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Marina Abramović

Death of a Performance Artist



Performance artist Marina Abramović puts her life—in all its traumatic detail—in the hands of internationally-acclaimed director Robert Wilson in a new show at the Park Avenue Armory.

It all began with one infamous performance: The Great Wall Walk.

In 1988, performance artist Marina Abramović started at the East end of The Great Wall of China and began walking west. Ninety days later, she met her long-time lover and performance partner, Ulay, who had started on the West side walking east, to say, or rather perform, their goodbyes.

Abramović had come to a crossroads in her career. “It was difficult because we always worked together,” Abramović told The Daily Beast, “So, for me it was [time] that I actually make a theater of my life.”

For each of Abramović’s past biographies, spanning print and film, the artist relinquished every aspect of her life to the directors of her choosing, allowing them to arrange and edit as they liked, promising no interferences in their decisions. “They are always mixing things according to their own taste,” the artist stated, “but every time my life looked different to me.”


Images of a Three-Penny War

Plates 23 and 10 from Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin's "War Primer 2" (2011)

(©2013 Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin. Left: Collection Tom Price, London; right: The Museum of Modern Art, New York, gift of Paradise Row, London)

At MoMA, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin riff on Bertolt Brecht's take on conflict.

These are two pages from “War Primer 2”, a gripping artist’s book by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin that I saw in the New Photography 2013 show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  The book is an intervention into another volume: Bertholt Brecht’s own “War Primer”, which he published in German in 1955. It consisted of press images from World War II paired with four-line poems that cast light – and doubt – on the photos’ meanings. Broomberg and Chanarin have simply taken Brecht’s pages (in their 1998 English translation) and collaged on images of our recent “War on Terror” that they found on the Web. It’s sad, but I guess inevitable, that over more than 50 years the issues and imagery have stayed so much the same. The artistic strategies have too, which is much more surprising. When they work this well there may be no reason to change them. 

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Racy Kate Pic Artist Wins Big


Nick Lord/

Nick Lord, 25, wins commission to paint Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel for a portrait which will hang in the British Library.

Nothing seels like controversy, eh?

An artist who painted a daring picture of a pregnant Kate Middleton in a racy stripper-style pose has been named as the winner of the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year competition.

Nick Lord, 25, was named winner of the prize - which comes which comes with a £10,000 cheque, a year’s supply of art materials and a commission to paint Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel for a portrait which will hang in the British Library.

Will he paint Mantel in a similar state of undress to his notorious Kate pic? We think not.


Signed Hirst Paintings Stolen

Signed Hirst Paintings Stolen Metropolitan Police/AP

From London gallery.

Like a real-life sequel to The Thomas Crown Affair, two signed Damien Hirst paintings were stolen Monday from a London gallery, Scotland Yard confirmed  Wednesday. The stolen works, called Pyronin Y and Oleoylsarcosine, are valued at $54,000 (£33,000). A spokesman said one person carried out the theft—but there may have been a getaway car, since it would be difficult to carry the paintings out on foot. Both paintings feature Hirst’s signature mutlicolored dots. Police are asking any witnesses to come forward.

Read it at BBC News


For the Birds! – and Art Lovers

A detail from "I Wish I Knew", by David Blatherwick

(Courtesy David Blatherwick)

David Blatherwick's videos fill a church with bird calls.

This is a detail from David Blatherwick’s installation called “I Wish I Knew”, in St. Anne’s Anglican Church in Toronto. Blatherwick videotaped five members of the church’s fine choir as they whistled transcriptions of real bird song, then mounted the results in various corners of the sacred space. (Click here to see video of the piece.) When you first enter the building,  you think a small gaggle of songbirds has somehow got trapped in the church. And when you spot the little video monitors showing the singers, that impression doesn’t much change: We’re so used to humans who make human sounds that birdsong never quite seems to come from their lips, even when we see it coming forth. For centuries, European composers played with the idea of incorporating bird song into their  music. (The clavecinistes of the French baroque were especially keen on the idea.)  Blatherwick does without the music, and finds enough pleasure just in the birds. Saint Francis would have been proud.

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A Century of Classic Cartier


The "Hindou" necklace, 1936.

It has bejeweled the upper crust for over a century. A new retrospective in Paris looks back at the house’s work from its birth in 1847—including Kate Middleton’s wedding tiara.

On a summer day at a villa on the French Riviera in 1957, top Hollywood producer Mike Todd gave his ravishing 25-year-old bride Elizabeth Taylor some buffed red-leather boxes. Her eyes brightened—she knew those boxes came from the French jeweler Cartier, one of her favorite stores in the world. She opened them and discovered a jaw-dropping ruby and diamond necklace, with matching earrings and bracelet glittering in the hot Mediterranean sunlight. “It was like the sun, lit up and made of red fire,” Taylor would remember. She swooned and cooed as she put them on and jumped into the pool, the drop earrings swinging like chandeliers in a storm. Ever the movie star, Taylor had someone on hand to film it.

The necklace, earrings, and film clip are among the marquee items on display at Cartier: Style and History, an unprecedented retrospective of the jewelry house’s work from its first year in 1847 through the 1970s that is being held at the Grand Palais in Paris. In the recently restored Salle d’Honneur, more than 600 items are on display, including the Halo Scroll tiara, a swirling diamond-filigree headdress that once belonged to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and is currently owned by Queen Elizabeth II, who lent the tiara to Kate Middleton for her marriage to Prince William in 2011. Also on display is the 10.5-carat emerald-cut diamond engagement ring that Prince Rainier III of Monaco gave to American actress Grace Kelly in 1956.

But there are a great many other gems on view, such as the sword crafted with a Picasso-head-like hilt for writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau when he was admitted into the Academie Française, France’s regulatory body for language, in 1955; enameled, jewel-encrusted objets, such as clocks, cigarette cases, and desk accoutrements; a case devoted to a hundred-year’s-worth of Cartier watches; and a revolving display of international tiaras, including a Roman laurel wreath-like diadem once belonging to Princess Marie Bonaparte, the great-grandniece of Emperor Napoleon I of France and a psychoanalyst associated with Sigmund Freud.

For context, the curators Laurent Salomé and Laure Dalon have staged the jewelry alongside ephemeral gowns, period wallpaper, news clips of Cartier-bejeweled movie stars and portraits of socialite heiresses who were among the company’s most important clientele. Notebooks of preparatory pen and ink sketches and plaster molds from the early atelier illustrate the craftsmanship process of translating metals and bijoux into sparkling adornments. Particularly beautiful and unexpected are the collection of coral, onyx, and lapis lazuli scarabs, falcons, and other Egyptian bestiary from the 1920s, when Egyptomania swept across the world following the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922. All is displayed in the cathedral-like hall in an ethereal darkness illuminated by kaleidoscopic projections of jewels on the wall that look like swirling stained glass windows.

Cartier was founded in 1847 when a young French jewelry apprentice named Louis-François Cartier bought his master’s atelier in Paris. He quickly made a name for himself among the French aristocracy; among his patrons was Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III. He passed the business to his son Alfred, whose two sons Pierre and Jacques modernized and expanded the company internationally. The Cartier family sold it in 1964. Today it is owned by Richemont, the Swiss-based luxury group run by South African entrepreneur Johann Rupert, and does an estimated $5 billion in annual sales, according to analysts.

Some of the Dutch Golden Era’s best works, including ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring,’ are making the final stop in their American tour at The Frick Collection. See them while you can.

The Yayoi Kusama exhibit isn’t the only show in New York that people are willing to wait in long, cold lines to experience. At the Frick Collection on the Upper East Side, droves of visitors are turning out daily to see, Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting From the Mauritshuis.

Mauritshuis Exibition Installation

Mauritshuis Exibition October 22, 2013 to January 19, 2014 At The Frick Collection (Michael Bodycomb/The Frick Collection)

The collection, normally based at the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis in The Hague, has been on a world tour while the prominent Dutch museum it calls home undergoes renovations. The Frick Collection is the final American stop for the exhibit, which includes fifteen works from the Dutch Golden Age, some of which have not travelled in decades.

Roughly occurring in the 17th century, the Dutch Golden Age saw a rapid expansion in the Netherland’s wealth and power, both domestically after the Thirty Year’s War and internationally with the growth of the Dutch East India Company. Much of the increased wealth was spent cultivating one of the most significant levels of art production in history. Despite the plethora of Dutch works from this period that fill museums worldwide, some experts believe that only one to ten percent of the total art produced during this time survives.


Mireya Acierto/Getty

You missed it. The biggest bash of the year and you weren’t even there. Good thing all of these people were. What the tongues are wagging about at the end of Miami Art Basel.

“What I love most about the art week in Miami is the incredible contrast between the absolute professionalism of fair directors, gallerists, and artists by day and our absolute debauchery by night on boats, behind bushes and in sultry underground dens of iniquity,” says Shiva Lynn Burgos, an artist with work at Freight & Volume at Pulse. “Case in point Tuesday's White Cube kick-off party at Soho House and Le Baron at the Florida Room Delano last night.”

I was not at the White Cube bash nor at Le Baron. Mundane but pressing matters kept me away from Art Basel Miami this year, which was frustrating because pre-fair buzz had suggested that things were finally going into hyperdrive, that the branding events and celeb parties were going to euthanize – or Kardashianize - the art.

I decided to call a few friends and write about ABM anyway. So here we have it: The Tongues of Art Week. Or some of them.

* * *                              


Confessions of Art Basel Miami



Sinning in Miami Beach? Talk to Father G, better known as writer Glenn O’Brien, who launched ‘Penance,’ based on his performance art, complete with a Catholic-style confessional booth.

Each year at Art Basel in Miami Beach, the fashion and art crowds parachute in for a week of parties and debauchery where sinning is aplenty.

So Alldayeveryday, the group behind the pop-up Newsstand in Brooklyn’s Lorimer subway station, and writer Glenn O’Brien seized the opportunity to launch his book, Penance, along with a Catholic-style confessional at the bayside Standard Spa. 

Penance is an account of a performance that O’Brien held in May 2012 at New York’s iconic Chelsea Hotel, where he took on the pious role of Father G, listening to people’s dark secrets and offering them advice in an actual confessional booth, while surrounded by artworks by artist Richard Prince.

Unfortunately, the original confessional wasn’t able to make its way to Florida, so visitors sat with O’Brien and cleared their conscience as he signed books and offered advice in a fresh enclosure created just for the event.


Not for the Faint of Art


Ad Reinhardt Gets The Last Laugh

An abstract painting by Ad Reinhardt, painted between 1960 and 1966

(Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, purchase, ©2013 Estate of Ad Reinhardt/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London) ((Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, purchase, with funds from The Lauder Foundation, Leonard and Evelyn Lauder Fund, ©2013 Estate of Ad Reinhardt/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London))

His Black Paintings are too lovely not to also be jokes.

The last in a week of 1960s Black Paintings by Ad Reinhardt, inspired by the show now at David Zwirner in New York. As I hope has been clear from the images (if not the texts) of my  weeklong celebration,  Reinhardt’s paintings are, among other things, gorgeous to look at. Arrayed in orderly series around one of Zwirner’s deluxe white-walled spaces, they are all you could ask for in elegance and grace. I can’t imagine any lofty condo that wouldn’t look  better with two or three on the walls. And that’s one of the pitfalls of these pictures, and of pictures in a similarly “spiritual” vein by the likes of Rothko and Agnes Martin: Their artistic substance can easily sublimate into stylish but vaporous design. Reinhardt’s black-on-black paintings often seem to slide into the same register as the lovely black-on-black crepes of a classic Armani suit – but without the extra heft that function always lends to fashion.

That’s why I’ve spent this week stressing the conceptual side of Reinhardt. If we imagine his paintings as both beautiful, visually, and more than a bit absurd, conceptually, I think that can keep them, and us, a bit off-balance, as the Black Paintings and their viewers must have been in the 1960s.

One art historian I know took exception to the way I’ve been implying that Duchampian art (and therefore what I’m claiming as its Reinhardtian progeny) is made up of immaterial and un-visual, or even anti-visual, gestures. He’s pointed out that the specifics of what a readymade is – the shape and size and nature of the object the artist selects – mattered to Duchamp, and ought to matter to us. I completely agree: I’ve written about how, to understand Duchamp’s “Fountain”, we need to understand the original meanings of porcelain urinals, which came closer to being deluxe than abject or common.  But I still think that what Duchamp made clear is that such readings are destabilized – made richer than the usual propellers-are-beautiful line – when the objects we are reading also seem absurd and almost arbitrary. When we believe that Duchamp might as easily have chosen another piece of plumbing (but didn’t) and when we imagine that Reinhardt could have juggled different blacks (but didn’t), we are made to look and think longer and deeper.  Reinhardt’s surfaces are stunning, but they’re better for the guffaw underneath. (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, purchase, with funds from The Lauder Foundation, Leonard and Evelyn Lauder Fund, ©2013 Estate of Ad Reinhardt/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London)

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Soft Focus

How To Paint Like Vermeer

A brilliant documentary, directed by Teller of Penn & Teller fame, chronicles a 5-year quest to solve a 350-year-old mystery—and gets to the heart of what it means to be an artistic genius.

What if you could paint like Johannes Vermeer? What if everyone could? How would that transform our beliefs about artistic genius?

Tim's Vermeer

Tim Jenison/Sony Pictures Classics

Those are the questions at the heart of the brilliant new documentary Tim’s Vermeer, which was released Friday in New York and was just shortlisted for an Academy Award. (It opens in L.A. on Dec. 13 and nationwide on Jan. 31.) Directed by Teller, the silent half of the legendary Penn & Teller magic team, Tim’s Vermeer tells the story of a tech geek named Tim Jenison who embarks on a quixotic 5-year-long quest to solve the 350-year-old mystery of how Vermeer achieved the unparalleled light effects that made him one of the most revered and unfathomable painters of all time—and to try to achieve the same effects himself, even though he doesn’t really know how to paint.


Kusama Madness Takes Manhattan


Scott Houston/Polaris via Newscom

Yayoi Kusama’s new mirrored-room installation has turned her exhibition at New York’s David Zwirner into one of the final “must see” art shows of the year. Beware the lines.

Art galleries have always been a great escape for those looking to appreciate art while avoiding the throngs of spectators that tend to congregate at the major museum exhibitions.  But, the David Zwirner gallery in New York City is proving that may no longer be the case. 

On November 8, the contemporary art gallery’s 19th Street location opened its doors for the debut of Yayoi Kusama: I Who Have Arrived In Heaven. Within days people were lining the block.  But, they weren’t queuing up to see the paintings that lined the walls—there’s little to no wait for that portion of the exhibit.  Instead, the one to three hour wait is for a brief immersion inside the celestial Infinity Mirrored Room—The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away.

The gallery expected a big turnout, but after pictures from inside the reflective room began hitting social media, both locals and visitors started showing up in droves, turning the exhibition into one of the final “must see” art shows of the year.

Kaitlyn Bradford, 20, took time in between classes at New York University to experience the attraction with her roommates.  “We heard about it from friends after seeing their photos on Instagram,” she said.  “I missed the big rain show at MoMA because the lines were out of control, but I can manage an hour wait.”

Black Beauty

Ad Reinhardt's Painful Dazzle

"Abstract Painting", from 1960, by Ad Reinhardt

(Princeton University Art Museum Museum purchase, Fowler McCormick, Class of 1921 Fund, ©2013 Estate of Ad Reinhardt/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London)

Reinhardt's subtlety makes us look until we can't look any more.

Yet another picture from my week-long study of the Black Paintings of Ad Reinhardt, now being celebrated at David Zwirner in New York. This canvas was painted in 1960. 

So far this week, I've been stressing the conceptual, even anti-retinal side of Reinhardt's project, but it would be crazy to go too far in that direction. The extreme subtleties in his paintings do demand the closest of looking, to be made out at all: The less there is to see, the more work we must do to see it. But as I sat there staring and staring and staring at Reinhardt's modulated blacknesses, something strange started to happen: I couldn't see them, or much of anything, anymore. The strain such looking put on my entire perceptual system, from eyeball to retina to cortex to mind, brought it close to a point of collapse. Staring at an almost-black square, brightly lit on a white wall, has some of the same blinding effect as staring too long at a black dot on a sheet of white paper: Generalized dazzle replaces the details of vision, to the point where you can't tell what's an illusory spot thrown up by your exhausted eyes and what's a real feature of Reinhardt's painting. This means that a painting that, more than most, invites close contemplation also sets out to foil it – which of course is as much a conceptual gambit as a sensory one.

Reinhardt's game of sensory exhaustion reveals something else: Paintings that seem to be all, and only, about the details of their surfaces – paintings that seem entirely self-contained, within the limits of their frames – are actually hugely interactive with their environments and their viewers. (To use Michael Fried's famous language, they seem "absorptive", like a Frank Stella, but turn out to be "theatrical", like a Donald Judd.) The Black Paintings change radically as the lighting on them changes; they change as we move side to side in front of them, and as we move close and then retreat, and as we grow tired then refresh ourselves. And they seem to demand such changes and displacements, across both space and time, to fully reveal themselves.

Even as they offer such visual self-revelation, however, Reinhardt's paintings don't provide the kind of stable stimuli that we associate with perceptual art, but provide instead the extreme, disabling flux of the most radical conceptualism. Yet where many conceptual works can boil down to a single conceit or joke or gesture, the perceptual richness of the Black Paintings – even their disabling dazzle – keeps us looking for more. Maybe they enable thinking by letting us watch as our looking gets disabled.