7.30.14 — Come Together

In the ideal group show, no one could tell the artists apart. Well, not really, but if that were the goal, David Scanavino, David Kennedy Cutler, and Michael DeLucia pull off the next best thing: their work starts as distinct and comes flawlessly together.

Scanavino plays the painter, Cutler the sculptor, and DeLucia the sophisticate in an age of computer modeling. Each gets ample space to define his approach, recently at Derek Eller (through June 28). And then they collaborate on a single work, which goes to show that they were bridging genres and media all along.

Scanavino also plays the colorist, but with materials straight out of industrial design. For those who see a lesson coming, he situates those design choices in the classroom. Linoleum supplies the angled, nested, mottled, and decidedly chaotic geometry that extends to the sides of a thick slab. Pulped construction paper supplies the almost Post-Impressionist color fields that defy flatness by their texture and optical activity alone. In each case, a child’s experience of oppressive bureaucracy collides with an adult’s sense of play. In each case, too, pixelation is never far behind.

Cutler plays the sculptor, with tall, narrow columns out of Cubism or Futurism. Their surfaces, though, are both personal and painterly, inspired by plaid shirts and bathroom tiling and ending on aluminum and rags. In between, they, too, go through computer scanning. Other shapes draw on food, gloves, and his and wife’s skin. Talk about hands-on. Only the overall lightness stands in the way of a major ick factor, a testimony to Cutler’s concerns for both object and perception.

So what's NEW!DeLucia’s surfaces look the most mechanical, in blond or gold against black. Intricate 3D modeling forms toruses, a sphere, and perhaps a lamp in one wall-sized painting. Parallel lines etch sculpture, like a futuristic Tony Smith. Both look more to the age of Buckminster Fuller than to contemporary mass production, with a CNC router cutting into plywood, rather than the malleable plastic of 3D printing. And then, in the back room, contributions from all three artists spill across the walls and onto the floor as a single work. Painting, sculpture, and the computer—all three, they insist, are altering vision and the shape of space.

Patricia Treib, Nick Goss, and Zak Prekop make another admirably compact show, at Simon Preston through August 2. Here Treib plays the abstract painter, with colors out of Henri Matisse against largely bare white. As with Matisse, too, the shapes take on vaguely human form that could well stand for sculpture, in a show of art more than a little about art.

Goss now plays the sculptor, with jagged white verticals not so far from Cutler’s. Goss bases them on folded paper, again foregrounding the process of making art. Prekop then gets to play the analyst, with tiny loops and translucent larger outlines that direct attention to the canvas.

They each get their say, with separate walls and, for the sculpture, a large central table. Only just in case one was not looking for affinities, Goss also has an oil and screen print on canvas. Which is his? One may not spot it right away, especially if Trieb’s hints of sculpture make one think of his. And, once one does, its floral doodles and evanescent shadows may look like a blurred version of Prekop’s breaking up and layering of abstract painting. Call all three artists schematic—and call it a compliment.

7.28.14 — Banking on Style

In 1787 or 1788, Francisco de Goya painted Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga—or simply The Red Boy. For a three-year-old child, he carries himself with style, and it is the subject of a longer review, in my latest upload.

How, though, did that style enter Goya’s art? Francisco de Goya's Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1787-1788)And how did it become expected of of a good life, in the Style section of the papers today, along with a healthy child and a happy family?

The same painter also portrayed the oldest brother, their mother and sister, and their father, Vicente Joaquín Osorio Moscoso y Guzman, the Count of Altamira. He most certainly did not portray the middle son, leaving that to a follower. Now the Met brings together the five paintings of the Altamira family, through August 3. Asking which portrait came first could go a long way toward making sense of their style.

The Met has borrowed the oldest son from a private collection, the middle son from the Cleveland Museum. The father comes from the show’s co-sponsor, the Banco de España, and the mother and daughter from the Met’s Lehman Collection. The boy in red, though, is right at home. Regular visitors to the museum will know Manuel well from the silvery white of his broad collar, delicate sleeves, and bowed shoes, along with the broad sash around his waist. They will cherish him for his lips sharing in the glorious red of his pants suit and for his piercing dark eyes, almost of a piece with his loose brown hair. Besides, he keeps interesting company.

Nestled nicely by his feet, a green birdcage has the spired cage of a nineteenth-century gazebo in the park, and the birds within, like the goldfinch for Carel Fabritius in the Netherlands in 1654, had a reputation for their song. To Manuel’s other side, cats eye a magpie with tense black and yellow eyes, and one may take a moment to spot the third and darkest cat lurking behind. The boy keeps the black and white bird on a string passing through both hands, with the steady raised arms of an impresario.

One might also mention someone else in their company, at least implicitly—and not only through his artistry. The magpie, known for its wiles as a thief, holds in its lowered beak the calling card of the artist. MutualArtWhat then does it say that a follower of Goya’s, Agustín Esteve y Marques, painted an open cage and a bird taking flight on a string attached to the middle brother, Juan María Osorio?

For those looking for intimations of despair, Juan died barely past infancy, in 1785, while the boy in red made it only four years past his portrait, to 1792. The countess, María Ignacia, died soon after those two sons, in 1795, and the count ended his life close to bankruptcy, in 1816, after the Napoleonic invasions.

Goya and the Altamira Family” is about Goya as well, turning forty and at the height of his reputation. He had come to Madrid roughly ten years before, turned out sixty designs for royal tapestries, and earned such patrons as the king’s brother and the prime minister. “I have,” the museum quotes from a letter to a friend, “established myself in an enviable way of life”—which included being able to turn down commissions.

Previous shows have covered Goya in the Met and the darkness of Goya’s last paintings, after illness had left him nearly blind and close to death. Here, though, he can still say that sitters will not leave him alone, “so that I do not know how I am to do it all.” And therein lies the enticing puzzle of his colleague and their birds.

It only makes sense that the portrait of the father came first, as one of six commissions between 1785 and 1788 from the bank, where the man was a director and Goya himself owned shares. Could Esteve, though, have begun his portrait in 1785, while the child was still alive, and could genius be all about learning well from others? Maybe, but the debate can almost miss out on the living. Thanks to Goya, one can see the invention of childhood and of the middle class—an aristocracy of money and virtue rather than primarily birth. Family is becoming first and foremost about love, not inheritance, and childhood is becoming about play. As for the fate of the birds, I am betting on the cats.

Read more, now in a feature-length article on this site.

7.25.14 — A Patch of Greenery

Sculpture in the parks is one of New York’s delights—and one more reason to look forward to summer. Just when many are leaving town, it invites one to explore the breadth of the city. Besides, you already wanted to leave midtown to tourists—where, if they look up, they even might catch a rendition of clouds on Fifth Avenue by the Plaza Hotel, by Olaf Breuning through August 24.

Only watch out: an outdoor group show can also become either a treasure hunt or a nuisance, sometimes both at once. Did you finally stumble on everything and identify everyone, and did a patch of urban greenery remain just for you? Zilvinas Kempinas's Scarecrow (Socrates Sculpture Park, 2014)

This summer Socrates Sculpture Park sticks to just four large works, through August 3, with plenty of room to climb right in or to lie in the sun. Take your pick. You can safely ignore, scorn, or marvel at the waterfront park’s permanent residents—the dreary urban stereotypes of statues by Tim Rollins and K.O.S and, behind a fence, the abstract giants of Mark di Suvero, a park founder.

You will find instead art tailored to the site and holding out a welcome. It includes a reminder of the city’s survival and a tribute to a dedicated New Yorker. It also includes ripples in the grass and sky. On Memorial Day weekend dandelion tufts blew past in the light.

One expects a welcome from the “Broadway billboard” above the entrance gate, and Meschac Gaba does his best, with colors that radiate out from a central point. One might mistake them for a park logo rather than a work of art, and in fact each narrow triangle elongates a nation’s flag. The Beninese artist thinks of his painting as a vision of a more harmonious world. Citoyens du Monde refers to the internationalism of a group that, starting after World War II, proclaimed its members citizens of the world. It also introduces an unusually international summer group show. My first guess, though, was that it named the heady idealism of the French revolution, and I was worried for my head.

I might have worried, too, for the ark nearby, in vinyl siding that appears to have washed up far from the shore. Austin+Mergold call it SuralArk, as a cross between suburbia and Surrealism, but it seems reasonably urban and down to earth. Its two rows of upright two-by-fours converge at the top, where a horizontal stabilizer seems only good sense, give or take that the ship is upside-down. If thoughts of Hurricane Sandy spring to mind, the curved beams elevate the ark several feet above ground, . The Philadelphia architects have painted the bottom few feet black, a projection of rising sea levels or the next Biblical flood. The vinyl canopy also suggests a refuge, although it looks bare-bones from inside.

One expects Paweł Althamer to be at least as virtuous, less than challenging, and a lot sloppier, and the Polish artist delivers. The huge assemblage of spare parts and rags represents a crowned woman lying down, one droopy arm spread out at her side. Queen Mother of Reality honors Delois Blakely, a former nun who founded the New Future Foundation, to support a student exchange program with Africa and to promote multi-ethnic understanding. She holds the honorary title of community mayor of Harlem as well, and this is Astoria, but who expects Althamer to look beyond virtues to specifics? He also has the unfortunate result of making her look like an oversized bag lady sleeping in the park. One can enter the construction for more, including Chinese lanterns and airplane seats, but do not come looking for illumination or a wild ride.

Zilvinas Kempinas, who brought (ouch) a disco floor for Governor’s Island in 2011, has the largest work, but also the most free to sunbathers and the imagination. Like the ark, Scarecrow banks on two rows, only of upright poles in stainless steel, and their curves lay out an arc in the grass rather than the sky. Mylar runs overhead between the rows, like more flags for citizens of Queens or the world.

Sunlight dances along the tape as it moves with the wind, all the more dazzling when the breeze dies down and the motion seems to belong to the light alone. The Lithuanian artist keeps the poles far enough apart that one can easily pass into the central meadow, where the rippling of thin shadow lines in the grass can grow downright disorienting. Still, one can look up to find a welcome—and a New York summer.

Read more, now in a feature-length article on this site.

7.23.14 — But Is It Sculpture?

Not every summer group show trots out the usual suspects. “There are too many painting shows,” begins one press release. “There aren’t enough sculpture shows. / We are fixing that.” If that sounds like boasting, it has nothing on the show’s title: “This Is What Sculpture Looks Like,” at Postmasters through August 2. Diana Cooper's Skylight 1 (Postmasters, 2012-2013)

Not convinced? Surely sculpture is everywhere and on an ever-increasing scale—with Urs Fischer, Richard Serra, Oscar Murillo, Tara Donovan, Paul McCarthy, and Sterling Ruby recently trashing the largest New York galleries. Ruby also held center stage in the 2014 Whitney Biennial. What could be hotter, too, than the everyday objects, broken symmetries, and architectural presence of today’s Neo-Minimalism? Of the sixteen summer artists, all of them women, Rachel Beach’s totems of found wood and stacked triangles offer a perfect example, just as in the 2012 art fairs. So do Esperanza Mayobre’s blond wood and black rods, like a miniature lightning field by Walter de Maria.

Diana Cooper, who has brought an expanded skylight to this very gallery, stacks tables in a crumbling “cubicle,” while Natalie Jeremijenko, who has communed with birds, translates live mussels into sound art. Not even they know the formula.

Joanna Malinowska has her monumental life forms, with tusks emerging from stuffed vinyl. A futon has never had it so primeval. Shinique Smith bundles stuffed fabric as well, as she has at the Studio Museum in Harlem, while another African American, Caitlin Cherry, has shown at the Whitney. Smith’s blob hangs down like a dress form or a mafia hit.

You may not recognize Monica Cook, but you will probably know the crystalline crust and torn skin of her couple making love from David Altmejd. (This once, the woman is on top.) The same rawness animates Saeri Kiritani’s standing nude entirely of rice. Her pale surface and small stature, at a mere hundred pounds, may embody female stereotypes or defy them. So might Rachael Mason’s dolls up on the walls, clothed in shattered mirrors. Her role models include Laurie Anderson, P. J. Harvey, Eva Hesse, and Frida Kahlo.

You might have another objection, too: this is not what sculpture looks like, at least not for the history books. It has little debt to tradition, unless Smith’s bulges draw on Constantin Brancusi or Brenna Murphy’s Lego colors on Celtic patterns. Abstraction and figuration alike hardly intrude. Even Pop Art and Minimalism remain largely at a distance, although Michelle Matson simulates Dow insulation with silkscreens, like Andy Warhol in his Brillo boxes.

Much, one might add, is not even sculpture. Yet that has an upside, too, in extending the boundaries. Cherry’s abstraction tiles the bottom of an actual swimming pool, and Kate Ostler’s ceramics pick up on folk art, while bearing protest slogans on behalf of adjunct college faculty. Daria Irincheeva’s suspension of wood pulp and paper functions much like painting, while Katie Torn offers only the illusion of sculpture with a print.

Molly Crabapple’s Portrait of Myself actually is painting, on a two-sided panel cut in the shape of her head. “Another ‘narcissistic’ artist,” her thoughts read, “utterly subversive” but “seriously psychotic,” to the point that “you should be ashamed.” Just three years after coordinated summer group shows helped revive abstract painting, the shame of yet another medium may be losing its sway.

Read more, now in a feature-length article on this site.

7.22.14 — On My Way!

(The way to Dia:Beacon, photo by John Haber, 2014)

Actually this past Friday. The route to Dia:Beacon, on my way to see the amazing place again, plus an amazing retrosective of Carl Andre.

7.21.14 — Primarily Global

Was Minimalism quintessentially American? One could argue for something starkly American in the efficiency of repetitive geometries, the can-do spirit of materials from the hardware store, and the “in your face” daring of flung lead and near empty rooms. Minimalism even sounds Puritan.

Spareness also got a boost in painting from a MoMA exhibition called “Sixteen Americans”—and in sculpture from the Jewish Museum in 1966, with “Primary Structures.” What, though, counts as primary, in an art that returns to its elements, and who deserves primacy? Now at that same museum, “Other Primary Structures” sees an art that was, literally, all over the map. To pick up the story from last time, it also goes well with a recent show of a little-known French movement, Support/Structures. Together, they are the subject of a longer review, in my latest upload. Lee Ufan's Relatum (photo by the artist, National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, 1969)

Sure, Minimalism came in a great wave of postwar American movements—and as a clean break with one them, Abstract Expressionist New York. It brought to prominence some of the most recognizable names in American art, from the accumulated weight of Donald Judd and Carl Andre to the “light and space” of Dan Flavin or such Californians as Larry Bell, James Turrell, Douglas Wheeler, Anne Truitt, and Mary Corse. Yet this time the Jewish Museum looks well beyond America.

In fact, it looks twice, with a first part through May 18 covering the years before “Primary Structures,” as a direct challenge to its priority. It points to Neo-Concretism in Brazil, with Lygia Clark and Hélio Oitaca, as well as Gego’s metal grates and black tiling from Venezuela, but also artists from Pakistan, the Philippines, and Eastern Europe. The second part, through August 3, picks up the story and carries it to Africa, East Asia, and the Middle East.

Wall-sized photos of the original exhibition provide a backdrop—and a nemesis. So does a model of the museum as it looked then, with the works visible in a courtyard and inside. (Maybe every museum should be available as a doll house, with MoMA offering little kids a handy lesson in real estate.) And much of “Other Primary Structures” has a clear parallel in American art. Rasheed Araeen’s open blue cube recalls Sol LeWitt and his rusted I-bars Richard Serra, while Noemi Escandell’s X or Norberto Puzzolo’s inverted V‘s might pass for work of Ronald Bladen. Later work parallels a more organic Post-Minimalism as well, like Yoshida Katsurō’s black pipe bursting with white cotton.

Others go very much their own way—or, when it comes to the minimal, lighten up. Clark’s shiny tabletop “critters” in angled metal adapt David Smith, but visitors can fold and refold them to make them their own. Alejandro Puente leans a plank against a wall, like John McCracken, but as a colorful set of three. David Medella goes as far as a bubble machine for his Cloud Canyon. Sometimes, too, parallels run not to America but across other continents. While Susumu Koshimizu in Japan nestled stone in a white paper box, Benni Efrat in Israel encased a steel plate in white foam.

One can also argue for local histories, in contrast to America’s abstracted time and space. Mono-ha, the “school of things” in Japan, bridges western concreteness and an eastern stillness. Nobuo Sekine’s black tanks of seemingly black water bring heavy industry to the garden—and some have detected a Zen influence on Minimalism all along.

The curator, Jens Hoffmann, speaks of those marginalized by the hegemony of the Western canon, but the artists have a few local hegemonies on their mind as well. Branko Vlahović’s plaster relief, from Zagreb, has the brutal look of Soviet-era architecture. When Edward Krasinski’s spindly metal rod breaks off into fragmented cylinders, one can imagine the Polish system coming apart.

Hoffman notes a global opening of art to fashion and food, although Minimalism in America was very much about a broadening of materials, too. Think of Serra’s torn rubber or of earthworks. The entire show comes a little late in the game as well, after museum retrospectives of Clark and Lee Ufan.

It also lacks in ambition. Where once art took over the entire building, with the majestic Upper East Side mansion as their playground, these primary structures have to settle for half an exhibition at a time, on the second floor. Amir Nour’s polished metal arches could almost be wiggling across the floor, and I only wish they had further to go.

Maybe other nations had to have their own paths, because American art had something to say that they could not. The scale model serves as a reminder of how Minimalism once opened art to its surroundings. Oscar Bony’s yellow “sinusoid” and Antonieta Sosa’s stairs run up against the wall before trailing away, but much of the art on hand does not. Kishio Suga’s wood plane and beam, held in place by stones at each end, boldly threatens to collapse, but much else stays put. It tends to focus on the sculptural object, whereas the wall photos show an art that engages the viewer well beyond structure. Somehow the global art scene is still struggling with hegemonies of its own.

Read more, now in a feature-length article on this site.
Older Posts »