The Daily Pic: Tony Rosenthal right-sized his outdoor sculpture.
Just yesterday in this space, I went after plop art. So much public sculpture feels too big and bombastic, as art, but also too small to truly compete with the buildings and trees around it. This is Tony Rosenthal’s “5-in-1”, from 1971, installed in a neglected little plaza down the street from City Hall in New York – and somehow it doesn’t seem to suffer from those faults. It fills its space boldly without dominating it. There’s even something a touch plangent about its grand late-modernist values, viewed from our minor postmodern moment. “5-in-1” comes across as an elephant might, grazing in a forest clearing.
The Daily Beast: On the High Line, Francis Upritchard un-plops public art.
“The Seduction” is a pair of doll-size bronzes cast by Francis Upritchard in 2012. It now sits on the corner of some wooden seating in the High Line park in New York, as part of the park’s “Lilliput” exhibition. So much public sculpture comes off as oversized and overblown – as plop art, with pretensions to grandeur and greatness. Upritchard’s little simian tableau, on the other hand, comes as a modest and delightful surprise, which is all its scale seems to promise. “Ping art”, you could call it.
The Daily Pic: Giovanni Cariani caught the labors of portraiture.
My third and last Daily Pic taken from the Accademia Carrara show now wrapping up at the Metropolitan Museum in New York: a portrait of Giovanni Benedetto Caravaggi, painted somewhere between 1517 and 1520 by the Venetian Giovanni Cariani. It’s easy to see the staring, frozen quality of many portraits of this moment as a failing – to see it as an inability to give a snapshot sense of a figure captured at a single instant in time. (Later portraits do precisely that.) But what if these portraits were meant to evoke the drawn-out moment of posing they imply, and the long, still encounter between the sitter and artist. One of their subjects could be the time and patience it takes to capture a perfect likeness, and to be the subject of one.
The Daily Pic: In Milan, circa 1490, a Byzantine ruler puts on Ottoman robes.
Another picture from the little Accademia Carrara show, closing soon at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. This one was painted by the Milanese artist known as Bergognone in around 1490, and shows a fourth-century encounter between Saint Ambrose of Milan and the (mostly) Byzantine emperor Theodosius I. As much as anything this painting is about its wonderful textiles, but I wonder if we tend to misread them: The emperor’s robes look gloriously Renaissance, and European, to us, but they may in fact derive from (or even be) silks from the Ottoman east. (Experts are only now sorting out who influenced who in the luxury trade between Italy and Turkey.) Bergognone could have deliberately chosen fabrics recently woven in Constantinople, in order to clothe an emperor he knew had once ruled there. Geography, that is, trumped chronology in his notions of accuracy.
The Daily Pic: In 1510, Titian was already seeing hell as a factory.
This “Orpheus and Eurydice” is one of those fabulous landscapy narratives painted in Venice in around 1510, that could be by either Giorgione or Titian. (In some way I can’t quite spell out, I think they are really by a third, virtual artist whom we need to call “Giortian” – and whom any number of lesser painters could also be possessed by. They refute the idea of a one-artist style.) The painting is in a lovely little show of treasures from the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo, at the Metropolitan Museum for another few days. What particularly caught my eye in this work is the fact that, even at this early pre-industrial date, hell is already being shown as some kind of factory.
A detail from Titian's "Orpheus and Eurydice"
The Daily Pic: Humans Since 1982 make raw bulbs do the work of design.
“Collection of Light 70” is a wonderfully smart new lamp-cum-sculpture by the Swedish design collective called Humans Since 1982, showing for a few more days yet in the Park Avenue gallery at Phillips de Pury auction house. I love the simplicity of making use of the latest lighting technology, simply by presenting it as stock.
The Daily Pic: Ori Gersht's explosions animate the Old Masters.
This still is from a video called “Pomegranate”, in the new solo show by Ori Gersht at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. (Click on the image to watch a video clip – or go to the Gersht Web gallery on the Daily Beast.) The Israeli artist is best known for blowing up the fruits and flowers from Old Master still lifes, and screening the results in slow motion. The gesture risks feeling like spectacular schtick, but what saves it, for me, is how it emphasizes the stillness that’s in Gersht’s painted sources. The whole still-life genre gets its force from pausing the action and change that we’re all drowning in. Every still life is secretly cinematic, some version of the freeze-frame. The action in Gersht’s videos helps underline the stasis that we risk taking for granted in painting.
The Daily Pic: Sacred bronzes at the Rubin Museum can't escape earthly glory.
These two gorgeous bronzes are from a show called “Casting the Divine: Sculptures of the Nyingjei Lam Collection”, which presents a group of works on long-term loan to the Rubin Museum of Himalayan art in New York. A wall text explains that the nudity of the figure at right, made in northeastern India in something like the year 1300, only makes sense if it was made for use in the Jain religion. The sculpture at left, from Tibet and maybe 100 years younger, shows the Budhha reaching out to keep touch with the earth. Both figures are, of course, involved with the spirit: the Jain is a naked ascetic and the Budhha always aims to transcend. But both works, in their sheer and glorious materiality, make a secret plea for the things of this world.
The Daily Pic: Beside the High Line, Elad Lassry becomes a mad Mad Man.
This is Elad Lassry’s “Women (065, 055)”, the latest of the billboard art projects organized by (and beside) the High Line park in New York. (The piece came down for a while for a private function, but is now on view again.) Lassry is one of the most interesting photographers working today – if only because it’s so fiendishly hard to figure out what he’s up to, or why it consistently grabs our attention. It must have something to do with how Lassry captures the look of modest commercial photography, with its goal of being perfectly transparent, and then uses it to the cryptic ends of fine art. The mix is particularly successful in the context of a billboard that shills only for itself.
The Daily Pic: Robert Smithson found spirals before his "Jetty".
This is an untitled piece known as “Spiral Mask,” finished in 1961 by the great land artist Robert Smithson. It’s from “Signs & Symbols”, the same Whitney Museum show as yesterday’s abstract Daily Pic, and gives some sense of the range there is in that exhibition, which aims to broaden the context for American abstraction. The mask also points to how early Smithson came to the main motif of his most famous work, the “Spiral Jetty” earthwork from 1970. And its borrowing from so-called “tribal” art reveals that Smithson, often imagined as a rigorous conceptual artist, actually had an expressionist, oracular, irrational side.
The Daily Pic: Anne Ryan expresses the quieter emotions.
This is an untitled collage by Anne Ryan from around 1950, now in a show called “Signs & Symbols” that has been assembled from the Abstract Expressionist holdings of the Whitney Museum of American Art. The exhibition involves a lot of angst, brooding and spirit possession, so Ryan’s piece comes as a relief, revealing that quieter emotions and states are just as worthy of expression – that a swatch book can be as potent as any volume of incantations. (Note that Ryan's first name was incorrect in an earlier version of this posting)
The Daily Pic: Drusus, heir to the empire of Rome, was known for his bloodlust.
This is the head of Drusus, son of the Roman emperor Tiberius, from a sculpture of him that would have been carved around A.D. 23, the year he died (allegedly at the hands of his wife). Last week, the Cleveland Museum of Art announced that it had acquired the work, which is a fair bit larger than life. (There’s also a chance the purchase will stir a tiny bit of controversy.) Drusus died before he succeeded his father – which is just as well, since he was famous for enjoying spectacles and tortures so bloody, they shocked even Roman sensibilities. One of this head’s most important details is almost invisible: It bears faint traces of the colored paint that would originally have been used to make all classical statues into fully realistic figures. The “Roman sobriety” we see in these all-white art works may be a modern invention. (See the feature I once wrote about color in ancient sculpture.)
The Daily Pic: Meleko Mokgosi wins L.A.'s $100,000 award, thanks to a popular vote.
This is a detail from "Pax Kaffraria: Sikhuselo Sembumbulu", a room-spanning oil painting by Meleko Mokgosi, who has been announced as the winner of the Hammer Museum's Mohn Award. That's a new $100,000 prize given to one of five L.A. artists shortlisted by a jury of curators, and then winnowed to a single winner in a vote by museum visitors.
Now I wouldn't want Olympic wrestling to be judged by a crowd of art critics. And I wouldn't want curators choosing Surgeon of the Year, or Top Hot Rod 2012. It seems obvious to me that you want people who know an activity, deeply, to figure out what counts as doing it, best–and then to share their deep knowledge with all the rest of us. That's why the Olympics come with all that color commentary, done by former athletes and coaches.
So I can't figure why the Hammer – one of my favorite institutions – thought it made sense to get all and any comers to award one of the art world's newest, biggest prizes.
The Daily Pic: James Lee Byars crafted art with the force of a fetish.
This is “The Monument to Cleopatra”, a gilded marble solid made by the late James Lee Byars in 1988, now on view all by itself at the Michael Werner gallery uptown in New York. The piece has some of the quasi- (or pseudo-) mystical force of the monolith in Kubrick’s 2001. Whether or not you buy its apparent claims to transcendence, you have to credit Byars with having captured the feel of a fetish.
The Daily Pic: Monika Sziladi captures a flesh-free ideal.
This is the aptly named “Untitled (Ribs),” a photo from 2009 by a Hungarian-born New Yorker named Monika Sziladi. It’s at the Hasted Kraeutler gallery in New York, in a show of 31 woman photographers organized by the Humble Arts Foundation. Anyone who thinks that beauty is a universal constant only needs to take a look at the wraith-like “ideal body” in Sziladi’s shot. Its owner seems to take as much pride in her bones as the big girls of Rubens could take in their avoirdupois. And I refuse to weigh-in, as it were, on one side or the other.