The Daily Pic: In 1588, Hendrick Goltzius showed the Greek teen scorched by the sun.
“The Fall of Icarus”, by Hendrick Goltzius, is one of my all-time favorite images by one of my all-time favorite artists. (Click on the picture to see it much enlarged, which is crucial to its appreciation.) The piece is from a series of four similar engravings called “The Four Disgracers” (great name for a rock band), printed in 1588 and now on view at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I love the tiny figure of Daedalus, still safely bewinged in the far background, and the gormless expression of his teenage son, tumbling to earth after flying too close to the sun. The funny thing is that this image, which feels like classic Goltzius, was in fact based on a design by the painter Cornelisz van Haarlem. I don’t know if that means I need to downgrade my rating of Goltzius or increase my praise for Cornelisz van Haarlem – both hard for me to do.
The Daily Pic: Joyce Wieland pushes back the timeline for feline films.
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa: On Friday, I claimed to have found the earliest YouTube-ish cat video, filmed in 1979 by the artist B. Wurtz, but I warned that someone was bound to point out some still earlier contender. That someone was the Vancouver publisher new-documents.org, who immediately tweeted out the fabulous "Cat Food", shot by Joyce Wieland one full decade before Wurtz did his piece. (Click on today's image to watch it – and let me know if you've got a still earlier cat film up your sleeve.) I'm doubly ashamed of my lapse because Wieland (who died in 1998) sits in two categories of artists I follow especially closely: Pioneering women, and Canadians. I know and love Wieland's work, but this piece had passed me by. It suddenly occurred to me that it's a kind of animal lover's tribute to – or piss-taking of – Warhol's great movie "Eat", which I only recently saw (and in which the cat's appearance is too brief to make the piece count as a contender).
The Daily Pic: Way back in 1979, B. Wurtz proved that filmed felines are art.
On the last day of our all-video week, I present (drumroll, please), THE WORLD’S FIRST CAT VIDEO. It’s an art film, actually, called “The Meaning of Life”, shot by the artist B. Wurtz (yes, him again) in 1979 and newly mounted on the Triple Canopy Web site. (Click on the image to watch the film.) I can’t quite go to bat for this piece the way I could for the Wurtz video I DP’d on Monday, but I think its predictive power alone makes it art-historically notable. According to the old cliche, artists surf the zeitgeist before anyone else gets there – and here’s the ur-YouTube proof. (Yes, I know, Thomas Edison shot a short film of cats boxing back in 1894, but it was so stagey that it doesn’t really count as a precursor to the purely durational, observational cat videos that are the genre’s archetypal form. And I know that today’s DP is tempting fate, since other, earlier cat pieces are bound to come out of the woodwork. But will any of those prove, as this one does ipso facto, that cat videos are art?)
The Daily Pic: Yael Bartana imagines a Jewish migration to Poland.
The latest item in this week’s video festival is the projected trilogy called “And Europe Will Be Stunned”, by the Israeli artist Yael Bartana. I praised it at the last Venice Biennale, but it is showing again at Petzel Gallery in New York, and may just be the best new work now on view in the city. (I have to present this still from the piece, rather than a clip, since Bartana prefers that all viewers get the complete, projected experience.) Bartana’s piece is a pseudo-documentary, built around the fiction that a new party called the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland has taken root in Warsaw, with the goal of renewing Polish greatness by restoring its slaughtered Jewish population. We get to witness the construction of a new Polish kibbutz, and then the mourning that follows the assassination of the movement’s young founder. Formally, the piece is amazingly subtle – it toys with various documentary styles while always making clear that it’s playing. In its politics, it is both brash and subtle at the same time: It is built around hot-button topics but never makes clear whose side it is on. Its viewpoint is so tempered that it has seen attacks from both fervent Zionists and those most committed to the Palestinian cause. As far as I’m concerned, that means Bartana is doing something right.
The Daily Pic: Our toughest sculptor films our mighty industrial past.
The latest installment in our “video week” presents a moment from the wonderful film called “Railroad Turnbridge”, shot by Richard Serra in 1976 and now on view (as a digital projection) at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. (Click on the image to view a clip). The film is nothing more than some black-and-white footage of the massive piece of equipment – usually known as a “swing bridge” – that allowed ships on the Willamette River near Portland to pass to either side of a crossing train track. (The bridge still seems to exist, but now rises up instead of swinging.) In this clip, shot from the bridge-deck itself, the railroad equipment is cleverly assimilated to the camera that is shooting it – with a further parallel being drawn, maybe, between the force of heavy industry in society and the power of central perspective in art. Other passages in the film are more about documenting the machinery itself, and its insanely massive construction. They make you realize how profoundly Serra’s famous heavy-metal sculptures are rooted in the moment of their making, when the heyday of America’s heavy industry was coming to its end. Who would have thought that such tough-guy work had a nostalgic, almost sentimental side?
The Daily Pic: James Nares slows Manhattan's rat race to a snail's pace.
It’s video week at the DP, and this is a still from “Street”, an utterly engrossing projection by James Nares that’s now drawing crowds at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. (Click on the image to view a clip that was shot in situ, or go to Nares’s Web site for a different one.) “Street” is nothing more than one hour’s worth of footage culled from 16 hours spent riding a car through the streets of Manhattan, with a video camera pointed out at the pedestrian flow.
What seems to account for the video’s almost magic, irresistible attraction is that it is shot in extreme slow motion and at very high definition. Nares has taken the slow-mo technology usually used to capture the flight of a hummingbird and trained it on his own species, as it too goes about its normal business.
Today’s very extended Daily Pic looks at how that tech causes the video’s entrancing effects, and it includes some guesses from a couple of experts: Alvy Ray Smith, the computer scientist who co-founded Pixar (and who happens to be my brother-in-law) and the Berkeley psychologist Arthur Shimamura. Click “Read Full Story” below to see our dissection of the video’s effects.
Daily Pic: B. Wurtz suffers, or prospers, from aesthetic agnosia.
These are stills from “Metal Sculpture”, a wonderful 1979 film by the New York sculptor B. Wurtz which just went live (as a video) in the new issue of the online magazine called Triple Canopy. (Click on the stills to watch the footage.) The premise is simple, and charming: Wurtz talks about a new metal sculpture he’s discovered and which he assembles as we watch; it turns out to be a perfectly normal folding music stand. His (pretend) inability to recognize the object as the functional thing it is, and his desire to treat it only as art, is a kind of condensation of the spirit that animates a lot of the best art making. I’ve referred to it as aesthetic agnosia – an ability to perceive the stuff in the world but not to recognize what it is or how it works, like the famous Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Wurtz turns himself into The Man Who Mistook His Stand For His Art, and by doing so, made it so.
The Daily Pic: Elli Chung contemplates veggie aesthetics.
This lovely, funny image is by Elli Chung, from her show at Julie Saul Gallery in New York. The title is “KAWA AKAGO, An Infant Monster Who Lurks Near Rivers and Drowns People” – the show illustrates moments from Japanese folk tales – but that name does not at all reflect my first impressions of the photio. I saw this naked tuber as entirely within the Western tradition of nude beauties on riverbanks, with echoes of Titian and Courbet’s “White Stockings”. Rather than seeing a threat in it, I found a note of sadness, as the vegetable contemplates its failure to live up to that aesthetic and erotic tradition.
The Daily Pic: The Viennese artist makes room for video's supporting cast.
In this age of projected art, six screens demand equal billing with the images shown on them. The installation is by Heimo Zobernig, and I saw it in a group show at Leo Koenig gallery in New York. In person, the effect is quite strange: By now, we’re used to found objects getting used as sculpture, but here it’s as though pedestals replaced the works that normally sit on them. Rather than fading into the background, like the well-trained servants of aristocracy, Zobernig’s screens insist on being recognized in all their individuality and distinct objecthood: Here’s one wearing a yellow belt; there’s one discretely detailed in green; here’s another, standing proud and taller than all his kin, in a suit of silver that’s brighter than anyone else’s.
The Daily Pic: Designer Yuya Ushida makes a sofa from recycled eating sticks.
Designer and engineer Yuya Ushida “unfurls” his “SOFA_XXXX”, which isn’t X-rated, but gets its name from the X joints that give it both structure and expandability. (Click on the image to see a video of its laborious production, and then its fascinating use.) I saw the piece in the “Against the Grain” show at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, where a wall text explained that its first prototype was made from about 8,000 recycled bamboo chopsticks – China alone throws out about 90 billion of them each year – which were hand-drilled by Ushida as a student project for the design academy in Eindhoven. It seems that the versions of XXXX going into mass production may be made from plastic, and so won’t be as “green”. Maybe the trick would be to publish DIY plans for sofas to be made by anyone who eats lots (and lots) of take-out Chinese.
The Daily Pic: The late L.A. artist got rid of everything except garbage.
The late Mike Kelley made this drawing, and it’s now in the fascinating New Museum show of art from New York in 1993. The image is from a series based on the “Sad Sack” comic strip, except that Kelley has erased everything except the trash that is everpresent around the strip’s eponymous hero, a private in the U.S. army who gets everything wrong. I love the way erasure becomes a tool for depiction and emphasis, and failure becomes a heroic condition.
The Daily Pic: The artist looks at how East Germany sold its military mission.
In his solo show at Andrew Kreps Gallery in New York, the German artist Peter Piller is showing a series of appropriated photos called “Umschläge” (German for “Covers”), which are just that: Images of the front and back covers of the defunct East German magazine called “Armeerundschau” (“Army Panorama”), whose layout juxtaposed a front image of a war scene and a back image of a pretty girl. According to Wikipedia, the magazine’s primary attraction was its “clothed pin-ups of women”, but the site also quotes the magazine’s longtime editor saying that its aim was to “prepare boys and men for their military service in the NVA [the “National People’s Army”], and to prepare women and girls to be good wives and girlfriends, to teach them to love soldiers and be willing to wait for them. We knew we had to convince women to love soldiers. If we didn’t, men wouldn’t want to go into the NVA.” That weird tension seems visible in Piller’s appropriations: A testosterone-laden front cover stands in strange tension with a remarkably chaste back cover that has to function as sexual bait for the magazine’s male readers and as a mirror for women viewing it. And then, in this issue at least, there’s a weird racial and colonial subtext as well. Sometimes, it’s enough for art simply to point out the world’s weirdnesses.
The Daily Pic: The "pop" in his culture came from the 1930s.
This real pastry case full of plaster confections was made by Claes Oldenburg in 1962, and is in the show of his very early works that opens Sunday at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In researching my New York Times profile of him that just went up on the paper’s Web site, I came to realize that Oldenburg’s glance at American consumption was hugely retrospective. Rather than contemplating the shiny chrome of the Mad Men era, Oldenburg was looking back at the more modest material culture of his childhood during the Great Depression, when he first arrived in the U.S. from Sweden.
The Daily Beast: The Swiss artist stomps on earlier masterworks.
This still is from a video called “Walking on Carl Andre”, made in 1998 by Swiss artist Sylvie Fleury and now being shown on the street-front screen at Salon 94 gallery on the Bowery. (Click on the image to watch the full work.) The video takes seriously Andre’s invitation to walk on his minimal floor pieces, but treats them as cheesy fashion runways rather than elite artistic conceits. Fleury entertains the possibility that there’s more in common between fashion and art, between shoes and masterworks, than most of us want to let on.
The Daily Pic: Museums gave us our Middle Ages.
Donald La Rocca, curator of arms and armor at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, sent me this view of his armor hall as it looked in 1967, about the time I first came across it as a small child. I can honestly say that that experience changed my life, helping to send me on a chase for all things medieval that lasted well into adulthood. (Getting me to dress in full medieval regalia as I rode my bike around our apartment complex; decades later, getting me to read a vast pile of 10th-century Lombard land contracts – in Latin.) I’ve been thinking a lot about medievalism recently, even to the point of rereading Walter Scott’s goofy “Ivanhoe”. But I’m still not sure how it is that modern European culture has built such a strong notion of something called “The Middle Ages”, when it has so little to do with how things ever were. Does it have to do with the fact that humans, as social animals, are wired to ascribe a coherent, person-like “character” to almost anything we come across, including a remote period in history?