Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Best Way to See "Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913–1917"

Weegee (Arthur Fellig), American, born Austria. 1899–1968, Coney Island. c. 1939, Gelatin silver print, 10 5/16 x 13 11/16″  The Museum of Modern Art.
Wednesdays–Mondays, until October 11, from 9:30–10:30 a.m., MoMA members and guests of members (with $5 guest-admission tickets) can see the show before the Museum opens to the public.

If you're as compulsive as I am, get there just before 9:30, wait at the eastern-most door on the 54th Street entrance (it's the first to open) and make a beeline to the elevator to the sixth floor. You'll have the exhibition pretty much to yourself for about 20 minutes, and if you stay a gallery ahead of the crowd, you can have it pretty much to yourself for the whole hour.

If you're not a member, or don't know a member to go with, your choices are pretty limited. Your best bet is to purchase timed tickets ($20!) online here. Admission is free Friday nights from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m., and a limited number of timed tickets to the Matisse exhibition are available on a first-come, first-served basis. But whether you paid $20 online or are lucky enough to score a free ticket on a Friday night, the show will be very crowded.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Curatorial Flashbacks: Old Pros Playoff Roster (Call it a Guy Thing)

Norman Rockwell, Game Called Because of Rain, Post Cover 4/23/49
By Carl Belz

September’s nearly here, and that means preparing for the stretch run, the playoffs, and, hopefully, a shot at another World Series championship ring for the Old Pros. You think putting together an exhibition is challenging? Well, try putting together a winning baseball team, year-in and year-out, in this day and age. It used to be the Old Pros were, like, the only game in town, a sure bet for October glory, but not anymore. Not with expansion and free agency, mixed media, globalism, a luxury tax, installations, photography, you name it. And not with the Sculptors Guild, Women Only, the Asian Bloc, and Contemporary Whiz Kids, to name just a few of the new contenders, breathing down the Old Pros’ necks and siphoning off emerging and/or previously overlooked talent.
But we’re not here to wax nostalgic about the old days or sing the blues about gentler, simpler times now lost to us, we’re here to present a starting lineup that we believe can compete with any current pretenders to the ancient and still-revered throne of baseball supremacy. To wit:
Catcher: Rembrandt. No question about it. There he is, front and center, looking right at us, his weathered gaze determined and stoical, his expansive barrel chest signaling nothing gets by him, reminding us he’s the physical and spiritual place where the buck stops. He’s got leadership written all over him, he’s our anchor.
1st Base: Roger van der Weyden. Lean, poised, and self-contained, but bristling with competitive energy, what we call wired. Currently a league leader in triples, suggesting what it means to take it to the limit, to squeeze an extra base from a rope to the gap in right-center that puts renewed pressure on the opposition when they least expected it.
2nd Base: Goya. Feisty, testy Goya, always on the alert for a chance to get an edge, always ready to go toe-to-toe with an opponent on behalf of a teammate; he’s a sparkplug, his uniform’s always dirty, he’s an inspirational kind of guy.
Shortstop: Velasquez. Tell me, who could be better? No one! Velasquez was born to this position. Stylish and elegant beyond words, he makes the phenomenal look natural, as though there’s nothing to it, but don’t be deceived by that, not for a minute. And don’t forget, he’s no slouch when it comes to the stick either—he can go deep with the best of them.
3rd Base: Caravaggio. Swarthy, defiant, a guy with an attitude—“Wanna hit one past the hot corner? Give it a try. Wanna throw one up and in? You’ll pay the price.” The kind of player you want on your side, not your opponent’s.
Left Field: Rubens. Who could argue with Rubens? Painter supreme, diplomat, entrepreneur, darling of royalty, plus a trophy wife on his arm. A bit of a showman at times, but he goes out and puts up big power numbers year after year. Always on the short list for MVP, he’s baseball’s reigning good will ambassador to the world at large.
Center Field: Michelangelo. I know, I know, the Big M occasionally gets distracted by his hassles with the owners, but he’s always there when it counts. Besides, we really, really want a big-time guy who goes both ways, who’s got the painting thing going and also the sculpture thing, a guy with the kind of presence at the plate that makes opposing hurlers want to pitch around him—in a word, a force, and M’s nothing if not that.
Right Field: Breughel, the Elder. The people’s choice, and rightly so. You feel he’s one of the guys you hang around with, have a few pops with, share stories about life’s ups and downs with—and he can sure tell those stories like nobody else! He affects the clubhouse chemistry in the same way, he’s as valuable off the field as he is on it.
Pitchers: I’m going with two, Matisse and Picasso, both relative newcomers to the roster, but both ready, in my mind, to accept the challenges linked to the Old Pros’ long and distinguished tradition. Picasso’s the power guy, going after every hitter, mano a mano, always ready to pit his best against the best the batter brings to the plate. And Matisse? Matisse embodies the old saying about how 90% of pitching takes place from the neck up. He throws up a mixture of what appear to be sweet softies, but the helpless batters can only guess what the next one will actually be—how much pace it’ll have, how much spin, which way it’ll go at the last moment, and then score another out for the guy known around the league as Bad Henry.
So there you have it, a lineup that’s got everything: speed, quickness, defense, power. I like our chances, and I look forward to October, but we’ll just have to see how it all plays out on the field. For now, here’s one you can take to the bank: the Old Pros won’t be put away easily.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Ten Most UNDERRATED Los Angeles Art World Stars

    Mat Gleason, for the Huffinton Post's new Art section, wrote a funny piece (that I wrote about recently) on the Ten Most OVERRATED Los Angeles Art World Stars.
    To his credit, he's now taken on the much tougher job of saying nice things and really putting himself on the line with his latest post: The Ten Most UNDERRATED Los Angeles Art World Stars.
    I've been away from Los Angeles for almost thirty years now, so it's more difficult for me to assess his choices. But once again I agree with almost all of them -- at least the ones I know. George Herms is an excellent choice, as are Llyn Foulkes (who's work I've been seeing more often lately, so I'm not sure how underrated he still is) and Michael McMillen. I'm not familiar with Eloy Torres, Kim Dingle and Daniel Martinez -- at least I don't remember seeing their work. As to the others, one can certainly make a case for them being under-appreciated.
Charles Garabedian, The Meeting of Greece and China, 1970, wood, acrylic, and polyester resin, 97 x 59 1/2 inches, Collection of the Artist.
    My main objection -- and it's a big one -- is leaving out Charles Garabedian, whom I consider to be among the most vital living artists.
    Maybe Garabedian is highly rated in Los Angeles -- he is having a major retrospective in the Santa Barbara Museum in January, and he shows with L.A. Louver, one of the best galleries in Los Angeles, and Betty Cunningham, one of the best galleries in New York -- but I doubt that's it. The major LA Museums have all but ignored him.
    And he is a great artist. Take The Meeting of Greece and China (see photo above). It's hard to capture the raw muscular energy of this work in reproduction. The only thing comparable for me, in terms of the shock of seeing it, is Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. The painting (if it can be called that) is more than eight feet tall and is made up of slats of wood laminated together like butcher block that's been cut into and inlaid with resin. There is nothing pretty or elegant here -- it's one tough painting -- and it was made in 1970 when Minimalism and Conceptualism were at their peak.
    Over his 50-year plus career, Garabedian's work has mostly been narrative in some form or another, but he's worked in a wide range of materials and methods, and his invention is staggering. A good place to see a sampling of his work is the L.A.Louver Gallery website. Check it out and see if you agree.

Some Jersey City Art News

The arts in Jersey City have been in the news lately:

Jon Whiten and the energetic Irene Borngraeber, a sometimes contributor to this blog, reported in the Jersey City Independent that the Jersey City Museum received a $77,211 New Jersey State grant. Good -- but it won't go far toward a budget that's more than ten times that. The bad news is the city of Jersey City slashed the yearly funding for the museum by 25 percent, to $500,000!

The New York Times reported Robin Parness Lipson is trying to raise money for a New Jersey Museum of Contemporary Art. According to the Times:
Two years ago the [collectors Michael and Susan] Hort suggested that they might lend their collection, which includes pieces by John Currin, Chris Ofili, Elizabeth Peyton and others, to the Jersey City Museum, where Ms. Lipson was on the board, if the museum would change its mission to focus exclusively on contemporary art. Ms. Lipson loved the idea, but when the other trustees rejected her proposal, she resigned from the board and decided to go out on her own.
Finally, Al Sullivan of The Hudson Reporter reported that the Port Authority wants to move Zurab Tsereteli's "Tear Drop" sculpture (now known by the fittingly pretentious title: “The Struggle Against World Terrorism" - see photo above). Several years ago Jersey City residents successfully fought to keep it out of Jersey City; now I think we should re-mobilize to help keep it in Bayonne.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Clyfford Still Museum Final Design

Thanks to Tyler Green, Modern Art Notes, for spotting this two-minute animated walkthrough of the new Clyfford Still Museum under construction in Denver. 

If you can’t wait until the Clyfford Still Museum is completed in the Fall of 2011, you can see 29 great Still paintings at the Albright-Knox until the end of this month.

Piling On

John Baldessari

John Baldessari: Pure Beauty, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art - "Why do conceptual artists continue to employ finite resources and materials, not to mention occupy valuable space in museums, when, unlike other artists, the conceptual artist has an infinite amount of perfectly adequate space available to make and exhibit art in his or her head? Of course the answer is that Mr. Baldessari's antiart stance, through which he spurns the art establishment, is just that—a pose, a ruse. He craves the recognition of the very institutions he so self- consciously rejects."

Monday, August 16, 2010

Art Talks and Events

Several years ago my wife and I took a short getaway trip to Princeton NJ, and I was blown away by the public talks I went to at the University. It occurred to me that hell, New York is the culture capital of the world, there must be plenty of great talks here. So with a little research, and an occasional addition over the years, I came up with about 15-20 sites that I check regularly. You can quickly check them all by putting them in a bookmarks folder and opening them in tabs. Many of these sites change where they list their events, and others you can only get to from their home page, so, from time to time, you might have to track down the calendar or events page. Also several calendar sites take a long time to load. With that in mind, here they are:

General listings:

Time Out New York has the best general listings.
The Village Voice is a near second. The Village Voice Art listings and events are: here.
flavorpill has more off-beat listings.
ARTCAT: is good for listings of lesser known galleries and alternative spaces.

Colleges and universities:
Columbia University
Cooper Union 
New School
New York University (including the Grey Art Gallery)
School of Visual Arts

Brooklyn Museum
New Museum
PS 1

Brooklyn gallery listings and events:
Free Williamsburg

Miscellaneous other sites:
Electronic Art Intermix, 535 W 22nd St # 5, New York - (212) 337-0680. They have events as well as a great collection of art videos which you can see by appointment.
Artists Talk On Art, ATOA is a non-profit run by volunteers that's been around for thirty-five years so they must be doing something right.
Municipal Art Society, MAS is even older that ATOA, it was founded in 1893! To quote from its mission statement, it is a: non-profit 501(c)(3) membership organization that fights for intelligent urban planning, design and preservation through education, dialogue and advocacy.
92nd Street Y

Any additions will be greatly appreciated.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Ten Most Overrated Los Angeles Art World Stars


Mat Gleason, one of the main contributors to the Coagula Art Journal, just wrote a very funny piece for the Huffington Post's new art section. And this post, like most things in Coagula, is shocking, snarky, appalling, and a lot of fun -- and right on. 
I agree with almost everything Mat Gleason says, with these provisos:

  • To be "the most overrated" is I guess a balance between how popular and how bad an artist you are; so Ed Rucha, for example, might be a much better artist than, say, Catherine Opie, but he's so much more popular than she is that his fame, relative to the quality of his work, makes him more overrated. 
  • I like Ruscha's early books like Twentysix Gasoline Stations, 1962 and Every Building on the Sunset Strip, 1966, but I agree that his paintings are boring, and the work he showed in 2005 at the Whitney was boring and pretentious.
  • I haven't seen enough of Lauren Bon, Christopher Williams or Frank Romero to judge. At least I don't recall seeing their work -- which I guess says something. 
  • I'd rate Paul McCarthy a much more overrated artist, perhaps second only to Baldessari.  
  • And finally, I liked Jorge Pardo's show in June at Friedrich Petzel.   

So with these provisos, here it is: Ten Most Overrated Los Angeles Art World Stars

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Moroccans Redux

Detail, Henri Matisse,  Les Marocains (The Moroccans), 1912-16, the Museum of Modern Art.

The new MoMA iPhone App has an audio guide to the Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-17 exhibition that discusses The Moroccans. Go to the Tours tab > Special Exhibitions > Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-17 > The Moroccans (South Gallery). I was surprised to learn that what I see as Moroccans praying (see photo above), Matisse himself insisted is melons and leaves. From the audio tour, an unidentified voice that sounds like John Elderfield, the co-curator, says: I know some people have thought that what Matisse says are melons and leaves are in fact the Moroccans, but Matisse is insistent that they are not.

I should have known that an Art Historian of the caliber of John Elderfield would not have missed what I thought was such an obvious image. Nevertheless, this is the first time in any of the literature that I researched on the painting (including this exhibition catalog) that any mention is made that Matisse himself was insistent it’s melons and leaves and not Moroccans praying. I still don’t buy it!
It’s a useful (and free) app, btw. Here a description from the App Store:
Use the MoMA App to find out about current exhibitions, plan a visit, browse or search tens of thousands of works in the collection, take multimedia tours, or learn about artists and art terms. Take a photo through MoMA Snaps and send it to a friend, or choose your playlist to create a soundtrack for your MoMA visit. 


George Maciunian, New Flux Year, MoMA
The MoMA staff have been blogging about the experience of unpacking the recently acquired Silverman Fluxus collection. Here's an excerpt from a recent post:
AUGUST 9, 2010 
Unpacking Fluxus: The Joke’s On Us
Posted by Lily Goldberg, 12-Month Fluxus Intern, Department of Prints and Illustrated Books
...Upon opening an orange faux-reptile-skin box marked only with the typed words “top” and “pull,” we received quite a surprise: out jumped a coiled toy snake and a shower of confetti printed with the words “New Flux Year.” Rattled, we soon found that the joke was on us, as we were left returning every last scrap of paper, along with the spring-loaded snake, back into the box before shutting it carefully.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Curatorial Flashbacks: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

By Carl Belz
Helen called a few days after we’d given our printer the green light to proceed with the catalog for Frankenthaler: The 1950s, which would open at the Rose in early May 1981 but had already been in the works for about a year. She had been reading again the draft of my essay for the catalog (it was my curatorial practice, when working with living artists, to share my words with them in order, hopefully, to avoid surprises and misunderstandings), and she wasn’t keen on my use of the word glamour in describing how she had entered the New York art world fresh out of Bennington College in 1949 and at once encountered personally such artists as Jackson Pollock, Willem deKooning, and Franz Kline. She said glamour was associated with celebrities, with movie stars, for instance, while she was just a painter, and would I mind using another word instead?

Which I said I’d be glad to do, for it wasn’t the first time Helen had called about the catalog—only the first time after our printing deadline had passed—and by then I’d gotten my blinders on, determined that nothing, least of all my ego, would keep me from reaching the only goal that had come to matter to me, which was to make the exhibition the best it could be. To that end, I had earlier agreed to put on hold a chunk of my original essay. It was a coda to the body of the text, which dealt with the criticism of Frankenthaler’s work that had appeared during the 1950s, and it focused on how that criticism, which, despite its generally favorable consensus, had nonetheless reflected the male-dominated perspective of the time, a perspective through which she usually came up short of her male counterparts. But Helen didn’t go for the coda, she said she didn’t see herself as a woman artist, she just saw herself as an artist, and she said the show wasn’t about that kind of issue anyway. When I objected that the gender question was historically important in illuminating critical bias, she expressed confidence that a more appropriate context for my observations would present itself on another occasion.  
Of course there were also times when I did the calling—to keep Helen informed about loans for the show, to ask her advice about approaching one or another of the collectors, and so forth. At one point, for instance, a problem came up with MoMA and our request to borrow Jacob’s Ladder, a magisterial stain picture from 1957. I’d written William Rubin, Director of the Department of Painting and Sculpture, described the project and its significance, and included loan forms—all standard operating procedure—and I’d gotten back a form letter telling me that stain paintings are very delicate, that my request had come on very short notice, that blah, blah, blah, and that, no, they couldn’t lend the painting. All of which I told Helen in a depressed phone call, in response to which she told me to sit tight, maybe there was something she could do. Which I guess there was, because I got a call the very next day from one of Rubin’s assistants saying how pleased MoMA would be to lend Jacob’s Ladder to our very important exhibition. Then I remember thinking, “There’s stuff going on here that they didn’t teach me about in school.”
Helen Frankenthaler, Jacob's Ladder, 1957. Oil on canvas, 
113 3/8" x 69 7/8" Museum of Modern Art, New York, 
Gift of Hyman N. Glickstein

I called Helen again when I was stumped—and oddly amused—about dealing with television journalist Lesley Stahl. She owned a picture we very much wanted, First Class Motel Bedroom (1959), but she was reluctant to lend it because it would leave an empty space on her wall for about four months. Without pause, Helen suggested I call Andre—Andre Emmerich, her dealer for many years—which I did, and he said the gallery would be pleased to lend Ms. Stahl a replacement picture, it was no problem, they’d done it before, and it occasionally led the collector to a new acquisition—thus, a good deal all around. And far more pleasant than my telephone encounter with the collector in Omaha, Nebraska, that took place at about the same time—the collector who, I’ve forgotten his name, told me he’d lend his picture only on the condition that I would reproduce it in color on the cover of the catalog. For that one I didn’t call Helen, and I didn’t call Andre, I just told the collector I’d find some way to struggle along without his painting. 

So everything was set by the end of February—the essay, the checklist, the reproductions, even the acknowledgments, plus a bonus in the form of a gorgeous poster of the breathtaking Open Wall (1952-53) that Helen was personally having produced in time for the opening on May 10. Still, I was anxious, exceedingly anxious, about Mountains and Sea. Mountains and Sea, the 1952 painting that, if there were such a thing as Helen’s signature painting, would have to be Helen’s signature painting. The painting that had seemed to assume legendary status even before its surface was dry, the painting that was famously said to have provided a bridge between Pollock and what was possible, the painting that art history books had singled out as having launched the entire color field movement. And the painting, alas, that wasn’t going to be in our show. 
Helen Frankenthaler. Mountains and Sea, 1952. 
Oil and charcoal on canvas. 86 5/8" x 117 1/4" 
On extended loan to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

How, I asked myself, could that be? How could we have an exhibition of Helen Frankenthaler’s work in the 1950s, her first decade, the decade that established her as a major contributor to the art of our time, without including Mountains and Sea? It wasn’t that it couldn’t have been included: It was accessible, it was right down the road in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; moreover, Helen owned it, it was only on loan to the National Gallery, meaning she could ask, within reason, to have it shown wherever and whenever she wished. 

To understand how it was that Mountains and Sea would not be in the exhibition, you have to accompany me back to the fall of 1980 and my first face-to-face discussion with Helen about the checklist for the exhibition. I’d sent her my tentative list, chronologically ordered, and we started going through it together, Helen agreeing to one title, then to another, and another, until we got to Mountains and Sea, at which point she said, “No, not Mountains and Sea.”  

Not Mountains and Sea?” I repeated incredulously. 

“No, no,” she calmly remarked, “It’s a wonderful picture, but it’s very delicate, and I’m very happy with where it is now. Besides, including it would be like having a terrific exhibition of late 15th Century Florentine painting and putting the Mona Lisa right in the middle of it.”

Stumped for a response, I continued through the list and then retreated to Boston. There was a lot to do, but much of it was registrarial—contacting donors, pursuing loans, arranging to have reproductions made—leaving me plenty of time to study the criticism that had tracked Helen during the 1950s and get ready to write about it, and plenty of time, too, to fret about Mountains and Sea and envision being embarrassed by its absence from what was otherwise shaping up to be a dynamite show. At one point I called the marvelous Maureen—Helen’s assistant, Maureen St. Onge, the person who kept Helen’s world turning ever smoothly, the person, it seemed to me, that Helen couldn’t have been without—and asked if she could put in a word for the picture, knowing all along that that was in my job description, not hers.       

So I gave it another shot late in the calendar year in a meeting at which Helen and I planned to finalize the checklist. Again, we went through it chronologically, Helen agreeing to one title, then to another, and another, until we got to Mountains and Sea—I stubbornly included it, as if refusing to believe Helen had actually nixed it—at which point she said, “No, not Mountains and Sea.” 

“But Helen!” I stammered…

“No, no,” she calmly remarked. “It’s a wonderful picture, but it’s very delicate, and I’m very happy with where it is now. Besides, including it would be like having a wonderful Faberge exhibition and putting the Hope Diamond right in the middle of it.” 

Well, that did it, I didn’t have the energy to go another round, I resigned myself to the fact that there’d be no Mountains and Sea in our exhibition, I did what I had to do, I got over it. And guess what? Mirabile dictu, the exhibition was an unqualified triumph—for Helen, for the Rose Art Museum, and for me as well. We got a glowing review from Hilton Kramer on page 1 of the Sunday New York Times Arts and Leisure section, our attendance swelled as never before in my experience, and, through the course of the show, I was regularly congratulated by art world acquaintances and professional colleagues for my curatorial decision to leave Mountains and Sea out of the mix—they even called it courageous. In response, I generally smiled modestly, bowed my head slightly, and softly acknowledged, “It’s a wonderful picture, but it just seemed so obvious to include. Besides, it would have skewed all of the other great pictures in the exhibition.” And then I went ahead and told them the truth!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Art House Emerging Artists Series

Art House Productions (SE corner of Hamilton Park in Jersey City near Erie and 8th streets) is going to be a great venue for emerging artists to experiment, collaborate and get some exhibiting experience in a nurturing environment. Last night at the opening (see video above) there was a 3-hour performance installation of "Broken Glass" by Jessica Nelson and Jessica Smith (aka "The Jessicas") who are also exhibiting some sculpture and installations, as are Oren Misholy and Phil D'Martino.

Christine Goodman (shown charmingly sticking her tongue out at me in the video) has become the paid, full-time Executive Director of Art House Productions. This Monday, August 9th, from 6pm-9pm, there will be a cocktail reception celebrating this good news: LITM, 140 Newark Ave, Jersey City (1/2 block from Grove St. PATH Station). A $20 donation includes 1 free drink and appetizers.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Lower East Side Review

Rivane Neuenschwander, a still from the video The Tenant, 2010.
Image courtesy of the artist, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York; 
Galeria Fortes Vilaça, São Paulo; and Stephan Friedman Gallery, London.

Video is so ubiquitous in the Lower East Side that it's become a ludicrous cliché. I find most of it boring, self-indulgent, and annoying in that it's so damn controlling. Yet video was by far the best thing I saw yesterday.  In an otherwise lightweight and simple-minded mid-career survey of Brazilian artist Rivane Neuenschwander (b. 1967) at the New Museum, there was a lovely, mesmerizing and funny video, The Tenant (2010). The video tracks a soap bubble as it meanders through a deserted apartment. What really makes this simple video fun, and even dramatic, is a soundtrack that subtly plays with our expectations.

Also at the New Museum was the first U. S. retrospective of the eccentric Surrealist/Beat painter, performer, poet, and writer Brion Gysin (1916- 1986). His recent claim to fame is that he never achieved the fame of his most prominent collaborator, William S. Burroughs, or of the many people he influenced (John Giorno, Brian Jones, David Bowie, Patti Smith, and Keith Haring, among others). It goes to show it's possible to be influential without being very good. It's frankly a pretty lame and repetitive show. About the only thing with any guts is his wall-sized, collage-like, films. 

Lesley Heller (54 Orchard Street) has a show of Israeli videos by young (20's and 30's) artists curated by Lilly Wei. Stills of the videos are on the gallery walls, and you can request to see whichever you want. Some of the most powerful are by Oded Hirsch.
Oded Hirsch, still from the video 50 Blue

As to the other LES galleries, Roberta Smith observed there's a lot of Abstract Art being shown. (BTW, this is yet another confirmation of the uncanny phenomenon that some subject, medium or style seems to predominate in the galleries at any one time. It's as if there's a theme for the day or something, and this time it was abstraction.) But her article strangely left out what is probably the most relevant show, Creeds, Colors and Combinations at Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, 21 Orchard Street. Work by Louise Despont in particular offers a fresh approach to abstraction with her intimate, complex drawings that relate to Indian Tantric drawings but without the hippy, psychedelic connotations. 
Louise Despont, Winter Drawing, 2009, 
Graphite, colored pencil and ink 
on antique ledger book page, 
24 x 18 inches

Despont will be the next show at Nicelle Beauchene, so we'll get to see how her works hold up in quantity.

Rightly praised by Roberta Smith is Markus Linnenbrick's disorienting environmental installation at numberthrityfive Gallery, 39 Essex Street. 

NOTE: Small A Projects, 261 Broome Street, is now the Laural Getlen Gallery - same gallery, it's just that the owner, like Stephan Stoyanov (formerly Luxe) 29 Orchard St, decided to eschew cleverness and use their own name.  Maybe numberthirtyfive will follow suit soon. 

See what you missed!

Today -- Jersey City’s Seventh Annual Bolivian Parade, 
celebrating the independence of both Bolivia and Ecuador

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Radiant Man

Film Forum  is now showing a terrific documentary, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child. Here's the film's official website. Something really annoyed me about it, however. For some reason, maybe to add drama, they edited a Marc Miller interview with Basquiat in such a way as to make Miller seem like a racist and Basquiat a victim. The same thing occurred in Julian Schnabel's 1996 film Basquiat. This is a totally bum rap and a complete falsification of the art world's open-armed reception of Basquiat at the time. 

For a more complete and accurate representation of both the interview and Basquiat, check out Marc Miller’s invaluable website,, and in particular the section on Basquiat

Dionysus vs. Apollo

One of the great treats of the MoMA Matisse show is the opportunity to spend time with Matisse's Bathers by the River and then hurry downstairs to compare the experience with Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon -- two of the greatest paintings of the twentieth century, and two extremely different paintings and experiences. It makes me want to take back all the bad things I said about the Modern ... naaah.

In many ways the competition between Matisse and Picasso was like the rivalry between the younger, hot-blooded, passionate Michelangelo and his older, cooler rival, Leonardo. The 36-year-old reserved and self-assured Henri Matisse created an enormous controversy with his Le Bonheur de Vivre (The Joy of Life), 1905-6 (not included in the show). His first dealer, Berthe Weill, recalled it was greeted with "an uproar of jeers, angry babble, and screaming laughter," when it was shown at the Salon des Indépendents in 1906.
Matisse, Le bonheur de vivre, 1905-6, Oil on canvas. 
The Barnes Foundation. (5' 10" x 7' 11")

The young Turk Picasso, only 27 years old at the time, set out to one-up Matisse (and himself, as it turned out) with his Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. In the 1907 Salon, Matisse exhibited Blue Nude: Memory of Biskra,  whose radical distortions, and perhaps also the blue color, so annoyed Picasso that he was driven to make his Les Demoiselles even tougher.  (The two Matisse paintings were bought by the Steins, and, to stir up trouble, they made sure Picasso saw them in their house.)
Henri Matisse, Blue Nude: Memory of Biskra, 1907, 
The Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland (36 1/4 x 55 1/4 in)

Matisse answered back with his very strange Bathers With Turtle. 1907-08, Museum of Modern Art (70 1/2 " x 88").

Picasso pushed Cubism in new directions, and Matisse responded with his own take on Cubism with, among other works, Bathers By The River, a painting he began soon after Les Demoiselles and one he worked on intermittently for nine years. 
Henri Matisse, Bathers By The River, 1916, Art Institute of Chicago,
 (approximately 8 1/2 feet high by almost 13 feet wide)

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907, 
Museum of Modern Art (8' x 7' 8")

In many ways the two paintings are as different as can be: 

  • A whorehouse in a crowded interior vs. abstracted nudes in an open landscape that's almost twice as wide as Les Demoiselles
  • Confrontational, in-your-face vs. self-contained and detached
  • Provocative and aggressive vs. harmonious and austere

It’s also the difference between Pollock and DeKooning on the one hand, vs. Rothko, Newman and, to a lesser extent, Still (who falls more in the middle), on the other. The Abstract Expressionists were very familiar with Les Demoiselles because in 1937 the Jacques Seligman & Co. art gallery in New York City held an exhibition titled "20 Years in the Evolution of Picasso, 1903–1923" that included Les Demoiselles; and of course the Museum of Modern Art acquired the painting (for $24,000!) soon after. 

Less known is that Matisse’s Bathers was also very familiar to the Abstract Expressionists. Clement Greenberg reported (Art & Culture, p. 233): 
Matisse's huge "Bathers by a River" of 1916—17, now in the Chicago Art Institute, hung for a long time in the lobby of the Valentine[-Dudensing] Gallery, where I myself saw it often enough to feel able to copy it by heart.
I haven't been able to find out exactly when that was, but it was sometime beginning in the thirties and ending when the Valentine-Dudensing Gallery closed in 1948. So the painting was there early enough to be influential on the Abstract Expressionists. And like Picasso and Matisse, the competition between the Abstract Expressionists made all their work greater.