December 31, 2011

The discourse: Helen Frankenthaler

“Painting is very private and personal....There’s an emotional content, but I’m more involved in the light and color and drawing of a painting. I don’t set out to portray an emotion.”
--Helen Frankenthaler, 1972 

While I was on vacation last week, I was sorry to learn that Helen Frankenthaler, 83, had died. She lived in a seaside home in Darien, Connecticut, and according to the New York Times, had struggled with a lengthy illness. Frankenthaler was best known for pouring thinned paint directly on unprimed canvas, creating big stains of thinned color, which later came to be known as Color Field Painting. I wasn't familiar with her achievements until I read numerous obituaries which credit Frankenthaler with building a bridge from Abstract Expressionism to Minimalism. The image below is from a series of prints Frankenthaler made with Pace Editions in 2007. To my eye, it looks pretty damn contemporary for someone who has been painting since the 1950s. Perhaps the painting is all the same--it's just the discourse that has changed.

Helen Frankenthaler, Book of Clouds, 2007, aquatint etching, woodcut & pochoir with hand coloring, 35 5/8 x 68 1/4 inches, Printed by Pace Editions Ink, Published by Pace Editions, Inc., Edition of 30.

Grace Glueck writes in the NYTimes:
Refining a technique, developed by Jackson Pollock, of pouring pigment directly onto canvas laid on the floor, Ms. Frankenthaler, heavily influencing the colorists Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland, developed a method of painting best known as Color Field — although Clement Greenberg, the critic most identified with it, called it Post-Painterly Abstraction. Where Pollock had used enamel that rested on raw canvas like skin, Ms. Frankenthaler poured turpentine-thinned paint in watery washes onto the raw canvas so that it soaked into the fabric weave, becoming one with it. Her staining method emphasized the flat surface over illusory depth, and it called attention to the very nature of paint on canvas, a concern of artists and critics at the time. It also brought a new, open airiness to the painted surface and was credited with releasing color from the gestural approach and romantic rhetoric of Abstract Expressionism.
Jerry Saltz writes at Vulture:
She blurred the borders between geometry, order, chaos, the body, atmosphere, and ground. She shunned the overemotional hysteria of Abstract Expressionism, pouring thinned, watered down, and turpentine-laden mixes of color directly onto raw canvas. Her structures and shapes were open, controlled by natural forces while also describing them. Her paint and canvass became one surface. This was a big deal back in the day. Edges evaporated; accident was visible; so were her means and intentions. Pooling paint created varying viscosities of thickness and thinness; paint dried into imagistic river beds, isolated islands, clouds, continental masses that all evoked landscape without depicting it or engaging any abstract sublime. There was no paint-flinging or implied dance around the canvas. There was picture-making, pure and simple. And beauty. Lots of it. Which of course made people run back to labels like feminine

And that wraps up our posts for 2011. See you next year.


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Pick a painter

It's time to vote for the Reader's Choice Awards at New American Paintings again. Voting is open through January 7 (one vote per computer), and the winner will be announced by Friday, January 13th. The twelve painters in this year's competition were selected by the editors at NAP and the curators who selected each issue. Judging from JPEGs isn't easy, but I'm not knocked out by the selection this year.  Click here for more info about each painter and to submit your vote. The winner receives $500 in art supplies.

Here are images of their work:

Daniela Rivera | Reina Sofia Wall #1, oil on canvas, 48 x 72 inches

William Betts | Untitled, Miami International Airport, acrylic on canvas, 52 x 70 inches

Joe Bussell | Silver Series, gouache, acrylic, and archival tape, 11 x 14 inches

Jeremy Couillard | Company Jet, acrylic on canvas over panel, 48 x 48 inches

Marcus Jansen | Creeping Obstacles in Kansas, oil enamel collage on canvas, 90 x 135 inches

Marcus Kenney | The Return of Metacom, mixed media on canvas, 48 x 48 inches

Erik Parker | Think Twice, mixed media on canvas, 52 x 42 x 3.75 inches

Erin Payne | Just my Lucky, acrylic and oil on canvas, 84 x 109 inches


Josh Reames | Hyperbox, acrylic and cardboard on canvase, 40 x 32 inches

Brion Nuda Rosch | Snake Face, acrylic on found book page, 9 x 6 inches

Maja Ruznic | Self Portrait as Emotional Trash Can, mixed media on paper, 8 x 8 inches

Ann Toebbe | Washing the Windows, 2010, gouache and oil on panel, 24 x 30 inches

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December 29, 2011

Part I: Where is Joshua Abelow?

Over the summer Joshua Abelow, painter and editor of ART BLOG ART BLOG, started a gallery (also called ART BLOG ART BLOG) in a Chelsea space generously donated by Abelow's former boss (and friend), Ross Bleckner. Abelow invited friends and acquaintances to organize quick two-week exhibitions that mimicked the fast pace of his blog, and the project became a focal point for the painting community during what is generally a slow time in Chelsea. In October, when Bleckner returned from summer in the Hamptons, the space closed.

Abelow was burned out, but overall he was pleased with the experience. He sublet his Brooklyn studio and moved back to his hometown near Washington, DC, for a few months to focus on painting and complete Painters Journal, an autobiographical book project about 1999, his first year in New York. "The book is special to me because it captures a time in my life when I was just beginning to find myself as an artist and I was crawling through a lot of internal and external muck," Abelow told me recently over a cup of coffee.   I admire Abelow's enthusiasm for his own projects and, at the same time, his willlingness to create opportunities for other artists.

Here are some images of Abelow's sketchbooks and paintings. The paintings may look spontaneous, but they are built methodically using specific rules that Abelow writes out in the sketchbooks.

Abelow currently has work in "Tailgates and Substitutes," a group show through January 15 at Thierry Goldberg in NYC and is preparing work for a solo show at Devening Projects + Editions that opens on January 29th in Chicago. After Chicago, he's got a solo booth at James Fuentes at Frieze New York, where, along with new paintings and drawings, he will release Painter's Journal. In September 2012,  Sorry We're Closed in Brussels, Belgium, will be hosting his first solo show in Europe.

And check out Abelow's new silkscreen print, Nude, which is available at Worthwhisland, an online project developed by Abelow's two close friends, Jason Frank Rothenberg and Alexis Rothenberg.

Look for Part II of this post, which will include excerpts from our conversation about painting, in January.


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December 28, 2011

PEM seeks painters for Michael Lin murals

The Peabody Essex Museum needs ten artists to make two huge murals for Michael Lin's FreePort project. Back in the late 1990s, Lin began enlarging ornamental fabric designs in architectural installations and has since created murals all over the world.  Sometimes his installations provide new functions - café, discussion platform, or skateboard park. Other times, they simply bring a sense of play to existing functional spaces like the walls and floors of museums, exhibition spaces, and other public buildings.

 Michael Lin's painting on a tennis court at The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii, 2005
Lin's team will be creating two paintings on the floor and on the walls of a stairwell in the Asian Export wing of the museum. The workers will be supervised by one of Lin's assistants and PEM design department managers. Successful candidates will need to commit to work 7 hours a day, 5 days a week from February 28 to March 4, 2012. 
Unfortunately, the museum's website doesn't mention a stipend, but since the position is listed in the Employment section rather than the Internship or Volunteer sections, I hope they are offering some kind of compensation.


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New York artist wins Bravo's art competition

New York artist Kymia Nawabi beat out contestants Young Sun and Sara in the final episode of Bravo's Work of Art last week. Her winning exhibition, which looks far more sophisticated than the exhibition mounted by last year’s winner, is on display at The Brooklyn Museum through February 5, 2012. Congratualtions to Kymia, and good luck to all the other artists who participated in this exasperating competition. Why can't we have something more like the Turner Prize?


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December 26, 2011

IMAGES: Michael Van Winkle

I just received these images from Michael Van Winkle, a painter who lives in Easthampton, Massachusetts. He says he explores the relationship between common household objects and the rarefied art world in a fast paced and disorderly daily practice wherein particular places, histories and narratives unfold within the fluid context of abstract painting. His work looks terrific, and it's included in  a four-person exhibition at Vox Populi in Philadelphia through December 30. I'll try to stop by on my way to New York this week.

 Michael Van Winkle, Skulls, Fruit, Flowers and Plants, 2011, oil on canvas, 35 x 45 inches.

 Michael Van Winkle painting. Details not available.

 Michael Van Winkle, Untitled, 2010, oil on canvas, 19 x 22 inches.

 Michael Van Winkle, A Gun, A Ladle and Rocks, 2010, oil on canvas, 35 x 45 inches.

Michael Van Winkle, installation view.

"Place and Replace: Michael Van Winkle, Todd Baldwin, Dan Levenson, Michael May," Vox Populi Gallery, Philadelphia, PA. Through December 30, 2011.


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2012 Whitney Biennial: Long on video and film, short on painting

Last week the list of artists selected for the 2012 Whitney Biennial was leaked, and everyone scrambled to see who was on it. Few of the names were familiar to me other than painters Nicole Eisenman, Andrew Masullo; artists Mike Kelley, Liz Deschenes, Vincent Fecteau, Nick Mauss, and Elaine Reichek; and filmmakers Fredrick Wiseman (a master documentarian--remember Titicut Follies?), Kelly Reichardt (Meek's Cutoff--one of my favorite films from this past year), Werner Herzog, and Vincent Gallo. I did a little research this morning, and it turns out the 2012 Biennial will be long on filmmaking and video, but woefully short on painting. Here are links to the 51 artists selected, organized into broad categories but many of the artists have inter-disciplinary practices that involve multiple media, so expect mistakes.

Forrest Bess, The Painter's Table, 1935, oil on board, 12 x 13.5 inches.

 Forrest Bess, title and date unknown.

Nicole Eisenma, Winter Solstice 2012 Dinner Party, 2009, oil on canvas, 56 x 44 inches

 Andrew Masullo, 5027, 2008-09; oil on canvas; 20 x 24 inches.

Forrest Bess (Bess died in 1977, but artist Robert Gober, the guy who curated the Whitney's Charles Burchfield show last year, selected paintings for the Biennial)
Nicole Eisenman
Andrew Masullo

Painting/Installation/Other media mash-ups:
Kai Althoff
Richard Hawkins
Jutta Koether
Nick Mauss
Elaine Reichek

Vincent Fecteau
Oscar Tuazon

Cameron Crawford
Mike Kelley
John Knight
Sam Lewitt
Michael E. Smith

Thom Andersen
Charles Atlas
Nathaniel Dorsky 
Kevin Jerome Everson
Andrea Fraser
Vincent Gallo
K8 Hardy
Werner Herzog
Jerome Hiler
Matt Hoyt
George Kutchar
Laida Lertxundi
Laura Poitras
Matt Porterfield
Luther Price
Lucy Raven
Kelly Reichardt
Michael Robinson
Frederick Wiseman

Lutz Bacher
Moyra Davey
Liz Deschenes
LaToya Ruby Frazier

Michael Clark
Dennis Cooper and Gisèle Vienne,
Dawn Kasper
Richard Maxwell
Sarah Michelson
Alicia Hall Moran and Jason Moran
The Red Krayola

Too hard to categorize:
John Kelsey
Kate Levant
Joanna Malinowska
Georgia Sagri
Tom Thayer 
Wu Tsang

Who is responsible for choosing these artists and why is there so little painting? Once you read a little about the exhibitions that 2012 curators Elisabeth Sussman and Jay Sanders have organized elsewhere, it's clear why there is a dearth of painting in the upcoming Biennial: Neither curator has spent much time over the course of their careers organizing painting exhibitions. The lack of painting isn't a reflection on contemporary painting per se, but rather an indication that the curators simply aren't interested in it.

Here's the info about Sussman and Sanders, lifted from the Whitney's PR materials:

Elisabeth Sussman is Curator and Sondra Gilman Curator of Photography at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She curated Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective, co-curated with Lynn Zelevansky, co-curated (with Thomas Weski) William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961-2008, Gordon Matta-Clark: “You Are the Measure." She has organized many other Whitney exhibitions including Remote Viewing: Invented Worlds in Recent Painting and Drawing (2005); Mike Kelley: Catholic Tastes (1991); Nan Goldin: I’ll Be Your Mirror (1996), with David Armstrong; Keith Haring (1997); and the Museum’s 1993 Biennial Exhibition.

Sussman co-curated two exhibitions on the work of Eva Hesse, one of Hesse’s drawings with The Drawing Center, and another of her sculpture with The Jewish Museum, both in New York. For SFMOMA, Sussman also organized, with Sandra Phillips, a retrospective of the work of Diane Arbus, Diane Arbus: Revelation. She is the author of many publications, including Lisette Model (Phaidon, 2001) and has contributed essays on Robert Gober for the Schaulager and on Lee Bontecou.

From 2005 until recently, Jay Sanders was a Gallery Director at Greene Naftali in New York, where he organized major monographic exhibitions of the artist/filmmakers Tony Conrad and Paul Sharits, along with shows by Allen Ruppersberg, Guy de Cointet, and others. Sanders’s recent projects as a curator include organizing a ten-day continuous screening installation, ITWAN, as part of the exhibition Film Programme at IPS International Project Space, Birmingham (UK), presented in November 2010.  In 2007 he organized an artist film and video program/installation, conceived and co-curated with Paul Chan, entitled Change our fates, hobble the plague, start with time, at the Lyon Biennale. Sanders has programmed performance, music, and film exhibitions at such venues as the former Whitney branch at Altria, Issue Project Room, Anthology Film Archives, Sculpture Center, EAI, The Stone, Tonic, and for Performa. He is a member of the collaborative performance group Grand Openings, and has staged large-scale events at Anthology Film Archives for Performa 05 (New York), the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial (Japan), MUMOK (Vienna), and the Bumbershoot Festival (Seattle). He has produced and edited a DVD on the work of theater artist Richard Foreman, published a book of Jack Smith’s drawings, and co-edited, with poet Charles Bernstein, the seminal catalogue Poetry Plastique to accompany their 2001 exhibition by the same name at Marianne Boesky Gallery, where Sanders was a Gallery Director from 2000 to 2005. Sanders has written extensively for ArtforumParkettTexte zur Kunst, BOMB, and other publications.

UPDATE(March 2, 2012): Roberta Smith gushes over the 2012 Whitney Biennial in the NYTimes but agrees there aren't enough objects in the show. "In liking this show a lot I'm not saying that it is perfect, or that I like all of it. It could use a higher percentage of strong art objects and in this regard suffers from a lack of hard, open-eyed looking. It is, after all, a Whitney Biennial. It has irritating moments of preciousness and blank spots where it dwindles off into inconsequentiality. But at this juncture such faults seem preferable to overweening, overproduced machismo. And often what appears slight will gain strength if you return and look again, more closely." 

"Whitney Biennial 2012," The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY. March 1-May 27, 2012.

Related posts:
Curator Herb Tam envisions a different Whitney Biennial.
An Eye For Art: "For professional curators, selecting specific paintings for an exhibition is a daunting prospect, far too revealing a demonstration of their lack of what we in the trade call 'an eye.' They prefer to exhibit videos..."
2010 Whitney Biennial scorecard for painters
Brown Team Takes Two at The Whitney Biennial


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Art history lesson

For the past few weeks I've been working on a freelance writing project, which takes me to unexpected periods on the art history timeline. As an undergraduate art history major who didn't start painting until several years later, I studied the paintings from an academic perspective, so stumbling across these old familiar images now that I've been painting for a while is exciting. The information about the the artists' lives and their roles in the history of art seems so much more alive and useful. Here are a few things I learned this week.

 In the 15th Century, people payed to see the Ghent Altarpiece--sort of like a feature film. Painted by the van Eyck brothers, Hubert and Jan, in 1432, at the Cathedral of Saint Bavo, in Ghent, Belgium, the alterpiece was  more realistic than earlier paintings because the van Eycks used oil paint. They were among the first Early Neatherlandish painters to use oils, developing new glazing techniques that gave their work a more realistic sense of light, shadow and depth than previous paintings.

 In Venice on 27 August 1576, Titian, an old, wealthy, and respected artist, died of the plague. Here's an image of The Rape of Europa (1562), one of his most famous paintings, which was unusual for its a bold diagonal composition that's almost Baroque in its blurry atmospheric effects, swirling colors, and visible brushstrokes.

Father of fourteen kids (four died as infants), Johannes Vermeer, a slow, methodical painter who only produced 34 paintings during his lifetime, died of stress created by financial pressure when the art market collapsed in 1675. For financial reasons, he worked as an inn-keeper and art dealer, which helps  explain why his output was so slim. Although respected during his lifetime in his hometown of Delft in the Netherlands, Vermeer's work sank into obscurity for hundreds of years until it was rediscovered in the 19th Century.  Now Vermeer is considered one of the finest painters of the Dutch Golden Age. Above: Vermeer's The Milkmaid, c. 1658.

Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, court painter for Marie Antoinette, was the most famous female artist of the 1700s. Unfortunately, when the Revolution went down in 1789, she and her young daughter Julie had to flee the country. She lived in Italy, Austria, and Russia, where her experience working with with an aristocratic clientele was still useful. Above:  Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Portrait of Marie Antoinette, 1783.

American painter Francis Davis Millet died in the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912. He had an amazing career before that, which included founding the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Above:Francis Davis Millet,  An Autumn Idyll, 1892. At the Brooklyn Museum.


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December 20, 2011

Mel Bochner: Babble, blather, blabber

Bilge, blarney, bunk. Mel Bochner has been exploring the intersections of linguistic and visual representation for over 45 years. The excellently verbose exhibition at the National Gallery of Art (through April 2012) includes 43 thesaurus-inspired paintings and drawings, including Money, Die, Useless, Obscene, and Sputter; a new monochrome painting (Blah, Blah, Blah); and four major diptychs that have never been exhibited before (Master of the Universe, Oh Well, Amazing!, and Babble). His "Portraits" series of the 1960s is also on display and the show includes several pieces that have been buried in Bochner's studio all these years. Bochner has said in interviews no one was interested in buying his work back in the day.

Mel Bochner, Babble, 2011 oil and acrylic on two canvases, 100 x 85 inches.  Courtesy Peter Freeman Inc., New York © Mel Bochner 2011

The "Thesaurus" series began with small word-based pieces in the 1960s. Using ink on graph paper Bochner made experimental portraits based on synonyms found in Roget's Thesaurus. The shapes, words and compositions of these drawings are titled with names (including Jorge Luis Borges, Marcel Duchamp, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Eva Hesse, and Robert Smithson) of friends, acquaintances and influential artists from the early days of the Minimalism and Conceptual Art. What a pleasure to see this early work that has had such a huge impact on contemporary art.

Mel Bochner, Self / Portrait, 1966, ink on graph paper, 5 1/8 x 4 1/2 inches. Private Collection © Mel Bochner 2011

Mel Bochner, Portrait of Robert Smithson, 1966, ink on graph paper, 7 5/8 x 6 3/4 inches. Private Collection © Mel Bochner 2011

 Mel Bochner, Portrait of Sol LeWitt, 1966, ink on graph paper, 5 1/4 x 5 1/2 inches.
Private Collection © Mel Bochner 2011

Mel Bochner, Minimal Art: The Movie, 1966, ink and pencil on lined paper, 6 x 3 1/2 inches. Private Collection © Mel Bochner 2011

 Mel Bochner, Portrait of Dan Flavin, 1966, ink on graph paper,  4 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches. Private Collection © Mel Bochner 2011

Mel Bochner, Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, 1968, ink on graph paper, 11 x 8 1/2 inches. Private Collection © Mel Bochner 2011

Fast forward to the 21st Century when Bochner, now a very successful artist and esteemed professor at Yale University, returns to Roget's as the subject for a new series of paintings. In the early years, Bochner's move away from painting was a response to the painting-is-dead conversation. At the time, language as subject was a new frontier, and Bochner, looking to make something that had never been made before, became a pioneer of language-based Conceptual Art. In the lively and amusing "Thesaurus" paintings, Bochner's engagement shifts from questioning boundaries to a more formal exploration of color and facture.

The paintings aren't as experimental as his earlier work, but in the course of his 45-year career, Bochner, who once worried that there was nothing left to paint, has managed to carve a deeply original niche for himself. As Roberta Smith wrote in a 2006 NYTimes review, "The new Bochners unleash something malicious, sharp and funny that has always lurked beneath the surface, conveying the rage of life while maintaining the artist's characteristic surface of elegance, intellect and formalism. In a sense they are Expressionistic works, filled with pain, and grinning and bearing it." The newest paintings, like blinking neon signs, demand instant attention, but require a slow and careful read to fully apprehend their meaning.

Mel Bochner, Master of the Universe, 2010, oil and acrylic on two canvases, 100 x 75 inches. Courtesy Peter Freeman Inc., New York © Mel Bochner 2011

Mel Bochner, Oh Well, 2010, oil and acrylic on two canvases, 100 x 75 inches. Courtesy Peter Freeman Inc., New York © Mel Bochner 2011

Mel Bochner, Amazing!, 2011, oil and acrylic on two canvases, 100 x 75 inches. Courtesy Peter Freeman Inc., New York © Mel Bochner 2011

Mel Bochner, Blah, Blah, Blah, 2011, oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches. Collection of the Artist © Mel Bochner 2011

"In the Tower: Mel Bochner," National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Through April8, 2012.

Bonus Podcast:
The Diamonstein-Spielvogel Lecture Series:  A conversation with Mel Bochner on March 11, 2007.


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