The Daily Pic: Two artists get a program to merge our idols.
This very strange image shows a moment of desperation as a computer tries to stitch together two digital photos, of an Egyptian priest figure and a carved antelope head, that were never meant to live as one. It is part of a witty show called “Iconoclashes” by the artists Erik Berglin and Clement Valla, now at Mulherin and Pollard gallery in New York.
The artists accessed digital photo files for objects at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, selected only those keyworded “god” or “religion”, then let Photoshop’s “merge” tool loose on them, telling the program to assume the images were parts of various panoramas, and to hunt for the bits that it should stitch together. (The white divot at bottom right comes from an unresolvable conflict between the edges of a vertical and a horizontal image.) As the artists put it in their essay, they ended up with “chimeric deities, hybrid talismans, and surreal stellae”. The photos work as a kind of send-up of syncretic religious ideas, often presented as a solution to the world’s conflicts over the sacred. On the other hand, Photoshop’s relative success in finding some kind of order in the mess, and producing vaguely credible objects, seems to argue for a certain underlying uniformity in human thinking and making.
The Daily Pic: Albrecht Dürer's redefined realism.
Yet more drawings from the wondrous Albrecht Dürer show at the National Gallery in Washington. Dürer was in at the birth of Western realism’s full complexity and potential, and he works away at all of its classic stratagems.
In his drawing of a rare black man in Renaissance Europe, he conjugates realism as “verism”, by presenting the exotic and unusual as somehow more real than the day-to-day or the ideal. The drawing looks more strikingly modern than anything else in the show – maybe because we moderns feel we “own” issues of race more than any other period has. In his peculiar drawing of a man – his brother – turned almost fully away, Dürer plays on the notion, standard in art’s rhetorics of realism, that the accidental and casual somehow counts as more “real” than the planned and the posed. Logically, that’s not particularly cogent – but realism works its magic on us by making all of its conceits, however unlikely, seem natural, even necessary.
The Daily Pic: Nina Katchadourian shows that old books still speak.
This is an image from the most recent series in Nina Katchadourian’s “Sorted Books” project, ongoing now for 20 years – and recently published as a book from Chronicle and feted at Catharine Clark's New York space. Katchadourian “curates” selections of books from private or public libraries, and presents her poetic cullings in photographs. Here, her cull took place at the Delaware Art Museum’s M. G. Sawyer Collection of Decorative Bindings, where the artist found much more than mere decoration: “I noticed a curious surge in late 19th-century fiction romanticizing Native Americans and despaired when I realized how this coincided with their violent displacement and decimation.” As with most of Katchadourian’s works, the titles here come together as a single meta-title: “Indian History For Young Folks: Our Village, Your National Parks.” (Another meta-title I love: “Somewhere in France/The Anglomaniacs/Meet the Germans”.)
The Daily Pic: Alexi Worth looks at us looking at conflict.
This painting, inspired by a view of protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo, is by my friend Alexi Worth, from his solo show now up at DC Moore Gallery in New York. In the exhibition catalog, Worth says that he was especially intrigued by the strangely shaped scraps of plywood and furniture that Cairenes picked up to use as shields against Mubarak’s thugs. They remind him of the outline of American states on a map, but for me they somehow evoke shaped abstract paintings, in the kind of late-modern, Richard Tuttle mode that Worth himself doesn’t work in. Art has often seemed to have apotropaic powers, and here that’s made literal – but also absurd, given the obvious inadequacy of the protesters’ shields.
The other important component of this painting is the shadows cast by its viewers – us – onto both the surface of the picture and onto the shields depicted on it. Instead of giving us direct access to the thing it shows, here art seems to keep us at one remove, reminding us always that we’re safely ensconced in a gallery, safely looking at art, rather than facing a brutal regime thousands of miles away. “I tried to make a painting of my simultaneous nearness and distance …. I wanted to do a painting where we would belatedly recognize ourselves,” says Worth in his catalog.
The Daily Pic: The ICP's latest triennial expands what cameras can do.
These are tight croppings from “Windows, Ponte City” and “Doors, Ponte City”, by Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse, now in the International Center of Photography’s latest triennial, which previewed today. Curators are calling the show “A Different Kind of Order” – referencing the collapsing verities of photographic art, and of the worlds it points to. The triennial gives an excellent overview of the vast range of “lens-based” work being made today, from “straight” views of people living with the world’s rising waters (by Gideon Mendel) to distinctly arty, hand-made objects that use photos as art supplies (by art-world regulars Wangechi Mutu and Huma Bhabha). In between are projects like “Ponte City”, which is based in photography’s ability to document the world but doesn’t simply take it for granted. Subotzky and Waterhouse made a close study of a residential tower in Johannesburg, designed for white South Africans under Apartheid but now occupied by the country’s majority, and they present their images as lightboxes that recreate, in miniature, the tower itself. Other standouts in the show include A.K. Burns (with reperformances of ultra-esoteric YouTube porn) and Rabih Mroue (whose video about death-by-sniper was a gem of the last Documenta).
For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.
The Daily Pic: The German master made artifice seem inevitable.
A drawing of a seated “priest”, made in 1517 by Albrecht Dürer and now in the great Dürer exhibition at the National Gallery in Washington, which the Daily Pic won’t be done with until the show closes.
What specially interests me in this image is how the old man’s face seems so carefully observed from life, with a clear sense that we are below him looking up into his eyes, and yet the drapery of his robe is so clearly based on late-medieval stylizations. I think this is about much more than a “holdover” of archaisms in Dürer’s newly naturalistic art; I think it gives a crucial clue to his art’s fundamentals.
Bear with me – and click below – while I try to explain.
The Daily Pic: Jorge Macchi makes an I-beam go limp.
A piece called “Pendulum” by the artist Jorge Macchi, and now in his solo show at Alexander and Bonin gallery in New York. I like how Macchi makes an I-beam do the one thing it is absolutely meant not to do: bend. Another crucial component: The cheap plastic stools that can only barely support the steel, and show slight signs of buckling that prove its weight. And yet the sight of a curved I-beam seems so unlikely that there’s always some suspicion that the piece is trompe-l’oeil.
The Daily Pic: Why did the AbEx-er make a print, then copy it by hand?
This pairing represents the strangest, most interesting moment in “Angels, Demons, and Savages: Pollock, Ossorio and Dubuffet”, which just closed at the Phillips Collection in Washington. The show was about contacts between its three titular artists, but a wall of Pollocks is what stopped me. The picture on the left is a photographic screenprint after a painting, and Pollock wasn’t happy with the result. So he made not one but two very, very close painted copies of the print – one is on the right here – for reasons I can’t quite figure out. I guess he was trying to put back in the spontaneity of the original canvas, but the act of copying itself negates the unmediated expression that the AbEx “hand” is supposed to be about. It looks as though process is less important than final result, even for an action painter like Pollock. Or maybe he wanted to play with perfect handmade seriality, decades before others were trying that move. (Or just one decade before Warhol did, with his soup cans.)
The Daily Pic: A classic photographer is back in the vanguard.
This is Ansel Adams’s “Mount Williamson, Sierra Nevada, from Manzanar, California”, shot in around 1944 and now in a fascinating group show called “Expo 1: New York” that opened yesterday at PS1 in Queens. The show comes at issues of ecology and our planetary fate from all sorts of classically avant-garde angles, but its most daring move may be its inclusion of several rooms of photos by Adams, not normally a name to conjure with out on the cutting edge. Rather than rehearsing standard notions about the beauty and formal brilliance of Adams’s photographic art, the show treats him as a real purveyor of ideas and information about the American environment and our place in it. (The inclusion of multiple shots of single sites is especially clever.) One thing I think the curators left out: The place in Adams’s art of an ethos and aesthetics of mechanization. If such notions seem out of place in a discussion of Adams, take a look at my essay on a show of his landscapes held a few years ago at the Corcoran in D.C. – it may be the best thing I’ve written.
The Daily Pic: The artist-designer made sound sculpture that responds to touch.
This is “Sonambient Sculpture”, made by the great sculptor and designer Harry Bertoia in 1977, after this once-famous artist had started falling from favor. I saw this table-top work, about three feet wide and made from “berylium copper”, in the booth of Lost City Arts at the Collective Design Fair now on in New York. It’s a lovely piece of late-modern formalism – except that it’s more than that. Like many of Bertoia’s pieces, it’s also an “instrument”, of sorts, responding to your touch with a lovely chiming jangle. (Click on the image to see and hear it in action). It must partly be about resisting the “don’t touch” message that most sculpture comes with.
The Daily Pic: Sebastian Errazuriz designs shelving that folds away.
I spotted Sebastian Errazuriz’s “Piano” shelving yesterday, in the Cristina Grajales booth at the new Collective Design Fair in New York. It’s a truly clever concept: The separate bars (or “keys”) that make up the shelves can be pulled down as needed, depending on the objects than you want to display. Two thoughts, though: First, if the shelves were engineered without gaps they could be used for books, which is the most pressing, and ever-changing, shelving need for most of us (bars pulled half-way down could even act as bookends); second, as things stand, there’s a danger that such witty and attractive shelves could encourage knick-knacky tendencies in even the most restrained of us, infecting modern spareness with Victorian clutter. Just because you own something nice doesn’t mean you have to display it…
The Daily Pic: In 1993, Cheryl Donegan added sex to conceptual art.
This is a still from “Head”, a strange video by Cheryl Donegan that’s in the show called “1993” at the New Museum in New York. (Click on the image to watch the video.) The piece – surprise, surprise – was made in 1993, and feels like a comic take-off on the “procedural” videos made by conceptual artists two decades earlier. (“Watch me doing something; watch me doing something else.”) Here, Donigan seems to sexualize their work, and inject some gender and power issues into their art-about-art premises.
The Daily Pic: In one of the world's greatest prints, the German master stays on the sidelines.
I was left dumbfounded by almost every picture in the current Albrecht Durer show at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, but this 1514 engraving of Saint Jerome at work in his study is one of the artist’s most virtuosic demonstrations. (I’ll be Daily Pic-ing others over coming weeks.) Riding a favorite hobby horse of mine, however, I wonder how many viewers recognize how strange it is that Durer gives precisely half the normal view you’d expect in an image like this: The scene’s viewpoint (or vanishing point) is at the far right edge of the picture rather than smack in its center, as prescribed by the standard perspective constructions recently mastered by northern artists like Durer. It’s as though Durer had taken a conventional image and sliced it down the middle. I’ve suggested technical explanations for the use of eccentric perspectives in 17th-century Holland, but in this earlier case I wonder if there isn’t a kind of almost theological point: When modern sinners try to witness a long-gone sacred scene, etiquette insists that they stay on its margins. Sanctity must be approached crabwise.
The Daily Pic: Leidy Churchman's video shows abstract art in the making.
This is a still from a strange video called “Blood”, by the young American artist Leidy Churchman. (Click on the image to view the video.) It’s in a group show at Robert Miller gallery that’s all about the influence and afterlife of Lee Krasner, the great Abstract Expressionist. “Blood” fits perfectly: It offers a kind of “live” update on Krasner-era abstraction. The camera shows us paint and colored objects being pushed around on a surface, so you’re never sure whether the “work” at hand is that surface itself or the video you’re watching of it getting marked – and whether either one should qualify as abstraction, since they’re so present as real stuff in the world. Churchman puts the “action” back in Action Painting.
The Daily Pic: In 1969, Richard Serra risked it all with one ton of lead.
I think Richard Serra’s “One Ton Prop (House of Cards)”, from 1969, is the summation of his art, and one of the great works of the last 50 years. The piece – four quarter-ton sheets of lead, four-foot square and held in place by their weight – is now on view in David Zwirner’s beautifully Brutalist new gallery in New York. This “Prop” is all about risk: Physical, artistic and aesthetic. And then the product of that risk turns out to be wonder and pleasure, even beauty. The risk is real, so it produces genuine sublimity. In Serra’s more recent, crowd-pleasing works, the risk is all simulation – no one will die and pleasure’s guaranteed – so the effect is that much less potent.