MODERN ART NOTES
Tyler Green's modern and contemporary art blog
Because vodka makes artists
From New York Magazine's predictably silly list of ten New York artists to watch (I mean, why talk about who is good now when you can talk about who might be good someday? The bubble is bad, says NY, but we'll contribute to it anyway.)
He's also sold his art in CD files that can be manipulated with Photoshop, an enlightened approach to digital piracy. Perhaps that’s why Ketel One agreed to sponsor his book-release party.
Art market art shmarket
I fail to understand why critics (Jerry Saltz, Roberta Smith), editors, and other writers are so fascinated by a perceived bubble in the art market. (The latest voyeur is New York Magazine.) So art sells and a lot of people want to buy it. Great. But so what? And, er, isn't people wanting to buy art a good thing for artists?
UPDATE: OK, I kinda understand now. More next week. How's that for suspense?
MAN revisited, Day One
Because I'm on travel this week (expect a post a day, I'd say) I thought it might be a good time to provide links to some oldies but goodies.
Today's is "Gallerists, please," from 2.19.04, in which I begged gallerists for a few things. Some gallerists took these things to heart, and I'm grateful for it. One or two particularly guilty gallerists thought that the entire list was about them and got sputtering mad, and I'm amused by it. To this list I'll add this one:
- If you're a gallerist, and you send out more than one email per exhibit, there better be a durn good reason.
Around the blogosphere
Art blogs have really taken off in the last three months. This has to be my longest AtB ever -- which is a good thing because after I post it I'm getting on a plane. There's some great stuff below -- click 'n' enjoy!
A few other notes on Dali
Why is it the Philadelphia Museum refuses to allow museum staff into Dali? Such courtesies are extraordinarily routine in the museum world, but apparently pulling in an extra $20 is more important than being collegial.
In 1926, Dali visited Paris. It's nearly certain that he saw recent paintings by Picasso and the surrealists, who had their first group show together at the end of 1925. Two works Dali painted in 1926, on view in one of the early galleries in "Dali" were probably the direct result of what Dali saw in Paris. They inadvertently set up the rest of this exhibit.
In both Barcelona Mannequin and Neo-Cubist Academy, Dali borrows heavily from Picasso. Mannequin shares its colorful, overlapping planes of color with Picasso's harlequin paintings (one of which is on view in the Philly Museum's permanent galleries), and the sculptural nudes in Neo-Cubist Academy are straight out of Picasso's neo-classical nudes of the early 1920s. Dali's appropriation doesn't stop there. Both paintings feature more borrowed imagery: fish.
In both paintings, Dali uses fish as a phallic symbol. In Neo-Cubist Academy two fish sit on the beach, directing our attention to two semi-nude women in the water. Both of the abstracted fish are phallic-shaped and one is an unmistakably fleshy pink. In Mannequin a red fish is portrayed as being inside the female figure. Dali probably saw Andre Masson's painting L'Homme in Paris in 1926. In it Masson uses a fish to symbolize the post-World War emasculation of a male figure. It's almost certainly a painting that would have fascinated Dali, who was fascinated by the idea of sex without physical contact.
Dali @ Philly Museum
Continuing the the dialogue begun here yesterday...
Just kidding! You didn't think I'd actually talk that way, did you? Hah!
Excerpts from my what I wrote for Bloomberg review about Salvador Dali at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (the show's Cremasterian catalogue is here). More on Dali throughout the day:
Upon hearing that there would be a Salvador Dali retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I wondered why. Dali is hardly an artist who needs to be re-examined, let alone rescued from oblivion. His surrealist paintings transcend art history and are part of popular culture. Fifteen years after his death, Dali is still a merchandising machine. Amazon.com lists 1,400 Dali doohickeys for sale, including 172 "health and personal care" items (notably several dozen perfumes and colognes) and 919 "home and garden" items (including the 'melting' "Salvador Grande Italian Designer Modern Wall Clock and Mirror").
Nor is it as if museums have ignored Dali. He has been the subject of three major retrospectives and half a dozen major survey exhibits in the last 25 years. In the last four years alone, there have been 27 Dali shows shown at 38 venues. While it's true that there hasn't been a full Dali retrospective in the United States in more than 60 years, that's mostly because nearly everyone acknowledges the works Dali made in the last 40 years of his life to be on par with paintings of dogs playing poker.
Apparently considering all of that attention to be insufficient, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has rolled out Salvador Dali, a massive retrospective with over 200 works. Philadelphia – and not just the museum – thinks it has a hit on its hands. Philadelphia tourism groups have spent $2.6 million marketing Dali up and down the East Coast.
Dali mostly exposes the artist as a borrower of visuals, as a skilled aggregator. That said, between 1929 and 1939 Dali made entertaining works that define surrealism. Fortunately nearly half of this show, 92 pieces worth, is from this period.
[F]or Dali, working through other artists never stopped. His shadow-filled, perspectival landscapes are borrowed from Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico, who first painted unusual shadows in unusual landscapes around 1913, when Dali was nine years old. The biomorphic shapes in Dali's paintings come from Yves Tanguy and Jean Arp. The eyeballs that dot some of his surreal landscapes come from Joan Miro. Miro's Catalan Landscape (The Hunter) from 1923-24 features an eyeball with lines apparently shooting out of it. So does Dali's 1927 painting Study for "Honey is Sweeter than Blood," which is in this exhibit.
Dali's appropriation of imagery is familiar to art historians, which brings us back to the question of why this show is here. Apparently Dawn Ades, the lead curator for Salvador Dali and one of the world's top Dali evangelists, anticipated this kind of question. In the second paragraph of her introduction to the exhibit's catalogue, Ades writes, "One of our aims is to dispel generalizations and assumptions about Dali's post-1939 work, long viewed as kitsch by artists, critics and curators and all too often lumped under the single term 'late.'"
That is a flimsy premise that isn't borne out by the show she organized. Only 42 works are from the last 49 years of Dali's life. Those works include paintings heavy in Catholic imagery that at least suggest Dali as a crucified figure, and some op-art, M.C. Escher-like constructions of skulls and representations of cubes that mostly recall the 1980s videogame Qbert.
In the gift shop on the way out of the exhibit, the museum is offering for sale a set of fake mustaches. Those mustaches – meant to recall Dali's own eccentric, upturned mustache – reminded me why this exhibit is here. Dali was a master of self-promotion and showmanship. He was so good at it that the marketing of Dali continues long after his death.
Also: As if a long excerpt wasn't enough self-promotion, here's me giving NPR two soundbites about Dali. Ed Sozanski reviewed it in the Inky, Roberta Smith in the NYT.
From Hilton Kramer: "My own view is that the gates are nothing less than an unforgivable defacement of a public treasure, and everyone responsible for promoting it—including our publicity-seeking Mayor—should be held accountable, not only for supporting bad taste but for violating public trust."
Hilton Kramer should get over himself. I mean, Arthur Carter has supported Hilty's bad taste for years and no one calls Carter a defacement of anything.
(Of course, Hilty has supported Carter too! I mean: "In much of Arthur Carter’s new work, with its shifting dialogue between the curvilinear and the geometric, the resulting structures often strike one not so much as drawing in space as calligraphy in space — or even ideograms in space. Their cursive, headlong occupation of a circumambient space has something of the gestural quality of fine calligraphy — a 'scribble in the air' aspiring to the monumental.")
Via AJ, another art critic complains about blockbuster museum exhibits. I count myself in the camp who has no use for blockbusters for blockbuster's sake. (In a related story, my Dali review runs tomorrow. Expect unusually long excerpts here.) But with Dali in mind, some thoughts:
Critical response to the Dali show has been surprisingly hagiographic. Ed Sozanski in the Philly Inky loved the show and MANfave Roberta Smith positively gushed. (We're not sure what to make of Roberta's review -- it doesn't sound like her, and she's hardly the gushing type. Michael Kimmelman writes this kind of deification-by-mini-biography, not Roberta. So what happened? Anyone at the NYT want to leak us something about that?)
I think -- no, I know -- that there is pressure on critics to write positively about these big shows, a certain: Are you against the people? They like this stuff. This gets them into art and into museums. It can't be that bad! I've heard versions of that line from people in Philadelphia, Ess Eff, and Central Park lately.
There is nothing inherently wrong with big shows of well-known artists. We can learn and see new things from those shows. And there are many big-name artists due for a blockbuster-level re-examination. (Giorgio de Chirico was last retro'd in the US in 1982, and before that in 1955, for example. And perhaps just below blockbuster level: From the surrealist camp Francis Picabia is particularly worthy. From the post-cubist camp, I don't think Jean Helion has ever been surveyed in this country. And I've seen so much neo-precisionism in galleries in the last year or so I think it's time for Sheeler, Demuth and Crawford to get another look.)
But there is something wrong with doing a big show for the sake of charging hundreds of thousands of people $20 and then inventing some reason that show is necessary. To be continued...
posted by tylergreendc @ Wednesday, February 23, 2005 | Permanent
Today's pet peeves
Prompted by me being in the midst of doing writerly things:
- Exhibition catalogues that don't include a detailed table of contents;
- Galleries that send me 1MB+ emails once a week (or more);
- Museums and galleries without benches (again!);
- The sudden profusion of horrid mid-century American modernism at the National Gallery. David Smith sculptures are now in the East Building atrium. Yikes; and
Biennials become a parody of biennials
I'm sure that many of you also subscribe to the E-flux email list of contemporary art sight-ems from around the globe. One of my all-time favorites landed in my email this morning. It heralded an "EMERGENCY BIENNALE." Man the lifeboats, there's a biennale headed this way! From the email:
Wishing to react to the phenomenon of proliferation of Biennales, we decided to create the concept of the "Emergency Biennale", without funds and on an emergency footing. The first Emergency Biennale, in collaboration with the FIDH (International Federation of Human Rights Leagues), was conceived in a geopolitical context which has become so complex that it seemed necessary to mobilize the artists.
You know, I was just thinking that sometimes geopolitical contexts become so complex that it's just, well, I mean, you've just got to mobilize the artists. (I'm sure GawkerForum will let us know who at the Emergency Biennale was wearing Prada, who was reading Pravda, and how long the rope line was.)
John King on MoMA
I generally enjoy SF Chron architecture critic John King, but this mini-assessment of MoMA/preview of Ess Eff's de Young re-opening starts well and finishes weak. It's like King lost his nerve and was bent back into line by the hagiographic MoMA Chorus. The high point of King's piece reminds me of what it's like once you're in the doors at MoMA HQ:
Hey, cut us some slack. You just had a $20 ticket scanned by a security guard, you aren't sure whether to take the stairs or find an escalator and you have two seconds to orient yourself before the next patron who waited in line for 20 minutes bumps your back. Who has time to take in the sights?
These two details underscore what you should and shouldn't expect from Taniguchi's exercise in pristine minimalism.
From the Friday LAT, not online: The upcoming rental of LACMA by several entertainment conglomerates, known more colloquially as the King Tut show, is even more special than we first thought.
The use of LACMA's galleries is so special that the museum won't allow its most committed supporters to see the show without paying extra (members normally get into shows for free, of course). Nothing says "the museum is grateful for your continued support" like "the museum is grateful for your continued support, but Phil Anschutz isn't, so pony up more to help line his pockets."
Knight on Donovan, Grotjahn
In Friday's LAT, Christopher Knight reviewed a couple of shows I particularly liked. Because the LAT is not art-web-readable, excerpts follow:
Solidity is something we assume is essential to sculpture, but New York artist Tara Donovan makes sculptures that tease out a hidden fluidity inherent in matter at an invisible, molecular level. Quiet, almost subliminal tension is at the core of her work.
At Ace Gallery, her large and compelling exhibition of sculpture from the last four years is an exercise in the myriad possibilities for shape shifting. The show, which features 13 large-scale works and numerous drawings, prints and light boxes, fills the cavernous space at Ace. It's uneven, but when it's good it's very good indeed.
Like Tom Friedman, but to very different ends, Donovan begins with utilitarian household objects: buttons, Styrofoam cups, toothpicks, paper plates, electrical wire, fishing wire, Scotch tape, pencils, straight pins, etc. Employing ordinary things readily at hand increases the work's unsettling charm. Each sculpture is composed from a single set of objects, as if plastic cups or toothpicks each had one essential quality. ...
The old Minimalist idea of art as a specific object, devoid of metaphors for subjective human experience, gets an unexpected twist: Is the cube the object here, or are the toothpicks, pins and glass? Donovan's cubes, like Donald Judd's famous precedents, eliminate composition and focus on the singular object. But her work is mysterious, mixing randomness, accident, potential energy, transformation and a gee-whiz sense of playfulness that Judd would never countenance. ...
Sometimes the work feels gimmicky, flat or even pointless, as in stalagmites composed from stacks of purple and white buttons glued together, or white stickers on Mylar sheets layered in light boxes to suggest kaleidoscopic patterns extending into infinity. They don't repay attention with wonder, seeming instead like earnest efforts to fill the gallery's enormous spaces.
At her best, however, Donovan is a veritable Rumpelstiltskin, spinning straw into gold. The cubes, the tar paper slab, the bubble drawings and several others make for one the most rewarding shows this season.
Mark Grotjahn, whose rich abstract paintings stand out from the pack in Pittsburgh's current Carnegie International, is showing a group of recent large-scale drawings in the suitably chapel-like Projects Gallery at the UCLA Hammer Museum. Five employ his so-called "butterfly" motif of radiating fans of color drawn in pencil against a white ground; the two newest, which represent a new direction, are dubbed "black flowers" for their fluid, allover patterns drawn in black graphite. All seven are exquisite.
What's most appealing about Grotjahn's work is the sheer acuity of its contemplative substance. His drawings, like his paintings, effortlessly pull you into their networks of fabrication.
The splayed patterns of random color, reminiscent of light turning into a rainbow after passing through a prism, seem to emanate from a mysterious place deep within the sheet of paper. The nested undulations of black graphite are repetitive, as if ritualistically applied, and they absorb light into the innards of the page.
In neither case, however, is Grotjahn suggesting some enigmatic "inner world," locked away in art and unavailable to mere mortals. Instead, keenness of physical perception is exalted. Visually unique, Grotjahn creates intuitive systems reminiscent of those that animated the extraordinary work of Alfred Jensen (1903-1981). He is rapidly emerging as a major talent.
Five things in my hometown that I would do/change if I could:
- The tower gallery in the National Gallery's East Building features a strange accumulation (er, hanging) of Frank Stella and Roy Lichtenstein. It should not.
- The NGA's Calder should never come back.
- The Corcoran's next director will be a young risk-taker who will be willing to make drastic changes to save the museum. (Corcoran's FY 2003 defecit: $4 million. Passion-for-museum indicator: total dollars received from memberships. Membership revenues at the Phillips: $1.2 million. SFMOMA: $2.4 million. Corcoran: $107,512.)
- Two or more DC museums would team up offer an artist residency/fellowship program that invites artists from all over the world to make and then show work here.
- Create a DC Embassy Art Month after the Venice Biennale. Every country with a pavilion in Venice would host an installation by their artist at their embassy in Washington. See program, residency/fellowship above.
AAMD: On the sidelines again
Newsday reports that Long Island's Heckscher Museum is selling a George Grosz painting, Eclipse of the Sun, for $19 million. Only about half of the money is going into the Heckscher's accessions fund. This is a flagrant violation of widely accepted museum ethics -- permanent collections should be as close to permanent as possible. They should not be bricks-and-mortar slush funds.
(The American Association of Museum Directors' professional handbook (not online) states that: "The collections a museum holds in public trust do not represent financial assets that may be converted to cash for operating or capital needs, or pledged as collateral for loans.")
As I've noted in this space before, the AAMD is the industry trade group that is supposed to police the industry. The Heckscher and its director, Beth Levinthal are not AAMD members. As a result the Heckscher and Levinthal are not subject to AAMD sanction. That doesn't mean that AAMD must or should remain silent as such an egregious violation of the core of its stated ethics policy is violated.
AAMD has a bully pulpit. (Or at least I assume it would be bully if they ever used it.) Even as a museum sells a significant painting for a significant sum of money -- with nearly half of that money going to pay for a building -- AAMD has remained silent. (AAMD executive director Mimi Gaudieri confirmed for me that AAMD has released no statement on the Heckscher.) Once again AAMD is abdicating its responsibility to maintain standards across the profession.
Back in September I predicted that as museums such as MoMA and the Boston MFA 'got away' with ethically flimsy practices that smaller museums would follow suit. AAMD stood and watched as Boston rented out its collection to a casino/private dealer and as MoMA deaccessioned a significant de Chirico. As what's happening at the Heckscher shows, AAMD has made it clear that museums can get away with anything they want and they won't say a word.
posted by tylergreendc @ Wednesday, February 16, 2005 | Permanent
Rembrandt @ the NGA
Last week Bloomberg ran my review of the Rembrandt show at the NGA. This not being Dutch Art Notes, here's what I wrote about an art history/present condition angle:
Rembrandt's treatment of martyrs wasn't just different from his contemporaries' paintings, but his martyrdom paintings are like nothing we see today. The starkest counterpoint is between photographs that militant Palestinian groups take of mostly young men before they blow themselves up in suicide bombings. (These groups distribute these images these as martyrdom portraits and the bombers themselves are referred to as martyrs by the groups.)
In those pictures the men are looking right at the camera, defiance mixed with wide-eyed stares often revealing fear. The Palestinian martyrs often pose while wearing or clutching their implements of destruction – suicide vests or machine guns.
Just as now is a time of battle in the Middle East, so too was the Netherlands in Rembrandt's time. In the seventeenth century the Dutch fought wars with the Spanish and the British. The First Anglo-Dutch War ended in 1654 (and naval skirmishes continued for years), just a few years before Rembrandt began the paintings shown here.
As with Vermeer's paintings, you'd never know that Rembrandt lived surrounded by war. (The presence of several hushed Vermeers in a gallery adjacent to the Rembrandt show underscores this point. Blog note: Lawrence Weschler has a wonderful essay about this within the context of recent war crime trials in his most recent book.) Rembrandt's quiet portraits reject blood and violence in favor of humility and introspection. I can't help but think that's part of why they still look so great today.
New to the blogroll
New to the blogroll: LA's Megan and Murray. (I also cleaned out some abandoned blogs over the weekend.)
Bonus: One of the best newspaper ledes ever, via A Daily Dose: "Although most undergraduates at Columbia have some experience with orgasms, be it through romance, physics, or philosophy, only an architecture major can say that he has built one from scratch."
Some thoughts/observations from around NYC:
Best aerial place to see The Gates: Lobby of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel (which is on Columbus Circle).
Worst aerial place to see The Gates: The Met's roof.
What happened to Cecily Brown? Her show at Gagosian mostly looks like a parody of Cecily Brown.
The UBS Collection at MoMA: The UBS floor (the sixth) looks better than the contemporary floor (the second), which is not a compliment to either installation. As Roberta Smith pointed out, UBS keeps most of the good stuff. The "no photography" sign outside the exhib is a good step, but the guards didn't enforce it.
Which reminds me: MoMA is still a painful, deadening, maddening, disappointing place to view art. Glenn, we've already written to you about this, and we've heard you're talking about doing something about it. But c'mon. You've been open for three months. It's time to fix the obvious problems. You've made MoMA the museum that we don't like to visit.
Forthcoming review: Tim Hawkinson, so I won't blurt about it here. I'll just say that you'd do well to start the day in The Gates and to finish it at the Whitney. The two thingamajibbers complement each other nicely.
Don't miss this either: Hawkinson's Uberorgan. Todd also has the scheduling update.
Reviewed: The Gates
UPDATE: I'll be adding items to the post below this one throughout the day. And because I'm still getting email, here's the link to the Riley-Ouroussoff letter.
I'll excerpt the art historical/contextual part of what I wrote for Bloomberg:
The Gates is the most prominent manifestation of a recent trend in art: decorative spectacle. Building-bound examples include the Sol Lewitt murals that dot museum lobbies and airports all over North America and the room-sized baroque decoration of Asian artist Michael Lin. The Gates are a Queer Eye-style makeover that succeeds because it adds beauty to the park rather than competes with it.
That said, something here feels familiar. The Gates remind me of the torii gates at the Fushimi-Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan, where closely-installed, orange u-shaped wooden constructions lead along a winding path in a forest behind the shrine.
The Gates also share some vocabulary with Earth Art. From the 1960s forward, artists such as Walter De Maria, Michael Heizer and Robert Smithson have taken art out of galleries and have placed it in remote places accessible only to people with time and the means to travel.
With The Gates, the ever-populist Christos have taken the scale and human-intervention-into-landscape of Land Art and placed it where it's surrounded by a couple dozen million people. Or, thought of in another way, the Christos have brought Land Art to the masses in a way similar to how Macy's brings interpretations of designer fashions to a mass market a season or two after they debut at Barney's.
If that is a conceptual flaw in the project, it's excused because I'm grateful to see some ambition in public art. In recent years American public art has been embarrassingly bad. Painted cows, donkeys, hearts and panda bears have overrun American cities. All this public art is emblematic of so much contemporary art: think small, execute tidily, and make it safe-for-the-masses.
There is nothing similarly rinky-dink about The Gates. Like Chicago's Millennium Park, The Gates is risky and unafraid of failure. I hope that the successes of those projects encourages cities and artists to banish small, kitschy ideas from public art.
I'd bet that other cities will notice the tourism boon (and accompanying saffron dishes imagined by predictably creative chefs) that The Gates has generated. While I once worried that The Gates would be a blot on Olmsted's design, I've come to think that Olmsted himself would have loved it. In 1870, he addressed the concerns of those who worried the park might become a tourist attraction.
"The Park," Olmsted said, "…has had a very marked effect in making the city attractive to visitors, and in thus increasing its trade, and causing many who have made fortunes elsewhere to take up their residence and become taxpayers in it -- a much greater effect in this way... than all the colleges, schools, libraries, museums and art galleries which the city possesses."
Blogging The Gates
Uh, The Gates are all over the blogosphere. Probably a third of the blogs in my blogroll have some type of Gates-related postings up. So most of these links will come from blogs not on that list:
Andy Towle, with great pictures (see left), including one of the Christos' Maybach 62;
The Gates generates a leading candidate for Newspaper Correction of the Year;
A Daily Dose is where I found this great item that I used in my Bloomberg review. (It will be posted here/their website on Monday morning. I resisted calling the scene a "a panoply under a partial canopy.") I believe Rob Storr discussed something similar on NPR last week;
Good audio posts at The Gates;
Pix of The Gates on Flickr and kottke.org;
The biggest NYC art scene in years was The Gates on Saturday. Just as naturally, ArtForum is ignoring The Gates, perhaps because it was open to all and thus not excloo enough for it. Witness the top post on GawkerForum now: a midtown fashion show attended by the Olsen twins. And The Gates aren't even mentioned on the front of ArtForum.com. And people take this art magazine seriously and think that they need to be in it?;
A Bloomberg editor tells me that the park ran out of hot dogs on Sunday;
Gawker starts the name-that-orange game;
Greg Allen prices out the project (and more); and
More as I find 'em.
Twombly at the Whitney
From what I wrote for Bloomberg:
This is a good show a tough and challenging walk through the 76-year old artist's work. I just wish there was more of it. ...
This is not a definitive works on paper retrospective. Twombly's major themes and interests are represented, but there are fewer than 90 works here, almost all of them from Twombly's own collection, and not enough to provide an comprehensive examination. I hope that "Fifty Years" won't deter another curator from building a more thorough Twombly-on-paper show in the near future.
Cy Twombly's art is like Brussels sprouts: It is visually pungent, an acquired taste. Every mark on a Twombly feels like the result of a fight between the artist and his materials. Paint looks like it's been shoved by a brush or smeared by the artist's fingers. Twombly's loopy, cursive-like scribbles seems to be the end result of a battle that Twombly just waged with a piece of paper, a war in which his primary weapon was a crayon.
NYT and MoMA: Expanding the circle
We here at MAN are proud to call ourselves one of MoMA design boss Terence Riley's "nearest and dearest." At least we assume we must be because Riley's Feb. 6 letter to NYT architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff landed in our inbox this morning. It wasn't doing any good just sitting there, so we thought we'd help Riley & Ouroussoff expand their circle of nearest and dearest pals. (We understand that this letter has been bouncing all over the globe, so it must be a pretty wide circle.)
First a note of background: Ouroussoff reviewed MoMA's architecture and design galleries last week. Riley rather wishes he hadn't:
Last Friday's article made me think of the great scene in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof where Big Daddy claims that he detects "the odor of mendacity" amongst his brood. Ditto here.
While your article has some criticism that is worthy of real consideration, its blatantly ad hominen tone will certainly not help you or you rpaper regain any of the stature that its critics once enjoyed. We all had hoped for a turn for the better from the Times. If we are to expect more of the same in the future, it appears that those hopes were in vain.
I have to tell you, I was surprised and even embarrassed by the torrent of response to your article. One quote represents the general attitude of the many people who contacted me: "I thought there was a personally vindictive tone to his comments about you." While there was plenty in your article to provoke such a reaction, I was particularly offended by your gratuitous comparison of Philip [Johnson] and me at a moment when I am trying to cope with the fact of his all-too-recent death. That was the cheapest of shots and it will be a blemish on your reputation for some time to come.
I trust that in the coming months and years you will be able to maintain a sense of objectivity by separating your evidently conflicted feelings toward me personally from the work that my colleagues are doing here at MoMA. They have a number of important exhibitions coming up and you will need to distinguish their efforts from mine.
Finally, I suggest we take advantage of the controversy that your piece has generated by participating in a public debate on the issues you raised. I would be eager to present and defend my record on exhibitions, installations, publications, acquisitions as well as leadership within the museum as a whole. If you would like, we could also discuss your own critical record and that of the Times as well. Let me know.
I hope you don't mind if I share this with some of our nearest and dearest.
UPDATE: Archinect had the letter up on one of their discussion forums.
Did anyone else think that it was strange that the New York Times ran the same story about the Gates two days in a row? Day One, Day Two.
Favorite quote: "Also savoring the scene was Anne L. Strauss, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art who organized an exhibition of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's "Gates"-related drawings, collages, photographs and maps last year. 'There are a lot of art people here,' she said."
Biggest head-scratcher: "Ruth Halperin, chairwoman of Contemporary Collectors Circle of the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, will fly in with 25 museum members on her fourth Christo trip. 'We went to Fresno to see the umbrellas,' said Ms. Halperin, who is 77. But why? The umbrellas were 150 miles from Fresno.
And a reader notes this from today's Carol Vogel piece: "Nor did the men mind taking directions from a woman, although some of them joked about it." It's 1957 in Central Park!
Thing in LA
Christopher Knight reviews the Hammer's Thing show -- and loves it. (I think the link works!!) Doug Harvey pre-reviewed it for LA Weekly.
This will drive all you New Yorkers crazy, but the two shows I'm most looking forward to this month are in LA: Thing and Visual Music, where we hear that MOCA's version will be more dynamic than the Hirshhorn version.
Chris Miles has not reviewed it because he curated it. (Which, of course, didn't keep ArtNews from asking Arthur Wheelock to write about Rembrandt...)
UPDATE: So much for that link. Here's an (inadequate) excerpt. Naturally, I have the whole thing and I know how to forward it. ;-) And apologies for the lack of indent/delineation -- it is sending the software funky.
From Knight: As exhibition titles go, "Thing" is perfect. At once a blunt statement and an implied question that doesn't quite know what to make of the art gathered together under its banner, it neatly encapsulates the energy and provocation that makes this show so refreshing.
"Thing: New Sculpture From Los Angeles" is the best museum survey of new art that I've seen in a very long time. It opened Sunday at the UCLA Hammer Museum for a four-month run and will not travel. The show surveys 51 examples of recent sculpture by 20 younger L.A. artists, 11 men and nine women, few of whom have had wide exposure. They range in age from 25 to 40, with most around 30.
"Thing" chronicles a return to prominence of object-sculpture, a category that has taken a back seat to installation-oriented sculpture, video, photography and painting for -- well, for decades. Artists never stopped making representational and referential objects by hand, of course, just as they didn't stop painting when painting's demise was asserted 30 years ago. It's just that sculpture since the 1970s has tended to have more environmental concerns.
Sculpture spread out into the room -- sometimes even becoming the room, as it approached the condition of architecture and landscape art. Three-dimensional form became an agent for exploring the physical, social and psychological space in which contemporary art gets made.
Objects were built by hand, gathered from the industrial shop or bought at the thrift store. They got scattered across the floor, lined up on shelves, displayed in cases, moved outdoors, presented as tableaux, attached to walls, blown up to monumental proportions and more. Sculpture moved far away from its standard dictionary definition -- figures or designs in the round or in relief, made by chiseling stone, modeling clay or casting in metal.
I'm at the Dali show in Philadelphia today, but while I'm on travel here are a few links:
- OK, so LA is marketing the crypt out of the King Tut show. We know Philly is spending $2.6 million on Dali -- what's LA spending? That's missing from this story.
- A Robert Hughes documentary on Goya is on some channel I've never heard of.
- Matisse-Picasso, Calder-Miro, Giacometti-Cartier-Bresson?
- My favorite search engine hit from today: "Robert Smithson spiral jelly."
- At Artnet, Walter Robinson says that reading the new ArtForum is a chore: "Parsing the articles inside is a more daunting (and dare we say masochistic) task, considering the slack and self-indulgent writing." We bet Walter enjoys the fun we're going to have at ArtForum's expense tomorrow. (I mean, if you think that this line -- "The vocabulary of ornament is as recondite, in its way, as that of particle physics—though much more flamboyant" -- is bad, wait 'til we point out what's in the print edition! Todd Gibson can't stand what he reads either and he and I both enjoy making fun of the absurdity, but LA seems to care about the whole thing.)
Projects, Directions and more Projects
A few weeks ago VV vanguarder Jerry Saltz kicked off the what's-wrong-with-MoMA backlash (see here, for the most recent salvo) with some suggestions for making improvements at the museum. One of his ideas was this:
There is no longer a "Projects" gallery in the new museum. MOMA is already appallingly squeezed for space. Nonetheless, it can't only do "New Acquisitions" shows or allow P.S.1 to take up the slack in this critical area. Seeing Mark Dion's nifty "Project" wedged into the theater lobby of the sub-basement is depressing. MOMA should immediately re-establish a project space. Following this, a large-scale annual exhibition of eight to 10 important young artists (with a catalog) should be instituted.
We love Saltz and we understand word counts, so MAN wants to be helpful by teasing out that concept a bit.
What Saltz suggests, lots of other museums already do. And most of them do it very well.
Hammer Projects: The Hammer usually has three or so one-person mini-exhibits up at any given time. They provide a reason for people to visit the museum frequently, they give artists a boost, and they make it easy for west-siders to see what's going on now in contemporary art. Of all the projects-type programs, I think this one is the best. The museum lets artists have at some difficult spaces, including the staircase in the Hammer's entry lobby.
Hirshhorn's Directions (no dedicated website): This is a good enough program, but it should be better than it is. If the Hirshhorn does three of these in a year we Washingtonians consider ourselves lucky. That said, these are almost always smart, tight shows. (Curator Kristen Hileman's Cai Guo-Qiang show is the best home-grown exhibit the Horn of Hirsh has done since, well, Open City and Cecily Brown's Directions show were up.) The H of H usually dedicates one gallery to the show. We admire the Hhh's commitment, but why just one (little) show at a time?
(And here's hoping that the Smithsonian American Art Museum has a projects-type program when they re-open in 2006. After all, they were founded to be about living artists.)
SFMOMA SECA, Projects: SFMOMA just kicked off a series called New Work. The second show in the series is a hideous Rachel Harrison scattertrash installation. (They have a promotional/branding problem -- I'm embarassed to admit I didn't even know they had such a series until a curator, er, reminded me.)
I'm more looking forward to seeing SFMOMA's biennial SECA show, which spotlights contemporary art being made in the Bay Area. Buzz on this year's SECA show is good, including Artnet weighing in on it yesterday.
So there are plenty of examples for MoMA to follow. And isn't that what MoMA seems to do most of late?
If readers write in with links to similar programs/projects at their local museums (or discuss them on their blogs) I'll build a list of links here over the next day or two:
Matrix at BAMPFA, Milwaukee Art Museum's Currents and On Site, Art Institute of Chicago's Focus, via Houndstooth.
We've got three new additions:
Around LA, Part II
Part I is here.
Mark Grotjahn at UCLA Hammer Museum: Grotjahn's thick, vaguely religious abstract painting was one of the hits of the Carnegie International. His drawings are no less wonderful. If some machine was throwing Gene Davis paintings at me, this is what it would look like. The works are formally intense and colorfully happy. (Aside: The vault gallery at the Hammer is quite similar to the space Grotjahn inhabited at the Carnegie.)
Michael Napper at DEN Contemporary: Napper is a self-taught artist, showing at a gallery run by a self-taught owner. We like that kind of thing. Napper's oil-and-pencil works on paper reminded me of Nathan Oliveira's early etchings. They feel environmental, spatial, and very handmade. (DC's Brandon Morse is also at DEN, showing a fantastic compu-animated piece.)
Eric Niebuhr at Mary Goldman: Two years ago I wrote about Niebuhr's last solo show at Mary Goldman. (Scroll about a third of the way down, to 9.23.03.) This work is more representational, more cosmic. Like Maggie Michael or Clare Woods, Niebuhr pours. They form a kind of triumverate in my own mind: Michael is exploring abstraction, Woods explores interiors, and Niebuhr explores vague representation.
Around LA, Part I
Some favorites from around Los Angeles:
Tara Donovan at Ace: This is the best gallery show I've seen in many, many months. Donovan is the queen of the Wal-Martists, artists who take common everyday products and create something elegant and beautiful. Her art is made from stuff like tar paper, straws, and styrofoam. If stuff-obsessed consumer culture looks like this, maybe it's not so bad. (Does Ace Gallery think it's 1996?)
Luisa Lambri at Marc Foxx: The self-taught Lambri's work has all the formal austerity and lack of humor that the Big Germans have made fashionable. But she adds something else -- some art history-rooted duality. In many of the photos in this show she's inside, behind some 40s modernist windows, looking outside at a verdant garden. (Think Bonnard, Matisse.) Man-made architectural detail holds its own against nature. (And this website is only slightly less embarassing than Ace's. Barry, they need you in LA.)
Jason Middlebrook at Margo Leavin: Middlebrook has seen the future and it is dystopic. Middlebrook must lie awake at night and worry about environmental destruction. Middlebrooks landscapes/cityscapes are surreal but there's nothing surrealist about them. They work because we fear that what he imagines might actually happen. (But I have no idea why Middlebrook bothers with sculpture.)
Amir Zaki at Roberts & Tilton, MAK Center/Schindler House: Zaki's Spring Through Winter images are Photoshopped musings on the power of engineering. Sometimes it's fun to ask what if?
More later today...
It's spelled G-a-i-n-s-b-o-r-o-u-g-h.
(OK, we know you guys don't know anything about art, but c'mon. It's been on the site for 48 hours. UDPATE, Sunday night @ 11pm: It's still there!)
Around the blogosphere
End the week with some linking joy:
According to a press release from a Ft. Lauderdale tourism board, Florida is "bracing" for King Tut the way the normally brace for a hurricane. (The difference is, of course, hurricanes are cheaper.)
The precious press release quote comes from exhibit-renter John Norman, who works for one of the companies marketing the King Tut presentation:
"It is a new business model. It seems like a lot of museums have trouble financially in organizing major exhibits. The costs are getting really exorbitant."
Hogwash. Diane Arbus is a major exhibit. So are shows of Rubens drawings and plenty of other shows. Apparently these King Tut people will say anything to justify their part of the $30 admissions fee. What's next a Sforzian backdrop?
Run-up to Greater NY begins
Every once and a while a museum official says something that MAN readers don't know what to do with. Often they cut-and-paste the quote and email it to me. Sometimes they include lots of punctuation after the quote, such as, "!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
That happened this morning when MoMA boss Glenn Lowry said this to Carol Vogel about the upcoming Greater New York exhibit at P.S.1 (by the way, it's nice to see that P.S.1 is right on top of making the show look good on the web):
"It's not a lack of interest that the Modern hasn't done a show like this. But we could not work this quickly nor could we have devoted the kind of space necessary. P.S. 1 is an ideal venue for looking at this kind of art."
Well, there aren't too many people in Chelsea or Brooklyn who believe that MoMA has any interest in that kind of show. And of course they could have devoted the space necessary -- if they can undertake an $800 million building/etc. project, they can certainly put together a little art show. (Last I checked, that's precisely one of the things museums are set up to do.) And MoMA could not work quickly? GNY is a show that happens every five years. That's too fast for MoMA? C'mon.
There are two reasons MoMA hasn't done this kind of engaging, this-is-the-moment, contemporary survey: Lack of interest, and they have P.S.1 under their orbit and they do it. (And will probably do it very well.)
Two museums return in 2005
The two big museum openings of the year are in San Francisco where the de Young returns in October after years of post-quake non-existence, and in Minneapolis, where the Walker expands and re-opens in April.
Anna L. Conti has a sneak peek at the new de Young in Ess Eff (don't miss her links to project pics). I don't have anything on the Walker. Anyone?
As you doubtless know by now, I was on a panel at artLA over the weekend. Took advantage of the fun to wander around the fair.
The quality of work was certainly higher than what I've seen at Scopes lately, and on par with what I saw at NADA in Miami. One other thing on fairs: They're mostly good for artists, who get to sell work and who have a team of organizers working to attract curators and critics to their work.
Next year it would be great to see the fair target galleries from Asia for inclusion (Chinese contemporary art shows will be all over the US in 2005) That would give artLA a distinctive niche.
Some quick-hit favorites:
Nathalia Edenmont at Wetterling: Surrealism migrates to c-prints. Somehow the shiny surfaces heighted the absurdity of finding an egg yolk or a coiled snake in the middle of a flower.
Tracey Snelling at Stephen Cohen Gallery (who organized the fair): Snelling's work is a mix of architecture, collage, film, audio, and sculpture. For artLA she presented a five- or six-foot tall 'apartment building' complete with photos of figures inside, people watching TV, tiny LCD screens as windows and such. Viewing the piece was like being a giant with big ears, experiencing an entire apartment building at once. Snelling's work isn't as elegant as Christian Marclay's, but that might not be such a bad thing. Her work feels more real, less produced. If it wasn't the best piece in the fair, it was close.
William Betts at de Soto Gallery (Ed: Er, I may have written the gallery name down wrong -- corrections are welcome): Betts makes editioned paintings based on photographs. The paintings on view at de Soto were vertical stripe paintings on panel -- about six inches tall by 18 inches wide. They were colorful, strangely attractive, but a little too familiar (think Kucera, Bavington). Still, the idea of machine-made, editioned paintings is conceptually fascinating and the works were visually interesting enough to hold my attention. (For more on Betts, scroll to the bottom of the page here.)
DE May at PDX Contemporary: May's work is focused around the intersection of architecture and gallery-oriented visual arts. His drawings have architectural roots, but aren't drawings for buildings or actual structures. His work is mature, smart, and polished -- I'm surprised he hasn't really show much outside the northwest. (There is a Lebbeus Woods, Isidro Blasco, Christina Ray and DE May group show out there for someone to do.)
Janaki Lennie at Rudolph Projects: Lennie's paintings featured empty centers, made tense by painted detail at the periphery. Suburbia felt present (the milky, strangely-colored skies seemed to be lit by street lamps) but was rarely visible. Spooky.
Related: abLA, Carol Es, OC Art Blog I, OC Art Blog II, Megan and Murray McMillan, If I had a blog.
Art fair day: Saltz weighs in
It's been written before, but with Jerry Saltz weighing in we have the making of a new consensus: "Art fairs are the new biennials." (What I said in December, in my Art Basel 'review:' "[B]iennials are finished and that art fairs have taken their place.")
Saltz points out that fairs "are more egalitarian than curator-driven exhibitions in which one person tells everyone else what to look at." The word I used was 'democratic,' but that's precisely what I wrote too.
Where we disagree is on the utility of art fairs. In December, 2003 I wrote this on MAN (about 7/8 of the way down the page): "As about a hundred people heard me say during the just-concluded Art Basel Miami Beach, the primary utility of a big art fair is to help certain broad ideas about contemporary art come into focus." I also think it's a useful way to see a lot of artists I don't know about. I know many collectors and curators do what I do -- they make a list and keep track of it in the coming year(s).
Saltz missed another benefit of a big fair: I don't get to see many galleries from Africa, South America or Asia in my travels... and being introduced to artists from those continents is my favorite part of fair-going.
(Speaking of the biz of art -- there's a show about it.)
(Speaking of fairs... check back later this morning for some thoughts on artLA.)
Two Twombly notes
My Twombly review will run on Bloomberg later this week and I'll post some of it here. But here are two notes from the show that didn't make it into my review:
- Nearly every work-on-paper in the show is from a private collection, presumably Twombly's own. The listed private collection that isn't anonymous is un-missable: Larry Gagosian. There are two Gagosian artists up now at the Whitney: Twombly and Ellen Gallagher.
- In the midst of a works on paper show, the two Twombly sculptures on view look completely out of place. But once you read where they're from, your befuddlement will cease: They were bought for the Whitney by Leonard Lauder.
Walter Robinson's Artnet Weekend Update is what GawkerForum coulda been: smart, sly, intentionally funny.
One of the last of the big 57th Street galleries is close to moving downtown. Marian Goodman is close to taking the lot next to Cheim & Read on 25th Street near 11th Avenue.
Take a look at the cartoon caption contest in the back of last week's New Yorker (the Sy Hersh issue). One of the runners-up is Dennis Christie of Charlie Cowles/DCKT fame.
Sneak preview: Tomorrow on MAN: A gallery round-up from NYC, DC, and LA.