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.
In 2003, Marshall painted a nautical scene that echoes a picture by America's most recent Old Master.
“Gulf Stream” was painted by Kerry James Marshall in 2003, and is now in his small solo show at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The gallery points out that the painting is clearly related to Winslow Homer’s “The Gulf Stream” from 1899, in the Metropolitan Museum collection. The Homer shows a shipwrecked black man whose little boat is surrounded by sharks, and that precedent adds an undercurrent of angst to a Marshall that might otherwise seem perfectly cheery. But another comparison that seems equally apt to me: Down the road at the Corcoran museum, there’s "Ground Swell", a 1939 painting by Edward Hopper, which, in colors very much like Marshall’s, shows a bunch of white people out for a day’s sailing in the most yar of yachts. I think there’s a sense that Marshall is trying out what it might look and feel like to insert African Americans into a cheery world and culture that they’ve never had a place in. (The fisherman’s net around the edge of Marshall’s picture evokes the ersatz New England of a bad lunch spot in the Hamptons.)
Of course, if you buy Alexander Nemerov’s reading of the Hopper, which says that it’s a picture about the gathering clouds of war, then Marshall’s two sources aren’t that far apart.
The ‘Bloomberg New Contemporaries’ exhibit has always been a springboard for young artists seeking to make the climb from obscurity to enduring fame. This year, the unorthodox rules.
“The work I like best made you feel something,” says London-based figurative artist Chantal Joffe in the exhibition catalogue that accompanies this year’s Bloomberg New Contemporaries, an annual touring exhibition open to all fine art students and recent graduates based in the UK. Since 1949, the exhibition has played host to the likes of Jake and Dinos Chapman, Anthony Gormley, Damien Hirst, and David Hockney. It’s a tried and tested springboard for artists seeking to make the climb from obscurity to enduring fame.
Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2013, on display at London’s Institute of Contemporary Art from November 27 until January 26, showcases fresh work by the latest generation of artists out to make a mark—to make Joffe and her fellow selectors feel something. The lucky artists who succeeded now have a foot securely planted on one of the lower rungs of the art world.
Along with British artists Ryan Gander and Nathaniel Mellors, Joffe had the difficult task of whittling down the 1,500 submissions to the 46 included in this year’s exhibition. Both Joffe and Mellors were familiar with the process—each were chosen as New Contemporaries in their youth—but that can’t have made the task any easier. This crop was lucky: last year, there were only 29 places to fill.
Unfortunately, more participants means tougher curation. For the fourth year running, the ICA has had to grapple with the complexities of coordinating a group show. In the catalogue, Mellors says that the trio of selectors “have not curated anything.” “It’s more a case of editing and hoping you can preserve the quality that’s already there,” he adds. ICA curator Matt Williams was happy to step up to the plate solo: “You know, too many cooks…” He’s intentionally edited the show loosely. Works by individual artists appear in individual alcoves here and there, but there are no clear favorites—a fact reflected in the catalogue, whose alphabetized black and white images emphasize the competition-free atmosphere. The works make their own statement, without accompanying words of wisdom, explanation, or criticism. And there are no restrictions on the display: As you near the end of the first space, you become aware that the artworks are unstoppable, as they creep along the corridor from the institute’s ground-floor gallery and make their way to another space upstairs.
Bruce Nauman, our greatest artist, tries a feline focus.
A still from Bruce Nauman’s “Pencil Lift/Mr. Rogers”, one of the videos in his current solo at Sperone-Westwater gallery in New York. At its best, Nauman’s work is brilliantly, unutterably peculiar – and the new pieces qualify. Nothing he does is easily turned into a pat paraphrase, but the new series is all about fingers and the tricks they play: counting and touching and holding pencils aloft by their tips. The idea of the “digit-al” came into my mind, with the digit-y cat feet in the background representing the normal domestic space that Nauman’s work seems to take place in. It’s as though he’s telling us that his work isn’t so much about the world of art, as about the weirdness that’s there in all the places we know.
The Daily Pic: Mike Kelley equates insanity and creativity, then negates the equation.
This image shows Mike Kelley’s “Pay For Your Pleasure”, from 1988, as installed in his retrospective at MoMA PS1 in New York. The piece consists of a series of huge portraits of great cultural figures, inscribed with things they said about the links between madness, crime and art. So there’s Veronese saying “We painters claim the license that poets and madmen claim” and (William) Blake claiming that “those who constrain desire do so because theirs is weak enough to be constrained.” At first the piece could read as a celebration of these ideas – Kelley himself had a Dionysian side, and took his own life – but there’s lots to make us read it the other way around. After all, the portraits themselves are aesthetically stolid (I’d bet Kelley paid some hack to paint them) and some of the speakers don’t quite exemplify their own quotes: Veronese for instance was hardly a radical. And then there’s the fact that that tiny image we see at the end of the installation is a work by a genuine criminal that Kelley asks to have installed each time the piece is mounted. And it is definitely, absolutely no masterpiece.
Enoc Perez’s first monograph is out, showcasing more than two decades of his greatest work, including his famous paintings of modernist buildings that capture a time that almost was.
Puerto-Rican born artist, Enoc Perez, is best known for his large paintings of landmark modernist buildings: the Lever House, the Seagram Building, and Eero Saarinen’s TWA Terminal. These paintings evoke nostalgia for the long forgotten utopian ambitions that largely defined modernist architecture in the early to mid-twentieth century.
The artist’s first comprehensive monograph, Enoc Perez, published by Assouline this month, showcases over one hundred color plates spanning two decades of the artist’s work—including drawings, prints, and sculptures.
After the destruction of the First World War, architects began using new materials that originated from the Industrial Revolution—steel, glass, and iron—to imagine new landscapes built on the promise of a perfect world. While these utopian cities never came to fruition, the buildings that were erected symbolized a promise of technology and the future.
Within these large-scale paintings, it is easy to see how Perez is “attracted to the visionary optimism that inspired these Modernist structures … as well as the faded glamour and bygone idealism that these buildings embody today,” as friend and collector Peter Brant wrote in the forward to the book.
The Metropolitan Museum rehangs its Old Masters, and Andrea Schiavone comes into his own.
For the last "Met Monday" at the Daily Pic, here's an all-time favorite of mine, the "Marriage of Cupid and Psyche", painted in about 1550 by the Venetian artist Andrea Schiavone. (Meaning "Andrew the Slav", because he came from one of the Venetian possessions on the Dalmatian coast. The Met also has great holdings of his works on paper.)
These Monday pics have been about celebrating the rehang of the Metropolitan Museum's Old Master holdings, and few pictures have profited from it as much as this one: I loved it even when it was hung high over a door in a tucked-away corner, as it was for many years, but now curators have brought it down to eye level, where it can really sing. It's not just about the wild serpentine forms that Schiavone borrowed from Mannerist painters based further south. Now we can see the wonderful looseness of his brushwork as well. (Click here to zoom in, then take a look at the bottom hem of the topless Psyche's dress.) I'm convinced that Schiavone is an important missing link between Titian and Tintoretto, and that he deserves to get his reputation back as a serious rival to both. (Also, since my son got married on Saturday, I couldn't very well resist this picture today.)
Two problems with my theory: First, I once went on a pilgrimage to every Schiavone in Venice, and most of them were infinitely weaker than his "Cupid and Psyche". (Although I have a feeling that many of those pictures were falsely attributed to him, at a time when he was the grab-bag name that got attached to every lousy mannerist painting in Venice. Could it be that the number of bad pseudo-Schiavones actually gives a sense of how influential he was on lesser artists?) Second problem: This painting was originally meant for a ceiling, so you have to wonder how much of its bravura could ever have been seen. But that's a problem with almost all Renaissance pictures, given the terrible lighting they would once have been viewed in. I think that pictures were meant to be excellent in their execution, and maybe in a patron's first glimpse of them, and then further visibility was much less important. In that, Renaissance pictures may have preserved some of the qualities of Medieval relics, whose simple existence mattered almost as much as any contact they had with worshipers.
A part of history was lost when painters began whitewashing the colorful graffiti covering 5 Pointz on Tuesday morning. But one thing can never be erased: the need to spread your name.
For Eddie Rodriguez, better known as Snake 1, the best part of 5 Pointz—the soon-to-be high rise apartment complex in Long Island City, Queens that was once known as a graffiti mecca—was seeing his name and the names of his fellow former graffiti kings thrown up in bright colors from the above-ground 7 train. As a 13-year-old running around Washington Heights with his wide-tipped markers in 1970, the only thing Snake ever wanted was for his name to be seen. The worst part about the end of 5 Pointz, in Snake’s opinion, was that no one got to take home a piece of their work. At around midnight, Tuesday morning, the world-renowned, aerosol-covered warehouses were painted white.
As protesters took to Twitter and the streets (admirers held a last minute candlelight vigil after the whitewash began, and at least six people were arrested the following night for writing farewell messages on the newly clean walls), the building’s owner, Jerry Wolkoff, explained his decision as the compassionate option. Watching the graffiti that artists had come from all over the world to paint get demolished into pieces would have been “torture,” he told The New York Times. But Snake disagrees. “Everyone could have kept little pieces of it,” he says.
A lot has changed since Snake started writing graffiti in 1970 during the heyday of tagging in New York City, before Mayor John Lindsay declared war on graffiti in 1972, and before vandalism became a felony punishable by hefty fines and even jail time. Back in the day, Snake says, getting roughed up by the cops was the worst that would happen if he got caught scrawling his name on a wall. “Once they took my spray can, told me to turn around, and sprayed P.D. on my jacket,” he recalls. “For police department.”
Like a masterpiece—or a mural across the side of a subway car—the art of graffiti seemed to spring up overnight in New York City. At the end of 1960, writers started small, scrawling their names—usually a nickname denoted with a street number, such as Taki 183, one of the city’s first recognized graffiti writers—with marker on their street, then across their neighborhood and into other boroughs. The pastime soon became a competition, the objective: getting one’s name in as many places as possible. Eventually writers started taking the time to develop techniques, like the “wildstyle” coined by Tracy 168.
‘Mother’ isn’t your run-of-the-mill glossy photo book of a gorgeous Madonna and child. But while Elinor Carucci snaps the harsh realities of life with twins, she also finds beauty.
From Madonna and child to Angelina and Maddox, we are inundated with posed images of the beautiful mother and her blessed, serene progeny. Tabloids pay huge sums for the right to publish pictures of glamorous celebrities and their well-behaved children, and praise the starlet for her adorable daughter or son…as well as for her rapid weight loss. Elinor Carucci, the photographer behind the recently released book Mother, wants to shift the visual narrative of motherhood, rejecting superficiality and turning her lens on the harsh realities and subtle beauty of her own maternal journey.
In Mother, Carucci takes on the subject of motherhood with an artist’s lens and a surgeon’s scalpel. She confronts the pop culture tropes and twists them, turning the camera on herself and her twins. Charting her pregnancy, Carucci boldly catalogs her own changing form. When her son and daughter are born, they become the two new players in these revelatory scenes, their infant bodies latching onto Carucci’s own, their small faces struggling to find their mother, to comprehend the newness of it all. As her children grow and mature, Carucci sheds light on the complicated web of love that binds them: the daily trials, the explosive fights, and the tender revelations. Every day, Carucci discovers them anew, with the pride of a mother watching her children become themselves; their bodies morphing and elongating as they come to interact with and comprehend the world around them. “I capture the years that will never come back,” Carucci explains.
For Mother, the 42-year-old photographer assembled 125 images taken over the course of a decade. The impetus behind the project, she tells The Daily Beast, was to capture the intensity of her own experience becoming a mother. “I really wanted to photograph it in a way that will convey the complexity of it, not in an idealizing way,” she says.