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.
The Daily Pic: Neil Goldberg shoots riders awaiting their subways – and makes them seem poets
Neil Goldberg works magic in “Wind Tunnel”, a recent video from his solo show called “Stories the City Tells Itself” at the Museum of the City of New York: He makes the dreary, quotidian world of a New York subway platform come off as dreamy and poignant. The video’s premise is simple: Goldberg asked people at the Bedford Avenue stop, in Brooklyn, to stand still and be taped as their train approached the station. Projected in slow motion, however, and without sound, these wind-blown moments seem tinged with nobility and pathos. A subway rider in a tunnel comes to seem a poet on a peak.
The Daily Pic: Josiah McElheny makes spacey art that captures the cosmos
This sculpture, titled “Island Universe”, is by the contemporary glass artist Josiah McElheny, from the survey that launched Friday at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston – and that I featured in a Daily Beast Web gallery. “Island”, as I’ve since realized, has an eerie resemblance to the spacey, space-age works that sculptor Richard Lippold made during the Cold War. Once well known as at least semi-serious art, Lippold’s works now come across as period decor, where they survive at the Air and Space Museum in Washington and the Four Seasons restaurant and Lincoln Center in New York. If McElheny didn’t have Lippold in mind, he was clearly thinking about Sputnik-inspired decorative arts of the same period. But rather than indulge in ironic nostalgia, McElheny gives us a sober update on space-race design: Unlike the period pieces, the shapes and sizes of his work translate actual cosmological findings.
The Daily Pic: The world's great fantasist zeroes-in on reality
It seems a stretch to think of Jeff Koons as a realist, as he suggested in a recent chat, but it makes a kind of sense. (Read my full account of our conversation on The Daily Beast.) Koons is all about presenting new perspectives on the pop culture we live in. And that means he’s got to depict that culture with perfect verisimilitude – as in this pig sculpture, titled “Ushering in Banality” and now on view in a Koons survey at the Beyeler museum in Basel. Koons had it made by the kitschmeister carvers of Germany, to make sure it was a completely accurate, credible depiction of a certain cheesy corner of our world.
The Daily Pic: Domenico Gnoli had a comic take on Italian home life
I think of Domenico Gnoli as the anti-Morandi. Gnoli, an Italian artist who died in 1970, when he was only 36, depicts the faintly comic reality of petit-bourgeois life in post-war Italy. There’s more than a hint of Fellini in these two paintings of embodied clothes, on view in a rare Gnoli show at Luxembourg and Dayan in New York. Whereas Giorgio Morandi, as I’ve argued before, seems to deny that side of his life – thus revealing it even more fully as a faintly oppressive force.
In his new video, William Lamson walks on water – but it's a struggle
Jesus did it, so why not William Lamson? In his latest video projection at Pierogi gallery in Brooklyn, Lamson first shows himself walking on water. Or, if not walking, at least standing still on the surface and drifting along on a broad stretch of the peaceable Delaware River, with only birdsong for company. Then, with a brutal edit, the scene switches to Lamson splashing around in the current, struggling to climb atop the hidden platform that will keep him afloat. The shots alternate like this across the whole 14-minute piece, ping-ponging us from the raucous to the sublime and back. It’s a lovely metaphor for (almost an illustration of) the noisy struggle that’s involved in achieving any state of stasis and balance, in life or in art.
The Daily Pic: Aaron Curry looks back at vintage art, and makes something of it
In a room-filling installation called “Buzz Kill,” at Michael Werner Gallery on New York’s Upper East Side, Aaron Curry has cross-bred the vintage styles of Alexander Calder and Isamu Noguchi. I’m not usually a fan of all the Mad Men retrospecting that’s going on in our culture these days, but in Curry’s hands it has a mild lunacy that I respect. Somehow, it feels as though he does to the art of the past what Jeff Koons does to toys and pornography – that is, misunderstand the principles behind what’s been borrowed, and so make it new.
The Daily Pic: Paul Sietsema depicts the things he uses to depict.
At the Art Basel fair that closed yesterday, there was so much work on view that only the splashiest of it, able to be taken in at a glance, had any chance of making an impact. The one-person show of American artist Paul Sietsema, at Basel’s Kunsthalle, was a wonderful antidote to that art-fair condition. Sietsema’s work is tremendously subtle and complex, and demands the closest of close looking. The two paintings in today’s Daily Pic, for instance, are each paintings made with the stuff they depict. The “hammer” picture, called “Painting for Assembly,” is painted on the back of a vintage oil painting, whose canvas was removed with the help of the hammer and chisel depicted in the painting – which we see immersed in the same paint that the artist actually went on to use to depict them on that canvas. The other picture, titled “Chinese Philosophy Painting”, shows two paint-pots casually “spilled”, and they too were depicted using the very paint they contain. In an age where most images lead immaterial lives, Sietsema told me that he’s keen on doubling down on paintings as material things that have to get made – using hammers and nails and pots of paint.
The Daily Pic: At the Basel art fair, Runa Islam shows us our vanishing pasts
“Emergence”, Runa Islam’s film installation in the Art Unlimited section of the Basel art fair, is big, bright – and more subtle than you expect at a fair. (It was at MoMA in 2011.) A huge 35mm film projector, click-clacking in our midst, shines a red rectangle onto a screen. At first it seems blank, but soon a faint image starts to appear in the scarlet, and then comes clear: Wild dogs are eating the corpse of a horse, on an empty square in front of some kind of archaic public building. The image continues to sharpen and gain detail, and a bubble drifts across its surface, revealing the installation’s premise: We are looking at a black-and-white print submerged in a developing tray in a darkroom, and all that red is cast by a safelight. We see that the original negative must have been a glass plate, because cracks run across its image; that plate seems to be of about the same vintage as the building it is revealing, so there’s a sense that we are watching a fractured past get recovered. And then we see it get lost again, because the image, so faint at first, gets continually darker, until it goes completely black.
Islam uses the archaic technology of projected film to document the archaic technology of the darkroom as it revives the archaic content of the glass-plate negative – and then loses it again. Reading Islam’s handout, we discover that all this is at the service of a lost moment of hope in the Middle East. Between 1905 and 1911, there was a constitutional revolution in Iran that ended mostly in failure, and Islam’s image shows us one grim moment from it. History has never seemed as fragile as in this work of art: Democracy is never guaranteed, and even recovering its traces turns out to be an unlikely and delicate business.
I never thought Googling the words "Blake Gopnik" and "Lindsay Lohan" could return any hits. Thanks, however, to a work the starlet is in at the Basel art fair (and to this little note about it), my Google dreams could come true. The artist Richard Phillips has done a six-minute video projection of this blond bombshell surfing, and suntanning, and then in flight on the beach at night. (Read the Phillips interview by my colleague Isabel Wilkinson.) The cynical take would be that the entire artwork is riding Lohan's fame, just because it can, and that once again a gorgeous young woman with problems is being exploited for her media value. All the cliches of starlet-in-trouble are there, from her looking soulfully off into the distance (when she isn't batting her eyes at the camera), to her finding solace in a solitary encounter with nature (solitary, except for the film crew, and the body-double doing her surfing), to her fleeing paparazzi, to the video's final moment, at night, where she's running from some nameless horror (one female viewer saw echoes of snuff films). And then all this gets underlined and italicized by a portentously romantic score. The entire video could pass as a high-end ad for perfume or beachwear.
On the other hand ... those commercial and cultural cliches are so overloaded, it seems safer to read the work as some kind of commentary on them. Lohan is so clearly Marilyn-ish in this piece, that there's a sense of her deliberately inhabiting the role of star-crossed blonde, so as to take control of it. And after Warhol, can any artist's encounter with a starlet be read as entirely straight? There's a sense that it's not only Lohan who is on display in Phillips's work; it's also us, in the audience, and our insane and inane fascination with her, and with the cliches she delivers.
The Daily Pic: At Art Basel, Philip-Lorca diCorcia presents a Polaroid life
On the first preview day of the Basel art fair, in Switzerland, VIPs (and press) got to take in the 1,000 polaroids that Philip-Lorca diCorcia is presenting in the fair’s Art Unlimited section, reserved for major installations. You don’t know what that number really means until you follow the row of shots snaking around – and around – the white walls of the space that dealer David Zwirner has snagged for them.
At first, I was worried that the project could read as a kind of fetishizing of a great and bestselling photographer – as though every image that came from his eye was a guaranteed masterpiece. (And, being Polaroids, each image is unique and so even closer to a sellable fetish object.) But then, spending longer with the pile, I realized what a bizarre accumulation of pictures it is, running from the great to the banal to the bad – from family snapshots of diCorcia’s childhood to his trademark street scenes to one image that looks like an ad for a butcher. The obvious comparison is to Gerhard Richter’s huge accumulation of found photos in his famous “Atlas,” but this turns out to be rather different: It isn’t so much about cataloging the world, as cataloging one life in imagemaking.
The Daily Pic: At Basel's design fair, Dutchman Richard Hutten smears carpet traditions
In the latest issue of Newsweek, and on the Daily Beast, I am presenting designers from six countries whose work impresses me for its brainy, non-Jetsons esthetic. Here's the thing, though: If I hadn't decided to spread my favors equally among nations, I could easily have gone with half a dozen – or several dozen – Dutch designers. This carpet, spotted at today's preview of the deluxe design fair held in Basel, Switzerland, is by Richard Hutten, who helped launched Holland's unique tradition of conceptual furnishings, almost two decades ago. Hutten's carpet – and it's a real one, hand-knotted in India and now on view in the Priveekollektie booth – starts out with a traditional pattern. At a certain point, however, it looks as though Hutten has taken a single row of "pixels" and smeared them out across all subsequent rows, in a kind of abstractionist's gesture. That "digital" gesture is a reminder that weavings are the ancestor of today's computer-treated images. It also recalls several major works by contemporary artists, proving that Hutten has more in common with them than with many of his peers in design.
The Daily Pic: Theaster Gates brings South Side savvy to Documenta
With just minutes left in my visit to the great Documenta art festival, in Kassel, Germany, I discovered my favorite work: an abandoned old house repurposed and reinhabited by Theaster Gates and a crew from Chicago, with help from locals. They furnished various bedrooms with stylish beds and tables and wardrobes, all made from found scrap. (It was some of the best design work I've seen --like Martino Gamper's deluxe DIY, only done out of necessity.) Other rooms were rehabbed as video lounges or performance spaces.
When I stopped by, Gates and some colleagues were performing classic free jazz – cello, doublebass, voices, guitars ... as well as paper ripped beside a mike. At first, I was annoyed at such obvious modernist cliches. And then I realized that this wasnt about producing great musical art. It was about the sociability that allowed the music to happen -- more like Risk played in a hippie-house than Ornette Coleman playing a gig.
Gates sees art as a genuine solution to problems. He won't let a neglected building, or silent space, get the better of him. One way or another, artmaking can be used to fill both.
For a visual survey of all past Daily Pics, go to blakegopnik.com/archive
The Daily Pic: At Documenta, Sam Durant remakes gallows
American artist Sam Durant has a hit. His "Scaffold" was one of the most important pieces in Documenta, the world's most important art show, held twice a decade in Kassel, Germany. (See my review, my video and a slide-show of works.) At one end of the main axis of the Karlsaue park, a great work of Enlightenment landscape design, Durant has installed a concatenation of famous gallows. His architectural mash-up includes a remake of the scaffold where Chicago's Haymarket Martyrs were executed in 1887 (for having the wrong ideas at the wrong time) and of another where Saddam Hussein met his end in Iraq. By morphing together a number of simple geometric structures, Durant has created a piece that could almost be an elegant modernist folly. And of course "folly" seems the right word, for a structure whose function has been rejected by the entire civilized world, aside from the United States. Looking at Durant's assemblage, you realize that a gallows must be the simplest building type there could be; a hut looks deluxe by comparison. And you also realize that it probably doesn't appear in any architectural textbooks. In Kassel, facing the grand Orangerie palace, Durant's bare-bones structure seems to bear witness to power gone wrong.