The Daily Pic: Piero della Francesca created his worlds from scratch.
This is an altarpiece painted by Piero della Francesca in about 1470, for a patron in his hometown of Borgo San Sepolcro. It belongs to the Clark institute in Williamstown, Mass., and is now in the little Piero show at the Frick Collection in New York. My favorite detail is the shadow cast on the bottom of the Virgin’s throne, from a point on our side of the picture plane. The two main theories are that the shadow is conceived as being cast by you, the viewer, standing in close proximity to Mary, or that it’s cast by another column in the colonnade we see at the back, imagined as wrapping all around Christ and his mother.
Either way, what interests me is the idea that Piero and his peers conceived of themselves as world-builders, populating a three-dimensional space with novel objects (the way God, the “first painter”, did), rather than as producers of attractive pictures. Today, we are so picture-bound that it’s hard for us to understand the distinction, but in the Renaissance, it meant that two pictures could look quite different and still be “of” a single scene, subjected to alternate depictions.
How long before a Bahamas Biennale?
It would be easy to revel in the Dionysian pleasures the Bahamas have on offer (conch fritters and rum concoctions are only a few), but as the commonwealth enters its 40th year of independence from Great Britain, even the culturally astute have reason to touch down. An artistic boom is on the horizon—and soon roving gamblers, sun-seekers, and spa obsessives will get a taste of local talent.
Currently, the 1,000-acre construction site in Nassau that will transform into the Baha Mar Hotel and Casino contains piles of steel and vats of concrete, but also an immense opportunity for the region: more jobs, a torrent of tourists, and the evolution of Cable Beach into a chic “Bahamian Riviera.” Yet the $3.5 billion luxury enclave, with four hotels and a 100,000-square-foot casino set to open at the end of 2014, is also promising to double down on contemporary art. At Baha Mar’s recent “topping off” ceremony—a centuries-old act celebrating the completion of a building’s highest floor—Sarkis Izmirlian, the resort’s CEO, announced the property would feature a gallery space and artwork created by local artists. This means that unlike other hotels, guests here won’t eat their breakfasts staring at stock photos of turquoise water, but perhaps will dine under an abstract self-portrait by Bahamian legend Kendal Hanna.
Also announced was the participation of hometown hero Lenny Kravitz, whose design firm will take charge of the resort’s nightclub and villa. Kravitz spent much of his youth in the Bahamas, which he called “one of my favorite places in the world.”
The Daily Pic: Jan Brueghel sparks an everlasting debate between vision and scent.
This is an allegory of scent (flowers; a stinky civet cat; a dog of fine nose) versus sight (everything else in the scene, including the images of the flowers, cat and dog). It was painted by the sight-man Jan Brueghel the Elder in about 1620 and is now in the Prado museum. It reminds us of the once-hot debates about the appeal and artfulness of the various senses, and how those debates have now faded from view – or maybe, in fact, not.
This blog has seen a little revival of the quarrel, as I’ve gone at it hammer and tongs with Chandler Burr, curator of the “Art of Scent” perfume exhibition that just closed at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. Read on for one last, looooong installment of our head-butting exchange (although, weirdly, here the art critic is the one arguing for the specificity and independence of olfactory creations, and the olfactory curator wants to tie scent to visual art).
The Daily Pic: Her "appropriations" of August Sander throw a spanner in art's works.
This is one image from a 2012 series made by the conceptual artist Sherrie Levine that involves near-perfect duplicates of photos taken by the great German photographer August Sander in the 1920s and 30s, for his “People of the 20th Century” project. Both Levine’s versions and Sander’s are now on view at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York.
Levine’s best works all duplicate (or, more correctly, appropriate) works by other artists, which makes her the most derivative creator ever – and by that token, one of the most innovative. The visual impact of source and copy may be similar, but their social and intellectual impact are utterly different.
Proof of that lies in the extraordinarily complex caption I’ve been asked to run with this image:
After August Sander (detail), 2012.
18 Lambda prints in artist frames.
each: 9 5/8 x 6 7/8 in. overall dimensions variable.
August Sander: Rural Bride, ca. 1925-30
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur - August Sander Archive, Cologne; ARS, New York, 2013.
Courtesy Sherrie Levine, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, and Galerie Priska Pasquer, Cologne.
The Daily Pic: Fluorescent tubes as plain-Jane art supplies.
These two light sculptures by Dan Flavin, made between 1966 and 1971 as part of his “European Couples” series, are now on display in the wonderful and huge new building that the dealer David Zwirner just opened in New York. These pieces that use very subtly different colors of white fluorescent tubes are, I think, Flavin at his best: They bring to mind his very first such experiments, when he imagined that the act of buying and installing normal, everyday fluorescents from a hardware store, and calling them art supplies, was half the point of his art; flashy light effects were a side effect. When Flavin works in color, however, the light effects, however lovely and winning, can seem the central point – he risks becoming just another light-and-color guy. (Photo by John Armstrong)
The Daily Pic: Charlotte Dumas shows funerary horses at rest.
This photo of a sleeping funerary horse from Arlington National Cemetery is by Charlotte Dumas, and is now in her solo show at Julie Saul Gallery in New York. Her shots of these horses are lovely, but come too close to picture-postcard animal aesthetics for my liking. What I found really gripping were the videos of the same sleeping beasts. (Click on the image to view a clip that I shot.) The videos capture the strange half-waking state the horses seem to be in, even at rest, and make clear just how different their behaviors are than our own. Their extreme vulnerability, and utter dependence on humans, also seems palpable.
The Daily Pic: Louise Lawler got launched by shooting her art collection.
This is a very early piece by Louise Lawler, titled “(Andy Warhol and Other Artists) Tulip”. She’s one of my favorite artists, and recently had a few works on view upstairs at Metro Pictures gallery in New York, in celebration of a book that just appeared about her in the October Files series. Lawler’s classic images consist of photos taken of works of art as they get “used” in collectors’ homes, museums etc. Before she hit on that mode, however, she took works from her own art collection – as here – and arrayed them as a composition on a colored studio background. That’s what she showed in her first-ever Metro Pictures exhibition, in 1982. Those early pieces make me realize that her later, classic photos aren’t only documentation of the fates of artworks as they circulate in the world; those photos themselves also function as composed still lifes – as artworks cognate to the works of art they depict.
The Daily Pic: The Italian artist made abstraction loosen up.
This is “Obliquo giallo” ("Yellow Angle") painted in 1971 by the Italian Giorgio Griffa and now at Casey Kaplan, in Griffa’s first American show in four decades. There’s a really lovely casualness about this – the painting’s meant to be folded for storage – that has echoes of Richard Tuttle’s sculptures. What I like about Griffa’s work, however, is that it seems to start in the world of “serious”, unsmiling Greenbergian abstraction, and then let its hair down.
The Daily Pic: The photographer scans the world for what ought not to be seen.
Trevor Paglen is an expert at looking at the overlooked, and this photo, from his current solo show at Metro Pictures in New York, is typical. It reveals the track in the sky of a Russian “Upravlyaemy Sputnik Kontinentalny” surveillance satellite, meant to watch for launching missiles – although it never in fact got to do its watching, because it went wrong and got stranded in a useless orbit. (Look for the faint line of light running from top left to bottom right in the photo).
Paglen has also documented other hidden or forbidden sights: Military drones in civilian landscapes, “secret” (but not quite) surveillance facilities and various unacknowledged satellites. What may be most surprising about these shots is that, for all their emphasis on simply showing hidden things (one of the oldest goals of art) they are also, Paglen insists, about beautiful image-making.
The Daily Pic: Two experts debate smell art versus fine art.
This Cypriot terracotta, of a man smelling a fruit, was made in about 500 B.C., and is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’m not only showing it for its own sake, as a prototype Cyrano, but as an example of how much olfaction once mattered to us human beings, despite the short shrift our noses get now – except of course in a “live” perfume show called “The Art of Scent”, at the Museum of Art and Design for a few more weeks still.
I’ve written about the exhibition more than once, but I’m hitting it again because my thoughts in an earlier Daily Pic have now sparked some response from the show's curator, Chandler Burr, to which I’ve replied. Some smell-y readers might want to follow our ongoing dialogue.
Our first interchange is below:
The Daily Pic: Why an artist has blacked out his own photographs.
Steel Stillman is showing this image in a group exhibition at Show Room gallery in New York. For decades, he’s been shooting photos of random corners of his world, without any clear idea of what he would do with them. Now it seems he’s found out: Stillman has taken to crudely blacking out one feature of each image, leaving it poised on the brink of illegibility. Here, he’s blackened the drapery from one corner of a four-poster bed. We’ve become so used to redaction as a bureaucratic intrusion on truth-telling that it’s hard to know what to do when an artist censors himself. Maybe, in a world that seems to be drowning in photos, Steelman is mounting some quiet resistance to so much easy vision.
The Daily Pic: Her plexi pavilion reveals mirrorings from far away.
Sabine Hornig’s fiendishly complex “photographic sculpture”, called “Mirrored Room”, is in her solo show at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York. It’s a metal pavilion, a touch smaller than a bus shelter, whose glass sides house color transparencies of a vacant plate-glass facade in Berlin. There’s an infinite regress of reflections: Real ones, now, of you and the gallery space in New York, which change as you move around the sculpture, versus other, fixed ones preserved from a past moment in Berlin – which, if you look closely, can be seen to include a reflection of the photographer taking the picture. There are hints here of the glass pavilions of Dan Graham and of Jeff Wall’s street-scene transparencies, but the combination is uniquely, brilliantly, Hornig’s. It messes with space, and time and image-making.
The Daily Pic: Ragnar Kjartansson sings a song of sentiment and rigor.
Four stills from the brilliant nine-screen video projection called “The Visitors”, produced by the Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson and now showing at Luhring Augustine gallery in New York. One day not too long ago, Kjartansson and eight of his Brooklynish friends occupied nine rooms and sites in and around a shabby-chic mansion called Rokeby Farm, upstate in New York. Together (but apart), and in one 53-minute take, they recorded a slightly sentimental, nouveau-hippy song, each one contributing a separate musical line on voice, piano, electric bass, accordion, drums or some other classic-rock instrument. Rokeby Farm says that it is set up to “welcome bohemia and spirituality in all its forms”, and the video made there risks bathing in the same kinds of sentimental cliche. But as the sound weaves together in the gallery space, and the images remain discrete, you realize that Kjartansson’s romantic excesses are perfectly balanced by his technophilic rigor. The technology seems to provide its own ironic gloss on the song’s mawkishness.
The Daily Pic: Darren Almond treats moonlight as the light of day.
Darren Almond shoots landscapes by the light of the full moon, including this one, titled “Fullmoon@Eifel.6” and now in his solo show at Matthew Marks gallery in New York. Of course, what’s most important about these images is that exposure times measured in minutes yield results that look like perfectly normal daylit scenes, or something very close. That means that the subject here is photography, its truths and deceptions, rather than nature itself. Any photo can be exposed and processed to affect the “reality” of its subject: A day scene could be shot to be as murky as any typical night shot. “Normal”, “correct” exposure is a notion imposed by us, not by the world being shot.
The Daily Pic: Steffani Jemison shows us what we make of fleeing youths.
These are stills from Steffani Jemison’s video called “The Escaped Lunatic”, now on view at the Studio Museum in Harlem in “Fore”, a group show that presents emerging black talent. (Click on the image to watch a clip from the video). The video is straightforward but powerful: It presents a scruffy urban landscape, across which run a series of almost identical Young Black Males, and the action loops ad infinitum. Jemison says that the piece is based on early silent-film chases, and sees the piece as being about “persistence and futility” amid cultural, social and geographic constraints. But I read it differently: It seemed to be about the stereotypes we associate with running black youths, and the TV-bred image we have of them as always fleeing a crime, or perpetrating one.
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