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Sounding Off

A New Masterpiece, Built on an Old One

The Daily Pic: At the Met, Janet Cardiff's sound art is much more than the great old music it riffs on.
The speakers from Janet Cardiff's "Forty Part Motet", as installed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

(The Metropolitan Museum of Art, photo by Wilson Santiago)

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.

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Modern Art

Picasso Eyes Good Taste

The Daily Pic: In 1936, the Spaniard captured elegance without settling for it.
Pablo Picasso's "Dora Maar with Green Fingernails" (1936)

(Collection of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Museum Berggruen © 2013 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; photo by Lucy Hogg)

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.

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Out of the Attic

'New' Van Gogh Is Not All That New

The Daily Pic: The lost canvas that reemerged today was already known, as a fake.
Van Gogh's "Sunset at Montmajour", from 1888, newly declared to be by him.

(Peter Dejong/Associated Press)

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.

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Cool War

Warhol’s Berlin Air Lift

The Daily Pic: The American Popster perfectly suits a show about a divided Germany.
An installation of Thomas Bayerl's wallpaper hung with Andy Warhol's "Double Elvis"

(Photo by Lucy Hogg)

The Daily Pic: The American Popster perfectly suits a show about a divided Germany.

I just came across Warhol’s great “Double Elvis” hanging in a permanent-collection installation called “Divided Heaven”, at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. Although the show focused on German modern art, and the tensions between its Eastern and Western versions,  the Warhol canvas looked great and fit right in, even installed on the strange Chinese-themed wallpaper of Thomas Bayrle.  Warhol gives us Elvis as rock star, as gunslinger, as consumer icon, as bullion that’s starting to tarnish. This immaculate amalgam of echt American culture then gets dumped into the troubled world of Cold War Germany, where it  seems to hold equal parts promise and threat and warning.

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Orderly Art

Proof That Morandi Was Sol LeWitt's Teacher?

The Daily Pic: The Italian was such a glutton for order, he could have been the first conceptualist.
A still-life template from the studio of Giorgio Morandi

(Photo by Lucy Hogg)

The Daily Pic: The Italian was such a glutton for order, he could have been the first conceptualist.

I caught this "Morandi" in the home of an artist in Berlin – and I put the Italian's authorship in scare quotes because though the piece is certainly by old Giorgio, it's not really his art. It's a piece of craft paper the Italian used to cover the table where he set up his bottles and vases, before painting them. It seems he would record their exact locations (hence the circles on this template) so that he could put a still life of bottles back exactly as it was, and paint it  over several different sittings when the daylight was just so. Weirdly, that practice, and this template, seem to connect Morandi to the instruction-set Conceptualists of the later 1960s. The conservative Morandi (as I've billed him before) and radical Sol LeWitt make an odd couple, by any lights.

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Extinct Artform

Artist Rebuilds Berlin Wall

The Daily Pic: With his new, life-size panoramas, Yadegar Asisi shows us worlds that have disappeared.
A panorama of the Berlin Wall by Yadegar Asisi

(Courtesy Asisi Panorama International)

The Daily Pic: With his new, life-size panoramas, Yadegar Asisi shows us worlds that have disappeared.

We all know that the panorama was one of the great popular art forms of the 19th century, long since extinct – except that this new one, of a city divided, is up in Berlin now and is attracting crowds. It's by the German-Persian artist Yadegar Asisi, and it's just the latest of the several panoramas that he's made, and that have been equally popular. He says he can't keep up with demand. They aren't great art – Asisi's use of photography is a bit klutzy – but they seem to fill some kind of hole in our visual culture. Maybe we still long to sink our eyes into a world that stands still, when the real thing flies by so fast.

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Peace and Quiet

Museums Cure ADD

The Daily Pic: At the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, Titian asks 'What's the rush?'.
"Visitors" (2013), by Lucy Hogg

(Courtesy Lucy Hogg)

The Daily Pic: At the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, Titian asks 'What's the rush?'.

This is a brand new work by Lucy Hogg (yes,  my wife – nepotism 'r us), from a series documenting how people use art museums. This photo shows two visitors to the lovely Gemäldegalerie in Berlin  contemplating the best version of Titian's "Venus with an Organ Player", which I'd say is one of the earliest fully modern paintings. (Click on my image for a high-res of the Titian.) At first, it seemed tragic that such a great work, like the very great museum it is in, should attract such a tiny audience. But then I realized that I was buying into the same corporate model for museums that I've often attacked, where numbers are how success is judged. The Gemäldegalerie provides an experience that used to be the hallmark of museums: An atmosphere of intimate relations with great art that stands in contrast to the crowds and rush of modern life, and to capitalist bean counting.  Judging museums by how full they are is like wishing there could be crowds in attendance at the great  moments of romance in your life. Museums need to offer up their unique quietude to people from all walks of life; working stiffs need it even more than the well-heeled do. Museums commit cultural suicide by becoming shopping malls and fun fairs.

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Art of the Copy

A Clone Is Rival for Tut's Throne

The Daily Pic: In Berlin, copies of Tut's treasures stand in well for the real ones.
A reproduction of the golden mask of the pharaoh Tutankhamun

(Courtesy Semmel Concerts)

The Daily Pic: In Berlin, copies of Tut's treasures stand in well for the real ones.

King Tut's funeral mask, obviously – or not quite that, since it's a reproduction that I saw over the weekend in Berlin in a big Tutankhamun show that included only reproductions, commissioned by the German rock promoters Semmel Concerts.  (Semmel had invited me to a conference to give my usual rant against exhibitionitis.) To my huge surprise, I left the Tut spead unconvinced that a show of originals would have been much better, or more informative. The repro show let you get a very close, long look at objects that otherwise you'd have to fly to Cairo to see, in the much less than ideal conditions of the Egyptian Museum. And the show was surprisingly informative, even pedagogic – sometimes verging on the pedantic – without much of the empty splash you'd expect of a for-profit, mass-market touring exhibition. The one near-fatal drawback was, you could say, epistemological: You had to trust the organizers to be giving you faithful copies, whereas when you see original objects, you have the near certainty that the knowledge on offer in them is real.

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Art's New Sinology

Soufflé au Soy Sauce?

The Daily Pic: Yang Fudong makes art films that mix French innovations and Chinese content.
A still from the Yang Fudong film called "The Nightman Cometh"

(Courtesy Yang Fudong, Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris/New York and ShanghART Gallery, Shanghai)

The Daily Pic: Yang Fudong makes art films that mix French innovations and Chinese content.

A still from "The Nightman Cometh," by the Chinese artist Yang Fudong, whose films and installations are now getting a survey at the Berkeley Art Museum. I've profiled Yang in next Sunday's New York Times, and the story is now online. One thing I didn't have room to mention: Part of Yang's appeal, I think, comes from the simple fact that he works in film. That's partly because there's almost never before been a case where the most radical innovations and disjunctions of the French Nouvelle Vague have been applied to Chinese subjects. But maybe more important is that, in China, the act of working in film is close to an anti-market move: Chinese collectors very often buy with investment in mind, which keeps them tethered to painting and sculpture—film has a place apart from the current art bubble. Also, film in China is normally seen as part of the entertainment-industrial complex, but Yang's version is far too strange and demanding to play the Hollywood (or Shanghai) game.

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Poe Would Have Been Proud

Pen and Ick

The Daily Pic: Victor Hugo painted scenes of Gothic horror that he never set down in words.
Vicor Hugo's "Fantastic Castle at Twilight", from 1857

(The Morgan Library & Museum Thaw Collection, 2010, photo by Schecter Lee)

The Daily Pic: Victor Hugo painted scenes of Gothic horror that he never set down in words.

This amazing vision of romantic decay was not made last week by a genius illustrator, but by the great French novelist Victor Hugo, working with ink and brush in 1857. It's now on display in the Morgan Library's show of new acquisitions. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that it took a literary type to craft the definitive Gothic-novel imagery.

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Car Art

World's Coolest Hearse?

The Daily Pic: Francois Curlet made a funereal Jaguar, then filmed it as a thriller's prop.
Francois Curlet's piece called "Jonathan Livingston"

(Courtesy Francois Curlet and Galerie Micheline Szwajcer)

The Daily Pic: Francois Curlet made a funereal Jaguar, then filmed it as a thriller's prop.

At Art Basel last spring, French artist Francois Curlet presented this installation, of a  hearse made from a Jaguar E-type roadster beside a video featuring it – and after all these months I've just now managed to get a low-res clip of the video, titled "Jonathan Livingston". (Click on my image to watch the clip.) I'm not sure I've found a profound interpretation of the piece, but there was so much in it I couldn't resist: The gorgeous peculiarity of the hearse (suitable only for dead midgets, as far as I can tell), the video's perfect channeling of a stylish 1960s thriller ("The Avengers", "The Prisoner") and – especially – the harpsichord-jazz soundtrack by Xavier
Boussiron, perfectly suited to the imagery.   

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Unclassical Antiquity

Jason and the Argoknights

The Daily Pic: In 1487, ancient heroes seemed more suited to shining armor than to togas.
he Departure of the Argonauts by Pietro del Donzello (1452–1509)

(Courtesy the Mari-Cha and Frick Collections)

The Daily Pic: In 1487, ancient heroes seemed more suited to shining armor than to togas.

Pietro del Donzello painted this scene from the story of Jason and the Argonauts in 1487, and it’s now on loan from the private Mari-Cha Collection to the public Frick Collection in New York. We are so used to dwelling on the moment when the Renaissance rediscovers what we think of as a “pure” classical style that we don’t have much time for an earlier (much longer) moment, when Europe’s vision of its antique past was wrapped up in the culture of chivalry. I for one am happy to think of Jason as close kin to Lancelot du Lac, and to forgo white marble and togas in favor of stunning knightly splendor. The ancient Greeks would probably have felt the same.

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Power to the People?

Power to the People?

The Daily Pic: In his Gramsci Monument, Thomas Hirschhorn gives the projects a taste of a dead communist.
Part of Thomas Hirschhorn's Gramsci Monument, in the Bronx

(Photo by Lucy Hogg)

The Daily Pic: In his Gramsci Monument, Thomas Hirschhorn gives the projects a taste of a dead communist.

I finally visited Thomas Hirschhorn’s Gramsci Monument, installed in the green space of the Forest Houses apartment complex in the Bronx. It’s a scruffy “club house” dedicated to the Italian communist thinker, who died after a long detention under Mussolini, and consists of a computer room, Gramsci library,  speaker’s corner, radio station and other such amenities, all cobbled together from crude plywood sheeting and plexiglass and Hirschhorn’s signature packing tape. Discussing it afterward with an artist and two art historians who’d joined me, we couldn’t decide what to make of the piece. Was there something condescending about bringing this ultra-elite culture to a project’s residents? Was it a serious and useful homage to Gramsci, or just materialized name dropping? Was the presence of high-end outsiders a constitutive part of the piece – and if so, how did we feel about being turned into Hirschhornian brushstrokes? Was the monument actually built around the exoticizing pleasure of slumming, on the part of  the artist and his art-world audience? And was it simply rude, in the end, to add more dishevelment to a neighborhood that has more than its share – did the people of Forest Houses not deserve some beauty and order in the monument built in their midst? (Compare the elegant scrap-lumber facilities that Theaster Gates has built on bad streets in Chicago.)

In the end, we decided that by simply raising such questions, and foiling all easy answers, the project declares itself pretty good art. (Photo by Lucy Hogg)

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Daring Patrons

When Chevy Was Facebook

The Daily Pic: In 1914, Vasily Kandinsky painted abstractions for a car exec – today, that would be like having a Web mogul as patron.
Vasily Kandinsky, two panels made for Edwin R. Campbell in 1914

(The Museum of Modern Art, NY; © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris)

The Daily Pic: In 1914, Vasily Kandinsky painted abstractions for a car exec – today, that would be like having a Web mogul as patron.

Two panels painted in 1914 by Vasily Kandinsky and recently on view at the Museum of Modern Art. I’ve got strange doubts about the visual (as opposed to conceptual) prowess of Kandinsky’s early abstractions, so what captivated me here wasn’t the work, but its patron: These are two of four panels painted on commission for Edwin R. Campbell, one of the founders of Chevrolet and son-in-law of the founder of GM. My first thought was, “Wow, what an incredibly bold purchase for a stodgy auto exec.” Then I realized that, in 1914, building cars was exactly as cutting-edge as building social networks today. Chevrolet was all of three years old; GM was two years older. 

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American Export

Grits, Japanese Style?

The Daily Pic: Japan's old masters loved depicting corn – but who knows if they liked eating it.
An 18th-century screen from Edo-period Japan

(Courtesy the Larry Ellison Collection)

The Daily Pic: Japan's old masters loved depicting corn – but who knows if they liked eating it.

One final Japanese work, again from “In the Moment: Japanese Art from the Larry Ellison Collection”, at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco – because I couldn’t resist its surprising subject. It’s a screen made in 18th-century Japan, showing the corn stalks that had apparently become a favorite subject of Japanese artists. Corn was introduced to Japan by the Portuguese, less than a century after its discovery across the globe in the New World. Within another hundred years, it had found roots not only in the fields of Japan, but in its artistic culture. Talk about an invasive species.

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