Thursday, September 30, 2010

Curatorial Flashbacks #6: The Judy Pfaff Experience

By Carl Belz:

Author’s Note: Judy Pfaff is currently celebrated by “Five Decades,” an exhibition at Ameringer/McEnery/Yohe in Chelsea (525 West 22nd Street). Unable to see that show, but wishing to join in acknowledging Judy’s achievement, I am here reprinting my notes for Elephant, an installation she did for us at the Rose Art Museum in 1995. I do so in the hope of conveying some of the exhilaration, the meaning, and the curatorial reward I associate with that project.

Judy Pfaff produced Elephant during a two-week residency at Brandeis University in January 1995. She made two visits to campus prior to the residency, the first to determine which of our spaces she would utilize for the installation, the second to discuss her past work via a slide presentation to students and other members of the University community. That discussion took place in April 1994, and all of us who were involved with the project hoped it would conclude with a description of what Judy planned for the Rose Art Museum. That didn’t happen, and the explanation was simple: She was totally preoccupied with a commission for the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, a 70,000 square-foot project that had started in 1992 and was scheduled for completion in December 1994. Learning this, I was not surprised at not hearing from her throughout the summer and fall preceding her residency in Waltham, though I did grow anxious as the New Year approached, wondering if she’d arrive with sufficient energy and materials—she hadn’t asked us to order any supplies, only to paint the gallery walls a very cold white—to make the installation happen.

Arrive she did, right on schedule and eager to get started, accompanied by several assistants—students from the University’s Department of Fine Arts had volunteered to fill out the crew—and a truckload of materials that included copper wire, fiberglass resin, steel pipe, plastic ducts and tubes, vines, tree roots, dried lily pads, tools of all kinds for bending and cutting and welding the metal, buckets for dyeing the fiberglass and vats for coating it with resin, arcane books illustrating Tibetan medicine and natural history, a coffee maker, a new boom box along with stacks of tapes, and about a dozen of her own mixed media drawings that would augment the installation. As she later told me—and she otherwise gave no clue—the only thing she didn’t have was an idea how she would put all the stuff together. Responding to the site, she talked about wanting to unite the upstairs and downstairs galleries with the light well between them and the pool below, but what she didn’t say was that she’d brought no single element that she felt could do that job.
Installation View, Judy Pfaff, Elephant, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, 1995
She found it on the way back from a quick lunch that followed the unloading of the truck: a 40-foot gray birch tree growing precariously close to a small stream that runs behind the museum and an adjacent parking lot. She wanted to dig it out, roots and all, and bring it into the building. I checked with buildings and grounds and learned it was destined for removal because it posed a threat to the cars nearby, so I told her to go ahead. That was on Friday, January 13, which was 13 days before the show would open. Meanwhile, the removal of the tree looked like a dauntingly ambitious undertaking; I had no idea how she would manage it or what she had in mind if she actually got it inside, so I wished her luck and left for the start of a three-day weekend.

I hadn’t planned on returning to the museum until the following Tuesday, but curiosity already got the best of me by Saturday afternoon when I drove to the museum to see what was happening with the tree. It hadn’t budged and it looked determined to stay put, the efforts of the crew with their picks and shovels notwithstanding. Judy needed a length of heavy chain. Could I call anyone on campus and get one? I made a few calls but without success; the University was effectively closed for the weekend. I asked Rob van Erve, Judy’s chief assistant, what we could do; calmly, and with a smile that encouraged confidence, he said they’d figure a way—“When Judy wants it done, it gets done.”

The tree was in the museum by Tuesday morning, horizontally suspended in the light well, its naked branches greeting me as I entered the upper gallery, its roots positioned against the back wall where paint was wildly splashed and spattered, as it was splashed and spattered over the trunk and limbs as well, looking altogether like a giant paintbrush that had been wielded with expressionistic abandon. I was overwhelmed by its commanding presence in the space and amazed at seeing no physical evidence of how it had gotten there—no scrapes or gouges on walls or floors, no signs of mayhem anywhere. I decided at once not to ask what the process of moving the tree into the museum had entailed, preferring instead to imagine it had all happened effortlessly, through Judy Pfaff’s artistic magic.
Installation View, Judy Pfaff, Elephant, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, 1995
That was the start of Elephant, and during the 10 days that followed—each one at least a 16-hour day—my image of the tree-as-paintbrush was constantly expanded and reinforced. The galleries became a three-dimensional canvas, here filled with translucent color—the sheets of fiberglass—there extended by seemingly weightless linear arabesques—the lengths of copper wire and steel pipe. As it evolved, however, the installation became more than a celebration of painting and drawing, more than “mere” art, for nature was constantly woven into its fabric. The vines were transformed into a fountain that descended from upper to lower galleries, glistening with water that in turn brought the dried lily pads to eerie life and caused the stiffened fiberglass and cold metal to seem organic; moss was gathered to cover the surrounding edge of the pool in which flowering reeds were planted; and the drawings, two of which Judy created on the spot after gathering plant material she had discovered on the campus grounds, further glowed with images of the exotic flora and fauna she found in her illustrated books. Art and nature were thus bound into a sprawling, enchanted environment whose every detail spoke of creative transformation and renewal.
Installation View, Judy Pfaff, Elephant, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, 1995
Judy decided to title her installation shortly before bringing it to completion. She said the installation reminded her of the parable of the blind men and the elephant in which each man, remaining stationary, touch only one part of the beast and accordingly failed to comprehend it as a whole. So it was with the Rose installation, which spread over two stories of the museum, floor to ceiling, and with reflections off glass and water seemed to reach beyond the confines of the building itself. The whole could not be grasped from any one place, it had to be moved through, explored part by part, its character accumulating in the process. As one who had the opportunity to experience Elephant nearly every day of its month-and-a-half life span, I can attest to the cumulative effect of its rich complexity and multiple layers of meaning—it was a memorably rewarding experience.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lower East Side Gallery Update Update

By Charles Kessler

First the bad news:
Jane Kim/Thrust Projects is closed and supposedly looking for a new space.
Several alternative spaces may be closed, or at least not currently keeping regular hours:
  • Asia Song Society, 45 Canal Street. Their website proclaims: “PROUD TO SHOW ONLY ASIA ARTISTS” but no mention of any present of future shows.
  • 179 Canal, 179 Canal Street. Their website also has no upcoming exhibitions listed. I emailed them a query about their future plans but haven't heard anything yet.
  • Art Since the Summer of '69, 195 Christie Street, #303, is currently closed according to their website
  • Forever and Today, 141 Division Street, is closed while they prepare future projects. Their website says they "will be featured in several off-site exhibitions and programs during this time" and they will re-open in November. They're one of my favorites, so let's hope for the best.
Now the good news:

  • Frosch and Portmann, 53 Stanton (west of Eldridge where Smith-Stewart, Scaramouche and Luxe galleries used to be), seems potentially a very good gallery -- in any case they have a strong group show up now. Eva Frosch was a fellow at the Museum of Modern Art and was the Gallery Director at Jack the Pelican in Williamsburg, so I expect good things from them. On the downside, Amy Smith-Stewart told me that one of the reason she closed was because of the crime in the area. I hope that doesn't deter them. 
  • Next door, also 53 Stanton, is the new DACIA gallery. They are: "proud to be affiliated with the following arts organizations: Contaminate [a VERY slow site] and the European House of Arts."  I'm not sure exactly what that means for the gallery, but there it is. They also said they'll be offering art classes there soon. I must say they were very enthusiastic and eager to show me around, but there's something a bit amateurish about them and, sorry to say, the work they showed. (My friend Tom jokingly says for galleries there's an inverse correlation between friendliness and financial success. He unfortunately may have a point here.) 

The Friendly "Art on a Whim Gallery,"  Breckenridge, Colorado
  • The new Rooster Gallery, 190 Orchard Street (just south of Houston) was also closed, but their neighbors said they have been open occasionally. They will officially open October 21st with an exhibition entitled "Geography of Affection: Six Portugese Artists in New York."
  • Another new gallery to the LES is the Krause Gallery, 149 Orchard Street (just above Rivington). They will be closed September 30 - October 3 to attend the Affordable Art Fair, and the group show up now was pretty much thrown together, so it's going to be some time before I can really get a take on the gallery. 
  • I finally got to see James Fuentes's (55 Delancey at Eldridge) new, unpretentious space with few distractions, good light and pleasing proportions -- and in a much better location than his former Chinatown space.  Bard graduate Fuentes used to be Director of Deitch Projects and is a bright guy -- this gallery should be a major addition to the LES gallery scene.
    One thing really surprised me: one would expect a new gallery to open with their very best work, especially in the Fall, but none of them, including Sperone Westwater, did. And what's with all the group shows anyway? Don't they know the summer is over? Even many of the more established LES galleries don't seem to be putting out their best efforts. Canada, as usual, has a good group show, but they didn't even curate it themselves. What gives? 

    Some Links

    10 minute VIDEO on 40 Years of New York Times Op-Ed Illustrations
    BARRY BLITT, Iraq Is the Ultimate Aphrodisiac, The New York Times, April 22, 2007
    Jerry Saltz Answers Your Questions on Elitism, Careerism, and Cronyism -- Vulture: "The point is that no one rails at physics or science or medicine for being “elitist.” Like physics, medicine, etc., art is a specialist field — something you understand more the more you study it. Unlike these other fields, however, someone can really teach themselves to be an expert in art, just by looking, going to shows, seeing everything possible, and really thinking about it."

    Paul Krugman:
    The Power of Conventional Wisdom - "This is what you need to know: important people have no special monopoly on wisdom; and in times like these, when the usual rules of economics don’t apply, they’re often deeply foolish, because the power of conventional wisdom prevents them from talking sense about a deeply unconventional situation."

    And, I just discovered Matthew Collings. Here are selections from some of his better posts:
    Kenneth Noland, lotus, 1962

    PUT DOWNS AND SUCK UPS: MATTHEW COLLINGS' WEEKLY VENTINGS ON THE ART WORLD: NO 43: REMEMBERING KEN NOLAND: "Noland's simplicity is actually difficult and complex, he concentrates much into little, and he achieves a beautiful, light, resonant, vibrating effect that transcends mere design or mere colour-matching or mere scale. Pure abstract values, pure musicality, take us to somewhere philosophical and important. This is a difficult proposal for art-worlders today. We want importance to be immediate and spelled-out, and to a degree pre-digested. We have been conditioned to believe greatness in art always has some kind of moralising component. We often don't actually want to be too much involved in art as such but in a sort of buzzing chat about the hot contemporary moment in which 'art' vaguely figures. We want the social reassurance of art, rather than its higher values, whereas Noland - whose work is a living testament to his sensitivity and passion - was much tougher and harder on himself."

    PUT DOWNS AND SUCK UPS: MATTHEW COLLINGS' WEEKLY VENTINGS ABOUT THE ART WORLD: NO 36: POP LIFE: "When Warhol dubbed his studio a factory it was a provocation, it implied mass production, a pragmatic approach, contempt for preciousness -- which is great if you're making a point against snobbery, but depressing if higher values really are the target. The problem with the Warhol legacy is that no one can tell the difference."

    PUT DOWNS AND SUCK UPS: MATTHEW COLLINGS' WEEKLY VENTINGS ON THE ART WORLD No 4: Happy Birthday Clement Greenberg: "But when you do get used to Greenberg's sober tone you are constantly struck not by how dated but by how timeless he is. He insists abstract values are present in both abstract and figurative art, and the art of the past as much as the present. He is good at summing up both impurity and purity. He saw Surrealist painting as an example of the former. He says such painting is really an art of 'vicarious wish fulfilment' -- 'The artist shows us how he would prefer life to look or how -- as children do -- he would prefer to be frightened.' In his description of the limitations of Surrealist painting (all pseudo-meaning, and no visual richness as such) you feel you might be hearing about the limitations of the painting of our own time: 'The Surrealist image provides painting with new anecdotes to illustrate, just as current events supply new topics to the political cartoonist, but of itself it does not charge painting with a new subject matter. On the contrary it has promoted the rehabilitation of academic art under a new literary disguise.'"

    Friday, September 24, 2010

    Lower East Side Gallery Update

    New Galleries:

    Madison Ave? Chelsea? Los Angeles? London?
    It's the new Sperone Westwater Gallery, 257 Bowery between Stanton and Houston, in the LOWER EAST SIDE!  I'm not sure if it should count as a LES gallery - it's awfully slick. And it's not even that functional because, except for the top floor, the spaces are relatively narrow and distractingly busy. I bet there's actually less usable space here than in their old space. 

    Here's their famous elevator/gallery with a guard -- a guard, for God's sake -- being a good sport about getting his picture taken:
    Work by Guillermo Kuitca on the walls
    Both the Dodge and Hendershot galleries have basements. Hendershot's is clean, relatively high, but clearly a basement. Dodge opened the back of their first floor so the space doesn't feel like a basement (see below), and it will also allow them to install very tall work -- but it makes the space kind of busy and makes it difficult to focus on the work.
    DODGEgallery, 15 Rivington (west of Chrystie) 
    Hendershot Gallery, 195 Christie, just South of Stanton.

    James Fuentes Gallery, 55 Delancy (and Eldridge) wasn't open when I went by, but they should be open now. I peeked in and it looked like a modest but well-proportioned space.

    Untitled Gallery (Ugh -- horrible name. It used to be the Rental Gallery) 30 Orchard Street, just south of Hester. They're not all that friendly either -- fortunately atypical for a LES gallery.

    Salon 94 opens an additional space on October 7th at 243 Bowery, near the New Museum.

    Other Changes:
    Moved: Scaramouche moved to 52 Orchard, a comfortable space between Grand and Hester.
    Name Changes: Dispatch to Bureau, La Viola Bank to Allegra LaViola, Rental to Untitled (see above)
    Closed: BLT, FiFi Projects, Heist Gallery.
    Sort of closed: envoy enterprises, but it's now a non-profit called NP Contemporary Arts Center, and it's run by Jimi Dams, former owner of envoy enterprises. 

    I still need to check out  several other galleries, and when I'm fairly sure the list is complete, I'll re-do the sidebar gallery guide.

    Many thanks to Anne Doran and the gallery Feature Inc. who have continued to be very generous in helping me update LES gallery activity.

    Thursday, September 23, 2010

    Does Great Music Inspire Great Art?

    Andy Warhol pictured circa 1965 with the Velvet Underground, Nico (in white)
    and Gerard Malanga (second from the left).
    Photograph, Steve Schapiro/Corbis
    Band of art brothers: does great music inspire great art? | Art and design | "From Pollock to Warhol, and now Jeremy Deller, artists have had a creative connection to music. But does great music imply great art (and vice versa)?"

    More on Max's Kansas City

    ARTINFO: 11 Hopped-Up Art World Anecdotes from the "Max's Kansas City" Book: "Steven Watson writes in one essay that 'deciding who came in was owner Mickey Ruskin's way of 'curating' people.' The pieces of photographic ephemera and scribbled memories, only some of which are collected in this book, amount to the late Ruskin's grand exhibition. In honor of this achievement, ARTINFO perused Kasher's book to cull 11 things you didn't know about Max's. And boy, are they Grade-A juicy."

    Tuesday, September 21, 2010

    Brandeis to hire new Rose Museum director - The Boston Globe

    Brandeis to hire new Rose Museum director - The Boston Globe: "“If their intent is to have a real museum as opposed to a college art center, why did they get rid of all the people who worked there in the first place, and why did they let this museum run into the ground for a year and a half?’’ said Meryl Rose, a museum donor and longtime member of the museum board of overseers."

    Video From the Art Fag City Blog

    Failing By Faction: How Diverse Are Internet Communities?: "For those who have about an hour to kill, the Dave Hickey lecture is worth a gander both for his ideas on the development of art viewing, and his thoughts on the Internet."

    Exhibition websites three ways: Bradford, Miro, LACMA | Tyler Green: Modern Art Notes |

    Exhibition websites three ways: Bradford, Miro, LACMA | Tyler Green: Modern Art Notes | "We’re 20 years into the mainstreaming of the world wide web and there’s still no museum-wide consensus on what an exhibition website should look like."

    Museum funding cuts: a danger to democracy | Art and design |

    Museum funding cuts: a danger to democracy | Art and design | "What will disappear is the generous theatre of public life that museums are so brilliant at creating. That would not only be a loss to the arts and sciences but to the very quality of our society."

    Jerry Saltz on Dan Colen's Misguided 'Poetry' -- New York Magazine

    Jerry Saltz on Dan Colen's Misguided 'Poetry' -- New York Magazine: "The problem is not so much with Colen himself, who is just a willing pawn in a dead-end game. It’s his kind of faulty thinking, and the brassy, vacuous spectacles staged at Gagosian and elsewhere, that are poisonous. Once upon a time in the nineties, art that wanted to be complicit with the system, that tried to lure collectors as it criticized the artist-dealer-buyer complex, had an edgy Trojan-horse coerciveness. A lot of people got rich creating a gigantic industry of artists, dealers, and curators who’d do almost anything for the limelight. By now, Colen’s high/low art—paintings made of cheesy materials; kicked-over tricked-out motorcycles; those skateboard ramps—is not only lazy thinking. It is old-fashioned art about old-fashioned ideas about commodity-art-about-art that no one cares about anymore. At this point, continuing to follow in the footsteps of Warhol, Richard Prince, Takashi Murakami, and Jeff Koons appears derivative, completely mechanical, and possibly corrupt. Colen fetishizes a moment that no longer exists, and behaves like nothing’s changed. People seem scared to say a lot of this art is bad; it’s as if they fear being uninvited, cast out from the circle of social light."

    Monday, September 20, 2010

    Chelsea Gallery Roundup

    SW Corner of 21st @ 10th Ave - Text by David Byrne

    Thursday night was beautiful and hundreds of galleries opened shows for the new season. The streets were packed. I went to Chelsea Friday, during the day, and it was still bustling. There are a lot of good shows:
    LA artists from the sixties and seventies are showing up again. George Herms has a mini retrospective (he's over-due for a major one) at Nyehaus, a gallery that's been exhibiting many of these artists. Herms is in his seventies and seems to be experiencing a great late phase. His new work is very different, and delightful. Here's an example:
    GEORGE HERMS, Collagio #01, 2010, Collage, 14 x 11 in, , LOVE pressed
    Courtesy, Nyehaus Gallery, New York
    On the other hand, two other LA artists from that era have not made much progress. Late works by the late Craig Kauffman at Danese are as beautiful and etherial as ever, and not much different. 
    Craig Kauffman, Saging, 2008, acrylic lacquer on vacuum formed plastic, 23.75 x 25.75 x 9.5 inches

    John McCracken at Zwirner has made even less progress. I don't know how he can keep doing the same damn thing for fifty years, or why he seems to be so popular, but so it is. 
    "50 Years at PACE" is spread out over FOUR venues in Chelsea and one on 57th Street, and that's not enough space for all the great art they have shown over the years. Take that Larry Gagosian! Just to name some of the artists: De Kooning, Rothko, Pollock, Still (what's he doing there? They never showed Still.), Johns, Warhol, Lichtenstein, Elizabeth Murray, Chuck Close, Richard Tuttle, Tom Nozkowski, Tim Hawkinson......
    Anton Perich, Andrea Feldman, Max's Kansas City, 1972, printed ca. 1995, 20 x 24 inches (Steven Kasher Gallery).

    Two shows about the artists's bar, Max's Kansas City, at Steven Kasher and Loretta Howard, pretty much capture the mixed feelings I have about that era: attracted and repelled. 1965-75 was an intense and exciting time with new ideas tossed around all the time. On the other hand, the drug scene and attitude toward women (well-captured in the videos shown at Kasher) were pretty disgusting. 
    JUDY PFAFF, Untitled, 2010, Paper, wood, wire & rod, artificial flowers, 128 x 162 x 48 inches

    Another mini-retrospective, and another artist long over-due for a major retrospective, is Judy Pfaff. Her show "Five Decades" can be seen at the Ameringer Gallery. Like Herms, Pfaff's new work is different -- more luxuriously lush and sensual than her past work. Sarah Sze, one of the best of many artists heavily influenced by Pfaff, can be seen at Tanya Bonakdar.

    Sunday, September 19, 2010

    Progress on the Powerhouse - HA!

    Photo from the Jersey City Reporter

    The Jersey City Reporter has an article on the completion of "Phase One" of the "stabilization" of the Powerhouse:
    “After 50 years of neglect, it’s unrealistic that you can turn a building of this size around inexpensively or quickly,” Antonicello said. “That being said, I’m thrilled people are taking notice of the efforts made to restore this magnificent structure.”

    The stabilization started in earnest in June of last year when Mayor Jerramiah Healy, Antonicello, officials from the Port Authority, and other city officials were on hand for the kick-off of the stabilization of the historic Hudson and Manhattan Powerhouse, the first step towards reinventing the building as a commercial and entertainment complex. The actual work started in December.

    When stabilization is complete, the Powerhouse will become an 180,000 square-foot space across five floors, filled with galleries, restaurants, and offices. The Cordish Companies, a Baltimore-based retail and entertainment developer, is the designated developer for renovating the site.
    Some points:

    1. Sealing the windows "with brightly colored boards using colors from the Redevelopment Agency’s logo" isn't much to brag about. Phase two includes the real work: relocating the electrical transformers located in the Powerhouse that power the PATH, installing a temporary roof, structural work, masonry repairs and the removal of 340 tons of polluted soil and 50 tons of non-toxic soil. So please, cut the bull.
    2. Even if the Powerhouse is completely restored (as we all hope), it will never be the "centerpiece for the long-discussed Powerhouse Arts District" because THERE IS NO POWERHOUSE ARTS DISTRICT, and there never will be because Healy is allowing the owners of the historic warehouses to demolish them.  He actually ENCOURAGED the demolition of 111 First Street by changing the zoning to allow a 60-story building -- and we can expect further demolition when the economy improves. 
    3. The Powerhouse cannot be the center of anything because, even if it's beautifully restored and all the hopes for 180,000 SF of galleries, restaurants, entertainment venues, etc. are fulfilled, IT WILL BE SURROUNDED - BURIED - BY HIGH-RISE BUILDINGS.
    4. Cities would do anything to have a large, vital art and entertainment district in an historic warehouse district. Jersey City could have had it -- the Powerhouse Arts District Redevelopment Plan was working. Several historic building were restored and other, infill buildings, were built. But Healy gave it all away. 

    Saturday, September 18, 2010

    Greetings from the contemporary No-Man's-Land

    *Note: This post is terribly late, but lack of a keyboard and "quiet time" have led to a travel backlog.  I'll do my best to play catch up in the next few days.... but right now I've got to hop the night train to Budapest. 

    I'm in Krakow on week three of my Eastern European art quest and, a Polish beer and a keyboard (finally) later I'm sitting down to give you an out-of-date-update.  Surprised?  In New York it's so easy to be surrounded by contemporary art, collectives, galleries, and, as an arts consumer, it's easy to get caught up in the idea that New York really is the center of the art universe--and that there's nothing happening between Berlin and Istanbul.  But there's a whole 'nother world out there (who must be making art, right?) so several un-answered emails, unsatisfactory responses, and a cheap flight later I had decided to try and find (at least some) of it.  Armed with artist contacts and a backpack, I set off.

    The dilemma: Why don't we hear much about Eastern-European Art in the international press?  Ah-hem. Communism. "Contemporary art" has been put on hold for a dew decades. You'll most likely see exhibitions of work from the 60's, 70's, 80's, and even 90's in major museums/art centers- if only because the huge backlog of art censored by the state is just being made available.  This explains in part why the art press has been so slow to feature new work from these areas; the insitutional vetting process just isn't there.  That being said, there are artists living and producing now in Eastern Europe, and if you look a little deeper, you'll find a host of independent galleries and artists engaging in really facinating work.

    Prague: Contemporary art in a historic Disney World?  Yes!  Like most places, you have to head slightly outsided the city to see where artists are working; the city center does play host to several contemporary venues, but they're intermingled with schmotzy traps.  Prague has several cutting-edge collectives and contemporary art centers providing much-needed venues for art now, though they're unfortunately not on the interntational radar.  I started with Futura, a center that hosts international exchanges, local work, performance and video screenings in its space west of the city center and downriver from the tourist-ridden New Town.  Their gallery space, located inside a rennovated factory masquerading as a townhouse, was hosting the work of... *first snag* artists from New York, but their gallery sitter assured me this wasn't the norm.

    Really....?  Will Prague prove to be disasterous?  Will Irene survive another night train?  Should Irene go and have another beer before continuing this retrospective?  More to come.

    More on the Jersey City Museum

    Liberace Museum Addition and Renovation, Leo Daly Architects
    The Jersey City Independent has an excellent detailed report here, and the Jersey Journal's report, here, has a rare interview with a Museum trustee.

    What happened to the Jersey City Museum is typical for non-profits in general. It's a lot easier to raise money for showy, more permanent things like new buildings than it is for on-going, relatively transient things like actual operations. Here's yet another example in today's Times:

    Liberace Museum Is Closing Its Doors - "The museum’s founding endowment has shrunk from $10 million five years ago to $1 million, a result of money-losing investments and a decision to take out an expensive mortgage to finance a renovation of the building that in hindsight, Mr. Koep said, does not seem like a wise decision."

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Jersey City officials say art museum is behind on mortgage

    Jersey City officials say art museum is behind on mortgage, bills | "City Business Administrator John “Jack” Kelly said Wednesday he was recommending the city not fund the museum, in part because of the city’s own $80 million deficit but also because of the museum’s financial problems. Kelly said the museum is behind on its mortgage and utility bills. “It’s difficult for the city to fund the museum when the museum has been closed since February, even though the city funded the museum for a 12 month period,” he said.

    While the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency donated the building at 350 Montgomery Street in 1993, the museum poured $11 million into the location to transform it from a municipal garage to an art museum. While some of the funding was raised through a capital campaign, there is a mortgage on the property."

    Monday, September 6, 2010

    Study Says Painters 30% More Likely to Develop Bladder Cancer

    Here are a few thoughts and links: Oil painters especially - Wear surgical gloves. Avoid coming in contact with paint and turps. Ventilate your workspace using exhaust fans with motors which are sealed to prevent explosions. Wash hands prior to eating or drinking. • Pastel painters wear respirator. Use a vacuum system to capture loose powders. • Airbrush painters, Spray Painters - use a respirator. Coating your lungs with Acrylic and or oil mediums will turn them to stone! Remain flexible in your endeavors. Avoid the age old practice of pointing fine brushes with your mouth. 

    Sunday, September 5, 2010

    Brooklyn Rail Interview with John Elderfield

    The Brooklyn Rail: Rail publisher, Phong Bui, interviews John Elderfield, Chief Curator Emeritus of Painting and Sculpture, the Museum of Modern Art, about MoMA's exhibition, Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913 - 1917.  Here's a taste:
    ...This was essentially Matisse’s invention: a process of observing his own intuitive reactions to what he had done, then often reworking the whole painting at the next stage. This amendatory process became, of course, the very method of making modern paintings—including, of course, paintings that look nothing like Matisse’s—although we see less of it now.

    Friday, September 3, 2010

    Miscellaneous Thoughts About “Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913 - 1917”

    The Italian Woman, 1916, oil on canvas (about 46 x 35") Guggenheim Museum, New York
    • During this period, Matisse made space tangible. This is most obvious in The Italian Woman, where he draped the space around the right shoulder of the model as if the surrounding space became a semi-opaque shawl. This merging of figure and ground goes back at least as far as the Impressionists and Cezanne. 
    • The painfully thin arms, fidgeting, nervous hands, tight mouth (not at all like Laurette - a favorite model of Matisse’s), together with the sickly yellow-green tonality, makes this one of Matisse’s most anxious paintings. 
    • The black shadow under Laurette’s chin is something Matisse did a lot and may relate to the black choker that Marguerite, Matisse’s daughter, wore around her neck and which appears in all of Matisse’s many portraits of her. When Marguerite was only six years old she contracted diphtheria and had to have an emergency tracheotomy (without anesthetic!) in order to breathe. She always wore a choker to cover the large scar. 
    Back I, Second State, Fall 1909 and Back IV, c.1931. Both plaster cast in bronze c. 1950 (about 74 x 44 x  6”) MoMA
    • The way the light reflects off of the background of Back I (somewhat exaggerated in the left photo) creates a horizon line (beginning at her buttocks) and an illusion of space that the figure inhabits. The background of Back IV, on the other hand, is very much a wall that the figure stands in front of. This is reinforced by the way the head and forearm of the the figure in Back IV extend above the wall, and the way the figure stands on the ledge rather than in front of it as in Back I.
    • Matisse had as physical a relationship with his painting as he did with his sculpture. He vigorously worked his paintings: he scraped, scored, wiped down, scumbled, incised, and sometimes painted with a stiff brush. 
    • The space in Matisse’s painting was informed by his sculptures. Just as the figure in Back IV is in front of a wall, the figures in many of these paintings (especially Bathers By A River - see below), visually begin at the surface of the canvas, as if it were a wall, and come out toward the viewer. 
    • In my opinion, Back IV is a more interesting sculpture in the original plaster, set on the floor the way Matisse kept it until he died, compared to cast in bronze and hung on the wall.  (See the photo below.) The light reflecting off the plaster sculpture is softer and more etherial, and the surface is more tactile and sensual; yet because it’s physically on the floor, it’s very much in our (i.e. real) space.
    Matisse's studio at the Hotel Regina, Nice, c. 1953
    The Moroccans has about an inch border of white-primed canvas or rabbit skin glue. This has the effect of flattening the painting and making it self-contained -- a thing (paint) existing in our world, not an imaginary picture behind (and beyond) the frame. (See my post on Monet’s Waterlilies.)
    Detail, Henri Matisse, The Moroccans, 1912-16, the Museum of Modern Art. 

    Composition No. II, c. 1909. Watercolor on paper. The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow.

    Matisse sent this watercolor (above) to his Russian patron Sergei Shchukin to share his initial idea for a painting. Shchukin apologetically replied (P.89 in the catalog):
    I cannot at present put a nude in my staircase. After the death of a relative, I took three little girls (8, 9, and 10 years old) into my household, and here in simply cannot display nudes to little girls. Do the same ronde but with the young women in dresses. The same with composition no. 2.
    Matisse responded with a drawing with the two figures on either end dressed in loose drapery and the other figures repositioned in more modest poses.

    Eugene Druet’s November 1913 photograph of Bathers by a River, digitally re-colorized to represent the appearance of the painting at the time.
    • I believe the vestiges of clothing can be seen in the final painting.  It looks to me like the figures are partly covered by a filmy gray drapery or negligee.
    • The rectangle above the seated figure is very difficult to interpret. Clearly, the bottom part continues her breasts and shoulders but is lighter as if in the sun, but Matisse radically abstracted what was a hood and some leaves and trees (see illustration above) to the point that it’s unrecognizable.  He did a similar radical abstraction with the figures in the windows and arches of The Moroccans
    Not exactly about the show:
    • From a 1951 interview by  E. Teriade, reprinted under the title “Matisse Speaks” in the 1952 Art News Annual: "Despite pressure from certain conventional quarters, the war [World War I] did not influence the subject matter of painting, for we were no longer merely painting subjects." 
    • Matisse with his cat from a Matisse website:

    • And finally, what does MoMA have against apples?