The Daily Pic: ... he would have had James Capper's tools as his hands.
At last week’s Armory Show art fair in New York, the London gallery Hannah Barry was presenting a series of working hydraulic sculptor's tools, custom-made in the studio of a twentysomething artist named James Capper. This one is called “Cropper”, and comes with the following “manufacturer’s description”: “Rough cutting and rapid fracturing of waste material. Hydraulic control for tooth up/down movement. Twin hydraulic cylinders giving 1.5 ton pressure on tooth end.” It was shown sitting on a big block of plaster, which it is designed to carve – although the gallery attendant agreed that it could also be used to cut into collectors, or even critics. Or maybe art fairs.
The Daily Pic: Why Piero della Francesca goes for the gold.
The Daily Pic’s last hit at Piero della Francesca is his little panel of Saint Apollonia, from the bottom register of his Saint Augustine Altarpiece, six of whose surviving panels are now on view at the Frick Collection in New York. (Because four of them belong to the Frick.)
Piero had a problem: How do you show a bunch of different figures, at different scales, when the rules of avant-garde art tell you that the ideal picture opens up a single, continuous space for your viewer to get lost in? Yesterday, we saw one of his answers: Turn some subsidiary scenes into embroidered panels on a cloak. Today, here’s another: Give other scenes you want to include golden backgrounds, so you can say they don’t make any claims to illusionism, and so don’t have to follow its rules. Not only that, but the golden backgrounds establish the pictures as belonging to an archaic (recent) past, when those rules didn’t even exist. They are icons, not illusions.
The Daily Pic: Piero della Francesca bets on embroidery.
Another image by Piero della Francesca, from his St. Augustine Altarpiece and now on view at the Frick Collection in New York. This time it’s the saint himself, looking suitably stern.
As will be obvious to anyone who has read my PhD dissertation – that would be my supervisor, three examiners (maybe), and my proofreading ex-wife – what interests me here are the little “embroidered” scenes on the edge of Augustine’s robe. Known to specialists as quadri riportati (“transferred pictures”) these scenes are “carried over” into the fictive decorative textiles in the picture, in order to keep intact the illusion of a single, continuous space that Piero creates in the rest of his altarpiece, and that flows between and around all its main panels.
Although Piero doesn’t want to lose the narrative, theological content of these scenes from the life of Christ, he couldn’t very well have them as views into their own, very separate little worlds, as an earlier painter would have done. And note the trouble he goes to to keep the scenes suitably interrupted by the shadows and folds of the cloak they are on, even at the risk of illegibility – illusionism trumps narrativity. (Although note also how much the subjects in question are about events that transpire in specific places – Mary’s “reading room”, Gethsemane, Pilate’s palace etc.) Here’s a thought: Maybe the three scenes entirely hidden by the folds on the cloak’s left-hand side would have had their subjects included in the separate “predella” panels at the bottom of the whole altarpiece. (Read more on them tomorrow. Oh, and another thought on yesterday's post: I wonder if the binding on Saint Augustine's book would have seemed Middle Eastern. Many bindings that look Renaissance to us were in fact Islamic.)
The Daily Pic: Piero della Francesca Crosses Togas and Turbans.
Piero della Francesca painted this little Crucifixion in his hometown of Borgo San Sepolcro in the later 1460s for the base of his great St. Augustine Altarpiece, six of whose panels are now on view at the Frick Collection in New York – and are the subject of this week’s Daily Pics.
This painting is a great illustration of some of the ideas of the art historian Alexander Nagel, who has argued that the Renaissance cultivated a productive confusion between the Islamic culture of 15th-century Palestine and the classical culture of the Holy Land in the time of Christ. Here, the Roman centurion bearing the shield marked S.P.Q.R. (senatus populusque romanorum - the senate and people of Rome) also has a Muslim crescent moon on his banner; the old soldier throwing dice for Christ’s robe wears Roman body armor but also a Muslim helmet, while like his fellows he is armed with an eastern scimitar. These details situate the scene in time, but also in place, eliding any conflict between the two. It’s a convincing and perfectly efficient system, and doesn’t have to be seen as inferior to modern ideas of historical verisimilitude.
The Daily Pic: Piero della Francesca created his worlds from scratch.
This is an altarpiece painted by Piero della Francesca in about 1470, for a patron in his hometown of Borgo San Sepolcro. It belongs to the Clark institute in Williamstown, Mass., and is now in the little Piero show at the Frick Collection in New York. My favorite detail is the shadow cast on the bottom of the Virgin’s throne, from a point on our side of the picture plane. The two main theories are that the shadow is conceived as being cast by you, the viewer, standing in close proximity to Mary, or that it’s cast by another column in the colonnade we see at the back, imagined as wrapping all around Christ and his mother.
Either way, what interests me is the idea that Piero and his peers conceived of themselves as world-builders, populating a three-dimensional space with novel objects (the way God, the “first painter”, did), rather than as producers of attractive pictures. Today, we are so picture-bound that it’s hard for us to understand the distinction, but in the Renaissance, it meant that two pictures could look quite different and still be “of” a single scene, subjected to alternate depictions.
The Daily Pic: Jan Brueghel sparks an everlasting debate between vision and scent.
This is an allegory of scent (flowers; a stinky civet cat; a dog of fine nose) versus sight (everything else in the scene, including the images of the flowers, cat and dog). It was painted by the sight-man Jan Brueghel the Elder in about 1620 and is now in the Prado museum. It reminds us of the once-hot debates about the appeal and artfulness of the various senses, and how those debates have now faded from view – or maybe, in fact, not.
This blog has seen a little revival of the quarrel, as I’ve gone at it hammer and tongs with Chandler Burr, curator of the “Art of Scent” perfume exhibition that just closed at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. Read on for one last, looooong installment of our head-butting exchange (although, weirdly, here the art critic is the one arguing for the specificity and independence of olfactory creations, and the olfactory curator wants to tie scent to visual art).
The Daily Pic: Her "appropriations" of August Sander throw a spanner in art's works.
This is one image from a 2012 series made by the conceptual artist Sherrie Levine that involves near-perfect duplicates of photos taken by the great German photographer August Sander in the 1920s and 30s, for his “People of the 20th Century” project. Both Levine’s versions and Sander’s are now on view at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York.
Levine’s best works all duplicate (or, more correctly, appropriate) works by other artists, which makes her the most derivative creator ever – and by that token, one of the most innovative. The visual impact of source and copy may be similar, but their social and intellectual impact are utterly different.
Proof of that lies in the extraordinarily complex caption I’ve been asked to run with this image:
The Daily Pic: Fluorescent tubes as plain-Jane art supplies.
These two light sculptures by Dan Flavin, made between 1966 and 1971 as part of his “European Couples” series, are now on display in the wonderful and huge new building that the dealer David Zwirner just opened in New York. These pieces that use very subtly different colors of white fluorescent tubes are, I think, Flavin at his best: They bring to mind his very first such experiments, when he imagined that the act of buying and installing normal, everyday fluorescents from a hardware store, and calling them art supplies, was half the point of his art; flashy light effects were a side effect. When Flavin works in color, however, the light effects, however lovely and winning, can seem the central point – he risks becoming just another light-and-color guy. (Photo by John Armstrong)
The Daily Pic: Charlotte Dumas shows funerary horses at rest.
This photo of a sleeping funerary horse from Arlington National Cemetery is by Charlotte Dumas, and is now in her solo show at Julie Saul Gallery in New York. Her shots of these horses are lovely, but come too close to picture-postcard animal aesthetics for my liking. What I found really gripping were the videos of the same sleeping beasts. (Click on the image to view a clip that I shot.) The videos capture the strange half-waking state the horses seem to be in, even at rest, and make clear just how different their behaviors are than our own. Their extreme vulnerability, and utter dependence on humans, also seems palpable.
The Daily Pic: Louise Lawler got launched by shooting her art collection.
This is a very early piece by Louise Lawler, titled “(Andy Warhol and Other Artists) Tulip”. She’s one of my favorite artists, and recently had a few works on view upstairs at Metro Pictures gallery in New York, in celebration of a book that just appeared about her in the October Files series. Lawler’s classic images consist of photos taken of works of art as they get “used” in collectors’ homes, museums etc. Before she hit on that mode, however, she took works from her own art collection – as here – and arrayed them as a composition on a colored studio background. That’s what she showed in her first-ever Metro Pictures exhibition, in 1982. Those early pieces make me realize that her later, classic photos aren’t only documentation of the fates of artworks as they circulate in the world; those photos themselves also function as composed still lifes – as artworks cognate to the works of art they depict.
The Daily Pic: The Italian artist made abstraction loosen up.
This is “Obliquo giallo” ("Yellow Angle") painted in 1971 by the Italian Giorgio Griffa and now at Casey Kaplan, in Griffa’s first American show in four decades. There’s a really lovely casualness about this – the painting’s meant to be folded for storage – that has echoes of Richard Tuttle’s sculptures. What I like about Griffa’s work, however, is that it seems to start in the world of “serious”, unsmiling Greenbergian abstraction, and then let its hair down.
The Daily Pic: The photographer scans the world for what ought not to be seen.
Trevor Paglen is an expert at looking at the overlooked, and this photo, from his current solo show at Metro Pictures in New York, is typical. It reveals the track in the sky of a Russian “Upravlyaemy Sputnik Kontinentalny” surveillance satellite, meant to watch for launching missiles – although it never in fact got to do its watching, because it went wrong and got stranded in a useless orbit. (Look for the faint line of light running from top left to bottom right in the photo).
Paglen has also documented other hidden or forbidden sights: Military drones in civilian landscapes, “secret” (but not quite) surveillance facilities and various unacknowledged satellites. What may be most surprising about these shots is that, for all their emphasis on simply showing hidden things (one of the oldest goals of art) they are also, Paglen insists, about beautiful image-making.
The Daily Pic: Two experts debate smell art versus fine art.
This Cypriot terracotta, of a man smelling a fruit, was made in about 500 B.C., and is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’m not only showing it for its own sake, as a prototype Cyrano, but as an example of how much olfaction once mattered to us human beings, despite the short shrift our noses get now – except of course in a “live” perfume show called “The Art of Scent”, at the Museum of Art and Design for a few more weeks still.
I’ve written about the exhibition more than once, but I’m hitting it again because my thoughts in an earlier Daily Pic have now sparked some response from the show's curator, Chandler Burr, to which I’ve replied. Some smell-y readers might want to follow our ongoing dialogue.
Our first interchange is below:
The Daily Pic: Why an artist has blacked out his own photographs.
Steel Stillman is showing this image in a group exhibition at Show Room gallery in New York. For decades, he’s been shooting photos of random corners of his world, without any clear idea of what he would do with them. Now it seems he’s found out: Stillman has taken to crudely blacking out one feature of each image, leaving it poised on the brink of illegibility. Here, he’s blackened the drapery from one corner of a four-poster bed. We’ve become so used to redaction as a bureaucratic intrusion on truth-telling that it’s hard to know what to do when an artist censors himself. Maybe, in a world that seems to be drowning in photos, Steelman is mounting some quiet resistance to so much easy vision.
The Daily Pic: Her plexi pavilion reveals mirrorings from far away.
Sabine Hornig’s fiendishly complex “photographic sculpture”, called “Mirrored Room”, is in her solo show at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York. It’s a metal pavilion, a touch smaller than a bus shelter, whose glass sides house color transparencies of a vacant plate-glass facade in Berlin. There’s an infinite regress of reflections: Real ones, now, of you and the gallery space in New York, which change as you move around the sculpture, versus other, fixed ones preserved from a past moment in Berlin – which, if you look closely, can be seen to include a reflection of the photographer taking the picture. There are hints here of the glass pavilions of Dan Graham and of Jeff Wall’s street-scene transparencies, but the combination is uniquely, brilliantly, Hornig’s. It messes with space, and time and image-making.