MODERN ART NOTES
Tyler Green's modern and contemporary art blog
NYT Museums section
If Judith Miller finds a Museum of Atomic Testing, does that necessarily means it's really there? (I mean, we remember what Judi said about WMD in Iraq
That's one of the very few questions raised by Wednesday's NYT Museums advertorial section. (Moreso than past editions, this one is an advertising section with puff pieces written by the editorial staff.) Most notoriously, as I pointed out yesterday, is a preposterous story in which the MFA Boston's rental of paintings to a commercial gallery in a Las Vegas casino is termed a "loan." That story alone is proof that editors of the NYT are completely arts-clueless these days.
There isn't a single hard-hitting story in the entire section. There are hints of newsy items - notably a story that quotes Getty boss Barry Munitz saying, "We're asking ourselves, does that pattern [of expanding and building satellite institutions] make any sense for us?" Do we want other sites? Do we want other partners?"
If one of the world's richest museums is considering expanding beyond LA, that's real news that should be explored beyond a pithy quote. But as befits a puff piece in a section full of puffery and art-is-good-for-you-and-don't-you-challenge-it puffery what else would you expect?
An unquestioning Carol Vogel piece equates attendance at museum special exhibits with successful execution of mission. Museums should not exist to pack-'em-in as densely as possible. Museums, among other things, are havens for contemplation and enjoyment. Attendance should not be the only indicator of success.
At LACMA: Director Andrea Rich in trouble?
SITE NOTE: Something's gone a little screwy here, obviously. The post below this one is from November and five posts have disappeared. But here's the re-created LACMA post:
LACMA is buzzing. MAN hears that the LACMA trustees just held an "emergency" meeting somewhere off-site. We also hear that it doesn't look too good for LACMA boss Andrea Rich, but nothing has happened yet...
(And why should it? We also hear that LACMA posted this ad in The Art Newspaper without telling Broad. And we love, just love, that Peter Norton heads the search committee for the Broad Contemporary.)
UPDATE: I had the wrong prominent board member flying in from out-of-state. It wasn't Broad.
Tim Hawkinson @ the Whitney
My Arbus posting last week drew so much post-reviews-more email (to my utter shock) that I decided to do it again. This is an excerpt from my Tim Hawkinson review, which ran on Bloomberg a couple of weeks ago.
When a visitor first enters "Tim Hawkinson," at the Whitney Museum of American Art, they are greeted by a room-sized sculpture. It features men, built out of polyurethane foam, apparently standing on the limbs of a tree made out of cardboard. Each of the figures appear to be holding some type of tube to various parts of their bodies. Only when someone walks into the sculpture and continues to move around it does an electric eye activate the art. Then the figures come to life, tapping hollowed out tubes to play a syncopated rhythm.
How often do you come upon an art exhibit and discover in the first room that if you walk into the art that it will respond to you? And that if you stop moving and stop interacting with the art, that it will hold still and stop interacting with you?
Such is the appeal of Hawkinson's art, wonderfully presented by the Whitney and adjunct curator Lawrence Rinder. This exhibit has something for everyone, from young people receiving their first exposure to art to serious professionals who are usually above gawking and laughing in a museum. "Hawkinson" is a bit uneven in spots in general the sculptures are fantastical and works that hang flat on walls are a bit inert but I can't remember the last time I had this much fun in a New York museum.
Hawkinson, 44, makes art that looks like a collaboration between a high school shop class and a conceptual art professor. His work is simple, handmade, and almost primitive. An inch-high sculpture of a bird is made from Hawkinson's fingernails. A spider web is made from Hawkinson's hair. The art critic in me wants to say that Hawkinson's work exists at the intersection between one man's examination of his own body and his love of mechanical gadgets. But that kind of language comes so close to sucking the fun out of the show that it's best to mention it and move on.
It's a credit to Hawkinson that these types of discoveries don't have a smarter-than-thou 'gotcha' feel. I think that's because discovery works on many levels. Art history buffs will appreciate the way Hawkinson's work relates to Vito Acconci, the performance artist who turned his body into an obsessively documented sculpture. An even clearer influence is L.A. sculptor George Stone, with whom Hawkinson briefly studied at UCLA. (Hawkinson still lives in Los Angeles.) Stone was a pioneer in using mechanical objects and multimedia to involve the viewer in works of art.
Future Arbus exhibits?
Last week I promised a few other Diane Arbus posts and here's one. (Memo to Sarah Boxer: It's not exactly a list, more a pre-chronicle of possibility. Please don't accuse me of being a part of a NYTBR-threatening void or whatever it was you wrote about this morning.) I'll try to find some images to which I can link, but so far no luck.
I've spent a lot of time with Diane Arbus over the last 18 months, seeing the show in many venues, reading Patricia Bosworth's with-no-help-from-the-family biography of Arbus, and going through a number of Arbus catalogues, etc. So with the first retrospective in 30 years (and accompanying hagiography, as both Kimmelman and Schjeldahl pointed out) out of the way, here are some Arbus shows I'd like to see:
Arbus Without People: My favorite Arbus is her photos that not only aren't portraits, but that are completely free of people. She took a number of photos of landscape, both real and artificial, especially when she traveled to California. Two of my favorite Arbus photos are from California, a mistitled photo said to be in Disneyland (actually at Universal Studios, I think) and one of a giant, propped-up Hollywood set in a field, a kind of Hopperesque/Wyeth-esque photo.
Arbus the Social Progressive: I referred to this in my review. Arbus was one of the first photographers to include gays, lesbians, and interracial couples in her documentary portrait of what New York City was. In the years after she took photographs of those people/couples, Stonewall started gay liberation in New York (California Hall had already happened in San Francisco, in 1965, kicking off gay lib in the West), and interracial couplehood became no big deal. In 1970, while on a fashion shoot for the NYT Mag, Arbus took a number of photos of interracial children, frolicking on a Carribean beach in a pre-Bennetton arcadia. The NYT refused to run the images. In 1970.
The Arbus Studio: Allan and Diane together, and their impact on fashion photography. Maybe throw Richard Avedon into the mix somewhere and we'd see the emergence of post-war fashion photography. (Immediately after the war fashion ads didn't feature photography, just sketches.)
Now I like him.
From Reuters, Damien Hirst on making art out of bad ideas:
Not all his bad ideas have come to fruition. "I was toying with the idea of putting vibrators all over a pig and I was going to call it pork you pine," he said. "I didn't do it."
And the rest of the piece is even better.
Block that quote!
In today's LAT, Leah Ollman uses an art critic's oldest stand-by, Henri Matisse's quote about the allegedly soothing nature of his work:
If, as Matisse famously suggested, his art aspired to the condition of a good armchair, visually soothing and emotionally transcendent, photographer Candida Hofer's compares to those handsome and severe Rietveld chairs, all straight lines and smooth planes -- a gift to the eye, hell on the rest of the body.
The misapplication of that quote by writers has been long-discussed by Matisse biographers. From Notes of a Painter (1908), Here's the full quote:
What I dream of, is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, an art that could be for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair that provides relaxation from fatigue.
That paragraph is often divorced (as Ollman does) from the paragraph Matisse wrote just before it, a paragraph that changes its meaning:
A work of art must carry within itself its complete significance and impose that upon the beholder even before he recognizes the subject matter. When I see the Giotto frescoes at Padua [Ed: Matisse had just seen them, on a 1907 trip to Italy with Leo Stein] I do not trouble myself to recognize which secene of the life of Christ I have before me, but I immediately understand the feeling that emerges from it, for it is in the lines, the composition, the color. The title will only serve to confirm my impression.
That's only part of the context. Matisse wrote those paragraphs in 1908, after his work had been attacked at Salons and by anyone in Paris who cared about art. Matisse had become something of a well-known name in Paris -- but principally as an object of derision. Around Paris' artsier neighborhoods, rivals defaced government health posters to read "Matisse is more dangerous than alcohol!" or "Matisse has done more harm than war!"
Matisse was tired of the ridicule.
Finally, in late 1907 and in 1908, Matisse began to have some commercial success. A small number of collectors -- fewer than half a dozen -- began to support his wildest visions. Sergei Shchukin, a Russian textile magnate, was one of Matisse's strongest supporters. But even he wavered as the Russian elite ruthlessly made fun of him for owning and hanging Matisse paintings.
About the time Matisse wrote Notes of a Painter, a Fr20,000 commission for Shchukin was hanging by a thread. Matisse wanted to paint dancing nudes. Shchukin initially blanched at the ridicule to which that would expose him, and wrote Matisse to kill the idea. Again, Matisse's vision was attacked -- and this time so was his pocketbook. Shchukin quickly realized he'd goofed and commissioned Dance after all. Still, it was almost certainly with Shchukin (and other collectors) in mind that Matisse tried to soothe their fears. My paintings aren't that radical, he was saying in Notes.
And lest we think that Matisse was a big ol' luxurious, decorative softie, he also said this:
I reckon I've made progress when I recognise more and more clearly in my work a detachment from the support offered by the model (the presence of the model, who is there not so much to provide possible information about her physical constitution as to keep me in a state of emotion, a sort of flirtation which ends by turning into a rape. Whose rape? A rape of myself, of a certain tenderness or weakening in face of a sympathetic object).
Sources: Jack Flam's Matisse & Picasso, Flam-edited Matisse on Art, Hilary Spurling's The Unknown Matisse, Spurling's Matisse the Master. (Or buy the UK version of MtM, available now, here.)
Serra builds in SF
Last week we mentioned Richard Serra and his hometown of San Francisco. As if on cue, the SF Chronicle updates us on the installation of a Serra in UCSF's Mission Bay development (with photos).
And there's no related story, but MAN hears that later this year MASS MoCA will open a 10-year presentation of 50 of Sol LeWitt's wall drawings. The installation will be semi-timed to coincide with the publishing of a catalogue raisonne of LeWitt's wall drawings.
Because you seem to love it...
Last week I suggested that NADA cap the percentage of NYC galleries in the NADA Miami fair at 55 percent. Silly me: I was thinking that having a good, interesting selection of work was important.
What I forgot -- and what both NADA members and non-members reminded my email account in abundance -- is that NADA isn't focused on having the best-possible fair. NADA is a tightly-controlled association of gallerists who decide who 'belongs' and who doesn't. It is, in the simplest possible terms, a commercial clique, a syndicate. The whole point of NADA is to attempt to attract collectors to NADA galleries and to keep them there, not to enable the showing of a broad range of work and certainly not to give other galleries access to collectors deemed "theirs" by NADA members.
(There's nothing wrong with that. It's their fair and they can do that if they want, though criticism of NADA, ABMB and the like is fair game. Of course, the forever-gushing, party-reporting, access-maintaining, freebie-loving art 'media' won't bother discussing any of this.)
I've said this before: If you are a gallerist and you are not a NADA member, why bother applying to their fair? The clear market and exhibiting opportunity in Miami is for a fair of non-NYC galleries, enough of whom show strong work that they could put together a fair better than NADA's.
Last Thursday's email exchanges have made me realize I'm wrong about something else: For months I've disagreed with Jerry Saltz, Roberta Smith and others who have written about the art market. An alleged art-market bubble and a run-up in prices still strikes me as outside critical interest. However, when fairs are as important or more important than biennials (I'd argue that ABMB is the biggest art survey of the year -- period and I know many curators who troll fairs looking for artists instead of biennials), critics and art journos should pay attention to how they work. And don't work.
Diane Arbus @ the Met
I've gotten out of the habit of posting something from my Bloomberg reviews here, I guess because it feels a little too self-promotional. But I have Arbus on the brain, so here goes. (This is a slightly expanded version -- I added a quote -- of what I wrote for Bloomberg.) Expect more on the blog on Arbus next week -- I have so much more than 900 words of things on Arbus that I want to talk about.
In 1970, a year before committing suicide at the age of 48, Diane Arbus took a photograph of 'The Jewish Giant,' Eddie Carmel. The picture shows Carmel, who stood 8-foot-9, slouching and bending forward at his waist so that he can fit in the home of his normal-sized parents. Carmel's mother looks up at him with terror and awe.
"You know how ever mother has nightmares when she's pregnant that her baby will be born a monster?" Arbus said about the photo. "I think I got that in the mother's face as she glares up at Eddie, thinking, 'OH MY GOD, NO!'"
That photograph encapsulates the brilliance and the agony of Diane Arbus Revelations (must-own catalog is here, at 35% off), at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the most complete survey of Arbus' work since 1972. Arbus photographed unusual subjects with a predatory intensity that revealed as much about herself as it does her subjects. She has influenced the last 40 years of popular culture in a way that no other photographer has. This is New York's museum event of the season.
Arbus is best-known for her photos of people she described as freaks: circus side-show performers, mentally disabled adults, midgets, transvestites, and nudists. The Met's exhibit, organized by Sandra S. Phillips and Elisabeth Sussman for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, includes iconic images from all of these subcultures.
These pictures, as well as Arbus' photos of couples and children around New York City are hard to look at and they are hard to look away from. While a previous generation of documentary photographers empathized with their subjects think of Dorothea Lange's Depression-era photos of impoverished families Arbus attacked people with her camera in an effort to expose the emotional truth that she believed laid behind her subject's deceptive public face.
Like a scientist who wants an experiment to yield a certain result in an effort to validate his thesis, Arbus mostly found the emotional truth that she wanted to find, the 'truth' to which she could relate. As a result, it's easy to see a part of Arbus in many of her portraits.
In Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. from 1963, a couple in their Sunday best pose like adults, plainly hoping to have their relationship accepted by the world. When Arbus was a few years older than the young teens in the photo, she struggled to have her relationship with her future husband Allan accepted by her parents. While the photograph is of two random kids, it is plainly autobiographical. Only rarely is Arbus physically in her own photographs, but emotionally she's in nearly all of them.
One of Arbus' enduring legacies is how she took people from the extreme margins of American society and placed them in the mainstream. Until Arbus showed her work in magazines and in a 1965 exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, the people she photographed simply weren't seen or discussed in The Waltons' America. Visitor reaction to her photos at MoMA one featured two smiling transvestites - was so extreme that many days museum staff had to wipe spit off of the images.
How times change. Thanks in large part to Arbus, who created and published her images in New York just as the modern media landscape was forming, 'freaks' are front-and-center in American life. Circus side-show performers and transvestites are established staples of the Jerry Springer-Montel Williams circuit and they are frequently featured in the contemporary versions of penny-for-a-peek culture.
But there's a less coarse side to Arbus' explorations too. While Arbus was not resolutely political or socially progressive, she made a point of including in her work people who had been shunned by society because of who they were. Throughout the 1960's Arbus made sympathetic portraits of lesbians, and somewhat less sympathetic portraits of gays and transvestites. At the Met these photographs are presented quietly and without historical context. The Met's show features picture after picture of transvestites, nary a smile in sight. The images seem accusatory, but their strange, almost leering social progressivism is critical to Arbus' legacy.
One of the most moving pictures in this exhibit is a 1965 photo of a blonde in Washington Square Park. The title of the photograph, Girl with a cigar in Washington Square Park, N.Y.C., doesn't identify the subject as a lesbian, but Arbus traveled to Washington Square Park specifically to photograph the lesbians that hung out there.
This picture shows a blonde, wearing a sleeveless t-shirt that shows off her deltoid muscles, posed with her shoulders back and her back erect. She is holding a cigar. Unusual among Arbus' portraits, the woman isn't looking right at the camera, she's looking down, apparently lost in a foggy thought. It is one of the least confrontational photographs in the exhibit, and one of the most touching.
Arbus also determinedly photographed interracial couples. In 1966, Arbus photographed an interracial couple having sex (the image is in the catalogue, not in the show) and in 1970 she photographed an interracial couple on a Central Park bench.
Public discomfort over interracial relationships was by no means over in 1970, as Arbus discovered. Over Christmas and New Year's in 1969-70, Arbus shot a portfolio of children's fashion photos for the New York Times Magazine. One of those photos was of two four-year old children, one black and one white, holding hands. Arbus was especially proud of the photograph, even though the Times did not use it. It's not in the show either, a notable omission from an otherwise exceptional exhibit.
RELATED: Anderson Cooper's baby photo. Peter Schjeldahl on Arbus (he and I disagree on much).
Be nice to Richard
I was at the National Archives until dusk yesterday, so I've still got to get to that NADA post. (Probably for Monday.) Meanwhile, would you want to irk Richard Serra, a man whose sculptures have killed and maimed?
Regarding yesterday's news item about prankster activity in museums, here's the operative paragraph from the NYT:
Asked whether the incidents raised security concerns for them, officials at the institutions said no, adding that they believed that they had sufficient numbers of guards and other monitoring systems.
Oh really? I suppose it's no surprise that the museums are following the MoMA line: deny, deny, deny. (And, in MoMA's case, attack those who reveal flaws in your security rather than fixing the problem. As we know, it's not about the art, it's about defending the institution.)
UPDATE: I've promised a bunch of people a NADA post today (memo to bloggers: wanna get email? Write something, anything, about NADA and watch the pro-NADA and anti-NADA types fill your email box), and I think I'll have one. I'm about to enter the caverns of the National Archives, but when I'm out...
NADA 2005: The stampede begins
Apparently having learned from the last-minuteness of previous years, NADA has their 2005 Miami application online already. NADA gets more fawning pub than any other fair on the planet, so we want to remind you that NADA is, mostly, a fair of New York gallerists and their pals. And the fair suffers for it.
My modest proposal for NADA is this: Cap the percentage of NYC galleries at NADA at 55 percent of the total galleries in the fair. I can see glue-and-glitter all over Chelsea and Brooklyn, I don't need to see the same work in Miami. Get young, aggressive gallerists from LA, SF, Seattle, Portland, Houston, etc. Why should NADA change? Well, you wouldn't want that fair to turn stale as Scope now, would you?
UPDATE: If you ever want to fill your email box, write about NADA. Wowza. More tomorrow.
Around the blogosphere
Scroll down for some updates to the posts below. It's been a month since we did this, so around we go...
- This isn't a blog, but it sounds like an insane amount of fun.
- Naturally Thom Mayne's Pritzker is a matter of intense archi-discussion. City Comforts and A Daily Dose have exceptionally fine comments.
- Via Conscientious, the Photobloggies are the latest blog awards competition. No word on whether the Chronicle of Higher Education is a finalist.
- Houndstooth reports on Vito Acconci not masturbating at the Art Institute of Chicago.
- abLA has long been, er, infatuated with Ed Ruscha, but we're guessing that they're not responsible for this Ruscha-centric public art/vandalism fun. Obey Ruscha! (We know Caryn would.) (BTW, abLA's Caryn Coleman will join LATer Christopher Knight and a cast of others in a bit of public pontification Thursday. Check it out.)
- New to the blogroll: NYC's Folding Chair and gallerist-run Unbeige (Jen Bekman).
- Art, food, an "orange," and a Hammer, all in one smart excerpt at M&MM.
- Proof that everyone loves leather and penises.
- Tom Moody offers a sly smile in the direction of Michael Kimmelman.
- Thinking About Art makes some nice choices after a Chelsea crawl.
- Dangerous Chunky reports that REDCAT will feature a posthumous Margaret Kilgallen retro this summer. I now have something to look forward to on my King Tut trip.
Ruscha added in SF
Ed Ruscha is the latest to sign on to create a site-specific installation for the new de Young in San Francisco. Others creating new work for the Herzog & de Meuron museum are Kiki Smith, Gerhard Richter, James Turrell and Andy Goldsworthy. (Somehow a museum in one of the most multicultural cities in America managed to pick nothing but white artists for site-specific works.)
The museum opens in October (Here are the latest construction pix.)
I'm disappointed that the de Young won't have a new piece by Richard Serra -- he's probably the most prominent living contemporary artist to have been born in Ess Eff. Anyone?
UPDATE: A reader suggests that Mark di Suvero would have been a fine locally-based choice as well.
UPDATE 2: MAN hears that the de Young plans two more major commissions. Both will go to non-white, non-American, non-European artists.
Knight on Philly's Dali
LATer Christopher Knight reviewed Dali in Sunday's paper. Because of the infamous LAT Calendar wall, I offer an excerpt:
The curators seem to think [the photo-realist surrealist work ranks Dali] as a singular genius of the Surrealist epoch, towering over the landscape of Modern art, rather than as the gifted but secondary figure he actually was. What's more, they also propose that his work after the heyday of the 1930s is similarly innovative but unduly neglected -- even though they've assembled just 42 examples from his final 40 years.
We should be grateful for the paucity. The show's last several rooms are loaded with junk, including the Cinemascope dazzlers he called "nuclear mysticism," which claimed to reconcile the classic modern schism between science and religion. Several cast Jesus as a gymnast worthy of Cirque du Soleil.
Because Dali made a big 1963 painting based on a photo enlargement of his dead brother and a 1958 one of Pope John XXIII's ear, we're also supposed to get excited about the depth of his insight. The emphasis on enlarged Benday dots yields a superficial resemblance to concurrent Pop art by Roy Lichtenstein and later Sigmar Polke paintings; but like the nuclear mysticism, it's just more conservative Photo-Surrealism.
Superficial -- not prescient -- is the operative term here. The catalog, after noting Dali's unsurpassed public fame among Modern artists, enthuses: "He is also controversial. No other major 20th century artist combines such widespread popular appeal with so much critical disdain from official institutions and historians of modern art."
You read that right. Once upon a time artists were controversial because of popular loathing; now, apparently, they're controversial because the public adores them. Daniel Boorstin coined the term "pseudo-event" for this tabloid technique for charting consequence. He opened his celebrated 1961 book, "The Image," with a pointed joke:
Admiring Friend: "My, that's a beautiful baby you have there."
Mother: "Oh, that's nothing -- you should see his photograph!"
"Salvador Dali" is billed as revisionist art history, but actually it's a beautiful baby picture. The show exploits the tabloid theme the artist perfected for contrived, scripted performances, designed to create a marketable image. "Revisionist" curators get to play the cliched role of rebellious artist, challenging counterfeit taboos, while mirroring Dali's vacuous careerism.
Museums rarely allow artists to have human scale and nuanced achievements, only outsized stature as blunderbuss geniuses whose daring reassessment is way overdue. Judging from the long lines of ticket-buyers paying upwards of $20 a pop to get into this pseudo-event, controversy is good for art museum business.
Two DC Notes
Aside: Because we love our friends at the Getty, here's what you're looking for.
On the Washington Post op-ed page today, Fred Hiatt suggests expanding the Mall. Hiatt's piece promots a plan by the National Coalition to Save our Mall.
Not in the Washington Post today: any mention of the passing of Walter Hopps. Sadly, this is our hometown paper. Washington's most important and best artist of the last 30 years, Anne Truitt, dies and the Post mentions nothing for days, but eventually gets around to an "appreciation" piece by the architecture (?!) critic. In all likelihood, no one since Duncan Phillips has had the impact on the arts in DC that Hopps had. And from the Post? Nothing.
Mayne wins Pritzker
A couple trips ago I walked all the way around Thom Mayne's new Caltrans building in LA. It's a funky building, initially off-putting, but full of details that made sense. Today Mayne wins the Pritzker Prize, the Pulitzer of the architecture world. I'm sure that some of my favorite archi-blogs will weigh in on Mayne any minute now, so look for updates to this thread.
RELATED: Daily Dose speculates. Thom Mayne's firm: Morphosis.
Walter Hopps, RIP
Walter Hopps died on Sunday. He was one of the most remarkable curators of recent decades. With Ed Keinholz, he opened the Ferus Gallery. He gave Marcel Duchamp his first solo museum show and created the first Pop Art museum show. Through his exhibitions he championed artists such as Barnett Newman, Joseph Cornell, Giorgio Morandi, Frank Stella, Bob Irwin, and Robert Rauschenberg. Calvin Tomkins famously sketched him has a curator-impresario, a bird-dogging curator. And today, that's what they all want to be.
RELATED: Houston Chronicle, Hunter Drohojowska-Philp on Hopps' final show.
Getty: Museum director search begins
AJ UPDATE: We're back and publishing. Sorry about that 48-hour gap -- the software that runs our sites was completely down. But we're back with a doozy...
The Getty Trust has formally begun its seach for a museum director. (If you've been living in a cave, Deborah Gribbon resigned some time ago.) This is probably not good news for interim director Bill Griswold.
Getty boss Barry Munitz has selected a ten-person search committee to lead the search, and sent them a memo outlining the search procedure.
The committee will be relatively small roughly a dozen members serving with the Trust president as chair and our basic assignments will be to refine a job description, reach out to the strongest possible candidates, candidly and with great confidentiality assess all applications and nominations, identify and interview the relatively few candidates who seem to meet our expectations at the highest possible level, and to clarify the due diligence expected as we move toward closure. This must be a comprehensive, international, fully credible search process that explores every possible means of bringing a professional with extraordinary strength and experience to the museum.
The committee will include:
- Agnes Gund, collector museum board member extraordinaire;
- Barbara Fleischman, Getty trustee and collector of Greek and Roman antiquities;
- Lloyd Cotsen, collector and donor to museums in Denver, Princeton, NJ, and Santa Fe, as well as a board member of Performing Arts Center of LA County; and
- Getty staff such as Steve Juarez, Thom Kren, Mark Leonard, Jens Daehner, and Deborah Marrow. In addition, Anne d'Harnoncourt, Neil Harris, James Cuno and Neil McGregor will advise Munitz.
The Getty hopes to be able to arrange interviews by July with a final decision in place by mid-September, when the Getty trustees are congregated for their fall meeting.
Wall text = criticism?
(Sorry about the lack of posts yesterday and today... AJ has been afflicted with some software bug and we've been unable to publish new posts -- until now, of course.)
Only Slate could elevate museum wall-texts into journalism of some sort. Here they do it with Roger Fenton, here with Dali. (Lee Siegel writes: "Salvador Dalν was a truly original artist." Goodness no. He most certainly was not.)
Two quick hits
The last two links from Armory week: Choire Sicha pretty much nails The Armory Show.
Reason No. 458 we love GawkerForum: Linda Yablonsky writes: "... that's how it felt on West Twenty-fourth Street, where Gagosian presented Hirst's first show in New York since the former YBA gave up the bottle for more sober pursuits."
Well, according to the photo above what Yablonsky wrote, Hirst may have given up bottles -- but he hasn't given up glasses.
SVA starts MFA program for ArtForum wannabes
From Artnet's news roundup, the creation of an MFA-for-art-critics that only ArtForum (and maybe October) could love:
The handful of brave students accepted into the program can expect to be treated to a curriculum that emphasizes "the deep roots of art criticism in philosophy," and that ranges from religion and science to psychoanalytical, postcolonial, gay and Marxist theory.
That's all, er, valid, but here are two radical ideas apparently missing from SVA's plan: teach the kids about writing. And about art.
(OK, to be fair, I'm playing a little bit mean. Writing and art are in the sample curriculum. Here's SVA's page, which includes reference to a course that includes a "prosopography" of today's criticism.)
Tut's going to London
The Art Newspaper reports that the King Tut reunion tour will close in London in 2007, at the Millenium Dome. If that seems an odd venue for the show, think again -- Anschutz Entertainment (AEG), which organized the traveling carnival of Egyptology, owns the Millenium Dome.
Kinda makes you wonder why LACMA is willing to turn itself into AEG for four months... Anschutz could have installed the show in one of its LA properties: the Staples Center, the Great Western Forum, or the Kodak Theater, which it operates.
Building, building, everywhere. In addition to building projects that are underway or are about to be underway in Houston, Toronto, Columbus, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Boston, Miami, Denver (2), and who knows where I'm foretting, this week three museum building projects are in the news: LACMA, Cleveland and Kansas City's Nelson-Atkins:
In Kansas City, the natives are restless because they don't think Steven Holl's building is distinctive enough. (Which reminds me of the restlessness of the native Torontonians, many of whom feel that Frank Gehry's Art Gallery of Ontario (Flash alert) will not be distinctive enough.)
In Cleveland, a director-less museum has decided to move forward with a $250 million Rafael Vinoly expansion.
And LACMA threw itself a party on Monday to announce their Renzo Piano plan. (This being LA, one of the first things they're doing is building a parking garage.) From the LAT's Mike Boehm:
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has raised $156 million, enough to bankroll the first round of construction in a three-step project aimed at making the museum bigger and more attractive while transforming its hodgepodge of buildings into a more unified campus that visitors can easily navigate.
Museum officials are expected to announce today a budget of $130 million for a first phase of construction, to begin by year's end, with completion expected in fall 2007. It includes a new building to house LACMA's contemporary art collection, a large, glassed-in entrance pavilion with adjoining piazzas, and a covered walkway traversing the campus, providing what the museum's president and director, Andrea L. Rich, calls a "main street" that will save visitors from having to search to find their way.
Presiding over the unkinking and new construction is Renzo Piano, the Pritzker Prize-winning architect picked by Eli Broad, the billionaire home builder and arts philanthropist who has anted up the $50-million cost of the new 60,000-square-foot Broad Contemporary Art Museum as well as $10 million to buy art. Los Angeles County is providing $10 million toward phase one construction; the rest of the $156 million, museum officials said, comes from members of LACMA's board. One trustee is anonymously contributing $25 million.
Piano's design includes new facades intended to bring visual spark and cohesiveness to the string of museum buildings along Wilshire Boulevard and an injection of his trademark airiness and light into an atrium that Rich considers "sort of a black hole."
Piano said his aim is to turn LACMA into an environment akin to a small, old-world town, knit by the central walkway. "In a little town, when you walk, every 200 feet you have something surprising -- a piazza, a church." Among the surprises for LACMA visitors, he said, will be emerging from a new, underground garage into a verdant extension of Hancock Park and an escalator ride rising 70 feet from the crystal-like entrance pavilion to the "vast, generous, open," loft-like and naturally lighted upper floor of the Broad Museum.
Name that baby
If you've seen the Diane Arbus show at SFMOMA, LACMA, Houston or at the Met, you've seen (a better version of) this baby. Maybe, just maybe you've wondered who the heck is that baby? (Then again, maybe not. All babies look pretty much alike, right? ::Ducking!::)
That baby became pretty well-known. That baby is on TV every night. That baby grew up to have very blue eyes and very silver hair. That baby is... CNN's Anderson Cooper.
From Patricia Bosworth's excellent biography of Arbus: "To dispel the growing myth that [Arbus] only took pictures of freaks, she made up a list of elegant people she wanted to photogrpah...
As if to prove her point, she took a remarkable portrait of Gloria Vanderbilt's sleeping baby son, Anderson Hays Cooper, for a Harper's Bazaar Valentine issue. In this truly astonishing picture, the infant resembles a flat white death's head -- eyes sealed shut, moth pursed and moist with saliva. When Gloria Vanderbilt saw the photograph, she forbade Bazaar to publish it, but eventually she changed her mind and this stunning image opened Diane's retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1972."
Cruising the piers
I went only to the Armory preview for about four hours on Thursday. Clearly the Armory types know that they must compete better with Miami Basel to survive: The piers were heated and carpeted this year, and the vendor (I mean gallery) booths were bigger and more thoughtfully laid out. That's all for the better, but as an event Armory still trails Miami by miles and miles. The Armory Show is a trade show, Miami Basel is an industry-wide convention. (At least there are campy jokes to be made with Armory-related blog headlines.) Some favorites:
Spencer Finch at Postmasters: When Finch keeps it simple, his explorations of weather and light demonstrate a wonderful understanding of atmospheric color. Finch continues his exploration of weather and light with Sunset in South Texas (a detail of which is at left).
Work that is colorful is often easy to dismiss as facile or child-like. But Finch's achievement is that he uses color in the pursuit of ephemera and captures that ephemera awfully well. Proof: Night Sky, Over the Painted Desert, Arizona (click to No. 4), which uses no color whatsoever.
Patrick Wilson at Suzanne Vielmetter: Almost two years ago I reviewed a Patrick Wilson show for Artnet. I wrote that I loved Wilson's surfaces and the way he build lush clouds of color. But I complained that Wilson's paintings were one-liners:
"Once you've found Wilson's Eames plywood chair or the little squares of paint at the bottom of his canvases, you've found all the subtle rewards of the painting. Wilson's paintings remind me a little bit of those "Where's Waldo" books: It's fun to look through the crowds and to look for Waldo. But once you've found Waldo, you can move on."
Wilson's new work gives up on the game of peekaboo and it's much the better for it. He's focusing on his strength -- those rich surfaces -- and he's playing them off of each other, off of empty space on the canvas, off of geometric shapes. They're his best paintings yet. (Sorry, I couldn't find any images.)
Anish Kapoor at Lisson Gallery: My pick for the best single work in the fair was a Kapoor, a roughly 3' X 3' acrylic block with trapped air bubbles in the middle. The air pockets appeared to be moving -- no, wait, they weren't moving. The air pockets seemed to be flat, unless, of course, they were spherical. I coulda looked at this piece for hours.
Luca Pancrozzi at Galeria Continua (Flash warning): Pacrozzi's paintings were a little dull, a little bit of the typical neo-precisionism that has been so ubiquitous in galleries of late. But his sculptures of landscapes were gee-whiz cool. Each was about three inches high and was embedded halfway up a white (drywall) column. THe landscapes were built out of electronic detritus, such as comptuer circuit boards, and other Silicon Valley reject material. Very boingboing.
ArtNotes: Other favorites included the Judd-inspired photographs of Kasushiro Saiki at Tokyo's SCAI; Tom LaDuke, an LA painter whose work is so deeply rooted in the horizontality of LA that I wonder if New Yorkers have any idea what they're looking at, looked good at Angles' booth. (Which it pretty much had to, given that Angles has no website!); I'm pretty sure Callum Innes was in every booth. I wish David Schnell had been.
NewsNotes: First, Ess Eff's Jack Hanley opened up an LA outpost (in Chinatown), now David Quadrini of Dallas' Angstrom Gallery is opening an LA branch too. Expect the gallery to open with an Erick Swenson solo show; No one's confirming anything, but expect Tim Hawkinson to leave Ace Gallery for the Glimcher/Bundonis empire that is PaceWildenstein; MANfave Carla Klein will receive a Matrix show at the Berkeley Museum (BAMPFA) in September.
Other Armory-goers include: Bloggy1, Bloggy2, James Wagner (lotsa posts on Armory, just scroll, scroll, scroll), JMG Artblog, YesButNoButYes, Josse Ford, ThoughtNot with one bear, ThoughtNot with two bears fighting -- really!, From the Floor, and, er, a different Armory show (and no (!), I'm not the Tyler in the post).
I was going to leave this alone, but apparently after I was off of WBUR's The Connection on Thursday, Michael Taylor of the Philly Museum kept teeing off on me. On the show I chose to ignore his haughty righteousness -- I mean, who but him could possibly have an opinion on his Dali show -- but enough response-encouraging email poured in over the weekend that I thought I might as well reply. (Notably, more than a few of Taylor's colleagues in curatordom urged me to reply to him, telling me that they found his behavior unbecoming.)
Taylor took the Fox NewsChannel route and called me "mal-informed" and a "conservative critic" because I think late Dali is kitsch and because I noted this in my review (and on WBUR):
[B]etween 1929 and 1939 Dali made entertaining works that define surrealism, the artistic movement that explored the subconscious with fantastic, dreamy imagery. Dali's pre-eminence among surrealists is the more surprising because he was a latecomer to the party already started in Paris by the theorist Andre Breton and his friends Andre Masson, Yves Tanguy, Paul Eluard and others. Fortunately nearly half of this show, 92 pieces worth, is from this period. ...
In the catalogue, Dawn Ades, the lead curator for Salvador Dali and one of the world's top Dali evangelists, argues that his post-1939 work really isn't the kitsch we think it is. Yet the 42 works from the last 49 years of Dali's life, don't really prove her point. They are a pretty hokey mix of Catholic imagery, op-art, M.C. Escher-like constructions of skulls and representations of cubes that mostly recall the 1980s videogame Qbert.
Blogs allow for a little more specificity, so I'll quote Ades from the catalogue:
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."
Taylor based his attack on the question of square footage, arguing the space allotted to the late work was roughly the same size as the space allotted to the earlier work. He pointed to what he said was his favorite Dali, the 9'X13' The Railway Station at Perpignan, as an example of why. Railway Station is huge and so are many of the later works, said Taylor, so of course there are fewer late works.
Believing that gentlemen discuss these things rather than call each other names, I chose to address the substance of his point. I agreed with Taylor on the question of space allocation between the early and later works. (Strangely he equated by agreement with him on a factual point as evidence of a knockout victory over me.) But his argument is specious -- by no means are all of Dali's late works the size of a Manhattan apartment. And while Taylor may choose to judge art and an art exhibit based on square footage, I prefer to talk about the art itself.
I also found it somewhat hilarious that Taylor branded me a "conservative critic" because I don't like the late Dali. Strangely, the late work is markedly more conservative than his outre surrealism of 1929-39. So apparently I'm a reactionary conservative for not liking the conservative Dali?
(Then again, maybe my sin was not mindlessly approving of Taylor's show.)
Spurling on Matisse: Next week
Bloomberg's Martin Gayford reports that volume two of Hilary Spurling's Matisse bio, Matisse the Master: A Life of Henri Matisse: the Conquest of Colour, 1909-1954, will be published in the UK next week. (Yay!) Here it is on Amazon UK.
(Spurling's first volume, The Unknown Matisse, is one of the best artist biographies I've ever read. It's an absolute must-read, a fascinating counter-weight to John Richardson's Picasso hagiographies.)
Thomas Krens and the myth of branding
On Sunday Reuters ran a puff piece about Thomas Krens and his vision for the Guggenheim. (Thanks ArtForum.) I could make fun of Reuters for running such an uncritical story, for creating a flack's dream, but I won't.
Instead I want to take one of Krens' key points (one he's made over and over in other forums) and I want to demonstrate that it is just simply off the wall. If his board buys this stuff, they're just not paying attention.
(That said, I'd just loooove to start with the bizarre. I'm sure that the curators who work at the Guggs just love it if I mentioned that the Reuters piece included this: "'Think of the museum as a kind of film production company,' Krens said in an interview. He compared curators to 'script writers' who suggest themes such as Chinese modernist art, or architecture of Islam." (Curators, note that email address on the upper-right of the page...)
Instead I'm going to stick with the comment for which there is data. The Reuters piece paints the Gugg empire as successful, and by so doing somehow neglects to mention the massive operating losses in recent years, losses that have required the Gugg to draw down its endowment. Proud of the Gugg's attendance, Krens offers this: "Our attendance is a function of branding."
It is? Well, let's look at the Gugg's self-reported attendance numbers from 2002-2004. The numbers are from The Art Newspaper survey, as are the years. (For example, Rockwell opened in 2001 and closed in 2002. It is in the 2002 Art Newspaper survey.)
- Norman Rockwell: 3,326/day
- Jeff Koons: 2,853
- Brazil: 2,849
- Picasso to Pollock (permanent collection): 3,314
- Matthew Barney: 3,151
- Bill Viola, Moving Pictures (permanent collection): 2,963
- James Rosenquist: 3,346
- Singular Forms... (mostly permanent collection): 3,103
- Brancusi, Photos from the Buhl Collection: 3,000
What "branding" results in nearly the exact same attendance figures for Brazil, Matthew Barney, a (mostly) minimalism show, and a James Rosenquist retrospective? If there is indeed some type of branding that joins together Benedictine altars, Glenn Ligon text paintings, and the Saturday Evening Post, I'd love to know what it is and why it works.
There are two possible explanations for these numbers: 1.) People show up at the Gugg to see the building. 2.) People know that the Gugg has a heckuva permanent collection. That's why their permanent collection shows draw more people than shows of Matthew Barney, Brancusi, Jeff Koons or Brazil.
AJ's new, temporary celeb-blog
This week ArtsJournal is hosting a blog titled, "Is there a Better Case for the Arts?" The blog features a superstar lineup of contributors, including Bill Ivey, Glenn Lowry, Robert Lynch and AJ's Andrew Taylor. The blog includes comment boards, so interact away.
I wonder if Lowry (in particular) will address this point: Central to the promotion of the arts is the quality of the arts experience. If people go somewhere (oh, say, MoMA) to experience the arts and have a negative experience, why would they return?
In addition to the Robert Bechtle/Crown Point Press show, I also liked:
Tucker Schwarz at Gregory Lind: Stitching stuff is the new gluing glitter on stuff. (Only better. Lots better. Eating monkey-testicle kabobs on some strange performance art-driven hybrid of Artstar and Fear Factor would probably be better than seeing more glue-and-glitter. Sigh, I had so better not show my face in Brooklyn ever again.) A number of artists I've seen of late have pursued the practice of stitching, adding to the glitter-dominated discourse around craft-based art, a dialogue that I believe to be valid. (OK, I promise to stop.)
Tucker Schwarz's best work features suburban-scapes stitched into muslin. (Lind's press release is a leading candidate for Most Bizarre Press Release Writing of the year: "In Schwarz's work, intricately embroidered pieces of cloth act as ventriloquists for human emotions.") These muslin pieces mix representation (say a suburban home surrounded by trees) with abstraction (the ends of the threads are not hidden behind the art or tied off, they dangle in front of the viewer as part of the piece). The hanging, unconnected threads serve as a metaphor for the banality of suburban living.
Jim Campbell at Hosfelt Gallery: This is the best gallery show I saw in San Francisco. Campbell uses both traditional lightboxes and LED-based moving images/photogravure/plexi boxes to evoke movement, space, time and memory. The work I liked best at Hosfelt is the LED-based work -- including one LED-based animation of waves that seemed like a perfect straddling of the line between figuration and abstraction (hello Ms. Celmins). There is a Campbell show at SITE Santa Fe now. It travels to Knoxville, TN and to LA (which is why I'm not saying anything terribly interesting here).
Also noticed: Some Daniel Brices lying around Heather Marx (the Diebenkornian influence is alive and well in CA), a book to accompany the upcoming Paul Paiement survey at the Laguna Art Museum (Paiement shows at Heather Marx), the guilty pleasure of Candida Hofer's libraries at Rena Bransten.
Also noticed, alas: Frank Stella's new sculptures at John Berggruen (annoying Flash alert). If the highways of America were full of lightposts moving at 65mph, and if those lightposts crashed into each other, they'd look like Stella's new work. Regardless, I predict that the Meyerhoff-influenced National Gallery of Art will love it, just love it, and that we in Washington will have to once again remind the NGA that Frank Stella hasn't made anything good in decades.
Next Ess Eff post: SFMOMA's SECA show, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' Big Deal & Blow Up.
No, I'm not talking about what I'll be reading this weekend -- Patricia Bosworth's gripping Diane Arbus biography -- I'm talking about what you could be reading...
Start with this LA Times feature on Julius Shulman, the master photographer of California modernism. (The Getty will launch a Shulman exhibit in October.)
Also, I'm substantially interested in how the U.S. has completely abandoned culture as a foreign policy tool. Mark Swed, the LAT's music critic, apparently has noticed the same thing:
On his trip to Germany last week, George W. Bush canceled a town meeting once it became clear that German public opinion wasn't going his way. A dislike of a specific U.S. president may not necessarily mean a pervasive German anti-Americanism. After all, American popular culture and fast food are avidly consumed in Germany, as they are in much of the world.
But there are also many in Germany who blame American popular culture and fast food for poisoning minds and bloating bodies. If, for them, Washington is one center of American wrongdoing, Los Angeles, as the entertainment capital of the world, is another.
And that makes the Los Angeles Philharmonic's weeklong residency in Cologne, beginning Wednesday, of substantial diplomatic importance.
Ostensibly, the Philharmonic will be giving three performances in the Philharmonie, Cologne's main concert hall, to offer German audiences a taste of Esa-Pekka Salonen's work with his orchestra. But the presenters are using the occasion to take a broader look at Los Angeles culture. L.A.-centric movies, ranging from the obvious choices, such as "Chinatown," to recent experimental work by James Benning, will be screened in conjunction with these concerts. An evening will be devoted to L.A. writer James Ellroy. A new German play about Stravinsky, described as being about a Russian making his way in Hollywood, will also be part of the discourse.
The German media treat culture with great seriousness, and this L.A. festival is likely to get quite a bit of attention, coming as it does on the heels of Bush's visit and the latest Academy Awards ceremony's cocktail of stage-managed triviality, excess and sentimentality. You can only imagine.
Salonen's greatest test in Germany, though, will probably not be his music. And it probably won't be his dazzling Stravinsky or Berlioz either -- the Germans might even note a bit of Hollywood in all the technicolor of the Philharmonic's playing. Bruckner's Seventh, holy music in Germany, is the piece by which they may ultimately judge him.
Thursday in Disney, the Bruckner glowed in long luminous lines. When Salonen first started conducting Bruckner with the Philharmonic, he was meddlesome. Now the fuss is gone. In opening him up to new musical experiences, Los Angeles appears to have also opened him up to new experiences of old music. He now lets Bruckner, in all his majesty, be.
If the Germans understand the full implications of that, and I suspect they will, international relations could improve. And it amazes me that neither Washington nor, for that matter, City Hall, seems to get it.
NYT: Breaking Broad/LACMA news!
According to Carol Vogel in the NYT, Eli Broad has given his art collection to LACMA:
The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles lost out on Eli Broad's considerable collection of contemporary art, which Mr. Broad, chairman of AIG Retirement Services, gave to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art instead, but 2004 was still a record year for acquisitions.
Wow! What news! You probably recall that some time ago Broad famously gave LACMA a chunk of change for their re-building project, including for the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, a building that is to be full of contemporary art. But just as famously, Broad did not give LACMA his collection. Apparently Vogel has now done it for him. I wonder if Eli knows...
MAN revisited, day five
Back in January, I posted an open letter to MoMA boss Glenn Lowry about how difficult being in his museum has become. In chatting with a critic or two in LA over the weekend, I think a bit of a critical consensus is forming around some of the visitor experience items I mentioned in that post, so I thought I'd re-link to it. Tell a friend. Maybe a friend will tell Glenn. Maybe he'll call me names -- off the record, of course.
Robert Bechtle in San Francisco
I'm back from San Francisco and Los Angeles. Today I'll talk a little bit about what I saw in Ess Eff. First, Robert Bechtle. Later, life willing, galleries.
A Robert Bechtle retrospective is up at SFMOMA. Aside from geography (Bechtle is an Ess Effer) it is not clear to me why it is a singularly inert show. The show makes clear that Bechtle was mostly concerned with not making paintings like his Bay Area peers Richard Diebenkorn and Wayne Thiebaud, but he was less concerned with making paintings that did something beyond that.
Bechtle's paintings are realist cityscapes, or put another way, they're acutely regionalist realism. They are full of the family station wagon, the front yard, the houses in a pretty row, usually in or around Ess Eff. They are dimly inert, passion-free, and visually flat, even unattractive.
There is a good Robert Bechtle show in Ess Eff, just not at SFMOMA. The Bechtle prints show at Crown Point Press is awfully good. (That's a Bechtle print from 2004 at left.) In his prints Bechtle focused on the topography of San Francisco, its hilly streets, exposed power lines, its often diagonal horizon. The prints remind me and Bechtle would dislike this, I imagine of the paintings Diebenkorn made when he started painting cityscapes, or of Thiebaud's inspired-by-San Francisco paintings of hilly streets. In the prints I think that Bechtle followed what interested him, whereas in the paintings he merely rejected following.
Related: Anna L. Conti disagrees with me on SFMOMA, agrees on the prints. Also, some stories about the exhibit(s) from Bay Areans: Albert's World of Artsy Fun, Silence is so accurate, I will write with my right hand, Groove is in the Heart.
Kinda related: The last week's travel has left me about 250 emails behind. I'll try to catch up over the weekend.
Barnes gets a board star
Agnes Gund, art world board star extraordinaire and former MoMA prez, has joined the Barnes Foundation board. That bodes well for the future health of the Barnes, I'd guess. Somehow the Philly Inky has yet to mention this. And I'd love to know how Gund ended up on the Barnes board. May just have to find out...
MAN revisited, Day Two
Last September I sat down with MAMFW chief curator Michael Auping for a Q&A. The posts have been particularly popular with museum staff and board members. (I almost titled them "Letters to a Young Curator," except they're not letters and they aren't necessarily for young curators. However, two of the words seemed to work just fine: "to" and "a.")
Auping's next show, an Anselm Kiefer show titled "Heaven and Earth," opens in September, 2005. He has also written an essay for the Robert Bechtle catalogue. That show travels to MAMFW after it leaves SFMOMA.
I found what Auping had to say pretty fascinating, so I posted it in four (short) parts: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.