The Daily Pic: In around 1475, Hugo van der Goes paints what he can count on as truth.
This portrait was painted by Hugo van der Goes (pronounced “Hose”, more or less) in about 1475 and is now in the rehung Old Masters galleries at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I’m fascinated by the contrast between the lack of spatial naturalism in such Flemish pictures (there’s something a bit off in the rendering of this sitter’s head) and their extraordinary surface illusionism (his sandpaper beard and liquid eyes could not be more convincing). It’s as though the artists are unwilling to commit to the ontological solidity of things in the sublunary world, but are happy to capture their superficial appearances.
The Daily Pic: In South Africa, Pieter Hugo shoots five boys in their new adult garb.
"Loyiso Mayga, Wandise Ngcama, Lunga White, Luyanda Mzantsi, Khungsile Mdolo after their initiation ceremony, Mthatha, South Africa," is a photo taken in 2008 by South African photographer Pieter Hugo and now in his powerful solo show at Yossi Milo gallery in New York. I'm told that these young men are supposed to wear their Burberry-ish plaid for a full year after circumcision ushers them into adulthood. Funny, but I've known wealthy young people in America who seem to follow the same rule, minus the cutting. If it were a matter of choosing, I might pick the knife over the plaid.
The Daily Pic: In 1961, Lucio Fontana portrayed his female dealer as a cut – hold the "n".
This is “Spatial Concept: Portrait of Iris Clert”, painted by Lucio Fontana in 1961 and now on loan from a private collection to the exhibition called “Audible Presence”, which inaugurates the new Dominique Levy gallery uptown in New York. The piece has been billed as Fontana’s tribute to his famous dealer, but – how to put this delicately – there’s something a bit … special … about portraying a woman as a bejewelled slit. It also gives a new twist to how we read the “abstract” knife-slits in Fontana’s other “Spatial Concepts”.
I think Fontana’s work runs the same danger as the work of many other official geniuses (especially in Europe, and especially when it has a posh market): The work gets deprived of its faults, and thus of its energy. Fontana, as Levy’s show proves, could veer from brilliant composition to tacky decoration, and sometimes into bad taste. Good for him. (Photo by Tom Powel Imaging, Courtesy Dominique Levy, New York.)
The Daily Pic: Artist Heather Cassils moved toward an uber-male ideal, gaining 23 pounds in 23 weeks.
These are two of the 100 photos that make up the latest iteration of “Cuts: A Traditional Sculpture”, a work from Heather Cassils’s solo show at Ronald Feldman gallery in New York. It is, of course, a kind of remake of the documentation from Eleanor Antin’s 1972 piece called “Carving: A Traditional Sculpture”, a 45-day diet that let Antin carve herself into a feminine form that came closer to our culture’s longstanding (and confining) ideal. In Cassils’s riff, the artist became a bodybuilder, gaining 23 pounds in 23 weeks to achieve a more powerful, masculine idea of perfection. “Opposing the notion that in order to be officially transgendered one has to have surgery or take hormones, Cassils performs Trans not as a crossing from one sex to another, but rather as a continual process,” reads the show’s press release. In other words, we are all trans, one way or another, as we try to build our picture of which gender we belong to.
The Daily Pic: April Dauscha imagines bustles worn in front.
A simple but effective piece by an artist named April Dauscha, from the group show called “”Underneath It All: Desire, Power, Memory & Lingerie”, at the ISE Cultural Foundation on Broadway in New York. Dauscha has imagined a fashion “enhancement” that recognizes and celebrates pregnancy, even in the unpregnant, the way earlier support structures – the side-hoops of Marie-Antoninette; the Victorian bustle – had advertised women as sexual goods.
The Daily Pic: In 1650, Pietro Testa painted a picture of drowning, then drowned himself.
For this second Monday selection from the Metropolitan Museum’s rehung Old Master galleries, I’ve chosen ”Alexander the Great Rescued from the River Cydnus”, an utterly obscure subject painted by Pietro Testa in Rome, probably in 1650. That’s the year Testa died, apparently a suicide who threw himself into the Tiber. There was a story that during his Persian campaign Alexander had some kind of fit as he bathed, and it looks as though that could have inspired Testa’s own tragic death. I wonder if any other artists have pretty much painted their own self-portrait in death, then made that picture come true.
The Daily Pic: Phil Collins shows how the toughest style can clothe a heart of gold.
Phil Collins’s latest video installation at Tanya Bonakdar gallery in New York, in which he presents a fake shopping channel, gives a fascinating look at consumption and our need for potent experiences, both real and artistic. I wrote about it in the latest e-issue of Newsweek – and this still image is not from it. It’s from a single-channel video called “The Meaning of Style” that is being projected upstairs at Bonakdar and is more traditional in its poetics. (Click on my image to watch a clip.) Over almost five minutes, Collins lets us watch a group of Malaysian skinheads who have rejected the normally Fascistic ethos of their style, opting instead for values that are much more pacific. A moment when one boy releases a flock of butterflies seems to stand for the entire group’s way of being and thinking.
For some time it has been taken as art-critical gospel that form and content make for an indissoluble package; that style always comes freighted with meaning as well as a look. This video implies that style may always have meaning, but we get to decide what it is.
The Daily Pic: Yves Klein's one-chord symphony, and 20-minute silence, outdoes his own abstractions.
This untitled blue monochrome, painted by Yves Klein in 1956, is just a stand-in for another, unreproducible Klein that I had the luck to experience last night in New York. Dominique Levy’s new gallery, where the monochrome is now on view in her inaugural show, also organized the first American presentation of Klein’s “Monotone-Silence Symphony”, in which a full orchestra, with chorus, hold a single chord for 20 long minutes then rests for another 20, during which the audience is also expected to maintain silence.
I had thought the work would be a clever piece of absurdist conceptualism, as I’ve insisted that many Kleins really are. Instead, it turned out to be richly perceptual and affective.
The 20-minute single chord leads you to notice every minute variation in its sound: One bass-player’s bowing; one soprano’s warble; the pulse of the orchestra’s thrum. It seems you can be far more immersed in a single sound, and more attentive to it, than you can ever be in a sight. It’s very unlikely that you’ll ever attend to a monochrome painting for the twenty minutes that you attend to Klein’s monotone; as is often said, and as Klein proves, you can turn your eyes from a sight as you can’t turn your ears from a sound.
The Daily Pic: John McCracken's minimal slab just wanted some attention – any attention.
John McCracken's "Green Slab in Two Parts" (1966) comes from the retrospective of his work now at David Zwirner gallery in Chelsea. Disclosure: My parents own the mustard-yellow version of this same work, so I encountered it daily right into my early twenties. That disclosure also leads to what I want to say about it. There's often a sense that Minimalism is a rigorous movement with a fixed set of goals that must be understood in order to get readings of it "right". In living with my parent's piece, however, it always felt quite independent of specific manifestos and readings – it was just a thing (a 'specific object', even) that waited there for some attention, like an unusually patient pet. I believe that works of art only come to life when they're read by a viewer – the production of meaning is their bread and butter. But I'm not sure they have any investment in which meanings they produce.
The Daily Pic: in 1971, Leee Black Childers documented "Pork", Warhol's only play, in all its scatology.
This is a production still from the 1971 London run of “Pork”, Andy Warhol’s only play, with the actor Tony Zanetta playing the silver-wigged artist himself. The shot is by Leee Black Childers, one of many of her photos up last weekend at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York. The other photos, many showing lots of naked flesh, give a sense of how naughty avant-garde theater could get at that time. At the exhibition launch, a reading from the deeply scatalogical, largely non-sensical play gave an even better idea of Warhol’s pleasure in ruffling feathers and breaking rules; even after all these years, the old Warholians at the opening showed how deeply committed his crowd could be to the values of bohemia. If in his later years Warhol embraced the moneyed establishment, it was always with the knowledge that his roots lay outside of it – he enjoyed rank and money as living examples of camp.
The Daily Pic: In his portrait of a castrato, Andrea Sacchi let a well-hung Apollo make up for the singer's loss.
In honor of the glorious rehang of the Metropolitan Museum’s European Old Masters, and of the museum’s new Monday hours, this will be the first of the Daily Pic’s “Met Mondays”, a series to run over weeks to come. I want to start with an image that, you could say, is less about art-for-art’s-sake than about achieving an almost practical goal, as is so often the case with pre-Modernist art. In 1641, the painter Andrea Sacchi depicted the great castrato singer Marcantonio Pasqualini being crowned in his art by Apollo – who happens to have the most prominent Old Master penis I know of, staring us right in the face. (Please don’t bombard me now with more prominent ones.) I can only read Sacchi’s gesture as deliberate compensation for Marcantonio’s loss, with the implication that the glory of his art makes the singer as whole as his Olympian patron. I wonder how Marcantonio felt about it?
The Daily Pic: Michael Gunzberger gets sleeping beasts to make pictures of themselves.
I recently saw this pelt-of-a-print by Swiss artist Michael Günzburger at Winkleman Gallery in Chelsea. Günzburger tells me that it was made by taking a large and live brown bear, already doped for a medical procedure, and manhandling him onto the lithographic plates for this life-size image. (Question: Is it a self-portrait by the bear, or a bear-portrait by the human?) Printmakers have often tried to take direct impressions of objects, usually as monotypes or soft-ground etchings, but this is my first encounter with a litho done from a living, biting beast. There's something poignant about the similarity between the bear stretched out here as an art supply – almost a giant paint brush – and our frequent encounters with such bears stretched out as pelts. In a way, the print emphasizes the pelt-like nature of all images, as they flatten out the world and hand it over to us. All us subjects are just artists' road-kill.
The Daily Pic: At the Met, Janet Cardiff's sound art is much more than the great old music it riffs on.
The speakers for “Forty Part Motet,” Janet Cardiff’s great 2001 sound piece, were recently installed in the Fuentidueña Chapel at the Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum’s special venue for Medieval art. Cardiff’s piece takes the 40 polyphonic parts of Thomas Tallis’s great “Spem in Alium”, composed around 1570, and spreads them across as many loudspeakers. When I raved about this piece in my recent sound-art feature in the New York Times, I caught flack from some members of the modernist wing of the discipline (the “honk-tweeters”, as they just hate being called). How could Cardiff lose, they asked, when she was piggybacking on the tonal pleasures of established classical music? Hearing her piece yet again, I was struck by my favorite aspect of it: That listening to the voice coming from any one speaker, you might think it was singing Webern or Schoenberg; it is only when all the voices combine into Tallis, in the room’s center, that classical ease takes over. That is, a honk and a tweet may lie near the heart of any easy listening. In fact, after lending an ear to Cardiff's individual voices, honking and tweeting come across as the natural and most human mode, with "music" then registering as an imposition, however glorious, on that state of nature.
The Daily Pic: In 1936, the Spaniard captured elegance without settling for it.
Picasso's "Dora Maar with Green Fingernails" is now on view in the renovated home of the Berggruen collection, one of the state museums in Berlin. The space is so tidy and bon-bourgeois that it comes close to denying the risk championed by its modernist pictures: daring visual experiments are almost reduced to being tasteful decoration. In this 1936 Picasso, however, you see how the Spaniard managed the trick of combining a winning and accurate vision of bourgeois elegance, and a radical style that stays in tension with it. This is elegance viewed and understood by an art that refuses to settle for it.
The Daily Pic: The lost canvas that reemerged today was already known, as a fake.
This “new” Van Gogh was announced this morning in The New York Times, with the title “Sunset at Montmajour.” (Click on the image to zoom in.) And as usual in these matters, the picture has in fact been in circulation for ages—all that’s “new” is that this time around, experts have decided that it is in fact an authentic van Gogh, as they denied when they were shown the same picture in 1991, and also back in 1908.
I buy the latest judgment (given the documentary evidence, it’s hard to see why the painting was seen as fake before), but it is always worth remembering that, as I’ve often said, the whole business of authentication is a mug’s game. For me, maybe the most interesting thing about the rediscovered piece is the letter of July 4, 1888, in which van Gogh describes the landscape he’d been inspired by the previous day: “It was romantic, it couldn’t be more so, à la Monticello, the sun was pouring its very yellow rays over the bushes and the ground, absolutely a shower of gold. And all the lines were beautiful; the whole scene had charming nobility.” It makes clear the huge influence on van Gogh of Adolphe Monticelli, a once-famous painter from Marseille whom Cézanne befriended and van Gogh idolized, and who has since almost disappeared from view. The letter—and the painting—also show that van Gogh had a conservative, traditional side, committed to old-fashioned ideas about Romantic beauty and the nobility of nature. With luck, the headlines generated by this pseudo-find will fight the popular idea of van Gogh as a lone radical who went out on a limb.