The Daily Pic: Sheila Hicks tells a great yarn.
I'm just old enough to remember a brief-ish moment in the seventies when weavings, of one kind or another, seemed to be taking their place as serious contemporary art – and a lot of that was thanks to an art-trained weaver and sculptor named Sheila Hicks. She's now getting her first show at the "serious" Sikkema Jenkins gallery in Chelsea, and it seems to signal a moment where the art world is ready to turn back to "craft" such as hers. Her giant hangings and textiles are fabulous things, but I'm particularly fond of her "Minimes", such as the two shown here. Hicks travels with a tiny loom, the way other artists carry a sketchbook or point-and-shoot camera. The "Minimes" are her drawings, and have all the freshness and variety of casual jottings.
The Daily Pic: August Sander cataloged his nation – to show it couldn't be done.
August Sander's photographic "inventory" of the German people in the first half of the last century is endlessly fascinating – as it proved, yet again, in a selection I saw at Edwynn Houk in New York. As I've written before, what interests me about the project isn't its initial premise, but its obvious impossibility and guaranteed failure – a failure that must have been perfectly evident to Sander, as a sophisticated member of the lefty German art scene. An inventory of a people only reveals that a people cannot be inventoried. The whole thing can be read as a repudiation of the idea of national identity, rather than a sober exploration of it.
The Daily Pic: Rothko's $87 million picture – perfect for over a billionaire's sofa?
Last night at Christie's in New York, this painting by Mark Rothko – "Orange, Red, Yellow", from 1961 – sold for $86,882,500, the auction record for an artwork made after the Second World War. As with last week's auction-record sale of Edvard Munch's "Scream", for $119.9 million, the price may have less to do with the work's earth-shaking importance or quality than with how easy it is to take in. If there's one thing to say about almost any Rothko, it's that it looks fine – and this one looks finer than most.
I'm not claiming that Rothko made over-the-sofa pictures, but "Orange, Red, Yellow" sure would go great with a couch. Whereas I'd like to imagine that the very, very greatest works of modern art – the ones that set the art-historical records, as it were – are so challenging, they might give a billionaire pause before bidding. Maybe the true gems in most sales are the works that fetch less than they ought to.
The Daily Pic: The films of Tacita Dean dig deep into her subjects.
Last year, I listed Tacita Dean as one of the 10 most important artists working today. Had I ranked my choices, she would have stood toward the top. Her contemplative films (never videos) unpack the world the way Cezanne and Chardin do. On Sunday, the New Museum in New York opened a show of her cinematic portraits, in which she takes lingering looks at Claes Oldenburg, Cy Twombly, Julie Mehretu and (at especially great length) the choreographer Merce Cunningham. I talked to Dean about these works in Monday's Daily Beast, and you can click on the still on this page for footage that gives a tiny taste of the Cunningham piece. (It's literally 1/100th of the total.)
The Daily Pic: At MoMA PS1, the actor doesn't convince as an artist.
For the last couple of years, I've been looking at the mediocre art of the actor James Franco, and thinking there might be an element of brilliance in it. He provides such a generic, superficial version of contemporary art that it's like what a genius set decorator might supply for a Hollywood movie about the Chelsea scene. Could it be that Franco's entire art career has in fact been about him giving a brilliant theatrical performance as a generic contemporary artist – sort of like the one he played so well on General Hospital?
Franco's appearance last night for a 20-minute book talk at PS1, the MoMA affiliate, made me have significant doubts. Klaus Biesenbach, PS1's director, lobbed softball questions that, as he himself admitted, are what you toss out when you can't think of anything else: What Web sites do you visit? What did you do after school when you were 14? And Franco struck out on every one, yielding zero insight into why he makes art, or why we should care. He came across as what he may just be: A self-regarding Hollywood starlet who thinks that a career as an artist, however part-time, will somehow yield cultural status. When the audience started tossing out some tougher questions, Franco beat a panicked retreat.
The Daily Pic: At art's cattle market, Joel Kyack provides simple pleasure.
My favorite piece at the first New York edition of London’s Frieze art fair, which previewed yesterday in a gargantuan tent on Randall’s Island, was this simple amusement-park booth out by the entrance. An artist named Joel Kyack had built the thing on a trailer, in classic state-fair style, and was giving passersby a choice between a free game of ring-toss (onto the funnel of a toy ship floating in a tub) and of roll-the-ball (up a ramp and into a hole barely big enough to let it in). It was good, clean, simple fun, with not a cent at stake or any grand ambitions possible, and was sure to remind all comers of the modest pleasures of doing something trivial, just for the sake of doing it, that we all had as kids.
And then you headed into Frieze.
The thing about fairs that almost no one outside the art world recognizes is that you’ll almost never find an insider who actually gets pleasure from the damn things – I couldn’t find a single unabashed enthusiast among the dozens of acquaintances I ran into, whether artist, writer, dealer or collector. As one dealer put it, “The only thing that’s good about [Frieze] is that the light is even.” He counts other fairs, where it isn’t, as even worse.
The Daily Pic: Jules Schmalzigaug doesn't suffer from overexposure
The problem with staring at an old chestnut like "The Scream" – since last night, the auction world's record holder – is that it takes too much work to think or feel anything fresh. (I wrote about my final encounter with the Munch in today's Daily Beast.) That's why, at the same Sotheby's preview where "The Scream" was on view, I got way more pleasure from doping out this utterly obscure abstraction painted in 1914 by the absolutely unknown Belgian futurist named Jules Schmalzigaug. He seems to have been in almost on the ground floor of modernism, but somehow he fell through its cracks. Schmalzigaug committed suicide in 1917, when he was only 34, but instead of that tabloid death launching him to fame, it cast him into oblivion. One more thing: Schmalzigaug's piece is on sale in today's afternoon sale, with a high estimate of only $350,000, so there's still a chance to nab it before his stock rises. (And I'm not even asking for a cut.)
The Daily Pic: Marc Ganzglass finds a readymade in the past
Last night, at the opening of a group show at Hauser & Wirth gallery on New York's Upper East Side, I came across something I rarely see: A successful new riff on Duchamp. A young Brooklyn artist named Marc Ganzglass was showing a recent piece called "Turenne Railing". It counts as a readymade, of sorts, because like Duchamp's famous urinal it transplants a functional object into the art world. In this case, however, Ganzglass took a 17th-century forged-iron railing he'd photographed in Paris, and remade it himself, by hand, to include in this show. (Ganzglass is 39 and relatively slight, and doesn't look like the trained blacksmith he is. He's also way smarter and more verbal than your comic-strip hammer-head.) I think of this piece as a new Duchampian sub-species you might call a "hand-made readymade". Instead of being about inserting the industrial into the old-fashioned world of hand-crafted art, it inserts old-fashioned craft and hard labor into today's industrialized art scene. But then, in talking with Ganzglass (and talking, and talking) I realized that Duchamp was sometimes up to something similar, as when he had his own urinal hand-copied in the sixties. Duchamp's work is never the one-liner it's made out to be, and Ganzglass adds new lines of his own.
Matthew Day Jackson, the talented young artist who curated the show, says in his statement that art has to be "destroyed and rebuilt without referring to an operating manual." I'm not sure that's right. I think that, like Ganzglass, you mostly rewrite the same one.
The Daily Pic: Gilbert and George make art from endangered newspaper headlines.
At their best, the great London art duo Gilbert and George have a note of poignancy in their work – very notable in early pieces from the 1960s, less so as they've become superstars. That note is back again, in complicated ways, in a giant new series of works called the London Pictures, filling both of Lehmann Maupin's New York spaces, as well as all Sonnabend Gallery. The premise behind the project is simple: Over the last six years or so, G&G have collected 3,712 daily posters from British newspaper boxes, and have now organized them in grids according to the words they contain. Thirty-five headlines including the word "Police" might appear in frames on one wall; fifteen "Stabbed To Deaths" might be on another. The poignancy? It doesn't just lie in the banal violence of the urban subject matter. It's also in the fact that the entire genre of headlines the duo have captured is sure to disappear, one of these decades. Google demands headlines that are more informative than grabby.
For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.
The Daily Pic: David Shrigley's billboard says what we can't.
In the latest billboard project at the High Line park in New York, British artist David Shrigley gets at how many of us feel, most of the time, and acts as though it's something we can share with others. Shrigley always walks a fine line between the smart and the twee, but stays on the right side when he goes grim. I've been going by this billboard almost daily for the best part of a month, and it still makes me laugh, and groan. Too bad there's no Prozac cart on the High Line.
The Daily Pic: The Garage art center in Moscow has plans for a Soviet fragment
In the 1960s, architects learned to use concrete like no one since the Romans. And all around the world, their concrete creations have been allowed to rot – as per this image of the once-lovely and popular "Seasons of the Year" restaurant in Gorky Park in Moscow. Yet that 1968 structure is now set to have a future as well as a past. Today in Moscow, Dasha Zhukova, founder of the city's famous Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, is announcing detailed plans for the renovation of the old park pavillion, under the guiding hand of Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and his Office for Metropolitan Architecture. Until recently, Garage occupied a 1926 building on Moscow's outskirts designed by the Constructivist architect Konstantin Melnikov, but in 2013 it will be moving to its renovated home downtown in Gorky Park. (The park also happens to have been planned by Melnikov.) Koolhaas says that he will be keeping much of what's left of the Soviet building – especially its late-modernist tiles, mosaics and brickwork, with what he calls their "collective aura" – but he will also be making it fit for 21st-century use. A new facade will be made from translucent plastic panels, with sliding sections that will let the park seem to enter the center. The building's interior will be divided between spaces for traditional artistic media, on the second floor, and more wide-open areas at ground level that will host performances and videos and such.
It's one thing for Americans to renew buildings from the 1960s, heyday of our Dream. In Moscow, it will be interesting to see whether locals respond to this building's rebirth with nostalgia for the communist past it represents, with contempt for its failures, or with hope for a future that surpercedes it. Will the new Garage in Gorky Park help preserve memories, or lay them to rest?
The Daily Pic: André Liohn wins the Capa Gold Medal for his Libyan photos.
It's that fire-orange light in the doorway at right, and the overcast blue glow outside, that make this photograph stand out. If André Liohn had taken it at any other moment, in any other light, it would be just another banal image of war. That it is not just another shot has now been confirmed, since it just helped Liohn win the Robert Capa Gold Medal of the Overseas Press Club of America. (The award ceremony is on April 25.) The photo ran in the May 9, 2011, issue of Newsweek's international edition, and is from a portfolio titled "Almost Dawn in Libya," made up of striking images shot by Liohn in the besieged city of Misrata before the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. The OPC's medal-givers called the series "a first rate example of close quarters combat photography obtained at great personal risk." But for me, what matters in this particular image is the very special, very classical beauty of the light in the picture as a whole – and the fact that the fighters in it could never have acknowledged that there was anything but horror around them. The photo's blues and oranges seem to echo some of the greatest Islamic ceramics. (Their famous blue glaze, at least, is right there in the tiling of the fountain in the shot.) And the siege of Misrata represents an attack on everything such cultural treasures stand for.
The Daily Pic: Iran do Espirito Santo sculpts ceiling fixtures with heft
They look as banal as could be: A shelf full of old lighting globes made from white glass, some left with smudges of dirt. Readymades, redux. But Iran do Espirito Santo, the fine Brazilian conceptualist now showing at Sean Kelly Gallery in New York, could never be as straightforward as that – and he isn’t. His banal “fixtures” are deluxe facsimiles of the real things, turned in Italy from solid white marble. They have a glorious crystalline glow, and their “smudges” are the veining you’d see on the finest Renaissance busts. The artist has replaced the trivial, the ephemeral, the breakable, with something precious and massy that’s made to last.
The Daily Pic: Adolph Gottlieb's abstraction isn't afraid to smile
Daily Pic: Vintage paintings by Adolph Gottlieb, in a show at Pace Gallery in New York, are unfailingly appealing and attractive and covet-able. They are also very often funny. It’s hard to imagine chuckling at works by other Abstract Expressionists such as Mark Rothko or Jackson Pollock, let alone Clyfford Still. (Those last two would have decked you for laughing; Rothko might have burst into tears.) But a broad smile, at very least, seems the right reaction to many Gottliebs, since his abstractions are so often so anthropomorphic, and the anthropos in them seems cheerful. Barnett Newman’s abstraction showed us ourselves as fine, upstanding and stiff – as men heroic and sublime, in the words of his most famous title. In this 1962 painting, called “Ochre and Black,” Gottlieb shows us pulling a face.
The Daily Pic: The Italian artist Afro made paintings with appeal.
I have this thing for art that sits squarely in the middle of an era and style, and does what it’s doing with grace. It may not move anything forward, but it’s what keeps artmaking humming. This 1954 painting by the Italian artist Afro Basaldella, titled “Boy with the Bull”, has that comfortable status for me – my pictorial equivalent of steak-and-potatoes. Afro (as he preferred to be known) had only recently left cubism behind, and a trip to the States left him under the sway of Arshile Gorky and the Abstract Expressionists. He turned their innovations into a really efficient recipe for providing visual pleasure. This painting is in a show at Haunch of Venison gallery in New York, alongside daring abstractions by Alberto Burri and the truly radical slashed canvases of Lucio Fontana. Afro doesn’t quite measure up, but that’s what makes his art so directly appealing.