The Daily Pic: At Scandinavia House, the Popster riffs on the angst-man.
A twofer from "MUNCH | WARHOL and the Multiple Image", a show at Scandinavia House in New York that’s now entering its final weekend. In 1984, a Manhattan gallery that showed lithos by Munch commissioned Warhol to do silkscreen riffs on them, which he did, but then never printed up as an edition. Warhol, canny as ever about how things stand in the art world, makes clear how emptied of meaning Munch’s icons had become by his day, after they’d gained celebrity status – something Warhol knew more about than anyone. There’s also a sense that he knows that Munch, like him, was an artist on the make, turning out prints to fill and create a demand: Munch’s collectors, buying direct from him, could get a print hand-touched by the artist or not, in any number of versions that got released over time. Of course Munch, like his buyers, actually believed in technique and the artist’s hand, even as it served their business interests; Warhol put both at the service of what he’d declared a higher art form – the art of business itself. In the end, though, Munch’s screamer, in Warhol’s version, has some of the pathos of the silkscreened Marilyn. Except that here it’s great art that’s been devoured by its own success. It’s become the stuff of coloring books, ready to be redone in green and red.
The Daily Pic: In 1942, Mies van der Rohe designed a concert hall around a plane factory's bones.
This gorgeous photomontage by Mies van der Rohe, in the "Cut 'n' Paste" show at the Museum of Modern Art, is a study for an imaginary concert hall, prepared for Architectural Forum magazine for a 1942 feature on the American “town of the future". It is striking how Mies, who was a builder through and through, made truly stunning works on paper, whereas his colleague and rival Le Corbusier, though always claiming props as a painter, was really only good in 3D. (That comes clear in the Corbusier survey that’s just upstairs from where the Mies is hanging at MoMA – I Daily Pic’d its best painting yesterday.)
But there’s way more to Mies’s image than its visual brilliance. As the scholar Neil Levine has discussed, the background image for the concert-hall study shows an aircraft assembly plant built by Albert Kahn in Maryland in 1937, as the largest open-span structure achieved until then. When Mies grabbed its image for his study, the vast space was being used to build bombers just then attacking the Nazi regime – from which Mies had recently fled, later than most of his peers and after years of less than evident opposition. (You can just see one plane behind the collaged sculpture; Mies blacked out details of others.) As Levine points out, the potent formal values of this study come steeped in politics and the real world – precisely what photomontage was designed to invoke.
The Daily Pic: In 1918, the budding architect painted his vision of how the built world would someday look.
This 1918 painting, called "The Fireplace", is by Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, a.k.a. – in his later architect avatar – Le Corbusier, and it's now in his survey show at MoMA in New York. What's (obviously) fascinating about this domestic still life is how much it presages the building ideas that Corbusier came up with later: The casting down of classic ornament in favor of simple geometric massings placed in the surrounding landscape – and devoid of rich urban fabric, which was the tragic flaw in Le Corbusier's work in planning. This early painting already has the unpeopled froideur that his critics complain of in his buildings. (But which I think has been slightly overstated – there's a contemplative upside to living in and among minimal sculptural forms.) By channeling Le Corbusier, "The Fireplace" manages to blow all of Jeanneret's later paintings out of the water, making them look awkward and decorative.
The Daily Pic: At the Met, the Middle Ages turn out to be rainbow-hued.
A recent visit to the Cloisters, the uptown medieval branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, brought home a truth that I’ve known but rarely felt: That medieval sculptures and buildings were almost always brightly painted. It makes way more sense of a stained glass like the one at right, from Germany in about 1300, to imagine it in a setting that included bright statues like the one at left, from Italy in about 1350. Instead of either glass or statue standing out as a note of designer color in an elegant stone box – as in most current museums and churches – both would originally have been parts of a total decor that included all the bright hues of God’s creation. That vision also makes more sense of the brightly painted altarpieces of the 14th and 15th centuries: The glowing fictions they present would have been of a piece with the glowing reality all around them. There would have been continuity between the painted and real world, instead of disjunction.
The Daily Pic: Robert Irwin turns a whole room into subtle abstraction.
After the drubbing I gave James Turrell's Guggenheim mess, it's a pleasure to have found a Light And Space work I can get behind. Robert Irwin's 1977 piece, now reinstalled in the space at the Whitney it was conceived for, doesn't have one trademark wow-cool effect, or any paraphrasable point. It's a single scrim of fabric that cuts the room in two, and whose black bottom edge gets extended along all four walls. It has all the complexity of a really superb abstract painting, by Malevich, say, or maybe Jo Baer. A sure mark of its power?: Visitors seemed compelled to stay hushed in the room, even though there was no special reason for silence.
The Daily Pic: Chicago painter Manierre Dawson launched into modern art before almost anyone else.
I must admit that I’d never heard of the Chicago painter Manierre Dawson before seeing this picture at the Met the other day. It’s called “The Meeting (The Three Graces)" and is dated 1912 – a date that makes Dawson one of the very first American modernists. He’d done a tour of Europe in 1910, but apparently the roots of his geometrical style don’t depend on Picasso. It seems he was offered a spot in the great Armory Show, but turned it down – and then went on to buy a Duchamp that he saw in it. I’m not saying Dawson’s up there with Cubism’s founders, but even coming close, as early as he did, makes him deserve a name check.
The Daily Pic: Francis Cape looks at where communitarians sat.
For his installation at Murray Guy, one of the most creative and substantial galleries in New York, Francis Cape began by studying the benches made by various utopian communities across the United States – everything from the Shakers to the Harmony Society to the Society of Separatists at Zoar. He measured the original pieces, most very old, then remade them in his own woodshop in upstate New York using local poplar lumber, as a way of considering “communalism as a historic and a contemporary alternative to individualism". What we get, at Murray Guy, is a community of communal objects, their differences subsumed in the collective. Interesting, though, how Cape takes the joint efforts of the original makers of his benches and translates them into the lonely world of the artist’s studio, home to the labors and thoughts of an individual genius. It’s also interesting how, by using the same wood and finish for all of his varied benches, Cape seems to evoke the spirit of mass production. (A fascinating book has been published to go with the show.)
The Daily Pic: Josephine Meckseper plucks her art from our commodity culture.
It’s a cliche to say that art changes how we see the world, and it’s most often barely true. The claim really panned out for me, however, with Josephine Meckseper’s new show at the Parrish museum on Long Island. Meckseper takes elements of our commercial culture – a Jeep sign, in this case, as well as a drug store’s mirrored display panel – and reworks them as magpie-shiny sculpture. At the Parrish, her work got me to realize how the museum’s lovely new building has been conveniently sited by a busy road – just like Long Island’s SUV-friendly shops. With the help of Meckseper’s piece, a nearby crushed-car sculpture by John Chamberlain seemed less about modernist form and more deeply embedded in car and commodity culture; it started feeling more like Detroit, circa 1960, than Montmartre, circa 1912. A fabulous early Dan Flavin, made of pristine-pure white fluorescents, had its purity usefully polluted by a neighboring Meckseper that used the same tubes to evoke store fixtures. (Flavin was keen on such mundane connections in his earliest years, then rejected them when he became a famous formalist.) And, overall, Meckseper’s large wall pieces, the size and shape of retail displays, made me notice that all the large-scale abstract canvases of America’s postwar era, of which the Parrish owns quite a few, may have had their roots in how America’s grandest merchants offered up goods in their picture windows. Before Meckseper, I hadn’t thought of Rauschenberg, piling goods onto his “Combines", as working like a window dresser. (Which is how he and Johns made a living in their early days – as his foe Hilton Kramer liked to point out.)
I guess I buy the idea that art, and museums, may function as an antidote to our commodified world – but, like a vaccine, they may only manage that by dosing us with some of its poison.
The Daily Pic: The Met's Cloisters branch turns 75, and shows off knightly opulence.
This tapestry was woven in Flanders in about 1500 for a noble French client. It's part of a series of hangings whose unicorn themes are being examined in a show that celebrates the 75th anniversary of the lovely, neo-medieval Cloisters branch of the Metropolitan Museum, up-island in Manhattan. A tapestry like this was the ultimate luxury good and status symbol, worth so much more than a measly painting. What interests me in the textile shown here is how the newly goods-stuffed lifestyle of the European upper class is also this deluxe object's subject: Take a look at the precious fabrics and hunting gear and (especially valuable) the dogs that it shows. Hunting culture, and all its trappings, had become a central place for a noble to display his control of leisure time and surplus resources and available manpower. In that context, the unicorn itself, whatever its symbolic intent, can be thought of as the elite prey that any stylish noble would want to be hunting. In a lovely circular twist, the tapestry's true subject turns out to be the luxe of which it's an example. You could say that one of the treasures it displays is itself. (There's an afterlife to such extravagant hunting: John D. Rockefeller paid a million dollars for the unicorn hangings in 1922.)
The Daily Pic: Robert Therrien enlarges things, so we can know them better.
Robert Therrien makes oversized domestic objects. Claes Oldenburg has always made oversized domestic objects. And in my Therrien piece in yesterday's New York Times, on the occasion of a mini-survey at the Albright-Knox in Buffalo, I show how these two artists have little in common. (It's pure, weird coincidence that the Times had me profile both of them this summer.) Oldenburg's enlargements are about amplification, taking pop culture and making it goofily present to us, as though we can't avoid bathing in it. Therrien's magnifications are about close observation. They are a sober attempt to give us access to every detail in objects that matter in our everyday lives. Oldenburg's sculptures start life as stylish and stylized drawings, full of clownish energy, and the finished pieces never come close to trompe-l'oeil; Therrien's objects have their roots in photographs that document things that he cares about, and are realized with worshipful accuracy.
The Daily Pic: In Venice, Ali Kazma shows us all the ways we torture our flesh.
Art in its informative mode, in a video installation by Ali Kazma, in the Turkish pavilion of this year's Venice biennale. (Click on the image to see someone's YouTube clip of the piece.) The work is called "Resistance", and it simply chronicles all the ways in which we use and misuse the human body, showing us everything from steroid-pumped musclemen, to tatooed skins to flesh distorted by S&M bondage. We tend to neglect the crucial ostensive function of art – it's simple ability to point at things in the world – but Kazma's installation is a reminder of how far simple ostension can take us.
The Daily Pic: Eliot Porter's great bird photos captured them at work.
I don’t seem to be able to avoid the work of Eliot Porter these days: He’s in the Venice Biennale, he’s in Trisha Donnelly’s curation at MoMA and he’s got a solo at Paula Cooper gallery in New York – from which this photo of a roadrunner is taken. Not that I’d want to avoid Porter’s work – I’ve become a huge fan. Porter (1901-1990; brother of Fairfield, the painter) was a fine-art photographer with a scientific training and bent. His bird photos, shot on large-format film then printed as startling dye transfers, read as formal portraits of birds at work, almost in the mode of August Sander’s images of tradesmen. What particularly strikes me is how Porter captures a sense that the birds don’t have full intentionality; it feels as though, driven by blind instinct, they are unaware of what they do, like a human under hypnosis. Normally, dogs and cats and humans seem to be guided by some kind of volition – but of course that may be flattering ourselves. Beep! Beep! (©1990 Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.)
The Daily Pic: Lee Kit's found sculptures echo the beauty in photographs.
This is a detail from Lee Kit’s installation in the Hong Kong pavilion of this year’s Venice Biennale. Kit’s elegant accumulations of domestic objects look great in photos, because I think his aesthetic is influenced by the photographic. For much of the last century, photographers sought beauty glimpsed by chance in the everyday, and now, thanks to a strange feedback loop, artists like Kit are sculpting the everyday to conform to those found photographic ideals. It’s our modern picturesque – with Kit as the Capability Brown of domestic space.
The Daily Pic: At MoMA, Otto Baumberger's 1923 poster does justice to the glories of cloth.
This is a 1923 ad (for the coat, I assume), drawn by the great Swiss illustrator Otto Baumberger, and now in a MoMA show called "Artist's Choice: Trisha Donnelly". (Click to zoom in on the image). I'm not sure that artist-chosen shows are of that much curatorial or art-historical use, and anyway they've become a cliche. In a way, they revert to the reactionary notion of the "connoisseur's eye", now genuflecting to the hero-artist as was once done to savior-collectors. Still, by avoiding curatorial serieux, they manage to pull amazing things out of storage that might not otherwise find a reason to be seen – and Donnelly's choices are plum. Baumberger's stunning color litho, a full 50" high, shows his amazing skill in rendering fabrics, and speaks of a time when everyday textiles where a subject of true connoisseurship, because they didn't come cheap from Asia.
The Daily Pic: Lanzavecchia + Wai design rugs that imagine post-meltdown bugs.
The new “Mutazioni" carpets, conceived for NODUS by the Italo-Singaporean design house called Lanzavecchia + Wai, recently went on sale at Rosana Orlandi’s space in Milan.They represent imagined new species of bugs, caused by fallout from our biggest nuclear accidents. This area rug – perfect, maybe, for a fission scientist’s den – portrays Tacua Fukushimae. Hard to know its scale (I like to imagine it frying-pan size) but its asymmetries speak to its origins.