The Daily Pic: Jan Groover pushed the photographic still life from black-and-white into color.
In the late 1970s, the painter-turned-photographer Jan Groover did something that ought to have been a no-brainer: She shot modernist still lifes on color film, as though Edward Weston had been blown from Kansas to Oz. Some of those images are now in a group show at the Andrew Kreps Gallery in New York. Color gives Groover’s stylish pictures a shared foundation in the world and in painting that their predecessors didn’t have.
The Daily Pic: Gerrit Rietveld was yet another modern genius who designed for rug rats.
This child’s wheelbarrow was conceived in 1923 by the great Dutch designer Gerrit Rietveld. It’s now in “The Century of the Child”, a major design exhibition that opened last week at the Museum of Modern Art, and which I’ve written about for Newsweek. Modernism aimed to bring about a new future, and kids were conceived as its population. That’s why so many of the great modern designers, from Frank Lloyd Wright to Marcel Breuer to the Eamses and Bruno Munari, all worked on schools and toys and children’s books. The most interesting tidbit in the exhibition may be the suggestion that abstract art itself had its roots in ideas about kids, at an absurdly early date: Some of the first rumblings of abstraction came in the educational playthings of the German Friedrich Froebel – starting in the 1820s, when he helped launch kindergarten.
The Daily Pic: George Bellows got the essence of a dollop of land.
This is “An Island in the Sea”, painted by the New Yorker George Bellows in 1911. Bellows is getting a full retrospective at the National Gallery in Washington, and it leaves him looking pretty uneven, with his famous boxing tableaux still seeming his best work. It seems to me that Bellows was most successful when he worked basically as a caricaturist, under the influence of Daumier. His boxing pictures function that way, even though they’re scaled as history paintings. This lovwly little image of an island was painted at about the same time as his boxers, and also has a note of caricature. It’s almost a child’s cliche of insularity: Just a blob of land marooned in the ocean, and a storybook house on the beach.
The Daily Pic: Rineke Dijkstra manufactures authenticity.
These famous “bather” photos by the Dutch artist Rineke Dijkstra, now on view in her retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, are often talked about as straight documents of their subjects. What’s rarely commented on is their brilliant artifice. Dijkstra’s lens views these figures from the level of their navel or thighs, thanks to a view-camera trick normally used by fashion photographers (and Old Master portrait painters): It makes small figures seem tall, and lets them literally look down on their viewers. That’s where the oft-mentioned “hauteur” and “poise” of these figures comes from. The illumination on them is also manipulated: Dijkstra carefully balances fill-flash and natural light, to give the kind of relationship between landscape and body we’re used to seeing in Gainsborough and van Dyke. Dijkstra doesn’t just find grandeur in the humblest figures and adulthood lurking in teens. She doses her figures with power.
The Daily Pic: Alighiero Boetti colored outside the lines.
This is one of the last of the world maps designed by the Italian artist Alighiero Boetti and embroidered by Afghan craftspeople, in exile in Pakistan in 1994 – which was also the year of the artist’s death. Boetti is the subject of a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which I wrote about in this week’s international edition of Newsweek. His maps (there are close to 200 of them) ought to seem like rigorous works of conceptual art. After all, Boetti abandons all artistic intuition in favor of a system: Their design’s determined by world politics, their colors and decoration are determined by the world’s national flags, and their execution has been literally put in other people’s hands. And yet these pieces seems mellow and charming. I think that’s because the system itself – like so many of the “instruction sets” of conceptualism – is itself more poetic than rational. It’s as much based on intuition and inspiration as any oil painting might be.
The Daily Pic: The late Denyse Thomasos balanced history and beauty.
“Dismantle #2,” a 1998 painting by Denyse Thomasos, a long-time stalwart of the New York and Toronto scenes who died senselessly this month, at only 47, from a reaction to a routine medical test. (A memorial will be held tomorrow). I once spoke to Thomasos about this picture, and she explained that she was trying to strike a balance between abstract concerns and a suggestion of subject matter, which she described in this case as having to do with slave cages and pens and the Middle Passage. (Thomasos was born in Trinidad, and black.) It was a hard line to walk, but she managed it beautifully.
Before the Lower East Side was all safe and tidy, I once spent an unforgettably raucous evening there with Thomasos. Woe to the person – or paintbrush – that didn’t do her bidding. (Image courtesy the Olga Korper Gallery)
The Daily Pic: Bridget Riley makes Op Art go deep.
Pictures by so-called “Op” artists – like Bridget Riley’s “Fission”, from 1963 – have a bad rap for being nothing more than light-and-lively fun. But the best examples of Op Art in the New Museum show called “Ghosts in the Machine” are genuinely disorienting. Their optical buzz makes it so hard to read what’s what on the surface of the painting that you start to doubt what’s what, and where, in the universe you’re in. They stand for a more profound, existential disorientation that any human can feel.
The Daily Pic: Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan find photos of our technophilic world.
A found photo of men at (weird) work, from the 1977 project called “Evidence”, by American artists Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan. It is in the New Museum show called “Ghosts in the Machine”, where the Daily Pic is lingering all week. The show could have been all about the glory of technology – as some of the art in it is. But instead, curators have carefully balanced the upsides, downsides and, especially, strange sides of tech. Mandel and Sultan culled their images from all kinds of government and corporate archives, and their project shows how thoroughly science and technology have been incorporated into our world, and yet how little most of us can make of their advances. This photo captures the feeling we get from most of its mates: That scientists and engineers are alien beings doing alien things. They are the ghosts in our machine. (Courtesy the artists and Stephen Wirtz Gallery, San Francisco) Mike Mandel's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.
The Daily Pic: With the Industrial Revolution, ravings became mechanical – as today they're cinematic
In today’s Daily Beast, I made the argument that the Batman movies taught the shooter in Aurora precisely how he ought to go mad – because madness is always shaped by the culture it occurs in. This detail from an 1810 image, in the New Museum show called “Ghosts in the Machine” – the subject of this week’s Daily Pics – is more evidence for my position. It illustrates the delusions of a mental patient named James Tilly Matthews, who said a machine called the Air Loom was controlling his mind. No one before the Industrial Revolution would have raved in quite that way, and no one would in our information age. Instead, the madman of today says he’s the Joker, and commits supervillainous slaughter.
The Daily Pic: Rube's contraptions are as crazy as they seem
This is an original drawing made in about 1930 by Rube Goldberg, now in the New Museum show called “Ghosts in the Machine”, which I’m Daily Pic-ing all week. One thing about Goldberg that I’d never noticed before: His “contraptions” almost always include a human who’s attached to their machinery. One of the stranger facts of transcultural psychiatry is that every new technology seems inevitably to get folded into the delusions of the insane. I’m not calling Goldberg a nutter, but I think his drawings channel the way machines quickly become part of our essential selves.
The Daily Pic: Robert Breer's phantom machines
Two of the strange, mechanical “Floats”, designed in 1970 by the American artist Robert Breer, and now installed on the top story of “Ghosts in the Machine”, a big show about modern art and technology that recently opened at the New Museum in New York. (The Daily Pic will be dwelling there all this week.) Breer’s ovoids move almost imperceptibly slowly across the museum floor, and for some reason that makes them seem almost sentient and, in fact, untechnological – more like ghosts than machines. One of the surprises of this show is that art that we might once have dismissed as wow-cool and technophilic now seems to have some existential weight. As the technology ages out, the artworks’ resonance and metaphorical power takes over.
The Daily Pic: Josephine Halvorson talks crude with paint
These two paintings are by New Yorker Josephine Halvorson, and they’re in a show called “The Big Picture” at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. gallery in New York. They were painted as quickly as possible, in front of their subjects – a tombstone and a chalkboard. What I particularly like about them is how much they feel like direct records, almost as though the canvas had been pressed right against the stone or a tracing had been made of the board. The surface of the painting seems to stand in for the surface that’s being depicted. And yet despite the one-to-one impression they give, Halvorson felt no need to achieve a full trompe-l’oeil effect, or to use the invisible brushwork we associate with it. In our post-painting age, the broad brushwork of expressionist art seems to have achieved an almost neutral status, so that it can be used to point straight at the world, without making any comment. Crude paint has simply become a language that things get recorded in.
The Daily Pic: Mario Bellini's "A4" took off from the Space Shuttle
The space shuttle Enterprise was unveiled today, in its new home on the decks of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, a former aircraft carrier moored off Manhattan. In yesterday’s Daily Beast, I claimed that the shuttle’s radical functionalism helps explain much of 1970s design – especially of mass-market products such as the first Walkman and Apple II computer. The one fancy designer who may have gone down the same road is the Italian Mario Bellini – who designed this A4 Programmable Accounting Invoicing Machine for Olivetti in 1973. (It's now in the MoMA collection.) Raymond Guidot, the French design expert, says that Bellini came to Olivetti as "the champion of utter rationalism." Though his earlier works were Braun-slick, without a bump in site, this design seems deliberately clunky, separating out each piece of the machine – keypad, paper support, roller knobs – according to the function it serves. It’s an anti-design design, worthy of a Black and Decker Workmate.
The Daily Pic: John Henderson hybridizes photos, paint and pixels.
Two “photographs”, both titled "Flowers", by a young Chicago artist named John Henderson. They start as found paintings, of one kind or another, which Henderson then layers with more pigment, then scans, then digitally manipulates so they seem to be floating “in front of” a neutral gray background, then prints as photos – in an edition of precisely one. Henderson’s work, which I saw in a group show at Wallspace in New York, acknowledges that paintings are first and foremost objects in the world with us, and that we mostly see them in photographs – and that today’s photos are nothing more than digital assemblages that could be the result of any amount of manipulation. I don’t often see art objects with this amount of visual complexity and conceptual sophistication – and yet I saw more of the same just this week, in the works by Andrea Longacre-White that I Daily Pic’d on Monday, from a show down the street from Wallspace.
The Daily Pic: Homai Vyarawalla was the country's first female photojournalist.
This photo of the former Victoria Terminus in Bombay was taken in about 1940 by Homai Vyarawalla (1913-2012) who was India’s first female photojournalist of note. Her first American solo, at the Rubin Museum in New York, shows her starting out as an avid modernist: Her rail-station shot could have come from Cartier-Bresson or the Bauhaus. Once she became a “pro”, however, she abandoned her arty ways and stuck to a more documentary style. But I wonder if that later mode really tells more truth than where she started out? (See a gallery of other Vyarawalla images at TheDailyBeast.com.)