Newsletter: November 2011
Frieze Week in London
Well, I have been a little busy so I hope you will forgive me for not posting this sooner. It was a bit insane in London with a great deal to see in a few short days. For the first time in a long while, I did not manage to see everything on my list. I did manage to make it to Frieze, Sunday (the independent art fair), the ICA, Tate Britain, Whitechapel and a number of London galleries. In fact, I was more impressed with the artwork I saw in gallery exhibitions than that at the fairs. Here is a small sampling of what was fun to see:
Max Wigram Gallery
My absolute favorite show that I saw was at Max Wigram Gallery and had work by an artist whose work I was unfamiliar with named Athanasios Argianas. It is very hard to describe what I found so enchanting about it.
Perhaps the text (I am a sucker for text), or the sinuous, delicate lines it created in the gallery space. Or perhaps because unlike the fair experience, it was refreshing to just be around a few works in one room. These sculptures by the Athens-born London based artist were intricate and delicate ribbons of brass draped on a metal structure. The artist, who wrote the text made up of different methods of measurement, encourages the viewers to participate by twisting the brass so that the viewer has to bend and torque his/her body in order to see creating a sort of dance/performance while experiencing the work. I will definitely keep an eye out for this artist.
Yang Fudong at Parasol Unit
Another amazing show was the Yang Fudong show at Parasol Unit in which the viewer was invited into the world of this talented video artist. Three works were on view, Fifth Night, 2010, One half of August, 2011, and Ye Jiang (The night man cometh), 2011. Fifth Night is a seven channel installation video shot on the streets of Shanghai’s old town. Part of the magic of Yang’s work is that he shoots the same scene from multiple angles allowing the viewer to catch details that he/she might not notice otherwise.
I was blown away by One half of August, the work the exhibition is named after. One enters the room and is surrounded by earlier black and white videos by Yang projected in different sizes and forms onto props, architectural elements and objects built by the artist. This method of installation challenges the viewer’s experience of reality. As the press release explains the work, “poses the question: Am I watching a film or a film of a film?”
White Cube Bermondsey
The new White Cube Bermondsey space is like visiting a museum. Some of the people I visited with felt it was too cold and impersonal and did the art a disservice. I disagree. The group show, Structure & Absence, which “features the Chinese scholar’s rock as an organizing device or motif” displays works with strong color, texture and shadow.
There are some wonderful pieces on view including works by Wade Guyton, Agnes Martin, Jeff Wall, Robert Ryman and Damien Hirst whose “Neverland” consists of a pill cabinet that takes up the entire length of the wall. I felt the works had a nice dialogue with each other and with the scholar’s rocks placed throughout the galleries.
The most enjoyable part of the visit was a program the gallery calls “Inside the White Cube” where artists who have not shown there before have work on display. Kitty Kraus’s installation consisting of mirrors held together with tape illuminated from within is wonderful. The light reflecting off the walls in different rays, both vertical and horizontal, is awesome. I look forward to seeing future artists they show in this space.
Raqib Shaw at White Cube, Mason’s Yard
With a show called “Absence of God” one is not quite sure what to expect. In his first exhibition at White Cube, Shaw has seven paintings on view including his largest to date. It is not surprising to learn that Shaw is from Kashmir, a place known for its natural beauty, when looking at his meticulously detailed and densely populated compositions with magical beasts, flora and fauna. Using metallic industrial paints, a porcupine quill, glitter, gemstones and outlining every detail in gold, his works are somehow blingy without being too kitschy. They remind me of cloisonné. I prefer his works on paper which, with some negative space, feel a little less horror vacui. Whether you like the works or not, it is an amazing amount of work that goes into each piece and you have to appreciate his art historical references and the architectural spaces he creates in his works.
Marianne Vitale at IBID PROJECTS
Marianne Vitale at IBID Projects was another great show. The artist took her starting point from the American Frontier. The press release describes it best, “Wood beams, posts and boards taken from the floors, walls and ceilings of old factories and warehouses throughout New York– is sourced from scrap yards and reconfigured into sculptural replicas of objects and structures reminiscent of its historical origins. With the help of historical imagery, outhouses, false fronts, barns, jail cells and other architectural elements of America’s Old West are reconstructed with traditional, often long abandoned techniques. The reclaimed lumber, once primary building material and a lynchpin in the country’s industrialization, is left untreated and shows the remains of a hundred- plus years of wear and tear. With its weathering, dirt, markings, footprints and rusty nails, it serves as signifier of authenticity to the country’s mythologized past and helps to turn these objects into nostalgic and lonely monuments to that long-gone and overly glorified pre-modern era in its’ annals.” Burned Bridge is the perfect example of this.
Doug Aitken at Victoria Miro
Doug Aitken at Victoria Miro was fantastic. The first floor has typical Aiken works of lighted words with landscapes but the second floor housed the video I had made the trek to see. Entering into a black hexagonal space, 5 video screens display “Black Mirror.” Booming bass vibrates the whole room at points during the video. Aitken does not disappoint; his works are consistently visually stunning. Starring Chloe Sevigny, the film follows a “nomadic individual set in a modern wilderness.” Though I could not discern a narrative per se or a true beginning or end, the work is a commentary on the fast pace of contemporary society and the loneliness that exists as a result.
Wilhelm Sasnal at Whitechapel
Whitechapel had an extraordinary show of works by Polish artist Wilhelm Sasnal. Works from 1999-present are on view. He removes context from much of the work and the beauty for me is in his mastery of the skill of painting.
Sasnal’s works can be political or sometimes very intimate and personal. His son and wife are often subjects and he also makes reference to works by masters such as Seurat.
Hauser and Wirth
Phyllida Barlow has her first show at Hauser and Wirth where she fills the space with sculptures that were made in response to the architecture of the gallery. Stripped of context, she takes everyday items paints them and drapes them with fabric, filling the cavernous space of the gallery.
I loved this show because the viewer is forced to walk around the works and is made to feel somewhat uncomfortable.
Josephine Meckseper at Timothy Taylor
I first encountered Meckseper’s work in one of the Whitney Biennials a few years ago. She has certainly found her stride. Managing to use everyday objects and the same mirrored background one can find in a retail store, reflecting the viewer’s image into the work, she critiques consumerism. I found this show to be highly polished and very well done–very thought provoking.
Vicken Parsons at Alan Cristea
I found this little gem at Alan Cristea Gallery. This mid-career artist who just so happens to be married to Antony Gormley) studied at Slade and paints interiors. A gorgeously painted surface.
Tate Britain: Barry Flanagan
Shockingly I did not know any works by Barry Flanagan other than the bronze hares he is best known for. But the exhibition Barry Flanagan Early Works 1965-1982 at Tate Britain was a wonderful surprise. Much like other artists working in the 1960s, he explores materials such as canvas, rope, sand and wood putting an emphasis on process over final structure.
He began carving in stone in the 70s. In fact, Flanagan did not begin casting sculptures in bronze until 1979. I really enjoyed learning about this part of Flanagan’s career and I actually thought the early works were quite good (I’m not a fan of his hare sculptures).
John Martin Apocalypse at Tate Britain
I am not sure how to explain this experience. I had heard such great things about this exhibition that I decided to see it over the Richter show at the Tate Modern. John Martin lived from 1789-1854. He painted biblical stories in dramatic fashion and his work drew quite the crowds when it was first shown in the 19th century. People claim that his work has inspired films, science fiction and video games. While I am not usually a fan of this type of work. The scale and the vibrancy of the colors were astonishing, especially the reds.
SUNDAY art fair
The Sunday Art Fair had its second go round and was a tremendous success yet again. In comparison to Frieze, it offers a smaller, more manageable art viewing experience. It reminds me of the Liste fair in Basel where one can pick up works by relatively unknown artists from very good small galleries.
And two Honorable Mentions from the fair:
At Thomas Dane Gallery, people actually stuck their credit cards in this machine that destroyed them on the spot. All in the name of art. Well, they did get a drawing out of it.
“The Neme Sims,” an extraordinary project by Muntean and Rosenblum for Georg Kargl. For the booth the Austrian duo created a greenish gray house where one could tour the garden, furniture, and paintings by the artists.
De Kooning: A Retrospective at MoMA
I did a cursory run through of this spectacular show at MoMA at the opening. You must go see it. If you don’t live in NY, it is actually worth a trip to see these works in person. I have to go back and spend a few hours there before I write about it and add to this post but I simply had to let people know how exceptional it is as it has just opened. More to come….
Wow, where do I begin? This exhibition, grandiose in scale, is the first time the entire sixth floor has been given over to one artist. Broken into seven galleries, it covers his early work, the “breakthrough years, his mature career, the third “Women” series (his most famous), his work from the 60s, his lithographs and sculptures, and his late paintings. It is a thrill to see almost 200 works in one place to see the progression of an artist’s entire career. Born in the Netherlands, de Kooning became one of the most prominent members of the New York School and believed that “art should not have to be a certain way.” Though his work can be very different from series to series and decade to decade, one thing remained a constant– his ability to explore both figuration and abstraction within one work of art.
De Kooning studied drawing and was a commercial artist in his home country. He continued as a commercial artist after he moved to New York in 1926. In the 1930s he was influenced by the works of Stuart Davis, John Graham and Arshile Gorky. By the 1940s he began to experiment with more original abstractions. In 1943 he married Elaine and she became the inspiration for his first series of “Women” paintings.
In the first gallery there are some of his earliest surviving artworks on view. You can see the influence Matisse had on some of these early still lifes. For some of his geometric works from the 1940s he would first use text and then morph it into abstracted shapes. On a wall in the center of the space hang a number of studies showing his experimentation with abstraction. These were made during his stint in the Federal Art Project; it was during this period that he decided to become a full-time artist.
The work Pink Angels from 1945 marked an important shift in de Kooning’s style. In this painting there is an “aggressive distortion of the figure and unconventional approach to drawing with charcoal on painted surface.” De Kooning made multiple revisions but made no attempts to hide the changes to the composition. Careful examination of this work also shows that he used drawings on tracing paper to position shapes in different configurations before deciding on the final composition.
A work called Pink Lady from 1949 gives the viewer glimpses of the “Women” series that would come years later. In this work, a woman is clearly being depicted but her breasts are different shapes, her head appears to be in movement. It is not a glamorous depiction but a deconstructed one using a vibrant palette of pinks, greens and oranges with an unrecognizable background of bright colors.
There are two gems in the drawings section of the first gallery. His Portrait of Elaineand Self-Portrait with Imaginary Brother are wonderful. Elaine’s head appears to be exaggerated in size emphasizing the intense gaze of her enlarged eyes. The work with the imaginary brother has a wonderful light touch, again using over-sized heads with large eyes. These drawings demonstrate his excellent draughtsmanship.
I enjoyed seeing the only series that de Kooning made of men. In these works from 1933-1944 de Kooning uses an interesting technique in which some parts of the painting are created in a smooth, fluid manner while other areas almost appear to be unfinished.
In 1945, de Kooning painted a series of small interiors and exteriors that included abstracted figures and architectural elements. It was during this time that he experimented with simultaneously incorporating abstract forms and figures in one work. His first solo show of these works at the Charles Egan Gallery in 1948 was a critical success–de Kooning was 44 years old at the time. “It was on these black and white paintings that de Kooning’s reputation and influence as an Abstract Expressionist were established.” Some drawings from this period look Gorky-like. These works have come to be called “Grotesques” with their thick surfaces and dripping paint. It is hard to pinpoint what forms one is looking at.
It was interesting to see the works Night and Secretary hung near each other. They have the same composition but are just reworked with the same forms in different places. Secretary also uses orange and yellow in addition to black and white. You can make out elements that show the influence of Gorky–biomorphic forms, mouths with teeth, abstracted chairs, etc. De Kooning described his work at this time as providing a “glimpse” or “encounter” for viewers–what one would see if quickly glancing out of the window.
In Black Friday one can make out a house and the color green which very well might be a patch of grass. This work was included in his first solo show and has wonderful texture. His works continued to get more and more abstract with drips all throughout the canvas. Since the works are in black and white, it is even more difficult to identify an environment or particular objects.
After the success of the paintings from the 1940s de Kooning found himself unsure of what to do next. He decided to focus on drawings. The works on paper in the show from this period are great examples of his use of tracing methods when transferring an image from one composition to another. This was a major method of his process throughout his career. In these works he uses the same forms; the man is exactly the same–it looks as if it is a print but they are both drawings.
In the summer of 1949 de Kooning was hired to work at Black Mountain College. The whole time he was there he worked on the painting Asheville where he reintroduced color. Once he returned to New York he made his second set of “Woman” paintings. These were more violent than the first series. But Excavation was the best known work from this period and his largest canvas painting ever. And though today de Kooning is best known for his “Women” paintings, this exhibition shows that at the time of their creation, his abstract paintings were his most successful. I liked seeing the study from 1950 where he took fragments of painted forms and pinned them to the canvas to work out the composition before creating the final work. The “Women” works from this period are unsettling with a number of layers and violent features.
It was in 1950, after finishing Excavation, that de Kooning began his most famous works–the third iteration of the “Women” series. In fact, Woman I “marked the most important artistic change of his career.” It was during the creation of this work that he moved from a Cubist influence to a more painterly and spontaneous technique with chunks of charcoal embedded in the paint and heavily impastoed surfaces. When shown in 1953 at Sidney Janis Gallery the works caused quite a stir. He was accused of misogyny by the public due to the “violent” representation of the women. All of the works have a variation of the same face with large eyes and a disconcerting open mouth with a teeth-baring grimace. (In fact he was fascinated by mouths and used to collect images of them from magazines. He would sometimes place a mouth in the center of the canvas to give him a point of reference and then create out from that.) The background is completely abstracted with colorful, gestural strokes. The works are full of energy but also have a tenderness to them. Elements of Picasso are clearly identifiable in these works. In his last work from the series the woman is barely detectable because the figure has been abstracted into planes of color. But his peers also took issue with the works. Instead of seeing the “technical mastery and inventiveness,” they exclaimed their disbelief at his forsaking the avant-garde and pure abstraction in his technique.
I found it interesting that the eyes in some of these studies and in the final paintings look like those from his earliest drawings of Elaine. By carefully examining the smaller drawings on view in this gallery, you can see how much he reworked the images–eraser marks are clearly visible. Using a multitude of colors, and forms, I got lost in the works.
In the next gallery there are a number of large scale abstract paintings “which allude to the close-up details of the female figure and also to features of the urban landscape.” These works from the late 1950s were his most expressive in technique. De Kooning limited his palette to blue, brown, green and ochre–quite a change from the vibrancy of colors used in his third “Woman” series. Painted with a “full arm sweep,” the works are powerful when seen together. They reminded me of Diebenkorn’s works with planes of color standing in for landscape elements, but in de Kooning’s paintings, the colors seem to explode and escape out of their defined areas. De Kooning made a series called “Black and White Rome” in Italy in 1959-60 in which oil and enamel paint was applied with a housepainter’s brush to paper that had been torn and rearranged into segments.
As he began to spend more time on Long Island in the early 1960s, his works reflected a desire to paint rural landscapes instead of an urban environment. His palette also shifted to the use of pastels reflecting the natural light of the country around him. He moved permanently to Spring in 1963. He began making works on vellum and newspaper. There was a liquidity to his work from this period and this resulted in a softer quality to the work. After a meeting with a friend in Rome, de Kooning made his first sculptures–small figures cast in bronze. There is no longer a black outline in most of these works.
A visit to Japan in 1970 exposed him to calligraphy and Sumi brush painting. It was shortly after this that he made 20 black and white lithographs with loose compositions. Also during the early 1970s, de Kooning returned to sculptures. In the mid-70s he returned to abstraction, fusing elements of landscapes and the female form into the mix. These paintings were extremely layered due to multiple acts of applying and scraping off paint. By the end of the 70s the works returned to the large scale of his abstract works from the late 1950s.
In Screams of Children Come from Seagulls there are no identifiable forms at all, just sections of color applied with highly gestural brushwork. It is cool to see that there are drops of paint that seem not to make sense–these are simply evidence that de Kooning turned the canvas as he went. By 1981, de Kooning created soft shiny surfaces with moving ribbons of color. The works became much sparer–including large areas of white with bands of primary color spanning the canvas. By 1984, de Kooning’s health was in decline and the works reflect a limited palette.
I love Untitled XII from 1982. The brushwork is still very much evident but is not as thick or gestural as previous abstract works. I like that there is a lot of negative space in these paintings, but as the works become even more simplified, they lose something.
It took two hours for me to go through this exhibition though I am certain most people can make it through in an hour and still manage to see everything. I found it fascinating to see examples from de Kooning’s entire oeuvre and watch the progression of his style from decade to decade.
National Academy Museum
The National Academy Museum originally opened before museums as we know them today existed. The goal of the Academy was to assemble a body of work that would demonstrate the styles, tastes, and contributions of American art and architecture from the 1820s-1970s. The founders stated that upon election, members had to donate one artwork representative of of their style. These were gifts from the artists, not collectors. Each year the Academy acquires 10-20 new works when new members are elected.
The museum has just reopened after an extensive renovation of their lobby and some galleries. Hung salon style, the show “An American Collection” highlights works the Academy has acquired throughout its history. There are gorgeous works by Thomas Cole, Albert Bierstadt, George Innes, Albert Pinkham Ryder, William Glackens, George Bellows, Robert Henri and many more.
I was intending just to pop in the museum for a quick look but ended up staying to look at the “Will Barnet at 100″ show. There is a three minute video with the artist in which he explains that he uses vivid, unrealistic colors to set the mood in his paintings. His abstract art has figurative elements. There is a language that exists by organizing forms that all work together and talk to each other. I love the faces of his daughter and wife in his 1961 work, Mother and Child. He restricts his palette to shades of brown with flat planes of color. Their direct gaze links the viewer intimately and I felt as if I knew them. There is a sweetness to the relationship between his wife and daughter whom he often used as subjects. I enjoyed this journey that explores the transience of life and the passing of time.
Studio Visit With Tim Davis
Tim is a friend to everyone. From the moment he picked me up at the train station, I felt like I had known him for years. Born in Malawi, Tim grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts in a family full of artists. Always extremely curious, Tim has been photographing since he was a child though he considered himself a poet first and foremost. Photography offered a “sanctioned excuse for just wandering around.” At Bard as an undergrad, Tim fell under the sway of the artist Stephen Shore. He had a way of looking at uninteresting things and making them fascinating. Tim was influenced by what he calls Stephen’s “potency of seeing.”
After graduating Tim worked at an avant-garde publishing company and it was there, photographing objects in the office after hours, that he realized that photography came much more naturally to him than poetry. He told me “it felt easy; it didn’t feel like work.” After showing his work to an artist he admired, he was in his first New York group show at Julie Saul Gallery. Earning his MFA from Yale and studying under photography greats like Philip-Lorca di Corcia, Tim enjoyed being in an environment where the art of photography was respected. Jay Jopling of the infamous White Cube Gallery saw his work and gave him his first solo show…not too shabby. After that Brent Sikkema had two solo shows of his work and then he moved to Greenberg Van Doren Gallery who represents him today.
A fortuitous beginning indeed. But Tim is guided by his craft and is, in his own words, “not a student of the art world;” he is “actually interested in the world itself.” Perhaps, he admits, this has been to the detriment of his career. However, I feel that his work would not be the same if he did not take the time to go out into the world and explore. So kudos to him for being true to himself.
I very much enjoyed hearing Tim explain why he loves photography. Tim explained that the art world’s attitude towards photography is cyclical and that right now, we are in a period in which it is very uncool to engage with the world directly as a photographer. That is why appropriation and abstraction is so prevalent. “Photography is in a crisis” he told me just as I am sure he tells his students at Bard where he teaches the same course he took 20 years ago. Tim’s joy is engaging with the actual world, looking at it and trying to understand it and interpret it. He still shoots using an analog camera and has a darkroom at Bard where he develops his work. But as digital photography has become the norm, he has tested the waters. Instead of finding success with stills, he enjoys video more. It is the perfect marriage of photography and poetry, his two loves.
Tim’s first video project was the hugely successful Upstate New York Olympics. Tim found himself going out in the world (traversing the state 4 or 5 times) during the different seasons and responding to the landscape by filming things that caught his eye. By manipulating those objects, he created things such as obstacle courses which begged for interaction. Sports are another of his passions and so during this project in which he competed in events such as the mailbox jump and lawn sign slalom, he found that he could play sports and make art at the same time. Tim is interested in humor and this work is an example of his whimsy.
I had seen a work of Tim’s in a group show at The Met. In photographs from this series from 2003, called “Permanent Collection,” he photographed paintings by famous artists in their museum settings. However, he put the camera at a slightly oblique angle and used the museum lighting to erase certain elements. As he explained to me, in a museum everything is done to make a painting look like an image, but it’s not–it’s an object. This series accentuated their “objectness,” highlighting surface texture and obscuring key sections of the imagery. For example, in the photo of Gustave Courbet’sThe Origin of the World, the light is positioned to cover the woman’s vagina. In The Oarsmen, the texture of the painting is highlighted and the actual oarsmen are invisible. Tim decided to print the photographs from this series the same size as the paintings, a method he repeated for subsequent series. Using this strategy, the image determines what the right size is.
For a series called “The New Antiquity,” Tim traveled outside of Rome to capture images from the suburbs. It turned out that some of the things he saw could have been anywhere and were not particular to Rome at all. In an essay from the catalog he writes, “The photographs began to feel vital to my experience. I sensed the camera transforming a part of the culture no one looked at into a set of odd and material monuments.”
Currently he is working on two projects, one stemming from his video for the Upstate New York Olympics. There were places and images Tim saw during his travels that he did not want to include himself in. He just recently came back form a trip to Scranton, PA. He is not sure where this video piece will go but he views it as a sort of travel guidebook taking viewers on an unusual tour of the U.S. Usually Tim has to have a title and then he knows what the work will be about. In this case, the title is still uncertain.
The other project Tim showed me was a revisiting of a series he completed as an undergraduate student at Bard 20 years ago called “Wanting Attention.” Using black and white film, Tim walked the streets in the small town of Dutchess County as an experiment. At that time, much like now, there was a bit of a backlash against traditional photography. Postmodernist thought stated that people couldn’t see things anymore, that we were just inundated with imagery we have already seen. Tim wanted to test that by giving people objects to see if he could capture their attention in a photograph. He liked the title because it had a double meaning–wanting meant both desiring and lacking. It didn’t matter to Tim whether it was real or not, whether the people could actually see the objects; the camera caught them seeing them and that real relationship is what mattered. Now he is teaching the same class and we are again in a period of skepticism, perhaps even more because of the ability to manipulate imagery, everyone questions what they are seeing in a photograph. Tim feels that people are avoiding the issue by using appropriation or making abstract photos.
His new black and white series, “Wanting Connection” attempts a similar feat, to capture the connection between people. He walked those same streets and the work has a very retro feel to it, an Arbus, Steichen, and Strand quality. Seeing the two series together, there is almost no way to distinguish between them. Remarkable.
Up next Tim heads to Bologna where he is in a group show at Galleria Marabini.
For more information about his work and to see more images visit:http://www.davistim.com