July 31, 2013

Retro book review: NYC art scene in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s

At the thriftshop recently, I picked up a hardcover edition of Anthony Haden-Guest's True Colors, The Real Life of the Art World for two bucks. Published in 1996, the book is an amusing account of the1970s-1990s NYC art world, and makes a nice companion to "Reinventing Abstraction," the exhibition that revisits 1980s abstract painting at Cheim & Read through August.

David Kaufman's 1997 review in the NYTimes called Haden-Guest's chronicle a "devasting account of the art scene:"
Artists, dealers, collectors, auctioneers, critics -- seemingly everyone involved with the contemporary art world makes an appearance in True Colors, Anthony Haden-Guest's devastating account of the art scene during the past three decades, when vested interests supplanted esthetic concerns. The book is top-heavy with revealing anecdotes and names -- it sometimes reads like a directory. One must also endure Mr. Haden-Guest's occasionally irritating prose, punctuated by snappy jargon and ho-hum metaphors. But drawing on his background as a cultural journalist, he proves a valuable guide through an art landscape that acquired ''a heated, garish quality, like the set for a game show.''
True Colors may surpass an outsider's worst suspicions about the ''nonchalant ruthlessness'' of ''an art world where all that anybody talked about was money.'' ''I really enjoy sales. Sales is a form of conscious control,'' says Jeff Koons, a one-time Wall Street broker who became a prominent artist in the mid-80's. Advising other art dealers on how to handle their clients, Mary Boone suggests, ''Get them into debt. . . . Get them to buy lots of houses, get them to have expensive habits and girlfriends. . . . That's what really drives them to produce.''
There is ultimately a tedious sameness to such candid venality. But in addition to in-depth looks at Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat and their kind, the story is supplemented by a rich variety of stomach-churning reports on artists whose work entails self-mutilation. The grisly extremes some people have stooped to for their 15 minutes of attention suggest they would welcome even the scathing treatment they receive here.
I agree with Kaufman that the prose often feels like an unedited first draft, but the stories about art world financial shenanigans, dealer machinations, and the artists' ambition are priceless. At the time Haden-Guest wrote it, Damien Hirst was considered more of a DIY impressario than an artist, curating exhibitions of his contemporaries rather than making his own work, and several of the artists, such as Dutch It-boy Rob Scholte (who had his legs blown off in a 1994 car explosion) and precocious Thread Waxing Space curator Christian Leigh (I can't even find a good link) have gone completely off the radar. And, to get a sense of how abstract painting fared back in the day, I'm sorry to report that very few of the abstract painters in the Cheim & Read exhibition are even mentioned.

Related posts:

Beach reading for artists (2013)

Book of the Day: Coming to That by Dorothea Tanning (2011)

July 30, 2013

Upcoming show: Dense Surveillance

Good news: I just got the brochure proofs for "Dense Surveillance," my upcoming solo show at Westchester Community College. The space at WCC is roomy--the longest wall is 47 feet--and lit by a glorious wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. The exhibition runs from September 3 through November 24 and will include both a workshop and an artist's talk, so stay tuned for more dates and details. Here's a snapshot taken at the Elizabeth Foundation (where I've been working for the summer) of a 7 x 8 foot painting in progress and the short text that we put together for the brochure. Installation takes place at the end of August!

UPDATE: Opening reception for the show is September 12, 5-7pm. A link to directions is posted below.

Sharon Butler, work in progress, 2013, house paint and gesso on linen tarp, 7 x 8 feet.

From the brochure:

What is a painting? Literally and superficially, it is stretchers, paint, canvas, primer, image, shape, color, and object. More practically, it is the outcome of an artist’s decisions. Sharon Butler starts work by posing questions that challenge customary artistic boundaries while maintaining some continuity with her prior work – much as a scientist might try different mixes of chemicals or physical forces within the broad parameters of an ongoing experiment. The imagery is derived from her surroundings – specifically the industrial HVAC units, vent silencers, fire escapes, and other odd rooftop structures in New York City. For Butler, materials and how they are used are as important as the images themselves. “Painting is a metaphor,” Butler says, “and the choices we make in our work reveal who we are.”

"Sharon Butler: Dense Surveillance," organized by Matt Ferranto. Fine Art Gallery at Westchester Community College, Valhalla, NY. September 3-November 24, 2013. Stay tuned for the date of the workshop and artist's talk.

How do I get here? If you don't have a car, take the Harlem Line on Metro North from Grand Central  to White Plains, where you can take the 40, 41 or 15 bus or a taxi.

Related posts:
A blank canvas (2013)
Looking back: Precisionism, Part I (2012)

July 29, 2013

Philosophy and art: Dennis Kardon


In a 2004 NYTimes review of a solo exhibition at Mitchell Algus,  Ken Johnson described Dennis Kardon's paintings as "generously painterly, voluptuously creepy narrative pictures of familial conflict, sexual angst and infantile yearning." During a visit to his DUMBO studio last week, Kardon explained that his earlier images emerged through a labor-intensive, revision-laden painting process through which he was able to uncover mysterious concerns embedded on a subconscious level. In his new work, Kardon is exploring a few different approaches, each of them inventive and promising, such as his embrace of blocky abstract markmaking, both in his figurative work and also as a primary element in a series of compelling abstract paintings such as the one pictured above.

(Image above: Dennis Kardon, Ice Bath, 2012, oil on linen, 36 x 30 inches)

July 22, 2013

Rejecting the New: Abstract painting in the 1980s


This month New York painters and critics are talking about "Reinventing Abstraction," an exhibition of paintings from the 1980s curated by Raphael Rubinstein. His incisive selection includes one painting each by Carroll Dunham, Louise Fishman, Jonathan Lasker, Mary Heilmann, Bill Jensen, Stephen Mueller. Elizabeth Murray, Thomas Nozkowski, David Reed, Joan Snyder, Pat Steir, Gary Stephan, Stanley Whitney, Jack Whitten, and Terry Winters.

(Image at top: Bill Jensen) 

Paintings made on the assembly line featured at Klaus Von Nichtssagend

At Klaus Von Nichtssagend, Sara Greenberger Rafferty has organzed "Work," an amusing exhibition of 50 small-scale paintings made by 16 artists exploring issues about labor, value and authorship. Originally conceived in 2012 as a studio assignment for Michelle Grabner and Sara Greenberger Rafferty's class at Ox-Bow School of Art in Saugatuck, Michigan, the paintings were produced in assembly-line fashion after a prototype was chosen from five test paintings.

(Image above: Katherine Bernhardt, Sarah Crowner, TM Davy, Michelle Grabner, Joanne Greenbaum, Sara Greenberger Rafferty, David Kennedy Cutler, Michael Mahalchick, Eddie Martinez, Yuri Masnyj, Sam Moyer, Ian Pedigo, Kate Shepherd, B. Wurtz; untitled; 2013; acrylic, yarn, collage, cloth, colored pencil, string, inkjet print, ink, insult, and band-aid on canvas; 16" x 20 inches.)

July 18, 2013

July 18: Panel discussion on Casualism (and other forms of abstraction)



Please join me from 6:30 – 8:30 PM, at Garis & Hahn for artist presentations and a roundtable discussion of contemporary abstraction with curator Kyle Chayka. Artists include Tatiana Berg, Ariel Dill, Sarah Faux, Clare Grill, and Kristina Lee. 

Image above: Sarah Faux, Crawling Man, 2012, oil and spray paint on canvas, 42 x 38 inches.


Heather Guertin Ha

A group exhibition comprising work made by the nine organizing artists is currently on view at Essex Flowers, a new space in the small basement of a florist's shop on the Lower East Side. Heather Guertin's delicate painting, Children of Paradise, pictured above, is a stand-out among the many compelling pieces in the show. After doing a quick search, I learned that Guertin is also a writer and stand-up comic who recently published Model Turned Comedian with Social Malpractice Publishing and Publication Studio in Portland, Oregon. She sent me a copy, which I enjoyed tremendously (emerging standup comics, it turns out, have a lot in common with emerging painters), and she agreed to publish some excerpts here.

Image above: Heather Guertin, Children of Paradise, oil on canvas, 68 x 48 inches.

July 15, 2013

Weekend report: Studio pop-in with Leslie Wayne and Don Porcaro, Doppler, Crystal Fairy

Despite the heat, humidity, and overall stink, I love summer in New York City. For everyone who has decamped for more temperate climes, here are a few highlights from the past weekend.

At Parallel Art Space, I stopped by the jammed opening for  Doppler, a handsome and eye-popping show organized by artist Mel Prest featuring Minimalist work by 22 artists who play with optical illusion.

Press release of the day: The Decline and Fall of the Art World


In the press release for their current exhibition, Freight & Volume sardonically deploys an old favorite, the mention-use distinction:
If this were a typical press release, for a typical summer group show in NYC, we might pontificate about how the Art World is steadily failing, and give examples of its slow and embarrassing demise due to ruthless marketeering, commodity art trading, and corrupt price-fixing by the major auction houses. We would make clever references to The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization, in film and book form, and liberally sprinkle in heavy quotes of apocalypse and doom from Nietzsche, Kazantzakis, and Homer's Iliad.

July 9, 2013

The stories we tell: Four paintings at Regina Rex

In the second installment of their "Four Paintings" series, Regina Rex presents four huge figurative paintings, one each from accomplished artists Hannah Barrett, Linda Gallagher, Becky Kinder and Summer Wheat.


Walking into the square-shaped gallery, the viewer is surrounded by four larger-than-lifesize figures, the most shocking of which, by Summer Wheat, features a half-naked woman, presumably masturbating, with the canvas hung so that her vagina is right at eye level. (Image above: Installation view, Summer Wheat and Becky Kinder.)

July 8, 2013

Weekend report: Casualism's heredity, visit to The Brooklyn Museum,Museum Hours, studio update



At Hyperallergic, Thomas Micchelli still has Casualism on the brain. In his excellent review of "Reinventing Abstraction," an exhibition of 1980s abstract painting curated by Raphael Rubinstein, Micchelli suggests that "the genome of this generation of post-minimal abstractionists, who were born between 1939 and 1949, is embedded in the Provisional/Casual DNA," and he's absolutely right. I'll be writing about the exhibition myself later this week. (Image above: Jonathan Lasker, Double Play, 1987, oil on linen, 76 x 100 inches. Courtesy of Cheim & Read)...

July 7, 2013

Fred Valentine: "I make pictures"

Last week I met Fred Valentine at Sometimes (the gallery is only open on Wednesdays, Fridays and by appointment) where he has an exhibition of remarkably inventive and sophisticated new work. A painter for more than forty years, Valentine isn't interested in the ongoing debate about painting-as-object or painting strategies in the post-mortem (painting supposedly being dead) era. Instead, he conjures images from his imagination.

 Fred Valentine, Curior than I, 2013. 

July 1, 2013

Questions for Casualists



This weekend at Hyperallergic Thomas Micchelli reviews Dying on Stage: New Painting in New York, the Garis & Hahn exhibition curated by Kyle Chayka that was inspired by  "The New Casualists,” a 2011 essay I published in The Brooklyn Rail. Noting that much of the work in the show veers into representational territory and freely quotes from art history, Micchelli asks the following questions:

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