The Daily Pic: At the Hirshhorn Museum, Ed Ruscha and others take a refined view of havoc.
Ed Ruscha’s “The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire” (1965–68), went on view today in the thematic show called “Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950”, at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, which I previewed in today’s New York Times. What I particularly like about Ruscha’s piece is that it is utterly Apollonian in its ultra-refined technique, and yet treats a Dionysian moment of disaster. That is, in its essence it pushes back against the sheer love of havoc that some other destructive art tends to channel. Even as some of this show’s artists claim to decry chaos and violence, there’s a risk that they are helping us revel in both. (Christian Marclay’s brilliant “Guitar Drag” plays on just that tension.)
The Daily Pic: With his giant police uniforms, Chris Burden builds a liberal's nightmare, or conservative's dream.
These oversized police uniforms are a 1993 work by Chris Burden, from his solo show at the New Museum in New York. They are perfect facsimiles of what was worn by the LAPD, although blown up to just about fit the largest humans ever born. They capture the inner image that we have of every police officer we have an encounter with – whether as savior or threat.
The Daily Pic: Steve Mumford's genteel watercolors capture the hard truths of Gitmo.
This is one of a bunch of watercolors painted by Steve Mumford on a visit to the prison at Guantanamo Bay where alleged terrorists are being held by our government. Mumford’s solo show inaugurates the lovely new space that Postmasters gallery has reopened in, near Chinatown in New York. There’s something especially poignant about the plywood and concrete of Guantanamo being rendered in a medium usually linked to British fields and fens and harbors. Watercolor is also famous as a medium that cares as much about blank expanses of paper as about the pigment laid down on them – but in this case some of Mumford’s empty spaces are there because the authorities told him he wasn’t allowed to fill them in with visions of what he saw. Watercolor is also known for catching evanescent details in the passing scene, but at Guantanamo the problem is that everything seems to stay the same, year after year after year.
The Daily Pic: Around 1758, Jean-Claude Duplessis designed pink vases that made the masses see red.
Jean-Claude Duplessis designed elephant-themed porcelain vases at the royal Sèvres works near Paris in around 1758, and the Metropolitan Museum acquired this pair of them exactly two centuries later. At Saturday’s TEDx session at the Met, the most interesting talk was by Luke Syson, the Met’s new head of European sculpture and decorative arts, who described his love-hate relationship with Rococo pieces like this. (Most of the other talks and performances were at a painfully lower level of sophistication and complexity than the great Met objects they drew inspiration from. Nobel winner Eric Kandel, who has had so many original thoughts about brains, proved once again how his views on art can’t escape cliché.) Syson talked about how the “traditional” view of vases like these, among right-thinking lefties like him, is that they need to be despised as symbols of everything that was wrong with the Ancien Regime. And then he described how over time he’s learned to love them as delightful expressions of “fancy” – of a fantasy life that modernism has conspired to deny us. That risks sounding an awful lot like a full-bore capitulation to the escapist, Ancien Régime values that Duplessis’s work represents, and that are more than ever in force in our own society. I’m convinced, however, that there must be a way for Syson to read these vases politically, sociologically, while also arguing in their favor. I’m not sure quite how to do it – maybe you could imagine that, by so brilliantly expressing the values of the aristocracy, these vases set the stage for its overthrow. Someone like Alexander Nemorov might say that they are really portraits of bewigged heads about to roll.
The Daily Pic: Adad Hannah mirrrors the mirroring that happens in Velazquez.
This is a still from a 2008 video called "Repose (on the Plinthe)", by Vancouver artist Adad Hannah. I saw it in "Quotation", a group show at the Confederation Center of the Arts in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. (Disclosure: my wife, Lucy Hogg, is also in the exhibition.) The piece records two men holding a mirror as still as they can on a plinth in the Prado, in front of Velazquez's great "Las Meninas". (Click on my image to see a clip from the video.) The Velazquez is all about art as mirroring: the king and queen being painted by Velazquez are also the viewers of the scene, visible in the mirror in the center of his canvas – but that means they also stand in for us, as we stand gawking in the Prado. Hannah's piece likewise replaces us, as onlookers, with someone else's face, even as we realize that the green-jacketed young man isn't seeing himself, but a view of us looking at him as we try to take in the great painting beyond. The mise en abyme of "Las Meninas" is dug a bit deeper thanks to Hannah, as he gets in the way of Velazquez. Two fun factoids. First, the Hannah is 4'33" – the same length as John Cage's famous meditation on silence. (Hannah says that happened by accident). Second, the plinth the two men are on usually holds a statue of a sleeping hermaphrodite, commissioned by Velazquez himself for the same palace that once held his masterwork – a fact that injects a subtle note of gender instability into both the Hannah and the Velazquez.
The Daily Pic: Neil Leonard captures the new street vendors of Cuba.
A video still from Neil Leonard's multimedia installation called "Pan Verdadero (True Bread)", now on view at Stephan Stoyanov Gallery in New York, where it comes paired with works by Leonard's wife, María Magdalena Campos-Pons. (Click on the still to watch a clip from Leonard's video.) Leonard's piece is built around a nice documentary premise: It records the newly-legal street hawkers of Havana, as they announce their goods to all and sundry. Artists' interest in hawkers' cries dates back at least 300 years, when the "Cries of London" became a standard theme for composers to riff on and for printmakers to depict. That means that Leonard's project situates Cuban society as at a point parallel to where England was at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. The question is whether that means it has hundreds of years to go before it works through the perils of capitalist culture – if, that is, one can imagine that other countries have come close to doing so. Still, the hawkers do seem to present an entrepreneurial model that's more appealing than most, and way more palatable than the cakes they're selling.
The Daily Pic: In the 1740s, Giacomo Ceruti made the real look realer.
A servant girl with a dog, painted in the 1740s by Giacomo Ceruti, who was nicknamed "Pitocchetto" (the little beggar). The painting is now up in the rehung Old Master galleries at the Met. It has an amazing, proto-photographic quality – once reserved mostly for pictures of workers and animals, always somehow considered more "real" than the elites. Or maybe it looks photographic only because Ceruti chose to "real-up" his humble sitter, adding the gaps in her teeth and a slight double chin.
I spent five years of my life trying to figure out Old Master ideas about the real and its representation, and I still find the subject a hall of mirrors.
The Daily Pic: Becca Albee imagines a world of flowery front pages.
Some nice wishful thinking – or maybe magical thinking – from the artist Becca Albee, in the group show called "Burying the Lede" at Momenta Art, the non-profit in Brooklyn. The exhibition looks at artists who use the printed newspaper as subject or art supply – so it's no wonder an old print-hound like me would like it. Albee's contribution is simple: She scans war stories from the New York Times front page and inserts amateur flower photos where the blood and guts used to be, as though giving a glimpse of a better, and possible, future.
The Daily Pic: At MoMA, Annette Kelm channels past mediocrity, and excels.
This is a recent photo by Annette Kelm, now on display in the "New Photography 2013" show at the Museum of Modern Art. I've been following Kelm's photos since her appearance in the Venice Biennale, and I remain pleasantly puzzled by them – which as far as I'm concerned stands in their favor. They are clearly not meant to be "good photos", in anything like the standard sense: They look like really crummy commercial photography from the 1970s. (In photography school in 1979, I took a shot that was remarkably similar to this one, complete with badly prepared striped background.) So I guess this is a kind of skilled restaging of an earlier photographic moment, with its virtue and interest lying not so much in the photographic end product itself – which is no better than its crummy prototype – but in Kelm's act of staging, which is virtuosic. (Especially since she's managed to channel a form of incompetence that almost predates her birth, as executed at a lousy photo school in Montreal by someone who luckily left the profession behind.) I like the idea that the excellence of a photograph could be, or maybe always is, as much in the act and moment of making as in the image produced by it.
The Daily Pic: Drawings by James Castle are lovely things, but should credit go to him or his discoverers?
35 undated, hand-drawn images, or copies, of butter labels, by James Castle, the deaf and dumb outsider artist who died in 1977, and has lately been seen all over the art world. Nicely gridded up, and presented on the clean white walls of Peter Freeman gallery in New York, Castle's labels looked fantastic. My eyes cannot resist such modernist pleasure. But as I argue in my piece in the current Frieze edition of The Art Newspaper, I'm not sure how much credit should go to Castle, and how much to the modernist giants who made Castle's images available to us, as art. I'm particularly troubled that no one seems to be even asking the question. When an objet gets trouvé, there's a good chance it's the finder not the object that ought to matter to us – and all outsider art, by definition, has to be found before it can become insider stuff.
The Daily Pic: Emily Henretta's woodcut captures technology's fragility.
This is a detail from "Caesura" by Emily Henretta, on view now at Room East in New York. The piece is a woodcut printed on copper-green rice paper, and what I especially like about it is the way Henretta uses the crudest, most primitive printmaking technique to render a circuit board, that symbol of technological sophistication. What with Henretta's rips and the glitches in her printing, something seems wrong in our brave new world.
The Daily Pic: The sculptor David Adamo copies termites, insignificant creatures with big ambitions.
These sculptures by Berlin-based David Adamo are in his solo show at Untitled gallery in New York. At first, they look like more of the crafty, intuitive, "expressive" sculpture that's taking today's art world (and especially its market) by storm. It turns out, however, that Adamo's pieces are very closely based on real termite mounds. This means that objects that seem like abstraction are actually in the center of the realist tradition, closer to Houdon than to any Peter Voulkos retread. It also shows how the classically expressionist urge to give up conscious control over the creative act is doubly reversed in Adamo's latest works: He cedes control, but only by diligently copying the work of another creature – and that creature's creativity, in turn, is the product of a hive-mind rather than individual will or psychology.
The Daily Pic: 1930s paint samples help Morgan Fisher get at abstraction's heft.
When I first looked through the window of Bortolami gallery and spotted these and other paintings by Morgan Fisher, I thought "Oh no, not more late-in-the-day re-riffing on attractive Color Field abstraction". Then I went in and discovered a backstory that changes everything: The paintings are faithful enlargements of color chips from a brochure that Fisher's father, a builder of prefab homes, had offered to clients in about 1935. The paintings' compositions represent the "tasteful" combinations the brochure suggests for different rooms in a modern house.
Fisher's installation doesn't use serious modernist art as the basis for 21st-century decor, as so many of today's abstract painters do. It makes clear that, from the beginning, decor went hand-in-hand with serious modernist art. Fisher isn't using color chips as raw material for his own aesthetic play, as is the norm in other color-chip art (there's a lot of it around...) Fisher is preserving the original aesthetics of the brochure, as a kind of document in the social history of art.
The Daily Pic: In 1782, Joshua Reynolds gave equal attention to a toff and his mount.
In 1782, Joshua Reynolds painted this portrait of the British gent George Coussmaker and his horse, now on view in the Metropolitan Museum's revamped Old Master galleries. Or is it a portrait of the horse and his gent? Given the British love of their mounts, I wonder if any other painter has been faced with as strong a need to perform equine flattery. I love the way the horse is made to wrap elegantly around the tree, and seems to cross its hooves just as its master crosses his legs. I bet George's lady love wouldn't have been rendered as lovingly. Reynolds apparently devoted 22 sessions to painting the master and two to painting the horse, but I might have guessed the reverse.
The Daily Pic: Video artist Omer Fast becomes a Vermeer for porn stars, showing them at work and adding his own poetry.
These images are from a new four-screen installation by Omer Fast, one of the world's best video artists, premiering at the Frieze art fair in London in a couple of weeks. There's more about Fast and his new piece in my profile of him in this weekend's New York Times.
Fast takes documentary (and also mockumentary) footage shot on a real hard-core porn set and remixes it, with typical bravura, to incorporate fictional storylines.
One reading of the work that didn't make it into my profile, and which Fast has mixed feelings about, is to see the porn and Fast's own piece and practice as having something in common. After all, there's not that huge a gulf separating art and porn as cultural commodities offered for sale, and any number of artists have been accused of bumping and grinding to appeal to an audience.