The Daily Pic: Mosaics went digital before circuit boards.
This image of Rudy Giuliani was done in glass mosaic by Nils Grossien, and is now in the show called “Playing with Fire” at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. It woke me up to a fact that I should have noticed long ago: Mosaic is the original digital medium. (My friends Alex Nagel and Chris Wood made good use of that fact in their great study of Renaissance ideas about time and the moment of creation.) Interesting, though, that Grossien made this piece in 1995, before most of us were thinking too much about the digital. Of course, using the digital and thinking about it are two different things: Not sure the mosaicists of Saint Mark’s in Venice were obsessed with bits and bytes.
The Daily Pic: Around 1920, Isidor Kaufmann sought to capture the look of his community.
“Friday Evening”, painted in around 1920 by the Jewish-Austrian artist Isidor Kaufmann, who specialized in genre scenes of life among the Jews of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It’s on view in a permanent-collection show at the Jewish Museum in New York. Producing images so deeply entrenched in the European pictorial tradition must have been part of this community’s profound attempt at assimilation, although here that’s in interesting tension with subject matter that tries to assert its separateness. Neither assimilation nor separation made any difference in the tragic decades that followed.
Daily Pic: The Japanese master plays fast and loose with optics and marketing.
A series of silk-scarves designed for Hermes by the great Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto, on view at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute. The premise of the project is that Sugimoto took Polaroid shots of the color bands dispersed from daylight by a huge prism reflected by a mirror onto a wall. He then got Hermes to devise a new process for jet-printing the images onto silk, as a kind of representation of natural color at its most pure.
But as with everything Sugimotesque, I think his trickster self is at work. After all, the gap between the original light and the final scarf gets bigger with each intermediary step, thanks to the distortions of prism and mirror and wall and film and scan and computer processing and digital printing with chemical inks onto a substrate of machine-woven silk. (Read Sugimoto’s artist’s statement to get a sense of his conceptual tergiversations.)
Many of Sugimoto’s series pretend to get at essences but are really about the failure to do so. His two-hour photos of movies being screened elide the films they pretend to reveal. His images of seas at night, with their near-arbitrary exposures, don’t really substitute for being there. His blurred building shots are about the misdirections of pseudo-technique (he claims to focus them at a meaningless “twice infinity”).
The Daily Pic: Affandi squeezed feeling straight from tubes of paint.
A 1984 self-portrait by the great Indonesian expressionist Affandi, who died in 1990. He painted by squeezing direct from the tube, and his art won all sorts of accolades in the ’50s – just the moment when you’d imagine it would. I have to admit that I didn’t know his work until I saw it this week in Zemack gallery’s booth at the Art Stage Singapore fair. I love the way almost every country in the world has its own modernist heroes, and how many different solutions they come up with for similar artistic problems. Who knew that angst had so many faces, or that thick paint had so much to say?
The Daily Pic: The Chinese superstar known for his grin takes a sober look at a book.
The Chinese artist Geng Jianyi became a star in the 1980s for giant, splashy paintings of his own grinning face, but he’s done plenty of more sober, conceptual work as well. At Shanghart Gallery’s new Singapore space, he’s showing a piece where he’s taken a battered old notebook and, in an extraordinary act of homage, has hand copied each and every one of its page in colored pencils, recording every bit of damage the paper has suffered. In a sense he’s remade a humble object, point for point, but in the key of art. Maybe this is Geng’s version of close reading.
The Daily Pic: Chun Kai Fen gives a nod to the projects where Singaporeans live.
“Totem” is by a very young Singaporean artist named Chun Kai Feng, now having his first solo show at Fost Gallery in Singapore. His apparent riff on tribal art is in fact an homage to the classically brutalist benches that are a fixture of Singapore’s government housing, where something like 75 per cent of the population live. Stacking them high also evokes Brancusi’s “Endless Column” but there’s also a quiet reference to the Pop work of Richard Artschwager: The concrete of Chun Kai Feng’s benches is in fact just a kind of Formica. Which means that the brutalist concrete of housing estates is finally on its way to revival as a desirable decorative touch.
The Daily Pic: At the Museum of Arts and Design, perfumes pan out.
Two women lean forward to get a whiff, literally, of the works in a show called “The Art of Scent, 1889-2012”, at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York – which turns out to be one of the most stimulating exhibitions in New York in recent times.
Back when I profiled its curator, Chandler Burr, I hinted at doubts I had about the models he was using to declare perfume art, and about his readings of his chosen art works. Now that the show is up, however, most of those doubts disappear. “The Art of Scent” really is a purist’s immersion in the language of perfume – no fancy bottles, no touting of luxury firms or their star clients, little to distract from the opportunity merely to sniff. And it proves that scent is an art form with its own unique rules and dynamics.
For one thing, there’s no such thing as a quick “glance” at a smell, the way there is with an image: It feels as though you’re either truly attending to it, or not. This means that you’re more tempted to return for more and renew the experience than with an image – maybe because the details of an aroma vanish so quickly from your mind and memory. Perhaps because most of us are so undertrained in scents, it feels like there’s a huge amount left to learn about them: The sheer difficulty of smell aesthetics make them that much more compelling. There’s a full language there, waiting to be mastered, and most of us don’t even know its ABCs. (I got a kick out of discovering the cotton-candy overtones in the perfume called “Angel” and the laundry-soap notes in “Drakkar Noir”.)
The Daily Pic: At NYU, the poet displays his shutter skills.
This photo of the writer Jack Kerouac was taken in New York in 1953 by his colleague and friend Allen Ginsberg, and it’s now in a show of Ginsberg photos that just opened at the Gray Art Gallery of NYU, where it’s on tour from the National Gallery of Art. The story around this and other early photos is that Ginsberg took them as snapshots and stowed them in a drawer until 1983, when he rediscovered, reprinted, published and sold them. What strikes me about the photos, however, is that a great many of them are far from casual shots: They show a deep acquaintance with all the stylish modern photography that preceded them. The Kerouac image, with its deliberate “error” of grafting a statue onto the poet’s head, would have been at home in the Bauhaus. This, you could say, was a specialty of Ginsberg and the other Beats: Taking the innovations of radical modernism and re-presenting them as impassioned outpourings direct from the soul. (This becomes obvious, and cloying, in the 1980s, when Ginsberg added faux-naif, nouveau-Beat scrawled captions at the bottom of his reprinted photos. His Kerouac portrait is shown here in its original, un-“improved” version.)
The Daily Pic: The Peruvian artist's slides stand in for his countrymen.
This is one image from a two-carousel slide installation by the Peruvian-born New Yorker Ishmael Randall Weeks, now on view in the new basement “lab” space at the Drawing Center in New York. Weeks has taken found slides and burned and distressed them in all sorts of ways. He has also, somehow, adapted the auto-focus mechanism on his vintage projectors so that they are constantly bringing his images into and out of sharpness – the first time I’ve seen auto-focus used to deliberate artistic effect. Weeks says that the installation is “a personalized narrative response to the politically and socially charged moment of 1970s–80s Peru—a period of war and extreme violence”, but that’s a bit hard for a viewer to get. It could be that, given the politically-inflected history of modern art in Latin America, any formal manipulation automatically reads as having more profound implications. Every attack on an image recalls attacks on people; a failed auto-focus speaks of the blurings of vision and memory.
The Daily Pic: It's 1492 – some Jews make glorious books, others have to flee persecution.
The Holkham Hebrew Bible, in a show of Jewish books and documents from the Bodleian Library in Oxford, now on view at the Jewish Museum in New York. The book was printed in Naples in 1491/2, by one Joshua Solomon Soncino. Not only is it gorgeous, but it’s poignant as well. The hand-colored decoration shows how fully its maker was immersed in, and appreciative of, the Christian culture of the Italian Renaissance. (Identical decoration was used on a chivalric romance.) Yet at this same time, Jews were being expelled in vast numbers from Spain and were confined to ghettos in Italy. The persecution and segregation made no cultural sense, but that didn’t stop it from happening.
The Daily Pic: Mark Tribe and Chelsea Knight compare choreography and assault strategies.
These are two stills from a video installation called “Posse Comitatus” by Mark Tribe and Chelsea Knight, on view since the weekend at Momenta Art in Bushwick. Momenta is participating in “Brooklyn/Montreal”, an exchange between galleries in the two cities, and this piece is part of the Brooklyn component. Tribe and Knight documented the activities of a survivalist paramilitary “club” in upstate New York, and also commissioned and taped a work of modern dance built around that footage. Videos of both are on view in the installation, where warfare and dance come off as surprisingly similar: They’re about rigor and training and craft, as well as the extreme artifice of rule-bound play. The guys tramping through snow in their camo are already involved in a dance, whether they know it or not. They might as well be in tutus.
The Daily Pic: The Spanish city's security gets seen through Canadian eyes.
Canadian artist Mike Swaney has filled one wall at Mulherin + Pollard, in New York, with these little collaged gouaches of burglar bars in Barcelona, where he now lives. I like how they take the rigorous grid of modernist art and put it back on the street. Also, because Swaney’s grills are cut out and stuck onto the windows behind them, there’s a sense that he’s put his mild-mannered subjects on lock-down. Pictures that look like casual jottings from life turn out to be complex constructions.
The Daily Pic: An Italian called Antico gave new heat to an old image.
A tabletop bronze of a boy pulling a thorn from his foot, made around 1500 by the Renaissance sculptor known as Antico. It’s one of those heartbreaking sights you come across by accident on any visit to any corner of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Of course, it’s not all Antico’s idea. He based it on a much larger Roman statue that had survived to his day. But what I particularly like about Antico’s version is the way it takes the cherished body type and patina of a Roman bronze and adds the blond hair prized in Antico’s day, thereby transforming an ancient masterpiece descended from an essentially foreign culture into a contemporary, lovable treasure. What Antico may not have known is that the Romans also fancied blonds (and blondes), even if their surviving bronzes don’t show it.
The Daily Pic: A light artist puts his ideas down on paper.
In 1982, James Turrell, the great artist of light and space, issued this editioned blueprint for one of his classic illuminated installations. What I love about this piece, now in a group show of prints at Woodward Gallery in New York, is that it so absolutely refuses to try to reproduce any of the sensations caused by the finished work it describes. Instead, it translates the causes of those sensations into the engineering conventions of text and script and drawn line. The only hint of classically Turrellian style is in the dark-sky color of the blueprint itself, a color we’d normally read right through, as an unmarked artifact of drafting technology. The whole piece makes clear that Turrell, even at the start of his career, had as good chops as a conceptual artist as he did as a perceptualist.
The Daily Pic: A Cold War pornographer addressed queer desire.
This is a collaged contact-sheet, of sorts, made in about 1959 by the American photographer Bob Mizer, who is a major figure from gay erotica's Silver Age, as I guess you could call it. A full spread (ahem) of his work is now in a show at Invisible-Exports gallery in New York. It's hard not to smile at the innocence his images now seem to have. There's also some poignancy in noting how hard it once was to express gay desire. (Mizer was the subject of frequent police harassment.) Also interesting: how different our reaction might be to equivalent imagery of naked women from the same era's straight world, whose nudie pictures might seem more fraught.