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Queer Threads

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Leslie Lohman Museum

A new retrospective in New York examines the creation of identity in the LGBTQ community through thread-based craft techniques.

Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly striving to find a better sense of self in our daily lives. Through music, movies, or social interactions, each and every encounter we have helps shape who we are. Fashion is no different. As a means of expression, what we wear, subconsciously or not, reveals a lot about our personalities and our tastes, creating our own unique identities.

This is the main focus of a new show, titled Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community, at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. The exhibition examines how artists, more specifically queer artists, work to find a greater sense of self through the fabrics that they weave together and the techniques and processes that they use.

The exhibition opens at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art on January 17 and runs until March 16, 2014. [Refinery29]

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Warhol vs. Dylan

Andy Warhol, "Screen Test: Bob Dylan" (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.)

Andy films Bob, and KOs him.

A still from the second-to-last Warhol "Screen Test" that I'll be showing this week, thanks to a show of 20 now at the museum of the Rhode Island School of Design, on loan from the Warhol Museum.  This four-minute film shows Bob Dylan, and its hardly a secret that Warhol and Dylan had tensions, to say the least, since they were rivals as leaders of their cultural moment.  Although today's "Screen Test" seems quite  like the cover-girl  ones Warhol did of his beauties (male and female), it subtly conspires to chip away at Dylan: the  lens is on the high side, which shrinks and fattens its subject, and the lighting often pushes Dylan's eyes into shadow. Dylan seems pouty and self-absorbed, like any self-respecting beauty, but thanks to Warhol's artifice he never delivers the appeal we expect. If the "Screen Tests" can seem like a mostly conceptual gambit, it's clear that  in some cases their visual subtleties matter.

For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit BlakeGopnik.com/archive. The Daily Pic can also be found at the bottom of the home page of thedailybeast.com and on that site’s Art Beast page.

Power of Poison

This Exhibit Could Kill You

Deadly vines in the jungles of Colombia, toxic witches’ brews, and a noble woman with a lethal ring. A new exhibit in New York takes a peek inside the dark world of poison.

Who knew poison could be so much fun?

Crowds of people of all ages are piling into the nearly pitch-black exhibition, “The Power of Poison,” at the American Museum of Natural History to immerse themselves in all things concerning the sinister toxins. But in between being terrified by scary stories out of the jungles of Colombia and trying to solve murder mysteries, visitors are also being reminded of how poison is relevant to our daily lives in both good and bad ways; theobromine in chocolate gives dogs seizures, but research on the foxglove flower, which causes heart attacks in animals, has helped create heart disease drugs for humans.

The exhibition is broken up into four major sections: poison in nature, poison in myth and legend, villains and victims, and poison for good. The first of these is more of an anti-travel brochure for Colombia, detailing the Chocó rain forest plants and animals’ use of poison for survival. The ubiquitous dangers, ranging from golden poison frogs to deadly vines and scary ants, may be almost more frightening than the vestiges of the drug wars. But the show’s curators aren’t trying to just shock and entertain viewers; they want to explain the reason for all the toxicity. The exhibit points out, for instance, that immobile plants face over 500,000 types of insects who want to feed on them. Their best defense is poison.

Perhaps the most fun part of the exhibition is the section on poison in myth and legend. Starring Snow White, Romeo & Juliet, witches, mad hatters, a Chinese emperor, and Harry Potter, the show delves into the history of poison and pop culture. Most visitors will know the story of the Mad Hatter (hatmakers exposed him to mercury that left him “mad”), but some may not know the legend of Emperor Qin, who united China, but in his zealous quest for immortality drank mercury. He went so far as to have rivers of mercury set up in his tomb, along with his famous thousand-soldier strong Terracotta Army.

Screen Tests

Warhol Gives Edie Sedgwick the Evil Eye

Andy Warhol, "Screen Test: Edie Sedgwick" (1965), 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.)

A screen test of the Factory Superstar tests her patience – and ours.

Another Warhol “Screen Test”, this time shot in early 1965, and putting a static Edie Sedgwick on screen for four minutes. (This week’s Pics will be entirely devoted to the “Tests”, since I recently got to see 20 in one go, at the RISD museum.)

The “Screen Tests” are much more varied than even their fans recognize,  but this is the classic version, starring the classic Factory Superstar: The camera never moves or zooms or changes focus, and the sitter seems to be trying to look impassively into the lens. (YouTube has a bunch of lousy copies of the film.) This piece comes across at first as a standard fashion-world cover shot, as we’d expect from a former commercial artist like Warhol. Sedgwick seems to have been chosen, like a model, for her charisma and presence on camera, and the aim could be to document this, using a flattering on-camera light. But, as usual with Warhol, what starts off seeming straightforward soon reveals itself as weird: Though we are all used to presenting ourselves for the instant snap of a camera – or even for the frozen moment in an oil painting – we have no idea what it means to present ourselves over time, as unmoving human beings, and Sedgwick doesn’t, either. We viewers can feel the strain as Sedgwick tries to figure out what to do and how to be, and we feel for her, too. We might just stare into a lover’s eyes for this long, but probably not – and Sedgwick of course has nothing to stare at other than the cyclopean, unblinking, unfeeling, pupil-less eye of Warhol’s camera, and by implication at our absent eyes as we watch the footage. She seems pinned down like a bug, not just unmoving but frozen, or helpless, or under some Svengali’s control. (Why else, in the normal course of things, would anyone sit so still? The shadow lurking at left seems almost vampiric.) Thanks to the artifice of Andy’s steady gaze, Edie seems as vulnerable as she’s always been made out to have been in real life.

But the stress in this piece, or in any “Screen Test”, isn’t only on the sitter; we watchers are also stressed out by the task Warhol sets us. Before the “Screen Tests”, I wonder if any movie had ever asked an audience to suffer such an uninterrupted, stationary view of any star or subject? Four minutes is simply a very long time to stare at any image: Even the greatest Cezanne rarely gets that kind of unwavering attention. But that’s the kind of attention that Warhol’s “Screen Tests” demand of us. Since “nothing” happens in them – since there’s no larger plot or configuration to cling to – we can’t afford to look away, for fear of missing some telling detail. (Cezanne is full of details, too, of course, but we know that they will endure a lapse in our attention.) When every detail gets equal weighting, that is, none can be safely skipped. Trying to take notes on these pieces is murder, since you can’t afford to look down as you write. Warhol, supposedly a master of the superficial, as usual gives us works that demand the most profound thought and attention.

Eyeballing It

Warhol Looks at Duchamp Looking at Warhol

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

Andy's "Screen Tests" hover between Rembrandt and Dada

This is Marcel Duchamp, at age 78, in a single frame from one of Warhol’s “Screen Tests”, the four-minute filmed portraits that Warhol made by the hundreds in the mid 1960s, mostly by pointing his movie camera at a subject and asking them not to move. Twenty wonderful “Tests”, on loan from the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, are being shown at the museum of the Rhode Island School of Design, in projection, as they originally were, and unlooped, as they ought to be seen. (You need the suspense of knowing that if you blink, you may miss a detail that you won’t catch again).

The “Screen Tests” are now acclaimed as masterpieces of world portraiture, like Rembrandt with motion added, but that tends to tame them. Like almost all of Warhol’s mature work, when the “Tests” first appeared they seemed absurd and conceptual and divorced from the entire history of normal, expressive art making – they  seemed Duchampian, that is, rather than Rembrandtian. At first, Warhol’s Pop art was also termed neo-Dada, which makes sense, given that Warhol admired and collected the works of Duchamp and Duchamp was an ardent Warhol fan. He saw Andy as his comrade in anti-retinal and utterly abnormal art. (“If you take a Campbell’s Soup can and repeat it fifty times, you are not interested in the retinal image. What interests you is the concept …” Duchamp once said.) But, as usual with Warhol, that take on him needs to be instantly contradicted: Seeing 20 of the “Screen Tests” in a row makes you realize just how carefully crafted they really were, as visual experiences. The lighting is immaculate and sometimes unusual, while also quite varied from subject to subject. The camera height and position also seems very considered, with each “Test” shot from higher or lower depending on how much elegance and elongation Warhol wanted to add to his sitter. (Lowering the camera is an old fashion photographer’s trick – which Warhol chose not to use with Duchamp, whose eyes line up with the lens.) Yet all that style leads to an unanswerable question: How much is it Warhol’s doing at all, and how much is it the product of a few tech-savvy followers, such as lighting designer Billy Name, making choices Warhol could care less about?

One final, funny thing, typical of the wylie Warhol: Alone among  “Screen Test” sitters (as far as I can tell) Duchamp, Mr. Anti-retinal, is filmed against the backdrop of a perfectly optical work of art. It was a large-scale drawing by his new friend and acolyte Gianfanco Baruchello, and was on view at the chess-foundation benefit where Warhol and his camera caught up with Duchamp. That is, Duchamp is shown as being all eyes for a work of visual art – or is Warhol rather showing Duchamp making eyes at Warhol himself, who stares back through his own mechanical eye?

“Art Ink”

The Modern Face of Chinese Art

The art world has embraced the evolution of Western art, but when it comes to China, we seem stuck in the past. A new exhibit at the Met wants to shake up these stereotypes.

When a major department at the Metropolitan Museum puts on a show of over seventy works by thirty-five living artists across a huge sprawl of gallery rooms, you know you’re witnessing a Significant Cultural Moment. You’re in the presence of an overarching curatorial statement or argument, one composed of artworks. Usually, the mission involves overturning received assumptions, breaking down preconceptions about genre boundaries, cultural norms, and the like. Generally such a show takes aim at an implicit set of conventional notions, namely yours, and wants to shake them up. It wants to tell you that, while you weren’t looking, the world changed. Your views are too rigid. Time to get with it.

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Zhang Huan, Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

All of which is precisely true of “Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China,” a blockbuster presentation inspired by, but not necessarily composed of, ink-on-paper works which are displayed throughout the traditional Chinese wing of the Metropolitan Museum. And here, already, in the show’s very location, viewers are confronted by the first ‘subversive’ juxtaposition.

“There’s so much excitement and hype around contemporary art, the western variety, so we wanted to show that it’s happening in Asia too, that it’s happening even in the most traditional of forms—that Asia has a cultural present as well as a past,” says Maxwell Hearn, the curator and head of the Asian Art department. “And where can one say that more arrestingly than in the historical galleries?”

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The Myth of the Tortured Artist

Within the art world, it’s a profanity to mention earning money and making fine art in the same breath. It shouldn’t be.

No one blinked an eye when John Malkovich stooped to do Transformers 2. Jimi Hendrix’s reputation as a rock god hasn’t suffered for having been a session guitarist for The Isley Brothers. If your child opened a lemonade stand on the sidewalk you’d probably praise his enterprising spirit. So why is it so odious to some in the art world when an artist tries to make a little coin for himself?

Somehow visual art never divorced itself from its romantic attraction to the tortured genius, which has wound its way from Byron to Blake to Bacon—and into Bushwick. This genealogy has birthed a modern myth of artist-as-shaman, devoting his life selflessly to a singular vision, trading worldly compensation for the creative fugue. 

And it happens that shaman do a far better job of securing the value of culturally sacred objects than yeomen craftspersons or trust-fund babies. 

My friends and I have a term for art-worlders who believe fine art should be delivered from shamen and should be appreciated for, as the refrain goes, “its own sake.” They are evangelicals. And the evangelicals have been especially irked by the recent sale of a Francis Bacon triptych for an astounding $142 million.  

Numerical Literacy

Countdown to Pop Art

Robert Indiana’s “Exploding Numbers” (1964-66)

(Photo by Sheldan C. Collins; artworks © 2013 The Morgan Art Foundation, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

Robert Indiana got at the numbers and letters and words that construct American culture.

This is Robert Indiana’s “Exploding Numbers” (1964-66), from his lovely survey show that closes this weekend at the Whitney museum in New York. In the early 1960s, Indiana got at something the other Popsters didn’t, quite, in the same intense way. He understood that numbers and letters and words were a crucial component in American visual life – as signs of goods and their quantities, and of a certain kind of very public commercial culture. And he isolated just those aspects of that culture, divorced from most of the specifics of how they were presented to sell product on Main Street. “Exploding Numbers” is a lovely example of what he got up to, in a “purer” state – of pure numerosity, pure typography, pure graphic oomph – than the famous Love imagery that he came up with in ‘66, and that we can see at either side of this photo. The funny thing is that, in his Love works (of which I can remember my parents having the original Christmas-card version), Indiana did his job so well that the image actually ended up melding with the commercial, popular culture that its elements were borrowed from.

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

Old-School Globalization

Chop Suey with Canard à l'Orange

A double-sided embroidery, made in China in the later 18th century

Metropolitan Museum of Art, purchase, Friends of Asian Art Gifts, in honor of James C. Y. Watt, 2011

Cultural cliches collide in a marvel of 18th-century silkwork.

An object from my third visit to the Metropolitan Museum’s “Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500–1800”, probably the most important show of the fall season – and only open for another week. This amazing silk embroidery – yellow on one side, red on the other – was made in China in something like 1775, apparently for export to the West. (Click here to zoom in.) Its flowers respond to European taste, but its vase and amazing scholar’s-rock pedestal are notably Chinese. Given the globalization of style at that moment, however, I wonder if the flowers on this hybrid object could have been of greater interest to their Chinese designers, while the Chinoiserie cliches seemed a sop to clueless Europeans.

Or maybe both cultures got off on a glorious combination of cliche and novelty, even if they disagreed on which was which.

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

Culture Calendar

Art Shows to See in 2014

Jeff Koons

Mario Vedder/dapd, via AP

It seems art has gone Hollywood these days, with record-breaking prices and long gallery lines. But a series of shows in 2014 is set to shake us out of our consumerist complacency.

We witness the insane prices that billionaires pay for art, and imagine it decorating their yachts. We stand in line to see exhibitions of the usual suspects—Impressionists, girls with pearl earrings, high-end fashion designers—and feel as though we’re in line for a Hollywood blockbuster. These days, it’s easy to imagine that art has joined the world of the superficial and consumable. All the old claims that art is good for the soul, and for society, can seem either overblown or out of date. So it’s a pleasant surprise to find that, in the huge roster of shows coming to art museums in 2014, a good number number seem likely to wake us up to the state of our world today and to the problems we’re facing. Here are 20 exhibitions that look set to shake us out of our consumerist complacency.

Readykeulous by Ridykeulous: This is What Liberation Feels Like™

Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

January 24–April 13

Hollywood Cryogenics

CPR for Killed Off Characters

Agnieszka Kurant's still from her video called "Cutaways" (2013), commissioned by SculptureCenter and Stroom den Haag

Agnieszka Kurant, courtesy the artist and Galeria Fortes Vilaça and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

A video by Agnieska Kurant revives parts cut from famous movies.

In her solo show at SculptureCenter in New York, Agnieszka Kurant, a Polish artist, is presenting a charming work of video art called “Cutaways”. It features Abe Vigoda, Charlotte Rampling and Dick Miller, playing characters whose parts were cut from the iconic movies “Pulp Fiction”, “Vanishing Point” and “The Conversation”. (Click here to watch a clip from Kurant’s piece.) Kurant has crafted a new, cryptic narrative in which the three redundant characters come together in a wrecking yard. What’s especially nice, and strange, is that all three fictional figures seem to have aged along with the actors who played them, as though they’ve been wandering in some kind of Hollywood limbo for the moment to come back on set. It turns out that, for them at least, the cutting-room floor is not the end of the road.  Artists have often been said to take on godlike powers of life and death, but here it feels almost true.

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

Designing Woman

The Bag That Launched 1,000 Lunches

 Margaret E. Knight held the 1871 patent for the machine to make this paper bag.

(Museum of Modern Art, gift of Duro Bag Manufacturing Company)

In 1871, Margaret E. Knight helped birth a design classic.

Could this classic, flat-bottom paper bag be the most important, influential object ever conceived by a woman? In MoMA’s show called "Designing Modern Women", the 1871 patent for the machine to make it is credited to one Margaret E. Knight, working at the  Union Paper Bag Machine Company, in Philadelphia. More eyes must have settled on such a bag than have ever taken in the Mona Lisa or Michelangelo’s David. And could you carry your lunch to school if all you had to wrap it was a Monet?

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

Notable Art

The Daily Pic Winner’s Circle

From the oldest cat video and a reflection on ‘Playboy’s’ design roots to a Warhol silkscreen and Robert Irwin’s abstract room, here are Blake Gopnik’s favorite Daily Pics of the year.

Mona Lisa of the Coffee Shop

February 5th, 2013

The crème brûlée "bismarck" from the Doughnut Plant is a great aesthetic creation

Creme Brulee doughnut from the Doughnut Plant

(Photo by Michael E. Mason for Doughnut Plant)

Sacred Art

The Merriest Yule to One and All!

The Adoration of the Magi painted in 1919 by Ethel Parsons and her husband Telfor Paullin

James Salzano, Courtesy St. Bartholomew's Church, NY

In 1919, Ethel Parsons and Telfor Paullin made a painting that lifts hearts and souls, just by being fine art.

In 1919, Ethel Parsons and her husband Telfor Paullin  painted this image of the Adoration  of the Magi for the south chapel of the Episcopal church of Saint Bartholomew in New York, where I came across it recently as the backdrop for a lovely series of Christmas concerts. The image is closely based on altarpieces from 15th-century Italy, by way of the Victorian pre-Raphaelites. In the context of a new church in the New World, Parsons and Paulin must have had some hope that, by revisiting the styles of an era when pictures still had real sacred powers, her Saint Bart's Adoration would become something more than a work of art. I think she was too late: By 1919, art had usurped all of most pictures' functions. But, as an atheist admiring her Adoration while sacred carols floated around it, it seemed to me that just having art be art is a pretty damn fine thing.

Good Yule to One And All, and a Happy New Year!

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

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