Monday, January 31, 2011

AARP Painter Supreme: A Note on Late Style in the Art of Our Time

Hans Hofmann painting on the dunes, 1943,  Photograph by Herbert Matter
 By Carl Belz

Around the time I was first learning about art and art’s history, which was in the late 50s and the 60s, it seemed there’d be little or no chance to witness the late styles of the artists of the New York School who were then being celebrated in the world of contemporary art for “The Triumph of American Painting”. Little or nothing, that is, to compare with the haunting visions of the aging Donatello, Titian, Michelangelo, or Rembrandt, which we’d found so moving while being introduced to the Old Masters, because so few of our contemporary masters seemed to be surviving beyond their initial maturity. Gone by 1970 were Gorky, Pollock, Kline, Rothko, Newman, and David Smith, titans all, leaving in their wake the impression that the first generation of Abstract Expressionists had been born to a tragic destiny, their careers aborted by the forces of nature or their very own hands.

Against this bleak pattern of careers interrupted, Hans Hofmann stands as an earthbound and enlightening exception. A full generation older than the Abstract Expressionists among whom he circulated, and by whom he was highly respected, his firsthand experience of Matisse and Picasso in Paris at the start of the 20th century inured him to the cultural alienation that haunted many of his younger colleagues and too often propelled them toward lives of excess and self-destruction. In contrast, Hofmann was comfortable with the meaning of his enterprise; he had nothing to prove and was content to move his painting along at its own pace. He was content as well with being a teacher of art at private schools he operated for many years in New York and Provincetown, his name synonymous with  the push/pull theory that grounded his pedagogy with the message that a painting’s surface be everywhere taut, with every part in dynamic tension with every other part, thus making the painting a vital and integrated whole.
Hofmann, Hans (age 84), The Clash 1964 oil on canvas 52 x 60 inches (Berkeley Art Museum)
The fact of Hofmann’s legendary teaching of push/pull was in fact the first fact I learned about him and it was so clearly evident in his pictures that they at first seemed academic, as if his push/pull theory had been employed as a formula for their making. How off the mark that impression was hit me with the force of an epiphany when I encountered firsthand the full Hofmann experience at his 1963 MoMA retrospective. For towering before me was a painter whose work blew away one after another of the critical theories I’d been absorbing in the classroom and decisively gave the lie to any thought that his pictures were formulaic. There were paintings clearly structured as landscapes that also included crisply edged rectangular slabs of color, thus challenging the abstract versus representational divide insisted upon during the 50s in the name of modernist autonomy. There were paintings combining troweled pigment with thin washes of color, thus questioning the then-current call for singularly unified surfaces. There were recent paintings in which impulsively dripped lines suggested human figures or animals, thus recalling a Surrealist practice that had presumably been buried since the 1940s. And there were paintings, one after another after another, in which color eclipsed all of the above, casting aside the dictates and debates and theories of the day—including even the master’s own push/pull—color whose sheer and exuberant radiance left no doubt about its primacy as a vehicle for meaning.

On top of all that, there remains the fact that Hofmann hit his stride only after 1950 when he turned 70 and that he worked with undiminished power until his death in 1966. In that stretch he painted with the energy and daring of a 30-something artist in possession of the experience and authority of a fully mature adult. With each decade that has passed since I first saw them, his pictures have for me just gotten better and better, feeling ever vital as they expand their embrace and deepen their understanding of painting’s richness and the pleasures it provides. In this, the example of his achievement has become inspirational; regarding modern culture at large, his achievement has broadened our understanding of late style expression generally by leavening the tragic vision of our human condition with a joyous and celebratory declaration of its boundless emotional and intellectual capacity.

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

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Tribeca and the LES

By Charles Kessler

I haven’t been to the Tribeca galleries very often in the last few years, but all of a sudden there were several shows I wanted to see there. I’ll start with the best: POP: Eddie Arning, Freddie Brice, Ray Hamilton at KS Art, 73 Leonard Street (between Church and Broadway) curated by Anne Doran. All three artists were self-taught and didn’t start making art until later in life; and they all died in the 1990’s. The idea for the show was that, even though they had no connection to the mainstream art world, they,  like the Pop artists, employed common objects and advertisements in their art. While that is true, I don’t think anyone could possibly confuse them with Pop in any way because Pop Art is very refined, slick even, and this is very raw work. 

I don’t understand it. I just don’t understand how these guys, especially Freddie Brice, can be so good. I know the work was selected by Anne Doran, who has an excellent eye, so possibly this show is especially good — but they did a lot of excellent work.

Maybe self-taught artists have a late style like fine artists sometimes have. Maybe they reach a time in their lives when they don’t care about mundane things, they don’t care about what other people think, and they just go for it in a very direct and unselfconscious manner. And there’s the fact that they were very productive, they worked very hard at it for many years. Kerry Schuss, owner of the gallery, knew these artists and told me Freddie Brice, who was schizophrenic, worked compulsively, covering his entire room with art; and when he didn’t have paint he’d use water. So, like fine artists, maybe their hard work paid off.

But that still doesn’t explain the sophistication of some of this work. Take Freddie Brice’s Shore Stor for example. Look at the playfully rhythmic brushwork above the heel and the way the brushstrokes capture light; note the placement of the shoe so it’s cut off on the right throwing everything forward, and the boldness of the writing and how it activates the space around it. Sure the brushwork where the tongue and shoelaces would be is kind of muddled, but that adds to the charm and in a way underscores how good the other brushwork is.
Freddie Brice, Shore Stor, 1993, acrylic on canvas board, 24 x 20 inches
What really blows me away is the use of simultaneous effect in Brice’s Two Watches, Two Rings. It’s hard to see in reproduction, but the background is light greenish on the top of the painting and pinkish on the bottom portion. As a result, the entire background glows. And look at the bits of red on the top edge and bottom right — it’s right out of the Clyfford Still handbook! I just don’t understand where this uncanny ability came from — but the creative vitality and boldness of the work is thrilling.
Freddie Brice, Two Watches, Two Rings, 1992, acrylic on canvas board, 30 x 24 inches
There are several other interesting shows in Tribeca. Briefly:
  • Kimmerich, 50 White Street (between Broadway and Church), a beautiful new gallery, is showing, in conjunction with Anton Kern Gallery, a very large collage by Michael Odenbach that’s made up of what seems like thousands of tiny texts and images.   
  • The alternative space Art in General has a combination architectural installation and props for a performance by Ohad Meromi. Usually this kind of thing doesn’t work as a stand-alone installation but, while you are always aware these are props, enough thought went into the configuration of the space (spaces really) that it holds up as an installation. While you’re there, check out their bathroom -- it’s one of the most interesting in the city.     
  • ApexArt, 291 Church Street, another energetic alternative space, has a show curated by Gary Fogelson and Michael Hutchson that documents the story of innovative, locally produced, Boston’s channel 5.

The Lower East Side:
In contrast to the self-taught artists at KS Art, George Condo: Mental States at the New Museum was a real downer. I’m not going to waste time on it; suffice to say the work is academic, illustrational really, boring in composition (every one is either centralized or all-over), silly and adolescent (grotesque deformations — oooo, scary) and derivative — that it is intended is not justification for this much imitation. Enough said.

Another LES bummer was Heinz Mack, Early Metal Reliefs, 1957 - 1967 at Sperone Westwater’s new space near the New Museum at 257 Bowery. What the hell has happened to the Sperone Westwater Gallery? I know this work was done fifty years ago, but it was decorative then and it looks even thinner now. And this new tall and narrow space, which encourages a salon-style hanging, isn’t helping. It’s hard to believe that this is the same gallery that once gave Gerhard Richter his first solo show in New York and for years showed Bruce Nauman, Richard Long, Not Vital, Richard Tuttle and several Arte Povera artists. I guess some galleries are like some artists, they have about ten good years, and that’s it.

To counter the enervating and depressing Condo and Sperone Westwater shows, check out “Park Here: an Indoor Pop Up Park” at OpenHouse, a space art organizations have been using for temporary shows, 201 Mulberry Street (between Spring and Kenmare). Hurry though -- Sunday, January 30th is the last day. When I went, people were really using it: eating lunch, reading, kids running around, couples snuggling on the “grass.” A real upper.
Park Here - An Indoor Pop Up Park, 201 Mulberry Street, until Sunday, January 30, 2011.

Charles Kessler is a Jersey City-based artist and writer.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

More on the Jersey City Museum

The Jersey City Museum Shuttered
The Star Ledger finally broke some old news: The Jersey City Museum is in trouble. The Jersey City Independent had a detailed report on the museum last September. I blogged about it even earlier, as did Paddy Johnson (Art Fag City) in an excellent piece of investigative journalism. But the power of the Ledger has focused more attention on this tragedy. Paddy Johnson has another post on it today, as does Hrag Vartanian (Hyperallergic). Even the Los Angeles Times weighed in with a link to the Star Ledger article. The Jersey City Reporter only has a few paragraphs, more like a blog link, probably because they recently fired their only real reporter, Ricardo Kaulessar — more bad news for Jersey City.

The building was a mistake to begin with. They should convert it into an art incubator and move the Museum somewhere else -- somewhere cheaper.  I have nothing more to add.

UPDATE: Add WNYC News to the mix.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Met, Chelsea Galleries and Some Reading Suggestions

By Charles Kessler

It’s a slow time for art in New York -- relatively speaking, of course. There aren’t many good exhibitions around, and no blockbusters. On the other hand, there aren't as many tourists, and kids are back in school, so the museums aren't as crowded as usual (except for the always hectic MoMA). Now is a great time to enjoy New York museums' permanent collections. 

I was looking forward to an undistracted contemplation of Cezanne's Card Players, a painting I visit almost every time I go to the Met, but dammit, the painting was taken down! But wait a minute..., it was removed in preparation for an exhibition of Cezanne’s card player paintings and drawings that opens February 9th. Yaaay! It’s an exhibition that began at the Courtauld Gallery and got rave reviews from London critics.

And of the million other things at the Met, be sure not to miss two great Madonna and Child paintings: a touching Andrea del Sarto that will take your breath away that’s on loan to the Met, and a newly restored Filippino Lippi whose bright colors will knock your socks off. Well, I guess that sounds unpleasant -- but I'm sure you'll like them.

Andrea del Sarto, Madonna and Child, c.1530, Oil on wood, (Lent by Mrs. Alfred Taubman)

Filippino Lippi. Madonna and Child, ca. 1485. Tempera, oil, and gold on wood, before and after restoration

Chelsea is in the midst of the winter doldrums, but there are a few shows worth the trip:

It's good to see Ellen Gallagher at Gagosian on 24th explore a number of fertile directions in her first exhibition in New York since her Whitney Museum show in 2005.

112 Green Street: The Early Years (1970-1974) at the David Zwirner Gallery on 19th is a museum-quality survey of one of New York’s first artist-run galleries. Most of the work is by Gordon Matta-Clark, as it should be since he was the driving force behind the gallery as well as one of the most interesting artists of that period. But it was also good seeing an Alan Saret "gang drawing" (made with fistfuls of colored pencils) and one of his wire sculptures. Saret pretty much dropped out of the art world in the mid-80's, and I've seen very little work of his since The Drawing Center did a retrospective of his drawings in 2007.

Alan Saret, Four Piece Folding Glade, 1970, wire, 144 x 60 x 36 inches
The Andrea Rosen Gallery has three good exhibitions, including an excellent video program curated by Rebecca Cleman and Josh Kline of Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI). I can’t get the overly fancy Rosen Gallery website to display information about the exhibitions, but here it is if you want to give it a try: Andrea Rosen Gallery

For those unfamiliar with EAI, it’s a Chelsea-based repository of more than 3500 artist-made videos. Their mission is to foster "the creation, exhibition, distribution and preservation of video art, and more recently, digital art projects.” Individuals can make an appointment to view work in their collection free of charge. I did, and, with the help of the knowledgeable Rebecca Cleman, I learned a lot about the history of artists’ video.

Brice Marden at Matthew Marks on 22nd presents solid, handsome work, but work that’s too much like what he’s been showing since his  “Cold Mountain” show at DIA in 1991.

Because of the yucky weather, I haven't seen as much art as usual lately; but, as a result, I’ve had time to read more than usual. Here are some of the better things I've turned up:

Joanne Mattera has come up with practical alternative ways for artists to exhibit their work and rates them according to how desirable the DIY venue:
Joanne Mattera Art Blog: Marketing Mondays: "Where Can I Show?" Part 1
Joanne Mattera Art Blog: Marketing Mondays: "Where Can I Show?" Part 2

Paper Monument, a semi-annual print journal of contemporary art, in association with n+1, published a droll, yet accurate and useful book on art etiquette: I Like Your Work.  Excerpts posted here include instruction on proper introductions, and net etiquette. Here’s a sample of my favorite, how artists must dress:
Artists must first of all distinguish themselves from members of the adjacent professional classes typically present at art world events: dealers, critics, curators, and caterers. They must second of all take care not to look like artists. This double negation founds the generative logic of artists’ fashion.
Both Paper Monument and n+1 are well worth checking regularly for some of the best writing you’ll find on the net about politics, literature, and culture.

The Guardian has an insightful interview with Cindy Sherman here. And finally, this ArtInfo interview with Glenn Lowry on Why MoMA Needs to Grow — Again is yet more vindication of my complaints about MoMA’s new building.

Charles Kessler is an artist and writer based in Jersey City

Friday, January 14, 2011

Reading Suggestions

14th Street and Eighth Avenue subway station
 By Charles Kessler

Via Laura Collins-Hughes in ArtsJournal came this photo of artist Jason Shelowitz’s official-looking, MTA notice. I love that it’s next to a Tom Otterness sculpture.  

Christopher Knight raises an interesting question about the need for, or even desirability of, natural light in a contemporary art museum. And Nicolai Ouroussof (am I the only one that finds him difficult to understand?) of the New York Times adds...the perforations in the skin will make the sunlight mottled and uneven. And forget hanging art on most of the exterior walls. My guess is that after the first show, the entire wall will simply be boarded over, and you’ll never see it again.

The Metropolitan Museum has come up with a unique way to reach out to a broader audience, or at least better engage the audience they already have. They launched a new program called Connections where members of the Met’s staff use images from the Met’s collection to explore various broad topics such as virtuosity, the ideal man, the ideal woman and religious art. I looked at most of them and found them entertaining and insightful, but I especially appreciated their enthusiasm.

Speaking of the Met, a few weeks ago the Times reported that after a year of restoration the Met is now convinced that their controversial full-length portrait of the young King Philip IV is indeed by Velazquez. I checked it out yesterday and I’m not impressed. I’m not qualified to judge, of course, but when compared to the other Velazquez paintings nearby this looks pretty weak.
Jonathan Jones has a funny (in a dry British way) post in the Guardian about Jeff Koons suing the manufacturer of ballon dog toys: It's funny, of course, at least if we believe those reports – the idea of an artist who so enthusiastically guzzles up images from the world around him asserting unique ownership of one of them. But I wonder if Koons has a point. I can imagine that he gets genuinely annoyed to see his influence in so many toys, souvenirs and even design objects without the least hint of acknowledgement.

Here's a thoughtful post by Ben Davis in ArtInfo where he discusses the current predominance of art news over art criticism.

And here's a bit of good news: a relatively new nonprofit, United States Artists, was formed to solicit donations to support work by artists. From their website: Supporting outstanding artistic talent has been realized by the USA Fellows program over the past 5 years. By the end of 2009, 213 artists had been named USA Fellows, each receiving a grant of $50,000, for a total of direct investment in artists equalling $10,000,000. USA's investment funded new dances, poetry, films, theatrical productions, musical compositions, paintings, sculpture, and more. Worldwide audiences of all ages have encountered these stimulating new works in galleries, on stages, in print, and online.

Since support for the arts, at least support for those making art, is no longer a government priority, this is an alternative — an insufficient one, but something.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

YAY!!! BOO!!!

By Charles Kessler

Yay: According to, New York City is re-designing the Astor Place and Cooper Square area to make it more pedestrian friendly by expanding pedestrian plazas, closing Astor Place between Lafayette Street and Cooper Square to traffic, widening sidewalks and adding seating, trees and plants.

Boo: Jersey City is re-designing Columbus Drive, in the heart of the Historic Downtown, by increasing the number of traffic lanes from an already excessive four lanes to a disastrous SIX lanes of traffic. They plan on doing this by eliminating parking during rush hour (parked cars serve as a buffer for pedestrians making city streets feel safer, and BTW, there are also more pedestrians during rush hour) and narrowing the sidewalks.
Columbus Drive on a quiet Saturday Morning
What happened to the idea of integrating Columbus Drive into the fabric of the rest of the Downtown by installing meridian strips, calming traffic, creating perpendicular parking and making it a retail street?

Jersey City, especially Downtown, is always rated among the top ten most pedestrian friendly cities in the country -- an asset this administration is spending millions to waste. Once again (e.g. The Powerhouse Arts District) Mayor Healy's administration squanders a resource other cities spend millions of dollars to acquire.

Oh, more confirmation of this administration's neglect of pedestrians: while I was out photographing Columbus Drive I nearly killed myself on the sidewalk adjacent to the Grove PATH Station -- one of the most heavily used sidewalks Downtown.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Andy Warhol's Silent Film Portraits: a Review of a Review

From the left, the films “Edie Sedgwick,” “Kiss” and “Lou Reed”
Richard Perry/The New York Times
By Charles Kessler

Andy Warhol, POPism, The Warhol Sixties by Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett:
I never liked the idea of picking out certain scenes and pieces of time and putting them together, because it ends up being different from what really happened -- it's just not like life, it seems so corny. ....I only wanted to find great people and let them be themselves and talk about what they usually talked about and I'd film them for a certain length of time and that would be the movie. ...To play the poor little rich girl in the movie, Edie didn't need a script--if she needed a script she wouldn't have been right for the part

I was so disappointed with Ken Johnson’s New York Times review of Andy Warhol's Films, unfortunately one of the only reviews so far, that I thought the best way to write about this show would be to comment [in bold and bracketed] on his review and supplement it with applicable quotes from Warhol and others (in italics).

Here it is:

Who is the fairest of them all? Edie Sedgwick, that’s who, no contest. Of the 13 subjects of the short films known as “Screen Tests”  featured in “Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures” at the Museum of Modern Art, none are loved more by the camera than that doomed “it girl” of the 1960s.

In the mid-60s Warhol made nearly 500 silent, black-and-white films of people mostly sitting still as if for photographic portraits. Some performed and some reacted to off-camera questions and comments. [For the great majority of these films, however, Warhol walked away while the camera ran.

From a Bizarre Magazine interview with Mary Woronov:]
Andy put you on a stool, then puts the camera in front of you. There are lots of people around usually. And then he turns the camera on, and he walks away, and all the people walk away too, but you're standing there in front of this camera.

...The whole purpose is to shoot people for five minutes and see what happens. What invariably happens is somebody either tries to put on a pose, but they end up being more themselves later, they drop everything because the length of time is absurd. Finally, you see the real person behind the facade.

He shot them on 16-millimeter film and showed them slightly slowed down so that they had a languid, meditative mood. (Warhol did not call them screen tests initially; they acquired that label later.) [Significantly Warhol called them “film portraits.”]

In the same period he made his punishingly long, excruciatingly uneventful films “Sleep” (1963), “Kiss” (1963-64) and “Empire” (1964), which will be screened during the run of the exhibition in a specially built small theater.  [Warhol called these films “moving pictures” (pun no doubt intended) and didn’t initially expect people to sit and watch them in a theater for eight hours any more than they’d look at a painting for eight hours. Warhol himself would only stay a few minutes at screenings. Nevertheless, as was typical for Warhol, he went along with it and made boredom a characteristic of his art.

Andy Warhol, POPism:]
I've been quoted as saying "I like boring things." Well I said it and I meant it. But that doesn't mean I'm not bored by them. ...if I'm going to sit and watch the same thing I saw the night before, I don't want it to be essentially the same -- I want it to be exactly the same. Because the more you look at the same thing, the more the meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel.
[I think this statement is also relevant to an understanding of his “Death and Disaster” paintings — a topic for another post.]

Organized by Klaus Biesenbach, the museum’s chief curator at large, the show presents all but one of these films as digital projections. A portrait of the collector Ethel Scull is presented conventionally, projected on an old-fashioned, portable screen.
“Ethel Scull,” four-minute 16 mm film loop, 1964   Richard Perry/The New York Times
Leaving aside for the moment the questionable practice of digitizing these films, the 13 portraits are fascinating period artifacts. Excepting that of Scull, each four-minute loop is projected above eye-level onto white surfaces framed by black borders in one big room.

Other than that of Sedgwick, each offers more surface than depth.  [Only if you think capturing what people are really like is superficial — but that would eliminate some of the greatest art and literature ever created.] Lou Reed and Allen Ginsberg stare unblinking at the camera as if to defy its attempt to probe their innermost selves. Dennis Hopper knits his brow, looks restlessly this way and that, sings and generally displays the assortment of tics that would become his stock in trade as an actor. [That’s why Warhol hardly ever used professional actors — this reality is more interesting and truer than actors faking unselfconsciousness (or self-consciousness for that matter) or, in the case here of Dennis Hopper, filling the time with his actor shtick.] Paul America chews gum and smirks, evidently in response to off-camera provocations.

[Andy Warhol, Andy Warhol's Index (Book):]
Q:  Why do you let your camera run for the time it runs?
A:  Well, this way I can catch people being themselves instead of setting up a scene and shooting it and letting people act out parts that were written because it's better to act naturally than act like someone else because you really get a better picture of people being themselves instead of trying to act like they're themselves.

Susan Sontag looks like an ordinary, bland young woman of the period. [That’s probably why Warhol almost always used neurotics, addicts and drama queens — they’re more interesting. But even here he accurately captures her personality; he could hardly do otherwise.] Foaming at the mouth as she brushes her teeth, Baby Jane Holzer is neither sexy nor funny. [I thought it was very funny and sexy -- but okay.] With his voluptuous lips, chiseled cheeks and hair over one eyebrow, Gino Piserchio could be auditioning for a role as one of the vain, empty-headed male models in “Zoolander.”

If the singer Nico was charismatic, you would not know it from her portrait, which keeps zooming in for close-ups of her eyes and lips. In contrast the actress Kyoko Kishida, who has an infectious smile, seems fresh and unguarded. [I agree Nico’s isn’t very interesting, maybe because, like Dennis Hopper, she was used to being filmed and admired. Maybe that’s why there’s all this zooming. This film is about beauty so he focuses in on beautiful details.

Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol:]
I really don't care that much about "Beauties." What I really like are Talkers. To me, good talkers are beautiful because good talk is what I love. The word itself shows why I like Talkers better than Beauties, why I tape more than I film. It's not "talkies." Talkers are doing something. Beauties are being something. Which isn't necessarily bad, it's just that I don't know what it is they're being. It's more fun to be with people who are doing things.
But only Sedgwick’s portrait is transfixing. With her great doe eyes and asymmetrical half smile, she seems hesitant and self-conscious, and that is what makes her portrait so affecting. She is incapable of dissimulating. [But dissimulating is real too.] Neither posing nor projecting; she appears vulnerable, emotionally naked even, and because of that, somehow brave. It is easy to see why Warhol was so infatuated with her. She was the Audrey Hepburn, the Grace Kelly, of the New York demimonde, and it is heartbreaking to see her so young and so full of promise just six years before her death by drug overdose at 28 in 1971.

Warhol’s early films are important because of the way they flout popular movie conventions and lay bare the material facts of cinematic experience. [They did that, but they remain important because of the immediate and effortless way they capture human feeling.] To endure almost an hour of close-ups of different couples kissing in “Kiss,” or eight hours and five minutes of a single, nocturnal view of the Empire State Building (“Empire”) as the office lights progressively go out, or more than five hours of the poet John Giorno sleeping (“Sleep”) would be, in theory, to become painfully hyperalert to the reality of sitting in a dark room in front of light and shadows projected onto a white screen. At best you might enter into a be-here-now state of Zen-like consciousness.

[Andy Warhol, POPism:]
...That had always fascinated me, the way people could sit by a window or on a porch all day and look out and never be bored, but then if they went to a movie or a play, they suddenly objected to being bored. I always felt that a very slow film could be just as interesting as a porch-sit if you thought about it the same way.

In these works Warhol anticipated what would come to be known as Structural Film, which, like Modernist painting, calls attention to the essential properties of the medium. Michael Snow, Douglas Gordon and Sharon Lockhart are just three of countless artists who have mined this vein.

As for digitization, it is an understandable but unsatisfying compromise. As Mr. Biesenbach observes in a MoMA blog post, with 16-millimeter film and projectors an endangered species, it is, for now, the best way to make Warhol’s films widely available. But much is lost in translation. You don’t have to get too close to the projections to see the pixels, which are distracting. [Given that Warhol thought of these films as “moving pictures,” at least initially, this presentation is even better than the original, and it’s likely Warhol would love it. And, BTW, I didn’t notice any pixilation; in fact these digital projections were a lot cleaner than the only film shown -- the one of Ethel Scull.] It is like seeing a movie on television, and that casts in doubt their status as works of art.

Are they authentic artworks, reproductions, documents or some kind of in-between hybrid? With popular movies that focus on plot, character and illusory scenes, it matters less whether we see them as film or digital projections. With Structural Film, truth to the original is more imperative. [Of course they’re reproductions, they’re films for God’s sake. This is such an old and sophomoric criticism that it needs no rebuttal.]

We would not accept a machine-made reproduction as an adequate substitute for a famous painting; a purist justifiably would say the same about film. [What the hell is he talking about? Film makers don’t expect to control what projector is used or how big the projection will be or where their films are shown. And unfortunately they have no control over the condition of the film either.] So here we are between a rock and a hard place. We get to see the films, but once removed and not the way Warhol meant them to be seen. Then again, were he alive today, would he care? Probably not.  [True — probably not. But there is a certain refined, slick, aspect to this presentation that does seem at odds with Warhol’s sensibility.

Andy Warhol, POPism:]
Raw and crude is the way I liked our movies to look, and there's a similarity between the sound of that album (The Velvet Underground) and the texture of Chelsea Girls, which came out of the same time.

“Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures” is on view through March 21 at the Museum of Modern Art; (212) 708-9400,

Monday, January 3, 2011

I’ve Been Doing a Lot of Reading Over The Holidays:

By Charles Kessler

Two good (i.e., I agree with them) articles came out today. Roberta Smith criticizes MoMA’s disastrous new space and discusses how it influences the kind of art they can show. (Last year I posted my own criticism of MoMA’s space here.) I don’t, however, agree with her take on the what she refers to as the “glamorously digitalized screen tests by Andy Warhol, minimally organized by the museum’s curator at large, Klaus Biesenbach” -- I’ll be writing about this show soon. And Kyle Chayka on the Hyperallergic blog suggests some “New Year’s Resolutions for the Art World.

Several articles came out in response to The Courtauld Gallery’s “Cezanne’s Card Players” — an exhibition fortunately coming to the Met on February 9th. The always brilliant T. J. Clark has a Marxist interpretation of the work here; and the Telegraph and Guardian weigh in here and here.
Cezanne, The St Petersburg ‘Smoker’ (c.1890-92).
Two posts discuss the use of phone apps in museums. The Brooklyn Museum, in their excellent blog, has a post by the Museum’s Chief of Technology, Shelley Bernstein, explaining what they’re trying to do with their app; and Arianna Huffington writes more generally about the use of technology in museums in The Huffington Post.

The Los Angeles Times has a good critique of plans for a new football stadium in downtown Los Angeles. To their criticisms I'd add that sports stadiums are street life killers and are never a good idea in downtowns. That’s why the area around stadiums are almost always depressed. (Take that, Atlantic Yards.) Another Times article is about an attempt to start an “Art Weekend” downtown as a counter to the popular “party-centric” Art Walk. Good luck.

Finally, don’t miss browsing the Museum of the City of New York’s collection of period New York photographs newly installed on their website.
Jacob A. Riis, Men in a Crowd in a Black and Tan Dive Bar, ca.1890