Sam Gilliam works with form and hue, but we always see history in it.
This is Sam Gilliam’s “One Thunder”, from a show at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery on abstraction by Black artists – about as vexed a subject as you could ask for. Does Blackness, as a social color, change the hue of all the other colors it touches? Does the very fact of a Black artist not working with figuration, and not addressing issues of race, become a salient refusal – and therefore as political as anything else? This 1970 Gilliam strikes me as notably concise and self-contained, from an artist who hit his stride by sprawling work across rooms. It also evokes the pointed hood and robes of a Klansman.
This is the last Daily Pic to be cross-posted to TheDailyBeast.com. The series will continue uninterrupted at BlakeGopnik.com, and there should be news soon about a new second venue.
Greg Miller catches school children as they wait for their bus to come in.
A photo from the series “The Bus Stop at the End of the Driveway”, by Greg Miller, again from the faculty show at the school of the International Center of Photography in New York. The title is more or less self-explanatory: These are exurban kids waiting for their school buses in the early a.m. Ryan’s photos represent a moment and a place and an event – and even figures – that we mostly overlook. It’s always great to see photography doing its job of ostension.
In 1969, Frederick Hammersley was already playing with CPUs and printers.
"Jelly Centers" was made in 1969 by Frederick Hammersley, one of the first artists to make serious use of computers and their printers. It’s now in a group show at Bortolami gallery in New York. I am just (barely) old enough to remember when computer-generated art was new, and hot, so what strikes me most about Hammersley’s piece is how something that once seemed so clearly to yield a vision of the future now is all about nostalgia for a vanished past. Those feed-holes on the paper’s sides are enough to bring a wistful tear to a programmer’s eye.
To celebrate the 1,000th Daily Pic, we declare "Las Meninas" the West's greatest hit.
In honor of the Daily Pic's 1,000th post, I’m revisiting Velazquez’s “Las Meninas”, which was the “Pic” that got my project started. (Click here to see the image hugely enlarged.) Back in August of 2010, I climbed on my new soapbox and suggested that the work might be “The greatest picture in the Western world”, without giving reasons. A few months later, I spent a solid week with the canvas, then argued my position at rather great length. And now, even after one thousand Pics, I don’t have much to add, except to note how brilliantly the picture has refused to turn into the empty icon that the Mona Lisa and Michelangelo’s “David” have become. Velazquez’s masterpiece, dubbed “the theology of painting” shortly after it was made, is simply too rich and complex to bear compression into a fridge magnet’s mental space. Portions of the painting – the Infanta herself; her dog and dwarf – have suffered that fate, but the whole has mostly escaped it. The truth is, I feel more than a bit guilty trying to squeeze this endless work into the limits of a single Daily Pic. Better to think of it as the creative force that has lurked behind the last 999 of them.
Tomoo Gokita paints worlds no one has seen.
"Mystic Revelation" is one of the deeply peculiar paintings by the Japanese artist Tomoo Gokita, now gettting his first solo at Mary Boone Gallery in New York. Gokita’s pictures feel like they were made by someone surveying the entire history of 20th-century art afresh, with no special attachment to any particular moments, and asserting no hierarchy between them. Normally, the idea that a work is “timeless” is both praise and empty cliche. Here “timelessness” yields anxiety, and a sense of a world out of whack. Even reference seems to float free: Are those ten appendages swollen fingers, or dreadlocks, or sea cucumbers? The surrealism in these pictures doesn’t seem to come from recombining what’s out in the world, so much as from not recognizing reality’s parts.
Richard Serra repeats the right stuff, at last.
One of the sadder statements I've heard an artist make came from the famous tough-guy sculptor Richard Serra, in 2007, when he waxed lyrical about the popularity he'd finally achieved with his light-and-lively, oft-repeated "Torqued Ellipses", compared to the "hostility" he'd encountered from viewers of the weighty, challenging, protean art of his earlier career. In New York now, at Gagosian Gallery's 21st Street space, Serra has installed the latest iteration of his crowd-pleasing playground pieces, lighter and livelier than ever – I once called them "Dale Chihuly's glass baubles, blown up big for the heavy-metal set". But then at Gagosian's 24th Street space, Serra has new works – including the "7 Plates, 6 Angles" shown here – that point back to the heft and risk of his earlier art. Of course these are derivative, too, almost as though Serra were his own pupil, or a forger of his own pieces. But at least they "forge" (pun intended) the pieces by him that matter.
Jeanette May's photos show men at ease in their bachelor pads.
"Bachelor #2, Jeff", shot by Jeanette May in 2011, is from a series called "Bachelor Pads", now in the show of faculty work at the school of the International Center of Photography. It particularly appealed to me because of a historical precedent I've written about before: According to the architectural historian Beatriz Colomina, the idea of the high-design "bachelor pad" was popularized by Playboy in the 1950s and 60s, and was "sold" to men by posing naked women on the furniture. Its nice to see that, 40 years later, men have settled into their "pads", as normal places to live, and can be their own cheesecake.
At the Met, jewels by JAR may be tacky junk, but they tell us about ourselves.
OK, so I’m on the record – this morning, on Marketplace – as hating the jewelry of the Parisian gemster known as JAR (a.k.a Joel A. Rosenthal). But that doesn’t mean that this tacky butterfly brooch, from 1994, isn’t deeply interesting and informative as a shiny little fragment of visual culture – and so worthy of a Daily Pic.
As I argued on the radio, the solo show of JAR tchotchkes now at the Metropolitan Museum in New York helps us keep in mind how entirely our culture has been taken over by the values of the ultra-rich. JAR’s gewgaws have nothing to do with serious artistic thought, such as other contemporary jewelers are engaging with; JAR makes empty-headed twinkly stuff that any little girl would want for her princess costume. But as things stand today, if you can get the price tag on such objects up high enough, they begin to command respect. In the 21st century, money doesn’t talk, it outshouts everything else.
Robert Mapplethorpe used old forms for forbidden content.
Who else could this shot be by than Robert Mapplethorpe? It’s a 1980 image titled “Leather Crotch”, and it’s in the Mapplethorpe survey now at Sean Kelly gallery in New York. I visited with a smart artist and an art-historian friend, and somehow we got caught up in the same-old Mapplethorpe debate: Is his aesthetic too conservative and Edward Weston-ish for its own good, or can we ignore that because of the radical subjects he shoots? Afterward, I realized the obvious solution to the (non-)issue: Mapplethorpe’s art matters most when it uses the old Modernist tropes to display his new subjects. Finding a new, radical language to show bondage gear would have been almost a capitulation to the sidelining that gay culture had suffered for decades; by using the established language of elite art, Mapplethorpe could insist on a retrospective insertion of gay culture into the aesthetic mainstream. He could be the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing, while saying that wolfskin is in.
Two endurance movies go head-to-head
Last weekend, I spent seven-plus hours watching all of Warhol’s great “Empire”, which consists of unedited footage of the Empire State Building that he shot in 1964. My account of the screening appeared in print in today’s New York Times, while all 5,500 words of the minute-by-minute notes that I took at the screening are up at my new Warholiana.com Web site. But for all that looking and thinking and writing, I missed something obvious, pointed out to me over drinks last night by Tom DeKay, former art editor at the Times and now editor-in-chief of ArtInfo.com: The obvious counterpoint to Warhol’s meditation on passing time is Christian Marclay’s superb “Clock”, from 2010, which cuts together 24 hours’ worth of Hollywood images of clocks and watches and all things temporal, so that the collage of times seen on-screen match the real times on a viewer’s watch. The two pieces are analogues, yes, but also importantly and surprisingly different: In Warhol, nothing happens, and that’s its greatest virtue – it teaches cinematic patience; Marclay’s “Clock” gives us a constant stream of event, more like the insane flicker of an Olympic chronometer than the pace of a clockless day at the shore. It perfectly suits our current attention spans. I adore Marclay’s “Clock”, and have spent many hours entranced by it; it is irresistible and ceaselessly compelling. But I guess I believe the Warhol is the more challenging, complex, surprising piece. It overcomes our doubts, rather than confirming our pleasures.
Lewis Hine saw beauty in the oppressed kids he shot.
"Paris Gamin" was shot in about 1918 by Lewis Hine, and is in the fabulous survey of his work that's on view for only a few more days at the International Center of Photography. Hine, of course, is famous for his images of working people – mostly children – stuck in an unjust and cruel system. His photos of kids, especially, are almost unfailingly touching and sensitive, conveying the sense (true or false) that the photographer genuinely felt for them. The only problem is that this leads Hine to make his subjects look luminous and gorgeous – with this French urchin as a prime example. They might as well have been shot by a fashion photog. And, in the presence of so much beauty and elegance, it's hard to feel that there's much wrong with the world. Hines's pictures don't make us feel miserable enough, for the misery of their subjects to impinge fully on us. There's too much love in them.
G. William Webb turns old bricks into new sculpture.
This 14-inch terracotta drum is called “Quantity”, and it’s a days-old work by G. William Webb, now on view in a group show at the little Room East gallery in New York. At first it comes across as a supremely elegant example of modernist formalism – a kind of apotheosis or archetype of the shape that a potter’s wheel most naturally forms. It turns out, however, that there’s a backstory. Webb made his clay from ancient bricks that he found on walks in Brooklyn, then smashed to a powder with a sledge hammer. The darker dot on top is actually a hole into the drum, filled to the brim with Webb’s raw brick dust. So the piece is still about archetypal ceramics, but this time understood as having a history.
For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit BlakeGopnik.com/archive.
In 2011, designer Adam Bezer gave us this Guy Fawkes mask. We may want to don it again.
Remember this? Three years on, doesn't it already feel like a leftover from a bygone era? Isn't that too bad?
This version of the Occupy mask appeared in The Occupied Wall Street Journal, in November 2011, thanks to the designer Adam Bezer. It's now on view as one of the least light-hearted objects in a show called "Play Things", at the main branch of the New York Public Library. The mask reminds me that many of the most important improvements in American life – women's rights, union rights, Black rights – only came about after demonstrators took to the street, and risked life and limb for their goals. Occupy, with its public theatrics, was central to our slow-dawning awareness of this country's chasm between have-nots and have-way-too-much-es. If the majority's going to take back its share of the nation's riches, those Guy Fawkes masks may need to go on again.
In a filmed "Screen Test", Andy turned the singer into his creation.
In honor of Lou Reed’s recent death, here he is in 1966, in a still from the last of this week’s five “Screen Tests”, on loan from the Warhol Museum and now being projected at the museum of the Rhode Island School of Design. (There’s a bootleg clip of the Reed piece on YouTube.) This is what most people who know the “Tests” imagine them to be: Footage of one gorgeous or compelling or (soon-to-be-)famous person, seen staring impassively, revealingly into Warhol’s camera for a solid four minutes. (Although each shoot took only three minutes, Warhol wanted the “Tests” screened in slight slow motion, exaggerating the duration of the encounter.) This particular “Test” could almost be an ad for Reed, the new-minted rock star: The black turtleneck and half-moon lighting clearly echo Robert Freeman’s famous “With the Beatles” cover from 1963. With his head enlarged by the projector to many times life size, Reed comes across as the archetypal teen idol, a true “Face” in the Mod sense of the word. It’s how Warhol might have shown Dylan in the “Screen Test” that I Pic’d yesterday – but didn’t.
With Reed, Warhol isn’t digging deep into the soul of his sitter, although that’s the ancient cliche that’s often attached to all of these portraits. We watch instead as Warhol, manager and “discoverer” (in theory) of Reed’s band, asserts that the singer is his own private creation. It’s a portrait of Reed, but it shows us Warhol as he plays Pygmalion.
Andy films Bob, and KOs him.
A still from the second-to-last Warhol "Screen Test" that I'll be showing this week, thanks to a show of 20 now at the museum of the Rhode Island School of Design, on loan from the Warhol Museum. This four-minute film shows Bob Dylan, and its hardly a secret that Warhol and Dylan had tensions, to say the least, since they were rivals as leaders of their cultural moment. Although today's "Screen Test" seems quite like the cover-girl ones Warhol did of his beauties (male and female), it subtly conspires to chip away at Dylan: the lens is on the high side, which shrinks and fattens its subject, and the lighting often pushes Dylan's eyes into shadow. Dylan seems pouty and self-absorbed, like any self-respecting beauty, but thanks to Warhol's artifice he never delivers the appeal we expect. If the "Screen Tests" can seem like a mostly conceptual gambit, it's clear that in some cases their visual subtleties matter.
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.