The Daily Pic: The artist looks at how East Germany sold its military mission.
In his solo show at Andrew Kreps Gallery in New York, the German artist Peter Piller is showing a series of appropriated photos called “Umschläge” (German for “Covers”), which are just that: Images of the front and back covers of the defunct East German magazine called “Armeerundschau” (“Army Panorama”), whose layout juxtaposed a front image of a war scene and a back image of a pretty girl. According to Wikipedia, the magazine’s primary attraction was its “clothed pin-ups of women”, but the site also quotes the magazine’s longtime editor saying that its aim was to “prepare boys and men for their military service in the NVA [the “National People’s Army”], and to prepare women and girls to be good wives and girlfriends, to teach them to love soldiers and be willing to wait for them. We knew we had to convince women to love soldiers. If we didn’t, men wouldn’t want to go into the NVA.” That weird tension seems visible in Piller’s appropriations: A testosterone-laden front cover stands in strange tension with a remarkably chaste back cover that has to function as sexual bait for the magazine’s male readers and as a mirror for women viewing it. And then, in this issue at least, there’s a weird racial and colonial subtext as well. Sometimes, it’s enough for art simply to point out the world’s weirdnesses.
The Daily Pic: The "pop" in his culture came from the 1930s.
This real pastry case full of plaster confections was made by Claes Oldenburg in 1962, and is in the show of his very early works that opens Sunday at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In researching my New York Times profile of him that just went up on the paper’s Web site, I came to realize that Oldenburg’s glance at American consumption was hugely retrospective. Rather than contemplating the shiny chrome of the Mad Men era, Oldenburg was looking back at the more modest material culture of his childhood during the Great Depression, when he first arrived in the U.S. from Sweden.
The Daily Beast: The Swiss artist stomps on earlier masterworks.
This still is from a video called “Walking on Carl Andre”, made in 1998 by Swiss artist Sylvie Fleury and now being shown on the street-front screen at Salon 94 gallery on the Bowery. (Click on the image to watch the full work.) The video takes seriously Andre’s invitation to walk on his minimal floor pieces, but treats them as cheesy fashion runways rather than elite artistic conceits. Fleury entertains the possibility that there’s more in common between fashion and art, between shoes and masterworks, than most of us want to let on.
Contemporary artist Takashi Murakami returns this week with a solo show and a live-action film. He talks to Jean Trinh about the Fukushima disaster and his influences.
Takashi Murakami is a busy man. The prolific Japanese contemporary artist presented the world premiere of his first live-action feature film, Jellyfish Eyes, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) earlier this week, and he’s preparing for his latest show—a collection of towering fabricated sculptures and vibrantly colored, large-scale mural paintings—at Blum & Poe on April 13.
“Jellyfish Eyes” director Takashi Murakami speaks at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art before a screening on April 8. (Amanda Edwards/WireImage, via Getty)
Despite his hectic schedule, Murakami seems unfazed. It’s the day after the 51-year-old’s LACMA event and a few days before the big show. Members of his company, Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd., publicists, and cameramen are quietly buzzing in and out of the 21,000-square-foot Blum & Poe concrete art complex in Culver City, Los Angeles. He enters a white-walled room adorned with a few of his latest paintings, eating a sandwich. Long gone are his signature slicked-back-hair bun and pointy goatee, which have been replaced with a shorter do and a groomed beard. He is warm and approachable, and his English is broken—he uses a translator at times, but his passion is conveyed clearly despite the language barrier. Jellyfish Eyes represents Murakami’s directorial debut, the latest in a string of projects that blur the lines between art, fashion, music, and film. The Louis Vuitton handbags he designed in the early 2000s—the colorful LV emblems and floral designs that boosted the company’s branding—furthered his international fame. The artist has collaborated with Kanye West, creating an animated teddy-bear personification of the rapper in 2007 for his Graduation album cover and directing an animated video for his 2008 track “Good Morning.” His paintings have been featured around the world, from the Palace of Versailles in France to the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain.
His life’s work revolves around a particular audience. “Each time my target is children,” Murakami tells The Daily Beast. He reflects back to when he was a child and the effect it had on him to see his first Francisco Goya paintings at a museum, how it made an indelible impression on his life, while at the same time “traumatizing” him. It’s sometimes hard to believe his life’s work is geared toward children, because there are dark undertones within his style of art, which he’s coined as “superflat”: the bright and flattened kawaii anime characters he’s designed, with an emphasis on Japanese pop culture and fine art. Skulls and decrepit and decaying monks are a reoccurring theme in his latest exhibit, and sexuality has always played a major role in his work—take, for instance, his 1997 Hiropon, a life-size plastic-fabricated sculpture of a naked girl with teal hair, milking her own enormous breasts. Murakami feels that young children, rather than adults, are most affected by art. It’s important for them to further their minds and question everything around them, even in regard to dark and confusing subject matter.
Worth more than $1 billion.
Don’t let those guards at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York shame you into a donation—the museum just got a huge boost. Philanthropist and cosmetics tycoon Leonard Lauder has promised the museum his collection of 78 cubist paintings, sculptures, and drawings—valued at more than $1 billion. The museum’s board approved the donation on Tuesday. The new collection will definitely give the nearby Museum of Modern Art a run for its money, making the Met’s collection as good as—if not better than—MoMA’s collection of cubists. “It’s an unreproducible collection, something museum directors only dream about,” said Thomas Campbell, the Met’s director.
The Daily Pic: Museums gave us our Middle Ages.
Donald La Rocca, curator of arms and armor at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, sent me this view of his armor hall as it looked in 1967, about the time I first came across it as a small child. I can honestly say that that experience changed my life, helping to send me on a chase for all things medieval that lasted well into adulthood. (Getting me to dress in full medieval regalia as I rode my bike around our apartment complex; decades later, getting me to read a vast pile of 10th-century Lombard land contracts – in Latin.) I’ve been thinking a lot about medievalism recently, even to the point of rereading Walter Scott’s goofy “Ivanhoe”. But I’m still not sure how it is that modern European culture has built such a strong notion of something called “The Middle Ages”, when it has so little to do with how things ever were. Does it have to do with the fact that humans, as social animals, are wired to ascribe a coherent, person-like “character” to almost anything we come across, including a remote period in history?
The Daily Pic: Silversmith Sakurako Shimizu makes ornament from exclamations.
Three “waveform” brooches by Sakurako Shimizu, of Japan, on display in “Wear It or Not”, an exhibition of newly acquired jewelry at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York – where I also saw the “wood” show of Friday’s Daily Pic. The brooches represent the sounds of three common vocalizations – “wow”, a yawn and a sneeze – laser-cut into sheets of variously treated sterling silver. You can almost imagine the waveforms as the sounds the brooches hear as they sit in the museum, or as the “comments” of viewers who see them worn on somebody’s body. It’s as though the pieces were aware of their own reception, and record them in their shapes. (Photo by Takateru Yamada)
The Daily Pic: A designer finds the old in the new – literally.
This is a five-drawer secretaire by Gareth Neal, from the wood-themed exhibition called “Against the Grain” at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. The piece is fiendishly clever, using a CNC cutting machine to “find” a traditional dresser inside a clean-limbed modernist version of the same thing, revealing two of design’s different pasts at the same time – and thereby declaring its present.
The Daily Pic: The veteran painter makes fine new work by repeating himself.
These three little paintings made recently by David Diao are miniature versions, about the size of a large art book, of huge abstract paintings that Diao originally produced in the later 1970s. They are now on view at Postmasters gallery in New York, in the last show in its longtime Chelsea space, from which dealers Magdalena Sawon and Tamas Banovich have been chased by the area’s rent inflation (proving that Chelsea’s rising tide – financially speaking – has been sinking some of its very best boats, even when Sandy couldn’t). Diao talks about them as related to Marcel Duchamp’s “Boite en Valise”, the Frenchman’s miniaturized anthology of his own works. But I find that this project brings Diao much closer to Sherrie Levine’s appropriation: By copying himself, in a new scale, at a new date, Diao has utterly changed the meaning of the works he made earlier: They aren’t serious studies in form, so much as wry, even wistful comments on art and decoration and the demise of painting’s grand pretentions.
The Daily Pic: The Italian's photos make normality strange.
This is an image called “Riva di Tures”, shot in 1977 by the late, great Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri and now on view at Matthew Marks Gallery in New York, where they’re showing Ghirri’s entire “Kodachrome” series. Maybe it’s just a coincidence of date and place, but I always think of Ghirri as the Italo Calvino of photography: Like Calvino (at least in his “Difficult Loves” mode) Ghirri engages in very close observation of the everyday world, but always manages to find the surreal in it – but again like Calvino, the strangeness seems more profound and structural than merely freaky.
The Daily Pic: From 1966, pure form that's built around letters.
Al Held made “Upside Down Triangle” in 1966, and the work is now in “Al Held: Alphabet Paintings”, a lovely show of the artist’s Color Field pictures at Cheim & Read gallery in New York. As the show’s title makes clear, however, the pictures don’t really fit into the Color Field category, except at first glance. Many of the paintings seem instead to be massive, cropped enlargements of a sign-painter’s letterforms, complete with shadowed “edges” included to give the letters depth. This picture isn’t actually titled after the letter it shows, as some of its brethren are, and it’s hard to decide on any one character it might represent – but the reference is there nevertheless. That pulls it out of the orbit of Kenneth Noland and late Barnett Newman and other Greenbergian abstractionists and into the stranger, more interesting worlds of Ed Ruscha and even of Garry Neill Kennedy, the Canadian conceptualist. By sourcing his abstractions in script, Held gives up on the utter freedom of purely non-figurative art and instead seeks the grounding and limits imposed by the reality around us.
The Daily Pic: Alfredo Jaar sketched all the portraits he could think up for Antonio Gramsci, master and martyr of the Italian far left.
Alfredo Jaar, best known for his rigorous photo-conceptual work, made these and many other recent sketches of Antonio Gramsci in the wee hours after his assistants went home. They are on view in the group show called “Cleaning Up”, curated by Samuel Draxler for Johannes Vogt Gallery in New York. Draxler tells me that Jaar draws these portraits of the great Italian communist, a hero of his, “to try to capture all of the traits of Gramsci’s character and the nuances of his vision.” That doesn’t feel completely right to me. It feels more like making the portraits is in itself an act of worship, meant to give flesh to a remote figure known mostly in disembodied form, the way a kid raised on radio shows might have tried many different renderings of the Lone Ranger or the Green Hornet. The portraits also strike me as akin to the many faces of Christ permitted in a single Christian devotion, not in conflict with each other because they each reveal a different aspect of His nature. Or maybe the portraits’ irreconcilable variety bears witness to the actual irrelevance of appearance, personality and biography in dealing with a man such as Gramsci, who matters only for his thoughts (which, of course, are about things such as the power of art and images).
The Daily Pic: After years of figuration, the artist goes fearlessly abstract.
Exactly one week after praising the inspired ugliness in Kandinsky’s first abstractions, here I am with “A Child In Winter Sings”, by the veteran American artist Jim Dine, which is one of the new paintings by him that I saw at Pace gallery in New York. Like Kandinsky, “Child” marks a turn away from representation, although here coming at the end of a career rather than the beginning. Either way, both “turns” show an artist avoiding easy compositional or chromatic or linear solutions, and aiming instead for a mess that barely holds together. It’s all part of Modernism’s brilliant failure of coherence, found in Cezanne and Picasso and Warhol and Nauman, when they are at their best, but only rarely in such artists as Matisse, Pollock, Lichtenstein and Judd.
The Daily Pic: Vermeer's picture has been put on the streets to earn its keep.
This, of course, is Johanes Vermeer’s iconic (if only as of recently) “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, which was seen by 758,266 people in a Tokyo museum last year, in a “Treasures of the Mauritshuis” show that was the best-attended exhibition of 2012. And that’s a very bad thing – a tremendously precious object risking the inevitable wear-and-tear of travel, to grace a Greatest Hits extravaganza that has no point except to get turnstiles turning and tickets selling. To be further convinced of the evil of such things, read my diatribe on the exhibition-industrial complex, which hit the Web today. (Some of you may also be interested in news about me that’s in the very last line of the piece.)
The Daily Pic: A magpie artist breaks out of a cage.
Two of the “Fetish” sculptures by the artist known as B. Wurtz, from his solo show now at Metro Pictures in New York. Wurtz’s pieces ought not to work: Found-object assemblage is one of the most tired modes in the art world today. Maybe the reason Wurtz’s do work is because he came to that mode before most others and has pursued it with more dedication, and because the trouve-ness of his objets feels almost incidental, rather than the single point and device of his work. It feels as though Wurtz simply uses his trash as an art supply that he’s mastered, the way another artist might master oil paint or carved wood. Of course, oil paint and wood have a harder time calling up images of little girls with bows in their hair, without ever depicting them.
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