Author: mosellekleiner

Artist of the Month: Cecily Brown

Artist of the Month (January)

Cecily Brown
Untitled (The Beautiful and the Damned) (2013), photo by Rob McKeever, copyright Gagosian Gallery 2016, via Artsy.

Cecily Brown is a contemporary painter who makes large, exuberant canvasses. A native of London, she is currently based in New York City. Her work is gestural, immediate, and bold; in the above piece (9 x 14 ft), there are moments where it feels as if she’s slashing the page. They are also very musical: like a symphony conductor, Brown seems to command her colors into motion as lively tableaus unfold. Recalling those of her stylistic ancestors—Claude Monet, Willem de Kooning, and Joan Mitchell—Brown’s chaotic forms blend into a single whole, at least from a distance. Up close, however, the viewer can appreciate the beauty of the disjointed, intricate fragments composing each ensemble. I enjoy how exciting and fresh her paintings appear. She’s playing with shapes and images and ideas in her works that are familiar and quotidian to us: human anatomy, body language, nature, sex. Combining abstraction and figuration, Brown embeds these motifs within her pieces, hiding them inside amorphous masses.

Brown recently had a solo show at the Drawing Center in downtown Manhattan that was on through December 2016. According to the museum, Cecily Brown: Rehearsal was New York’s first institutional survey of her work and the first exhibition in general to concentrate specifically on her drawings (“The Ecstasy of Drawing” headlines a review by Hyperallergic). In 2015, she received praise from an early skeptic, NY Times critic Roberta Smith, for The English Garden, a gallery presentation at Maccarone. It featured smaller paintings than Brown usually offers, though her traditionally lighthearted approach to titles prevailed: “The Home of the Brave,” “First I go in, then I go out,” and “Oh I do like to be beside the seaside” were among the selection. If, like me, you didn’t make it to either of these shows, nor past ones at Gagosian, I would suggest watching Brown’s Artist Project for the Met, in which she talks about Medieval sculptures and what contemporary artists can glean from them.

Brown is often grouped with other female painters who emerged in the Nineties such as Amy Sillman and Charline von Heyl. As a “star” of the New York art scene, she has also been compared to Philip Guston and Francis Bacon. Her art is so popular, it seems, that Brown now has an alleged copycat, California’s Sherrie Franssen (although the strange similarities between their works could just be a product of a shared enthusiasm for de Kooning). Furthermore, as per an excerpt from Artsy‘s bio of Brown, she is credited alongside individuals like John Currin “as a central figure in the resurgence of painting at the turn of the millennium.” But to learn more about her particular background and process, instead of seeing Brown exclusively in tandem with other artists, check out this video, in which she fills you in herself:


What are your thoughts on Cecily Brown? Comment below with anything that comes to mind.

Picasso and Picabia

Above: On left is Picasso’s Marie-Therese accoudee, copyright 2016 Estate of Pablo Picasso and Artists Rights Society, via WikiArts; On right is Picabia’s Portrait of an Artist, photograph by the author. Edited in Trigraphy and AdobeSpark.

Two wonderful shows on now that you should see: Picasso’s Picassos at Gagosian Madison and Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction at the Museum of Modern Art. Picasso and Picabia knew each other personally, but artistically they shared a tone of natural playfulness, strong ability in any medium, and stylistic eclecticism. Below is a short breakdown of the current presentations.


Picasso’s Picassos comprises a selection of paintings and a single sculpture (La femme enceinte, or The Pregnant Woman– see this version) from the collection of Maya Ruiz-Picasso, the artist’s daughter with famous muse Marie-Therese Walter. At two rooms it is quite palatable, exactly the kind of exhibit easy to pop in and out of while being still being worth attending. The works are mostly small in scale but richly hued, featuring compelling Cubist structures with tangled webs of body parts and physiognomy. They evidence his masterful weaving together of unusual colors and brushstrokes to create whole forms, and the resulting gestalt reminds viewers of why Picasso is so revered. The pieces are primarily portraits; subjects might be a young Maya, Marie-Therese, or even a Musketeer. It is an especially perfect show for someone who will appreciate Picasso’s content without needing background (as in most galleries, there is no wall text, only an explanatory sheet). The experience is a concise one, but quite enjoyable at that.

Through February 18th.


The Francis Picabia survey boasts being the first of its kind in the U.S. to chart the entire career of the eponymous artist, who flirted with Impressionism, Pointillism, and Surrealism, became an important player in Dada, and worked both figuratively and abstractly, in addition to his graphic design endeavors. Picabia has an incredible range, having experimented with collage, mechanical diagrams, unusual painting techniques (such as building multi-layer transparencies), photorealism, film, carpets, Rousseau-like Primitivism, camp, Op-Art, and so on. Involved in the international art scene from 1903 through his death in 1953 (based everywhere from Paris to Cuba, New York, or Zurich), Picabia interacted with cultural icons such as Andre Breton, Alfred Stieglitz, Marcel Duchamp, and Gertrude Stein, and was arguably one himself. The MoMA mounting is an excellent spotlight on the multitalented artist in that it seems to cover much ground, although for a better sense of its comprehension (described by one publication as monstrous), avoid going at midday when the museum tends to be crowded and therein highly chaotic. Yet despite Picabia’s diversity of style, one thing to note is that the MoMA takes a keen interest in Dadaists, which comes as no surprise in light of its core concentration on the modern and postmodern eras. The institution staged an investigation into the movement last year with Dadaglobe Reconstructed, a tribute to Dada founder Tristan Tzara‘s failed attempt to assemble a massive catalogue of sorts with contributions from affiliates around the world. I have no idea whether this earlier coverage helped inspire the selection of Picabia for a 2016-2017 retrospective (a problematic thesis, given that he denounced Dada in 1921), but I’d recommend the latter just the same.

Through March 19th.

Curator of the Week: Chen Tamir


Chen Tamir, image by Yuli Gorodinsky, courtesy of Electronic Beats, via Artnet.

I’m interested in art that confuses reality and fiction.


Israeli-Canadian Chen Tamir is a Curator at The Center for Contemporary Art, an experimental exhibition space in Tel Aviv, and Curatorial Associate at Artis, an organization that aims to broaden international awareness of contemporary Israeli artists. While previously working as an independent curator in New York City, she served as Executive Director of Flux Factory, developing the institution’s infrastructure and establishing an notable residency program. Chen holds an M.A. from Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies, a B.A. in Anthropology, and a B.F.A. in Visual Art from York University.


Tamir is a prominent commentator on the art world’s relationship to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to hamper Israel’s global cultural acceptance on behalf of the Palestinian cause. She contributed a report on the campaign’s impact in the aftermath of the São Paulo Biennale’s repudiation of Israeli sponsorship to Hyperallergic, a Brooklyn-based arts publication whose editor enthusiastically covered the #DecolonizeThisPlace protest outside Artis’ SoHo offices, wherein participants demanded that the group demonstrate their refusal “to normalize the occupation of Palestinian lands” by backing BDS. In an article for the Guggenheim Museum website, Tamir addressed another aspect of the political landscape: “McCarthyism” in Israel, or the government’s systemic “censorship” of artists who satirize state policy through their work that is exacerbated by increasing grassroots “bullying” of and extremist backlash against creative dissidents. As she observes, “the metanarrative in Israel is one of continuous existential fear and victimization, which leads to the increased justification of insularity and nationalism, and the silencing of opposition.” There are legitimate rebuttals to this outlook (after all, on a logical level, functioning bureaucracies usually fund programs and individuals that support their ideologies), and as critic JJ Charlesworth notes, for many  “The Cultural Boycott of Israel Isn’t Solidarity, It’s Condescension.” Nonetheless, the issue of Israel’s aesthetic suppression has been brought to the fore by a recent controversy over freedom of expression at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design after multiple student images caricaturing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became publicized (in another incident, a golden statue of Netanyahu was placed in Rabin Square and then removed). In this climate of communal tension aggravated further by charges of incitement and calls for cuts to Bezalel’s educational subsidies, Tamir’s presence on the scene is all the more relevant.

Known for

In 2015, Tamir was heralded by Artnet as one of 25 women shaking up the art world and by Artslant as one of 15 curators to watch. In addition to her writing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Tamir has spearheaded shows such as Sights and Sounds at the Jewish Museum in New York, Emotional Blackmail at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery and the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Into the Eye of the Storm at the Israeli Center for Digital Art and Double Take Triple Give at the Museums of Bat Yam (MoBY), among others. She has spoken or lectured at the Power Plant, Sotheby’s, Art Gallery of Ontario, Vanderbilt University, Bard Center for Curatorial Studies, Open Engagement, the 2009 Scope Art Fair, and so forth. Tamir has been published in various magazines and her Editor’s Letter appears on the Art21 blog. According to her website, she is also an advisor to “the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at the New School, A Blade of Grass, and EFA Project Space.”

Fun Fact

Emphasizing digital fluency, in 2015 Tamir launched Captive Portal at the CCA, a specially-commissioned virtual “fifth-wall” that is “dedicated to the presentation of new work by local and international artists.” Captive Portal features artworks visitors can look at on their mobile devices through the CCA’s wireless network. [Editor’s Note: in an unrelated initiative, CCA director Sergio Edelsztein transformed a bomb shelter next door the museum into the “Shelter for Contemporary Art.” This post originally implied that Tamir was behind this endeavor].

Latest Efforts

After organizing a conference on BDS in Tel Aviv two years ago, Tamir has proceeded to be involved in expanding the visibility of artists who, as she puts it, “don’t want to do PR for Israel.” She signed a petition in 2014 rejecting being called up as an Army reservist during “Operation Protective Edge,” has been a panelist at an Armory Show dialogue on contemporary art in the Middle East, North Africa, and Mediterranean (MENAM), and taught at Otis College. With her penchant for tech-geared exhibitions, Tamir is now planning Jon Rafman: Erysichthon and Noa Yafe: The Perfect Crime to debut at CCA this upcoming year. (more…)

Curator of the Week: Thelma Golden


Thelma Golden, image by Crain’s New York

I’m constantly making exhibitions in my head.


Thelma Golden is the Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem, founded just three years after her birth by a group of activists and philanthropists. The Studio Museum is where she began her career interning while attending Smith College. Ms. Golden was also a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art from 1988 to 1998.


With an ethnocentric focus, Golden has developed the Studio Museum’s presence in the art world at home and abroad, especially in recent years as its visibility has increased through social media. She is an active guest curator, writer, lecturer, juror, and advisor, serving on the Graduate Committee at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College and on the boards of Creative Time in New York and the Institute of International Visual Arts (inIVA) in London. Golden is a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute and has received numerous accolades, including multiple honorary Doctorates of Fine Arts. In 2014, she was named one of the top 25 most important women in the art world by Artnet, and in 2015 became a Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellow. She also won the 2016 Audrey Irmas Award for Curatorial Excellence. To put it mildly, Golden is an omnipresent, beloved force.

Known for

At the Whitney, Golden helped organize the racially charged 1993 Biennial and Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary Art (1994–95), both of which proved contentious within and outside of the established artistic community. With a reputation for nurturing emerging talent, Golden joined the Studio Museum once again in 2000, where according to Wikapedia she pioneered “a number of groundbreaking exhibitions, including Isaac Julien: Vagabondia (2000), Martin Puryear: The Cane Project (2000); Glenn Ligon: Stranger (2001); the Freestyle Exhibition (2001); Black Romantic: The Figurative Impulse in Contemporary Art (2002); harlemworld: Metropolis as Metaphor (2004); Chris Ofili: Afro Muses (2005); Frequency (2005–06, with Christine Y. Kim); Africa Comics (2006–07); and Kori Newkirk: 1997–2007 (2007–08).”

Fun Fact

Golden is married to acclaimed fashion designer, Duro Olowu. Read about their relationship here.

Latest Efforts

Recently, Golden has been advising teen girls on School of Doodle, an online education platform, in addition to mentoring her heir apparent, Kimberly Drew, former Studio Museum employee and now Social Media Manager at the Met, better known by her virtual handle, @museummammy. Guided by Golden, Drew has been receiving a lot of press, especially for her tumblr, black contemporary art. But in terms of her own endeavors, Golden is also frequently in the spotlight as the Studio Museum’s name-recognition and target audience has expanded. And she is well on her way to tackling what the WSJ calls Golden’s “biggest challenge yet,” constructing a new $122 million home on West 125th Street for her institution. Prominent Ghanian-British architect, David Adjaye, who devised The National Museum of African American History and Culture along with several others, will lead the project. (more…)

Artist of the Month: Francisco de Goya

Artist of the Month (December)

Francisco de Goya


A Giant Seated in a Landscape, sometimes called “The Colossus” (by 1818), copyright belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art 2016. Not on display.

There is something dark and deeply disturbing about the work of Spanish Romanticist Francisco de Goya (1746-1828). Goya once said that he only had three teachers: nature, Velazquez, and Rembrandt. It is easy to see the penetrative, noirish tones of Rembrandt and the structural depth of Velazquez in his work, but nature? Take, for example, Goya’s Los Caprichos, a series of 80 aquatint and etching prints, and a set called The Disasters of War, considered by art historians “a protest against the violence of the 1808 Dos de Mayo Uprising.” They depict marginal elements of the human narrative: writhing bats and reptilian figures; skeletal, starving people plagued by famine; twisted interactions; bizarre romances; and eerie, mythic monsters. Yet to write these pieces off as dystopian and artificial is fallacious, for the Los Caprichos personas, however fantastical, seem intended as the physical manifestations of mankind’s spiritual demons and gory products of evil gone unabated. (more…)

Max Beckmann at the Met, Reviewed

On the first floor of the Metropolitan Museum, past the Greco-Roman relics and on your way into European sculptures, is the airy but contained gallery housing Max Beckmann in New York through February of next year. Compact, light, and unassuming, the show is rather excellent: the wall text adequate and not too imposing, the paintings both palatable and intense. It is exactly the kind of exhibition that is easy to digest and worth digesting. The history behind it is simple: Beckmann, typically classified as a German Expressionist, resided in New York from 1949 through his death in 1950, having originally fled to Holland from his native country under Hitler’s regime. Fourteen of the 39 pieces were created in this brief interlude, while the 25 others are earlier works from New York collections. The paintings’ subjects are the artist himself; various interiors and landscapes; nightlife spectacles; voluptuous figures, mostly female; artists or performers; and strange, chimerical scenes. Common devices include Beckmann’s trademark broad, black strokes, strong color pairings, and emphasis on large, jointed body parts, especially the hands.  (more…)

Artist of the Month: Eva Hesse

Artist of the Month (November)

Eva Hesse
No title (1969-1970)Copyright belongs to the estate of Eva Hesse; courtesy of Hauser & Wirth (see here).

November is a month of struggling. We wake up from October’s slumber to a world cruel and cold. I was having trouble making art and I listened to Benedict Cumberbatch performing Sol LeWitt‘s profanity-ridden letter to Eva Hesse about what to do when this happens: just go for it, create. So I read up on Eva, elusive character that she is. There’s a lauded documentary about her, and if you like her work, you’re probably more “in the know” than not. It’s complex and confusing, centered on abstract concepts like sensuality and mortality in her manipulations of material, tangible things. I wanted to understand her to tap into that, myself. Her childhood suffering and tremendous trauma (see below) shaped all that she did. But Eva went beyond her pain. I wanted to use her strength as a roadmap for attempting transcendence, too. I have so much to pour in but often feel impotent, artistically blocked. I’ll share with you what I’ve found on Eva, what’s guided me this past week to finally do.

Here is her bio, by Artsy:

One of the first to work with synthetic materials like fiberglass, latex, and plastic, Eva Hesse is best-known for her innovative sculptures, dubbed Postminimalist for the time and style in which they were made. Reacting to the rigidity and uniformity of Minimalism, Hesse’s sculptural forms appear soft, slack, and uneven, conveying a human sensibility. A pioneering feminist artist, Hesse desired, in her own words, to “challenge the norms of beauty and order.” Hesse’s painful childhood—having fled Nazi Germany followed by her mother’s suicide—significantly impacted her artmaking, prompting close friend and art historian Lucy Lippard to describe Hesse’s work as a “materialization of her anxieties.” Hesse’s artistic engagement with her own psychology is apparent in her Spectre paintings, where she uses muted tones and a thick and gestural application of paint to create haunting pictures reminiscent of Munch.

The Art Story website has an equally excellent version, which includes a timeline and some of her best works.

Onwards and Upwards with Sally Mann

Above photograph by the author. Depicts pieces in the show.

Gagosian Gallery on Madison is still showing Sally Mann – Remembered Light: Cy Twombly in Lexington, and it is worth a visit. This is Mann’s homage to the late artist, a close friend and mentor from their joint hometown of Lexington, Virginia. The photographs are not exclusively posthumous tributes: she took them from 1999 through 2012, both while Twombly was still alive and during the year after. The exhibition is incredible, intimate. Mann captures his studio: ordinary objects, dirty floors, leftover supplies, scratched walls, lamps, window shades gaping just-so. The “artist” as an entity is present without ever showing his face.

At the front of the space are smaller, edgier pieces that are objective and distant from the viewer; at first, Mann does not infuse any kind of personal history into her studies. She is careful, reticent, holding back. Her connection with Twombly seemingly deepens as one proceeds further into the show; they grow closer, are “in dialogue,”per say (and I mean it). Mann seems to be talking to him through her photographs. A paradox: she grasps in vain for Twombly, but navigates her way through his sea of stuff seamlessly, comfortably. Her characteristic filmy gaze renders the works time-capsules; she presses pause and breathes it all in sensing Twombly’s mortality, reminded of the fragility of his art and her own. One becomes aware of how invested Mann is in her subjects; this exercise is rooted in her memories of him, not just in places and material things. Spaces are illuminated according to blurred choices: near-blinding clinical whites evolve into warm, homey creams. Gothic noir meets residue of human existence; Twombly’s habitat is rendered fondly in his passing. Someone was there, Mann tells us. Her works are honest; refreshing, but familiar. Vignette-like shading recalls Kathy Ryan‘s “Office Romance.” A collection of images by NY Times Magazine‘s director of photography, it is published by Aperture and absolutely stunning, a great reference point by radiating simplicity, asking readers to explore what kinds of shadows and natural designs might we encounter on a daily basis, allowing us to both escape and embrace reality. Mann’s quiet, ethereal take on Twombly’s setting is very much in the same vein. Meditating on mourning, she asks, softly: what becomes of us when we’re gone? What happens to the tangible relics and voiceless remnants of who we were that are left behind?

Remembered Light is on through October 29th. In this article, she also invokes her departed son, Emmett in explaining her preparations for the show. Transcending grief is a major focus of the exhibit, and one Mann tackles admirably.

The Artist As a Multi-Hyphenate

Above photograph adapted from Daniel Kramer’s original. Assumedly copyright of the latter.

News from Stockholm this week (I think word first appeared on Thursday) that Bob Dylan would be this year’s recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature was met with much media buzz. Critics debated: is he– a poet or bard, at best– deserving of the esteemed Prize? Does Dylan hold a candle to past recipients; is he a prosaic match for Toni Morrison, Samuel Beckett, T.S. Eliot, Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Many, like Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone, embrace his anointment (after all, the publication’s epithet is, in part, a Dylan homage). They celebrate his uniquely American scope, the possibilities Dylan brought to music as a genre and a form and his endless, Picasso-like ability to reinvent himself, stemming from his intimate knowledge and vocalization of the frustratingly familiar. The award even begs the question: does the Nobel Committee listen to the NY Times (given an Op-Ed piece from 2013, though it veers into cynical paranoia to consider whether yet another feted institution has become a partisan progressive mouthpiece, despite a reasonable supporting argument)? Well, either way, the NY Times contradicted itself in referring to him. And then again, kind of, ending one of its write-ups, unsurprisingly, with President Obama’s Dylan endorsement.

Each editorial outdoes the other in showering praise on the singer-songwriter of 75 years or burying him in scathing criticism. It is as if the Nobel Committee decided 2016 was barren enough journalistic territory that, for fun, it should throw a match at the press and watch it fan its own self-righteous flames. One wonders whether Stockholm is having a laugh at the vast levels of Dylan-driven contention spanning the internet’s expanse, then remembers that the Swedish are notoriously dark-humored: is this whole affair a polished exercise in sadism?

For a moment after I heard what happened thoughts like these materialized, exorcised speedily through the imaginary balloon above my head. Then I took to Twitter. “Hey, this is news,” I wrote concerning the announcement, redundant in the narratorial spirit of the medium. In shorthand: “And remember when Dylan collab’d with Gagosian?” I linked a review of 2011’s The Asia Series, a Dylan show at the famous gallery, also besought by much-covered controversy. The viewer cannot knowingly deny the parallels between his paintings and famous photographs of the Orient, despite Dylan’s defensive statements to the contrary: “I paint mostly from real life. It has to start with that… I have the cause and effect in mind from the beginning to the end. But it has to start with something tangible.” According to Politico, his 2012 exhibit– entitled Revisionist Art: Thirty Works by Bob Dylan– in attempts to overshadow or transcend the plagiarist flavor of its antecedent by riffing on Americana such as Babytalk magazine covers, for which Dylan has a soft-spot, an almost nostalgic penchant. Here, too, the oeuvre of notorious borrower artist Elaine Sturtevant, who received a retrospective at MoMA relatively recently, comes to mind.

The thing is that, unlike some ArtsBeat assignees, I don’t really care whether Dylan’s pieces are cheap or dull imitations or blatant copies. Even Chuck Close, great portraitist of our times, models his work on photographs. Another oils novice, Bush II, was not any more inventive than Dylan, clumsily drawing on results from Google Image search for his portraits of world leaders, with whom he was in personal, often fleshly, contact during his tenure in office. Rather, I am referencing this facet of Dylan’s career to spark a dialogue, much in the same vein as that about his Noble Prize in Literature, regarding the merits of having more than one finger in more than one creative pot. I could start spewing facts and figures about various cultural icons who have followed this path, or tell you to read “I Love Dick” by Chris Kraus, in many respects devoted to the subject of aesthetic interconnectivity, the bridging of the intellectual with the experiential and sensual, and what got me considering the quandary of the artist as a multi-hyphenate in the first place. Instead, I open it up to you, dear readers. This time, it’s me that’s asking: do you think Bob Dylan should be recognized for more than one thing, or heralded under the broad characterization of the literary arts, when he’s dabbled in other stuff, too (even sculpture, as of late)? To what extent is his sideshow a perpetuation of his whole act, and to what extent should it be divorced from his folksy protest anthems? Dylan is a case study, a test-run or microcosm of a large-scale issue that weaves the legacies of video art, performance art, slam poetry, and a thousand other movements, with their contexts and attached personalities. If 2016, year of newly discovered fluidity (between genders, especially), can be rebranded by 1964’s Times’ They Are A Changin’, maybe our approach of benign-neglect to how we look at innovators in numerous fields– e.g. through the singular lens of what they pioneer, rather than what they lightly toy with– should be, too.

Respond with insights below.

Artist of the Month: Frederick Church

Artist of the Month (October)

Frederic Edwin Church
Copyright belongs to the Museum 2016.

Ah, the Hudson River School, capturing the literal nature of what it means to be one with the world from 1825 through 1870! I recently saw this Romantic (capital ‘R’) Church painting, as well as a whole host of others in the same tradition, under the bright, promising lights of the Met‘s American Wing, a rediscovered favorite. In all likelihood, you will not get an accurate sense of the breadth of Church’s masterpiece (it spans 10 feet)– nor that of his mentor Thomas Cole‘s equally stunning and beloved work, View from Mount Holyoke– from the above photo. It deserves a trip to the Museum, a pilgrimage of sorts. But why Church to begin with? Who was he? What do we know about him besides the fact that he made really large and intricate pieces? (more…)