LA Farmers Market Fairfax and 3rd
I was in Los Angeles about a week ago at the end of a trip that started in the Bay Area, took in magical Monterey, and wound down the coast. We chose our LA hotel to be within a short walk of LACMA, the LA County Museum of Art. I know–- walking in LA - what a concept! I recommend the hotel, The Farmer’s Daughter, a cheery, funky-chic update of a 60’s motel with a good little restaurant, and the location, right across the street from LA’s authentic old Farmer’s Market. The Farmer’s Market was a real find, full of great food stands of every possible spot and stripe, teeming with life, fun, and colorful people.
The Penitent Magdelen 1638 Georges de la Tour
LACMA was a bit dull by comparison, I’m afraid. Granted it was mid-August, a slow time in the museum world, but still...… I took a group of students to LACMA once. We had a grand time and I hold a memory of it as a very exciting place, with a spectacular collection of Pre-Columbian art, a Japanese pavilion that provided a hushed, transcendent experience, and a stimulating collection of European and Classical art. I’ll never forget the boy who, in near tears, came to tell me that he had actually seen George de la Tour’s Magdalen - he’d done a research paper on the painting so he’d met a beloved friend.
Mayan Vessel Classic Period
It’s been a few years since that trip, well before the recent Renzo Piano renovation that was intended to bring a sense of unity to the various buildings. I could spend this post quibbling, but I’ll just hit a few sore points. I think revisions to the setting for the superb Pre-Columbian treasures do them a disservice – the cases are poorly and unevenly lit, the labels seem aimed at small children or people in wheelchairs (considerate, of course, but hard for the rest of us), the striped wood paneling that flows through the galleries is clunky and awkward.
The Broad Contemporary Wing seemed much ado about very little - but again, I came at a slow time when they seemed to be between shows. One big gallery was full of big photographs of people standing next to big rocks, part of the Levitated Mass project. I asked, but the guards couldn’t point me to anything else going on in the building, except the elevator by Barbara Kruger with black and red stripes of words - a cute sort idea but a gimmick rather than a real work of art. The entry up a long steep escalator, with a view of clouds in a perfect blue sky, was the best part of the visit.
Levitated Mass 2012 Michael Heizer
But the biggest, most expensive, most over-hyped yawn was outside in the courtyard. The Rock. Officially known as Levitated Mass, by the artist Michael Heizer, the Rock was brought at enormous expense from a quarry in Riverside County, 60 miles from LA to be installed over a purpose-built concrete trench; it opened to the public on June 24. Much has been made of the trip, the size of the Rock (340 tons) and the significance of the installation, relating it to Stonehenge, mortality, asteroids, etc.
As a rock, it’s impressive, but as an installation, it’s a rock.
Levitated Mass 2012 Michael Heizer
The ‘levitated’ part doesn’t really work. It sits firmly on supports on either side of the concrete trench; walking under is a pleasant, curious experience, but doesn’t come with a spine-tingling portent of imminent doom from all that solid weight crashing down on your head (I think that was the intent). As I headed up the slope on the far side, the couple behind me expressed much the same as I was thinking, but a little girl in a hat and a light summer dress said it best. Turning to her younger companion as they raced down the trench toward the rock, she stated firmly, ‘Don’t worry. It’s not very scary.”
Mulholland Drive 1980 David Hockney
If you’re in touch with the universe at all you don’t really need a Big Rock to see eternal themes in nature - you can find them in a pebble at the beach or a chance leaf fallen from a tree. In LA, to top it all off, the de la Tour Magdalen was on loan to another museum. But not all was bleak and disappointing - I got a good look at David Hockney's rich and beautiful Mulholland Drive (The Road to the Studio), as idyllic and gorgeous a view of LA as can be.Enough of my grumbling - let's hear yours! What are your 'Big Yawns' in art?photos by the author
Hockney painting courtesy of LACMA websitehttp://www.lacma.org/http://www.farmersdaughterhotel.com/http://www.farmersmarketla.com/
Estudio para Juan Miguel Juan - Compuestos
Photography can be a passive medium, and photography presented as art can sometimes seem only inches away from what anyone can do with a digital camera and a sunny day. Rarely are there sensual clues - surface technique or obvious texture - as in other mediums. A fine eye and quick reflexes often make the difference between the ordinary and the significant in photography, but such nuances may be missed or taken for granted. German Gomez, whose work is currently at Bridgette Mayer Gallery in Philadelphia, is not so subtle.
His large format portraits of men take different forms and address different issues, but all are bold statements enhanced in some way by subtractive or additive manipulation, including cutting, stitching and collage. Gomez, who is from Madrid, appears to have chosen his subjects for their dark-eyed, romantic good looks; even jagged alterations to faces and bodies fail to mar a sturdy attractiveness.
Fichado y Tatuado 1042
A section of the show called 'Tatuados' (Tattooed) features 'fichados' - men with police records - posed with the insouciance of fashion models while flaunting memorable, delicately drawn tattoos; the hard facts of their police identities under the photos both contradict and emphasize the beauty of the images.
Robert Peter Marc - Compuestos
Gomez's Compuestos (Composed) series, as the title implies, includes collaged portraits that incorporate different angles of the same face, evoking a surreal play of mental and physical identity. Some portraits make use of stitching with black thread and translucent layers, a rich effect with endless possibilities, while others have a harsher, more insistent push into the macabre. Gomez's work is provocative and at times unsettling, yet it never relinquishes a enduring sense of clean magnetic beauty.http://www.bridgettemayergallery.com/exhibitionsImages courtesy of the Bridgette Mayer Gallery
Estudio pap Nacho
The Whitney Biennial has been pretty sickly of late so I was encouraged by reviews calling it the best in years, promising that this one was different, in a good way. I saw it Friday and don't agree - neither the 'best in years' part (though that's a fairly low bar based on the last two or three) or that the art was particularly different.
What was different, not just for the Biennial but for the use and function of a museum, involved performance and process. The art objects - paintings on walls, installations, sculpture, videos - had an almost peripheral relationship within the exhibition; the focus was on the act of art, loosely defined. In that context, viewing the show was as interesting for the experience of seeing others viewing the show as it was for the show itself - it didn't really matter whether the 'performers' were officially sanctioned by the Whitney or had just strolled in to become part of a living tableau for a few hours.
For example, the fourth floor of the museum has been transformed into a performance space in which different types of events take place on different days at different times. When I saw it Friday it was covered by a vast black mat, the setting for a dance class. About 35 people dressed in sloppy old dance class type clothes were standing or sitting, listening to instructions from one of the class leaders. The lighting was strong, coming from one corner, and the scene had the look and feel of a Caravaggio painting - each ordinary, barefoot character took on unearned significance. Then, in a moment, it all shifted - I moved to a different viewpoint, an command was given, the group quickly formed into four straight orderly lines and a whole different set of associations became relevant.
The rest of the floor was a maze of ideas and display. In a tight corner you stumble upon a clever, creepy scene by Gisele Vienne - a blonde boy mannequin holding a bloody-mouthed puppet that jumps to life now and then, as if seeking to take possession of his earthly soul. A breathy voice narrating a tale of horror is presumably the puppet documenting its nasty business. The walls are patterned with penciled squares, each one dirty or marked in a different way, giving the effect of tiles in a cell - which, because you are constrained to stand so close, you inhabit too.
Further down the hall you come to a white space set up like a dressing room for the rotating performers. Touches - the image of a staring sad-eyed woman behind a grill, white patterned panels that recall the screens in mosques or medieval churches, heavy stage lights sprouting like trees in a corner - make the room an installation rather than simply a serviceable space. This Fourth Floor maze has been made one-way so when you reach the end point you have to track back through the narrow spaces, forced to confront by touch and eye contact the tide swimming against you.
The Third Floor includes the installation titled This Could Be Something if I Let It, consisting of the entire studio contents of the artist Dawn Kaspar, who moved just about everything she owns into the Whitney for the three month run of the Biennial. This is certainly process over product, an aim compatible with modern and some historical art, though here product appears to have been dismissed as not really of interest. While I was there the artist milled in and around the throng of people examining her piles of stuff and looking a bit overwhelmed. She claims to have been without a permanent studio for years, so her art is her nomadic existence. She has replicated the Whitney installation elsewhere, moving into a gallery or museum for as long as they will have her.
At the risk of being a Philistine, that doesn't strike me as enough for her to be hailed as an 'artist. or her work as 'art.' But perhaps it's those terms that are the problem, their meaning shifting and dodging as we watch. This year's Biennial, pushing limits and presenting possibilities, makes that definition even harder to pin down. Is that bad? Not necessarily, but neither is it necessarily something to applaud. Maybe the truest thing about the Biennial is that it marches in step with us at this moment in time, when very little is easy to figure out. http://whitney.org/Exhibitions/2012Biennial?gclid=CPuZy-b6_64CFUURNAodkwvY4w
An Equal and Opposite Reaction 2005
Sarah Sze, an artist whose work is rich, fascinating and a bit hard to pin down, has been chosen to represent the U. S. Artist for the upcoming Biennale in Venice, the prestigious international art extravaganza that holds court each summer in and around the familiar tourist spots of that city. I'm particularly happy about the choice - I think Sze is one of the most interesting artists of our time; whatever she does it will be worth the trip to see it.
Things Fall Apart 2001
I first came across Sze's work at SF MOMA in 2001 on a class trip with high school students. Her installation Things Fall Apart, hanging from the atrium, snaking up the stairs, sneaking up on you in corners, and sort of dribbling its way into places where you least expected it, provided a great object lesson. Just about everything I needed to say about (good) contemporary art was in the jumbled bits of her art: You're in a partnership of meaning: the art doesn't offer easy answers, it makes you work to figure it out, it doesn't allow you to walk away sure of what it was supposed to mean even if you thought you knew.
Everything That Rises Must Converge 1999
Things Fall Apart has sort of a car crash theme, but it's jolly rather than gruesome, and the motif is more a convenience than a directive for how to interpret it. There's metal and there are car doors, but there's a lot of other stuff too. 'Stuff' is Sze's stock in trade, and it's amazing how she uses it to put her finger on the pulse of this frantic, fractured historical moment. In articles about her work writers grope for ways to describe it - 'organized chaos' is a popular phrase. It's perhaps easier to begin, as she does, with the 'stuff' - an incomplete list of her materials includes Qtips, tea bags, salt, light bulbs, plastic toys, feathers, twigs, dried flowers, tape, pebbles..... There can be no end to the list because everything is fair game.
An Equal and Opposite Reaction 2005
Her installations are at once energizing and soothing; they fit the universe we've either embraced or accepted, one of too much information zooming at us from every direction. In what she does we recognize the struggle to keep up and make sense of it. In some sense she's taken the old 19th century 'cabinet de curiosities' concept and exploded it, super-sized it, blown it - literally - to bits.
360 Portable Planetarium 2009
Sze builds her pieces on site, creating the impression of organic, random growth, but she clearly has a very rational mind and follows a plan, often worked out beforehand in her Brooklyn studio. She has an immense gift for maximizing the serendipity of space, time, color, form, texture .... and just about everything else. The images shown here are in each case sections installations - a single photograph can never contain the sprawling multiplicity of her work. (Her recent construction for the High Line in New York, intentionally created to be a habit for the beleaugured songbirds of the city, is the 'tamest' of all that I've seen and comes closest to being visible from one spot.)
Still Life with a Landscape (The High Line NYC 2011)
Sarah Sze's life story is not as long as you'd think for someone doing work of this assurance and maturity; she graduated from Yale in 1991, got a master's from SVA in New York in 1997, and two years later had a landmark exhibition at the Fondation Cartier in Paris, an event that riveted attention on a new star. In 2003 she was the recipient of a MacArthur 'Genius Grant.Sarah Sze is featured in the next PBS Art 21 series about living artists, available in April. Here's a link to the trailer: http://www.pbs.org/art21/watch-now/trailer-season-6-of-art-in-the-twenty-first-century-2012(note: Sze is in great company with a slate of artists with strong, interesting ideas)
images courtesy of the artist, the Tanya Bodaktar Gallery, the New York Times, and others
Mike Kelley died this week at 57, an age that's old for some and just getting going for others. Mike still had a long way to go with his complicated, playful, demanding art - he's a big loss. Christopher Knight’s obituary in the LA Times gave me the name for this post and made me think about artists who go away when we've only begun to understand how they've been changing the game. I can't claim to have known Mike Kelley's work well. I saw it a couple of times in person, at the Whitney and a couple of New York galleries, but the impact didn't fully hit until I started thinking about it this week.
Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites 1991-99
Huge clumps of stuffed animals hanging from the ceiling in furry overgrown pods like some kind of colorful fungus? It's a compelling image, rife with associations of childhood - warm, fuzzy, sentimental ... and eerily precarious. In his segment of Art21/PBS Kelley talks about the initial response to these stuffed animal pieces. 'They all thought it was about child abuse - my child abuse.' The reaction surprised him, but it spurred him to accept 'abuse' - of himself, of 'all of us' as a central subject. Nothing literal though - he takes a crazy, joyous, dizzying path to meaning - installations, performances, painting, photos - all of it at the same time accessible and out-of-reach. We have to run along to try to catch up and figure it out, especially now that he won't be around to explain.
Keith Haring with 'Hearts'
Keith Haring and Jean-Michael Basquiat - shouldn't we still have them around too? With Kelley's, a trio of sad early deaths - suicide, AIDS, drugs - but worlds of inspiring breathtaking creativity - it shouldn't cost that much to be an artist, should it? We all know Keith Haring's bright jumpy creatures, including 'radiant baby' (now available on baby bibs and wall decals) but do we remember that he worked to create peace and health with cooperative projects and a foundation in his name to support AIDS organizations and children?
Radiant Baby by Haring 1990
Notary by Basquiat 1983
Basquiat's work is so rich, visceral, and immediate, so freely combining color, drawing, and lettering into stunningly coherent image/messages. I see his influence everywhere in contemporary art. Andy Warhol was a mentor for him; another early death, I suppose, but Warhol had pretty much said what he needed to say. Basquiat, at 28, was just beginning to communicate everything he had.
Raphael self portrait 1506
And further back? Art History offers Raphael and Masaccio among others. Raphael, dead at 31 of some mysterious cause, (Vasari says too much rollicking sex with his mistress!) had accomplished a great deal and reached the pinnacle of worldly success. He changed the game for artists for centuries, but with his eye and sense of color it would be wonderful to have seen him develop further past the heavy influences of Michelangelo and Leonardo.
The School of Athens by Raphael 1510-11
The Tribute Money by Masaccio 1420s
Masaccio, finally, is the poster child for artists dying too young but leaving an indelible legacy. Dead at only 28, Masaccio is considered one of the three founders of the Italian Renaissance along with Donatello and Brunelleschi. His celebrated frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel in Florence give us HUMANITY in the full glory of life on earth, after all those centuries of medieval ethereal spirituality. St. Peter, his halo a bit unsteady on his head, stands firm and flat-footed on the dirt of the world, scowling at the Romans demanding payment, while Christ, another man of the world, sends him back to get the money out of fish. We're there too - humans along for the ride of innovation and progress, led by a visionary who moves on too soon.Mike Kelley on PBS Art21 http://www.pbs.org/art21/artists/mike-kelley
Pat Steir: Water and Sand at Lockes Gallery
I first became aware of Pat Steir when I assigned an Art in America article about her work to a student years ago. I can't remember what the student did with it, but Steir's graceful, mesmerizing work really stuck with me. I was happy, therefore, to find it close to home, in a fine exhibit currently at the Locks Gallery in Center City Philadelphia. The large color drenched canvases seem somehow made for this particular setting with its dark ceiling and columns; the fit of space and content has an organic, inevitable feeling that adds satisfaction to the experience of the show.
Any description of Steir's painting includes the word 'waterfall' - the pictures make the description self-explanatory. She treasures the happenstance of art-making, a value she credits in part to her friendship with John Cage, who introduced her to its potential. Steir's work testifies to her chronology - her Action Painting approach connects her not only to the ideas of Cage but also to older, but not distant contemporaries Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler. Color pours down her canvases in watery, nuanced sheets of layered hue, shade, and value: the action of the making continues in the finished work.
At a distance the canvases give off a rich, soothing rhythm, but up close the general blur defines into fine trails that mingle, divide, and pool together. There is also a strong link to Chinese landscape painting, mentioned in the press release for the show, manifested in a feeling of ethereal grandeur as well as the fine layering of organic strokes. Most of the works in the show are named for the pigments she used in creating them: naples yellow, paynes grey, indigo, a particular green or blue. Several include gold pigments.
White over Indigo, 2011 Lockes Gallery exhibit
Pat Steir: Water and Sand
is at the Locks Gallery through November 26. http://www.locksgallery.com/exhibits_works.php?eid=133
A good part of the pleasure of the work, for me, was inspecting the surfaces at close range, finding the happy accidents that arise from Steir's process - rivulets of gold coursing through, over, and behind sheets of white, blue, green, leaving little nuggets at a crossroad where she made a divide, a buried color suddenly peeping through to make a quietly assertive statement.
There's a lot of art to see in Old City Philadelphia, but currently there are two shows that stand out. In medium and execution they're at opposite ends of the spectrum, but if you're interested in thoughtful, careful work by sophisticated professional artists, you should see them both. Dust and Shade, Drawings by Charles Ritchie, at Gallery Joe, brings you into a quiet, small-scale world of finely observed detail. Ritchie has 4 sketchbooks in the show - see them first, and you'll understand a lot about his approach. His rich delicate watercolors and tiny spidery handwriting bring to mind 19th century Victorian sketchbooks, but when you examine the framed drawings on the wall you see that he brings the same detailed awareness of the possibilities of the ordinary to his finished work.
A dark night, a suburban house under a streetlight, a scrim of bare branches - this is Ritchie's touchstone. The same quiet neighborhood (his own, in Maryland) figures in many of the works. There is a suggestion of eternal fall, but then comes a scene with snow - the white mounds feel inevitable, as if they're guarding the house through the winter. Subtle tricks with the light and shadows give a slightly surreal feeling and bring to mind Magritte's painting, Empire of Light.
Interior scenes are soft, graphite stills of life interrupted for just a moment, but look closely and watch the tiny spidery handwriting emerge around the edges. You're back to Ritchie's sketchbooks and his gift for detailed observation of life as it happens.
Snyderman-Works Gallery, an extraordinary, impeccable place that has been championing fine art/craft for almost 50 years, is showing Sonya Clark's deeply intelligent mixtures of craft, art, history, and tongue-in-cheek humor. Like Ritchie, has a touchstone in the ordinary, but for her it's not the romance of a familiar neighborhood, it's the edgy duality of a simple plastic comb. The stunning centerpiece of the show is a wall-hanging portrait of the African-American entrepreneur C. J. Walker, who, in the late 1900's, made a fortune with hair products, including one that helped prevent scalp disease. From a distance it appears photographic, perhaps an extreme enlargement of a daguerrotype, or even a cut paper silhouette, but in reality it is made of hundreds of the banal black plastic combs that figure in many of Clark's works. For this portrait she manipulated her medium, breaking out teeth and crisscrossing the combs to give her a surprisingly fluid vocabulary.
Hair, real or imitated with yarn, is at the heart of the work on display. Some examples are blatantly humorous - Abraham Lincoln on a 5 dollar bills sports a 70's era Afro - but peel back the layers and you'll find the Emancipation Proclamation, the plight of freed African slaves newly dependent on making an elusive, money-driven living, etc - to the present day. 'Diaspora' appears fairly simple at first too - tiny white canvas squares, each with a long tail of dark braid, cluster on a wall, but watch and think and you almost see them start to move, for escape or betterment, and leaving trails of identity and tears.
I was especially struck by 'Comb Carpet' a dark square that is, as it states, made of combs pointing their little spikes upward. It looks like black Astroturf, but as you imagine yourself settling down for a picnic or a nap, you feel the jabs and notice the ripples that disturb the surface. No easy seat this - this is history in subtle, pointed relief. Clark's work is significant - the show at Snyderman-Works is her first one-person show in Philadelphia.
Dust and Shade, Drawings by Charles Ritchie is at Gallery Joe through October 22.
Sonya Clark is at Snyderman-Works Gallery until November 19.
Note: Old City Philadelphia is gritty, lively, edgy, exuberant - a perfect place for the battery of energetic art galleries, studios, hip little shops, and brash neon bars that defines it. First Friday in Old City is, month after month, the best city art party I've ever seen. If you haven't been to it, you're invited, so go!