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)
For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.
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 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.
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.”
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.
‘The Final Member’ chronicles the race between a womanizing nonagenarian and a well-endowed kook to get a human penis in Iceland’s Phallological Museum. Only one penis can win.
Iceland is home to many wonders. Volcanic mountains. The Blue Lagoon. Musical acts Björk, Of Monsters and Men, and Sigur Rós. Four-time “World’s Strongest Man” winner Magnús Ver Magnússon. The evil ice hockey team in D2: The Mighty Ducks.
Icelandic Phallological Museum. A collection of penises from mink whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata). (commons.wikimedia.org)
It also has the distinction of hosting the world’s only penis museum.
Located in Húsavik, a tiny waterside town about 50 km below the Arctic Circle, The Iceland Phallological Museum boasts the world’s largest display of penises—and penile parts. The collection consists of 280 specimens from 93 species, including foxes, pigs, and walruses. The biggest penis on display is that of a sperm whale, measuring 5 feet 7 inches and weighing 154 pounds—and that’s just the tip. The smallest item in the museum is the penis bone of a hamster, which measures less than 2 mm and has to be observed via microscope. There’s the penis of a Cave Bear, a species that became extinct 10,000-15,000 years ago, as well as the alleged penises of Huldufolk (Icelandic elves) and trolls.
To see how much it could raise.
As Detroit struggled with its descent into bankruptcy, it always had at least one bright spot: its world-class Detroit Institute of Arts. Now, as the city’s emergency manager, Kevyn D. Orr, pressures the museum to contribute to helping with municipal debt, experts from Christie’s have valued the most lucrative parts of its collection at between $453 million and $866 million. Creditors have been pushing for the museum’s assets to be auctioned off, saying the collection isn’t essential. Previously, art experts valued 38 of its masterpieces at more than $2.5 billion.
As Art Basel Miami Beach kicks off, Abramovic talks about her friendship with Lady Gaga, ignoring the critics, and how her early art teachers thought she should be committed.
Have we seen too much of Marina Abramović?
“A Portrait of Marina Abramović”, a striking, nude, 3-D film of the performance artist, premiered Tuesday night during Art Basel Miami Beach. For the full, six-minute movie, filmmaker Matthu Placek slides the camera sixty feet from the rafters of Abramović’s Hudson, NY, performance art space down to her naked body, then to her famous unblinking gaze.
The artist has seemingly been everywhere lately, and at this invite-only screening, there was much talk and joking about the risk of overexposure given her 2010 MoMA retrospective, frequent appearances at art galas, performances, and much-chronicled friendship with Lady Gaga. There’s even a non-profit group, Marina Abramović Retirement Fund Account, with the motto “Stop Marina Now,” noted Cecilia Dean, co-founder of Visionaire, which co-produced the film.
The artist said she’s heard the backlash buzz, but “what really saves me from all that” is that her art has been ridiculed for decades, and she’s always paid no mind to the critics. When she began in the 1970s, art teachers thought she “should maybe be put in a mental hospital.”
Reinhardt's Black Paintings demand to be seen in their magical flesh.
"Abstract Painting, No. 34", from 1964, is the third of my week's worth of Pics devoted to the Black Paintings of Ad Reinhardt, now on view in his centennial show at David Zwirner in New York. Compared to the others in the series, this almost-blue painting is so garish you might even be able to make it out in digital reproduction.
But here's the thing: Reinhardt's paintings don't really work except in the flesh. This is not, as is usually said, because of their sensory subtlety – that's only part of the story. Although their extreme refinement can make them seem almost immaterial, these paintings need to assert a direct, true, historical connection to their maker that only an encounter with their original matter can guarantee.
I recently argued in the New York Times that, in terms of sensory and semantic content, a forgery or copy can be as useful as an authentic work of art; since Reinhardt's abstractions are so pared-down, copies ought to be especially easy to make and should work as fine surrogates for the authentic pictures. There's so little there in a Black Painting, in the first place, that there's not all that much to get wrong in copying one. But I think that just because of their paring-down, the pictures are more than usually about the act of their making instead of any visual effect they produce. They get a lot of their meaning, that is, from being the product of an absurd – or at least unlikely – act or gesture of one man, at one watershed moment in history, who chose to produce hand-made objects that barely register as any human's production. Only the originals have a true, if impalpable, connection to that man and that moment of making. Actually, it's the impalpable nature of that connection that demands an encounter with the original objects; the connection doesn't reside in any sensory features that could be captured in a copy.
In making these pictures, Reinhardt is often billed as a kind of saintly figure, rejecting the world in a moment of such abnegation that it's almost spiritual. I don't much buy that reading of him (just look at his earthy cartoons!) but I think I sense where it comes from: The Black Paintings don't function so much as images, whose value comes from what they look like and show, but as relics, whose value comes from their contact with a particular person, and the presence of that person in them. The Black Paintings reveal their maker, acting at the moment of their making, the way a relic of the True Cross reveals and connects to Jesus at the moment of his crucifixion – and in both cases a copy, however accurate, can't make the connection that the original relic can. Also in both cases, the object may not have much in it to impress our eyes – yet it matters to us anyway. (Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, ©2013 Estate of Ad Reinhardt/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London)
Tech geeks aren’t the only people trying out Google Glass. One artist is debuting a Glass-based work of art in Miami—in which the viewer looks at art that looks back.
David Datuna's vision for his collaboration with Google Glass via app developers BrickSimple, is, as the title suggests, nothing short of vast: he hopes his "Viewpoint of Billions" will go viral. What artist doesn't?
Jens Kalene/DPA via Landov
But in Datuna's case, it's built into the plan.
In the same way that you get an endless reflection when you stand between two mirrors, Datuna’s art concept is to create an echo chamber with technology. First, he's created an artwork that can stand-alone, made of glass frame lenses that allow viewers to see things from different angles, depending on their position. But when you stand in front of it wearing Google Glass and opt in to the special feature, the ricocheting can begin.
By the artist's grandson.
A $135 raffle ticket doesn't seem as extravagant when a $1 million painting by Pablo Picasso is up for grabs. The famed painter's grandson Olivier is promoting a Sotheby's raffle on Dec. 18 that will sell a signed 1941 work, L’Homme au Gibus. Proceeds will go to a charity hoping to raise $5 million to save the ancient Lebanese city of Tyre. The painting was previously purchased by an anonymous buyer in New York and gifted to the International Association to Save the Tyre. It's believed to be the first time a piece of art of this level has been raffled.
The great Black Paintings are handmade, but refuse to show it.
This is a second of Ad Reinhardt’s Black Paintings in the current Zwirner show, from the week’s worth that I’ll be Daily Pic’ing. If you were looking at it in good lighting, you’d be able to tell that it was different from yesterday’s choice, but it wouldn’t be easy. Among other things, Reinhardt insisted that his pictures show no trace of their maker’s hand – traces that had helped differentiate and personalize other abstractions of his era. But he also seemed absolutely keen to make each picture himself, with his own two hands.
If the Black Paintings were about absolutely pure perceptual effects, as critics often imply, Reinhardt might have got better, cleaner, purer results by having them mechanically printed. Handpaintedness is important to these pictures, however, because they want to be in close and complex dialog with all the notably, aggressively handpainted pictures that came before – they want to be seen as part of the same old conversation. The refusal of the mark of the hand, that is, has more rhetorical power when that refusal is made via the hand of a painter; the abnegation of expressive mark-making is more impressive when such marks are an obviously available, desirable, even inevitable option. (A horny monk resisting sex is more impressive than a eunuch doing so; some medieval monks and priests slept with gorgeous naked youngsters, to test their own powers of resistance. In the 1950s and 60s, that was what it felt like for Reinhardt to take up a paint-laden brush, and then produce an untouched surface.)
The fact of the handmaking of these pictures, which is such an important part of them, is hardly perceptible in their presence. Does that mean that their handmadedness is yet another of the conceptual facts and ploys backing up these apparently perceptual artworks, as per yesterday’s Daily Pic? Or does it mean precisely the opposite: that the paintings demand you do the work of looking and looking and looking – and only barely finding – the traces they preserve of the hand that made them, and that worked so hard to hide itself. The eyes take in that hiddenness in a way the mind alone never could.
For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.
In the 1960s, the great abstractionist reveled in making absurdist pictures of (almost) nothing.
If you can barely make out this image, that's as it should be. It's one of the black-on-black Black Paintings made by Ad Reinhardt between 1960 and 1966 and now on view in the important survey of them at David Zwirner in New York, where I spent a solid four hours the other day. In honor of Reinhardt's centennial, I'll spend all week indulging in the absurd gesture of commenting on one Black Painting daily, even though the differences between them are likely to be invisible.
The absurdity of my gesture is, I think, vital to understanding these pictures. They are usually treated with the utmost sobriety, pondered as great works of formalist – even spiritual – exploration. They are read as being about blackness, as both color and mental state, or even as metaphysics. But I think the Black Paintings are also funny, even whacky, or maybe just mean: What's not to laugh about in a picture that's so barely there, it can barely be seen? I think that Reinhardt's Black Paintings are meant, in part, as a poke in the eye of the art world and its pretentious, overprecious art appreciators. The room just before them at Zwirner is full of the zany, often vicious cartoons that Reinhardt published to lampoon that art world, and I think this Mad Magazine spirit needs to cross the threshold into the gallery that holds his abstractions.
In making the Black Paintings, Reinhardt may have been as indebted to Duchamp as to Malevich and Barnett Newman. (Although Malevich was probably more Duchampian than we realize.) What could come closer to the anti-retinal position of Duchamp than paintings so dark they can barely impinge on our retinas? The gesture of putting one black paint on top of another has to be as much about trying out a crazy, impossible artistic idea as it is about seeing what aesthetic dividends that idea pays. At Zwirner, there's a case full of vintage New Yorker-ish cartoons that poked fun at Reinhardt's Black Paintings; I can't imagine that Reinhardt wasn't expecting, and inviting, that response to his work from his cartoonist colleagues.
I visited the Reinhardts with a scholar who has just written a book about how some art demands the slowest of looking, but even this exemplary contemplator admitted that "Reinhardt would have smiled at the rubes who walk right past his pictures, but maybe also at the rubes who stick around" – including Reed and Gopnik. How can we not be meant to laugh, or at least to exclaim, at the absurdity of the endless labors Reinhardt went through to make pictures that end up looking like nothing? (Our laughter, of course, dates back to William Hazlitt, who described Turner's most misty pictures as "pictures of nothing, and very like.")
A 21-year-old Chicago native captures the emotional impact of solitude in his haunting, surreal self-portraits.
A self-portrait is an age-old act that has transitioned from the hands of highly trained painters and photographers to the fingers of anyone with a camera. We just call them “selfies.”
Their presence has undeniably permeated our culture and we have all mastered the art of the “selfie.”
But, few of us will ever master the art of a self-portrait. Kyle Thompson, a 21-year-old Chicago native, has.
Donna Tartt built her latest novel around a 350-year-old portrait of a goldfinch. A visit to the Frick reveals this painting’s astonishingly undimmed power.
Carel Fabritius’s The Goldfinch is a small painting, roughly 9 x 13 inches, but it holds its own in a room filled with 15 Dutch master works by the likes of Hals, Steen, and Rembrandt. It is a potent little masterpiece.
Earlier this week, I went to see it at the Frick Collection in New York City, where it is on display as part of a traveling exhibition of paintings on loan from the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis in The Hague, the Netherlands. In the hour or so I spent circling the room—with side trips back to the room where the exhibit’s marquee painting, Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring, hangs alone—I kept returning to the Fabrituis. His portrait of a songbird chained to a perch couldn’t be simpler, or more compelling. The painting of the bird alone is a master class in technique. Look closely and it’s just a collection of brushstrokes—but exquisitely well-placed brushstrokes, some feathery, some almost slashed in with a master’s confidence. You can count almost every one. Step back a few inches, though, and paint, just like that, becomes a living thing.
At one point three men stood beside me examining the painting. One of them was explaining to the others that finches in Fabritius’s day were kept as pets and taught to do tricks. They could lower a tiny, thimble-sized cup into a glass or pitcher and draw up their own drinking water. Their Dutch nickname, putterje, comes from the verb putten, meaning to draw water from a well.