The Daily Pic: Anri Sala skews time at Documenta
Here we are at Documenta, the world’s greatest art show, and everyone spends their time dissing Kassel, the small German town that makes it happen. I’ve committed the same cliche, as recently as in my Newsweek preview of this year’s event. But now that I’ve seen some of this 13th edition, it turns out the art would be different, and worse, if not for the city it’s in. A big chunk of Documenta’s works have been made just for siting in Kassel's lovely 18th century Karlsaue park, as nice a greenspace as any city could boast. Today’s Daily Pic is one of those works, by the Albanian artist Anri Sala, best known for fairly straight videos about his homeland. For the Aue park, he’s made a huge public clock with a wildly skewed face, as if shown from far off to one side. The whole park was designed to play similar games with perspective: It has grand avenues that veer off at angles that confuse our sense of depth. Sala simply makes those games more obvious, and a bit surreal. (Dali, eat your heart out.) One nice, anti-surreal detail from Sala: Thanks to skewed gears in its innards, his off-kilter clock tells perfect time.
The Daily Pic: The world's greatest art show starts with a gulp
Documenta, the world's most important art show – it comes twice a decade – had its media launch today in Kassel, Germany. At the press conference, there were hints of something we weren't expecting: Its artistic director, the American-born Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, came off as rather an artist herself. That started with the subject of today's Daily Pic: A bottle of apple juice offered to the press free of charge, inscribed with her name as its creator and with an allegorical label by the American artist Jimmie Durham. It was good juice: naturally cloudy and not terribly sweet, but substantial and with just enough tang – not a bad description of this 13th Documenta, as it is turning out so far.
The bigger surprise was that some observers left convinced that Christov-Bakargiev's press presentation was itself designed as a work of performance art. She started what she called her "lecture" with a fat sheaf of papers in front of her, from which she proceeded to read.
The Daily Pic: Documenta's coming, and hopes are high
This piece by dance pioneer Trisha Brown was one of the few strong moments in the last Documenta art festival, in Kassel, Germany in 2007 – the 12th edition of the world’s most important art show. The 13th Documenta previews over coming days, and I’m pretty optimistic. I spoke to its director, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, for last week’s Newsweek, and she had some interesting thoughts on the coming end of fine art, as a specialized pursuit, and its absorption back into the society at large. Also, since that interview, a long list of the show’s artists has leaked. Among the names I know there’s hardly a dud. Better yet, there are tons of names I don’t know. The show sprawls across more than 50 venues, and I can’t wait to get on a bike and take them in – and feature some as my Daily Pic.
The Daily Pic: Some painters probe Gerhard Richter's godhead
Gerhard Richter may really be the most important painter working today – but he still can’t be the infallible god that the art world, and especially the art market, likes its heroes to be. A show called “Richteriana,” at Postmasters gallery in New York, subjects his divinity to some modest doubt. Where Richter took moments in the news and gave them a genteel blur, Fabian Marcaccio goes for gross-out goop instead. Today's Daily Pic is based on a photo of a paramilitary group in Michigan, and suggests that a lot of historical reality is fully grotesque, and that Richter’s soft poignancy goes too easy on it.
Other pieces in the exhibition take on Richter as the god of abstraction. David Diao, for instance, shows how the German’s abstract canvases were rooted in a moment in 1970s painting that involved lots of other artists – including Diao himself, who presents one of his own early, Richter-ish works. Once upon a time, Richter’s abstractions, made by a process of mechanical smears, were seen as a send-up of heroic brush-wielders. It’s ironic that now he’s the hero who demands sending up.
The Daily Pic: Lucio Fontana goes out on a limb
I don’t expect artists to get everything right. In fact, when they do, it makes me doubt their courage. Here’s a weirdly incoherent, ornamental Lucio Fontana from the Gagosian survey of his work that I’ve been Daily Pic-ing all week. I suppose it gets more or less everything wrong (although it could work as a costume study for the Green Lantern’s smack down with Wolverine.) But its wrongness gives me a weird thrill, given the company it keeps with so many successful experiments.
The Daily Pic: Lucio Fontana cross-bred the movements of the 60s
You can tell that Lucio Fontana – subject of all of this week’s Daily Pics – was a genius, because some of his images can’t have made sense in his day. This 1965 work, from the current survey at Gagosian in New York, is called “Concetto spaziale, Teatrino”. The reason I can’t imagine it making sense in the 1960s is because its cryptic, wonky mix of representation and abstraction would have looked good in the 80s, or 90s – or even now. (I see shades of Elizabeth Murray and Carrol Dunham and much younger goofball painters.) In its day, this piece must simply have seemed noncommital, or wrong-headed – or a weird attempt at melding Pop and Color Field.
The Daily Pic: Lucio Fontana doesn't always slice-up the same.
Lucio Fontana’s trademark gesture of slicing through his canvas seems just that – a gesture, and one that ought not to depend on particulars. But the Gagosian survey I’ve been Daily Pic-ing all week makes clear how much Fontana’s slashes do vary with the specifics. The 1960 pink canvas shown here, called “Concetto spaziale, Attese,” seems too fancy-dress for its slashing to be taken seriously. The piece feels insincere. Whereas “Concetto spaziale, Atteste,” the 1966 one that was painted crimson – color of strife and energy and not-quite-blood – seems to have always been waiting for Fontana’s knife.
The Daily Pic: Lucio Fontana pioneered neon art.
Forget the specifics of how Lucio Fontana executed his signature gesture of slicing through his art’s surfaces. Sometimes, he didn’t—as in this reconstructed neon piece that fills the rafters above the Gagosian Fontana survey, which is the subject of this whole week’s Daily Pics. Fontana conceived the piece in 1951, about a decade before Dan Flavin and others started to see the potential in light as a medium. And it is as successful as anything that came after: the translation of drawing into space is an analogue, of sorts, to Fontana pulling painting into depth with his knife.
The Daily Pic: Lucio Fontana went beyond his famous incisions.
We tend to know one thing about Lucio Fontana, the pioneer of post-war Italian abstraction: He broke through the fetish of the pristine rectangular canvas, art's ideal neutral support, by slicing into it with a knife. A huge Fontana retrospective at Gagosian Gallery in New York – the subject of this whole week of Daily Pics – shows that there's much, much more we need to know. For instance, that the slicing wasn't always done with the razor-sharp, James Bond elegance we imagine. Today's Daily Pic, titled "Concetto Spaziale, New York 10," from 1962, has a Jack the Ripper visciousness. Fontana takes his knife to large sheets of resistant copper, and the result evokes can-openers more than scalpels. And by cutting into polished metal rather than canvas, Fontana's gesture seems to pull him back all the way to the gold grounds of medieval icons. His gesture is so bold it has a whiff of sacrilege, not just of art-world rebellion.
The Daily Pic: Cindy Sherman found herself while still in college.
Cindy Sherman hit her stride as an artist amazingly early. Her trademark self-portrait photos – including this hand-painted series where she mimics orgasm – had already started to appear while she was in her junior year in art at Buffalo State college. A new catalogue, published by Vienna's Verbund collection, presents everything Sherman made between 1975 and 1977, when she moved to New York and began work on her "Untitled Film Stills". (A slide show in the Daily Beast presents a selection of works from the book.) One issue I'm still not clear on: Just how much of Sherman's work depends on the influence of Suzy Lake, the pioneering Canadian feminist who was working with self-portrayal before Sherman was. Lake had published very Shermanesque work by early 1974, well before Sherman discovered herself as her subject. On the other hand, the new catalogue explains that the two didn't meet until Lake showed up to give a talk in Buffalo in October 1975, after Sherman's first self-portraits. Sherman has always acknowledged the contact, so maybe the whole issue of precedence is a dead letter. After all, it was Sherman who took the idea, and pushed it deep into our culture.
The Daily Pic: Frank Stella's abstraction married good looks and brains
L&M Arts, on New York's Upper East Side, is showing a stunning selection of Frank Stella's early, and massively influential, abstractions – including these copper-toned works. What impresses me most is how impossible it is to choose between reading Stella's paintings for their perceptual effects (how they explore the beauty of lines and shapes and surfaces) and their conceptual rigor (how they follow simple rules dictated by the shape and size of Stella's stretcher and brush). He's the art historical hinge between sensual abstract expressionism and brainy minimal art – tendencies that normally exclude each other.
The Daily Pic: In his new show, collector Adam Lindemann goes against the grain
We may be well past the turn of the century, but it still feels a fine moment for fin-de-siècle decadence—and so for the show called "A Rebours" that launches a new gallery called Venus Over Manhattan, on New York's Upper East Side. The show's title copies the name of the great decadent novel published by Joris-Karl Huysmans in 1884, in which a fading aristocrat, the Duc des Esseintes, explores the far shores of aesthetic pleasure. (His art collection includes a live tortoise covered in gems and a "flavor organ" on which he can play gustatory fugues.)
Adam Lindemann, the New York investor, author and collector who founded the new gallery, says that this first show is "broadly inspired" by Huysman's project, and by the "decadence of the current art world." The show is "a projection of the duke into the 21st century.... It suits my personality. I'm rather cynical and negative." (In the spirit of his show, at a preview he's speaking impeccable upper-class French: "Je veux un certain mystère .... Je voulais tout faire différemment.")
Two spiky candlesticks by the French artist César greet you as you come in, and help brighten a room otherwise lit only by spots. There's a bizarre, overheated piece of neurasthenic medievalism painted by Gustave Moreau around 1885, and a painting from 2000 by the Englishman Glenn Brown: it could easily pass for the decaying portrait in Oscar Wilde's "Dorian Gray".
The Daily Pic: A show of John Baldessari and his peers proves how current they seem
At Winkleman Gallery, the artist and former gallerist Barbara Broughel has organized a show called "Loughelton Revisited," which gathers together work that was shown (or could have been shown) at her own Loughelton Gallery, once a highlight of the now-defunct East Village art scene. The works are from the 1980s, and include pieces by a number of now-famous names, including Richard Prince (under the pseudonym John Dogg), Polly Apfelbaum and John Baldessari – whose "Studio," from 1988, is today's Daily Pic. The strange thing about that piece, like nearly every object in the show, is that it looks like it could have been made yesterday – which argues either for Broughel's farsighted vision as a dealer, or for the stagnation of artmaking today.
Maybe my favorite work in the show is Gary Bachman's (unphotogenic) "One Pound Prop", from 1986. It is a little house-of-cards cube whose four sides are lead plates, three inches by three, that each weigh one quarter pound. And of course the whole thing's a knock-off and take-down of Richard Serra's macho "One Ton Prop," which was the same piece, made the same year, only chest-high and 2,000 times heavier. And here's a nice detail: Bachman's object exists in an edition of 2,000, so the total heft of his work matches Serra's.
The Daily Pic: New work by Anish Kapoor permits itself some mess
Over the last few decades, the British sculptor Anish Kapoor has made some of the most elegant, impressive sculpture there is: stones pierced with dabs of pure pigment; polished steel parabolas and "beans". That elegance made some of us worry that his work was verging on slick. A new show at Gladstone Gallery in New York defeats such suspicions. The 24th street space is full of sloppy towers of concrete gloop – like the fossilized remnants of dinosaur diarrhea. The art's still impressive and appealing, but it's too strange to seem slick.
The Daily Pic: There's great art at the Barnes Foundation – and then there's Cézanne
If one thing comes clear from looking at the Barnes Foundation's great collection of post-impressionist and early modernist art, which goes on view tomorrow in a new building in downtown Philadelphia – and which I reviewed in today's Daily Beast – it's that Paul Cézanne is its inescapable force. Picasso's a genius, Matisse is great and Renoir has fabulous moments (if not in the mass of pink nudes at the Barnes). But Cézanne has a complexity that none of them match. And what's most remarkable about his pictures is that, for all their fathomless depths, they don't seem to need explaining: People of all stripes, with and without an art education, seem to be stopped cold by his work. (As I remember being, as a kid, coming across his apples for the first time.) Cézanne's canvases put flesh on the otherwise abstract notion of a pure visual intelligence.
By that I don't mean, as Barnes did, that Cézannes are about smartly configured shapes and compositions and colors; they are equally about the worlds they reveal, whether social or material or mythic. It's just that their aboutness can't be translated into non-visual terms. As I've argued before, even the best verbal account of Cézanne's paintings – and especially his own words – will fall far short of the works' visual reality. It's still a phenomenon I just can't explain. Maybe I should try painting it.