The Daily Pic: The photographer gives old styles a contemporary life.
These two photos by Elad Lassry are from his solo show called "Untitled (Presence)", running for a few more days at the Kitchen in New York. They get at Lassry's trademark amalgam of old and new styles, which has made him one of the most exciting artists to come along in the last decade. Sometimes Lassry seems to be channeling photographic manners from the past (as in the color picture at left) and sometimes he appropriates an image actually shot years ago (as seems to be the case with the black and white). It's all about how photos play out in the material world, but I'm still working out what exactly that means and why I care. But that's work I don't have to do with 99 per cent of the art I see.
The Daily Pic: In 1978, Daniel Joseph Martinez made shadows have heft.
These two images were shot in 1978 by Daniel Joseph Martinez, an L.A. artist who’s gone on to be known for installation art with a strong political edge. They’re in a show of his early photos at Simon Preston Gallery in New York. I’m told that Martinez essentially infiltrated an early bodybuilding event, and got its contestants to pose for him as a “straight” photographer. They couldn’t know that his cropping and lighting would make them look like strangely artificial specimens, in a peculiar relationship with photographic art. Martinez’s shadows could almost come from Edward Weston, but instead of making the photos seem more abstract, they underline (almost literally) the images’ documentary strain. Of course, these photos also emphasize the artifice that lies behind documentation.
The Daily Pic: In recent Richter auctions, an early experiment gets slighted.
“Five Doors II”, painted in 1967 by Gerhard Richter, sold at auction on Oct. 11 for a paltry $3.5 million, compared to a Richter abstraction from 1994 that sold the next day for $34.2 million, setting a record for any living artist. I wrote about the Richter record on today’s Daily Beast, and argued that the abstraction fetched its price because it was so much less challenging that Richter’s earlier figuration, while still bearing his august name. (Although I’ve since found out it’s a kind of fake record: A Lucien Freud sold for more while he was alive, but because he has since died, that sale is being ignored. That is, the auction houses are defining the record as being for an artist alive now rather than for an artist alive at the time of the sale of his or her work.) What I left out of my Beast piece was any discussion of “Five Doors” as a work of art. Several expert sources, speaking like old-fashioned connoisseurs, dismissed it as weaker than Richter’s landmark photo-based paintings of the 1960s. I guess I can’t go to bat for “Five Doors” as a masterpiece, but I do think that its very oddness will some day have museums eager to have it, as an example of the range of Richter’s early experimentation. The late, sort-of-record-breaking abstraction is too much like other Richters of its moment to be especially preferred over them.
The Daily Pic: At the Guggenheim, Picasso seems photographic.
Unlikely as it may seem, this 1942 reclining nude by Picasso is photographic—or at least that’s the conclusion I come to in this week’s Newsweek, where I take on the show called “Picasso Black and White”, now at the Guggenheim museum in New York. I don’t see how it’s possible to recognize how much the monochrome meant to Picasso, and not recognize some reference to photography in all his blacks and grays and sepias. Think of Cubism as the greatest-ever Instagram filter.
The Daily Pic: Joe Fig paints Hollywood's vision of artists.
”At Work (Triple Portrait): Frida Kahlo” is a little work in oils by Joe Fig, from his show called “Cinematic Paintings” at Cristin Tierney gallery in New York. Fig often makes art about the cliches we hold dear about art, and for this show he’s pulled moments out of artists’ biopics and rendered them in paint. I like the fact that his images are about the size of old Hollywood lobby cards. I also like how his standard illustrator’s technique stands for the artistic cliche that bold oil paint has become, piling bromide on bromide.
The Daily Pic: Michael Rakowitz takes the Beatles to a troubled Middle East.
The Beatles meet Ghaddafi and his peers, thanks to a new project by Michael Rakowitz, titled “The Breakup” and on view now at Lombard Freid Projects in New York. The objects in the show (including this collaged album cover) are mementos, almost, of a ten-part radio series that Rakowitz did for an art center in Jerusalem: He mashed up the story of the rise and fall of the great British band with the story of hopes, and hopes shattered, in the Middle East during the Beatles era. At Lombard Freid, I especially liked a video of the final moment in the Jerusalem project, in which aging Palestinian rockers played Beatles songs in a Middle Eastern style, on a rooftop overlooking the multi-confessional Dome of the Rock – echoed on-screen by shots of the Beatles’ last performance on a rooftop in London.
The Daily Pic: Ai Weiwei goes so Chinese, you wonder if there's irony involved.
This 3D map of China, made of wood salvaged from Qing Dynasty temples, is in the new Ai Weiwei survey at the Smithonian’s Hirshhorn Museum. I wrote about the show yesterday, but didn’t have a chance to address one crucial issue: Ai’s relationship to Chinese nationalism. Visiting China, you are struck, sometimes troubled, by sentiments you hear that come close to jingoism. I guess it’s not any worse than some Americans’ flag-waving, but it feels more dangerous coming from a developing authoritarian state possibly poised for some kind of – soft power? – world domination. (Although look at its growing hard-power crisis over those islands off Japan). At any rate, given that almost everything Ai makes has some kind of explicitly Chinese content, I wonder if we should read it all as probing the idea of Sino-superiority – piling on so much Chinese-ness that it can’t quite read straight.
The Daily Pic: The collector's Madonna reflects well on him – and Botticelli.
This so-called “Madonna of the Magnificat” was painted in Florence around 1485 by Sandro Botticelli and his team. It’s from the deluxe collection of Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, whom I profiled in the latest Newsweek. These days, few billionaires venture into Old Master territory, so I’m impressed that Allen did. (He also owns the obligatory pictures by Monet and Rothko). I’m especially impressed with what an interesting Botticelli Allen got his hands on, since the sheer curvaceousness of this picture – the circle “thematized”, as an academic might say – makes it unusual. I’m sure there’s a good theological reading for it, but I want to dwell on how the image reflects on reflection. Curved “shaving” mirrors were a fabulous new technology at this moment in history, and Botticelli’s picture, with its weirdly swooping architecture, looks like it was painted from one. If art is supposed to hold a mirror to nature, as the cliche went even then, how better to demonstrate an artwork’s success than by depicting mirroring itself? And the only way to do so was to use a mirror whose signature distortions could be captured with your brush – a painting of a flat mirror image would, after all, simply look like any other picture. (I am not buying into David Hockney’s wacky “painting-with-lenses” theory, by the way, which has been utterly discredited by scholars.)
Of course, if we’re looking into a mirror when we’re looking at this painting, that makes us the Virgin Mary that we see “reflected” in it. Want to bet that this panel, like many other circular pictures in Florence, was painted for a young mother or bride?
The Daily Pic: Feng Mengbo reveals Shanghai's decrepit science museum.
This photograph is titled “Siberian Tiger”, and it’s from a series shot by artist Feng Mengbo in Shanghai’s natural history museum, and which is now on view at the for-profit Shanghai Gallery of Art. Feng is hardly the first artist to photograph old museum dioramas – Hiroshi Sugimoto beat him to it by several decades – but the subject has special resonance in China. On the one hand, the grossly decrepit museum could stand for the neglect of basic science education in Shanghai’s wealth-obsessed culture. On the other, the museum has a hugely colonial flavor, so its neglect can seem like a suitable revenge of the colonized. What does it mean for a Chinese tiger, stuffed by the English, to be left as moth-food today?
The Daily Pic: Hand-written posters set the standard for the Chinese work that’s come since.
I saw these two street posters, known as “dazibao”, at the private Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Center, which is housed in a few lower-level rooms in a scruffy apartment building. Dazibao were hand-written denunciations posted on city streets during the Cultural Revolution, with rebuttals quickly, illicitly scrawled on top overnight. Yang Pei Ming, the propaganda center’s founder, and the only person to preserve this poster genre, thinks of them as the first examples of contemporary art in China, citing their links to calligraphy, politics and history. I’m not sure I follow his reasoning, but dazibao do share many features with radical Western art since the 1960s: A rejection of fine craft and figuration; a privileging of text and content; an aesthetic that is built around allover compositions and a monochrome palette and, most of all, an extreme, high-stakes interactivity. It strikes me that Yang’s claim for these posters is also a classic contemporary gesture – taking something not originally meant to be art, and insisting on its artistic potential.
The Daily Pic: He Xiangyu's smashed porcelain forges links to China's classic ceramics.
This installation of 900 whole and broken porcelain bowls is by Chinese artist He Xiangyu, from his show at White Space Beijing. After seeing the jaw-dropping ceramics collection at the Shanghai Museum, I found that He’s piece seemed to gain meaning and poignancy: The pottery tradition is so extraordinary in China that it’s hard to see how contemporary art can compete. (As with all art in China, however, it’s very hard to tell if such a Western, outsider’s take has anything to do with the artist’s intentions, or with how Chinese people will read the work.)
The Daily Pic: At the 1933 arts center in Shanghai, death goes Art Deco.
A view down into the wild, Art Deco abattoir now called the 1933 Center in Shanghai. Brutalism avant-la-lettre, and as usual, I love all that concrete. Apparently, however, the creatively reused building hasn’t really succeeded as an arts-and-culture center, so I have a modest proposal: Return it to its original function, for which it was so carefully and elegantly designed.
The Daily Pic: China's terracotta army was built for fighting, not for looking at.
I first got a look at the great terracotta warriors of Qin Shi Huang, first emperor of China, in a show in Washington a few years back. At the time, I felt it didn’t make any sense to see just a handful of them, away from their thousands of fellows at their home base in Shaanxi province. Today, I took in the whole giant dig, with hundreds of the soldiers on view and thousands more waiting to be excavated. It was a stunning sight - and convinced me more than ever that an aesthetic, art-critical take is almost irrelevant to these objects. For all their visual glory and exquisite crafting, these figures, buried soon after their creation in about 225 B.C.E., were never really meant to be seen. And in some weird sense they are unseeable today, at least with modern, art-oriented eyes. In their massed ranks, they don’t invite or repay careful, connoisseurial scrutiny. Instead they manage to communicate the fact that they once had an entirely practical function: They were meant to serve their lord in the afterlife. If you can’t pretend for a minute that they are actually capable of doing that job, then you’ve missed their point. That is, they weren’t meant to please anyone but the emperor himself – and not by looking good, but by fighting well.
The Daily Pic: Beijing artist Zhang Wuyun just tells it like it is, in paint.
Yes, this is just an oil painting of a cat by the Chinese artist Zhang Wuyun, as seen at 01100001 gallery in Beijing. It is absolutely not the kind of art I usually have any time for, but in the context of so much work that is desperately trying to look flashy and hip, it was a pleasure to come across a nice, well-crafted picture of something simply encountered in the world. The hackneyed technique becomes almost snapshot-transparent, letting the moment depicted speak for itself.
The Daily Pic: Li Songsong, an old master back from the future.
At Pace gallery in Beijing, the well-known Chinese artist Li Songsong is presenting this strange sculpture/painting/installation. It consists of 91 oddly shaped aluminum panels (many look like the staircase that folds into the fuselage of a small jet) all covered in Li’s signature thick paint and assembled as a tunnel. It’s kind of Frank Auerbach meets Space 1999, and it’s not easy to parse what it might mean or even why it was made – except that it looks fine, and is consistently intriguing. It seems to invest the ancient medium of oil paint with some of the utopian energy of SciFi modernism – which actually makes for a fairly poignant combination, mixing the old-old with the old-new.