In the Hirshhorn's "Damage Control", a woman has a different take on breaking things.
Watch a clip from Dara Friedman's "Total", a 1997 film which I recently saw in the show called "Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950" at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington. (I previewed it in the New York Times.) Friedman's conceit is simple: She filmed herself tearing a room to shreds then projects it in reverse, so we see the decor reassemble itself. The piece drove home something I noticed throughout the Hirshhorn show: that the few women who've made art about destruction have had a quite different take than the boys' (and I do mean "boys"). Yoko Ono offers herself up to the scissors of strangers; Mona Hatoum makes hand grenades of delicate glass; Laurel Nakadate mourns 9/11 (or at least plays at it). And Friedman presents herself as undoing any destruction she's caused. It's not hard to think of her piece as a response to Jeff Wall's seminal (pun intended) "Destroyed Room", from 1978, a huge photo for which he carefully staged the utter destruction of an unnamed woman's room. He constructs, but plays at destruction; Friedman destroys but presents it as tidying up.
Warhol's masterpiece sells for a fortune, and becomes the commodity that it's all about.
Warhol's "Silver Car Crash" sold for $104.5 million last night at Sotheby's in New York, which was either too little, or too much. Too little, because the night before, a much less important picture by Francis Bacon sold for $142.4 million at Christie's, breaking every record for an artwork at auction. It might have been nice if, for once, there were some correlation between such a record and the historical importance of the work that set it – as would have been the case with the "Car Crash". Last night's $104.5 million was too much, by exactly $4.5 million, because at an even $100 million, Warhol's picture would have matched the fake $100 million price tag that Damien Hirst, a Warhol devotee, attached to his diamond-studded skull in 2007. Hirst created a work, and a social "performance", of sorts, that was all about how art and artists enter the marketplace, but Warhol had staked out that territory 45 years before, in even more subtle and complex ways. It started in 1962, with the Campbell's soup can as iconic commodity, then within a year Warhol had expanded the idea to cover the commodity status of celebrities – Marilyn and Jackie and Liz (so famous that their first names are still enough to call them to mind) and soon Andy himself and the Superstars he created from scratch. And then Warhol's notion spread further, to cover even the calamities served up to us over and over again in tabloids and on the news – poisoned cans of tuna, suicide leaps and fatal car crashes. (The celebrities Warhol chose and created were also all calamities, of a sort, since even Liz had just survived a calamitous illness when Warhol pictured her and had starred on screen as a car-crash victim, and of course Warhol and his Superstars were models of broken lives.)
Warhol silkscreened his "Crash" in several "colorways" (he borrowed the concept from fabric and housewares marketing) but this silver version is best of all, because the shiny paint itself stands for the bullion that's at the symbolic heart of every transaction in a commodity culture. It's presented .999 "pure" in the work's right panel, and then on the left with a black image of disaster that reads as a tarnish on its surface. (This is just about the moment when Ralph Nader was starting to rouse the nation's consumers against the hazards built into the cars they were buying – although I note that this wasn't a movement against consumption itself, but in favor of a safer, purer form of it.)
So Warhol's Pop art – a misnomer if ever there was one – isn't a cheery celebration of Pop-ing commodity culture, though that's how it was often billed (sometimes by Warhol himself). And it's not a preachy, political attack on that culture, which was another common reading. It's a full-bodied portrait of commodification, with its lights and darks left intact and in play against each other, and in which we see ourselves. (The blank right-hand panel could be mirror as well as bullion.)
Francis Bacon’s 1969 “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” sold for $142.4 million, proving once again that the price of a work doesn’t tell us anything about its worth as art.
So Francis Bacon’s 1969 “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” was auctioned off for $142.4 million at Christie’s in New York last night, becoming the most expensive art-auction sale ever. (Although it’s utterly ludicrous that no one adjusts these records for inflation—without that, they mean almost nothing.)
The Daily Pic: In 1904 in Manhattan, the great Guastavino Co. gave palatial roofing to a subway station that's now derelict.
Deep under New York City Hall sits this gorgeous abandoned subway station, with vaulting by the great Guastavino firm that ruled the most ambitious American ceilings of the early 20th century. The firm is the subject of a lovely little show at the National Building Museum in Washington. Rafael, the patriarch, got his start in Spain then moved to the U.S. in 1881, bringing along a way of using specially made tiles to roof vast expanses with a thin skin of ceramic. Both the engineering and the tiling were done pretty much on the fly, by rule-of-thumb, but it seems that not one vault by the firm has ever had a loadbearing problem. When today’s masons built a 1/2 scale reproduction of a Guastavino vault for the D.C. show, they had to support it with wood framing as they went – as the Guastavinos never did. A sad factoid from the show: Not all that long ago, contemporary engineers at the Metropolitan Museum couldn’t figure out how to judge the statics of an old Guastavino vault there; baffled by their predecessors’ craft (and maybe shamed by it, too), they simply ripped the roofing out.
The Daily Pic: In 1989, Larry Sultan caught his father being a 1950s dad.
“My Father Reading the Newspaper” was taken by Larry Sultan in 1989, and is now on view at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in the smart collection show called “Everyday Epiphanies”. Seeing the photo in the flesh, especially, the glowing newspaper gives a lovely sense that Sultan’s photographic paper is itself translucent and letting light through, almost as though his image were mounted in a light box – as though it were representing translucency by being translucent (and then you realize that it isn’t). There’s also something poignant in how the reflection of Sultan Sr. in the window at rear shows him just as remote and invisible as he is in our child’s-eye view from the front, where he seems to be all newspaper, all the time.
The Daily Pic: In 1913, New Yorker Robert Winthrop Chandler was a successful radical, until he got swamped by Matisse and Duchamp.
Everyone cites February, 1913 as the watershed moment in American art, when the Armory Show in New York brought over the first big dose of European modernism. This screen, by New York blueblood Robert Winthrop Chanler, had pride of place in the opening gallery of that show, and is now in the exhibition that celebrates its centennial at the New York Historical Society. Back in 1913, Chanler's utterly wacky screens were some of the most popular objects on view – a public success where Duchamp and the Fauves had to be satisfied with scandale. And those screens seem to argue that the months and years just before that February were the more interesting ones, when Americans knew they needed some kind of fresh and vigorous art, but had no idea yet what it ought to look like. Chanler made a grab at a solution, but it couldn't compete with its rivals from France. As the NYHS exhibition makes clear, that wasn't at all obvious at the time – and maybe ought not to seem so to us.
The Daily Pic: Giuseppe Penone's bronze trees take their licks.
One of three peculiar trees made entirely of bronze by Giuseppe Penone, now installed in Madison Square Park in New York care of Mad. Sq. Art. In the late 1960s, Penone made excellent work that distorted live trees, but I quite like this latest simulacrum. It's not trompe-l'oeil for its own sake, but in order to make an imaginary, and otherwise impossible, intervention into nature. Hard to see how you'd get a volcano to spit boulders just where you needed them to fall...
The Daily Pic: At MoMA, René Magritte captures the feel of photos, but not their look..
This is René Magritte's strange (of course) "Man with a Newspaper", painted in 1928 and now on loan from Tate to the retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. What struck me most about the show is how brilliantly bad Magritte was as a painter. In reproduction, it can sometimes look like he's channeling the techniques of the Old Masters – almost always a problematic, pandering move. In fact, though, Magritte is channeling the techniques of a mediocre hobbyist or sign painter, and translating them into fine art. In this image, the multiplication of almost identical views evokes photography, even as the ham-fisted manner fights against that reading. In photography, we assume that each image freezes a moment in time: That the static is always also a blink and a glimpse, meant to capture, say, a room with and then without its occupant. But what does it mean for a painting to adopt the same pose, when there's clearly no frozen blink involved?
The Daily Pic, Met Monday Edition: A forger's Rembrandt may carry us back to the master's own day.
This is that rare thing – a Pic I haven’t seen in the flesh, because I couldn’t, because this “Rembrandt” has been declared an 18th-century British fake and therefore consigned to the vaults of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, which has owned and even loved it it since long before it was doubted. (Click on my image to see the piece in great detail.) In yesterday’s New York Times, I argued for the value of forgery, for reasons such as that a picture like this, which gave pleasure and insight as a Rembrandt until something like 1940, ought to still give the same kind of joy and knowledge – maybe even knowledge of Rembrandt’s art. (If it succeeded in fooling and pleasing people, it was because it had enough genuinely Rembrandtian features to work as a Rembrandt.)
But today I want to voice a caveat. Works of art aren’t only about providing sensations and pleasures and insights to us, now, in the 21st century. They also function as historical documents, pointing back to past moments. As such, we want and need them to have an accurate connection to the past they represent, regardless of what they may do for modern art lovers. Thus, despite my doubts about connoisseurship, it could be that authentication and correct attribution are useful insofar as they create a kind of visual “chain of evidence” that certifies the link between a current object and the moment of its birth.
Then again … as I said, for a forgery to deceive at all, it has to preserve a great many features of a genuine object. So, in evidentiary terms, it may be best to think of a fake as being quite like a later, slightly corrupted edition of an ancient text whose earliest manuscripts no longer exist (which is the case with the vast majority of very old writings) or even as a blurred photocopy of a lost document. If someone launched a new kind of fake-bomb that destroyed every original Rembrandt, the surviving forgeries would still give us a strong link to the art he made, and to the moment of its making. Maybe we need to stop thinking, as the market does, of works as either by a given artist or not. We may want to think in terms of a complex Venn diagram which maps a series of works as being more or less closely linked to a given moment of important art making – a diagram that would register Rembrandtism, rather than Rembrandt himself. And could it even be that a work by a follower, or even by a much later forger, gets closer to the core of the concept than a lame piece by the master himself?
The Daily Pic: Scholar Beatriz Colomina bills Playboy as nakedly favoring modern design.
Today’s image, appropriately, shows “Miss November, 1954”, who starred in a recent lecture at the Artist’s Institute by the great architectural historian Beatriz Colomina. Colomina presented research by her team at Princeton showing how, throughout the 1950s and 60s, Playboy magazine was a crucial promoter of modern design. It published features on cutting-edge architects and designers and often posed playmates in their classic pieces – as here, where model Diane Hunter sits in a butterfly chair by Jorge Ferrari Hardoy.
Colomina didn’t mention it, but it seems to me there’s some kind of equation, both social and formal, between the pared-down chairs and the girls perched on them – something about men’s ownership of biomorphic (and biological) modernity. (Interesting that the bodies now look vintage but the chairs haven’t dated at all.) Colomina did show how Playboy, with its circulation of seven million, would have had vastly more reach and influence than any design magazine. Any architect featured in Playboy – Mies and Wright and Bucky Fuller, but also the radicals at Ant Farm and Yale’s dean of architecture – “becomes a model poised at the very heart of the Playboy dream,” said Colomina.
Strangely, from his very first editorial Heffner felt a need to apologize for keeping his readers inside the well-designed home, and away from the woods and wilds found in other men’s magazines. Colomina argues that this is because home decor was traditionally women’s territory, and a manly man wouldn’t go there.
The Daily Pic: In turning gum into art, Alina Szapocznikow showed that it didn't need to be art to be good.
One photo from a series of 20 called “Photosculptures”, made by the Polish artist Alina Szapocznikow in 1971 and now on view in a group show at Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York. Szapocznikow said they came about when she needed a break from the laborious polishing of her marble renditions of Rolls Royces, and they are clearly meant to be a humble counterpoise to those deluxe objects. They are also in complex tension with the biomorphic monuments of heroic male artists such as Henry Moore: They buy Moore’s notion of beauty in the everyday, but resist the idea that such beauty needs elevation to count. Bubble gum itself comes chock full of aesthetics, and doesn’t need to be enlarged or cast in bronze. Of course, the aesthetics on view here are all about comedy, and irony and poking fun and paradox. Szapocznikow knows that elevation inevitably happens as soon as chewed gum gets presented as art, or used as the subject of elegant photos.
The Daily Pic: Alison Elizabeth Taylor's marquetry is about more than just its amazing craft.
Alison Elizabeth Taylor’s “Optimist’s Ennui”, from her current solo at James Cohan Gallery in New York, is almost entirely made of inlaid woods. As always with Taylor, her art runs the risk of being too much about the clever marquetry that makes it, but in this piece that craft seems an especially tight fit with its subject. That’s because Taylor’s wood represents the wood that would normally be underneath the surface of a fine picture, but literally exposes it – and also pierces it to reveal a lumber-filled scene beyond. The always-vexed relationship between pictorial surface and depth here gets an extra note of complexity thanks to Taylor’s technique. (The fact that her show is called “Surface Tension” makes clear that she understands and intends this reference.) It also doesn’t hurt that Taylor’s using the finest hardwood veneers to represent crude plywood, thereby revisiting the everpresent tension between a picture as a deluxe object, and a picture as just a bunch of crude materials in a particular configuration.
The Daily Pic: Before Robert Rauschenberg learned to recombine the leavings of American culture, his photos had already seen it as fractured.
This shot, titled “Charleston Street”, was taken in 1952 by Robert Rauschenberg and is on view for a view more days in a show of his photos at Pace/MacGill Gallery in New York. There’s something about the way shapes crawl across the surface of this single image that reminds me of how Rauschenberg composed his composite works. Also, because the walking figures are a bit blurred by their motion, the details of their clothing get evened out into areas of more uniform tone – again, like some of the printmaking artifacts that Rauschenberg went on to play with. And of course this photo gives us a preview of Rauschenberg’s lifelong commitment to demotic American life: Note the man drinking inside the bar, and the fact that the dive is called Dixie.
The Daily Pic, Met Monday Edition: From the Metropolitan Museum, a Chinese textile that inspired weavers in Peru.
This embroidered silk panel was made in China sometime in the 17th century, apparently for export to the West. It is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum as well as in its current show called "Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800". (Click on the image to zoom in.) Other than everything about how it looks, what makes this embroidery utterly peculiar – and a perfect illustration for the show's theme of "globalization before globalization" – is the fact that it or a textile like it seems to have influenced the weavings of colonial Peru, apparently after arriving by way of the annual trips of Spain’s Manila galleons between Lima and the Philippines.
I wonder if textiles have an easier time crossing cultures than pictures and sculptures do. They seem so evidently desirable, and precious, that I kept wanting to see the cloths in "Interwoven" in somebody's home, somewhere, rather than in the Met's galleries. (I always feel precisely the opposite about works of Western fine art.)
The Daily Pic: Martin Honert turns a vintage photo into full 3D.
This is Martin Honert's "Group of Teachers", on view through Saturday in his solo show at Matthew Marks Gallery in New York. Honert took an old black and white photo of the teachers at the boarding school he was sent to, then realized it life-size in resin, using sand and glass to capture the grain and tonal artifacts of the vintage shot. The sculpture only has its full effect when viewed alongside its living audience, at which point this high realist work comes to share something with Minimalist abstraction: Both are less about their own qualities as objects than how they share a space with us. They are about a social context they create for their viewing.