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.
The Daily Pic: Meiro Koizumi rehearses the dawn of a suicide flyer.
This is a moment from a video installation called “Portrait of a Young Samurai", by the Japanese artist Meiro Koizumi. I saw it a while back in Venice as part of the exhibition for the Pinchuk Foundation’s Future Generation Art Prize, but I haven’t had a chance to Daily Pic it until now. (Click on the image to watch a video clip.) In the piece, Koizumi gets a young actor to rehearse a monologue that has a kamikaze pilot saying a final fairwell to his parents. Offscreen, we hear Koizumi pushing the rehearser to ever more extreme emotional states, and we watch as the young man attempts to nail an unthinkable part. As we see the professional actor try, and mostly fail, to break through all normal limits of thought and feeling, we wonder how so many thousands of Japanese men once did precisely that. There’s also something brilliantly chilling about Koizumi’s calm tone, as he coaches his actor to inhabit breakdown.
The Daily Pic: Designer Adi Zaffran Weisler mixes scrap wood and tidy plastics.
This “RAWtation" table was conceived by the Israeli designer Adi Zaffran Weisler, during his studies at the venerable Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. By inserting natural detritus into the jig for the table’s rotationally-molded plastic top, Weisler managed to inject some happenstance into an industrial process that’s usually all about preplanning and perfect control – like a bit of Jackson Pollock added to the procedures of a Josef Albers. (The “Fish" designs by Gaetano Pesce got there first, I know, but Weisler makes more outlandish messes.)
The Daily Pic: Jonathas de Andrade demonstrates the path from single to double bed.
In a group show called "Better Homes", at the Sculpture Center in New York, the Brazilian artist Jonathas de Andrade provides instructional photos for rejigging two single beds as one double one. His 2010 piece, called "2 em 1" ("Two in One") seems like a good distillation of many of the exhibition's larger themes: Domesticity and its material goods; coupling and the social structures that surround it; the very different access that developed and developing nations have to the disposable trappings of modern middle-class life.
The Daily Pic: At the Met, an ancient Greek bronze gives a golden view of boxing.
The image at left shows a lovely Hellenistic Greek bronze, made around 300 B.C. and now on loan to the Metropolitan Museum from the Museo Nazionale Romano in Rome. If this is late, “decadent" Greek art, I’ll take more of it, any day. It’s an extraordinarily powerful thing, and gives a really touching view of an aging but still powerful boxer. The wall texts claim that Greek aristos themselves used to box, as a sign of martial prowess, and I love the idea that this represents an elite figure rather than a “mere" athlete. It also seems that this statue, which we would classify as a lesser “genre" subject, was so highly valued in ancient Rome that it was deliberately buried to protect if from marauding hordes. One thing the Met’s texts don’t broach: That it may be that ancient bronzes were originally presented highly polished, like brass (or gold), rather than with the dark patina we’re used to seeing on them. That’s what the manipulated image at right presents, and it seems to make sense to me, as a different image of the pomp of antiquity – of a piece with the fully painted marbles that we know were also the norm.
The Daily Beast: In the 1920s, Chaim Soutine riffed on Rembrandt's butchery.
Just back from a visit to the fantastic Albright-Knox museum in Buffalo, one of the first places where I acquired an intimate knowledge of modern art. On my first visits, I was still mired deep in Renaissance and Old Master art, so this side of beef, painted by Chaim Soutine in about 1925, immediately struck a chord. Although I can’t remember at the time if I recognized its source in Rembrandt – because I kept linking it to the still earlier butcher-shop images of Bartolomeo Passarotti, and thinking about the strange survival of certain motifs across the centuries, even if they are absolute unica the first time they come along.
The Daily Pic: In his furniture, Mathieu Mercier sees aesthetics in function.
This bench, by French artist Mathieu Mercier, is one of my favorite recent finds, which I've spotted (and sat on) several times at art fairs in the booth of Galerie Mehdi Chouakri from Berlin. Mercier just provides the two metal brackets, and it's up to their buyer to supply the rolls of carpet for seat and back. (The piece has also been shown with sewer pipe and old logs replacing the carpet). As the gallery puts it, Mercier's works "imply that function is part of an aesthetical proposition." And then there's the green angle: I'm convinced that the more unsellably hideous the carpet, the better it would look on Mercier's bench, providing an endless demand for textile designers' mistakes.
The Daily Pic: In 1982, Agnes Denes cultivated wheat in Battery Park.
From the very interesting "Expo 1" show at PS1 comes this image of Agnes Denes's 1982 project called "Wheatfield – A Confrontation: Battery Park Landfill, Downtown Manhattan". The title says it all: A wheatfield planted and then harvested on remediated landfill at Battery Park in far lower Manhattan, as it awaited development. The project is smart and powerful and beautiful on so many levels – and of course having the Twin Towers in the background gives it added potency, now. None of Denes's issues, in art or politics or economics or ecology, are any less worth addressing today than 30 years ago.
The Daily Pic: Tobias Rehberger transplants a Frankfurt watering hole to New York.
German artist Tobias Rehberger has a favorite watering hole in Frankfurt called the Bar Oppenheimer. For the Frieze Art Fair, he and gallery Pilar Corrias made a duplicate of it in Hôtel Americano in Chelsea that will be operating through July 14. It is what Duchamp would have called an “assisted readymade,” with the assist here being that Rehberger redid all the bar’s surfaces with a bizarre camouflage pattern derived from the “dazzle ships” of World War I. You feel drunk before even consuming one of Rehberger’s signature vodka and limes. (He better not turn to mixology ...) All of this is pretty standard art-world stuff and rather too invested in the cliché of the louche, scene-y artist. What particularly struck me, however, was that Rehberger has opened another duplicate of the same original bar on the far side of Frankfurt, but insists that that facsimile is just a bar and not a work of art. Keeping this distinction between art and nonart, even if it’s only made by fiat, shows a real understanding of how readymades have to work.
Daily Pic: Wim Delvoye rethinks a Christian icon.
Only a few more days to catch “Dual Möbius Quad Corpus”, one of the best pieces ever by Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, who is now enjoying a solo show at Sperone Westwater gallery in New York. This truly bizarre object, worthy of the furthest bywaters of Catholic eccentricity, consists of four bronze Christs crucified on a single cross that’s been turned in on itself – the only way to accomplish this perverse four-in-one task, according to Delvoye. What matters most about the piece is that it doesn’t read as pure and arbitrary surrealism. The object sets itself a goal, of sorts, and then achieves it in an orderly way. Looking at it, you are forever wanting to undistort its four life-size figures and “resurrect” them to a normal state, like the skull in Holbein’s “Ambassadors”. I have almost never seen modern takes on Christian symbols that genuinely work, seeming to move the tradition forward without leaving its roots behind. By which I guess I mean that I can imagine some Spanish penitent, circa 1600, getting something from Delvoye’s piece.
The Daily Pic: His illuminated spaces used to stand for transcendence, but the new Guggenheim project evokes klieg lights and red carpets.
James Turrell’s “Aten Reign”, a splashy light piece now filling the rotunda of the Guggenheim Museum in New York, is mostly being heralded as a transcendent soul-feast. For me, however, it provides a plangent picture of the sorry state of our culture, obsessed with spectacle and in thrall to the One Percent. Read a full account of these qualms in my Turrell review for Architectural Record, live online now.
The Daily Pic: Arthur Brutter's earthquake-proof table brings safety to those underneath.
This earthquake-proof school table, designed and tested to withstand falling rubble, was conceived by the young Israeli Arthur Brutter, while he was still a student at the venerable Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. (Click on the image to watch a video about Brutter’s piece.) Sometimes, if only rarely, superb function ought to count as an aesthetic position. Just as a great painting or photo can get some of its greatness from what it points to, so certain purely functional objects can point to the needs that they fill, and to how these have not been filled before. It’s a “style” you could call Functional Realism.
The Daily Pic: In 1959, Judith Lauand took abstraction to the next level.
The last treasures I spotted at Art Basel were these drawings by the “Concretist” artist Judith Lauand, on view at the Stephen Friedman booth. Lauand, I discovered, was the only woman in the Grupo Ruptura movement in Brazil, which helped solidify the place of abstract art in that country. These works are titled “Concreto 143, Acervo 194” (left) and “Concreto 142, Acervo 301”, and both were made in 1959. What strikes me most about them is how much they recall the pioneering computer-generated art made 15 years later. Lauand’s drawings seem to look ahead to later art, rather than back to classic European abstraction.
The Daily Pic: Arlene Shechet reveals the inner workings of Meissen.
The sculptor Arlene Shechet, who was showing this piece of hers at the Sikkema Jenkins booth at Art Basel, once told me that she started working in ceramics almost by accident. It seems she was never a classic art-school mud bunny, obsessed with clay and the potter’s wheel. With her latest project, however, executed during a residency at the great Meissen clayworks in Germany, Shechet may have to buy herself some mud-bunny ears, after all. This fascinating porcelain piece, titled “Mold of the Mold #29694 Pushed”, was cast from the exterior of one of the ancient molds that Meissen still uses to make precious objets, and then was painted by a master in the mode of such treasures. Riffing on the venerable blue-and-white tradition has become something of a trend on clay’s cutting edge (see my posting on Robert Dawson). Shechet adds to it smartly. To go a bit Greenbergian here, I think clay’s at its best when it talks about clay – or at least when it knows its history.