Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Jerry Saltz meeting with MoMA’s Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture, Ann Temkin.

One of my favorite writers, Jerry Saltz, has been using Facebook to have discussions about various art topics. Unfortunately he has reached the limit of "Friends" Facebook will allow (an amazing 5000!) so, if you haven't already signed up, you won't be able to participate. However, it's not too late to sign on to Jerry Saltz Facebook Group, "Seeing Out Loud" at: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=92786967230&ref=ts.

I thought Saltz's latest note is important enough to share with people who aren't his Facebook "Friends." (Am I alone in thinking it obnoxious for Facebook to refer to members as "Friends?"

Jerry Saltz
June 29, 2009

Last week I met with MoMA’s Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture, Ann Temkin. We talked about the two week discussion (that took place on my Facebook Page) about the lack of representation of women artists on the fourth and fifth floors of the museum’s permanent collection (of work completed before 1970). Of the 135 artists installed on these floors only 19 are women, 6%. Temkin asked that this meeting be “off the record” but agreed that I would report on its perimeters and my impressions.

The meeting was cordial, relaxed, open, and serious. It began at 5:00PM and lasted a little under 90 minutes. It took place midweek at a bar in a midtown restaurant. I didn’t take notes on, or record the conversation. The restaurant was almost empty when we started; it was almost full when we left.

At no time was Temkin defensive, dismissive, or in the least hostile. She agreed with some points and was not shy about disagreeing with others. As I wrote many times in my FB posts, Temkin confirmed that she and every person at MoMA, from the Director on down, are well aware of the problem of the lack of representation by women artists on these floors. She stated at the outset that the museum is committed and determined to rectify this.

Temkin then took major issue with the focus and reasoning of my main argument about female representation at MoMA. She stated that concentrating only on the fourth and fifth floors of Painting & Sculpture, perpetuated and reinforced a flawed stereotype and prejudice about the history of modern art. Excluding drawing, design, printmaking, photography, etc. (areas where women are represented and made great contributions) reinforces an outmoded and strictly “masculinist” approach to art by privileging painting and sculpture.

At first as she said this my heart sank. Of course she’s right. I answered that it is MoMA above all art institutions that reinforces and maintains this separation between the disciplines. Although it is growing more common to see mediums being mixed at MoMA (August Sander now hangs in the gallery in P & S devoted to the German Neue Sachlichkeit), MoMA established and still exhibits the disciplines more-or-less separately and not equally. There is far more square footage situated far more centrally and prominently for P & S than any of the other disciplines. I said it would be fantastic to see the collapse of MoMA’s artificial barriers between the disciplines (“MoMA tear down this wall!”), but suspected that this wouldn’t be in the cards any time soon. In addition, MoMA’s collection of painting and sculpture is preeminent; it is unsurpassed anywhere in the world. Therefore it is on these two crucial floors that the so-called “official story” of Modernism is represented. This is MoMA’s boon and its bane.

This brought us back to the main issue. Temkin stated that work by women artists has been rotated into the collection over the course of the last two years, and that the FB protestors and I were not taking this into account. I acknowledged this but said that even with these substitutions and changes the percentage of women artists on these floors did not rise, and that these adjustments weren’t enough. (If you count the works of art, rather than artists, the figure drops to four percent women.) Temkin then said that talking about the collection primarily in terms of numbers obscures larger important changes. She cited the current installation of a Louise Bourgeois sculpture at the entrance of the fourth floor. The Bourgeois sculpture is being given pride-of-place, the space on this floor that Cezanne has long enjoyed on the fifth floor. Bourgeois is being presented as a touchstone figure. I conceded that it was true that by only counting the number of women artists does not reflect structural changes. Still, this didn’t seem like a solution.

I stated that the problem behind the problem of the lack of women on these floors is the 875 million dollar (almost criminal) failure on the part of those who built the new museum to provide enough space for this crucial portion of the institution (let alone other departments). Until the space can be substantially increased the museum is in a terrible double bind: It has to display its extraordinary collection and at the same time allow modernism to live, and not calcify in a masterpiece-by-masterpiece
installation of 94% male artists. With the economy the way it is, moreover, it’s unlikely we’ll see new space built within the next decade (the same day we met a community board reinforced its objections to MoMA’s future building plans). This puts even more pressure on the museum, now.

What to do? Temkin talked convincingly about how important it was to change the perception of these two floors, away from being seen as permanent to fluid installations of reappraisal and experimentation. She said that unlike all the previous decades the museum intends to alter these two floors on a more regular basis. Even “important work” might temporarily be de-installed. This would open up the story, expand it, and allow the focus of the collection to continually shift. Temkin suggested that whole rooms could be dismantled and all new work put on view. When I asked for an example she talked about de-installing the monographic gallery of Joseph Beuys and replacing it with a gallery devoted to late-1960s artists Beuys, Bruce Nauman, and Eva Hesse.

MoMA desperately needs this to play with its collection. However, Temkin’s example perpetuates yet another problem plaguing MoMA. Beuys, Nauman, and Hesse are all bona fide top-dogs; the A-list as art history. I love them all but curators have to take more chances and not just default to the same artists. Other artists were working at extremely high levels in the late 1960s. It would be amazing to see that MoMA gallery with any combination of H.C. Westermann, Jay De Feo, Jess, Yvonne Rainer, Benny Andrews, Dorothy Iannone, Jim Nutt, Bruce Conner, Vija Celmins, Barclay Hendricks, Adrian Piper, Ken Price, or Martin Ramirez. And let’s not forget that Picasso was one of the best artists of the 1960s (or that Henry Darger was in the process of working on his epic masterpiece). MoMA could hang an entire floor with only the late work of artists. This would show that art is about 30-year careers not just 30-month careers.

This brought us to what for me was an emotional turning point in the conversation. We began talking about so-called “institutional time.” I said that institutional time, as she described it, was “glacial” and “too slow” to address the serious problems plaguing MoMA. Temkin talked about how every change at MoMA has implications and repercussions and that over time even small changes and minor adjustments make significant differences. “Art is long” she seemed to say. My reaction was that, time is short. I said that I believed that if enough isn’t done soon, the changes MoMA is talking about will come about when MoMA and Modernism have come to be seen as retrograde and the museum is seen as stuck in the mud.

I then brought up the possibility of a much larger change, the re-installation of the entire fourth floor. Temkin said that she has been seriously studying this for some time. She is considering having the entire floor devoted to one stylistic post-war period. This seemed hopeful. Then she added that this sort of plan could be implemented in three or four years. I complained, “Why not sooner?” After hearing her thoughts about considerations having to do with loans, schedules, restorations, etc., I said again that while I thought that revamping whole floors was a fantastic idea, the time was now.

We looked at each for a while, then at our watches. We left the bar and shared a cab uptown. We talked about summer plans and recent travels. We got out and said a friendly goodbye.

As I opened my umbrella and walked away I thought about how extraordinary this meeting was. Past MoMA curators of Painting and Sculpture would never have met with a critic who started a kerfuffle on Facebook (or anywhere else). I thought about how absolutely open and aware Temkin was of the situation. Then I thought about how she sees her responsibility as opposed to the way I see it. She is trying to do the best for MoMA, its history, audiences, and art. She is taking a long view. I value these things. I love MoMA. But I also see the situation as dire and deteriorating. And we had barely even discussed the thing that got all of this started; how to dramatically raise the percentage of women artists exhibited on these tow floors and not have it be about tokenism or quotas. To me, MoMA is becoming like a madman who thinks he is King; it is telling a story that by now only it believes.

As I walked through the rain I thought about how much I admired Temkin but that the problems at MoMA are so vast and inter-connected that if any change is to come it will likely come slowly, by piecemeal, and incrementally. The irreparable space limitation, a mindset still guided my mediums, the problem of exhibiting mainly well-know names, the issue of having so few women; each of these is gigantic in itself. Each will take time and effort to correct. When I think about how this museum built too small during the richest period in the history of the world I grow furious and morose.

As the rain started coming down harder I realized that despite Temkin’s valiant efforts, and the museum’s dedication to alter its course, that we can no longer look to institutions like this for change. Institutions have different responsibilities, mindsets, priorities, pocketbooks, histories, and internal clocks. They’re big, slow, and institutional. Change is going to have to come from all over and be done by everyone.

This is already beginning to happen. Locally, so many New York galleries have been doing such a tremendous job over the last decade (ditto out of town museums). The same day I met with Temkin I saw a wonderful show at Casey Kaplan Gallery in Chelsea about Russian-Georgian Modernism. A young Swiss curator, unable to get this work out of Georgia, mounted a show of catalogs, reproductions, Xeroxes, texts, and films. There was fantastic art by artists I’d never heard of, artists who it would be spectacular to see integrated into MoMA’s installation. At Kaplan (more than at MoMA) modernism breathed anew. The same thing happened this season when mega-mogul/puppet-master Larry Gagosian mounted two tremendous historical shows; one of late Picasso (that attracted over 100,000 people!), the other, a sprawling survey of Piero Manzoni. Carol Greene, Gavin Brown, Guild & Greyshkul, Matthew Marks, Barbara Gladstone, 303, Paula Cooper, and many other gallerists have done the same. The depth of the pockets is all very different between these galleries but the results have been thrilling.

In the meantime a new generation of a museum-going public and artists may be about to not see art they might otherwise benefit from. As MoMA tries to adjust all of its other problems it’s unclear how the woman issue will play out. As long as this is the case, as long as half the story is not told, more people will turn away from MoMA or see it merely as suffocating. I believe this is already beginning to happen. Artist Cheryl Donegan recently remarked, “Modernism should not be seen as Biblical; it should be seen as Talmudic.” Meaning the bible is static. Talmudic tradition (which is more Wikipedia than Encyclopedia) involves thousands of people making comments in the margins, debating issues and ideas, shaping tradition, changing it, and keeping it alive.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dancing with the Devil

Lynne Cheney, wife of former (thank God) Vice President Dick Cheney,
National Endowment for the Arts chair in the mid-1980's
Most of the art community has been thrilled about the Obama administration increasing NEA funding from $145 million to $161 million and appointing Broadway impresario Rocco Landesman as chairman. Some thought it isn’t enough. The always insightful critic for the LA Times, Christopher Knight, wrote “I was frankly embarrassed by the arts community’s ecstatic recent response to a $50-million temporary bump in the NEA’s budget ... Politeness is one thing, but crumbs are crumbs.”

I have mixed feelings about government support for the arts. I think it’s a good thing for government, and thereby society, to give legitimacy to the arts -- to acknowledge they are worthy of support. And I have personally gained from NEA and NJSCA grants -- always nice. But it’s important to remember that government and the arts have different agendas, and they frequently conflict with each other.

Charles Garabedian, a friend from my Los Angeles days, and someone I believe to be one of the most vital living artists, once told me that artists are the last of the rear guard -- we’re some of the only ones left who believe quality is the most important thing. Government, on the other hand, has pressure to be democratic, to be accessible, middlebrow, conventional, mainstream, inoffensive; whereas art can be challenging, difficult, outrageous and obscure and thereby seen to be elitist. Government has an interest in supporting the status quo and the powerful, hence most support will inevitably go the large institutions and certainly not to controversial or even difficult or obscure art. Of course there are governments and periods that are more or less enlightened and brave, but this is the general tendency.

Check out the 2009 NEA grants to the visual arts to see how cautious the NEA has become. If it was just a matter of the government not funding cutting-edge art it wouldn’t be so bad. Artists (and art galleries) have other means of support, however limited, and anyway, artists have always found a way to continue making their art without government support. But museums are another matter. After the Corcoran Gallery came under attack and cancelled a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition in 1989 because it was mildly controversial, and after Giuliani threatened the funding of the Brooklyn Museum over its 1999 “Sensation” exhibition, and after many similar “culture wars,” one wonders how much self-censorship is taking place in order for museums to keep their funding. Worse, museums are watering down their programs in an attempt to be more popular and “accessible.” The Dallas Museum had belly-dancing demonstrations during a recent King Tut exhibition for God sake. It sounds fun and democratic and all, but what has that to do with the art? It’s not like belly-dancing offered an insight into Egyptian art of that period; it was just to attract people to the museum.

The government wants quantity for their funding, not necessarily quality. In the early seventies in Los Angeles, when I was just emerging as an artist, I was invited to a docents “New Talent Awards” ceremony that made a profound impression on me. Maurice Tuchman, then curator of modern art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a smart guy who curated some major exhibitions -- someone who should have known better -- was giving out the awards in the back yard of a beautiful house in Beverly Hills. Tuchman, a Freddie Prinze look-alike, kept calling this a “gala affair,” and he introduced the artists like they were art stars, the docents gushing over them. Alex Smith snuck out, and the rest of the award winners stood cringing with humiliation. I realized then that whatever meaning the work had, however tough it was was, in the eyes of these bright and sincere docents, the meaning would be vitiated into something cool or trendy or, ech -- gala.

Closer to the here and now is the example of the Jersey City studio tour. For most of its history it was artist-run, and artists had an interest in keeping the quality high: they want to be seen in a professional context with other good artists, and people who might be interested in buying art won’t come if there’s not a large proportion of good art to see. Over the years, probably because of volunteer artists burning out, the government took over. The city had an interest in being popular and “democratic,” which in this context meant letting in hobbyists, children’s art, clowns with balloons, etc. And, in Jersey City, it also meant a lot of political advertising for the mayor. All understandable, even fun and righteous perhaps, but not the same thing as a professional artists studio tour.

I don’t begrudge anyone or any institution getting government support, but if they’re going to dance with the devil, I hope they keep their distance.
You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight? From Batman, 1989

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Spring Gallery Wrap-up

There have been surprisingly few galleries closing in the LES and Williamsburg. I asked several dealers why, and they guessed that most of the galleries have a relatively small nut and have always depended on other things besides art sales to survive. More galleries closed in Chelsea, but there are a lot more of them to begin with. So I don’t really know why there hasn’t been a gallery massacre. I suppose the true test will be how many re-open in the Fall.

The other surprising thing is how many group shows there are now. Usually group shows take place in languid days of July when dealers let their director or assistant director curate a show, or the galleries test the market for artists they’re thinking of representing. Why there are so many now -- and so many really good ones -- I can’t explain. It can’t be the money because group shows hardly ever do as well as solo shows; and most of the time dealers have to split commissions on the work they do sell. It’s okay with me because I love summer group shows. I get a chance to see new artists and sometimes get a clue to future trends.

The Lower East Side:

The Smith-Stewart (53 Stanton Street) website says: Smith-Stewart will be closed for an extended summer (May 1-Aug. 31) and will re-open in a new space in September. Stay tuned.... but the gallery, according to its neighbors, is closed. On the other hand, after a long build-out, Michali Fine Art (45 Orchard Street) finally opened. Not a good trade-off I’m afraid. Judging from the bad lighting, chaotic installations, awkward space and general ineptness, Michali Fine Arts is a pretty amateurish operation. And, finally, Museum 52 moved to the other side of Houston, to 2 E. 2nd Street (and Bowery). I haven’t had a chance to check out the new space because it’s a bit out of the way, but more galleries are moving north of Houston (Zurcher Studio a few months ago).

Guild & Greyshkul (28 Wooster Street ), founded by three enthusiastic young artists, Anya Kielar, Sara VanDerBeek, and Johannes VanDerBeek in September 2003, was the biggest loss.

Unica Zurn, untitled drawing, 1965 (from Drawing Center website,
Courtesy of Succession Zürn, Berlin. © Brinkman & Bose Publisher, Berlin)

Nevertheless, some really good shows are currently in SoHo. One of them is at The Drawing Center 35 Wooster Street). It's a major show of disturbing drawings by Unica Zurn done from the 1950’s until her suicide in 1970. She is known mainly as a writer associated with the Surrealists who suffered from a series of mental crises. The work is sometimes too painful to bear. Another good show is “Black & White Works,” Ronald Feldman (31 Mercer Street). This puts together work by thirty artists associated with the gallery since it was founded in 1971. And an impressive group it is, among them: Eleanor Antin, Joseph Beuys, Chris Burden, Leon Golub, Komar & Melamid, Roxy Paine, Andy Warhol and Hannah Wilke.

The main closings I’m aware of are: Bellwether (134 Tenth Ave.), and Cohan & Leslie (138 10th Ave), both on the same unlucky block; and the Charles Cowles Gallery (537 W. 24th). There are probably more, and there certainly are plenty of rumors (see: http://howsmydealing.blogspot.com/). But even if I’m missing a few, that’s not bad considering how many galleries are in Chelsea now.

Sadder for me is the closing of two of my favorite gallery shows of the year: “Pablo Picasso Mosqueteros” at Gagosian (of course!) and Sophie Calle at Paula Cooper, practically next door to each other.

I came up with a great new routine for beginning a Chelsea gallery tour. I first check out Sperone Westwater (415 W. 13th), then have some great coffee (maybe with a little something) at Ninth Street Espresso in the Chelsea Market (it's near the middle of the market), then get on the beginning of the High Line and walk to the end at 20th Street. I might back-track a block or two to pick up a few galleries, but Chelsea pretty much begins at 20th Street. I guess it can be done in reverse, ending in the Meatpacking district, but I’ll want more than coffee at the end of a day in Chelsea!

57th Street:

Lary Rivers, Frank O'Hara II, 1954 (from the Tibor De Nagy website)

The biggest surprise for me was how many great shows are here currently. With about 40 galleries in the LES and more than 300 in Chelsea, I tend to forget about 57th Street. Big mistake! Tibor De Nagy (724 Fifth Ave. at 57th) has a museum-quality exhibition of Larry Rivers paintings from the 1950’s and early 60’s. I’m no fan of Rivers, but I forgot how strong that early work is. I think he had his head turned by Pop Art, and, as a result, his work took on an off-putting commercial illustrator tone. But this work has all the raw painterliness of late Abstract Expressionism without the tired mannerism of 10th Street Painting. It’ll be up until July 31st, and this show alone is worth the trip -- but there’s a lot more. In the same building is “Trees” at D. C. Moore -- thirty artists, spanning 150 years of interpretations of trees. Especially interesting was an early small painting by Alex Katz (I tend to prefer his small work which ironically I find more energetic than his big paintings), a 1964 Fairfeild Porter, and a knock-out large watercolor by Charles Burchfield.

Marian Goodman (24 West 57th) is showing Yang Fudong’s hard-to-take video of wild dogs fighting for survival, and a visual assault of an installation in their front gallery. Yang Fudong is apparently one of China’s best known young artists, and, as unpleasant as this experience was, it’s powerful stuff. In the same building, by way of relief, is “Abstract Expressionism: Further Evidence” at Michael Rosenfeld (24 W. 57th) which has, among other major works, four large paintings from the 1950’s by Milton Resnick, Joan Mitchell, Hans Hoffman and Jack Tworkov.

Hans Hoffman, 1953 (from the website of the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery)

The matriarch of art galleries, Washburn (20 W. 57th) has new work by Jack Youngerman, but the really interesting stuff is photos by Diane Arbus in the back gallery. In the same building, the Franklin Parrasch Gallery is showing paintings and drawings by Joe Goode, sans milk bottles, from the 1960’s and 70’s.

The Fuller building was a disappointment, but across the street, Pace (32 E. 57th) has a show of Tim Hawkinson. I loved his huge shows at Ace Gallery and the Whitney, and I liked this show too, but I think his droll act is starting to wear a bit thin.

Madison Avenue:
I’m afraid I’ve been negligent here. I missed what was probably a great show of Alice Neel’s nudes of the 1930’s at Zwirner & Wirth (32 E. 69th), but I saw John Chamberlain’s early work at L & M Arts (45 E. 78th). The car parts sculptures were no big deal (seen one...), but they have a few of his foam rubber pieces, and those really pushed the boundary of sculpture.

And the omnipresent Gagosian had an unpublicized, offhand show of figurative work by the likes of Marcel Duchamp, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Gerhard Richter and Andy Warhol. Gago is such a show-off!

Only two galleries closed, or appear to have closed, but TWO galleries opened! Slate Gallery (136 Wythe) and Black and White Gallery (483 Driggs) don’t have current shows, and unless they’re on some kind of hiatus (it happens!), they’re gone. There was a rumor that Black and White was going to share a space with Bellwether, but Bellwether is definitely out of business; and there's another rumor that they are going non-profit -- but don’t they all say that? Let’s hope for the best because they are both really good galleries.

The two new galleries are Gita Rosa (19 Hope Street) and Fleetwing Gallery (111 Grand Street). Actually Gita Rosa is re-opening -- they were on hiatus for a few months traveling (see -- it happens). Fleetwing is new, however, and there may be others -- I haven’t really done extensive research.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Public Art in the PAD

I was walking back through the heart of the "arts district" after a conversation with the owners of the new JA Project gallery on Marin, when I came upon this peculiar installation of public art. You see garbage-filled evidence of lazy shoppers? I see a wry comment about condo-induced creative blight. Too bad it's just reality.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Jersey City's Railway Preservation Project

(Click on a photo to enlarge it)
The Harsimus Stem Embankment, Sixth Street and Monmouth in Downtown Jersey City. It once carried seven tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad to the Hudson River Waterfront.

* Jersey City has a railway preservation project of its own, however one different in many ways from the High Line. Unlike the 1930‘s Deco steel framework of the High Line, the Embankment was built at the turn of the century and is a massive segmented stone structure. The extant Embankment is three times wider than the High Line (100 feet to 30 feet), but one third as long (1/2 mile as opposed to 1-1/2 miles). Since it runs through National Historic Districts in Downtown Jersey City, it won't have new buildings rising up along it, though there may be new construction at each end.

From the Embankment website: the top of the Embankment,
6th Street Between Erie Street & Jersey Avenue.

In September, 2004, the Jersey City Municipal Council unanimously passed an ordinance enabling the taking of the Embankment by eminent domain for a passive park and greenway. This action followed six years of effort by the Embankment Preservation Coalition to promote preservation, development of the top as nature habitat and passive park, creation of a tree-lined, lighted walkway along its base, and use of the park as a segment of the East Coast Greenway,
a 3000-mile walking and bicycling trail from Maine to Florida. The Embankment, at least until light rail is implemented, will be wilder and more secluded than the High Line, with much area reserved for natural habitat. (See below for a conceptual rendering taken from the Embankment website).

Entrance to Embankment Park at Luiz Munoz Boulevard
Cassandra Wilday Landscape Architects
604 Bloomfield Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030
201-714-4853 or cassandra.wilday@gmail.com
Cassandra Wilday, Demetri Sarantitis and Jason Gould

Alley between Jersey Avenue and Coles Street

More recently, the Coalition has worked with the City of Jersey City to contest the sale by Conrail of the right of way to a developer, before obtaining a required federal permit to abandon the rail line. In addition to the goals of historic preservation, park, and trail, the City wants to preserve the corridor for light rail to relieve increasing traffic congestion.

* Most of the above information came from the website of the Embankment Coalition (the non-profit dedicated to the preservation of the Embankment). For more on the history of the Embankment, see Rick James' Nomination of the Embankment to the State and National Register of Historic Places on the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy Website.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The High Line -- WOW!

(Click on a photo to enlarge it)

For those of you who don’t know, the High Line is an elevated steel railway trestle built in the 1930’s. It runs along 10th Ave. from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District, through the gallery area of Chelsea, and ends at 34th Street. After 10 years of lobbying, fundraising, planning and construction by the Friends of the High Line, the first of three sections of the old railway has been converted to an elevated promenade, and it far surpasses my highest expectations.

I’ve been following the progress of the High Line since its beginning, and all the drawings and photos I saw didn’t prepare me for the experience itself. The intentionally ragged beauty of the landscaping, the attention to delightful details, the surprise of seeing familiar streets from a different angle, and the tranquility in spite of the parade of people -- they all contribute to create a magical promenade reminiscent of Central Park when Christo’s Gates were there.

The new Standard Hotel literally straddles the High Line at 13th Street.
Serrated paving suggests weeds growing through cracks in the pavement.

A lot of the credit goes to landscape architects James Corner Field Operations, and architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro. They kept some of the scruffiness of an abandoned rail line by using mostly wild, native plants, many from species that originally grew there when the line was abandoned, and integrating it beautifully with refined paving details, elegant street furniture and the existing structure. As Nicolai Ouroussoff writes in the Times, “It is one of the most thoughtful, sensitively designed public spaces built in New York in years."

Here’s an example of the simple but elegantly designed street furniture.
Some of these lounges are on wheels on the tracks.

The light in this tunnel changes according to the weather. It’s a dim blue now
because the weather was cloudy, but it got brighter when the sun came out.

Typical of the ingenious and playful architectural ideas is this amphitheater
carved out of a side track spur. The windows overlook 10th avenue.

I want to go back soon. The water feature, a sort of reflecting pool/stream, wasn’t working when I went; and I also want to see it at night. The lighting is intentionally kept below waist level so it illuminates the pathway without interfering with the view of the city and the night sky.

The High Line is open from 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM daily.
The best place to enter is at the park’s southern end, at the corner of Gansevoort and Washington Streets in the Meatpacking District near where the Whitney will be building a satellite designed by Renzo Piano. Elevator service is available at 16th Street.
The High Line website: http://thehighline.org/ or call (212) 500-6035

Next: Jersey City’s own Railway Embankment.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sophie Calle at Paula Cooper

©Sophie Calle/ARS. Courtesy of the Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Photo: Ellen Wilson

I meant to post this when the exhibition was still on view but, good intentions simply being what they are, I got a little side-tracked. Bad blogger! Perhaps there are some of you out there who wouldn't mind thoughts after-the-fact...

Sophie Calle has a history of creating works of art that test relational boundaries. Her newest show at Paula Cooper, the first US presentation of the exhibition selected to represent her native France at the 2007 Venice Biennial, continues the artist’s tradition of challenging our definition of public and private space—while still managing to be fun.

“Take Care of Yourself” is an exhibition inspired by a seemingly impossible break-up email Calle received from a former lover. The translated letter: convoluted, hyper-intellectualized, full of subtle blame-filled phrases, is the first thing you pick up as you walk into the gallery--it’s not the original (that’s in French) but this translated version, duplicated with all the telltale streaks left by a cheap photocopier, feels like it could have come right out of the printer. We read the letter.

Now beings an exercise in empathy (or in some cases, empathic rage). Calle sent copies to women all over France, asking them to develop a response and send it back. She solicited the opinions of lawyers, psychologists, secret service agents, singers, sharp-shooters; all of whom were either photographed or filmed reading the letter, performing it, destroying it, memorizing it, dissecting it. They, as much as the mysterious “x” (the sender remains anonymous) become characters in an emotional pantomime, as Calle puts her own personal experience on stage and invites us to commiserate.

She steps back and lets others play the lead—and that is what keeps the ensemble of vignettes from becoming overly mired in self-reflection. It feels like each piece is a part of a larger attempt to analytically classify her own feelings through the responses of others—like Calle was so thrown by this bizarre form of separation as to have literally needed to engage in a worldwide examination of its possible meanings. Not to say that there isn’t an element of stick-it-to-him-ness to the show (nothing like a universal, public denouncement of personal ineptitude to make melting into the floor seem like a pretty good option for Monsieur “x”), but Calle avoids making “the breakup” an international soap opera.

What is odd about the show is that none of the written responses that Calle received from other women are translated. The texts of these often hand-annotated, color-coded return letters are blown up and hung below the photograph of the women who sent them, becoming purely aesthetic elements rather than meaningful writings. Yet they’re not gibberish: one lawyer describes how Calle’s ex could be considered in breach of contract for misrepresenting himself as a writer when the poor quality of word choice and syntax in his letter practically refute that claim; another highlights the number of times “x” switches from formal to informal personal pronouns (another grammatical zing). These documents do enhance the overall show experience, but not being able to understand them does not necessarily detract from Calle’s fundamental exploration of collective empathy. The point here is not arriving at an ironclad breakup conclusion, but working though the emotional consequences, both real and imagined, of a hurtful (and slightly absurdist) situation. Calle is a conceptual artist; her visual products are ultimately secondary.

What made the show for me was Calle’s video of her and “x”’s letter at an appointment with a conflict mediator. As Calle explains the circumstances surrounding her breakup with “x”, I couldn't help but be touched by her honesty, her genuine search for closure, and her own desire to document something that would normally be lived out quietly in private. Not to mention her carefully controlled hatred of “x”.

I'd say "see it", but you can't and I'm sorry. But you can wikipedia her.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Tris McCall is back from his road trip and is writing about it in his quirky and entertaining blog, Stompbox. Tris is a smart and funny writer, and he has an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Top art picks for tomorrow's JC Friday (June 5)

There are a ton of events going on for this first summer installment of JC Fridays, and I've weeded through the listings to bring you my top art picks (in no way comprehensive); notes on why I selected these shows follow each entry. It's probably not possible to see all of this amended list in one night (unless you have superhuman art-viewing powers), but keep in mind that a lot of these shows/pieces will be on view at their respective locations through the end of the month: don't despair if you miss something tomorrow.

Presented by relative location (from JC Friday's brochure):

Visual Arts 5pm-6:30pm ART HOUSE PRODUCTIONS and COSI CAFÉ AND RESTAURANT present an Opening Reception for Hoboken artist Marni Fylling. Fylling combines her love of the natural world, art, and sometimes food, in colorful block prints. Curated by Emily Helck. 1 Exchange Place (directly across from the Light Rail stop), (201) 451-0535. Barrier-free. Map

Why: because Marni is a wonderful scientific illustrator and I've never seen any of her print-work; it will be interesting to see how the two mediums compare

Visual Arts 6pm-8pm JERSEY CITY MUSEUM at THE MAJESTIC THEATRE CONDOMINIUMS JERSEY CITY MUSEUM at THE MAJESTIC THEATRE CONDOMINIUMSinvites you to an Opening Reception for “Fluid,” a painting installation by Marti Lawrence. The exhibition will be on view by appointment at The Majestic Theatre Condominiums through August 30, 2009. Refreshments will be served. The Majestic Theatre Condominiums, 222 Montgomery St (Grove/Barrow Sts), 201-413-0303 ext. 144. Barrier-free. Map

Why: because I want to know what this "painting installation" looks like--and hopefully see Marti's artist statement

Visual ArtsMusic 7pm-11pm 58 GALLERY 58 GALLERYpresents an Opening Reception for “United Saints of Oil,” new works by Dylan Egon, documenting the new religion of American pop culture in the traditional art of oil painting. Our new icons...true, or false. Live performance by Flaming Fire at 10 pm. DJ Street Justice all night. 58 Coles St (3rd/4th Sts), 917-349-1693. Map

Why: because 58 is probably where you'll see the most artists and JC arts aficionados in one place. Pop icons may not be your thing, but the process of cannonization can say some powerful things about the values of hip contemporary folk; maybe this show will be revealing.

Visual Arts 7pm-10pm ATELIER PRODUCTION presents an Opening Reception for “at:muss:feer,” a multi-media exhibition. Paintings are acrylic on canvas and appear as “collisions of color,” bright & bold with no representations to religion, politics, or nudity. Wooden sculpture exults intriguing cuts & fits the space as if made specifically for it. Mixed-media works seemingly ask the viewer, without words, to consider recycling. After party hosted by Ox Restaurant. The Wells Fargo Building, 299 Pavonia Ave, Loft 2-9 (Coles/Monmouth Sts), 551-226-3632. Map

Why: because I honestly have no idea what that paragraph just said.

Visual Arts 11am-10pm SAWADEE THAI CUISINE presents “The Final Frontier: Photographs by Edward Fausty,” April 10 – June 6, 2009. Come explore the artwork in Sawadee’s dining room and enjoy their exciting Thai menu. 137 Newark Ave (Grove/Barrow Sts), 201-433-0888. Barrier-free. Map

Why: because I've seen this already and, aside from presenting excellent group of photographs, Ed worked with Sawadee to change the lighting and layout specifically for these pieces (yes!). An example of what a restaurant show can become if artists and owners are willing to work together.

Visual Arts 7pm-9pm FISH WITH BRAIDS GALLERY FISH WITH BRAIDS GALLERYpresents an Opening Reception for “Animal Pharm” by Lee Johnson. Animal Pharm: An exploration of pharmacotherapeutics and modern medicine as it impacts the environment, humanity, and society. Are all equal, or are some more equal than others? June 4th – June 18th, 2009 (Opening reception June 4th and 5th, 7-9pm both days). 521 Jersey Ave (Columbus Ave/Newark Ave), 201-451-4294. Map

Why: because this is a show topic I haven't seen very often and I want to hear more about the political and artistic inspirations for this body of work; I hope the conceptual element here is as instinctively engaging as the physical aesthetic of the pieces themselves.

Visual ArtsMusic 5pm-8pm D.E.E.N. DESIGNER BOUTIQUE and 140 GALLERY present “Powerhouse Arts District Local Artist Displays.” Join us for a demonstration of the best local artist of the Powerhouse Arts District. You will enjoy amazing art, wine & cheese, and live music (local DJ). Stop by between 5-8 and you might get a chance to meet some artists. 140 Bay St (Provost/Warren Sts), 908-296-7679. Barrier-free. Map

Why: because I want to see who has the guts to call him/herself the "best local artist" in the PAD

Visual ArtsMusic 7pm-11pm THE J.A. PROJECT GALLERY invites you to their Grand Opening event, located in the heart of downtown Jersey City. Complimentary wine all night. Music provided by DJ Unkle Chips. Launched with the idea to showcase artwork of superlative quality by up and coming artists. We are dedicated to introducing and promoting diverse artists looking to express their voice through various mediums of contemporary art. 341 Marin Blvd (Morgan St/Bay St), 973-981-5991. Map

Why: because this is a new gallery, they've launched a website, and I'm thrilled to learn more about them and see what they're about.

Visual ArtsFilmMusic 11am-8pm JERSEY CITY MUSEUM JERSEY CITY MUSEUMinvites you to enjoy free museum admission with extended gallery hours. 6pm: A special evening featuring “Investigations of Place,” curated by Natalie McKeever and featuring short videos that use experimental imagery to explore how personal narratives are imprinted on landscapes. Short films shown on rotation, ambient music performed by Jeff Thompson and Matt Ortega in the atrium throughout the evening. Refreshments will be served. 350 Montgomery St (@ Monmouth St), 201-413-0303 ext.144. Barrier-free. Map

Why: because I'll be speaking to the curator for a feature article about the show later in the evening, and the concept could produce some different types of work. Not exactly sure what to expect.

Visual Arts 6pm-7:30pm LILA STUDIO invites you to a Figurative Drawing Session. Please bring your own materials (bringing a drawing board is recommended). No photography allowed. Live music at The Barrow Mansion hosted by The Attic Ensemble will follow this event. The Barrow Mansion, 83 Wayne St (Barrow St/Jersey Ave), thelilastudio@gmail.com. Map

Why: free figure drawing? Sounds great!