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.)
The Daily Pic: Andrea Longacre-White piles complexity on complication.
Two images by a young Los Angeles artist named Andrea Longacre-White, now on view in a summer group show called “Image Object”, at Foxy Production gallery in New York. They are worth staring at, and staring at again, to sort out all the levels of imagery in them. Longacre takes digital images, prints them as photos, tears and savages those, scans the result, then starts the whole process again. At best her pictures can have an almost Cezanne-like complexity, rethought for our digital age.
The Daily Pic: Willem van Aelst mixes divination and science
A severed ram’s head, a rope of liver and lungs above it and to both sides some gorgeous fruits and vegetables – if still-life painting can sometimes seem convention-bound, this one seems to have more to it. It was painted in 1652, in Florence, when the Dutch painter Willem van Aelst was there serving the Medici court, and it’s now in the solo show of his works (the first ever) at the National Gallery in Washington. The ram’s head is such a strong symbol of the classical world that I’d want to make it central in any reading of this painting. This still-life seems to me to involve some kind of confrontation between the scientific, botanical and anatomical interests of the Medici court – to wit the accurately rendered organs and fruit – and the Roman practice of reading the future in entrails. (The term of art for reading a liver is haruspicy or hepatoscopy; the practice is mentioned in Virgil and Cicero and Pliny. The gallery reads the offal as belonging to a turkey, but I’ve done enough butchering to recognize the lungs and liver of something much bigger – such as the classic sacrificial ram.) Could van Aelst’s picture be about science superseding or completing ancient ways of knowing?
I particularly like how such a complex reading mirrors the divination referenced in the work.
The Daily Pic: Gainsborough's "Blue Boy" once held the price record.
When Thomas Gainsborough’s “Blue Boy” sold in 1921 to railroad millionaire Henry E. Huntington, for around $700,000 (reports vary), it got the same blanket coverage, for being the most expensive painting ever, that Munch’s “Scream” got in May when it broke all auction records – and got again today (including from me) with the revelation that the buyer was New York financier Leon Black.
For a while “The Blue Boy” was iconic in the way Munch’s picture is now: It was what my grandfather, a grocer, always mentioned when famous artworks came up, and my wife tells me her grandmother kept a print of it on her wall. And now it’s sunk to being just another mostly-forgotten Old Master picture. Even memories of pricetags eventually fade. (Another nice realization: “The Blue Boy” was only 151 years old when Huntington bought it – not that far from the 117 years between “The Scream” and its sale.)
Writing about Black’s $120 million purchase, I came across some interesting things about “The Blue Boy”.
The Daily Pic: Chris Rucker makes quilts from old moving blankets
I’m a big fan of taking quilts seriously, as art. The only problem is that I almost never see a new quilt that seems worthy of being so taken. One exception comes from the New York designer Chris Rucker, who has made a series of quilts from old moving blankets. (He is also known for the furniture he has cut from junk lumber.) Like the famous Gee’s Bend quilts assembled out of old work clothes, Rucker’s textiles keep a compelling link to their origins. And I love the idea of an artwork that can protect itself.
The Daily Pic: Polly Apfelbaum does very serious play
For years now, Polly Apfelbaum has managed to channel the idea of unbridled artistic play – one of the oldest cliches in modern art – without ever seeming childish or glib or cliche. In the recent group show called “Stone Gravy”, curated by David Pagel for Ameringer, McEnery, Yohe gallery in New York, a table laid with her plasticine abstractions seems complex and fresh and sophisticated. Maybe that’s because Apfelbaum’s abstraction always seem to be so much about reality – in this case, about cooking and tiling and decorating decisions – that it has the depth and complexity of representation. Show us the world, and we’ll burrow into it.
The Daily Pic: Takashi Murakami's art talks about consumer culture – but the board of L.A. MoCA espouses it
I’ve argued that Takashi Murakami’s “consumerist” art – shown here in a recent exhibition in Qatar – actually gives a brutal, vampiric depiction of modern consumerism. I only bring this up because Paul Schimmel, the chief curator recently fired from L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art, has taken flak for the Murakami show he mounted in 2007, complete with its Murakami-designed Louis Vuitton store. As I argue in today’s Daily Beast, to see support for a culture of money and sales it’s better to look at the board that fired Schimmel. (© Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. Photo by Guillaume Ziccarelli)
The Daily Pic: Edouard Vuillard shows how reflection looks.
Even though it dates from just before he hit his stride, this 1889 self-portrait by Edouard Vuillard, in his current mini-survey at the Jewish Museum in New York, shows the great post-Impressionist achieving a lot.
Most of the time, when artists paint themselves, they show how they might appear to someone else looking at them. Their self-portraits very rarely depict what’s actually before them as they paint: Namely, a mirror with their selves reflected in it. Vuillard, however, following the Impressionist dictum to “just paint what light reveals to you”, takes pains to depict the mirror itself as a reflective surface. He doubles the decanter that he’s put in front of it and also captures the mirror’s softening flaws, so that the “real” decanter is crisper than the reflected one. If anything, he has probably exaggerated those flaws, just to make clear that they’re there.
Thinking in terms of photographic realism – or even working from a photo, as Vuillard is known to have done – he’s also taken the unnatural step of putting his companion, who is further from the mirror’s surface, into softer focus than he is. (That’s an effect you only get with glass lenses; human sight doesn’t produce it.)
The Daily Pic: Jeff Brouws documents railroads that aren't
Jeff Brouws takes photos of abandoned railroad rights-of-way. The “train-track” perspective that still lurks in his pictures is the last trace of technology’s encounter with nature. His photos are haunted by the trains that no longer cross them. One way or another, such haunting is the central subject of “The Permanent Way”, a show at the New York non-profit gallery called Apexart. In honor of the 150th anniversary of the law that paved the way (almost literally) for the first transcontinental railroad, Brian Shollis, a brilliant young scholar now transitioning from art into history, has put together a small survey of railroad-themed images. It includes vintage train maps, old railroad postcards and contemporary art about trains and their riders. No matter how commonplace trains became, I don’t think we ever grew completely blase about them. As they disappear, we may become less neglectful than ever.
The Daily Pic: The sculptors of Mono-ha pushed matter to its limits
Two cryptic, potent objects from a show called “Requiem for the Sun: The Art of Mono-ha,” a collaboration between Gladstone Gallery in New York (where it is now on view) and Blum & Poe in Los Angeles. The piece on the left is titled “Phase-Sponge” and was conceived in 1968 by Nobuo Sekine, while the one on the right, from a year later, is called “Cut-off (hang)” and is by Katsuro Yoshida. (Both pieces at Gladstone are recent remakes, which is just fine by me.) These two artists were part of the radical Japanese movement called “Mono-ha” (“The School of Things”) dedicated to giving new power to simple materials and invisible forces, much as the Italian Arte Poverists were doing around the same time. Sekine’s piece, which is just (and unbelievably) a huge sponge holding up a massive steel plate, captures compression about as purely as anything could. Yoshida’s hanging piece does the same for tension. And it’s easy to read both as symbols of human predicaments.
The Daily Pic: Mason Williams invites us into his coach-size picture
There’s something magic about pictures that are the same size as the things they portray – especially when those things are very large, as in the case of the Greyhound bus portrayed by Mason Williams in 1967. (He worked for the Smothers Brothers and wrote the muzak-ready piece called “Classical Gas”.) It’s a massive, multipanel silkscreen print, and it’s in the summer group show called “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird”, curated by Bellatrix Hubert at David Zwirner gallery in New York. It doesn’t matter that the work is more stylish than photographic. The very fact of depicting at one-to-one carries special representational weight. You want to climb onto this image. (You could also carry it on-board: The image was published in an edition of 200, and came folded up in a book-size box.)
The Daily Pic: Manhattan's famous street grid made the city map-flat
It turns out that getting New York streets to follow their gridded plan wasn’t only about drawing lines on a map and paying road crews to respect them. When the plan was implemented, in the early 1800s, it involved leveling the city’s landscape so the grid could be imposed. That’s one of many insights revealed in “The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011”, a fascinating show now at the Museum of the City of New York. This detail from a view up Second Avenue from 42nd Street, drawn in 1861 by Egbert L. Viele, shows how high street-level was before property owners were made to flatten their lots. (Hundreds of houses were actually lifted from their foundations and shipped to new sites.)
The Daily Pic: Art doesn't get better than Montreal bagels, now baked in Brooklyn
One of the great aesthetic moments: Bagels – Montreal bagels – coming out of a wood-fired oven. (As they must to be Montreal bagels.) I don’t believe in fixed artistic truths, except for the obvious and necessary truth, no discussion allowed, that Montreal bagels are orders of magnitude better than the rolls-with-holes that New Yorkers are stuck eating. Now, however, a bakery in Brooklyn Heights called B&B Empire is offering the real thing to bagel-deprived locals. It seems the founders were on a visit to Quebec when they discovered the glories of Montreal’s version, and decided to duplicate it. The facsimile isn’t exact. B&B bagels are a touch too fluffy, which means they don’t offer quite enough chew. But they come surprisingly close to nirvana.
The Daily Pic: Matthew Brandt gets dead bees to depict themselves
This is a photograph – yes, a photograph – of a bee, composed entirely from the crumbled parts of dead bees, apparently victims of “colony collapse disorder”. For the portfolio of insect pictures in his show at Yossi Milo gallery in New York, the young L.A. artist Matthew Brandt uses a vintage technology called gum-bichromate, in which the photographic print is created when light from an enlarger hardens a resin (instead of causing a chemical change in a silver emulsion, as in most analog photos). Brandt simply mixes bee bits into his “gum”, so that wherever it hardens the insect parts remain trapped, thus forming the “blacks” in his printed image. (The unhardened gum, with its unexposed bee bodies, gets rinsed away.) There’s a lovely circularity in this work, as though the bees were determined to leave a record of their passing. Some medieval icons were described as “not made by human hands” (acheiropoieta, in Greek) because the image of Christ was transferred direct from his body to their surfaces. (The most famous ones are the Mandylion of Edessa, the Veronica and the Shroud of Turin.) The bees’ self-made images seem to descend from those ones.
The Daily Pic: The famous drummer's art is so trite, it's cutting edge
Yes, today's Daily Pic may not seem worth picking. It's a crude, banal face casually tossed off on a computer by Ringo Starr, and on view now in the Beatle's second show at Pop International gallery in New York. But, as I argued in yesterday's Daily Beast, its very triviality could make it matter as art. Ringo sells such works to benefit his Lotus Foundation, which funds good deeds around the globe. So Ringo's "art" may not be in the actual objects he makes; it may lie in how easily they sell, and how cannily they take advantage of his stardom to make a difference in the world. If that's right, he's got a full-blown "social practice", and so counts as cutting edge.