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.
The Daily Pic: Yevgeniy Fiks looks back at our Red and Lavender scares.
I saw this piece in the recent solo show by Yevgeniy Fiks at Winkleman Gallery in New York. The project documents the paranoid conflation of the commie and the queer in 1950s America, by combining images and quotes. That content would be funny if it weren’t so painfully evil and dumb. (Actually, it’s funny despite being evil and dumb, or because it is.)
Of course, as the Supreme Court contemplates gay marriage, the queerbashing may soon be a thing of the past. If only knee-jerk commiebashing would head the same way. I am not now nor have I ever been a member of the communist party … but it sure was useful to have some kind of pro-worker option, however empty and symbolic, to keep the capitalist running dogs afraid and in line. Now they simply run, unleashed, and trample everyone else.
The Daily Pic: The Chicago artist gives commuters an old-fashioned thrill.
I saw this performance designed by Nick Cave, the Chicago artist, in Grand Central Station today. Cave's "Heard NY" was brought to us by Creative Time and MTA Arts for Transit, as it will be for another week, twice a day. Thirty raffia-costumed dancers cavort around the space as "horses" while harps and drums egg them on.
These kind of performances could easily be panned as pseudo-primitive spectacles, full of a romanticized, urbanized yearning for a simpler, more direct, more symbolic, more "authentic" culture. But watching Cave's performance, and the enthusiastic reaction of the Grand Central audience, it occurred to me that what I was seeing was a fully "authentic" expression of the culture of modern times – not because we moderns want and seek some kind of deep, mystical, shamanistic communion with the animal world, such as our ancestors are supposed to have got through their dancing. But because, in an atomized age of TV and the Web, we simply want shared, live, impressive spectacles, of almost any kind, without expecting much more from them than an instant frisson and shared thrill. And it could be that, even in so-called "simpler" cultures, "ritual" dance may have as much to do with its surface spectacle as with the deeper meanings that anthropologists insist on finding in it. That is, the rigorous anthropologists may be the romantics, in their search for symbolic depths they view as missing from their own lives, whereas the "primitive" dancers and spectators, in their sheer pleasure in the act of communal dance (and disregarding whatever they report to the PhDs) may actually be behaving rather like their commuting peers in New York.
Marilyn Minter has something to say—and the art world is finally listening.
When I arrive at Marilyn Minter’s Manhattan studio on an unseasonably warm March afternoon, the artist is presiding over her assistants the way an Old Master might. She lopes around a high-ceilinged room, where six young people are hunched before bright, large-scale canvases, each performing different tasks. Minter is the director-producer of the operation: she corrects details of one painting and then—midthought—wheels around to blurt out another. “Matt, can you hear me?” she says to an assistant who is wearing headphones while he paints. “See—he’s wired in.” In a way, it’s a mix between a Renaissance studio and the programming department at Facebook.
Jessica Dimmock for Newsweek Magazine
Minter, who is 64, stands at almost 6 feet tall, with a shock of red hair echoed by an even brighter shade of lipstick. She strides around her studio in motorcycle boots, asking questions of her team and surveying the massive canvases hung around the room. She’s preparing for an upcoming show at Regen Projects in Los Angeles (opening April 6), which will put five of her new, large-scale paintings next to early photographic work.
We sit down for our interview in a corner of the large studio, where a freshly poured Diet Coke is precariously placed on the edge of a low coffee table. Within minutes, someone has knocked it to the floor—sending shattered glass and ice cubes sliding in every direction. But Minter doesn’t bat an eyelash. An assistant immediately descends on the scene with a dustpan. “Looks just like one of your paintings,” he says about the mess.
The Daily Pic: Abstraction's pioneer avoided easy good looks.
This is “Impression III (Concert)”, by Vasily Kandinsky, and I think it is very ugly – gloriously, importantly ugly. I saw it again today, on my fourth visit to “Inventing Abstraction” at the Museum of Modern Art, and was impressed once again by how much it stood out from the other art on view. The problem with abstraction is how very easily it turns into a set of easy, decorative tropes. I was marveling today at how, within months of trying abstraction on for the first time, the great Czech artist František Kupka managed to perfect a self-contained, coherent, and absolutely stylish personal idiom and manner – almost as though Parmigianino or Schiavone had come directly after Giotto. Whereas Kandinsky’s first pictures manage to stay much more difficult than that, never following any recipe or becoming easy on the eyes.
I think that’s because they are trying to capture the extreme, persistent difficulty of the radical music, by Arnold Schoenberg, that influenced him, and his early pictures. I was struck by how pleasant it was to look at all of the abstractions in this show – and by the way its recordings of Schoenberg’s music still feel like they present an intellectual and emotional challenge.
THE DAILY PIC: In the late artist's pairings, it's not easy to say what's abstract and what's a representation.
These two paintings by Alan Uglow, who died at age 70 in 2011, are in his solo show at David Zwirner in New York. I love how he creates one abstract painting that seems to be about painting (it could almost be read as a realist image of the back of a stretched canvas) and then makes a huge silkscreen print, in a full-blown realist mode, that seems to be an angled perspectival view of the abstraction – except that, on close study, it isn’t. Even those little blocks of wood the artworks sit on are great: They seem close cognates to the little blue rectangles in the corner of the abstraction, and then are shown again, as actual wood blocks, in the realist print. It’s M.C. Escher, without the schmaltz and with philosophical rigor, or it’s Robert Ryman in a less intuitive moment.
The Daily Pic: Vintage Jewishness through a new Bauhaus Lens.
This photo of Jewish schoolchildren in the town of Mukacevo, now part of Ukraine, was taken by Roman Vishniac sometime between 1935 and 1938, when he was documenting the sorry state of the Jewish population in Eastern Europe – which was about to get so much worse. The image is now in his show at the International Center of Photography in New York. The exhibition makes clear how much Vishniac’s “simple” documentation owes to avant-garde art and photography from earlier in the century. That’s doubly clear when you look at the much straighter photojournalism by Chim that’s on view one floor up at the ICP, and that was done at precisely the same time. I have to admit that the stylishness of Vishniac’s vision helps sell me on his subjects – even though his Orthodox subjects often resisted the modernity he represents.
For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.
The Congo hosts a celebration of African arts.
Brazzaville’s corniche, a once elegant drive with an air of abandonment, looks out over the Congo River, the immense silted waterway that shaped the destiny of equatorial Africa. Just downstream are the Livingstone Falls, named by Henry Morton Stanley after his hero, the Scottish missionary who tried to chart the upper Congo. More than any other 19th-century adventurer, David Livingstone came to stand for an age of exploration whose lingering assumptions can still distort outside views of Africa.
Art students paint a fresco at Brazzaville’s Palais de Congrès. (Gael Le Ny/Etonnnants Voyageurs)
The bicentenary of Livingstone’s birth, on March 19, arrives on the heels of a groundbreaking and eye-opening festival in Brazzaville that made manifest what many early European explorers failed to see: the culture of the people whose lands they “opened up” for commerce and Christianity. Even the relatively benign anti-slavery Livingstone shared the prejudices of his day. And, as Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe pointed out, Joseph Conrad, who piloted a steamship up the Congo in 1890 and hinted at the brutality of colonial rule in his most famous novel, merely portrayed the Congolese people as a mute or jabbering backdrop. But as the novelist Henri Lopes, now Congo-Brazzaville’s ambassador to Paris, told 90 writers and artists from around the world: “You’re not in the heart of darkness, but the beating heart of the continent.”
The linchpin of the festival, called Africa Rising, is its co-director Alain Mabanckou, a youthful and iconoclastic novelist born in the coastal Congolese city of Pointe-Noire, who has both a French knighthood and a professorship at UCLA. “When Europeans came here and tried to spread their culture,” he told me, “they came with their exotic eye, seeing everything from a distance ... They underestimated African culture.”
The Daily Pic: In 1963, Stephen Antonakos made works that refuse to be pigeonholed.
This “Pillow” sculpture was made by Stephen Antonakos in 1963, and I spotted it recently in his show at Lori Bookstein Fine Art in Chelsea in New York. It helps demonstrate how much the standard art-historical narratives cut out of the real story of art. Where do Antonakos’s pillows fit in the scheme of things, as we’ve all learned it? They don’t even fit into the standard story of their maker’s art, since he’s known for works in neon. On the other hand, what’s even more weird is how few works don’t fit our standard narratives: People complain that art has to be about more than “mere” novelty, but novelty of any kind is surprisingly hard to achieve. Hence my interest in these unsettling pillows, more likely to cause insomnia in a poor art historian than to cure it.
The Daily Pic: The great photojournalist Chim registers recovery.
This fabulous and iconic picture, by the great photojournalist known as Chim, was taken in 1947 on Omaha Beach, in Normandy, where massive slaughter had been seen just a few years before. It’s now in a show called “We Went Back: Photographs from Europe 1933-1956 by Chim”, at the International Center of Photography in New York. This is just about the most lyrical image that Chim ever shot, and there’s something especially great about his rare use of color film for it. We mostly think of this era, and its horrors, as having happened in black and white, so it’s lovely that an image of recovery should glow, Oz-like, in soft polychrome.
The Daily Pic: Sjoerd Vroonland crosses a chair and a coatrack.
This piece is called “Extension Chair,” designed by the young Dutchman Sjoerd Vroonland for the Moooi company. It’s currently in a show called “The Next Wave: Industrial Design in the 21st Century” in Washington D.C., curated by Douglas Burton of Apartment Zero. I love the way “Extension Chair” indeed “extends” the aesthetic principles of a classic work, and thereby makes it feel entirely contemporary – much more of our time than all the sleek, futuristic designs that, shockingly, still pass as contemporary.
The Daily Pic: An artist imagines her paintings are woven.
“Grey stripe 006” is a very recent painting by Michelle Forsyth, now showing at Mulherin+Pollard gallery in New York. As is pretty clear, Forsyth, though trained in fine art, recently began to do weavings as well. (She cites the influence of Anni Albers). Though some of Forsyth’s new paintings are actual weaving diagrams, this one is more an impression of loomwork than a recipe for it. What I like is how the over-and-under principles of weaving seem to have been transferred direct to painting, as though the mechanisms of one craft could be used in another. They can’t – stripes of paint can only cross, they can’t interweave – but the attempt, and failure, interest me, as a late-in-the-day revival of systemic painting.
The Daily Pic: ... he would have had James Capper's tools as his hands.
At last week’s Armory Show art fair in New York, the London gallery Hannah Barry was presenting a series of working hydraulic sculptor's tools, custom-made in the studio of a twentysomething artist named James Capper. This one is called “Cropper”, and comes with the following “manufacturer’s description”: “Rough cutting and rapid fracturing of waste material. Hydraulic control for tooth up/down movement. Twin hydraulic cylinders giving 1.5 ton pressure on tooth end.” It was shown sitting on a big block of plaster, which it is designed to carve – although the gallery attendant agreed that it could also be used to cut into collectors, or even critics. Or maybe art fairs.
The Daily Pic: Why Piero della Francesca goes for the gold.
The Daily Pic’s last hit at Piero della Francesca is his little panel of Saint Apollonia, from the bottom register of his Saint Augustine Altarpiece, six of whose surviving panels are now on view at the Frick Collection in New York. (Because four of them belong to the Frick.)
Piero had a problem: How do you show a bunch of different figures, at different scales, when the rules of avant-garde art tell you that the ideal picture opens up a single, continuous space for your viewer to get lost in? Yesterday, we saw one of his answers: Turn some subsidiary scenes into embroidered panels on a cloak. Today, here’s another: Give other scenes you want to include golden backgrounds, so you can say they don’t make any claims to illusionism, and so don’t have to follow its rules. Not only that, but the golden backgrounds establish the pictures as belonging to an archaic (recent) past, when those rules didn’t even exist. They are icons, not illusions.
The Daily Pic: Piero della Francesca bets on embroidery.
Another image by Piero della Francesca, from his St. Augustine Altarpiece and now on view at the Frick Collection in New York. This time it’s the saint himself, looking suitably stern.
As will be obvious to anyone who has read my PhD dissertation – that would be my supervisor, three examiners (maybe), and my proofreading ex-wife – what interests me here are the little “embroidered” scenes on the edge of Augustine’s robe. Known to specialists as quadri riportati (“transferred pictures”) these scenes are “carried over” into the fictive decorative textiles in the picture, in order to keep intact the illusion of a single, continuous space that Piero creates in the rest of his altarpiece, and that flows between and around all its main panels.
Although Piero doesn’t want to lose the narrative, theological content of these scenes from the life of Christ, he couldn’t very well have them as views into their own, very separate little worlds, as an earlier painter would have done. And note the trouble he goes to to keep the scenes suitably interrupted by the shadows and folds of the cloak they are on, even at the risk of illegibility – illusionism trumps narrativity. (Although note also how much the subjects in question are about events that transpire in specific places – Mary’s “reading room”, Gethsemane, Pilate’s palace etc.) Here’s a thought: Maybe the three scenes entirely hidden by the folds on the cloak’s left-hand side would have had their subjects included in the separate “predella” panels at the bottom of the whole altarpiece. (Read more on them tomorrow. Oh, and another thought on yesterday's post: I wonder if the binding on Saint Augustine's book would have seemed Middle Eastern. Many bindings that look Renaissance to us were in fact Islamic.)
FLOTUS parts to the left, Twitter explodes. More