MODERN ART NOTES
Tyler Green's modern and contemporary art blog
Cezanne watercolors @ the Getty
An excerpt from my Bloomberg review of the Cezanne watercolors show at the Getty:
Cezanne in the Studio: Still Life in Watercolors is on view now at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles through Jan. 2, and it is a rare gem.
How rare? The last two museum exhibitions of Cezanne's watercolors were in 1983 and 1973, both in Europe. The most recent American show I could find that was dedicated to Cezanne's watercolors was at a New York commercial gallery, Knoedler & Co., over 40 years ago.
Watercolors are delicate and, clearly, aren't shown that often. While American museums are rich in Cezanne holdings, I can't think of a single one that exhibits his watercolors regularly.
These factors alone would make the Getty's small show of 21 paintings and two drawings a welcome event. But this exhibition is more than a surprise, more than just historically relevant. Getty curator Lee Hendrix has created a show that will surprise even Cezanne fans.
Most of the paintings come from the last 15 years or so of Cezanne's life. I had always thought of his late watercolors as energetic, quick sketches, vibrating with a near op-art effect. Cezanne achieved that feel by first drawing a composition in pencil, then by painting over it with watercolor.
The examples of Cezanne's watercolors in American museums, such as the Morgan Library, the Philadelphia Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, are all full of this energy.
But with one exception, the artworks in this show are almost completely different. In the watercolors with which I was familiar, the artist allows pencil and watercolor to duke it out.
Here, Hendrix shows us example after example of Cezanne allowing pencil and watercolor to work together. As a result, these watercolors have the rich sculptural quality of oil paintings.
Hendrix has built the show around a watercolor the Getty owns, "Still Life with Blue Pot,'' (circa 1900-1906), a masterpiece of the medium. This watercolor is as fine an example of a Cezanne still life as any Cezanne oil.
The blue pot at the center of the painting rises above the corresponding fruit in the same way Mont Sainte-Victoire rises above Provence in a Cezanne landscape. The painting's blues, reds and yellows are deep, loud and distinctive, unusual for watercolors. (The show's terrific catalogue, written by Carol Armstrong, explores this piece in remarkable scientific detail.)
posted by tylergreendc @ Wednesday, December 29, 2004 | Permanent
Roberta, Smith does MoMA, NY
Some tidbits while I fly cross-country today...
While Michael Kimmelman was busy confusing black-eyed susans with sunflowers, Roberta Smith was telling us about how some of the details of MoMA are holding up to repeated visits.
I also found some of the new juxtapositions pretty interesting. Mondrian and Joaquin Torres-Garcia. Matisse's The Serf staring down Les Dems. And more. It's going to be my favorite MoMA game on my next visit, I think.
Truitt in the Post
It was nice of the Washington Post (password, etc.) to get around to running an Anne Truitt obituary on Dec. 25, days after she passed away. And today, with Blake Gopnik apparently busy bumping into sculpture at the National Gallery, Benjamin Forgey, the Post's architecture critic, writes an appreciation piece about Truitt. For some reason he presents her as a regionalist artist, someone who made some work that the art world cared about in the 1960s and not since.
Sad. Truitt is not a regionalist, she's a significant national figure. Recent exhibits, including Ann Goldstein's A Minimal Future? @ MOCA and the re-installation of MoMA's permanent collection, have included Truitt as a vital figure. The leading historian of minimalism, Emory's James Meyer, has been especially vigilant about restoring Truitt to a position of prominence. But somehow no one at the Post has noticed any of this.
(I'd bet on a major Truitt retrospective being launched at a major American museum sometime in the next 5-7 years.)
From Ess Eff
Well, apparently art blogs are all grown up. Art magazines are picking favorites (thanks RR, AiA), art blogs are picking (magazine) favorites, and as magazines move into 21st century, the biggest of the bunch, GawkerForum, pleases no one.
So while lists are great (guilty), the fun is in the looking. Yesterday I wandered through SF MOMA, took in their new permanent collection installation (aside to Ess Eff: you have 12 hours to put up a Thiebaud before I notice that there isn't one there) and was pleased to notice a number of Lewis Baltz photos up in the photo galleries. More on all of that in the days ahead. I also drove down to Stanford's Cantor Museum to go see one painting: Richard Diebenkorn's masterful Window.
Lists are fun, but the looking is the thing. Lots later this week on SF, Stanford, Cezanne @ the Getty, and more.
We love Thelma, Reason No. er, 0
From the Whitney: "Unfortunately, On Aesthetic Values, Yesterday and Today, a conversation between scholar/critic Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and curator Thelma Golden that was scheduled to take place on Wednesday, January 5 at 7 pm, has had to be cancelled. Every effort is being made to reschedule the event for a future date."
Perhaps Thelma was too busy embarassing herself? Er, I mean shopping. (via Forward Retreat)
P.S. Who needs artists when curators can make themselves stars just by shopping for furs?
P.P.S. Announcing a new MAN contest! MAN announces our new MANpr public relations agency for curators. If you can think of a curator who needs a press agent to drum up a little attention for themselves, email us and tell us the name of the curator and your proposed PR project. (Thelma+mink = NYMag spread, already taken.) We'll post the best idea here and flack for it on MAN! I'll also come up with a prize or something. Contest closes on Dec. 27.
Related: From the Floor agrees.
Anne Truitt, Dead at 83
What a week. This is going to be incoherent because I'm still a little stunned by two deaths in one week:
I'm in Oregon right now, doing a Christmas swing through family settlements in Ashland and, later, in San Francisco. It is enormously frustrating to me that I'm 2,500 miles away from my Anne Truitt books.
I love Truitt's art more than I love her writings. But even if I were at home I wouldn't have many ways to see Truitt's work -- it just doesn't photograph well. So while I'd love to be before a Truitt right now, I know that if I were at home I could stick my nose into Daybook, Prospect, or Turn for company.
For me, Truitt's books are the best artist's diaries ever published. When I started trying to do something with this blog in late 2002, they were a kind of beacon for me, a reminder that art is a personal thing, and that response to art must come from the heart and not only from the little gray cells.
And as for Truitt's art... it made me enormously happy when Ann Goldstein played Truitt off of Judd at her MOCA minimalism show. In November I was thrilled to see Truitt in MoMA's new digs. I've always considered her one of the most under-appreciated artists of the post-war period, and I hope that we're about to see a whole lot more of Truitt's work out on view in the months ahead.
From MAN in Feburary: Revisiting Anne Truitt's Daybook: Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four.
Related: Truitt at the O'Keeffe Museum in 2000, Truitt quotations, Truitt's page at Danese, Greg Allen on the artist in the neighborhood.
On Toledo, Dallas
I wanted to spotlight two stories that AJ plugged on the main page today: One from the Dallas Morning News about the reinstallation of its contemporary collection, and one from the Toledo Blade about how Toledo arts organizations are working together to make their programs more accessible to their audience.
First, on Toledo: In NYC, DC, etc. I see a lot of directors primarily concerned with their own institutions or with building their own legacies. I rarely see museums working together to make available/market the visual arts to a macro-audience. I really never see arts organizations working together cross-platform to encourage cultural consumption. So I think what's going on in Toledo merits some attention.
On Dallas (go here for the link that bypasses registration, etc.): It's just plain fun to read about the re-installation of a collection, to see what a museum puts up... can't wait to get to SF MOMA over the weekend for the same reason.
Barnes: Don't sell any art.
The biggest problem with Barnes judge Stanley Ott's amended ruling is that it allows the Barnes to sell art that it owns. (Password, etc.) The Barnes may not sell art that hangs in the galleries, but it will be allowed to sell art not hanging in the galleries. This is bad, plain and simple. Members of the American art community -- including art dealer Richard Feigen who testified on behalf of the Barnes, and AAMD, that toothless, do-nearly-nothing sleeping giant, should put all possible pressure on the Barnes to not sell a thing. And they should do it immediately. Press releases should go out today.
(If Feigen says nothing, we know why he got involved, don't we?)
Bill Viola's The Tristan Project, Five Angels
The full text of my review of Bill Viola's "The Tristan Project," at the LA Philharmonic, and "Five Angels for the Millenium" at the Whitney:
"If the fire burns, you could feel it," Tristan sings, referring to his passion for Isolde. On the video screen above, cue fire.
And when Isolde sails across the seas to see Tristan, her love, cue a woman swimming. And when Tristan tells his pal Brangane how much he values his loyalty and wisdom, cue an oak tree, standing solidly on a hill.
These are all images in Bill Viola's "The Tristan Project," a video staging of Richard Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde," debuted this month by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The orchestra premiered Viola's newest work during the first two weekends in December, breaking the three-act opera into a three-day series of presentations. "The Tristan Project" was produced by the L.A. Philharmonic in collaboration with the Paris National Opera and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. It will travel next to Paris, debut fully staged there next April, and will continue on a multi-year, multi-city world tour.
The Whitney Museum of American Art is showing Viola's "Five Angels for the Millennium," (2001), the first time that the work has been on view in the United States. (The Whitney co-owns the installation with the Tate and the Pompidou Center.) "Five Angels" suffers from many of the same problems that "The Tristan Project" realizes more fully: Both are stuffed with clichés and both include 'angels' in white, rising from water, metaphorically ascending to heaven (of course).
The most problematic of the two productions is "Tristan." Viola's visuals are so trite, so predictable, that "The Tristan Project" could be an infomercial selling a CD of lite rock hits from the '80's. Beyond the clichés is plenty of other borrowed imagery. For "Tristan," Viola borrowed from himself (the opening sequence of Act II is strikingly similar to Viola's own forest scene in 2001's "Going Forth By Day"), and from feature films. (The grainy hand-held-camera-scanning-through-the-dark-forest scenes are right out of the film "The Blair Witch Project.")
Every other element of the production succeeded. The Los Angeles Philharmonic, led by Esa-Pekka Salonen, sounded great. The operatic performers sounded rich. But these two weekends of performances were about Viola, about the L.A. Philharmonic showing off the risk they took with a hometown artist willing to try something new. While the Walt Disney Concert Hall is the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, this was essentially a Bill Viola gallery opening at a Frank Gehry-designed museum. (The singers and the orchestra players all knew that this production was all about Viola – they frequently looked up and watched Viola's video as they waited their turn to perform.)
At this debut, "The Tristan Project" was primarily presented on a cineplex-sized screen hung above the orchestra and on another, much smaller screen at the other end of the hall, so that patrons sitting behind the orchestra could see it. The opera's super-titles were projected above the screen. The philharmonic was not in an orchestra pit, but on its usual tiered stage, surrounded by the audience on four sides. The singers both stood on the stage and sung from various vantage points among the audience. Knowing where to look and when was a challenge.
Underlying Viola's timeworn imagery is a more basic conceptual problem: "The Tristan Project" has no narrative that moves with the opera. Instead of creating a visual poem to accompany the opera, Viola has assembled a series of herky-jerky vignettes.
Worse, Viola's clips are just banal. In Act II, When Viola wanted to show us the infatuated couple, we see a man and a woman walking on the beach. When Tristan and Isolde equate the futility of their love with death, Viola sends his couple walking into the sea until waves engulf them. It feels like a video to accompany a Fleetwood Mac karaoke track.
Viola has taken inspiration from familiar images for some time now, but he has always brought enough of his own vision to a project to keep the work from being derivative. In "The Passions," exhibited at the J. Paul Getty Museum in 2003, Viola took his inspiration from paintings in the Getty's collection. Viola hired actors to act out the emotions that had been captured, in static form, in paintings. Viola's videos then slowed down the actors' movements so dramatically that at times each actor's transformation to an emotionally-specific state seemed as static as the paintings on which they were based.
"The Passions" worked because Viola added something to the visuals that inspired him. "The Tristan Project" fails because it doesn't add anything to Wagner's opera. "Five Angels" fails because it is doesn't add anything more than an artsier-than-thou presentation to well-worn imagery.
Viola is one of America's most accomplished video artists, the first artist to have a major video installation work accepted into the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example. He has created ambitious narrative installations before, most recently the masterful "Going Forth By Day," which was commissioned by the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin in 2002. In designing an opera Viola was trying something new, trying to adapt his work for the stage as Picasso, Matisse and, more recently, David Hockney have before him.
In the program notes for the premiere, stage director Peter Sellars describes The Tristan Project as a ten-year effort that will continue to unfold. I hope so.
posted by tylergreendc @ Wednesday, December 22, 2004 | Permanent
Blogged top tens
UPDATE: Top tens continue to roll in, so I'll update this throughout the day/week.
Sorry this is a day late -- AJ's content management system had a bad day on Tuesday.
A round-up of blogged top-tens, plus the seasonal cheap (but legitimate) shot at ArtForum:
posted by tylergreendc @ Wednesday, December 22, 2004 | Permanent
Knight on the Barnes
Earlier today I linked to Ed Sozanski's Sunday essay on the Barnes. In Friday's LAT, Christopher Knight laid out the terrain:
Here is the looniest part of the [Ott] decision: All parties have committed to re-creating the exact interiors of the Merion gallery in a bigger new building downtown, right down to the doorjambs, chair railings and burlap wall-coverings.
In the famously eccentric installation of the Barnes collection, folk art furniture is paired with Old Masters, Modernist paintings hang beside hand-forged iron door hinges and masterpieces are poised up near the ceiling and cannot be lowered. The existing floor plan and wall displays will be duplicated as an incredible simulation.
It is difficult to imagine anything dumber -- and besides, Las Vegas does it better. But the good burghers of Philadelphia are thrilled. Why should this sham be any different from the record of Barnes bloopers, blunders and stupidities racked up to date?
The Barnes Foundation is not important for the curriculum the school offers. It is important because of the enchanted stature of the Merion complex as a unique cultural monument. Once that's demolished, it cannot be willed back into being in a simulacrum on the parkway. All that will be left are the glorious art objects, so a traditional art museum might as well be built.
Of course, I wouldn't hold my breath for that. When you're committed to building for the good of the city, rather than for the good of culture, you are bound to make a mess of it.
A crack in the Getty armor....
Some linkage to start the week:
Reminder: Visual arts bloggers: post your top ten lists and I'll link to them tomorrow.
Me on Agnes Martin
My appreciation piece:
Back in August, a friend of mine and I vacationed in Taos, N.M. We planned to enjoy the typical vacation activities -- like hiking through the nearby mountains -- but we had another idea too. Agnes Martin, one of America's greatest artists, lived in Taos. We wanted to take her out to lunch.
Martin died today in Taos. She was 92. Martin was known for delicate, fragile, beautifully minimal paintings, often based on grids or other geometric constructs. She painted until the end of her life, showing new work at New York's Pace Wildenstein gallery as recently as June.
Normally I'd never consider cold-calling an artist and inviting them out. But a couple of years ago an artist friend of mine, John Dumbacher, visited Taos. John, who like me had never met Martin, figured he had nothing to lose by calling her to see if she'd like to join him and his brother for a meal.
He called her from his hotel and asked her out to breakfast the next day. Martin quickly agreed and suggested that the brothers pick her up outside her retirement home, Plaza de Retiro, at 8 am. John made sure he was on time.
At breakfast, they talked about art and art-making. John had seen photographs of Martin's apartment and noticed that she hadn't decorated it with any of her own paintings, so he asked her about it.
"Do you have any of your own paintings in the apartment?" he asked her.
Martin looked at him like he was stupid. "Well, no" she said. "They all sell."
That memory fresh in my mind, at about 11 o'clock of my first morning in Taos, I took a deep breath and called to ask the great artist out to lunch. Her caregiver answered the phone. I explained who I was and why I was calling, and she took down my phone number, where I was staying, and how long I'd be in Taos. (I later found out that Martin loved it when people called like this.) The caregiver explained that "Miss Martin" was still asleep and slept much of the day, but that if she was up to calling me back while I was in Taos, she certainly would.
After I finished talking with the caregiver, a friend and I walked from our hotel to The Harwood Museum of Art. In 1947, when Martin was a graduate student, Martin received her first museum exposure in a show at the Harwood. "Among the more advanced students, Agnes Martin and Earl Stroh have turned out some excellent work," the local media reported at the time.
For most of her life, Martin maintained a special connection with Taos and with the Harwood. With the exception of ten years spent in New York City, Martin lived in northern New Mexico from 1952 until she died. In 1994, Martin made a suite of seven paintings that received their debut at the Harwood. Hung in a temporarily constructed eight-sided gallery, the show was such a success that the museum built a permanent eight-sided gallery to house the paintings. After the paintings were installed in 1997, Martin herself visited the gallery frequently, even as recently as six months ago. Visiting this gallery was one of the reasons I'd traveled to Taos.
It is one of the most special galleries of art in America. The seven paintings are all five-feet square, and are built from horizontal lines and a pale blue wash. The room is gently lit: Natural light falls in from a conical skylight and the hardwood floor distributes the light throughout the space. A single bulb, about 40 watts worth, lights each canvas.
The paintings surrounded me; their delicateness intimidated me into silence. Even the sound of my pants rustling as I walked from painting to painting seemed intrusive. I quickly realized that the best way to experience Martin's paintings was to stand still in front of them and to allow myself to not just look at them, but to feel the experience of being in this place.
Ever since that visit, I've thought about how the key to enjoying Martin's paintings is less in looking at them and more in absorbing their presence. "This poem, like the paintings, is not really about nature," Martin once wrote. "It is not what is seen. It is what is known forever in the mind."
Despite spending four days in Taos, I never heard from Martin. That didn't surprise me – I'd heard rumors that her health was failing. As I drove out of town, I thought about the show of her work that I'd seen at Pace in June, the show that turned out to be her final exhibit. Those paintings had pale backgrounds. In the middle of several of the paintings were large, black geometric shapes. That day, I remembered those paintings with a great deal of discomfort. Abstract painters do not paint crows flying over wheat fields as Vincent Van Gogh did just before he died, I thought to myself, they tell us what they are feeling in different ways.
Next for the Barnes...
Update: For reasons clear only to, well, maybe to no one, the Philly Inky runs their architecture critic, Inga Saffron, talking about the new Barnes in the biz section.
Roberta thinks the Barnes/Judge Ott got it right. (Aside: Carol Vogel can't seem to write a story about the Barnes without a correction running shortly thereafter. My favorite example is when she changed Barnes boss Kimberly Camp's name to Beverly.) The city has chosen a site for the Barnes. The next major step: selecting an architect.
First, keep in mind that the Barnes will be across the street from what will likely be the Calder Foundation's Tadao Ando-designed museum. (There are problems with that plan, but I won't have logistical actualities get in the way of my post, dammit!)
So who for the Barnes? For the sake of argument, let's just assume that Renzo Piano is too busy with 23 other American museum projects, give or take a dozen. My worst fear: Robert A.M. Stern, who could do the post-Barnes, neo-somethingorother building that might appeal to someone. Archi-blogs... ideas?
Unrelated: Thanks in part to Choire Sicha, people are emailing in to ask if MAN will, er, appreciate Thelma Golden's ArtForum top ten list. Oh yes I will... Writing it now.
2004 Top Ten
In no particular order, my top ten list for 2004:
1.) Beyond Geometry @ LACMA. No show this year had more surprises. A slightly slimmed-down version is now at the Miami Art Museum.
2.) Robert Smithson @ MOCA. The theorist is dead, long live the artist.
3.) Mark Rothko, A Painter's Progress, The Year 1949 @ Pace Wildenstein. Smart show.
4.) Olafur Eliasson @ the Menil Collection.
5.) Dan Flavin @ the NGA. This was the toughest inclusion -- the installation is flawed. But the work is fantastic.
6.) Robert Lazzarini @ the VMFA. OK, so it closed on Jan. 4. I saw it on Jan. 3.
7.) Julie Mehretu @ the Albright-Knox, REDCAT. The Albright-Knox version included a Mehretu-curated show from the A-K collection.
8.) Steve Mumford's Baghdad Journal. Mumford started this project in 2003, but most of the project was published in 2004.
9.) Sally Mann @ the Corcoran.
10.) Ed Burtynsky @ the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Honorable mention: Gugg's Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated), Gugg's Brancusi, Isidro Blasco @ DCKT, Maggie Michael @ G Fine Art, Glenn Ligon @ Regen Projects, Tim Bavington @ Mark Moore, Peter Wegner @ Griffin Contemporary, Tracy Powell @ 4-F, Morandi @ Lucas Schoormans, Jennifer Steinkamp @ Lehmann Maupin, Chuck Close prints @ the Met (which opened at the Blaffer).
Note: If other bloggers post their lists, I'll link to them on Tuesday next.
posted by tylergreendc @ Wednesday, December 15, 2004 | Permanent
The Barnes will move
Behind the drive to create a tourist destination, the power-lust of the Philadelphia Establishment, and the political machinations behind the Barnes move, are two stories that haven't been told in this morning's accounts of the Barnes move:
- The Barnes is moving because Albert C. Barnes set up the Foundation with a remarkable degree of sloppiness and ineptitude. Why? Well, at the end of his life, Barnes was (at least) a bit loony. In his last months, for example, he apparently found nothing wrong with walking through one of his wife's formal ladies' parties in the nude. And when he discovered that a pipeline was going to be built around Ker-Feal, he urged his neighbors to take up arms against the construction crews. Barnes did not make adequate provisions for the long-term health of his collection and his foundation. As a result, the Barnes Foundation has been involved in all manner of litigation since six months after Barnes' death. The reason the Barnes is a mess now and the reason the Barnes is leaving is because Barnes himself did not adequately prevent this from happening. It's probably amazing that the place existed as long as it did, where it did; and
- A serious of disastrous decisions by Barnes boards of directors over the years, as well as overwhelming disinterest by Barnes boards over the years. Had any of them done their jobs and raised a little bit of money over the years, the move wouldn't be necessary.
I agree that it is sad that a jewel is being lost. But if keeping the jewel the way it was meant watching the condition of work in the collection deteriorate, then I'm glad it's moving.
Related: The ruling is here. The Los Angeles Times and New York Times put the story on A1. (The Washington Post... well, you guess.) The Philly Inky has a ton of coverage: Here's the main story, links to other stories from it. And Inky art critic Ed Sozanski is here. NPR weighs in too.
In the New York Times. New on Artnet. Pretty good two-fer, eh?
Also, I had a really interesting chat about Mumford with some gallery-going-mates at the containers in Miami. Now that I'm back home for the next week or so, I'll be posting about it here soon, I think.
Unrelated: It's late. I'll weigh in on the Barnes ruling on Tuesday afternoon.
Very unrelated: MoMA must be relieved.
Barnes ruling ahead
The Inky says that we should expect a Barnes ruling early this week. (Password, etc.)
Note: I'm out of town (and I have been for most of December). So if you're waiting on an email from me, I'll get that fixed sometime this week...
Me on David Reed
Excerpted from me on/in Bloomberg:
Just on your right as you enter Max Protetch Gallery, are six drawings by abstract painter David Reed (b. 1946). The drawings are evidently the preparatory sketches for the paintings that fill the rest of the gallery, making up an exhibit that is on view until Dec. 23. This show isn't just beautiful, it is a show that lets us in on the secret of how beauty is built.
By showing the drawings that led to his paintings, Reed rebels against the abstract expressionist legend of individualist, heroic spontaneity. Reed lets us see how he has questioned his own impulses and discussed them with painter friends. (When the ab-exers did that, they were usually drunk in a bar somewhere.)
"'Very street,'" Reed writes in pencil on one drawing, attributing the comment to painter Ingrid Calame. "And she thought the movement of the painting wasn't falling." Elsewhere on the same piece of paper, Reed records his doubts, again in pencil, about the same painting. "Marks very different than I expected – larger – ever more edges of form. More layered and broken – do they work?" Added in ink below the question, an underlined answer: "Yes."
As Susan Rothenberg found her ways to advance beyond the grand abstract gesture, so too Reed. His abstract paintings aren't statements of certainty made out of heavy black brushstrokes a la Franz Kline. Instead, Reed's bright, semi-transparent colors hover on colorful backgrounds. Nor do Reed's paintings feel as urgent or immediate as Jackson Pollock's drip paintings. Reed's work is languid and elegant, a lazy walk through a park instead of a scared sprint through the dark night.
The drawing from which I quoted is for a painting titled "#516." I think it's the best painting in the show and it demonstrates Reed's rejection of ab-ex definitiveness. "#516" is huge –10 feet vertically by 4 feet horizontally – and coiled swatches of swerving thick but seemingly translucent color suspended about halfway down the painting. Either I disagree with Calame or Reed re-worked the painting in accordance with her comment – to me the magenta and light teal swatches of paint are definitely falling.
Related: Jerry Saltz on David Reed.
Me on Rothenberg
Excerpted from Bloomberg:
Jasper Johns has numbers, Robert Ryman has white, and Susan Rothenberg has horses.
Rothenberg's early horses, as well as later work, are on view through Dec. 18 in "Drawings 1974-2004," an exhibit of Rothenberg's drawings on view through Dec. 18 at Sperone Westwater. The drawings in this show range from the playfully experimental (horses, naturally), to work that feels mature and complacent (works of dancers from the late 1980s, for example).
In the most literal sense, numbers, white and horses are what Johns, Ryman, and Rothenberg painted, but those things were never The Thing, just the neutral slates on which each explored the act of creation. All three took the heroic abstract gestures of the abstract expressionists and scaled them down.
For Rothenberg (b. 1945) horses were subject-as-petri dish, a place where she could experiment with space, line, and painterliness. Given how readily drawing lends itself to further experimentation, it's no surprise that the best works in this show are about two dozen drawings of horses, most of them in Sperone's first gallery.
I have never been as fond of Rothenberg's horse paintings as I have the work of Johns, Ryman, or the other major post-abstract expressionists. I find her paintings too expected, overly straightforward. So I was surprised how much I enjoyed an entire gallery of horse drawings from the mid-1970s.
In some of the untitled drawings in the show's first gallery, Rothenberg plays with the size of the beast, seeming to determine just how big a horse can be before it overwhelms the rectangle containing it.
In my favorite drawing in the show, Rothenberg has created a horse out of two pieces of wax-coated paper, some cellophane tape, crayon and by a bit of subtraction. The lines that create the horse are lines that have been removed – cut-out – of the two pieces of paper. When I think of Rothenberg, I think about expressionist painting on mammoth canvases. But in this work from 1974, Rothenberg has made a horse that is all about the absence of gesture, a horse so minimal that nothing has made it.
"Drawings" is hung chronologically, and as the years go by Rothenberg's drawings become less and less inventive. The horses are full of creative energy, full of Rothenberg challenging herself. But in the more recent work that inventiveness and that compulsion to experiment is less evident. Where Rothenberg once challenged her own tendency toward the expressionist gesture, in the later work Rothenberg relies almost entirely upon it.
A good example is an untitled oil-on-paper drawing from 2002. It is the Rothenberg version of a self-portrait. We see the artist looking down on her own hands and arms, a book she's reading, a table, and the two dogs at her feet. Rothenberg doesn't seem to be testing anything out here, playing with composition or toying with space. She's just placing oil on paper, hoping that she paints energetically enough to hold our attention. It doesn't work.
Coming Monday: Me on David Reed @ Max Protetch. Already: Jerry Saltz on same.
Note: Links added.
With 190 galleries in the main fair, about five dozen more in both Scope and NADA and 10 or so in Frisbee, it's really impossible to have a general overview of what fairs are any good. Like at biennials (which are dead, dead, dead), the key is to find the good work and to focus in on it. Still, each fair cultivates a certain image and clientele, so we're going to take a whack at anyway. (And I'll try not to repeat what I filed for Bloomberg on Friday and excerpted here on Monday.)
ABMB is the father of the Miami spin-offs. Certainly not all of the work is museum-quality, but there's plenty of good work to be found here. As in the first few years, I enjoyed the non-US, non-European galleries the most because I just don't see work from South America or Asia very often. There's a reason 500-600 galleries (Art Basel's reported number of applicants seemed to, er, fluctuate during the week, so look at those numbers with one eyebrow raised) applied to be in the main fair -– it looks the best, it's run the best, it attracts the biggest money.
Scope looked tired. The fair has long had organizational problems -– I've never heard a single exhibiting gallerists compliment the organizers on their user-friendliness or customer service, and maybe that's catching up to them. Fewer than a dozen galleries showed work of any interest, maybe half that many. I didn't see anything at Scope that I hadn't seen before at Scope and I found myself liking the same work: Ruby Osorio at cherrydelosreyes, Miklos Gahl at sphn (Flash alert!), Dmitri Kozyrev at Cirrus. Only Nathaniel Rackowe from London's START was new to me. The small hotel rooms inadvertently promote the showing of what Jerry Saltz calls booger art –- little, crafty objects that are as poorly assembled as they are considered. (I think he calls it that -- I confess I couldn't find it on the web this morning. Perhaps some smart SVA student can help me out with a link?)
NADA has been my favorite whipping fair for the better part of a year. And with good reason -– the fair is so haphazardly organized that several galleries who were not accepted didn't even get a letter or rejection. The fair is still too heavy on the new boys club: friends of the organizers get in, better galleries don't and this hurts the product. (I can't fathom why the brand-new and too-young-to-grow-into-impressive LA gallery Sister is in NADA for example, while lots of better LA galleries that applied weren't, to name just one example.) This is evident in the quality of work, which is wildly uneven. There were a dozen artists whose work I really liked at NADA, and virtually everything else was amateurish, to be kind. (A pink knitted octopus? Groan.) There was little middle ground.
For several years I've derided the Brooklyn galleries as the glue-and-glitter scene. My email indicates that about half of you agree with that and about half of you think I'm a catchy-phrase-addicted moron. Well, consider this: Roebling Hall featured a massive faux-Pollock, made out of… glue and glitter. The prosecution rests.
That's not to say that there weren't some highlights at NADA, it's just that most of them were from usual favorites. The Tim Bavington painting at Mark Moore was electric. I still enjoy seeing what Eric Niebuhr is up to at Mary Goldman (frames alert!). Niebuhr is tightening his poured vocabulary as my favorite pour-painter, Maggie Michael (a 2004 Joan Mitchell Foundation grantee), broadens hers. (There's a two-person show here for some university-style gallery.)
Klodin Erb, who shows with Staub in Zurich, must be a fan of the Bay Area figurative expression school because his painting mixes gesture with slather to create figures. Angelina Gualdoni from Chicago's Kavi Gupta uses similar techniques as points of emphasis within her paintings of architectural space. A couple of other painters were showing their use of related techniques, including Andrew Rucklidge at John Connelly Presents (he also shows at Toronto's Angell)and Scott Calhoun at Houston's Mixture (Flash alert!). All four appear to be responding to the flat shininess of color photography by making paintings that are unmistakably paintings, by emphasizing and embracing their chosen medium.
All praise to the Frisbee galleries for finding a place to set up shop, but that's about it.
ArtForum joins the century
ArtForum has started a blog -- kinda. It's more of a long-format diary, but at least ArtForum is beginning to revamp their website. The entries are a little long to be true blog entries, there's nary a link to be found, and they're more concerned with scene than art, but hey, maybe with ABMB out of the way they'll become more truly blog-like. Or maybe, given the academic dryness of the magazine, they'll become as stiff and unreadable as, well... let's just see how they do. We're rooting for them.
Speaking of ABMB, I'll try to have some ABMB posts up on Wednesday and Thursday. (I'm in NYC today.) For now, Walter Robinson at Artnet does his usual post-event bang-up job.
Roberta on the Whitney (kinda)
Everyone in the art world, except NYT culture editor Jon Landman (he who "does not bring to the job a thick portfolio of cultural expertise"), knows that Roberta Smith is the only NYT art critic we really love to read. (Well, MAN likes Ken Johnson too.) So on Friday, when Roberta reviewed several shows at the Whitney but mostly framed them and the Whitney within the context of MoMA, we should take note:
It can't have been easy for the other major New York museums to watch the Museum of Modern Art emerge from its chrysalis and rearrange the city's cultural landscape. The building isn't perfect (nor is the first hang of the collection), but its flaws pale beside what usually passes for museum architecture these days. New York now has something like the Tate Modern in London, or maybe even better: an intelligent, intelligible structure in which past and present, art and architecture, and the city itself come together in a rich new way.
So the Whitney Museum of American Art deserves some credit for quietly opening three interrelated exhibitions on Nov. 18, the day before the Modern went completely public. The Whitney event had an almost apologetic air, with museum officials reiterating to visitors that the overlap with the Modern's reopening was pure coincidence. Still, there was something heartening about the coincidence and the shows. They add up to a nervy little demonstration of strength and difference, like a tugboat tooting at a passing ocean liner, as if to say, "I'm still here, and nobody can do quite what I do."
After experiencing the transformed Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney feels homier, smaller and rougher around the edges - and more needful than ever of its proposed expansion, which is being designed by Renzo Piano.
But its engagement with contemporary art also feels lighter and freer, a well-tended constant not inhibited by the overwhelming glorious history and collection that continues to burden the Modern. In the end, the museums in New York should feel great about the new Modern. It has clarified the city's cultural landscape by becoming more clearly itself, which should inspire others to do the same, only differently.
So the NYT inexplicably has Holland Cotter play second-fiddle to the ever-more-dull Michael Kimmelman on MoMA, but Roberta finds a way to get a few bits in on the biggest story in NYC art. Most interesting (and welcome).
Related: AJ's Artopia on James Lee Byars @ the Whitney, BillViola.com.
Bill Viola does opera
While the art world descends upon Miami for the annual group liver workout known as Art Basel Miami Beach, the most interesting contemporary art event of the season will begin in Los Angeles. (No, not the incredible $30 King Tut show. Yuck.) Bill Viola does opera. From Diane Haithman in last Sunday's LA Times:
"The love story of Tristan and Isolde is not like a scenario of a Hollywood film or something; it's an idea," muses Gerard Mortier, new artistic director of the Paris Opera, in a telephone interview. "It's not about two persons, it's mythologic." Focusing on the love between two people is not "Tristan und Isolde," Mortier says. "It's 'Romeo and Juliet.' It's ..." -- and here he elongates the word with appropriate disdain -- "Hollywood."
That's why Mortier and his collaborators -- stage director Peter Sellars and Esa-Pekka Salonen, music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic -- are looking to Viola to take the staging of "Tristan und Isolde" to that mythic level in a new co-production of the opera by the Paris Opera and the Philharmonic.
Mortier calls Viola's video images simply "the pictures," and he hasn't seen them yet -- but he believes that Viola's gift for creating images that reflect inner emotion rather than simply recording action will give audiences insights into the psychology of the characters impossible through conventional staging.
Viola's work will receive its world premiere beginning Friday at Walt Disney Concert Hall in the "Tristan Project." The complete "Tristan und Isolde" opera, with Viola's videos, will receive a fully staged production at the Paris Opera in April, with Salonen conducting the Paris Opera Orchestra.
In Los Angeles, it's called the "Tristan Project" because each of the opera's three acts will be presented separately, in a semistaged performance, over three nights. The cast includes American tenor Clifton Forbis and American soprano Christine Brewer, who appeared with the Philharmonic in January in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
Each evening, the Philharmonic will also play a complementary piece of music influenced by "Tristan und Isolde": Act 1 (Dec. 3 and Dec. 10) will include Berg's Lyric Suite; Act 2 (Dec. 4 and 11) will be complemented by Debussy's Suite from "Pelleas and Melisande"; and the third act (Dec. 5 and 12) will also have the West Coast premiere of Kaija Saariaho's "Cinq reflets." Supertitles will be projected not on Viola's screens but on the wood walls inside the hall at various strategic locations.
Viola, 53, calls opera "the first multimedia art form" -- and relishes the opportunity to transcend the confines of traditional staging through creative use of the camera. His job is not, he insists, to turn the story of "Tristan" into a music video but to reflect the inner state of the characters the way Wagner does with the music.
Related: BillViola.com, LAPhil.org.
Not related: Posting will be sporadic (at best) for the rest of the week because the art world is in Miami. I did a snarky three-part preview of ABMB last year. Strangely, most of it works as a preview for this year. Scroll down a screen or two when you click on the link.