Richard Serra repeats the right stuff, at last.
One of the sadder statements I've heard an artist make came from the famous tough-guy sculptor Richard Serra, in 2007, when he waxed lyrical about the popularity he'd finally achieved with his light-and-lively, oft-repeated "Torqued Ellipses", compared to the "hostility" he'd encountered from viewers of the weighty, challenging, protean art of his earlier career. In New York now, at Gagosian Gallery's 21st Street space, Serra has installed the latest iteration of his crowd-pleasing playground pieces, lighter and livelier than ever – I once called them "Dale Chihuly's glass baubles, blown up big for the heavy-metal set". But then at Gagosian's 24th Street space, Serra has new works – including the "7 Plates, 6 Angles" shown here – that point back to the heft and risk of his earlier art. Of course these are derivative, too, almost as though Serra were his own pupil, or a forger of his own pieces. But at least they "forge" (pun intended) the pieces by him that matter.
Using straws, bamboo, lights, scents, and other experimental materials, six architects have transformed London’s Royal Academy, making visitors stop and think about their surroundings.
How often do you look up at the facades looming overhead as you saunter down the street? When you visit an art exhibition, do you ever pause to consider the walls that support the pictures proudly hanging in their frames? Architecture is often merely a backdrop, a blank canvas on which to display other works. But a new show at London’s Royal Academy of Art, Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined, hopes to revolutionize our appreciation of the structures around us.
Royal Academy of Arts
Seven architects from six countries around the world were commissioned to create large-scale installations in the Main Galleries of the Royal Academy. The brief? To awaken our senses to the essential architectural interactions and spaces that exist all around, to engage visitors through proportion, materials, and light. Part demonstration, part experiment, the possibilities were endless.
The resulting works reflect the disparate cultures, generations, and geographies of the designers…and they have boldly transformed the space. The Main Galleries were added to Burlington House, the RA’s home on London’s Piccadilly, in 1867. Grand in scale, richly decorated, and perfectly measured and aligned, the rooms follow the Beaux-Arts tradition and Neoclassical style popular at the time. They are the epitome of old-school rationality and refinement—or at least they were until now. Sensing Spaces has given the classical language of the RA’s architecture an edgy, contemporary twist. What it hopes to give the viewer, who is invited to explore, touch, climb, and contemplate, is a whole new sensory experience of both structures and space.
Jeanette May's photos show men at ease in their bachelor pads.
"Bachelor #2, Jeff", shot by Jeanette May in 2011, is from a series called "Bachelor Pads", now in the show of faculty work at the school of the International Center of Photography. It particularly appealed to me because of a historical precedent I've written about before: According to the architectural historian Beatriz Colomina, the idea of the high-design "bachelor pad" was popularized by Playboy in the 1950s and 60s, and was "sold" to men by posing naked women on the furniture. Its nice to see that, 40 years later, men have settled into their "pads", as normal places to live, and can be their own cheesecake.
At the Met, jewels by JAR may be tacky junk, but they tell us about ourselves.
OK, so I’m on the record – this morning, on Marketplace – as hating the jewelry of the Parisian gemster known as JAR (a.k.a Joel A. Rosenthal). But that doesn’t mean that this tacky butterfly brooch, from 1994, isn’t deeply interesting and informative as a shiny little fragment of visual culture – and so worthy of a Daily Pic.
As I argued on the radio, the solo show of JAR tchotchkes now at the Metropolitan Museum in New York helps us keep in mind how entirely our culture has been taken over by the values of the ultra-rich. JAR’s gewgaws have nothing to do with serious artistic thought, such as other contemporary jewelers are engaging with; JAR makes empty-headed twinkly stuff that any little girl would want for her princess costume. But as things stand today, if you can get the price tag on such objects up high enough, they begin to command respect. In the 21st century, money doesn’t talk, it outshouts everything else.
The Oscar-winning director finds the magic and beauty in scenes of old factories and languishing industry in a new exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery in London.
David Lynch’s first collection of photography is every bit as odd as you’d expect. The director of Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive has found a new way to bolster his unparalleled canon of weirdness.
To mark the publication of his first photography book, available next month by Prestel, the Oscar-winning director has an exhibition The Factory Photographs at The Photographers’ Gallery in London. As you step into the space, before your eyes alight on a single image, you are immediately transported into a trademark Lynch-world by the edgy, brooding soundscape. Then you see the pictures: frame after frame filled with black and white images of factories.
“I love industry. Pipes. I love fluid and smoke. I love man-made things. I like to see people hard at work and I like to see sludge and man-made waste,” he wrote, and he’s not kidding.
The first images show chimneys belching steam, power, and heat. As you work through the collection, the scenes become more stagnant, more still, as desolation takes over. Abandoned tanks and broken machinery lie motionless, and the background is often obscured by dirty windows or overgrown weeds that hint at what might be lurking out of shot.
Robert Mapplethorpe used old forms for forbidden content.
Who else could this shot be by than Robert Mapplethorpe? It’s a 1980 image titled “Leather Crotch”, and it’s in the Mapplethorpe survey now at Sean Kelly gallery in New York. I visited with a smart artist and an art-historian friend, and somehow we got caught up in the same-old Mapplethorpe debate: Is his aesthetic too conservative and Edward Weston-ish for its own good, or can we ignore that because of the radical subjects he shoots? Afterward, I realized the obvious solution to the (non-)issue: Mapplethorpe’s art matters most when it uses the old Modernist tropes to display his new subjects. Finding a new, radical language to show bondage gear would have been almost a capitulation to the sidelining that gay culture had suffered for decades; by using the established language of elite art, Mapplethorpe could insist on a retrospective insertion of gay culture into the aesthetic mainstream. He could be the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing, while saying that wolfskin is in.
Herb Alpert is a man of many talents: he’s dominated the jazz scene, winning eight Grammys and shattering records. Now he’s taking over the art world.
Herb Alpert is a man of many talents.
As a jazz musician, writer, and producer, he has broken multiple industry records—five albums simultaneously in the top 20 of Billboard’s Pop Album Chart and the only recording artist to hit No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 pop chart as both a vocalist and an instrumentalist—outsold the Beatles in 1966, and co-founded the successful record label A&M Records. Not to mention, he is nominated for his ninth Grammy this year.
It goes without saying that Alpert has led a very successful tenure as a musician. But he’s also a painter and a sculptor.
“I think painting is a bit like jazz,” Alpert said in his 2002 documentary Music for Your Eyes. “When you play jazz, you’re playing your own life—playing your experiences … things that have happened good or bad.”
For 50 years, scholars have been fighting over ‘Red, Black, and Silver.’ But new forensic evidence may solve this debate for good…and show the art world where Pollock’s art was going.
Over the last 58 years, art scholars have been arguing about the authenticity of a painting that just may be the last Jackson Pollock work ever created. In a fight that has pitted Pollock’s lover against his wife, the legacy of one of the great abstract expressionists—and plus or minus five million dollars—is at stake.
The painting in question, Red, Black and Silver, is just 24 by 20 inches and wholly unlike any other by Jackson Pollock. But it is Jackson Pollock’s last painting. Perhaps. Ruth Kligman, the artist’s mistress, who was in the car with him when he crashed to his death on Fireplace Road in Springs, Long island in 1956, claimed he had painted it for her just weeks before. Lee Krasner, the painter’s widow, who had returned from Europe after the crash, said it was a fake. Krasner died in 1984. The Pollock-Krasner Authentication Board continued to nix Red, Black and Silver, until they disbanded in 1996. Ruth Kligman died in 2010.
In November, forensics investigator, Nicholas Petraco, long-time with the New York City police department and now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, issued a report after examining the evidence around the painting. Petraco, who was working for the Kligman estate pro bono, declared that minutiae stuck to the canvas proved conclusively that Red, Black and Silver had been painted on Pollock’s property. His interview appeared in a New York Times article by Patricia Cohen, who also spoke with Francis O’Connor, a co-editor of Pollock’s four-volume catalogue raisonné. O’Connor airily described the forensics as “redundant and essentially irrelevant,” compared to a connoisseur’s eye. In the piece, O’Connor said that the painting was in “limbo.”
I met with Kligman from time to time in the years before her death and was invited to her 14th Street apartment in Manhattan, which had once been Franz Kline’s studio. Did she show me the Pollock? No. But a while later, I did meet up with Rick Librizzi, a veteran private dealer, who knew the abstract expressionists and had worked with Warhol, and who was then working with Kligman on this painting.
Two endurance movies go head-to-head
Last weekend, I spent seven-plus hours watching all of Warhol’s great “Empire”, which consists of unedited footage of the Empire State Building that he shot in 1964. My account of the screening appeared in print in today’s New York Times, while all 5,500 words of the minute-by-minute notes that I took at the screening are up at my new Warholiana.com Web site. But for all that looking and thinking and writing, I missed something obvious, pointed out to me over drinks last night by Tom DeKay, former art editor at the Times and now editor-in-chief of ArtInfo.com: The obvious counterpoint to Warhol’s meditation on passing time is Christian Marclay’s superb “Clock”, from 2010, which cuts together 24 hours’ worth of Hollywood images of clocks and watches and all things temporal, so that the collage of times seen on-screen match the real times on a viewer’s watch. The two pieces are analogues, yes, but also importantly and surprisingly different: In Warhol, nothing happens, and that’s its greatest virtue – it teaches cinematic patience; Marclay’s “Clock” gives us a constant stream of event, more like the insane flicker of an Olympic chronometer than the pace of a clockless day at the shore. It perfectly suits our current attention spans. I adore Marclay’s “Clock”, and have spent many hours entranced by it; it is irresistible and ceaselessly compelling. But I guess I believe the Warhol is the more challenging, complex, surprising piece. It overcomes our doubts, rather than confirming our pleasures.
When cosmetics magnate Stanley Picker died in 1982, he left behind a gorgeous house and notable art collection. Elizabeth Price's documentary invites viewers to come in and explore.
“Enter the beautifully vacated house … and inhabit its luxurious interiors.” A suspicious invitation? Maybe. Seductive? Certainly. I wouldn’t hesitate to cross the threshold: inside is an art-and-design lover’s dream.
Fortunately for the easily swayed and trespass-prone among us, the message (or is it a command?) that flashes across the screen in Turner Prize-winning artist Elizabeth Price’s 2007 film, At the House of Mr X, is notional. She’s offering only a virtual tour of the spectacular former residence of New York-born cosmetics magnate, Stanley Picker (Mr X). Like the rest of the text appearing line by line in motion graphics, it’s a piece of (let’s compromise) advice offered to the viewer by the narrator of the film, our onscreen guide. My advice would be to make your way to London’s Whitechapel Gallery, where Price’s 20-minute film is showing continuously from January 14 to April 15.
The opening shot places the viewer outside, in the dark, looking at a house warmly lit and glowing with fiery hues. Right on cue, as if to sanction a visit, ten choristers from the Royal Holloway Choir start to sing. Before you know it, you’re being ushered inside, the soundtrack a version of The Fleetwoods 1959 single, “Mr Blue.” Who could resist those soothing “Wahoo wahoo wahoos?”
Click. (The film is punctuated with these sudden breaks.)
Edgy, brilliant, and a little bit dangerous, Joshua Compston shook up London’s art scene in the 90s, championing the YBA’s and revitalizing Hoxton and Shoreditch, before he died at 25.
The tale of how tasteful London became a heavyweight art world contender in the 90s is a remarkable one that Joshua Compston played a dramatic part in. A new exhibit, Factual Nonsense: A Guide for the Perplexed, at the CHART Gallery in London examines the legacy of the often aggravating prodigy who came up with an innovative series of curatorial ideas that would later be widely adopted; who single-handedly turned down-at-the-heels neighborhoods Hoxton and Shoreditch into socio-cultural Alpha zones; and who died after ingesting ether in March 1996 either at or after leaving the Jean-Michel Basquiat opening at the Serpentine Gallery. Basquiat had overdosed in 1988 at the age of 28. Compston, as he had often predicted, died at 25. By then he was broke and his gallery was cratering. The following year, Charles Saatchi’s show Sensation opened at the Royal Academy, and the artists Compston had promoted and pestered went into orbit as the YBAs—Young British Artists. They were soon even tabloid-famous.
Joshua Compston was a posh boy, his father a high-court judge, his grandfather a rear admiral. He homed in on art early, arriving on Peter Blake’s doorstep when he was 12 with a collection of ephemera he thought the artist might fancy. He attended the venerable Courtauld Institute, and decided to shake it up by showing the art being made by the then-unnamed YBAs. In search of moolah to support this operation, he wrote to the 500 names on The Sunday Times’s “Rich List.” The collector Jeremy Fry came up with the necessary funds and was sufficiently impressed by the teenager’s derring-do that he brought the Duchess of Westminster aboard as a co-sponsor. Compston managed all this without the say-so of the Courtauld, which sent him a stinging letter. But Compston plunged on. The show, which opened in 1991, featured a bevy of young artists including Damien Hirst, Gavin Turk, and Langlands & Bell alongside such comparative elders as Gilbert & George—who had met the teenage impresario and been quite impressed—and Howard Hodgkin.
Later that same year, he opened a gallery, Factual Nonsense. As a gallerist, just as he had been as a wanna-be artist, Compston was thoroughly YBA-ish in his rejection of genteel Formalism, his love of picking up everyday stuff in the fashion of Kurt Schwitters, and his gleeful body-parts morbidity, but he had a messianic streak that was uniquely his own. What with his love of manifestoes, his utopian stridency, and his rejection of art market mores, Compston’s writings bring to mind the revolutionary ideas of the Situationist International movement a generation before. It was this streak that had led him to open Factual Nonsense at 44 Charlotte Street in Hoxton.
Lewis Hine saw beauty in the oppressed kids he shot.
"Paris Gamin" was shot in about 1918 by Lewis Hine, and is in the fabulous survey of his work that's on view for only a few more days at the International Center of Photography. Hine, of course, is famous for his images of working people – mostly children – stuck in an unjust and cruel system. His photos of kids, especially, are almost unfailingly touching and sensitive, conveying the sense (true or false) that the photographer genuinely felt for them. The only problem is that this leads Hine to make his subjects look luminous and gorgeous – with this French urchin as a prime example. They might as well have been shot by a fashion photog. And, in the presence of so much beauty and elegance, it's hard to feel that there's much wrong with the world. Hines's pictures don't make us feel miserable enough, for the misery of their subjects to impinge fully on us. There's too much love in them.
G. William Webb turns old bricks into new sculpture.
This 14-inch terracotta drum is called “Quantity”, and it’s a days-old work by G. William Webb, now on view in a group show at the little Room East gallery in New York. At first it comes across as a supremely elegant example of modernist formalism – a kind of apotheosis or archetype of the shape that a potter’s wheel most naturally forms. It turns out, however, that there’s a backstory. Webb made his clay from ancient bricks that he found on walks in Brooklyn, then smashed to a powder with a sledge hammer. The darker dot on top is actually a hole into the drum, filled to the brim with Webb’s raw brick dust. So the piece is still about archetypal ceramics, but this time understood as having a history.
For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit BlakeGopnik.com/archive.
In 2011, designer Adam Bezer gave us this Guy Fawkes mask. We may want to don it again.
Remember this? Three years on, doesn't it already feel like a leftover from a bygone era? Isn't that too bad?
This version of the Occupy mask appeared in The Occupied Wall Street Journal, in November 2011, thanks to the designer Adam Bezer. It's now on view as one of the least light-hearted objects in a show called "Play Things", at the main branch of the New York Public Library. The mask reminds me that many of the most important improvements in American life – women's rights, union rights, Black rights – only came about after demonstrators took to the street, and risked life and limb for their goals. Occupy, with its public theatrics, was central to our slow-dawning awareness of this country's chasm between have-nots and have-way-too-much-es. If the majority's going to take back its share of the nation's riches, those Guy Fawkes masks may need to go on again.