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:

Artist of the Month: Sally Mann

Artist of the Month (September)

Sally Mann
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Copyright unknown (appropriated from Artsy, 2016).

I know what you’re thinking. Another MolaPola feature on a black-and-white photographer whose heyday was two decades ago. The thing is, I’m enamored with Sally Mann’s work. I couldn’t put off covering it, especially now, when the youthful, brooding, exciting, and sinister qualities of her pieces are actualized in my own life as summer fades to fall. There is so much to love about how Mann captures perfectly the prolonged complexity of female adolescence. Her monochromatic vignettes of the pre-teen years– shadowy, mysterious, glowing, and ethereal (I could go on)– resonate with me even as I near adulthood. The work above has this carefree joy unique to ages eleven, twelve, and thirteen as the lighthearted, love-the-world insouciance evident in the photograph slowly devolves into the hard-edged cynicism and anxieties of high school and onwards. Even when I was younger, I was never truly happy-go-lucky, nonchalant, or easygoing. I was always an introvert, deeply troubled by what I saw around me, forever shy and reserved. I’m still that way. And Mann also embraces this character (see Ponder Heart and Katie and Painting); her work attests that there are more of us serious types out there than one tends to think. But I idolize the girl in Untitled. Never being “chill” myself, I have great respect for her ideals; her freedom and mellow sensibilities remind me of a favorite 1969 Pippi Longstocking film. It is hard today to echo her relaxed comportment; other burdens tug at me, requiring my attention. I strive to embody her airy grace. Welcome, September.

Here is Mann’s bio, courtesy of Artsy, for your enjoyment–

While photographs of poignant Southern landscapes and historic architecture earned Sally Mann initial accolades, it was her portraits of girls captured in the ephemeral moment between childhood innocence and womanly sophistication that solidified her reputation as provocateur. At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women (1988) emerged out of intimate, black-and-white photographs of her own young children, often nude, going about their daily lives—eating, sleeping, and playing. Besides eliciting controversy over her sexually charged images of children, Mann is noted for using large-format cameras—sometimes with damaged lenses that admit light leaks and imperfections—to reveal the uncanny beauty in her subjects, be they decomposing corpses, Civil War battlefields, or her own family. More recently, she has revisited the 19th-century process of wet collodion on glass plates, which captures fine details, but requires exposing and developing the film within 15 minutes. Limited control over the process leads to what Mann describes as “happy accidents” in her work.

Here are some lovely articles about Mann. Plus, read about these 20 young female artists pushing figurative painting forward.

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.

Personal Reflections on Charles Demuth’s “My Egypt”

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My Egypt (1927), from the Whitney Museum of American Art. Copyright Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 2016.

Charles Demuth’s My Egypt is one of the works that attracts little or less attention in the Whitney‘s Portraits show. Hidden in a small and crowded corner of the seventh floor, the piece depicts a “steel and concrete grain elevator belonging to John W. Eshelman & Sons,” in the artist’s hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, according to the wall text. It would not be truthful to say that I fell in love with it at first sight; my affection for My Egypt is founded primarily on a simple fact: Demuth painted the work in sickness, bedridden with diabetes and near the end of his life, looking out towards death with a certain resigned pride and introspective contemplation.   (more…)

Artist of the Month: Robert Mapplethorpe

Artist of the Month (August)

Robert Mapplethorpe

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Patty Smith (1975), from the Whitney Museum of American Art and now featured in the show Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection. Copyright belongs to the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation 2016.

According to the wall text besides the above diptych by Mapplethorpe of his longtime friend, muse, and onetime lover, Patty Smith

… [These photographs are of] a moment shortly before the two artists rose from relative obscurity and poverty to international acclaim, a period documented in Smith’s 2010 memoir, Just Kids. The image on the right served as the cover of Horses, her debut album. Recalling the shoot, Smith has said, “The only rule we had was, Robert told me if I wore a white shirt, not to wear a dirty one… I got my favorite ribbon and my favorite jacket, and he took about twelve pictures. By the eighth one, he said, ‘I got it.’”

I spent some time with the work not only because I was aware that Mapplethorpe is having a moment (in addition to being heavily represented in the Whitney show, he is also the subject of concurrent retrospectives at the Getty and the LACMA this summer), but because I was drawn to the honesty of his monochromatic photograph. It recalls the recent Intimisms show at James Cohan Gallery by inviting the viewer into Mapplethorpe and Smith’s private orbit. He captured a delicate androgyny, a combination of confidence and vulnerability, that betrays their closeness. I also found his experimentation with proportions compelling. On the left side of the image, Smith is at the bottom, her figure cut off almost awkwardly. The camera follows the diagonal of a triangular shadow upwards so that on the right, she is front and center, rendering each half surprisingly balanced.

The organic sensuality of Mapplethorpe’s pieces never ceases to wonder me. Even the most artificially arranged of his photographs, such as Ken Moody (1984), seem to be instinctively carnal but subliminally human: they are natural, feeling, and passionately corporeal. This is even the case with pictures of plants.

Here is his bio, courtesy of Artsy (please excuse the redundancy)–

In the 1970s, Robert Mapplethorpe and musician, poet, and artist Patti Smith lived together in New York’s infamous Chelsea Hotel where he started shooting Polaroids to use in his collages. Drawn to photography, Mapplethorpe got a Hasselblad medium-format camera and began taking pictures of his friends and acquaintances—artists, musicians, socialites, pornographic film stars, and members of the gay S & M underground. Despite his shocking content, Mapplethorpe was a formalist, interested in composition, color, texture, balance, and, most of all, beauty. In the 1980s, he concentrated on studio photography, specifically nudes, flowers, and formal portraits that are considerably more refined than his earlier work. After Mapplethorpe died from an AIDS-related illness, his work precipitated national controversy when it was included in The Perfect Moment, a traveling exhibition funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Human Interest finishes in February of 2017. If you are able to get there, I highly recommend attending.

And for more Mapplethorpe, check out Artsy’s resource page on the artist, available here.

Artist of the Month: Alice Neel

Artist of the Month (July)

Alice Neel
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Detail from Andy Warhol (1970), from the Whitney Museum of American Art and now featured in the show Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection. Copyright belongs to the Artist and the Artist’s Estate 2016.

I recently saw the above portrait of Andy Warhol by Neel at the Whitney and felt overwhelmed and inspired. Alice Neel is renowned for her raw, minimalistic works that express the essence of her subjects’ characters in an intimate and truthful fashion. Like her contemporary (albeit of another medium) Diane Arbus, Neel seems to have gotten otherwise private individuals to open up to her and in the process, confront themselves and their inherent humanity through her depictions of them. At least that’s certainly the case in this particular piece, as best encapsulated or indicated by the accompanying wall text–

Dubbed by an art critic a “collector of souls,” Alice Neel portrayed an extraordinary variety of sitters, from the anonymous to the highly recognizable, as in this portrait of the renowned Pop artist Andy Warhol. Here, Neel captures the vulnerability of an artist whose work and public persona were famous for their cool detachment. When in public, Warhol typically cloaked himself in a variety of guises—wigs, makeup, sunglasses, and a practiced air of disinterestedness. He once remarked, “Nudity is a threat to my existence.” Neel painted the Pop artist provocateur with his eyes closed and shirt removed, exposing his pale, scarred torso and the supportive corset he was forced to wear after being shot in 1968 by Valerie Solanas, a former member of his studio entourage. The canvas is limited to cool hues, such as a swatch of light blue surrounding Warhol’s head and upper body, whose fragile, androgynous contours are outlined in Neel’s signature aquamarine pigment. The background is spare, with only the outline of a couch, thereby emphasizing what she described as the picture’s “hypersensitive economy.” Depicting Warhol as isolated, wounded, and withdrawn, Neel shows us an unexpected, and perhaps more profound, side of her fellow artist.

So many aspects of that description and the work itself resonated with me, specifically the focus on Andy’s physical suffering and the near sense of resignation and acceptance that is visible across his face and being; it is part of what renders her study intensely poignant and memorable.

Another one of Neel’s more famous paintings is this sensational piece, which is prominently featured in the Met Breuer’s oft-referenced UnfinishedI keep promising a review, so hopefully I’ll have a chance to get to that shortly. For now, check this out.

And while I’m at it, below you’ll find Neel’s short bio, courtesy of Artsy.

Alice Neel, one of the great portraitists of the 20th century, made starkly honest paintings of relatives, lovers, friends, and neighbors. A successor to the expressionism of Chaim Soutine, Edward Munch, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Neel used distorted drawing and invented color to reveal the character beneath each sitter’s physical appearance. Neel worked in obscurity for most of her career, painting a range of locals from salesmen to the homeless, but during the last two decades of her life, she finally gained recognition, receiving many honors and awards. Her later paintings include portraits of celebrity artists like Andy Warhol (as we just discussed) and Marisol, as well notable people such as Mayor Ed Koch and Bella Abzug.

For more on Neel, this article is another excellent start, and I would also recommend watching a documentary about her, created posthumously by a relative and which can be found here.

Artist of the Month: Kay Sage

Artist of the Month (June)

Kay Sage

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Tomorrow is Never (1955), from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Copyright Artists Rights Society (ARS) of New York 2016.

Bio of Sage (by Alexis Corral in this Artsy article about obscure female Surrealists) below:

The evocative Surrealism of Kay Sage—which recalls Giorgio de Chirico’s shadowy landscapes and stark buildings, and her husband Yves Tanguy’s spheric forms in desolate spaces—was tremendously influential in the United States in the 1930s. Sage spent her childhood in Europe and New York, and later integrated herself into the Parisian Surrealist boys club, where she met Tanguy in 1939. Once she developed her mature style, featuring strong architectural forms and precise horizon lines, Sage routinely exhibited in New York and Europe throughout the 1940s and ’50s. She tragically began losing her eyesight in the mid-1950s, but went on to write four volumes of poetry and the beginnings of a memoir.

I recently saw Tomorrow is Never in the Lila Acheson Wallace Wing of the Met. The profound and tragic beauty of the work deeply resonated with me and spurred me to discover more about Sage. According to the wall text, she painted this work after a five-month hiatus following the sudden death of her husband and it symbolizes the poignant sense of entrapment and dislocation experienced by Sage prior to her 1963 suicide. Though the piece has a somber, graying tone, it feels transcendental, calm; the stillness is palpable. The painting’s moroseness renders Tomorrow is Never ethereal, transcendental, and utterly memorable. Despite the impending summer season, with light and joy abound, I thought referencing Sage would help anchor my own inner thoughts and appreciation for her art in tangibility.

Artist of the Month: Kay Sage

Artist of the Month (June)

Kay Sage

DT212135.jpg

Tomorrow is Never (1955), from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Copyright Artists Rights Society (ARS) of New York 2016.

Bio of Sage (by Alexis Corral in this Artsy article about obscure female Surrealists) below:

The evocative Surrealism of Kay Sage—which recalls Giorgio de Chirico’s shadowy landscapes and stark buildings, and her husband Yves Tanguy’s spheric forms in desolate spaces—was tremendously influential in the United States in the 1930s. Sage spent her childhood in Europe and New York, and later integrated herself into the Parisian Surrealist boys club, where she met Tanguy in 1939. Once she developed her mature style, featuring strong architectural forms and precise horizon lines, Sage routinely exhibited in New York and Europe throughout the 1940s and ’50s. She tragically began losing her eyesight in the mid-1950s, but went on to write four volumes of poetry and the beginnings of a memoir.

I recently saw Tomorrow is Never in the Lila Acheson Wallace Wing of the Met. The profound and tragic beauty of the work deeply resonated with me and spurred me to discover more about Sage. According to the wall text, she painted this work after a five-month hiatus following the sudden death of her husband and it symbolizes the poignant sense of entrapment and dislocation experienced by Sage prior to her 1963 suicide. Though the piece has a somber, graying tone, it feels calm; the stillness is palpable. The painting’s moroseness renders Tomorrow is Never ethereal, transcendental, and utterly memorable. Despite the impending summer season, with light and joy abound, I thought referencing Sage would help anchor my own inner thoughts and appreciation for her art in tangibility.

Spotlight: Art World Videos

 

Above video by the author. Depicts Clock Prototype, A Million Times, 288 H (2013) by Humans Since 1982, now at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum.

In a recent post, we explored the various publications from whom I receive articles about art, via email, on a daily basis. Now I’d like to talk about informational videos, as there is a slew of creative content on the internet that is worth the watch.

First up, the new “Art Market in Four Parts” series by Artsy, which attempts to clarify through documentary footage and interviews how the art world functions. Episode 1 centers on Auctions, episode 2 on Galleries, episode 3 on Patrons, and episode 4, which will be released on June 13th, examines Art Fairs. Though they move quickly, each installment is thoughtful, satisfyingly straightforward, and generally fun. Another publication, the New York Times Magazine, concentrates on studio visits and installations in its own ‘Art&Design‘ videos. ArtNet News has some, too.

Then there’s the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Artist Project, which I previously mentioned  being a really wonderful resource and way of becoming familiar with both a remarkable collection and talented artists of today– some are big names, others less well-known, but all have something meaningful to share. There’s also The Met Collects programs and research symposiums that can be found online through MetMedia. Other institutions offer similar opportunities and most of their videos are short: MoMA has an amazing YouTube channel, as does the Guggenheim (includes features in Spanish and ASL)  and the Tate Modern in England.

The aforementioned Art21, which, paraphrasing from its website, “has established itself as the preeminent chronicler of contemporary art and artists through its Peabody Award-winning, PBS-broadcast television show, Art in the Twenty-First Century,” is another one of my favorites.

Next week I’ll hopefully have the chance to recommend some art-themed podcasts! In the meantime, follow me on twitter (@molapola).

Artist of the Month: Winslow Homer

Artist of the Month (May)

Winslow Homer

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The Cotton Pickers (1876) from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art collection. Copyright LACMA Museum Associates 2011.

Bio of Homer (by Artsy) below:

Winslow Homer is one of the best known painters of American scenes of outdoor life. After an apprenticeship in lithography, Homer began his career as an illustrator for Harper’s, drawing scenes of the Civil War battlefront. After the war, he traveled to Europe and then spent the summer of 1873 in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he began to work in watercolor—what would eventually became his primary medium. Homer’s outdoor genre scenes painted a varied picture of Americana, from scenes of wilderness guides, to rural African American life in the post-Civil War era, to children at play. In 1881, he spent almost two years on the English coast depicting simple scenes of the local communities. As his career evolved, Homer turned more and more to the sea, and a move to a secluded spot in coastal Maine prompted the eternal struggle between man and nature to become a prominent theme in his work.

Any college art history textbook will tell you that Homer is internationally recognized as an iconic American artist. And the pastoral yet powerful aspects of his work seem to render it perfectly suited for the not yet spring-ish tone of the month. I am a huge fan of The Cotton Pickers, which is featured above. This piece of his can be viewed now on the first floor of the Met Breuer exhibition entitled Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, continuing through September 4th. Stay tuned for a review of Unfinished and feel free to comment below with questions and/or ideas.