Museum Exhibitions

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.

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…)

Comings and Goings at the Jewish Museum

When I reference other write-ups of art shows, I tend to cull from the “knowns”– the NY Times, the WSJ, all the major New York-based magazines, etc. And then there are the industry favorites that I sometimes cite, e.g. Artforum, Hyperallergic, and Art in America. Everyone has something to say about the quality of their articles and whether or not their writers are just making stuff up all the time in an indulgent, psychobabble-filled frenzy. Reviews are often rife with the kind of abstruse jargon very few, much less its employers, actually understand. What are the boundaries between allusions and illusions? Does anybody really know what they’re saying? And if not, then who is the art world’s naked emperor? Or is it not a question of who singular, but plural: in failing to challenge fallacies of the highest creative and intellectual order, is the public conscience accommodating them, therein helping to further a facade of complexity with nothingness hiding underneath?

But I digress. My point is that I love how the New Yorker’s editors, for instance, distill shows down into their simplest forms, articulating opinions about exhibitions with concision and authority. Many writers struggle to do as such. Others would prefer crafting longer editorials to demonstrate their skillful prose (though at times with weighty, bloated results). I’ve come to appreciate the succinct paragraph as an art unto itself. So as Fifth Avenue’s Jewish Museum transitions from its summer success– Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist– to this fall’s Take Me (I’m Yours), I’ve decided to defer to the masters. Below you’ll find excerpts from the New Yorker on Burle Marx and E-Fluxx on Take Me (I’m Yours), which I hope will inspire your own consideration of how critics express themselves and give a taste of the two exhibits.

Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist

As Brazil endures a dreadful conjunction of political, economic, and medical crises, the buoyantly optimistic designs of the country’s great landscape architect can seem like an elegy for a place that Stefan Zweig once wrote was condemned to remain “the country of the future.” Burle Marx, who died in 1994, was trained as a painter, and this broad exhibition, capped by a ninety-foot-long tapestry, highlights his omnivorous, cross-media approach: an abstract gouache from 1938, with fluid curves of solid yellow and maroon, supplied the form for a flowing rooftop garden in Rio de Janeiro, then still the capital. (The show underplays Burle Marx’s substantial contributions to the current capital, Brasília, though there is a brilliant planning drawing for the new ministry of the army, all jazzy greenery and syncopated lakes.) In line with the Brazilian artistic theory of antropofagia, or “cannibalism,” Burle Marx fused European modernism with indigenous culture—see his Portuguese azujelo tiles painted with free-form native fish. He also worked outside of Brazil, and those who know only his glorious promenade along Copacabana Beach, with its black-and-white tiled waves, should not neglect his similarly swank landscaping of Miami’s Biscayne Bay. The show takes a wrong turn when it includes lightweight tributes by contemporary artists, such as Nick Mauss’s faïence plaques and Juan Araujo’s appropriations. Burle Marx’s greatest contemporary relevance is that he put his imagination to the public good—an example that should shame the corrupt politicians who have now brought Brazil to its knees.

Unfortunately, the Burle Marx show closed on September 18th. It will be on tour at the Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle and the Museu de Arte do Rio over the next year. Podcast about the exhibition available here.

Take Me (I’m Yours)

Opening September 16th, the Jewish Museum presents Take Me (I’m Yours), a highly unconventional exhibition that encourages visitors to touch, interact with, and even take home works of art by a group of 42 international and intergenerational artists, many of whom are creating new and site-specific works for the exhibition. The exhibition aims to construct a democratic space for all visitors to participate in the creation and ownership of an artwork, thus commenting on the politics of value, consumerism, and hierarchical structures of the art market. Take Me (I’m Yours) encourages shared experiences and direct engagement with works of art, suggesting alternative ways that artists can live in, contribute to, and gain from society at large.

First mounted by curator Hans Ulrich Obrist and artist Christian Boltanksi in 1995 at the Serpentine Gallery, London, Take Me (I’m Yours) featured works by 12 artists that explored concepts of value and participation in the arts. More than 20 years later, Take Me (I’m Yours) at the Jewish Museum features an expanded roster of artists and projects specific to both New York City and an institution of art and Jewish culture, including several from the original exhibition. In addition, the Jewish Museum’s installation marks the first time that Take Me (I’m Yours) is on view in a collecting institution, examining the role of museum collections by giving works away rather than holding them.

The exhibition runs through February 5th. Catch it on a Sunday and you might see me there.

Learn more about the show in this short video:

Rodney McMillian’s Landscape Paintings at MoMA PS1

Above photograph by the author.

I recently attended the month-long Cooper Union summer art intensive where I studied graphic design, drawing from life, and contemporary art issues. I’ll be posting samples of my work shortly, but in the meantime, I wanted to share a response I had written for one of my classes after visiting Rodney McMillian: Landscape Paintings at MoMA PS1. Our assignment was to choose a piece and write about it poetically. I hope I accomplished this task. Unfortunately, the show closed on August 28th, but hopefully the image above and the following description will give you a good sense of my experience.

Out of all the pieces in the exhibition, I elected to write about Site #1, an origin narrative, specifically, for I felt it was far more kinetic and aggressive, emphatic in its blackness, in comparison to McMillian’s other works. I also considered it one of the most successful in conveying the appearance of a landscape, as was the artist’s objective, and thereby worthy of discussion. Standing before it, I think immediately of looking down from a helicopter upon a tattered relic of the past, the scene below transformed or perverted by industrial modernity, but somehow still archaic with its residual organicism. From above, I see flowing wellsprings; if I were closer I could walk the Bible, journeying through a desert of green gingham and leftover paint from construction supply stores. He cunningly employs an aerial view, so familiar an image style it has become contemporary visual currency, in the process of communicating the scene. But McMillian’s portrayal is also effective by way of his thick, goopy brushstrokes and the sense of friction in the work, visible through the juxtaposition of heavy paint with a light, delicate background. Myriad other contrasts overwhelm the piece: as an object, it is filmy and fragile, but from far away, it resembles the aftermath of the BP oil spill with its both inky and rough textures. Secondly, there is this anxiety, an urgency that pervades it– the viewer might get the impression that the work is asking him to decide what to see or what to feel– and yet it is also exacting, dictating, and demanding. There is a certain messiness to the piece, and although how it actually looks may not seduce the eye in its imperfection, its beauty carries through. I especially enjoy the fusion of a cracked marble surface, discernible via a blend of blue and black pigment, with the glossiness of the other layers, garbage bag-like in their stretchy sheen. Almost crunchy, I would say, if not for some lingering plasticity, distinguishing the central mass from tides seeping outwards. Site #1 has this unique synthesis of noir undertones– scratchy, bleak, and matte– with a superficial gleam reminiscent of nail polish and duct tape. Hardness versus malleability. Permanence versus movement. The vibrant aquamarine strands, which give way to the aforementioned fractured veneer, whirl as they ride in waves up an ebony river, rocking to an O’Keefe-ish tune of juvenile sophistication. They are intrepid in exploring expansion beyond the sheet’s confines, though it seems that here the artist eschewed this possibility, opting out of the third dimension exercised in neighboring works that conjure the carpet “sculptures” of Faig Ahmed. There are echoes of Joan Mitchell, Willem de Kooning, and even famous Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas illustrator, Ralph Steadman, in Site #1, which for me is part of its appeal. But it is the slender blueness of the piece, shyly confronting a suffocating barrier of black, that really pushes McMillian’s work out into the spotlight, enabling its transition from blasé obscurity– paralleling so much that has been done already by antecedent mixed-media masters– to importance or at least to being pronounced in its own right. 

The show was also reviewed here by Hyperallergic. Seph Rodney’s article compares the MoMA PS1 exhibit to McMillian’s overlapping Views of Main Street at the Studio Museum in Harlem. While aptly reflecting on the quotidian nature of McMillian’s chosen materials (in addition to the bedsheets, he also plays with furniture), Rodney politicizes the pieces to such a frustratingly self-righteous extent that their aesthetic merits are completely overshadowed.

An Old ‘Strange New Beauty’

Above detail from Three Ballet Dancers, c. 1878-80. Photograph by the author.

Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty is now open at the Museum of Modern Art through July 24th; it is comprised primarily of monotypes created by the prolific artist from the mid-1870’s through the 1890’s. His subjects include bathers, dancers, prostitutes, members of the Parisian bourgeoisie and intelligentsia, and French landscapes. The exhibition, with its somewhat paradoxical title, is absolutely incredible and a must-see, not just because Degas is a master of printmaking, but also because of the intriguing setting for his work. Unlike the Met, the MoMA is not particularly renowned for its Impressionist collection and usually panders to the public with commercialized shows starring Sixties Pop artists and even media celebrities (just google ‘MoMA criticized’ and you’ll find yourself falling down a rabbit hole of articles explaining why writers such as Jerry Saltz are “burning” their museum press passes in the aftermath of the Björk retrospective fiasco). However, with regards to Degas, reviewers have had very few complaints. As I feel I cannot exactly do it justice myself, here are some of my favorite articles about A Strange New Beauty, as covered in the NY Times by Roberta Smith and in the WSJ by Karen Wilkin. I will say that neither journalist succeeds at conveying the bewitching and almost brooding, as well as kinetic nature of the by and large black and white pieces. For that sort of experience, you’ll have to head over to 53rd and 6th.  (more…)

Mola Takes MoMA, pt. II

Above photograph by the author. Depicts a still from one of the artworks.

Museum of Modern Art exhibition Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015 showcases contemporary photography that directly or inadvertently addresses the question of what photography for artistic purposes is in our image-based, post-Internet reality. This show marks the 30th anniversary of the first “New Photography” series, which in 1985 served as a window into the image-making process of one-hundred different international photographers. In a similar vein, eighteen artists and one artist collective participated in Ocean of Images. The displayed works range from quirky to sinister to cerebral to tactile, and while not powerful in the same stirring way that serious fashion and landscape photography can be, they do communicate a sense of youthful exploration and exuberance, as if by experiencing the imagery the viewer is accompanying the photographer on his or her journey behind the lens. (more…)

Mola Takes MoMA, pt. I

Above photograph by the author. Depicts the Museum of Modern Art’s lobby from above.

Yesterday I paid a visit to two exhibitions at the MoMA, the first being Jackson Pollock: a Collection Survey, 1934-1954 and the second Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015, which will be covered in the next installment of this post.

The works in the Pollock show are drawn entirely from the museum’s collection, and span the twenty-odd years during which Pollock was a key figure in the Abstract Expressionist movement and New York art scene. Perhaps the greatest aspect of the exhibition is seeing Pollock’s unmistakable evolution as an artist, from creator of mythic, comic book-style etchings and violent, hypnotic paintings to inventor of the ‘drip’ technique that continues to challenge our understanding of the act of painting. (more…)

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend: Archibald Motley at the Whitney

Archibald Motley‘s works, now showing at the Whitney in Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist, are perhaps the opposite of dark except in content manner. Does this seem counter-intuitive? Actually, what I mean to say is that Motley’s paintings are filled with a seemingly vibrant exuberance that seems to shout as if ordering the viewer to mentally acknowledge right then and there the history of the Harlem Renaissance, or rather that of the Jazz Age entirely, to his or her capacity. I couldn’t stand Motley’s painting style, it felt silly and kitschy and not at all consistent with what the Whitney tends to show, but kudos to the curators for stepping out of their “Postmodern and Contemporary art by white intellectuals or druggies that sells at Christie’s and Gagosian as brand-name or soon to be brand-name” bubble. Back to my previous point: Motley depicts scenes of happiness and joy, intimate gatherings and moments of tender silence, with a certain poignancy and grit that makes the paintings seem so average to the untrained, unaccustomed eye and yet there is something that continued to bother me about them until I eventually figured out what it is: a sense of tragic futility. (more…)

America Is Hard to See at Renzo Piano’s Downtown Whitney

So much has been said already about the new Whitney Museum of American Art, most of it in praise of Renzo Piano’s architectural design, gloriously refreshing and Instagrammable with its massive white walls and illuminating natural light. And time and time again people remark on the seamless gestalt of the works, conceived or created, presumably, by Donna De Salvo and Adam Weinberg, chief curator and director, respectively, as they designed the building’s inaugural exhibition, America is Hard to See (by the way, with regards to the show’s name, am I the only one who thinks they’re stating the obvious? Is it supposed to be ironic or satirical?). What all this really tells us is that, as you move from floor to floor, the show doesn’t flow as awkwardly as it could given the disparity of the works. They did okay– perhaps even well, some would add– for a very ambitious chronological presentation of the evolution of 20th and 21st century American art. (more…)