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Trompe l'oeil

Japan's Bookish Craftsman

The Daily Pic: Three centuries ago, Ogawa Haritsu paid close attention to what he wanted ignored.
Sliding wooden doors with books, by Ogawa Haritsu

(Courtesy the Larry Ellison Collection)

The Daily Pic: Three centuries ago, Ogawa Haritsu paid close attention to what he wanted ignored.

Another work of Japanese art, again from San Francisco – this time from a show called “In the Moment: Japanese Art from the Larry Ellison Collection”, at the Asian Art Museum. I normally boycott one-collector shows: They almost always come close to mercenary sycophantism, and this one has moments that come closer than most. But I simply couldn’t resist Daily Pic-ing this pair of lacquered sliding doors, which were made by a revered master named Ogawa Haritsu (1663 –1747).  The splendor of their trompe-l’oeil craft is obvious, using inlaid metal and ceramic to represent the softness of books. But what especially struck me is the scene’s background, whose coarse-grained wood is supposed to read as a neutral support, a no-place that the image simply floats on. And yet that surface that we are not supposed to register – “don’t look at me, I’m just planking” – has clearly been as carefully planned and constructed as the fancy “objects” that sit on it.

For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

Another View of Fuji

The Almost-as-Great Wave

The Daily Pic: Asako Narahashi revisits one of Japan's most famous images, and places.
"Kawaguchiko #2", taken in 2003 by Asako Narahashi

(© Asako Narahashi, courtesy Rose Gallery, Los Angeles)

The Daily Pic: Asako Narahashi revisits one of Japan's most famous images, and places.

Once again from the Pier 24 photography space in San Francisco, this is a view of Mount Fuji from the surface of Lake Kawaguchiko, taken in 2003 by Asako Narahashi. Of course, the true subject of the work is its world-famous doppelganger, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”, woodblock printed by Katsushika Hokusai in about 1831. The differences matter as much as any likenesses. Hokusai shows us the disembodied view of a kind of omniscient narrator – an “omniscient looker”, you could say – who seems to glimpse the struggling sailors almost by accident as he takes in distant Mount Fuji. (Shades of W.H. Auden’s “Musee des Beaux Arts”). Whereas with Narahashi, we see the mountain through modern eyes immersed in the water but made impervious to it by technology. Water splashes onto the glass of the floating photographer’s lens but has no effect; the sun’s flare off the surface of the lake is forced to take on the hexagonal shape of the camera’s aperture. Narahashi reflects on his culture’s past, from its present. 

For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Plato's Cave, Gone Digital

The Daily Pic: Thomas Demand digs deep into what's real and what isn't.
Thomas Demand, "Grotto" (2006)

(Installation image courtesy Pier 24 Photography)

The Daily Pic: Thomas Demand digs deep into what's real and what isn't.

 I saw Thomas Demand's 2006 "Grotto" the other day at Pier 24, the wonderful new(-ish) photo space in San Francisco. It's picture that repays long contemplation, and I spent ages in front of it with friends. (Click on my image to zoom in on a much larger version.)

Demand's inspiration was a postcard he was sent of a show cave in Spain. Following his standard method, he set out to reconstruct the postcard's original subject out of cardboard – which is the first of the conceptual twists in this piece, since making such a reconstruction is in fact an impossible and incoherent task, given that every 2D image could represent an infinite number of possible 3D realities. (Strange, I know, but true.)  Demand built his "reconstruction" using almost a million sheets of computer-cut cardboard, stacked-up layer by layer almost exactly as a 3D printer would spew its resin – and in fact I assumed we were looking at a photo of such a 3D-printed object when I first saw Demand's piece. Yet it takes some work even to make that assumption,  since your first impression when you're  looking at Demand's wall-sized final photo of his model is that you're seeing a pixelated, faulty image of the actual cave. A minute later, you realize that in fact you're looking at a picture shot and printed at the very highest resolution, but showing us a relatively low-res 3D "printout" of its scene. (A million components may sound like a lot for cut cardboard, but it's a pretty low number in the digital world.)

  One final thought I had: The subject in "Grotto" is the ideal one for Demand's project, since the stalactites and stalagmites in a cave seem almost digital in their natural state – they are built drop-by-drop, layer-by-layer, by nature's own 3D printer.

Cezanne's Cliches

The Daily Pic: A watercolor shows how the great painter mixed the radical and the trite.
Paul Cezanne's "Terrace at the Garden at Les Lauves", a watercolor painted sometime between 1902 and 1906.

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

The Daily Pic: A watercolor shows how the great painter mixed the radical and the trite.

Cezanne's "Terrace at the Garden at Les Lauves", a watercolor painted sometime between 1902 and 1906 and recently acquired by the Morgan Library in New York. It strikes me as unusually conventional in its spatial framework for a Cezanne, as though the artist is keeping space anchored as he unmoors his colors. The repoussoir plant pot at left seems especially trite, but it illustrates a crucial point we tend to loose track of (and the market wants us to ignore): That even the greatest artist can have moments of weakness, and is likely to build on cliches.

For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

Art ABCs

Abstraction, Spelled Out

The Daily Pic: Will Boone uses words to build images.
"End" (left) and "Oak", by Will Boone

(Courtesy Will Boone and Karma, NY)

The Daily Pic: Will Boone uses words to build images.

Two four-foot-wide paintings from the "Sigils" series by Will Boone, now on view at Karma gallery in New York. One is titled "End" and the other "Oak", and that gives Boone's game away: These almost-abstract pictures are built by superimposing all the letters in each painting's title. The process yields a kind of automatic abstraction, and the ultimate conflation of content and style. The Greenbergians used to ask for at-a-glance legibility, and you could say that Boone delivers on that promise, and defeats it.

For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive. The Daily Pic can also be found at the bottom of the home page of thedailybeast.com, and on that site’s Art Beast page.

Nunsense

Get Thee To …

The Daily Pic: To capture cloistered life, Michelle Elzay dresses her photos alike.
Images of French nuns by Michelle Elzay

(Courtesy Fitzroy Gallery, NY)

The Daily Pic: To capture cloistered life, Michelle Elzay dresses her photos alike.

In 2002, Michelle Elzay began photographing the Benedictine nuns of the Saint Marie Du Maumont convent, in the Charente in France. These are four of the 51 portraits that came out of the project, recently seen at Fitzroy Gallery in New York. I admit that I reliably swoon over photographic inventories and grids, the way someone else might fall for watercolor sunsets or oil paintings of pears. That makes me wary of going all griddy yet again. But in Elzay’s case, her subjects seem to deserve and demand a Becher-ite study of sameness-with-a-difference: These nuns are all about trying to sublimate the self to a larger system and order, but never perfectly succeeding.

For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive. The Daily Pic can also be found at the bottom of the home page of thedailybeast.com, and on that site’s Art Beast page.

Hat’s Off

Edouard Vuillard’s Painted Drawings

The Daily Pic: In the 1890s, the great Post-Impressionist used canvas the way others used paper.
"The Hats" by Edouard Vuillard, from about 1893

(The Morgan Library & Museum,
Thaw Collection, 2011; 
photo by Schecter Lee)

The Daily Pic: In the 1890s, the great Post-Impressionist used canvas the way others used paper.

This is “The Hats”,  a watercolor made by Edouard Vuillard in around 1893 and now in the Morgan Library’s show of recently acquired drawings. I’ve always loved how, in his oil paintings, Vuillard leaves gaps in the paint to let his canvas show through. The beige of the fabric works as an extra tone in Vuillard’s composition.  Looking at the Morgan drawings exhibition made me realize that his oil-painting technique might be sourced in drawings (and watercolors), where the blank paper almost always counts as a tone. In Vuillard, however, there’s another source and referent that’s peculiar to him: The textiles in his mother’s dressmaking workshop would have also used their grounds as elements in their designs. That means that all of Vuillard’s paintings can be thought of as figured textiles stretched on a frame – which is what every painted canvas really is.

For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

Appreciation

Allan Sekula, R.I.P

The Daily Pic: Sekula, the great photographer who billed documentation as art, died on Aug. 10.
"Pancake", by Allan Sekula, who died Aug. 10, 2013

(Image courtesy Christopher Grimes Gallery: cgrimes-news.blogspot.com)

The Daily Pic: Sekula, the great photographer who billed documentation as art, died on Aug. 10.

Alan Sekula, the great artist-documentarian, died Saturday at the age of 62 – three days after the Daily Pic happened to have lingered on one of the images from his great “Fish Story” series, recently acquired by the Museum of Modern Art. I’d known he’d been sick with cancer for some time, but had no idea he was so near the end. So today’s Pic, another MoMA image from the same series, is in Sekula’s memory. It’s a 1992 photo titled “Pancake, a former shipyard sandblaster, scavenging copper from a waterfront scrapyard. Los Angeles harbor. Terminal Island, California.” Vimeo has a nice little video of him speaking a few years ago; its most Sekulian quotes come toward the end. 

For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

Party Pics

That Ol' New Wave

The Daily Pic: Jimmy DeSana's 1980s photos bring a downtown moment to life.
"Sweatshirt" (1980-82), by Jimmy DeSana

(Courtesy Jimmy DeSana Trust and Salon 94, New York)

The Daily Pic: Jimmy DeSana's 1980s photos bring a downtown moment to life.

Photos by the late Jimmy DeSana are now on view at Salon 94 on the Bowery in New York. With their bright colors and staged melodrama, they take me right back to ’80s New Wave. Surprisingly, most of the images still feel firmly rooted in that moment – this branch of photography still hasn’t been naturalized into the art mainstream. But today’s Daily Pic, dated 1980-82 and titled “Sweatshirt”, is an exception: It feels more fully performative than staged; more about documentation of a strange act than creation of theater just for the camera. It could almost be one of Erwin Wurm’s “One Minute Sculptures”, from two decades later. 

For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

Naughty, Naughty

Laddish Painting, from a Woman

The Daily Pic: Katrin Heichel paints the vanishing world of the pinup.
“Guten Morgen Deutschland (Good Morning Germany)”, from 2010, by Katrin Heichel

(Courtesy Katrin Heichel and Thierry Goldberg Gallery)

The Daily Pic: Katrin Heichel paints the vanishing world of the pinup.

This is Katrin Heichel's "Guten Morgen Deutschland (Good Morning Germany)", from 2010, now in the summer show at Thierry Goldberg Gallery in New York.  I'm not usually a fan of art with strong links to "traditional" (read, "illustrative") techniques, but this painting triggered some interesting thoughts. I was intrigued by a kind of parallelism between the dead genre of the girly pinup, as seen on the walls of the lunchroom depicted by Heichel, and the moribund state of traditional painting. This led me to think about the connection that has traditionally been made between paint and flesh, and especially women's flesh. It seemed strange and compelling to find a woman artist using paint to redepict images of female bodies originally conceived for male eyes. On top of that, the picture seems to express some kind of nostalgia for the vanishing space of the laddish lunchroom, and uses the nostalgic medium of paint to do the expressing. The illustrative technique of Heichel, trained in the Leipzig School, also comes pretty close to the technique used for some of the more "classy" pinups of yore. Maybe there's a kind of fond hope that the magic of paint can clean up society's gendered messes, coupled with the acknowledgment that it can't.

For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

Picture Shopping

MoMA Buys a Fishy Tale

The Daily Beast: Allan Sekula's great "Fish Story" enters the Modern's photo collection.
"Koreatown, Los Angeles" (April 1992) by Allan Sekula, from his series "Fish Story"

(Museum of Modern Art Vital Projects Fund, Robert B. Menschel; © 2013 Allan Sekula)

The Daily Beast: Allan Sekula's great "Fish Story" enters the Modern's photo collection.

I was so happy to see  this and other photos from Allan Sekula's "Fish Story" in the MoMA show of its latest photographic acquisitions. Sekula's project, shot between 1988 and 1995, represents the informative, content-focused end of the spectrum of fine-art photography, so it's great to see it find a home in a museum thought of (utterly unfairly) as the home of formalist Modernism. (As in the Bill Brandt show there that's closing this week.) Funny thing is, I remember that when I first saw Sekula's images, years ago, they seemed utterly resistant to aesthetic concerns – they were just pure documentation of global trade and labor. Now they look like an established, familiar aesthetic. 


For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

Keep Those Bottle Tops

The Hard Labor of African Art

The Daily Pic: Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui makes art about manual workers (including his).
 “Earth’s Skin", by El Anatsui

(Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York; photograph by Joe Levack, courtesy the Akron Art Museum)

The Daily Pic: Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui makes art about manual workers (including his).

This is “Earth’s Skin", one of many giant installations in the solo show that the Brooklyn Museum is giving to the Ghanaian-born artist El Anatsui. I haven’t been convinced by any of the readings that I’ve heard of these pieces, which either center on their visual splendor or on their tenuous (or cliched) connection to aspects of “African" culture. Taking in the show the other day, I realized that a more interesting, profitable reading would have to center on issues of labor – on the tedious labor expended by El Anatsui’s hordes of assistants, as they flatten and pierce thousands of metal bottle caps and soup-can lids, and on the history of Africans laboring on behalf of Western rulers, to satisfy Western tastes and demands.

For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

A Genius Hack

Hopper: So Bad He's Good

The Daily Pic: Edward Hopper's paintings are worse than his drawings – which makes them better.
Edward Hopper's study for "Office at Night", and the finished painting from it.

(Drawing – Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest; painting – Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Gift of the T. B. Walker Foundation, Gilbert M. Walker Fund)

The Daily Pic: Edward Hopper's paintings are worse than his drawings – which makes them better.

This is a study for Edward Hopper’s “Office at Night", from 1940, and the finished painting based on it, as paired in the Hopper drawings show now at the Whitney Museum in New York. The oohing and aahing around this show seems all about Hopper’s skills as a draughtsman, but it’s pretty clear that by the commercial-art standards of his time (or even of ours) those skills were fair to middling. His work only becomes interesting when he transfers his drawings to paint, where his technique was quite simply absent. But it’s that absence of quality – the same absence of culural value that we see in his banal office or diner or other subjects – that makes his paintings unique to him, and to his place and moment. He needs to display a level of skill that brings him closer to an American sign-painter than to a French academician. 

For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

Listen Here

The Art That Roared

The Daily Pic: MoMA launches its first sound-art survey.
One of the bells recorded for Stephen Vitiello's "A Bell for Every Minute" (2010)

(Commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation; photo by Stephen Vitiello)

The Daily Pic: MoMA launches its first sound-art survey.

This is one of many bells recorded by Stephen Vitiello for his outdoor sound piece called “A Bell for Every Minute", now installed in the MoMA garden for the Aug. 10 opening of “Soundings: A Contemporary Score", the Modern’s first full survey of sonic art. My feature on the show and its artform appears in print in Sunday’s New York Times, and is online now. Among the things I didn’t have room to mention there:

– That sound is a rare medium that has managed to keep an avant-garde patina. Maybe  that’s because of the recent rediscovery of the sound-art components in early Dada and abstraction, and because of the new recognition of John Cage as a seminal figure for all postwar artforms. Also and amazingly, painting and sculpture, material and commodified, still count as the artistic norm, which lets an immaterial and hard-to-sell medium like sound continue to act as the Official Opposition.

– That the best new pieces of so-called sound art are almost all representational: That is, they find new ways to present sonic “images" that  we already know and care about, and to comment on them. Which means that, rather than being a new medium for art making (and when was the last time sophisticated people thought about art in medium-specific terms?), sound is merely a new subject worth exploring, in a medium that happens, not surprisingly, to be mostly sonic. (Although the great success of Christian Marclay’s phonic works comes from realizing how tightly sound and vision have been packaged together in 20th-century culture.)

Vintage Currency

The Daily Pic: At the Met, the Catalan master has a conceptual edge.

The Daily Pic: At the Met, the Catalan master has a conceptual edge.
“Photo: This is the Color of My Dreams” (1925) by Joan Miro

(©Successió Miró / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris 2013)

The Daily Pic: At the Met, the Catalan master has a conceptual edge.

Joan Miro's “Photo: This is the Color of My Dreams”, from 1925, is up now in the modern rooms of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It never ceases to amaze me how many different options were on the table in the 1920s, and how they seemed to narrow as formalist abstraction took over later, even in an artist as protean as Miro. This ultra-sophisticated picture feels like it could have been made yesterday – which I guess shows how far we haven't come. 

For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.