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In Black & White

David Lynch: Film to Photos

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Stuart Wilson/Getty

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.

Queer Culture

Beauty in Bondage

Robert Mapplethorpe's 1980 image titled “Leather Crotch”

(Image courtesy Sean Kelly, New York, ©Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; used by permission)

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.

For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit BlakeGopnik.com/archive.

Fire and Ice

A Jazz Musician’s Art Encore

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.”

Authentication

The Last Pollock

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Painter Jackson Pollock, cigarette in mouth, dropping paint onto canvas. (Martha Holmes/Time Life Pictures/Getty)

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.

Works worth comparing: Warhol's "Empire" and Marclay's "Clock"

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.

For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit BlakeGopnik.com/archive.

Are You Ready?

An Art Tour Turned Seduction

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.)

Birth of the YBAs

Britain’s Art-World Wunderkind

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.

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Anthony Haden-Guest

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.

Hidden Troubles

Child Labor ... of Love

"Paris Gamin"  from the series "American Red Cross Survey", shot by Lewis Hine around 1918

(Transfer from Photo League Lewis Hine Memorial Committee; ex-collection of Corydon Hine © George Eastman House Collection)

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.

For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit BlakeGopnik.com/archive.

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Can Dancers Ever Stand Still?

Brick Red

The Fine Art of Recycling

"Quantity" (2014), by G. William Webb.

(Courtesy Room East, NY)

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.

Designer Adam Bezer's version of the Occupy mask appeared in The Occupied Wall Street Journal, in November 2011

(The New York Public Library: The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, reproduction courtesy of the artist)

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.

For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit BlakeGopnik.com/archive.

Priceless

$330M Offered to Save Detroit Art

$330M Offered to Save Detroit Art Andrew Burton/Getty

Rembrandts and more could be sold off in bankruptcy.

A dozen private charitable foundations pledged more than $330 million on Monday to save Detroit's art collection and help pensioners facing steep cuts thanks to bankruptcy proceedings.The Detroit Institute of Art's collection—including works by Rembrandt, Rodin, Cezanne, and Matisse—was recently appraised by Christie's ahead of a possible sale to creditors. Some of the foundation's money is intended to go to city retirees. Though the purse will barely make a dent in the $3.5 billion they're owed in pension claims.

Read it at Detroit News

‘Lost at Sea’

When Sculpture Turns to Drawing

Celia Gerard’s mixed-media works hang in a balance of solidity and transparency, sculpture and drawing, as she finds a way to dig deeper into space.

Celia Gerard’s mixed-media works hang in a balance of solidity and transparency, sculpture and drawing.

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Celia Gerard

The eight compositions on display at the Sears-Peyton Gallery are a continuation of a body of work. “The work started when I was studying at the [New York] Studio School,” Gerard told The Daily Beast Thursday night at the opening of her new show, Lost at Sea. “I was working in low relief… and I realized that I wasn’t able to go as deep [into the space] as I wanted to,” she said, mentioning her formal training as a sculptor. “So I moved to drawing out of necessity.”

The first drawings were just black and white and appeared at Sears-Peyton in 2011. “I was interested in what I could do with only a few materials and a limited palette,” Gerard said, “but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that color started seeping in.”

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Inside the Artist’s Lair

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Lou Reed Was Putty in Warhol's Hands

Andy Warhol, "Screen Test: Lou Reed" (1966), 16mm film, black and white, silent, 4 minutes at 16 frames per second.

(© 2013 The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, a museum of Carnegie Institute. All rights reserved.)

In a filmed "Screen Test", Andy turned the singer into his creation.

In honor of Lou Reed’s recent death, here he is in 1966, in a still from the last of this week’s five “Screen Tests”, on loan from the Warhol Museum and now being projected at the museum of the Rhode Island School of Design. (There’s a bootleg clip of the Reed piece on YouTube.) This is what most people who know the “Tests” imagine them to be:  Footage of one gorgeous or compelling or (soon-to-be-)famous person, seen staring impassively, revealingly into Warhol’s camera for a solid four minutes. (Although each shoot took only three minutes, Warhol wanted the “Tests” screened in slight slow motion, exaggerating the duration of the encounter.) This particular “Test” could almost be an ad for Reed, the new-minted rock star: The black turtleneck and half-moon lighting clearly echo Robert Freeman’s famous “With the Beatles” cover from 1963. With his head enlarged by the projector to many times life size, Reed comes across as the archetypal teen idol, a true “Face” in the Mod sense of the word. It’s how Warhol might have shown Dylan in the “Screen Test” that I Pic’d yesterday – but didn’t.

With Reed, Warhol isn’t digging deep into the soul of his sitter, although that’s the ancient cliche that’s often attached to all of these portraits. We watch instead as Warhol, manager and “discoverer” (in theory) of Reed’s band, asserts that the singer is his own private creation. It’s a portrait of Reed, but it shows us Warhol as he plays Pygmalion.

For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit BlakeGopnik.com/archive.

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