excerpt from the Rail article.

 "As Ms. Smith made quite clear, New York museum curators 'have a responsibility to their public and to history to be more ecumenical, to do things that seem to come from left field. They owe it to the public to present a balanced menu that involves painting as well as video and photography and sculpture. They need to think outside the hive-mind, both distancing themselves from their personal feelings to consider what’s being wrongly omitted and tapping into their own subjectivity to show us what they really love.'

"We would go a step further and state unequivocally that many of these individuals have not only shirked their public responsibility, they have turned the museums into playgrounds for an elitist group of trustees and globetrotting art fair devotees, stocking their exhibitions primarily from 'powerful galleries.' And if our position is not clear enough, it will become more so in the coming months through in-depth articles and well-researched drawings examining the actions of particular individuals, their public statements and their exhibition track record....

"Over the past forty years, many tenured philosophers and would-be philosophers have spent much of their time justifying their intolerance of any activity that can be characterized as creative. Making something 'out of intense personal necessity, often by hand' has repeatedly been denounced as old-fashioned, backward-looking, and, worst of all, romantic. Whether they have aligned themselves with Plato, Kant, Marx, Freud, Benjamin, Saussure, Barthes or some combination of theoretically orthodox DNA, these zealots believe that anything made by hand is inferior to a product of the mind. This is the ghetto into which painting, drawing and sculpture, along with certain kinds of film and photography, have been driven, the door locked and the key thrown away.... " Read more.

Related post: 18 painters selected for 2010 Whitney Biennial

February 22, 2010

Paul Corio: Well observed color in Brooklyn

Paul Corio at 210 Gallery, installation views.

At artcritical.com, Stephen Maine reports that the color in Paul Corio’s paintings is derived from the artist’s analysis of results at the Belmont and Aqueduct tracks, but all you really need to know is right before your eyes. Maine's description of the pictorial language, particularly Corio's use of color, are excellent, and he perceptively concludes with the observation that although the paintings may at first seem to present a chilly, retinal experience, the disciplined study of color begets an emotional response—that the supposedly cool play of chroma opens onto imaginative vistas.

"While Toga Tiger (and its slightly smaller companion piece, El Don Pepe) are based on shifts in hue, Mr. Hi-Hat (2009) is concerned with intensity, saturation. Overlapping disks, striped with a vibrant red and vigorous cerulean blue, drift in a similarly-striped field in which those colors become progressively neutralized—shifted toward gray—until the difference between them is barely perceptible. From a distance (and in photos) the grays take on a greenish cast. It’s a truly weird phenomenon, and quite wonderful. Nine small paintings on panel from 2005 are red/blue, red/green, and orange/green variations on the theme. Each is a zinger, in which Corio’s visual wit is in full effect. While figure (disks) and ground (neutralized murk) are clearly differentiated, each is made of stripes of alternating colors--the ultimate in figure/ground ambiguity.

"In the two-foot-square Misterioso (2008), an intertwining circuitry of T and L intersections moves, left to right, through a palette of blue, violet, pink, red, orange, and green; these spectral colors are set against and qualified by a tender, blue-green ground. There are lots of dots. It’s a knockout. Less convincing is MR PC #3, in which the painting’s pixellated treatment resolves into the work’s four-letter title. It recalls stadium scoreboards and transit announcements, but the allusion to commercial graphics seems misplaced, and color relationships take a back seat to issues of linguistic legibility...."  Read more.

"Paul Corio," 210 Gallery, Brooklyn, NY. Through February 28, 2010.

Related post: Carol Diehl's Observations on Observation

February 19, 2010

Chris Barnard's grinding metaphors

 Chris Barnard, "No Exit (Source of Friction: Unpredictable actions of other actors)," 2007, oil on canvas, 84 x 62"
Detail, "No Exit"

In the LA Times Christopher Knight informs us that "Full Spectrum Dominance," the title of Chris Barnard's show of five recent paintings at Sam Lee Gallery, is the name of an American military doctrine that is also sheerest fantasy: In a war zone, the military attempts total control over every feature of the battleground, including hardware, software and manpower. "It might look good on paper, especially in the procurement office, but the inevitable chasm between theory and practice shows that such a thing is impossible. Barnard's large abstract paintings enact various collisions between flat, mechanistic patterning and the liquid illusion of deep, luminous space to create a grinding metaphor for this conflicted form of thinking....Barnard pits intimations of rockets, weaponry and computer information against organic fields of sumptuous color. If the sideswipe would sometimes benefit from greater pictorial pressure and chromatic stress, the best works, such as 'Booster' and 'No Exit,' do their job with skill."

"Chris Barnard: Full Spectrum Dominance," Sam Lee Gallery, Los Angeles, CA. Through March 13, 2010.

NY Times Art in Review: Silke Otto-Knapp

Silke Otto-Knapp, "Three Sisters," 2009, watercolor and gouache on canvas, 39 1/2 x 51"
Silke Otto-Knapp, "Group (walking)," 2009, watercolor and gouache on canvas, 59 x 47 1/4"

SILKE OTTO-KNAPP: Interiors, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, West Village. Through Saturday. Roberta Smith: Silke Otto-Knapp’s paintings often dwell on those marginalized by modernism, whether because they are women or because their chosen medium is ephemeral. Dancers and female painters figure in her second New York gallery show, evoked in images culled from old photographs and rendered in simplified shapes that sometimes merge in a surface brushiness or are outlined in the manner of cartoons. Either way, the images stir the memory, depending of course upon what memories you have....Ms. Otto-Knapp tends to depict her figures and interiors in a reticent white-on-white palette that of course has its own history in modernism. In this exhibition she occasionally dips her toe in strong color, which is a good idea. The white gives these canvases a mournful, passive and (dare I say?) ladylike demeanor. Perhaps this is an intended irony indicating marginalization — the way some cultural contributions fade while others don’t. But it seems to buy into being forgotten.

Read the entire Art in Review column here.

In the attic: Abstract easel paintings from 1920-50

Esphyr Slobodkina's "Small Abstraction in Tans." Photo: Slobodkina Foundation
Lidy Prati, "Concreto," 1945
Rosa Acle

The first exhibition to bring together South American and US geometric abstraction, Constructive Spirit: Abstract Art in South and North America, 1920s-50s features more than 90 works by 70 artists from Argentina, Brazil, the United States, Uruguay and Venezuela. Two Coats readers familiar with my series of tower paintings will know that I've long been drawn to the easel paintings of this particular period, and I'm looking forward to seeing the show.

Today in the NY Times, Holland Cotter writes gives an overview. "Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the mueseum assiduously bought, sometimes straight from artists’ studios, a type of American painting and sculpture known as geometric abstraction. It’s attractive stuff: intimate in scale and coolly design-savvy, but shot through with political and personal content. For all its virtues, such art never found a wide audience. Dismissed as decorative and un-American in the isolationist 1930s, it was all but submerged in the flood tide of Abstract Expressionism. Newark was left with superlative holdings in an art no one knew or cared much about....But it’s the equitable mixing of art from North and South America, and the influential exchanges such mixing implies, that makes the Newark show especially exciting....

"Abstraction was a loaded genre for female artists, who were — still are — working in a man’s world. As the art historian Aliza Edelman points out in the catalog, geometric art could be tactically used to disguise gender, or to reveal it in innovative ways. Mason, a New York founder of the American Abstract Artists group, spent a career resisting stylistic or ideological grooves. The spirit of her 1942 'Oil Composition' is characteristic: she breaks up what there is of a rectilinear grid by pushing a big, pale potato-shaped form straight through its center. Around the same time, Lidy Prati was making rigorously geometric paintings reflecting scientific and mathematical ideas current at the time in Buenos Aires. But she, too, was a subversive. She developed a vocabulary of linear forms so small that they feel like a secret language — as if geometric abstraction had been converted into some kind of private expressive code....

"The dynamic of nationalism versus internationalism was naturally a burning one. To varying personal degrees, artists in both North and South America wanted their work to be of its time and place, but also part of a larger world; to be culturally specific, but with universal reach....I have to say that the South Americans in the Newark show, playing so freely with movement, chance and light, take the prize for inventiveness. They really feel like artists of the future, and of a future that is still in the future. But that’s just how the American story appears, at least to one set of eyes, here. It could be told very differently and surely will be in exhibitions to come, though it is thanks to big thinking on the part of an adventurous small museum that the possibility for retelling is even there at all."

Constructive Spirit: Abstract Art in South and North America, 1920s-50s, a fully illustrated exhibition catalog co-published by Pomegranate Press, features seven essays that place North and South American abstraction in dialogue. Authors include Karen A. Bearor, Tricia Laughlin Bloom, Aliza Edelman, Adele Nelson, Mary Kate O'Hare and Cecilia de Torres.

Constructive Spirit: Abstract Art in South and North America, 1920s-50s,” curated by Mary Kate O'Hare. Newark Museum, Newark, NJ. ThroughMay 23, 2010.

Related exhibition:
Nexus New York: Latin/American Artists in the Modern Metropolis,” curated by Deborah Cullen. El Museo del Barrio, New York, NY. Through Feb. 28.  This exhibition examines pioneering Caribbean and Latin American artists who lived in New York City before World War II and helped shape the American avant-garde.

Related reading:
The Geometry of Hope: Latin American Abstract Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection
Check out the interactive website for the 2007 "Geometry of Hope" exhibition.

February 18, 2010

The beautiful and bizarre, organic and toxic at Elizabeth Harris

The exhibition catalogue for Carolanna Parlato's show at Elizabeth Harris.
 Carolanna Parlato, "wind break," 2009, acrylic on canvas, 40x 30”

I just received the exhibition catalogue for "Vortical," Carolanna Parlato's exhibition at Elizabeth Harris. Here's an excerpt from Charlotta Kotik's perceptive essay. 

"The very beginning of abstraction are associated with the deconstruction of landscape imagery. Parlato seems to have chosen a related path, venturing from the realm of the factual toward the world of pure illusion. Hers is a quest to respond visually to a contemporary universe where the natural and the man made, beautiful and bizarre, organic and toxic meet in an ever-increasing layers of exalted reality.

"Technological advancements in the recent past have profoundly altered our perception of the world through the unrelenting barrage of instantly accessible information. We have been made keenly aware of minute details in the structure of ordinary matter as well as the varied characteristics of cosmic bodies and interstellar spaces. The eerie beauty of images which stream around the globe appeals to Parlato's sensibility, becoming a catalyst for subsequent painterly exploration, it's conceptual underpinning..."

"Carolanna Parlato: Vortical," Elizabeth Harris, New York, NY. Through March 13. 

Also on view at Elizabeth Harris: "Scott Richter: New Work

Scott Richter," The Stoning of St. Stephen,"2008, oil paint, medium on carpet, 15 x 17 1/2"

Don't miss the James Kalm Report gallery visit:

February 17, 2010

Gahl and Berg @ Nudashank in Baltimore

Installation view
Ted Gahl, "Student."
Tatiana Berg, "Division of Meat"
Tatiana Berg's tents and paintings
Ted Gahl: Left- "Glitch 2 (Triscuit)," Right- "Domestic Scene (After Bonnard)"

Nudashank Gallery, an independent, artist-run gallery space in Baltimore, Maryland, is approaching its one-year anniversary. Ted Gahl sent a lovely note yesterday telling me about his show there, so I checked it out online. I like the look of this place. Founded by Seth Adelsberger and Alex Ebstein, Nudashank is located on the third floor of the H&H building in downtown Baltimore, which also houses the Whole Gallery, Gallery Four, and Floristree. Nudashank shows group and 2-person exhibitions by emerging artists. This month they're presenting paintings byTed Gahl and Tatiana Berg. Gahl is on the verge of finishing his MFA at RISD in Providence, RI, where Berg recently completed her BFA.

"New Painthings by Ted Gahl and Tatiana Berg," Nudashank Gallery, Baltimore, MD. Through March 12.  

February 16, 2010

What I'm working on

Snapshots of work in progress. These paintings, photographed in my tiny attic work room, are oil on canvas, 30" x 40."

Here's what I told the University of Connecticut senior painting majors last night during a CAA-style presentation (notes, images, podium, and so forth) that covered painting, writing, blogging, and other ongoing activities.

"...I prefer to embrace shortcomings and imperfections, frame more questions than answers, and tease out broad ideas, all of which help me  maintain a kind of constructive confusion throughout the process...."

February 13, 2010

Painting discussions in Chicago today

Paula Wilson, "Tomorrow's Tomorrow," 2008, 0il, spray paint, collaged/inlayed paper including woodblock prints mounted on paper, 50 x 50"

I've been hanging out in Chicago this week tweeting and posting (on my other blog @Bushwick&Main) from the College Art Association's 2010 Annual Conference. Today, Faith Wilding, Dara Birnbaum and Amy Sillman are among the distinguished artists and scholars tackling topics such as feminist painting and transgender art in "The Feminist Art Project." Coordinated by Maria Elena Buszek, Kansas City Art Institute, this daylong series of panel discussions is part of an international initiative overseen by Rutgers University.  All discussions are free and open to the public. Included in the line up is Feminist Painting, chaired by Julia Bryan-Wilson, University of California-Irvine and Johanna Burton, Whitney Independent Study Program. Here's a description:
In 1975, Alice Neel asserted: “I always painted like a woman, but I don't paint like a woman is supposed to paint.” What does it mean to paint “like a woman”—and how might that differ from painting as a feminist? Featuring Harmony Hammond, Carrie Moyer, Amy Sillman, and Paula Wilson, this session brings together four artists of different generations to discuss the political ramifications of applying pigment to surface.  Each of these women grapples in her work with how painting has historically and might continue to signify a feminist practice. In what has been called a "post-medium” (and even "post-feminism") era, how can we look critically at the specific tools, methods, and means of painting, particularly abstraction, from within a feminist rubric? Saturday, 3:45–5:00 PM
And if you're a registered participant in the Conference, this morning at 9:30 Michelle Ann Grabner, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, has organized an open studio session dedicated entirely to painting. Participants include:
Ann Craven, Yale University
Anoka Faruqee, California Institute of the Arts
Peter Halley, Yale University
Rebecca Morris, Pasadena City College
Thomas Lawson, California Institute of the Arts
Judy Ledgerwood, Northwestern University
Sabina Ott, Columbia College Chicago
Scott Reeder, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Molly Zuckerman Hartung, independent artist, Chicago
Susanna Coffey, independent artist, New York
Carrie Moyer, Rhode Island School of Design
Jon Pestoni, independent artist
The exhibitions opening this afternoon at Rowley Kennerk, Julius CaesarWestern Exhibitions and Shane Campbell Gallery feature paintings by artists on the panel.

February 10, 2010

Richard Baker: Between legibility and confusion

Richard Baker, “Approach,” 2008, oil on linen, 54×44." Courtesy of the artist and Tibor De Nagy Gallery.

Richard Baker, “Blue Wall," 2008, oil on canvas, 31×36"

I've been a fan of Richard Baker's paintings for years, and this month he's having a show at Tibor de Nagy. A week before the opening reception, Baker welcomed Brooklyn Rail Art Editor John Yau to his DUMBO studio to check out his new work. Here's an excerpt of their conversation:

Baker: It’s important for me that I do have a dialogue with the viewer. We have talked about Duchamp before and his belief that the audience completes the work of art. If I don’t in some way force the viewer to be actively involved, then I’m just simply presenting something in a kind of dismissible way. I have to construct something that you get, but that deconstructs itself as you wander through it.
Rail: Well, it’s interesting that you mention Duchamp as one of your influences. People might be inclined to say about you, “Oh, he’s a still-life painter, how can he like Duchamp.” And you’re saying, “Oh, that’s not the story.”
Baker: Right, right. But that’s the thing that’s kind of slippery about painting, these sorts of paintings. I am speaking about still-life. Ambitious contemporary painting isn’t supposed to engage with things like beautiful flowers. The still-life genre is not exactly the most elevated, ambitious way to paint these things. If I’m going to venture to do that, I can’t simply use still-life, its history, as my only model. I have to think about many different ways of being creative and being actively involved with the whole history of art. Duchamp is definitely one model.
Rail: And he had a strong interest in things as well. It’s not like he made invisible works. And this interest in things, and their identity, runs through all of his work.
Baker: Yes, from the early chocolate grinder on.
Rail: The other thing I wanted to talk about is that when you do a still-life, you are evoking our historical time. In this painting, for example, one sees copies of the New York Times and New York Post; they are upside down, and there’s a blue vase of tulips resting on them. The headlines have to do with the moment the economy collapsed. So one reads your paintings, as well as sees them. But you are neither a diarist nor a symbolist.
Baker: I would try to resist the symbols. If something is overtly symbolic, I would question if I actually want it to remain that way. I am seeking a tension between the ability to read something and the inability to read something, between legibility and confusion. I’m doing a talk in a couple of weeks about representations of cloth in painting. For me, the interesting thing is that cloth both reveals and conceals. So, in terms of symbols, if something is going to have a symbolic weight, it has to both reveal and conceal. In my paintings of blank index cards and pieces of paper, the paint itself denies the ability to put a message on it. So there’s a way of being clear and also of being confused.

Read the entire conversation here.

"Richard Baker: Paintings," Tibor de Nagy, New York, NY. Through March 6, 2010.

Josie Merck: Paintings of the Highline

 Josie Merck, "Weeds On Rails," 2009, oil on canvas, 30x30"
Josie Merck, "Railside," 2009, 11x12, mono print
In her solo show at Atlantic Gallery, Josie Merck continues to explore nature with a closer look at suburban, urban, and intimate landscapes. The new work is inspired by the scruffy landscape design of the recently-opened Highline park in Chelsea. "The newly designed 'garden' of the elevated park mimic the plants that chose to thrive there over the years of the railroad’s abandonment," Merck writes. "Grasses, seed-heads, and ebbing blooms, along the old rails and ties are some of the references found in my new paintings." This year Merck's husband  Jim Stevenson gave her a video camera. Check out this video she created about her process:

"Josie Merck: Weeds, Rocks, and Rails," Atlantic Gallery, New York, NY. Through February 27.

February 8, 2010

Save the date: The Ivory Tower @Winkleman

In anticipation of The Ivory Tower, an art-academics' gripe-fest, er, I mean discussion I'm organizing for Jen Dalton and William Powhida's upcoming think tank, #class, at Winkleman, perhaps we should put  Art School: (Propositions for the 21st Century)  on our reading lists (optional, of course).

Here are some other things we might be talking about during the Ivory Tower discussion at #class:

• Art schools have drawn heavy fire recently for churning out young artists driven towards quick commercial success at the expense of their long term artistic development. Yet most artist-academics do not consciously try to instill in their students an impatient mercenary sensibility. Where, then, does it come from?

• Artists who are lucky (right?) enough to find full-time teaching jobs have to find a way to fit into conventional university systems that don't understand anything about art. Promotion and Tenure Committees, comprising professors from all departments, may understand the importance of gallery exhibitions, but are completely baffled by relational aesthetics, new media distribution, and other contemporary art practices. How do unorthodox artists maintain their identity and artistic integrity while working within the traditional academic system? (Update: OMG--Asst. Prof. Amy Bishop kills members of the Biology Department when her tenure appeal is denied.)

• Dialectics and lectures as art form. Hey--aren't art academics the experts in this area? How come we didn't come up with it first? Are we guilty of simply maintaining the status quo by accepting that teaching and art practice are two separate and distinct activities?  Are we failing to think creatively? What's up with the Bruce High Quality Foundation University?

Any other suggestions?

And, since this event takes place during art fair week, after the discussion let's head over to INDEPENDENT, a hybrid model and temporary exhibition forum taking place at the former X Initiative / Dia Center for the Arts. INDEPENDENT was conceived by Elizabeth Dee, New York gallerist and founder of X Initiative, and gallerist Darren Flook, from Hotel, London. Part consortium, part collective, INDEPENDENT lies somewhere between a collective exhibition and a reexamination of the art fair model, reflecting the changing attitudes and growing challenges for artists, galleries, curators and collectors. On Thursday, the doors open to the public. 

Save the date: "The Ivory Tower," Thursday, March 4, 4pm, Edward Winkleman Gallery,  621 W. 27th Street, New York, NY. Naturally, heartfelt "letters of thanks" will be provided on letterhead for promotion and tenure dossiers. More details to come.

Related post: The Promotion Project 

February 5, 2010

Reassessing Mercedes Matter

 Mercedes Matter, "Tabletop Still Life,"ca.1942, private collection, New York

Mercedes Matter, "Tabletop Still Life," ca 1940-4, private collection, Mass.

In LA Weekly, Doug Harvey tells the story of Mercedes Matter, who was born into the East Coast cultural aristocracy in 1913 to father Arthur B. Carles, a pioneer American abstract painter who studied with Matisse, showed at Alfred Stieglitz's 291 gallery and exhibited work in the legendary Armory Show. and mother, Mercedes de Cordoba, a Parisian correspondent for Vogue and a favorite model of photographer Edward Steichen. "Her uncle Pedro was a star of Broadway and early Hollywood, and her aunt Sara was a famous fashion photographer and illustrator. Her father started her painting at the age of 6, and she spent her early teens touring the art capitals of Europe. After attending the progressive girls' school Bennett College in Millbrook, New York, she moved to Manhattan and began studying with Hans Hofmann at the Art Students' League.

"Matter (then going by the name Jeanne Carles) and Hofmann (33 years her senior) became close friends — briefly lovers — and maintained a close relationship until Hofmann's death, in 1966. Matter is said to have lured Hofmann back to painting after a two-decade hiatus, and casually instigated the summer painting retreat that evolved into Hofmann's Provincetown school. She became the lover of another student of Hofmann's, painter Wilfrid Zogbaum. Fudging paperwork, Matter qualified for the WPA dole and became an assistant, translator and lover to Fernand Leger, who was in America designing WPA murals along the Hudson River. In 1936 Matter was a founding member of the American Abstract Artists Association, became the lover of Arshile Gorky, and was arrested at a WPA demonstration and thrown in jail. There, she met Lee Krasner, who became another close — though not lifelong — friend, joining Hofmann's painting class and modeling jewelry for Matter's close friend Alexander Calder.

"Through Leger, Matter met and began working for Swiss graphic designer and photographer Herbert Matter, who, as an artist for Condé Nast publications, was largely responsible for translating the photomontage innovations of the dadaists into the visual vocabulary of the cultural mainstream. They, too, soon became lovers. In 1941 they married, but by some condition of Herbert's Swiss citizenship, they were forced to move to Santa Monica and work for Charles and Ray Eames for the duration of World War II. Upon returning to Manhattan, they found themselves at the center of the burgeoning New York school — Krasner was now married to Jackson Pollock, and both Hofmann and Gorky were seminal figures in the emerging language of abstract expressionism. The Matters were among the Pollocks' closest friends, and Mercedes was part of the inner circle at the Cedar Bar and the first woman member of the Artists Club, forming close friendships with Philip Guston, Bill and Elaine de Kooning, Franz Kline, critic Harold Rosenberg, and composers Morton Feldman and John Cage, among others. Herbert joined the Yale fine-art faculty, and Mercedes went on to found the Studio School, a small but influential atelier-style institution in the original home of the Whitney Museum.

"All this biography is a roundabout buildup to the big question: "Mercedes who?" It's hard to imagine a more advantageous entrée into the nascent Art World, and with close friends like these, you'd have to be a pretty lousy artist not to make some kind of dent. Which seems to have been the prevailing public perception — where there was any at all — of Mercedes' role in the AbEx pantheon: important educator, but otherwise a socialite dabbler. A small but cogent traveling retrospective — currently on view at the Weisman Museum at Pepperdine University — gives the lie to this misassessment. Beginning with a pair of startling small works painted at the age of 8 (!), 'Mercedes Matter' traces the artist's steady evolution — incorporating and synthesizing Postimpressionism, fauvism, expressionism, cubism, Hofmann's principles of spatial composition with pure color, the loopy, automatist compositions of the early New York School, and the innovations of her AbEx peers — through to her bittersweet blossoming in the late '90s after the death of Herbert and most of her contemporaries...." Read more.

"Mercedes Matter: A Retrospective Exhibition," curated by Ellen Landau. Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA. Through April 4.

February 4, 2010

The slaves to facture vs. tentative doubters at Exit Art

Benin Ford, "Black Jesus,"oil on canvas, 18 x 14." Courtesy of the artist.

 Mira Dancy, Desnuda, 2009, oil, acrylic, ink, text on canvas
48" x 40 inches. Although others disagree, I'd argue that the JPEG looks better than the actual painting.

Jesse Chapman, "The Hole," 2009, oil on canvas, 22 x 12." Courtesy of the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery.

In the February issue of The Brooklyn Rail I reviewed "New Mirrors: Painting in a Transparent World" at Exit Art. Here's an excerpt.

"In New Mirrors: Painting in a Transparent World" curator Herb Tam suggests that painters, confronting a digital onslaught in which shifting identities are continually updated and instantly distributed, are compelled to deconstruct the logistics of painting in a similar fashion. This idea leads him to assert that the artists whose work he has included in the show are dragging “the corpse of painting to the limits of legibility with processes that mirror a philosopher’s probing, discursive thinking.” [Two Coats readers will know that statements like this make me see red.--Ed.] The show as a whole does not remotely expose such stark iconoclasm. Despite the hyperbole, however, Tam has selected pieces that reflect current directions among painters today.

"In Tam’s view, contemporary painters take positions between polarities: good and bad, right and wrong, figurative and abstract, beauty and vulgarity. Beyond that, I would contend that most painters fall into two dichotomous categories. First, there are those who love paint—slaves to facture—who believe in the power and beauty of the painting process. This category includes, among those represented in the show, Jesse Chapman, Benin Ford, Andy Piedilato, and Julia San Martin. The second group comprises painters who apprehend the medium more tentatively and dubiously, treating it like a conundrum with roots not in painterly concerns or visual phenomenon but in ideas and language. Kadar Brock, Mira Dancy, and Alison Fox are representative of these artists...."

Read the entire article here.

"NEW MIRRORS: Painting in a Transparent World," Exit Art, New York, NY. Through February 6, 2010.