Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Curatorial Flashbacks #20: The Rose at 50, Part 3: Community

By Carl Belz

Community interaction during my years at the Rose didn’t stop at the entrance to the university, it extended to the cultural community at large, particularly the community of artists whose studios we regularly visited, whose work we annually exhibited and acquired, and whose presence we invariably valued as a resource and soundboard for our program. All of which I felt was entirely natural to do—which I even went so far as to imagine anyone would do within a museum whose mission was identified with the art of our time and was physically located in or near a highly sophisticated and culturally endowed city, whether it was Boston or Chicago or San Francisco or anywhere else in the country. Yet, I detected no trace of that community in the “Collecting Stories” installation, let alone an institutional relationship to it, prompting me to describe here how it came about under my directorship and what it meant regarding our exhibition and collection programs.

We began exhibiting Boston area artists at the start of my tenure as director of the Rose, in 1974, in response to a handful of considerations. For instance:

(1) There was plenty of talent available, as I had seen around town since coming to Brandeis in 1968 and had then begun to describe in monthly critical reports to Artforum magazine, where I served as a regional editor prior to moving my base to the museum. I knew there were many shows waiting to be done.
James Weeks, Figure by a Bed, 1960, oil on canvas, 164 x 131.5 cm.,
(from a catalog of an exhibition, Rose Art Museum, 2 April - 14 May, 1978).
(2) I felt we could fill a need. While there were relatively few commercial galleries in Boston at the time, there was even less in the way of institutional support. The Museum of Fine Arts and the Institute of Contemporary Art occasionally acknowledged area artists but looked primarily to New York for major exhibition programming. Suburban museums in Lincoln, Framingham, Brockton, and Duxbury served mostly local constituencies, while the college and university galleries and museums, which were numerous—at Harvard, Boston College, Wellesley College, Tufts, and Boston University—tended to be insular in serving mostly their campus constituencies. In undertaking support through exhibitions of area artists, I believed we could help generate the feedback that was so vital to their studio practice.   

(3) I was attracted to the pleasures of learning about art through knowing art’s makers since the start of my professional career. I volunteered to organize and write about an exhibition of my studio faculty colleagues upon taking my first job at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst in 1963; I supported Bay Area artists while I taught art history and was director of the Mills College Art Gallery in Oakland between 1965 and 1968; and I was already familiar with a growing number of Boston area artists whose studios I had visited, and whose work I very much respected, when I started at the Rose. I had my foot in the door to an untapped field. 

(4) Exhibitions of area artists would be economical. The program budget during my first year at the Rose was $4K, so you can see how it made sense to utilize the abundant resources at hand.

I picked the first few shows, but the vast majority was selected in tandem with curator Susan Stoops, my Team Rose helpmate for close to 20 years. Their purpose was to provide exposure, which meant giving each artist enough space to show a significant body of work, maybe only three or four pictures if they were really large, maybe eight to 10 if they were very small, which in turn meant limiting the number of artists to half a dozen on average. We titled the shows—“Stepping Out,” “Restless Natives,” “Worlds Apart,” “Seeing and Believing,” and “Out of the Woods” were among my favorites—but the titles came after the art was selected, and they were meant poetically, to suggest the aura of the artworks commingling, to evoke their shared karma. Through 24 years we covered a lot of media—painting and sculpture and their hybrids, installations, photography, paper works—but we never started out by looking for one medium or another, just as we never started out with a theme in mind, or an expressive genre such as abstract, representational, and so forth.

In fact, that’s why IMO the program worked so well, because it never started from an a priori concept—as group shows almost invariably do—it each year evolved out of a natural, open-ended process of building relationships by interacting with artists in their studios, seeing what was going on in and around town, and letting the experiences sink in. It was as though the process allowed the exhibitions each year to create themselves, as though all we needed to do was listen to the voices of the artworks we’d seen and allow them to speak for themselves, and we’d then know when we had enough for a show, which would resonate with which, what their number would be, and how and when the show would happen. The challenge lay in the looking and listening, the rest was easy.

Alas, those exhibitions stopped happening when I left the Rose, despite the fact that they had been endowed since 1983 as The Lois Foster Exhibition of Boston Area Artists, and there was no evidence of them in the 50th anniversary exhibition. A personal friend close to the museum suggested that my successors, Joe Ketner and Michael Rush, were troubled by the area artists designation, feeling it was limiting, even demeaning, to the artists’ stature in the community. If that were the case, however, it wouldn’t be news. In my own experience, there were always culturatti around who threw up smokescreens like that to mask their concern about being thought provincial—it was an effect of Boston’s proximity to New York.
In any case, and apart from our annual shows, Boston area artists were further visible among our monographic exhibitions, which included ambitious retrospectives of James Weeks, David Aronson, and Barnet Rubenstein and mid-career surveys of Todd Mckie & Judy Kensley Mckie and Katherine Porter. In addition, individual works by Boston area artists, acquired through gifts and purchases alike, always figured in, and helped significantly to define, subsets of the permanent collection that we continually sought to shape and develop—minimalism and postminimalism, realism, sculptors’ drawings, and photography, to name a few.

All of which reflects equally the highly creative cultural community we served and the highly rewarding dividends it paid. Ask any Boston area artist and they’ll tell you what that environment was like.  

(This is the third part of a three-part post)

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

Curatorial Flashbacks #19: The Rose at 50, Part 2: Education

By Carl Belz

With the survival of the Rose’s death threat, and strengthened by press releases issued from the office of new president Frederick Lawrence, discussion has pointed to the museum henceforth becoming more deeply embedded in the campus community and serving more effectively—maybe even serving exclusively—the university’s teaching mission, the goal being to become indispensable to its host institution as a whole. 

As the only director of the Rose who ever taught while at Brandeis, I submit the following on the subject of the museum’s relationship to the university community:

(1) I inherited the Charna Stone Cowen Student Loan Collection and kept it going throughout my tenure. It comprised prints, drawings and assorted artworks that were annually made available to students to hang in their dormitory rooms for $5 apiece. We periodically reviewed the collection to see if it contained objects that should be transferred to the permanent collection because of their increasing value. Early in my directorship, for instance, I found in the collection a wonderful 1942 David Smith bronze that I figured should be spared the hazards of the dormitory and sheltered more safely in my office. In any case, the program was always a big hit, a wonderful fringe benefit enhancing undergraduate life.
David Smith,  Table Torso, 1942, bronze, height 10 inches, formerly Charna Stone Cowen Student Loan Collection.
(2) I transformed the Rose Art Decorating Service (We Pick Up and Deliver) into a campus-wide operation. I learned early on that the museum was responsible for decorating the president’s suite and a few administrative offices, and, in an effort to beautify the Brandeis working environment and improve everyone’s quality of life—it was one of those utopian dreams I carried over from the 60s—I informally let it be known that members of the faculty and administration could borrow artworks from the Rose for their offices; they had only to make an appointment, spend an hour or so looking at pictures with our registrar, pick them out, and, subject to the director’s approval, we’d deliver and hang them. You probably figure I created a nightmare for Roger Kizik, our preparator, whose job it was to actually deliver and hang the pictures—as you can imagine, there was a resident art critic in every office complex—but he invariably met the challenge with aplomb and, mirabile dictu, became in the process a highly valued, campus-wide ambassador for the museum.  
Installation View, Judy Pfaff, Elephant, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, January 26 - March 5, 1995

(3) A significant amount of teaching took place in and around the Rose’s exhibition program, especially during the 1990s when, in a position newly created, education coordinator Corinne Zimmermann and curator Susan Stoops regularly worked with undergraduate interns in connection with special as well as ongoing projects. For a 1995 Judy Pfaff site-specific installation titled “Elephant,” a team of undergraduate concentrators from the Department of Fine Arts was enlisted to assist the artist throughout her creative process. Two years later, during a weeklong residency with Jonathan Borofsky on what he called “The God Project,” undergraduates from all academic departments were extended an open invitation to come to the museum anytime between 10 AM and 10PM, interact with the artist, make paintings expressing their spiritual beliefs, and then have those paintings exhibited in the company of several of Borofsky’s own works.

In addition, we periodically showcased work by members of the Department of Fine Arts studio faculty. I mounted a 1976 retrospective honoring the founder of the department, Mitchell Siporin, and a 1981 mid-career survey of paintings by Paul Georges. Group shows of the entire faculty, generally five or six artists, took place in 1982, 1987, and l994, the intervals informally determined via ongoing consults with the artists themselves. For each show, the artists individually presented gallery talks that I always enjoyed attending; coming in many cases from Yale’s graduate program, the painters in particular were culturally and intellectually informed, and, take it from me, they really knew how to talk.
Mitchell Siporin, Back of the Yards, 1938, oil on canvas, 24 1/8 x 36 1/8 inches, (Smithsonian American Art Museum, #1971.447.83).
(4) After becoming director of the Rose, I continued to teach a lecture course or seminar each spring on the history of contemporary art, and I also worked with individual students in one-on-one independent studies. Occasionally, either on my own or in tandem with an art department colleague, I was able to supervise an exceptional student in preparing an exhibition that was mounted in one of our public galleries. In any of these cases, however, my new base of operations radically affected my teaching. Instead of relying on slides alone, the age-old art historical practice, I had ready access to a broad spectrum of physical objects I could present to students for face-to-face, in-the-flesh encounters. Within a couple of years, I also realized I could introduce them to the context within which I was responsible for collecting and exhibiting those objects, so I initiated a bi-annual spring semester seminar on museum methods and procedures. The seminar ranged from practical challenges to ethical and aesthetic speculations, and it regularly included progress reports on the major exhibition I annually prepared for the close of the academic year—updates from the real world, you might call them. It was a seminar I personally had never taken, a seminar that didn’t even exist when I was in college or graduate school, a seminar whose content was derived not from theory but from my own day-to-day, ongoing, always enlightening, on-the-job training.

The educational programming outlined above, which was partly academic and partly administrative (read service oriented), was fully in place during Evelyn Handler’s tenure as Brandeis president, which was from 1983 through 1991. I reported directly to her office, and our meetings generally focused on development and administration. From the outset, for instance, President Handler directed me to beef up my small advisory committee into a full-fledged Board of Overseers that would “give, get, or get out,” as it was put at the time. Further on, she shared with me her wish that all Brandeis undergraduates would visit the museum at least once before they graduated. Thus did we become poised, she and I, for an ongoing and sometimes uneasy tug of war about the Rose’s intellectual or philosophical identity and program, about its institutional purpose—about whether it was first of all academic or administrative or developmental.

While working on the mandate to expand our Board of Overseers, I sought to finesse the second directive by explaining that Team Rose conceived its educational mission not as serving legions of students with a one-time taste of culture, but as serving them in numbers small enough to enable in-depth, lasting experiences. In treating aesthetic encounters as educational in and of themselves, we equated those encounters with knowledge traditionally gleaned in the classroom. Beyond service, then, and by way of intellectual (read academic) content, we conceived our exhibitions and publications as contributing to the ongoing discourse surrounding the art of our time. And, finally, we were in turn gratified by the number of students—large or small, depending on your perspective—who absorbed that mission, among them, Adam Weinberg, now Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art; Gary Tinterow, now the Engelhard Chairman of the Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Kim Rorschach, now Director of the Nasher Museum at Duke University; and—ever near and dear to my ex-jock athletic heart—Doug Stark, now Director of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum in Newport, Rhode Island.

Does any or all of this programming—or maybe some variation on it—represent the kind of embeddedness that translates into indispensability? The question is not hypothetical, as I learned to my alarm on a lovely spring afternoon back in the late 1980s when President Handler told me during a reception at the Rose that I was not going to like what she was going to do to “my” museum. That’s all she said. What she meant, I had no idea. Only later did I hear secondhand that she was planning something draconian, like selling part or all of the collection. But whatever the plan, it never left the boardroom, because, as I was also told, steadfast opposition led by university trustee and devoted museum supporter Dr. Henry Foster instead prevailed. Thus did the question seem to become hypothetical, at least for a while—until it became again very much not hypothetical with the 2009 Jehuda Reinharz announcement. And now? I’d say it’s now not only not hypothetical, it’s very real and immediate, central to any discussion of the museum’s identity and mission at the moment it readies itself to move ahead under a new director.

(This is the second part of a three-part post)

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

Curatorial Flashbacks #18: The Rose At 50, Part 1: Collecting

Opening reception, "Collecting Stories," The Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University (photo thanks to the Slowmuse website).
By Carl Belz

The Rose Art Museum at Brandeis recently kicked off its 50th anniversary celebration with an exhibition called “Art at the Origin: The Early 1960s,” an event that a few years ago seemed to have been cut off at the neck with the announcement by then president Jehuda Reinharz that the museum would be closed and the collection sold in order to keep its host institution financially afloat. The exhibition highlights paintings acquired by founding director Sam Hunter, all of them new at the time—by artists such as Johns and Rauschenberg, Louis, Kelly, Warhol, and Lichtenstein—paintings that effectively, and in some cases controversially, identified the Rose with the art of our time. That identity persists into the present and is widely appreciated, as evidenced by “Collecting Stories,” the second part of the current exhibition, which is displayed in the museum’s spacious Lois Foster Gallery and consists of acquisitions by subsequent Rose directors during the past four decades, many of them by artists who, loud and clear, voiced their support for the Rose during the bleak months of its threatened demise.

I spent 24 years as director of the Rose prior to retiring at the close of the 1997-98 academic year. Returning on a recent weekend afternoon to see the anniversary exhibition, I found myself excited to be once more among valued old friends, especially the Abstract Expressionist, Pop, and post-painterly warhorses comprising “Art at the Origin” that I’d hung countless times while visually writing and rewriting the histories of contemporary art they told.
Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University with Stephen Antonakos neon sculpture
Yet my spirits dipped as I continued from “Art at the Origin” to “Collecting Stories.” The past 40 years, represented by a little of this and a little of that, also included old friends—some of them personal, you might say, insofar as I was involved in their acquisition—but for me the selections lacked the visual and thematic unities that highlighted the “Origin” section of the exhibition; fewer in both size and number, they also seemed to pale in comparison to the museum’s first decade, leaving the impression—unintentional, I’m sure—that the Rose’s glory days of collecting had come and gone in the 60s. With that, I began having doubts about what the Rose had accomplished during my own tenure as director. Had it really been as visually fragmentary and aimless as it now looked? Had it in fact lacked cohesive intellectual substance? Even the Steve Antonakos neon we’d acquired for the Rose fa├žade in 1986 (see photo above), the signature and site-identifying commission I’d gone mano a mano with then president Evelyn Handler to have realized—even it had disappeared into storage. I felt in turn an urge to defend myself, to pen from my own perspective a few thoughts about the institutional history reflected in the current exhibition, including the mission that’s been publicized in conjunction with it. With your indulgence I offer them here.

Sam Hunter’s most important acquisitions comprise the Gevirtz-Mnuchin Collection of 21 artworks (hereafter GMC) that were purchased in 1962/63 with a one-time gift of $50K from Leon Mnuchin and members of his and his wife’s families. In the context of today’s art market, that $50K translates into an astronomical number and makes for a fabulous investment story—I could even add a chapter about the years I spent envying that $50K—but it’s not the story we’re interested in here. Which is:

(1) Ranging from AE through Pop and Color Field painting, the GMC represented a broad swath of contemporary expression, meaning its vision of the art of our time was bigger than smaller, more inclusive than parochial; as such, its presence would be felt in subsequent acquisitions by allowing wide latitude in their selection while encouraging depth at the same time. A balance of breadth plus depth, that was the ticket. But we don’t get that balance in the Lois Foster Gallery. We get a mix of genres, encountering realism (Gregory Gillespie), postminimalism (Ana Mendieta), and the feminist critique (Kiki Smith), for instance, and we thereby catch a glimpse of the edgy complexity of the 70s and the renewed expressionism of the 80s and 90s. Yet it’s a glimpse only; as far as the larger collection picture is concerned, we sense the range but are denied the richness, and we miss an important lesson about the content of the GMC. In fact, there’s plenty more to see where those isolated examples came from, including, for starters, major paintings by Bill Beckman and Agnes Martin and Joan Snyder, paintings that buttress significantly the kindred examples now in the gallery and demonstrate they are not as isolated as they appear. 
Joan Snyder, Painter, catalog for an exhibition with an essay by Carl Belz. Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, MA, April 15 - July 31, 1994.
(2) The fact that the GMC artworks were purchased rather than gifted signified a focused and proactive approach to shaping a fledgling collection and demonstrated a first principle in museum practice generally, which is: To sustain growth, you need funding, preferably endowed; you may be a developmental whiz, able to charm the birds from the trees in attracting gifts to your collection—which Sam Hunter seems very much to have been as well—but your credibility in selling your mission can be no better served than by putting your own money on the table to demonstrate that you really mean what you say.

That same proactive approach, signifying the Rose’s ongoing leadership in its field, has been supported increasingly by endowment since 1981 when the museum’s very first purchase fund was established. I remember the day. I remember sharing a congratulatory handshake with Vice President David Steinberg, with whom I had made the pitch for funding to the trustees of the Rose estate, who that day gave us $500K. I remember being thrilled that a major piece in our institutional puzzle, a piece missing since the museum’s opening 20 years before, was now in place. And would be there in perpetuity. And would thereby ease what had been my growing concern—that, in the absence of ongoing funding, the Rose would, by default, become a museum defined by the 60s alone. Take a look at the labels in the Lois Foster Gallery, they provide a subtext within the current exhibition that lets you see how those funds have proliferated and more fully appreciate the collection growth they’ve enabled.

(3) Prior to acquiring any pictures with his $50K gift, Sam Hunter wrote a memo to Brandeis president Abram Sachar—I came across a copy years ago, purely by chance—informing him of the gift and explaining that he, Sam, would be making the acquisitions and that they would be subject to no committee of any kind, otherwise the deal would be off. Wow, think about that, a truly free-wheeling image out of the past, like an image from another world, an image of museums “at the origin”—before they became “professional,” before spectacle and entertainment, before corporate support and the corporate model—museums before trustees and overseers whose worldly business success privileged them to tell seasoned museum experts how to conduct their museum’s intellectual and aesthetic business. Sam’s memo was prescient; you certainly wouldn’t find his acquisitions procedure in any museum handbook today, but that doesn’t mean its underlying concern isn’t still with us—as I learned the hard way with the Frank Stella acquisition that didn’t happen.

(This is the first of a three-part post)

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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

More Washington

By Charles Kessler

A lot of paintings at the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington struck me as funny. I recently wrote that I found some of de Kooning’s women comical (and there is support for this in the de Kooning biography  by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan — highly recommended, by the way). I also recently found some of David Smith's sculptures playful, so maybe it's just my mood. But intended by the artist or not, I thought these paintings were a riot. See if you agree.
Frans Hals, Portrait of a Member of the Haarlem Civic Guard, c. 1636/1638, oil on canvas, 33 7/8 x 27 3/16 inches (National Gallery of Art, #1937.1.68).
Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Daniel in the Lions' Den, c. 1614/1616, oil on canvas, 105 1/2 x 147 1/2 (National Gallery of Art, #1965.13.1).
Titian, Venus with a Mirror, c. 1555, oil on canvas, 49 x 41 9/16 inches (National Gallery of Art, #1937.1.34).
This is one of my favorite paintings and Titian obviously loved it since he kept it in his studio until his death, so I doubt it was intended to be funny. Nevertheless I can’t help thinking she’s saying: “Who, moi?” There’s less doubt about this painting though:
Giorgione and Titian, Portrait of a Venetian Gentleman, c. 1510, oil on canvas, 30 x 25 inches (National Gallery of Art, #1939.1.258).
Raphael, The Niccolini-Cowper Madonna, 1508, oil on panel, 31 3/4 x 22 5/8 inches (National Gallery of Art, #1937.1.25). 
I know this is no ordinary baby, but come on.


The contrast between the way traditional and contemporary art are displayed is more extreme at the NGA than anywhere else I know of. The West Wing, where their traditional art collection is housed, is a quiet, sedately lit, intimate space with plenty of places to sit, whereas the East Wing is over-bright and uncomfortable, and most of the galleries are way out of human scale. Some very public art like Stella, Calder, and Pop Art, can handle that, but most contemporary art isn't helped by this kind of dramatic space.

And some of the East Wing installations are just plain disrespectful:
From the left: Robert Morris, Nam June Paik and Richard Tuttle installed in a vestibule near an elevator.


Mel Boucher's art has become decorative and more popular. Coincidence?
Mel Bochner, Amazing!, 2011, oil and acrylic on canvas.
Mel Bochner in conversation with James Meyer, November 9, 2011, NGA East Building Auditorium


Who said nothing’s perfect:
Jun ware bowl with rosewood stand, early 12th-mid 13th century, China,  Jin dynasty (Freer, #F1982.14a-b).


"The Invention of Glory" (until January 8, 2012), an exhibition of The Pastrana Tapestries, considered among the finest surviving Gothic tapestries, is at the NGA. Why are tapestries always so drab?


I was surprised I liked Warhol’s Shadows so much, but the other major Warhol exhibition in Washington, the NGA’s Warhol: Headlines (until January 2, 2012), was a surprising disappointment. They seemed crude and unresolved — not always a bad thing, but not something I’d expect, or want, from Warhol.

Andy Warhol, A Boy for Meg, 1962, oil on canvas, 72 x 52 inches (National Gallery of Art, 1971.87.11).


Some good surprises:
Alberto Giacometti, Standing Man, 1929-30, painted plaster (NGA 66.2043)

Giacomo Balla, Futurist Flowers, 1918-25 (reconstructed 1968), wood and paint (Hirshhorn, #86.222.1-10)
Bernardino Luini, The Magdalen, c.1525, oil on panel, 23 x 19 inches (National Gallery of Art, #1961.9.56).
I guess there’s a hole in my Italian Renaissance art history, but I don't remember Bernardino Luini. Strangely the NGA website doesn’t have anything on his paintings, only his Fresco Cycle with the Story of Procris and Cephalus, and those frescos don’t look at all like his paintings.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Washington D.C. - Fall Color

By Charles Kessler

Resplendent fall foliage in Washington -- who knew?  It primed me for all the color-oriented art I was to see.
According to their website, The Phillips Collection has been devoted to exploring “the development of color and light in modern art;” and the main attraction at The Phillips Collection right now, the exhibition Degas’s Dancers at the Barre: Point and Counterpoint (until January 8, 2012), fits in perfectly with this mission. It is also the primary reason I traveled to Washington.
Edgar Degas, Dancers at the Barre, early 1880s−1900, oil on canvas, 51 1/4 x 38 1/2 inches
(The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.).
It is a comprehensive exhibition that deepens our understanding of Dancers at the Barre, one of the most famous paintings in their collection. The show consists of about 30 major paintings, bronzes, drawings and prints from around the world that shed light on this painting's subject, composition, style of painting and color choices. In addition there are photographs from a conservation study of the painting that show Degas’s continual revisions of the dancers' positions and the many adjustments in color he made. It's an impressive scholarly and aesthetic achievement. 

Dance was a major subject for Degas (he did more than 1500 works on the subject!) and it makes sense to me that he’d be attracted to ballet. Ballet dancers, even when practicing or just hanging around, get into more interesting poses than other people. They also seem to float when they move, and even their clothes, their tutus, are light and airy. All of this allows Degas to free his forms from gravity and let them flow, breathe and glow like colored air. 

BTW, if you love Degas, in addition to the work at The Phillips there are 19 paintings, 33 drawings and 38 prints at the National Gallery. Even more impressive, the National Gallery has the largest collection of sculpture by Degas in the world --  66 of them, a remarkable two-thirds of his entire sculpture production including 52 of his original wax models. This should be enough to indulge the most fanatical Degas admirer. (But if you still haven't had enough, there's the Degas and the Nude exhibition in Boston.)
Edgar Degas, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, 1878-1881, yellow wax, hair, ribbon, linen bodice, satin shoes, muslin tutu, wood base, overall without base 39 x 14 x 14 inches (National Gallery of Art #1999.80.28). This is the only sculpture Degas exhibited in his lifetime.
Among the other Phillips exhibitions aiming to “explore the development of color and light in modern art” is Eye to Eye: Joseph Marioni at the Phillips (until January 29, 2012). Marioni is known for making almost monochromatic paintings that are composed of several layers of semi-opaque colors. His earlier work, like Robert Ryman’s, was about the physicality of the paint, and his later work, while superficially not much different, is more lyrical. I think he achieves this new lyricism the way Morris Louis does it in his "Veil Paintings" —  by showing what colors are underneath each layer, even if it’s just a little peek around the edge, sensitizing you to what colors are in the mix and thereby creating depth, light and air.

Joseph Marioni, Green Painting, 2010, acrylic and linen on stretcher, 142 x 147 cm.
Morris Louis, Faces, 1962, acrylic on canvas, 91 x 136 inches (Smithsonian American Art Museum). 
And then there’s the Phillips’s Mark Rothko Room, an installation originally created in 1960 by the museum founder Duncan Phillips with Rothko’s involvement.  It’s a small room with one classic Rothko painting on each wall, it has a single bench in the middle, and there is a limit of no more than eight visitors at a time. That might sound nice, but I’m beginning to find it irritatingly precious and pretentious. The work stands up well enough by itself and these theatrical trappings are a heavy-handed embarrassment. 
On the other hand, the room in the East Building of the National Gallery with Matisse's cut-outs is unpretentious in spite of the restricted hours and low light necessary to protect the work.  I suspect the reasons for this are that the room is larger, the art is bigger and more assertive, and the raggedness of the cuts (Matisse's version of rough brushwork) makes the work feel very present.
Detail, Henri Matisse, La Negresse, 1952, paper collage on canvas (National Gallery of Art)
The other major exhibition in Washington is also involved with color  of all things, Andy Warhol: Shadows (until January 15, 2012) at the Hirshhorn. It’s a show of rarely seen work — 102 large canvases silkscreened and hand-painted (with a mop) blown-up photographs of shadows in Warhol’s studio. The canvases are hung arbitrarily edge-to-edge for almost 450 feet along the Museum’s curved galleries. I say hung arbitrarily because Warhol originally said they should be hung randomly, but when they were first exhibited, Warhol allowed his assistants to hang them any way they wanted (which wasn't random), and the Hirshhorn, unnecessarily I believe, stuck as much as they could to the original installation. 
Hirshhorn Museum installation view of Andy Warhol, Shadows, 1978-79. Organized by the Dia Art Foundation. © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. Photo by Cathy Carver.
I don't ordinarily think of Warhol as a colorist, but this exhibition changed my mind. Not only are these gorgeous, virtuosic, luscious paintings in themselves, but the installation is a unique color experience in that, like architecture, it changes over time as you walk along it. The experience of one painting, or group of paintings, affects the experience of the next. It’s a thrilling journey.

Another nice thing about this exhibition is the presence of what the Hirshhorn refers to as  their "Interpretive Guides"  staff people who tend the exhibition but are not guards. Their job is to engage viewers about the work and answer questions. I hope other museums follow suit.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bushwick Gallery Guide

By Charles Kessler
Bushwick Gallery Guide

Bushwick was slow to recover from the looting and rioting after the infamous blackout of 1977, so it was a relatively dangerous area well into the 1990's. But now, like in the rest of New York, drug activity and crime are way down. I personally have never felt unsafe anywhere I've gone in the area.
It’s a diverse neighborhood with a large population of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and South Americans as well as many other nationalities; and even the artists are not all young hipsters but are all ages. Bushwick is also a varied urban environment with  two- and three-family townhouses next to six-family tenements next to four- and six-story factories mixed in with stores, restaurants, bars and now art galleries. But it’s the large supply of loft buildings at relatively low rent, as well as the convenience of many nearby subway stops, that has attracted artists — many of them from nearby Williamsburg.
The galleries are spread out over a large area. What is being called “Bushwick” actually includes parts of eastern Williamsburg and Ridgewood, Queens. If you have the energy, it’s possible to do it all in one afternoon (it's about 4 1/2 miles), but, if you want, you can easily split the tour into eastern and western sections. For the eastern section you can end with Factory Fresh (G) and walk back to the Morgan Street L stop from there. For the western section you can start from the Myrtle/Wyckoff L and M subway station and tour in reverse order beginning with Famous Accountants (K). You can return via the Jefferson Street L (at Wyckoff and Troutman).
Most galleries are open Friday - Monday, 1 - 6 pm, but not all of them. I only included galleries that are at least consistently open on Sundays from 1:00 - 6:00, but it's a good idea to check their websites (gallery names below are linked to their websites), email them, or call the galleries in advance to confirm. It’s also a good idea to take the gallery phone numbers with you because in some cases you may need be let in.
I took the opportunity to list some bars and a variety of restaurants along the route, as well as galleries that are only open by appointment. These are not on the map but are placed in the listings next to the galleries they are closest to. 
To start the tour, take the L train to Morgan Avenue and go out the Bogart Street exit (toward the back of the train if you’re coming from the west). 56 Bogart is across the street from where you exit.

A - 56 Bogart Street galleries:

     Bogart Salon - (203) 249-8843

     Interstate Projects   tom@interstateprojects.com

     Momenta Art - (718) 218-8058   email them via their website

     NURTUREart - (718) 782-7755   gallery@nurtureart.org 

     Studio 10 - (718) 852-4396   studio10bogart@gmail.com 
     Luhring Augustine Gallery - 25 Knickerbocker Ave (at Ingraham)
     (212) 206-9100; info@luhringaugustine.com 
     The gallery will not be open until at least January. This is the first big-time Chelsea gallery to
     open a branch in Bushwick. (Rumors are the Andrea Rosen Gallery will be next.)

B -  To go to:  Centotto - 250 Moore St  (Call to be let in: 908-338-3590)
Head south on Bogart St two blocks
Turn right onto Moore St ½ block
      Destination will be on the left

     Roberta's Restaurant  261 Moore St (near Bogart Street), (718) 417-1118; 
     Open Daily 11a.m.-Midnight

     MoMo Sushi Shack, 43 Bogart Street (near Moore Street), (718) 418-6666
     Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday

 C - To go to:  English Kills - 114 Forrest St -- use door to the garden on the right
Head back on Moore St to Bogart St
Turn right onto Bogart St, go 0.1 mi
Turn left onto Flushing Ave, go 269 ft
Sharp right onto Forrest St
      Destination will be on the left
      (917) 375-6266, info@englishkillsartgallery.com

     Grace Exhibition Space (Performance art), 840 Broadway, 2nd Floor. (646) 578-3402

D - To go to:   Airplane - 70 Jefferson St - basement
Continue southwest on Forest St to the end, 276 ft
Take the first left onto Central Avenue, go 0.2 mi, 4 short blks
Turn right onto Jefferson Street, go 0.1 mi
Turn right onto Evergreen and take a quick left to stay on Jefferson
      Destination will be on the left
      (646) 345-9394; airplanegallery@gmail.com

E - To go to:   Microscope  - 4 Charles Pl
Continue southwest on Jefferson, turn left on Bushwick Avenue, go 0.1 mi
Slight left onto Myrtle Avenue (just before the subway bridge)
Take an immediate left onto Charles Pl. 
      Destination will be on the right
      (347) 925-1433; info@microscopegallery.com

     Tandem (Bar and Restaurant), 236 Troutman Street (between Wilson and Knickerbocker)  (718) 386-2369

F - To go to:  Storefront - 16 Wilson Ave
Head back on Charles Pl to Myrtle Avenue and quick turn left onto Willoughby Ave
Go 1 blk and turn left onto Evergreen 
Go 1 short blk on Evergreen and turn right onto Troutman St, go 0.3 mi, 2 long blks
Turn left onto Wilson Ave, go 0.2 mi, about 4 short blocks
      Destination will be on the left
      (646) 361-8512;  jandrewnyc@yahoo.com
Update: Co-founder Jason Andrew will be leaving the gallery on December 18th and Deborah Brown, Storefront's other founder will be taking over the lease. The gallery will be called Storefront Bushwick.

     Narrows Bar1037 Flushing Ave (near Morgan) 
     Opens around 5 pm, (281) 827-1800

G - To go to:  Factory Fresh - 1053 Flushing Ave
Continue northwest on Flushing Ave
      Destination will be on the left
      (917) 682-6753;       ali@factoryfresh.net

     Cafe Ghia Restaurant, 24 Irving Ave (at Jefferson Street)
     (718) 821-8806, open Sun-Thur 11-10pm, Fri-Sat 11-11pm 

     Arepera Guacuco (Venezuelan restaurant), 44 Irving Ave (at Troutman Street)
     (347) 305-3300, Open for lunch and dinner every day.

     The Bodega (Bar/Restaurant), 24 Saint Nicholas Avenue (corner of Troutman St.)
     Kitchen open until 2 am.

     Sugar Art Gallery, 449 Troutman St (between St Nicholas and Cypress Avenues) 
     Open by appointment only. (718) 417-1180

H - To go to:  Norte Maar - 83 Wyckoff Ave
Continue of Flushing Ave 3 blocks
Turn right onto Wyckoff Ave and walk 5 short blks
      Destination will be on the left:
      (646) 361-8512; email them via their website

I - To go to:  Regina Rex  - 1717 Troutman St - ring bell #329
(The numbers change when you cross the Queens border -- it's not as far as the address would imply.)
Head back on Wyckoff Ave for 2 blks
Turn right onto Troutman St for 2 ½ long blks
      Destination will be on the left:
      (646) 467-2232; info[at]reginarex.org

     Northeast Kingdom (Restaurant/Bar), 18 Wyckoff Avenue (at Troutman), (718) 386-3864

     Sardine  286 Stanhope Street (between Irving and Wyckoff), a small gallery/boutique

J - To go to:  Valentine -  464 Seneca Ave
(This is a bigger space than it appears to be from outside.)
Head back on Troutman St ½ blk
Turn left onto Cypress Ave and walk 5 short blks 
Turn left onto Dekalb Ave, go 0.3 mi, 3 long blocks
Turn right onto Seneca Ave, go 0.2 mi, 3 1/2 blks
      Destination will be on the right:
      (718) 381-2962; valentineridgewood@gmail.com

K - To go to: Famous Accountants   -   1673 Gates Ave
Continue southeast on Seneca Ave, 0.3 mi, 7 1/2 short blks
Turn right onto Gates Ave
      Destination will be on the right:
      (917) 309-3540

     Small Black Door (Art Gallery), 19-20 Palmetto St. (before Forest Ave)
     Open during receptions and by appointment only. 
     Use contact form on their website to get in touch with them.

Charles Kessler is an artist and writer who lives in Jersey City.