Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How to Make a Living as an Artist

By Charles Kessler

I recently came across a couple of useful and insightful books about the art world. I'll be writing about Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton in a future post, but for now I want to report on Jackie Battenfield's The Artist’s Guide: How to Make a Living Doing What You Love.

I know this is problematic for a lot of artists. I recently wrote about how we are all conflicted about making money on our art, including (maybe especially) successful artists. But we all need to get our work out to a larger audience in order to participate in the fine art conversation of our time, and this book can help.

The book convinced me of the value of artists' statements in promoting work. I hate artists' statements. They're usually pompous -- silly even -- poorly written and useless; but the book shows how to write one that won't make you gag. Here are some of her tips:
  • It is much better to write simply about what you know and use words and phrases from everyday language.
  • Is this writing specific to my work, or could this statement be applied to many other artists?
  • Eliminate words like unique (all works of art are unique -- it’s a given);  first (you may be wrong); and only (probably not, and hard to prove).
  •  Refrain from informing viewers how they should feel, be moved, challenged, or changed by experiencing your work.
  • Compose your statement with a sympathetic friend in mind who is genuinely interested in the work and wants to know more about it.
  • Instead of defining your work by what it is not, simply state what it is.
Because it's important, she has two chapters on networking: Your Best Allies: Your Network of PeersHow to Build a Community to Survive Being Alone. There's a chapter with viable advice on Generating Your Own Opportunities including information on open studios, art registries, public art, working with other artists, and creating a website and/or your own blog (hey no -- forget that one). and

Some other practical advice and information:
  • Consider, outside of your peers, whom you want to see your work and why.
  • Promoting your work requires you to be assertive. It does not mean you are impolite, disrespectful of others, or inappropriately aggressive.
  • There’s an exhibition checklist.
  • There's a chapter on how to price your work.
  • And finally, toward the end of the book, she offers this sage advice: If I’m not being regularly rejected, it means I’m not pursuing opportunities.
By the way, there are several blogs and websites listed on the right sidebar here under the heading "Downloads and Resources." Especially worth mentioning in this respect are:
Edward Winkleman, an art dealer and one of my favorite bloggers. He compiled several posts into a section called "Advice for Artists Seeking Gallery Representation." This is valuable advice from the horse's mouth.
New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA). Topics include: fundraising, insurance, legal, marketing and web site development.

Charles Kessler is an artist and writer based in Jersey City.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Curatorial Flashbacks #7: The Frank Stella Acquisition That Wasn’t

Frank Stella, Chocorua IV, 1966, Fluorescent alkyd and epoxy paints on canvas, 120 x 128 x 4 in., Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College
By Carl Belz

The Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth recently opened an exhibition of Frank Stella’s Irregular Polygons, a major 1966-67 series comprising 44 pictures in 11 shaped-canvas formats, each executed in four versions, and each titled for a New Hampshire town where Frank and his father took fishing trips when Frank was growing up in the 1950s. The show marks the first time that all 11 formats have been hung together, and it constitutes a spectacular event in documenting the moment when Frank laid down the blueprint for the artistic identity we continue to associate with his work today.    

In checking the website for the exhibition, one item in particular caught my attention, which was that Chocorua IV had recently been purchased by the Hood in honor of Brian Kennedy who was Director there between 2005 and 2010, who curated the show, and who is currently Director of the Toledo Museum of Art.   

That acknowledgment was heart breaking: It catapulted me back to September 1997, about a week after my birthday, when Brandeis Dean of Faculty Irv Epstein called me to his office for a meeting. We exchanged greetings. He asked me how I was. I told him I felt as though I’d arrived, I’d finally become a sixty-year-old smiling public man among school children. I got a blank look in return. I asked him what was on his mind. He asked me if I’d ever thought about retirement. Whoa, baby, what was coming down here?  

Undaunted—you can never say I wasn’t naïve—I told him I’d thought about 2001 but rejected it because it was so embarrassingly awful a movie, then I added quickly that I’d also considered 2000, a nice number—you know, the millennium and all that—plus 25 years at the helm, a dignified span. “Oh,” he queried, “You became director in 1975?”  

“No, Irv, it was actually 1974, but we could say it was 1975, we could bend the facts a little for esthetic effect, like artists do all the time.” Then, wondering what was behind his question, I asked him what he and the President had in mind.   

“We were thinking of this coming January 1st.”  

Yikes! And again yikes! He was proposing I take an early retirement, and it was a proposal that, lacking the security of academic tenure, I was in no position to refuse.   

But I nonetheless told him at once that January was impossible, I was in the process of curating a full-scale, mid-career survey of paintings by Joseph Marioni, which would take place in the spring, and I was working with my colleague, curator Susan Stoops, on a couple of major acquisitions we hoped to secure by the end of the academic year. He said he’d get back to me, which he did: I was permitted to finish out the academic year as Director of the Rose.  

One of the acquisitions I was referring to was a picture by Frank Stella, whose work I had followed enthusiastically since we were both undergraduates at Princeton in the late 1950s, and whose association with Brandeis had begun in the 1960s. He received a Jack and Lillian Poses Creative Arts Award in 1966. He taught courses in the Department of Fine Arts as a Visiting Artist during the spring semester of the 1968-69 academic year, and an exhibition curated by William Seitz took place at the Rose Art Museum in coincidence with his residency. I curated a second exhibition, “Frank Stella: Metallic Reliefs,” a decade later. He was presented with an honorary degree at the Brandeis commencement in 1986, and he returned to campus a year later to help us celebrate the 10th anniversary of our Patrons and Friends Exhibition Program. I’d be hard-pressed to name an artist—let alone an artist of Frank’s stature—with a relationship to the University more steadfast than Frank Stella’s. That he should be represented in the Rose Art Museum permanent collection in my eyes needed no further explanation.  

I talked with Frank about acquiring a picture for the Rose—an “historical” picture, if possible, something from the 60s or 70s—and was pleased to learn we could work directly with him instead of going to the secondary market via one or another of his gallery representatives. We then zeroed in on his Polish Village series from the early 70s, which referenced conceptually his Irregular Polygons, included his first three-dimensional relief-painting constructions, and initiated the exploration of sculptural expression that he pursues into the present moment. Each of the 40 Polish Village formats was executed in three versions, the first in paint and collage on canvas, the second in raised materials on wood, and the third in paint and collage on cardboard built into tilted sections.   
Frank Stella, Jarmolince III, 1973, Mixed media on board; 116 x 90 x 8 in.
 What we settled on was this: The Museum would acquire three works—a first, a second and a third version, each representing a different format among the 40 formats in the series. We would purchase the first two works for a total of $180K, while the third would be a Gift of the Artist in Honor of Carl Belz. It was an extraordinarily generous offer, and I was accordingly excited to present it to the Museum’s advisory Board of Overseers for their approval, which I did in the early spring of 1998.   But the presentation didn’t go off as planned. From the outset, there was contention around the table. A handful of voices seemed to have a separate agenda: The Polish Village pictures weren’t very strong; there was one in the Victor Ganz auction last year, and it was the weakest painting in the whole collection; Stella was just trying to unload works that wouldn’t sell; we should save the money to enhance the search for a new director. And so it went, I couldn’t believe the pettiness of the opinions, I was flabbergasted, but I took a vote anyway, and it was 9 to 5 in favor. Phew! The good guys had won, but it sure didn’t feel that way, it felt not like a cause for celebration, it felt like a bummer, as though we’d staggered to the finish line. And it got worse. When I called the Dean to report on the vote, he told me he couldn’t approve a transaction of that magnitude with that close a vote; it had to be unanimous, or close to it, which was a whole new procedural wrinkle, invented on the spot as far as I could tell. So there was no victory at all and no Stella for the collection. I felt like crying.  

The whole business became clear soon enough. Among those opposed to the acquisition were two or three individuals with strong donor potential who had the attention of Brandeis President Jehuda Reinhartz, and who were, therefore, effectively in control of how business was being done at the Rose Art Museum at that moment. And what did they know? “Save the money for the next director”? How degrading to the Museum—as if the Rose’s programming history and collection couldn’t by themselves attract worthy candidates for the job. Likewise, my “lame duck” status as director, which I was earnestly reminded of by one of the businessmen on the Board when I informed him of the dean’s decision—as if that fact outweighed the artistic, intellectual, and institutional substance of the proposal that had been on the table.   

So here’s the moral of the story, as I see it, for those of you who might be thinking about a museum career: Make sure the professionals run the show, and don’t make the mistake of thinking that having a lot of dough entitles the amateurs to dictate how you should do your job of work—as happened back in 1998 when a few of our wealthy Overseers got muscle by getting the ear of the President. Which makes me wonder how those folks responded when they heard that same President announce in 2009 that he was closing the Rose Art Museum and selling off the permanent collection. I wonder if they enjoyed getting a proposal they couldn’t refuse?  And should I take consolation in knowing that Brandeis at least won’t have any Frank Stella paintings to cash in on?

Carl Belz is Director Emeritus of the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University.                

Friday, October 22, 2010

Festival, fair?

By Irene Borngraeber

Around this time a year ago I published what I thought was an innocuous article about the organizers of Jersey City's first self-proclaimed "art fair"--and ended up with the biggest backlash I've ever had.  The problem wasn't my coverage or what the event was trying to do, but the term "art fair" itself.  I had assumed that readers would understand the difference between fair, art market, and art festival (there's even an entry in wikipedia about it!)--but I was all kinds of wrong.

The artists involved in a weekly outdoor market jumped all over me for excluding them as the original Jersey City "art fair" and, even though I tried to explain that I had been using the term in its commercial sense (think Armory or Affordable Art), they weren't having it--and I began to get upset.  Not because they didn't like the article, but because it had suddenly become my responsibility to make them understand a turn of phrase that was so fundamentally ingrained in the commercial art market.  I had assumed any artist seriously interested in selling their work would have already been aware (like it or not) of the fairs and their importance, and what the idea of bringing one to Jersey City could actually mean for putting local artists on the map.  But the fact that people were so confused and angry about the term made me wonder what else was getting lost in translation.

Fast forward a year--and we're still having linguistic difficulties with the sticky "art fair" term.  But this time, the issue lies with the organizers' use--year two.  I realize these are tough times for JC art.  The museum, one of the event's creators, is on the brink, and I doubt there was little (if any) money available to put this show together.  But, simply selling art in a hotel-like setting for a weekend and sending out a press release the week before doesn't make a show an art fair.

I don't want to knock anyone involved in this project, because "art fair" or not, we need more commercial art outlets in Jersey City, and any step in that direction is an important one.  But I believe it's important to be both precise and honest about what we call these events.  I came expecting the press and posers and buyers that buzz around Red Dot or Pool--and was disappointed.  And I'm sure others came (and left) with a very different idea of what an art fair actually is, right or wrong.  Ultimately, we may not be ready to host a true commercial fair in Jersey City, but we can certainly provide valuable showing opportunities for artists and chances for buyers to take work home--let's just be careful about what we call them.  

Friday, October 15, 2010

Still Ignored

Chopped liver, gribenes and lettuce.
By Charles Kessler

Clyfford Still, that is -- snubbed by the Museum of Modern Art in their exhibition, Abstract Expressionist New York.

Contemporaries of Still have entire rooms of their own: Mark Rothko (eight paintings), Barnett Newman (seven paintings plus 18 drawings in the entryway) and Jackson Pollock (eight paintings and an additional six paintings near the entrance). There are only two paintings by Still, and they are buried in the middle of the show.

In MoMA's defense, the exhibition is drawn entirely from their collection, and it’s not surprising that they own only two Still paintings. His paintings were very hard to come by. Still intentionally sold very little of his art; instead, he gave work away under strict conditions on how it was to be displayed. He gave the Albright Knox 31 paintings and the San Francisco MoMA 28 paintings; and, after he died, Still willed a whopping 825 paintings and 1575 works on paper (almost everything he ever made) to the new Clyfford Still Museum in Denver.
Clyfford Still, 1944-N No.2, oil on canvas, 104 x 87 in. (MoMA)
But why didn’t MoMA curator Ann Temkin at least place Still's seminal 1944-N No.2 in the beginning of the show where it would have stood out as an extraordinarily advanced and mature painting?  And it’s not only MoMA who undervalues Still. Roberta Smith’s review of the show points out how outrageous it is to have de Kooning represented with only four paintings, yet she doesn’t even mention Still. Peter Schjeldahl, in an uncharacteristically shallow review of the show in The New Yorker (sorry, no link available), includes Still as one of the “definers of the movement,” but “by a whisker.”

But let's compare what Still’s contemporaries were doing in 1944:
About the only artist in Still’s league was Jackson Pollock, and a case can be made that this work, great as it is, is not yet his mature work. The others didn't catch up until 1949-50.

In another post I'll write about Clyfford Still as one of the first to break from cubist composition and how he pioneered color-field painting; but for now I'd like to discuss Still's leading role in the development of large-scale paintings. This is a complicated issue. Many artists made an occasional large painting: Picasso, Matisse, Pollock; there’s even a knock-out large painting by Richard Pousette-Dart in the show. But Still was the first to make large scale a characteristic of his art by having an exhibition in which all the work was large.

There’s a lot of dispute about this including by William Rubin, long-time MoMA curator, who suggested in Artforum (February, 1967) that Still was duplicitous:  “To be sure, recent exhibitions of Still’s paintings have included giant canvases dated in the forties, but there is no evidence - based upon work exhibited at that time - of any such pictures before the fifties.” But in spite of Rubin’s doubts, Still did have an exhibition in 1944 at the Richmond Professional Institute in which all the work was large. (I found out about this exhibition while doing research for my MA thesis on Still -- in 1973 -- sheesh. FYI, a letter describing the exhibition was sent to me and later published in a catalog (page 182) of a huge exhibition of seventy-nine paintings of Still’s at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 17, 1979 - February 3, 1980.) 

Admittedly Richmond is out of the way, but by 1945 Still moved to New York and lived there off and on for most of this period; and he maintained close relationships with most of the first generation Abstract Expressionists (he even got Rothko a teaching job in the late 1940‘s at the San Francisco Art Institute).

Still also had an influential one-person show of twelve large paintings at the Art of this Century Gallery in New York in February 12 - March 2, 1946. Robert Motherwell, the most educated and historically minded of all the Ab Ex’s, said in a Summer 1967 interview with Sidney Simon in Art International: “I must say, it is to Still’s credit -- his was the show, of all the early shows of ours, that was the most original. A bolt out of the blue.” 

So why is Clyfford Still consistently disregarded? Tyler Green, who is rapidly becoming my favorite art blogger, puts it well: “... Still was a  paranoid, insulting, mean-spirited, grandiose, pompous, officious, self-important jerk. He treated MoMA and its curators badly and made it difficult for the museum to exhibit — let alone own! — his work.”

But if being an asshole is cause to be erased from art history, a lot of great artists would be unknown today.

Friday, October 8, 2010

It's All in the Details

Check out the blog Look Into My Owl for some thrilling close-up images of MoMA's “Abstract Expressionist New York” exhibition. Here's a taste:
Philip Guston, Painting (detail), oil on canvas, 1954
Ad Reinhardt, Number 43 Abstract Painting, Yellow (detail), oil on canvas, 1947

Tyler Green on the Influence of Gris on Matisse

Tyler Green: Modern Art Notes has an interesting take on the influence of Juan Gris.
"Gris’s greatest influence on Matisse was to lead him away from color and toward composition so strict and rigorous that it might be better called architectonic. Gris’ influence on Matisse is most readily evident in Matisse’s shocking late-1914 portrait of his daughter Marguerite, titled Head, White and Rose (above)."

In Greed We Trust

Patricia Piccinini, The Young Family, 2002-3, silicon, acrylic, human hair, leather, timber
I know this isn't about art, but you can always just skip it if you want.

I never understood why individual Wall Street brokers didn't  take wild financial risks in the past. I mean what changed in the last 40 years? This article by William Cohan explains some of it, and offers some good solutions.

Make Wall Street Risk It All -
"... The change occurred when Wall Street firms stopped being partnerships, in which every partner put his full wealth on the line every day, and became corporations, which put the risks on their shareholders and creditors."

"... To my mind, its central feature should be that each of the top 100 executives at Wall Street’s remaining “systemically important” firms be personally liable for the risks they take. Not just their unexercised stock options or restricted stock, but every asset they have in their possession: from their cars to their fancy homes to their bulging bank accounts. The days of privatizing the profits for Wall Street and socializing the risks must end. As radical as this sounds, in truth it would be no different from when — before 1970 — Wall Street was a series of private partnerships."

What’s Wrong with Classical Music?

Sound familiar? From Collin Eatock, 3quarksdaily:

"In the twentieth century, many composers of classical music adopted a contrarian aesthetic stance, willfully writing music that was incomprehensible to many listeners – the very opposite, in its aesthetic values, to the music that most people enjoyed. For some composers, unpopularity was valued as a badge of honour. Such perverse ideals were not so prevalent in the realm of popular music: while jazz, rock and rap all met with some initial resistance, they soon became mainstream styles, attracting millions of devotees. By contrast, contemporary classical composers drifted into such profound obscurity that most people today don’t even know they exist."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Letter to Jackson Pollock

Lee Krasner, Untitled, 1949 Oil on composition board, 48 x 37 in. (MoMA)
 By Kyle Gallup

October 7th, 2010

Jackson Pollock
c/o MoMA
11 West 53rd Street
NY NY  10019

Dear Mr. Pollock,

Congratulations on the inclusion of your pictures in the new “Abstract Expressionist New York” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. I’m writing to let you know how much I like your paintings. Admittedly, I was a little nervous about seeing the show. In the past, I have had intense feelings of competition when I’ve seen your work. Feeling like I might have the urge to stand up on one of the benches in the museum gallery and shake my fists at your largest, most dominant pictures, I steadied myself the night before thinking of the eighteen years I spent painting large scale, my canvas stapled to the floor.

I’m proud of those years and of the work I made. I learned how to create unity and an open picture by pushing color around and making decisions while being inside the painting process. I think you would be pleased to see how many painters today create paintings out of the open structured space that you and your contemporaries discovered and mastered. There is beautiful, skillful work being shown at this moment in galleries all over New York that is indebted to all of you first generation Abstraction Expressionists.  Thank you for opening up that world to me, and other artists.

I know it wasn’t easy. I can sympathize. No money, having nightmares about Picasso, feeling the need to be in the studio each day working, finding your way through the painting while shedding parameters that were used in the past must have been both difficult and exhilarating. Even now, painting abstractly can sometimes feel like being naked in the wilderness but also like standing on the highest mountain looking out over a vast, lush landscape.

I should also mention, it’s hard to make the transition from work in the studio to being outside, in the real world. How do you let go of all it takes for one to muster the courage to confront the blank canvas while working, to then being just a regular guy in the world?  I’ve learned how to make that transition and I imagine you struggled with that too.

Please let your wife, Lee Krasner, know how much I liked her painting, “Untitled 1949” in the show. The painting called to me with an urgent whisper from across the gallery, “Come over and take a good look.” Seeing the picture, feeling its intensity with those smoky grays and whites, with the dabs of orange, yellow and blue leading my eye, summoned me with their hum. As I looked at the picture, the whisper became many voices. An important conversation was being conducted but what was actually being said I could not discern. It was like being in a room just before a toast is given, a conference of women talking just before the glass is clinked and the voices quiet down.

I want to be part of that conversation and I felt included when I looked at Lee’s painting. So Mr. Pollock, that’s what time does, it widens the circle of participants allowing more artists into the discussion.

    Thanks again, and best of luck with future exhibitions.

Yours truly,

Kyle Gallup   

Kyle Gallup is an artist who works in collage and watercolor.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tyler Green, Modern Art Notes, On Matisse

There's been a lot written on MoMA's Matisse show, including on this blog, but some of the best is by Tyler Green here.

Apps for MoMA, Museum of Natural History and Others

 I recently wrote about how good the new MoMA app is. Here's another view:
Critic’s Notebook - Apps for MoMA, Museum of Natural History and Others -

Roberta Smith on ‘Abstract Expressionist New York’ at MoMA

In an excellent review of this show, Roberta Smith rightly points out its limitations. See below:
It should be said that in mounting this show, Ms. Temkin had to work with the hand dealt her by generations of curatorial and trustee decisions and preferences. Especially blatant is the institutional bias against the great Willem de Kooning, represented here by a meager four paintings placed almost at random.
She left out what I feel is an even more important shortcoming -- they only had TWO paintings by Clyfford Still (see above)! I'll be posting on this in more detail later.

Bodies in Urban Spaces - Photo Journal - WSJ

Performers form a “human sculpture” on Sunday during a piece entitled “Bodies in Urban Spaces” by choreographer Willi Dorner. (Bryan Derballa for The Wall Street Journal)
Bodies in Urban Spaces - Photo Journal - WSJ

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Return of The Reposessed, "Haunted" at the Guggenheim

 By Tom Mcglynn
Anthony Goicolea, Nail Biter, Still of a video
“Haunted” reanimates our response to what Oliver Wendell Holmes once described as the world “skinned”; to the power of the photographic image to index our imagination when its embodied subject has been long since, or even recently, gutted.

Co- curators Jennifer Blessing and Nat Trotman assemble a wide range of artists from Marina Abramovic (predictably) to Lawrence Weiner (not so), in a shadow play of debased spirituality and back door transcendentalism which might initially seem retardaire, but perhaps serves a purpose in repositioning photography beyond a premature post- modern end.

The exhibit is deftly intertwined with past and present photography, video and performance, in an associative ramble up the Guggenheim’s ramp, effectively mirroring the museum’s architecture in a recursive memory loop that collapses into itself in sometimes surprising ways.

One such instance is the succession of the archival approach of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s “Water Towers, 1980”, with a single simultaneous exposure of multiple prints from another series by these same artists’ in Idris Khan’s “Homage to Bernd Becher, 2007”. Another enactment of photo (in this case filmic) re-possession is Douglas Gordon’s “Bootleg (Empire), 1998” in which he captures Warhol’s fixedly iconic “Empire” from a shaky hand held camera in a Berlin theater. The augmentation of temporal duration in both instances takes on an idiosyncratic symmetry that exudes as its byproduct a highly distilled spirit; one might say that is dead on arrival, if not for the fact that the connections between the image and its origins are never completely severed.

What really haunts this work is the realization that, as Deleuze referred to it in his critique of cinema, the “ image renders visible, and creative, the temporal relations which cannot be reduced to the present.” The inclusion of film and performance documentation offered a flickering foil to the insistent interrogation of the fixed image. Moving pictures play with time, sometimes resuscitating art and sometimes coating it in perpetual amber.

The former is found in Thomas Demand’s extraordinarily understated film from 2002 entitled, “Recorder”. Its subject was appropriated from a banal detail of a promotional film for the unreleased Beach Boys album, “Smile”. Constructed from Demand’s materials of painstakingly cut paper, his typically eerie verisimilitude is animated here into an image of a now archaic reel –to- reel studio recording device that spools on endlessly. A barely audible, unsynched sound loop of Brian Wilson playing a harpsichord accompanies the film. The artist’s reference to the tragic hubris of genius in attempting original creation, and his own obsessive reverse engineering, conjure Frankenstein’s ghost.

Tacita Dean’s filmed homage to the recently deceased in, “Merce Cunningham performs Stillness (in three movements)”, invites one to witness a peculiar kind of artistic embalming or celebratory preservation. Cunningham sits in a quasi-modernist folding chair in a dance studio space making quotidian gestures timed to John Cage’s notorious composition of space and time duration, 4’33”. Shown on multiple panels from differing camera angles, Dean’s work aggressively inhabits real space (taking up a large area of the upper ramp of the museum) and is one of the most phenomenological pieces in the show. Her flat screens in space offer both projection surfaces and barriers to walk between and around. The complex didactic structure of this work, its tactical re -assembly of past/ present moments, is pleasantly under taken by the dancer’s subtle performance.

“Haunted” avoids many possible pitfalls of such a potentially sentimental premise for looking at photography, and creatively reexamines postmodernist strategic assumptions in an attempt to elucidate our more present aesthetic needs. If the reality of those needs can’t quite be grasped yet, the show nevertheless comes as a recognition that they exist. Melancholic reflection and magical thinking won’t bring back already dead authors, but their interior echoes may help loosen the mesmerizing spell of mere surface considerations in our current photo-rhetorical regime.

On leaving the museum I noticed that the central skylight had been covered so that only artificial light infused the space. I’ve never seen the Guggenheim in such graded values and it struck me how sensitive a choice this was to make close the hollow of the museum, which felt not so much like a mausoleum but a neo- platonic cave.

(Note: This is admittedly late for the run of the show but still early for Halloween)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Jersey City Art Tour - Today and Sunday

There are two group shows, very near each other, that I thought were particularly strong. They had an interesting premise, they stuck to it, and the work was first rate: PSYCHOPOMP at Curious Matter, 272 Fifth Street (just west of Jersey Avenue) and 365 Days of Print at the Embankment Gallery, 608 Jersey Avenue (at Fifth Street).

PSYCHOPOMP was organized by Brooklyn-based artist and curator Vincent Como. He describes psychopomp in their website this way: Arriving just before death, then leading the soul to the afterlife is the role of the psychopomp. It is a beneficent spirit, a horrible creature or in various cultures an animal.
On the sidewalk outside the gallery is a charming book kiosk, called Le Bouquiniste. For only a few dollars you can purchase one of these delightful, tactile, intimate, limited edition poetry and artist books.

365 Days of Print was the inspiration of Maya Joseph-Goteiner, who explained in her blog:
Last November, after reading about The New York Times grappling with debt and considering whether to discontinue its print edition, I initiated this blog. In it, I began to explore the newspaper as object and inspiration for making art or comment every single day. Since April, I have circulated a call for artists to contribute to 365. Fourteen artists are currently participating or have contributed to 365. As a result artist Peter Delman whose work often addresses current events offered to host the first 365 dop exhibition at his space The Embankment Gallery.
The theme has generated a lot of good work. See below:
Maya Joseph-Goteiner, Ode to you, January 13, 2010, C-Print, 11x 14 inches
 The Jersey City Museum, in their moment of need (see here, here and here), turned what was supposedly an attempt to reach out and befriend the art community, into a complete fiasco, and made plenty of enemies in the process. Not only did they send out an open call for artists to submit work for a Fall Art Tour exhibition, when the proper thing to do is decide on a show and curate one. But they made matters much worse by including the names of all the REJECTED artists on the rejection letter. What are they thinking? Nevertheless, they came up with a good (uneven, of course) show and, as you can see below, one surprisingly well-installed given the difficulty of hanging mixed shows like this.
Jersey City Museum Art Tour Exhibition
Also worthwhile are several shows at 190 Columbus (NOT 109 Columbus as stated in the Tour Guide). Norm Franceur has a good piece here (see below) as well as in the Jersey City Museum (light sculpture in the cornor of photo above), several works in a zany show at Balance (18 Erie Street) and probably several other venues in the Tour -- he's prolific and very good.
Norm Franceur @ 190 Columbus Drive

Friday, October 1, 2010

Matisse: Another Look at “Radical Invention”

Cezanne, Three Bathers (1879-1882)
 By Kyle Gallup

As the final days of the Matisse exhibition, “Radical Invention 1913-1917,” at MOMA
draw to a close, I wonder if I have anything to add to the rich volume of articles, reviews and interviews surrounding the show. I’ve seen it four times. Each viewing has brought me an inner calm allowing me to see more deeply into Matisse’s workings and accomplishments as an artist. The paintings themselves openly display their maker’s will and serious pursuit. Matisse’s inventive drawing, color, touch and experimentation can be endlessly described and discussed. For me, I continue to go back to the unexpected bonus of the small Cezanne bathers in the first gallery, the picture that Matisse held onto through hard times and throughout most of his career. Everything that Matisse needed was in that picture. He created his life’s work out of it.

Matisse bought “Three Bathers” (1879-1882) in 1899 from Vollard for 1200 francs. After nearly four decades living with the painting, in 1936, he donated it to the Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris. In November that year he wrote a letter to curator and author Raymond Escholier (1882-1971), stating plainly how important the painting had been for him over the years. 

"In the thirty-seven years I have owned this canvas, I have come to know it quite well, though not entirely, I hope; it has sustained me morally in the critical moments of my venture as an artist; I have drawn from it my faith and my perseverance; for this reason, allow me to request that it be placed so that it may be seen to its best advantage...I know that I do not have to tell you this, but nevertheless think it is my duty to tell you so; please accept these remarks as the excusable testimony of my admiration for this work which has grown increasingly greater ever since I have owned it."

He looked at “Three Bathers” for sustenance. I believe he also saw in this painting, and in Cezanne’s pursuit of his particular vision, an example of how his own artistic search might be sustained. For Matisse, extracting essential elements directly from “Three Bathers” allowed him to maintain a direct connection with Cezanne and to explore new aesthetic dimensions of his own. There lies the tradition of French painting and the seeds of what was most modern. Matisse knew it without a doubt when looking at the elder artist’s work.

Each painting seems to find Matisse touching the canvas brush stroke, by stroke, building up flat areas of color, articulating the surface. He’s feeling his way through and around the paintings. He draws and paints the figures, modeling form with his brush by working and reworking the linear edges of figures which finally creates a kind of volume that is integrated with the flat surface of the painting.  In still other paintings in the exhibit, Matisse defines flat areas with his drawing. He paints and repaints allowing the under color and transparency of earlier layering to come through. The surface always breathes even after many alterations. His connection to the picture’s surface and color is always close at hand.

Matisse sculpts his three-dimensional figures, helping him better understand form. His working process of adding and subtracting allows him to finally leave what is most essential to the sculpture he is working on. This is also true of his process while he paints. In the series of small black prints, Matisse uses a delicate white line to animate the black field.
Matisse transforming his sculpture Back (II)  into Back (III), May 13, 1913. Photograph by Alvin Langdon Coburn. Archives, International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester, New York

For Cezanne it was a dogged pursuit of visual perception—light and form—translated onto a flat surface. Matisse’s quest was much more tactile, workmanlike, a sculptor in paint finding a way to create form, almost willing the paint to create volume while maintaining flatness and integrity of the surface. In the final painting of the show, “Bathers by a River” (1916) he is able to shed the articulated figure for the complete flatness of the figure on canvas.

In their bold and determined working processes, the artists’ work offers inspirations to new generations of artists.  Though I don’t have an extraordinary small Cezanne or Matisse to hang in my studio, there are shows like “Radical Inventions,” which remind me of painting’s importance. Or I can make a visit to MOMA or the Met, answering the need to take a step back from one’s work and review the grand past.

Kyle Gallup is an artist who works in collage and watercolor.

Local Artists Turned Down by Jersey City Museum Staging ‘REJECTED!’ Show During Studio Tour | The Jersey City Independent

Local Artists Turned Down by Jersey City Museum Staging ‘REJECTED!’ Show During Studio Tour | The Jersey City Independent: "In August, the Jersey City Museum put out a call for Jersey City-based artists for a fall show that would debut at the annual Artists Studio Tour; not long after, it sent rejection letters to the artists who didn’t make the cut, and included the names of all of them on the document."

Museography: Why Are Big Museums Always in Parks?

An aerial view of New York's Metropolitan Museum, which sits between Central Park and the Upper East Side. (photo via
Museography: Why Are Big Museums Always in Parks?: "My suspicion is that the choice has to do with an inherited British idea about greenspace, the influence — if not the explicit plans — of Olmsted or Burnham, and the influence of the City Beautiful movement. That special ingrained 19th century vaguely Anglo proclivity for the park that performs the appearance of picturesque wilderness for its urban adventurers. Build art its own fortress or five star hotel and put it on the (make-believe) urban frontier — from there, a person can take in the triumphs of civilization amid the unknown terrors of Central, Grant, or Golden Gate Park."

Warhol's Factory Records

Warhol's Factory Records: "It's purely speculative what might or might not have happened to The Velvet Underground had they not been introduced to Andy Warhol. At the time, they weren't on anyone's radar, simply the resident group at Cafe Bizarre, a tourist-friendly club in New York's Greenwich Village. Even so, they were hardly a jobbing beat combo. Singer-guitarist and electro-shock therapy survivor Lou Reed, in-house songwriter for bargain bin pop imprint Pickwick Records, bonded with classically trained Welsh viola player John Cale over a mutual love of alternative tunings. Their androgynous drummer, Maureen 'Moe' Tucker, beat with mallets on toms and an upturned bass drum (no cymbals). Sterling Morrison, an accomplished bass player, claimed not to enjoy playing the instrument. Their songs, with gothic titles like 'Venus In Furs,' 'Heroin,' 'The Black Angel's Death Song,' were challenging, cacophonous drones; the antithesis of the Californian sunshine and love idyll. Undoubtedly, the VU were never going to see 'chart action' or shake the President's hand."