Cai Dongdong: Guns & Shutters

Cai Dongdong “Aiming at the Camera,” 2017, Gelatin silver print, Russian camera(!), wood. Photo courtesy Cai Dongdong and Klein Sun Gallery. Click any Photo for full size.

On October 6th the NYC Art world was permanently changed with the opening of the monumental “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World” at the Guggenheim. Filling all 6 floors of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Rotunda and spilling over into two of the side galleries, it was as close to encyclopedic as any show of it’s kind could ever hope to be. Having closed on January 7, I’m still processing my thoughts about it. This much I can say- In it’s wake, the training wheels are now off. The flood gate of what’s been going on in Contemporary Art in China has opened and we’re officially in the deep water.

And it’s about time.

The 71 “key Artists and groups” as the show’s site calls them were remarkably well chosen, in my opinion, divided between historically important Artists and works, and those of the moment. Still? In a country of 1.4 Billion people, it’s impossible to include everyone. Many deserving Artists were missed, especially with only 9 women represented. While big on video & installations, almost completely missing was Photography, Ai Weiwei’s famous “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn,” 1995, being one of the few works included.

Cai Dongdong, “Splashing Woman,” 2016, Handmade color photo, knitting, in Artist’s frame. I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything quite like this.

If you are among those left wanting to see more, see what other Contemporary Chinese Artists are doing, or see what Contemporary Chinese Photography Artists are doing, I strongly encourage you to check out some of the fine and daring galleries around town that specialize in Contemporary Chinese Art. With a 10 year history of representing and showing Chinese Artists who are, largely, in the process of becoming better known in the USA, Klein Sun Gallery on West 22nd Street is among the leading galleries in the field. Gallerist Eli Klein speaks with both passion and experience about the Artists he, and his gallery, represent, but, also about “the difficult concepts and social commentary portrayed by some of our artists,” as he told me.

The latter is exactly what makes Klein Sun a must visit gallery on my rounds. Mr. Klein comes by his passion naturally. He is the son the late, extraordinary, women’s champion, Janet Benshoof, who passed away on December 18th.

Installation view of the first gallery.

In all the years that I’ve been going to Klein Sun, this is a particularly good time to go. Their current show, “Cai Dongdong: Photography Autocracy,” through January 18, is an eye-opener, full of pushing-the-envelope creativity, in works that will linger with you after they upend your preconceptions. Mr. Dongdong’s work, which is centered on Photography, is rife with commentary, divided between themes including the military, the act of seeing and being seen, and Henri Cartier-Bresson’s famous “Decisive Moment.” But it’s the universality and humanity of his work as a whole that impresses me the most. Though the faces are Chinese, they could be anyone. For western eyes, there are echoes of Man Ray, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Cornell in works that are “Photo-Sculptures,”as he calls them, but decidedly different from Robert Rauschenberg’s “Combines.” Unique among all the Photographers I spent last year seeing, Cai Dongdong, also, constructs the beautiful stands and frames he uses himself, ala Joseph Cornell or Holly Lane, creating an all in one experience in which the Photograph plays one part. The Artist, who turns 40 this year, has a bit of a unique background. He joined the People’s Liberation Army- as a portrait Photographer, a post he remained in for about a decade. This served to have a lasting influence on him, as one might suspect, as one side of his subsequent Art incorporates these Photos, while another side uses found images, (selected from an archive that Phil Cai, Mr. Klein’s Associate at Klein Sun, told me numbers over 600,000 images), but in all his work, he combines Photographs in ways that defy the “Autocracy” of the image to force it to say “something else,” always unexpected.

Cai Dongdong, “The Photographer II,” 2015, Handmade color photo, photographic lens in Artist’s frame. The lens goes right through the work.

Going beyond Photographs with his passion for Photography, a number of these works contain camera lenses inserted right into the piece, making the viewer the subject. Many others contain mirrors or reflective surfaces, and one, seen at the beginning, and below, puts you at the place of the Photographer- if you dare.

Cai Dongdong “Aiming at the Camera,” 2017,

Through mirrors and lenses, he also puts the viewer in the work, reminding us of our complicity by looking and seeing, most poignantly they’re included in a number of nudes on view, including one that replaces the model’s head with a round mirror, all ready for your face.

Cai Dongdong, “Back from Target Practice,” 2017, Gelatin silver print, LCD Light box. These harmless looking smiling armed ladies are returning from target practice. Or? Are they coming for us? Interestingly, the piece is mounted about head high for many viewers, making it personal.

The central element, for me, in his work is the humanity that runs through it. In “Aiming at the Camera,” 2017, the Artist, literally, puts you in his shoes when he took this Photo. In “The Association of the Cannon,” 2016, a cannon goes off expelling a harmless and lovely nude. Right next to it, in “Back from Target Practice,” 2017, a group of armed young women walk towards the viewer, making you feel that even women, the givers of life, when armed, can pose a real danger to you-particularly when they’re coming your way. These Photos have a “journalistic” feel that’s turned into something else in the whole, something the Photo may, or may not have originally intended. Hence, the Photo’s “Autocracy” in the show’s title is subject to Artist’s intervention. The Artist is the one with the unlimited power to control what it says.

Detail.

The role of guns (rifles and cannons) is a recurrant theme in the Artist’s work that was also a memorable part of his last Klein Sun show, “Fountain,” 2015. Here, guns alternate between being a threat and being “defused.” The two shows mirror each other beautifully, down to their success, with “Fountain” selling out, and “Photography Autocracy” getting very close to it. (A word to book collectors-  The Artist created an extraordinary book for “Fountain,” in a limited edition of 500 signed & numbered copies, the stack of available copies at the gallery dwindled each time I visited, partially my fault. For someone who has been buried, literally up to his neck in Art & PhotoBooks, as anyone who has seen my apartment this year could swear to in court, I was shocked to see the intricate details that have been painstakingly included in this book. It’s gorgeous. Another example of the extreme care and craftsmanship that goes into Cai Dongdong’s Art.)

Cai Dongdong, “The Guerrilla on Hunghu Lake,” 2017, Gelatin silver print, wood. This is just an extraordinarily beautiful Photograph, in addition to being a powerful image. The background is ravishing, which serves to bring another level of meaning to the “action” of the approaching guerrillas in front of it. The idea of setting this in a hand made boat is just brilliant, in my opinion.

It’s fascinating to look for evidence of his experiences in the Army in these works, but it’s unknown (to me) which Photo Mr. Dongdong took and which he found. In the end, it matters not. Some of the end results, however, have a “day dream” effect, where I picture the Artist in his Army job, armed with his camera, fantasizing about whatever scene is going on in front of him. “Wouldn’t it be great if a beautiful lady came out of this cannon right now instead of a shell?”

Cai Dongdong, “The Association of the Cannon,” 2016, Gelatin silver print in Artist’s frame. Right out of Max Ernst, a work I might have expected from John & Yoko, seems to sum up this show.

I think it’s exactly that that makes this show so successful and so popular- it’s very easy to relate to the humanity in the work, regardless of your culture or background.

“Road,” 2016, Gelatin silver print in Artist’s frame. The Photo of the “road” in the upper right is collaged on and extends out from the surface, curved on the side nearest the lady.

Regarding his background, I asked the Artist a few questions, through the gallery since he lives and works in Beijing-

Frist- What inspired you to become an Artist?

Cai replied, “A rain when I was born.”

And- Who influenced your Art?

Cai- “My kids.”

Cai Dongdong, “Obstacle,” Gelatin silver print in Artist’s frame. Notice the ridge where the print is folded about 2/3 to the right. Photo courtesy of Cai Dongdong and Klein Sun Gallery.

As Phil Cai pointed out to me, looking at it from the right, the lecturer is cut off by the ridge made by the folded print…as the solders are cut off from him on the lefl.

I also asked Mr. Klein how he discovered Cai Dongdong. He said, “I first saw his work on a chance Studio visit in Beijing. His studio was close to one of another artist I was visiting and was told I shouldn’t miss it. Quite frankly I was blown away. It was such pure art, no bullshit, no trying too hard, not showing off. It was just Real. Cameras and parts all over the place, wood that he was using to make his own frames. A unique mix of installation, old and new photography, mixed media, collage, sculpture and compelling cultural commentary. I had to pursue representing him and knew that very quickly. His demeaner and dedication were also very clearly defined which is indicative of a better potential for a long and successful career.”

Cai Dongdong, “Big Harvest,” 2017, Silver gelatin print in Artist’s frame. Phil Cai spoke to me of the influence of China’s “Collectivsim,” in this work, that they are “gathering themselves.” When I see it, I see the succeeding smaller figures representing future generations.

Mr. Dongdong’s work speaks to the larger “cultural commentary” than to one that’s specifically Chinese, in my opinion.  These are works that end up expressing the universal experience of being human- even in a “collective.” People can be “trained” to move and operate together, but it’s harder to control their thoughts, imaginations, fantasies, and Artistic impulses. Yes, guns can be dangerous. Yes, nations are continually preparing for war. But, these nations are made up of human beings who are living their daily lives, too. Here are works about the experience of being human- from basic events like being seen naked, being seen at work, being seen serving your country, that every human being experiences. In Cai Dongdong’s Art, the world becomes a little smaller, and that’s one of the best things Art can accomplish. It also looks like he has fun creating it, and that comes through, too.

Time will tell if Cai Dongdong achieves the stature of Gu Dexin, Alec Soth or Ai Weiwei, but in the meantime he’s creating beautifully made objects with their own point of view, a decidedly unique way of seeing the world, each one overflowing with humanity. That’s certainly a recipe that’s stood the test of time, for a long time.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” by John Lennon & Paul McCartney, and recorded by The Beatles on “The White Album.” (No, It’s not a drug song, as you can hear John say, here.) In lieu of their version, Gavin DeGraw does it here-

This Post is dedicated to the memory of Janet Benshoof. 

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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R.I.P. Tim Rollins- A Remembrance

Tim was a miraculous being.

“I’m Blessed,” he always replied when I asked him how he was. Indeed, he was. Certainly, now, too.

Rarely in Art History, if ever, has there been an Artist who gave of himself so completely to his students that he put their names on the work they created and considered them collaborators. Right now, at The Met, you will look long and very hard at the work of Ghirlandaio for signs of the hand of his young apprentice, Michelangelo, in their blockbuster show of the latter’s work. Elsewhere, it’s the same with Verrocchio’s work for signs of the young Leonardo da Vinci. Would they put their apprentices names on their work? Never!1 Ditto for the apprentices and assistants of almost ANY Artist in Art history, right up through today.

Not Tim.

Each and every work he created is signed “Tim Rollins & K.O.S.,” for “Kids of Survival,” as his group of young students named themselves early on. While most Artists who collaborate do it for a short period, he did it for 35 years- his entire career! A career that has ended, now, way too soon with his passing on December 26th.

Beginning in 1981 at I.S. 52, an NYC junior high school, he took students from beginners and taught them about Art, Literature, discipline, technique, about what it took to succeed at anything, including Art, and, most importantly, about life. But, these were no ordinary students. These were “at risk” youths in the South Bronx during one of the worst times in recent New York City’s history! Tim’s was no after school babysitting Art class. His was the real deal. “Today we’re going to make Art, but we are also going to make history,” he famously told them.

And? They did.

He took classics of Literature, from Shakespeare through Malcolm X, and had the students read and study them. They then distilled the book down to an essence, which they each created images based on their own interpretation & experiences. These were then collaged over actual pages of the book.

Talk about making history? This one’s in MoMA’s Permanent Collection

“Tim Rollins, K.O.S. (Kids of Survival) with Angel Abreu, Jose Burges, Robert Delgado, George Garces, Richard Lulo, Nelson Montes, José Parissi, Carlos Rivera, Annette Rosado, Nelson Ricardo Savinon ‘Amerika VIII,’ 1986-87, Watercolor, charcoal, synthetic polymer paint, and pencil on bookpages on linen, 70 x 14”. That’s how the wall card read when I saw this work at MoMA’s “What is Painting? Contemporary Art from the Collection” in 2007. This work is based on Kafka’s “Amerika,” a key work for the group. MoMA Photo.

Imagine how it made the students feel to see this? Regardless of the commercial success they subsequently achieved, the notoriety and all the trappings of “Art fame,” that they got grief about, you can’t put a price on that kind of support for young people. In my opinion, what really matters is that quite a few of them have gone on to college and to Art careers themselves. Tim left his teaching post in 1987 and established a Studio with the group in Chelsea as the area was becoming a center of Art in NYC.

I met Tim some years later and had the privilege of speaking to him at length numerous times. He was very encouraging. “Recognize the creative glimmer in others,” was one of his mantras that he lived. He saw and encouraged mine. We talked about a huge range of things, from the Old Masters to current shows and developments. Contrary to many Artists who are focused on their current project at hand, Tim was aware of seemingly everything going on in the Art world. Was The Met’s determination that  Velazquez’ “Portrait of a Man,” was really a Self- Portrait correct? We both felt it most likely was. What about the small Michelangelo “Young Archer” that’s now in the center spotlight at their Michelangelo show- What it REALLY his? When it first arrived at The Met, where it has been virtually ignored for most of the past decade by most visitors, sure enough, Tim had seen it and we discussed it at length. He introduced me to the work of Joseph Beuys. I was endlessly impressed by his awareness, the breadth of his taste and the depth of his knowledge. He was a true student of Art History as well as of Literary History. The last two times I saw Tim, we spoke about the Rauschenberg show at MoMA. He had gone to see it on May 28th, and I ran into him on his way back. I could tell his mind was full of thoughts, and reactions to it, and he asked if I was going. Busy finsihing up other pieces, I went for the first of 18 times 3 days later. Then, he said quietly- “I knew him.” Instantly, I asked him if I could get a quote from him about Rauschenberg for my piece that I knew I was going to write, and he agreed.

I ran into Tim, for the last time, on July 31st, and again, we spoke about Rauschenberg, this time comparing notes on the show I was devouring room by room. I showed him my new at the time Raymond Pettibon Posts, and we spoke about him and his work. I told him I had blocked out the entire summer to research and write what turned out to be 3 Posts on the MoMA Rauschenberg show and the 4 satellite shows going on around town.

I have no excuse, but I never got around to writing him for a quote for those pieces. I was scrambling doing so much reading and researching I plum didn’t get around to it. But, I did hope he’d read them and we’d have a talk about them and how I did. Now, I dedicate all three pieces to his memory.

Tim on his Birthday in 2011, with three of his “Kids,” including Artist & Photographer Rick Savignon, to Tim’s left.

Over the years, I also became friendly with Rick Savinon, a wonderfully talented Artist & Photographer, who is one of the first Kids of Survival. After having known them both for a few years, I discovered the excellent Documentary, “Kids of Survival: The Art and Life of Tim Rollins & K.O.S.” WOW! Tim as a young(er) man! Rick as a VERY young man! It was like watching private family films, except this “extended family” was living a “quasi-public” life as their work was being shown in major gallery and museum shows, AND being filmed for a documentary! Award winning, it’s still the best introduction to Tim and the “Kids,” though I prayed for years it would be updated. I still hope it will be. I was also present after Tim received the draft of the retrospective monograph, “Tim Rollins and K.O.S.: A History,” which he was proofreading, and  which was published by MIT Press in 2009. It was the size of a MASSIVE phone book. I remember thinking that I had no idea how prolific he had been in his career (which would have another 8 years to go). A traveling Retrospective followed it’s release, which appeared at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania and at the Frye Art Museum, Seattle. Ostensibly marking 25 years of work, there seemed to be so much vitality around Tim, and so much more still to do.

Tim Rollins had an extraordinarily kind and giving spirit- In many ways that I experienced first hand. When I ran into him, I could never tell if he’d had a bad day- he was extremely even tempered, and he always lived in the moment.

The Chelsea District of Manhattan is now known for it’s Art galleries and Artist’s studios. Tim Rollins is one of the people who made it what it is today. More importantly, his spirit, congeniality, supportiveness, creativity, and his firm guiding hand made many friends, and most of all, he taught at risk “kids” that Art could be a way to learn about life, and in the case of a number of them, a way to college, to a career, and a better life. I’m not surprised one bit that any number of the K.O.S. become longtime, even lifelong friends of Tim’s.

Also an Art Practice faculty member at the School of Visual Arts, Tim left a legacy that I hope countless teachers study, learn from and incorporate. And? I hope that NYC names a School of the Arts after Tim Rollins.

I prefer to think of Tim’s passing this way. Here, he (in the sharp Blue jacket) walks away, leaving me pondering our Rauschenberg conversation on May 28th, after he had seen the MoMA Rauschenberg Retrospective. I don’t know why I took this Photo. Something just told me to. I prefer to think he’s gone to his next meeting and we’ll talk again.

Tim taught me a lot, and in doing so gave me a tiny bit of the feeling of what “his kids” got from him. I’ll never forget his kindness and his supportive & encouraging words.

“Ask me how I’m doing
I’m blessed, yes
Living every moment, no regrets
Smile up on my face, I’m like, oh yes
I’m blessed, yes
I’m blessed, yes”*

“I’m Blessed,” too, Tim. I was Blessed to know you.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “I’m Blessed,” by Charlie Wilson.

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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  1. In fact, at the time, the apprentices paid for the priviledge of learning form the master, though they were often put to work helping him earn money.

Art In Manhattan, 2017- And Then There Were Five

It was a year of discovery. A year where I discovered some great Artists I previously hadn’t known, finally caught up with some I knew about but hadn’t gotten to see much of their work, and got lost exploring some remarkable Retrospectives- for Raymond Pettibon and Robert Rauschenberg, both accompanied by memorable satellite shows. Most of these are represented in my monthly NoteWorthy Show selections throughout the year. But? There was more! So, I’m going to take this moment to pause and look back at the revelations of 2017, look at some memorable shows I didn’t write about at the time, and finally, highlight a pair of men who, I feel, had an exceptional 2017 in Manhattan Art.

No doubt about it- the biggest discovery this year was a long overdue deep dive into the world of Contemporary Photography. From seeing well over 100 Photography shows, to spending five long days at “AIPAD: The Photography Show” (with well over 200 galleries from all over the world showing work), to going through hundreds of PhotoBooks, and meeting many Photographers, legendary, famous, or not quite yet, along with the staffs of two of the world’s leading Photography organizations- Aperture and Magnum, both celebrating major anniversaries this year. Rarely did a week pass when Photography wasn’t in the the picture. Of course, in a world were there are now more cameras than people it’s impossible to get to see everyone who’s doing great work. As happens each year, NO matter WHAT I do to prevent it, this year too, there were shows I didn’t find out about until they closed. UGGGH!!!! Along the way, there were quite a few revelations, and a good many other things solidified…at least for the moment.

First, the revelations. In Photography, particularly by those younger than 50 (I say 50 because I seem to know/have heard of many of those over) and unknown to me, Gregory Halpern was the biggest revelation I had this year. His book “Zzyzx” won the prestigious Aperture Best Book Award for 2016, but I didn’t know that when I discovered his work at Aperture’s booth at AIPAD. I had never heard of him.

Gregory Halpern, “Untitled,” 2016, from his “Buffalo” series. Click any Photo for full size.

The work, “Untitled,” was a Photograph Aperture had run in the Spring, 2017 issues of it’s excellent quarterly magazine, in a pictorial by Mr. Halpern, titled “Buffalo.” I didn’t know that then, either. I simply saw the work, and then couldn’t get it out of my mind. It now hangs a few feet away. Out of everything I saw at AIPAD, particularly by those younger than 50 and unknown to me, this work grabbed me and didn’t let go. I went home that night with one thought on my mind- “WHO is Gregory Halpern?” After researching him most of the night, (including finding his incredibly honest and insightful answer to one very important question), serendipitously, I got to meet him the next day, and spoke to him about his book. It turned out to be a classic case where some things are better left unexamined. Gregory was so forthcoming in his answers about specific images I came too close for comfort to losing some of their mystery.

Gregory Halpern standing next “Untitled,” at Aperture’s Booth at AIPAD, March 31st.

In addition to being, in my eyes, one of the most talented Photographers of his generation, he is, also, one of it’s best writers. He’s the co-author of one of the most popular and respected Photography Manuals of 2017, “The Photographer’s Playbook,” and his occasionally published articles always enlighten and leave me wanting more. A Harvard grad, he’s now a professor in the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology for some very lucky students. As if all of that isn’t enough, his wife, Ahndraya Parlato is, also, one of the revelations of the year as a Photographer. Her Photographs “glow”- in one way or another. Her most recent book, “A Spectacle and Nothing Strange,” is ethereal…mesmerizing…magical.

Leaving aside age or era, the work of Fred Herzog was, also, unknown to me. Early pioneers of color Photography have taken decades coming to the attention they deserve, such was the disdain color held among the Photographic cognoscenti for color Photography. With the publication of “Fred Herzog: Modern Color,” in February, 2017, an Artist who was fairly well-known, and appreciated, in his native Canada finally began becoming wider known in the USA. His work was memorably shown by Equinox Gallery of Vancouver at AIPAD this spring, where, I felt, it stood out.

Fred Herzog, “Main Barber,” 1968, seen at Equinox Gallery’s AIPAD booth.

Fred Herzog considers Saul Leiter THE master of early color Photography, and even with a giant like William Eggleston to consider (who’s 1976 MoMA show, “Photographs by William Eggleston,” which can be “visited” here, is widely credited with making color Photography “acceptable” in the world of “Fine Art”), it’s hard to argue with him. No Photographer new to me, regardless of age or period, had a bigger impact on me this year than Saul Leiter.

Saul Leiter, “Through Boards,” Circa 1957. This image appears (cropped) on the cover of the now classic book, “Saul Leiter: Early Color,” 2006, which launched the “Saul Leiter Renaissance.” It’s, perhaps, my very favorite Photobook. Sadly, now out of print, it would take real diligence to find a very good copy for less than $100. But, there are many worse uses of time. Photo by the Saul Leiter Foundation.

It took until 2006 for Saul Leiter to be recognized- FIFTY EIGHT years after he started taking color photographs. As with William Eggleston, Mr. Leiter was, also, a devoted Painter. I can see it in both of their work, and I believe it’s part of the reason their work speaks to me, perhaps, more than the work of any other Photographer of any period. It was his friend, no less than the great Artist Richard Pousette-Dart (who’s also an under appreciated Photographer), to encouraged him to pursue Photography.

“Walk with Soames,” 1958, This was 20 YEARS before William Eggleston’s ground breaking MoMA show “legitimized” color Photography in the Art world! Photo by Howard Greenberg Gallery.

Mr. Leiter saw and used color in his Photography in ways no one else has, achieving effects that today’s finest digital manipulators can only dream of. As very good as his Black & White work is, like Turner or Van Gogh, Saul Leiter was a true Poet of color, perhaps the greatest Master of Color in Photography, though it’s, of course, impossible and pointless to qualitatively compare.

“T,” Circa 1950(!).Photo by the Saul Leiter Foundation. Daring. Gorgeous.

Saul Leiter didn’t need Photoshop to get his results. He just stood there with his camera, and click…Art.

A number of established Photographers had terrific shows in NYC in 2017 that I didn’t get to write about here. Among them are Mark Steinmetz, Mike Mandel, Raghubir Singh (though marked by controversy), Richard Avedon, Herman Leonard, Michael Kenna, and Edward Burtynsky. But, I’m going to address one I simply can’t let pass, because I continue to think about it.

Richard Misrach’s Photo, “Effigy #3, near Jacumba, California,” 2009, Pigment print mounted to Dibond, right rear, with Guillermo Galindo’s Musical Instrumet/Sculpure “Effigy,” 2014, center2014. Barely visible are two strings between the forearms. The grey rectangle on the lower left side of the pedestal is where a speaker is mounted.

“Richard Misrach: Border Cantos,” (at Pace, 510 West 25th Street), was an utterly remarkable and serendipitous collaboration between renowned Photographer Richard Misrach & Composer/Sculptor Guillermo Galindo on the subject of our southern border, those protecting it, and those trying to cross it. To accompany Mr. Misrach’s large, atmospheric Photographs, Mr. Galindo created a whole orchestra of Musical Instruments out of objects found along the border, and proceeded to compose and record a 4 hour score that was looped in the show’s back room to meditative effect, ingeniously installed so that the music being played was coming from speakers mounted inside the display of the specific instruments that were playing at any given moment. (The Artists have an excellent website for this show where you can, also, hear these remarkable instruments.)

Instruments, like this. Guillermo Galindo, “Tortillafono/Wall Vibraphone,” 2014, Metal. The discarded metal cap of an electrical box from the failed SBInet (Secure Border Initiative) surveillance program was turned into a mallet and string instrument sits in front of Richard Misrach’s “Artifacts fround from California to Texas between 2013 and 2015,” 2013-5, 86 x 57 inches, Pigment prints mounted to Dibond. Photos of items found along the border.

And this- Guillermo Galindo, “Teclata,” His description- “On this keyboard, empty cans, bottles, and a plastic cup act as piano strings. The surface of the instrument is decorated with Border Patrol ammunition boxes.”

The surround sound effect was like sitting in the middle of a small chamber music group. The instruments, themselves, were beautiful as sculpture, and the music, which sounded to me like a cross between Harry Partch (who, also, made his own instruments) and John Cage, on instruments that looked like Rauschenbergs, had me asking if it had been released on CD. Why not?

Richard Misrach, “Playas de Tijuana #1, San Diego,” 2013, Pigment print mounted to Dibond, 42 x 160 inches.

Mr. Misrach, who has spent forty years working in the American Desert on his renown “Desert Cantos” project, showed a remarkable selection of images taken since 2004, but more intensely since 2009 (the collaboration with Mr. Galindo dates back to 2012), that told the story in slices. The effect of the music, the images and the sculptures (musical and non) was hypnotic, and ultimately meditative on the situation, the people protecting the border, and the refugees, while at the same time, even for those directly untouched by this story, the show spoke to a larger sense of walls, borders and refugees, and resilience. The Artists found, or created, beauty in this situation, reflecting the very perseverance that is at the essence of survival.

Richard Misrach, “Wall, east of Nogales, Arizona,” 2014, 68 x 84 inches, Pigment print mounted to Dibond

On the Painting & Drawing front, the most important Painting/Drawing gallery show I haven’t addressed was Kara Walker (at Sikkema Jenkins and Co.). Before it opened the buildup was downright intense. First, these posters began appearing, which certainly raised eyebrows until you notice (along the lower left side) that the text was written by the Artist. The show was also featured in a cover article in one of the last print issues of the Village Voice. I can’t remember the last time an Art show made the Voice’s cover, but this was the last time one did.

 Kara Walker sounds a bit weary in the poster, and particularly in the “Artist’s Statement” that appears on the show’s page on the Sikkema website.

“Dredging the Quagmire (Bottomless Pit),” 2017 Oil stick and Sumi ink on paper collaged on linen, 18 feet long, seen in the show’s first room. A “bottomless quagmire” is what the history of and current state of race and gender relations does feel like at this moment in time.

In the lower right side, this almost submerged head seemed to echo Ms. Walker’s weariness in her Artist’s Statement. “But frankly I am tired, tired of standing up, being counted, tired of ‘having a voice’ or worse ‘being a role model.'”

After all the anticipation and buildup, at the packed opening, Ms. Walker, herself, was only to be seen for a little while, at least while I was there.

Kara Walker at the opening, September 7, 2017, with part of  “U.S.A. Idioms,” 2017, Sumi ink and collage on paper, almost 15 by 12 feet, in the background.

While she continues to create her signature Silhouettes, showing a gorgeous 2017 work titled “Slaughter of the Innocents (They Might be Guilty of Something),” that’s almost 18 1/2 feet long, the bulk of the show consists on her ink and collage works, that have increasingly come to the forefront of her shows as time has gone on, most recently in her Cleveland Museum show, “The Ecstasy of St. Kara,” 2016, and at MoMA’s “Unfinished Conversations: New Work from the Collection,” which closed on July 30, 2017, where her “40 Acres of Mules,” a Charcoal Drawing on 3 sheets totaling almost 18 feet long that was acquired by the Museum the year before, was on view in what was something of a one-work preview for her Sikkema show.

“Slaughter of the Innocents (They Might be Guilty of Something),” 2017, Cut paper on canvas. For me, one thing Ms. Walker’s Silhouettes all seem to ask is “Why do you see, what you see?”

Whereas it’s hard for me to imagine the care, patience and deliberation it must take for Ms. Walker to create one of her silhouettes, her Drawing & Collages look like they are done in bursts of raw energy and passion. At times the images approach the quality of a caricature of an event. No matter the differences in creation, when you see her Silhouettes and Drawings side by side they’re unmistakably by the same Artist.

While the Silhouettes, mostly, seem to leave quite a bit to the imagination, including the race of each character, her Drawings & Collages do not, especially when it comes to violence. Nothing is held back, hinted at or hidden. In the Drawings and collages, she has taken away the curtain inherent in Silhouettes in depicting racism and gender crimes. We see the faces, skin color, eyes, and what each one is involved in doing.  You can choose to look away, but otherwise, it’s pretty hard to “miss” what’s going on. The results are shocking, though they have precedent going back to Goya’s “Los Caprichos,” and “The Disasters of War,” and Daumier through Warhol, as well as in the work of Photojournalists and “Conflict Photographers” from all over the world. In Kara Walker’s work, though, the time is centered between 1788, when slavery was legalized in the US, through post Civil War “Reconstruction.”  Where the Silhouettes present a shadow of the figure, and the actions, the Drawings shine direct light. In fact, there are almost no shadows in her drawings- there’s no where for the perpetrators to hide.

“The Pool Party of Sardanapalus (after Delacroix, Kienholz,” 2017, Sumi ink and collage on paper, Almost 12 feet long.

Eugene Delacroix, “The Death of Sardanapalus,” 1844, Oil on canvas, Louvre, Paris. Kara Walker is, also, an astute student of Art History. In her work, Sardanapalus lies horizontally near the upper left corner, apparently, taking no interest in the orgy of death going on, as he does, lying arm on elbow on a huge red bed in Delacroix’. Her Ed Kienholz reference is a bit harder to track down, but it might be this one.

In “Christ’s Entry into Journalism,” 2017, the ground is, also, gone. The figures hang in the space of the paper, though some sense of perspective remains- as you get closer to the top of the sheet, they get smaller.

“Christ’s Entry into Journalism,” 2017, Sumi ink and collage on paper, 140 x 196 inches.

In this work, Ms. Walker’s figures cut across time, with some appearing to be contemporary. To the right of center, a figure “rocks the mic.” In the lower center is a figure that appears to be a modern riot trooper, in a helmet with face shield and body armor. He appears to have clubs in each hand. Right next to his left hand is what appears to be a black head, in a hoodie, on a platter, being carried by a woman, who looks away, while others nearby watch, some with shock on their face, some pointing to the scene. Just behind them, an extended arm holds and American flag, while above them a figure gives a Nazi salute with one hand while holding a Rebel flag with the other. Up top, a lynched figure hangs from a tree branch while women on either side of him perform acrobatics, with Klansmen standing next to them. In front of that naked black women are attacked by a group of men, while, again, others see what is going on. In the center of the work, the decapitated hoodied head looks straight across at a Civil War soldier pointing a gun at him, across time. Is this 1863? Or 2016?

“Storm Ryder (You Must Hate Black People as Much as You Hate Yourself),” 2017, Oil stick and Sumi ink on paper collaged on linen.

The primacy of Drawing in her work was reinforced with the recent release of one of Ms Walker’s Sketchbooks from 1999, when the Artist was 29, as a book appropriately titled, “MCMXCIX.” It contains Drawings that, in style and subject, visitors to the Sikkema show will immediatley recognize. Interestingly, as Raymond Pettibon does in his shows (the latest concluding on June 24th, shortly before Ms. Walker’s opened), she prefers her larger works be tacked to the walls.

“Future Looks Bright,” 2017, Oil stick and Sumi ink on paper collaged on linen.

Kara Walker may be growing tired of being a “role model,” of being “a featured member of my racial group and/or my gender niche,” (as she says in her Artist’s Statement referenced above). Of course, I can’t imagine being Kara Walker, but I can understand that it gets to be “too much.” I’m not sure, however, what her other choice is. I mean, I’m sure she COULD do something else if she REALLY wanted to. After seeing all the work and passion she put into this show? I guess I’m just not convinced that she really DOES want to do something else. Yet.

Finally…Looking back on 2017… Last year I wrote that I felt Sheena Wagstaff had the best year in NYC Art. She’s had a very good 2017, too. But, this year, I think that The New Museum’s Massimiliano Gioni & Gary Carrion-Murayari. had special years, highlighted by the truly exemplary, and revolutionary, “Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work” retrospective, which they then remounted simultaneously in Maastricht and Moscow. I feel it was “revolutionary” because totaling an unheard of 800 works, including brand new works created by the Artist for this show (some on the very walls of the New Museum), they gave an exhaustive look at Pettibon’s career, yet the show never slowed, never failed to keep and even raise interest. It even included work Pettibon did as a small child that he has now ammended in his own, unique style. Word has recently come that Gary Carrion-Murayari, who kindly answered my questions on the Pettibon Moscow show he co-curated, has also been named as a co-curator for the New Museum’s 2018 Triennial, so he could be ready to have another “big” year. Stay tuned!

The end result is that Massimiliano Gioni, Gary Carrion-Murayari, and the New Museum have served to put the “Big Four”1 Manhattan Museums on notice that, on their 40th anniversary, we are going to have to get used to saying the “Big Five.”

———————————–
A Special “Thank You!” to all the Artists who gave me their time and shared their thoughts with me in 2017, and to David White & Gina Guy of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and Gary Carrion-Murayari and Paul Jackson of the New Museum.
“Thank you!” to the Hattan Group and Kitty for research assistance, and to The Strand Bookstore for being open until 10:30pm seven nights a week. R.I.P. Owner, Fred Bass this week.

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “Heroic Elegy, Op. 36,” (1918), by Ernest Farrar, in honor of the 100th Anniversary of WW1, which was featured in another memorable show, “World War 1 & The Visual Arts” at The Met this year, as a way of honoring it, and all the Artists, and Musicians, lost during it. Shortly after “Heroic Elegy’s” premiere, Second Lieutenant Farrar was ordered to the Western Front. Two days after he arrived there, he was killed at the Battle of Epehy. He was 33. I first heard it while I was driving in Florida on September 11, 2002. The classical station there played it in honor of the first anniversary of 9/11. So taken with it was I that I pulled over and listened to it with my eyes closed, then immediately set about researching it’s composer. Though he wrote other fine works, “Heroic Elegy,” is special. It’s lightning in an 8 minute bottle. As beautiful as it is, there’s a quality, a confidence, in it that seems to promise so much more to come that he, tragically, never got the chance to give us, like the other Artists & Musicians lost far too early in this most senseless of wars.

On The Fence, #17, The Good Riddance” Edition.

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
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  1. With all due respect to The Frick Collection, who the powers that be that came up with “the Big Four” left out.

Ellen Harvey’s Global Beautification Project

A few weeks back, I walked across West 22nd Street after visiting Gary Hume’s show, “Mum” at Matthew Marks, lost in the whirlwind of emotions, past and present, it elicited, barely cognizant of the traffic, weather, or time. Luckily, Thanksgiving week in NYC tends to be on the quiet side. As I crossed the street, bright lights, like those seen in a carnival, beckoned from inside the front window of Danese/Corey Gallery. Reaching the sidewalk, I could see the lights made a sign that was attached to the frame of a wooden shack. They read “ARCADIA.”

The view from the sidewalk outside Danese/Corey. Click any Photo for full size.

Hmmm…”Arcadia.” A word that evokes simple pleasures. In need of some cheer, I stepped inside. While I can’t say I found “cheer,” I found Art.

Installation view from inside the “shack.” An extraordinarily imaginative vision, stunningly well realized.

The show was “Ellen Harvey: Nostalgia.” Inside the wooden framed shack, the carnival-like atmosphere of the sign outside quickly faded into darkness, pierced with lines of white light. Looking closer, the lines turned out to be etched on mirrors lit from the back. The light they emitted was reflected back by more back lit mirrors on the opposite side of the shack, as was the viewer, which made the design they held frustratingly hard to see. It was like “seeing” through a haze, a bit like walking around Times Square (I hear). Taken by the beauty I knew was there, I wandered around the space, enthralled and puzzled. Scenes of buildings, waves, and sky lined both sides culminating in a large panel showing the moon over the sea. Making my way to the gallery’s desk, I found that the work, titled “Arcade/Arcadia,” 2011, contains 34 hand engraved mirrors mounted on light boxes to form a 360 degree panorama of the town of Margate, England as seen from the beach. Hmmm…

Intentionally hard to see the amazing engraving on the mirrors.

Then same mirror, without anything in front of it. From the show’s catalog.

Unable to get the work out of my mind while I was looking at other shows, I went back to Danese/Corey later and bought the monograph, “ Ellen Harvey: The Museum of Failure1,” which has the backstory and images of the mirrors without reflections, (which, while defeating the point of the installation, allows appreciation of her amazing technique). I learned that the project was commissioned by the Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate, England for it’s opening in 2011. The shed is a remimagining of JMW Turner’s London gallery (in 3/4 size) and the mirrors are arranged in the way Turner displayed his work- “salon” style, as seen in George Jones  “Interior of Turner’s Gallery: the Artist showing his Works,” 1852. Along with another Painting George Jones did of it after Turner died, they are the only records we have of what JMW Turner’s gallery looked like.

George Jones “Interior of Turner’s Gallery: the Artist showing his Works,” 1952, Oil on canvas, Ashmolean Museum. Hmmm…George Jones believed in capitalizing “Artist,” like I do.

Turner loved Margate and lauded it’s natural beauty. So inspired, he is believed to have created around 100 Paintings of it, possibly including this one, given that he began using Margate as a second home around 1830.

JMW Turner, “Margate(?), Seen From the Sea,” c.1835-40, on loan from the National Gallery, London and seen in The Met Breuer’s “Unfinished” show in 2016, which I wrote about, here. Possibly one, of hundreds, of works he did depicting Margate.

In addition to finding inspiration, he, infamously, “shacked up” with his landlady there. The town eventually became a tourist mecca which led to it’s (over?) commercialization. When it fell on hard times, the amusement park, called “Dreamland,” (who’s sign Ms. Harvey pays homage to in her “Arcadia” sign, using the same font), closed and became a blight on the natural beauty which led so many to want to come there in the first place. In the piece, Ellen Harvey depicts a more recent view of Margate as seen from the beach, in apparent complete desolation.

The work is like an onion in it’s many layers. There’s the Turner layer, the Margate/nature layer, the Dreamland/commercialization layer, the mirror layer (with it’s funhouse effect, seen earlier), and the layer of light being distorted, which could be a reference to the light that Turner loved, and what’s become of it, with the addition of so many electric lights and buildings blocking sunlight. There’s, also, the layer of the styles of the two Artists, Ellen Harvey and JMW Turner, in dialogue. With the large shadow of no less than Turner looming, this is, certainly, a daring undertaking. Ms. Harvey’s mirrors contain many passages of sky and sea, crescendoing in the large center rear panel, that can’t help but remind today’s viewer of the English Master, though in decidedly her own style. Though “Dreamland” has recently reopened, the metaphor, and the warning, in the work is powerful, and both specific and universal. Experiencing it was a highlight among all the Art I’ve seen in 2017.

The rest of the show impressed me just as much. Adjacent to “Arcade/Arcadia,” was a Painting that depicted what looked to be a rough surface that seemed like it should be in relief, but was, in fact, flat. Hmmm…Is this the same Artist who just gave us all those meticulously engraved lines on those 34 mirrors2? It was closer in style to the Photographs of Aaron Siskind than the style I’d just seen. When I saw the title, I got it. “Crack/Craquelure.” Craquelure is a term referring to the cracking patterns seen in many old Paintings. “Nostalgia,” in another sense.

‘Crack/Craquelure,” 2017, Oil on wood panel.

There are other instances of “nostalgia” for the craft of Art in the show, like “Picture(esque),” 2017, Antique “Claude Glass,” float glass mirror, hook and plywood. A “Claude Glass,” (or “Black Mirror”) is an 18th & 19th century device, which Ms. Harvey is fond of.

“Picture(sque),” 2017. The “Black Mirror” was, also used for magic, particularly for seeing the future. Ellen Harvey’s work often contains images of ruins & destruction…images of a dark future.

They have been used by landscape Artists aiming for that special quality achieved by the great landscape Painter, Claude Lorrain (c.1604-1682), who it’s named after.

Claude Lorrain, “Pastoral Landscape: The Roman Campagna,” 1639, seen at The Met. A classic example of the much admired, and copied, “dark” landscape, which inspired the “Claude Glass.”

Beyond the other themes present in this diverse show, there is the theme of mirrors. Since Robert Rauschenberg, I can’t think of another Artist who uses mirrors as frequently to such wonderful effect. Hand-engraved, without engraving, or with “Black Glass,” above. I asked the Artist about her use of mirrors, and specifically when it started. She replied, “I’ve always loved mirrors — but the first mirror piece I really made was in 2005 for the Pennsylvania Academy — aptly titled “Mirror” because I wanted to show the space and comment on their collection of paintings…and then I got hooked. Before that, I was all about Polaroids.” She’s referring to her monumental installation where she reinvisioned the entrance hall of the landmarked Furness and Hewitt Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art Building, Philadelphia, as a ruin, using video and four 9 by 12 foot hand-engraved mirrors. Ruins are part of the “dark future” Ellen Harvey believes we are destined for. Rogier van der Weyden’s “The Last Judgement” was the first painting she fell in love with. “That red-hot sword is coming for us all,” she said3, referring to what looms above Christ’s left hand. If it’s coming, I hope it gets here before I have to file my “new” taxes.

Further on, “Nostalgia” takes on more of a traditional meaning in “Ghost of Penn Station,” 2017, Oil on wood panel, where we see the tragically lost Architectural masterpiece, rendered in oil, as if seen through a haze or in a dream. Whereas Ms. Harvey has created a number of works showing existing buildings (even creating an “Alien’s Guide to the (future) Ruins of Washington DC“) in ruins, this is a rare case where a building that was ruined is shown before, in all it’s glory. In the rear gallery, “New Forest (The I.R.S. Office Reforested),” 2013, Gesso, oil, acrylic, and varnish on wood,  about 13 1/2 feet long, shows a part of the I.R.S. offices (speaking of taxes) in a deserted state with the area in the process of being reclaimed by nature. Interestingly, the I.R.S. bought a sister work on the same subject, titled “Reforestation,” that, also, depicts their new offices in ruins, being reclaimed by nature, rendered in mirrors which, now installed, reflect those very offices! Fact is stranger than Art. When I asked Ms. Harvey about this, she replied to the effect that they have a, surprisingly, good sense of humor.

“New Forest (The I.R.S. Office Reforested),” 2013, Black gesso, oil, acrylic, varnish on 20 wooden panels. Overall- 13 1/3 feet long by 7 3/4 feet high. There is a social/political/economic conscience, or awareness that runs through Ellen Harvey’s work that I find most tastefully handled.

Finally, there is another, spectacular, engraved mirror work, the fascinating “On the Impossibility of Capturing a Sunset,” 2017, 16 Hand-engraved plexiglass mirrors, 16 Lumisheets, plywood. Ms. Harvey lets the wires for the light boxes dangle down in front…Yes. In front of the work,  another way of adding an obstacle to the “pure” appreciation of her image. They fall to a jumble of power strips on the floor, where they look as intricate as the engraving above them. Perhaps they’re a metaphor for the huge effort it took to get this close to the “impossible” task she refers to. (In earlier engraved mirror works (like “Destroyed Landscape (Cloudy Moon),” 2012, she scratched over the finished engraving, graffiti-like, making it almost impossible to see the underlying composition.)

“On the Impossibility of Capturing a Sunset,” 2017, 16 Hand-engraved plexiglass mirrors, 16 Lumisheets, plywood.

Close-up.

As I considered “Nostalgia,” over multiple visits, this work became something of a touchstone for me as I learned (and still learn) about her work. In it, her gorgeous technical achievement becomes subservient (in a way) to her “larger point.” Across her career, it seems to me that that “larger point” is her vision. About this, she said-

“What is it that all these viewers might want in this situation? That’s really where all of this work comes from. It comes from my desire to take particular situations, either physical or social, and say, ‘What is it that people want from Art in this situation?  What can Art do here?’ And of course the answers are often completely ridiculous. When you think about it what people dream of, it’s like falling in love with someone, it’s all projection. It’s a sort of mad fantasy that’s very hard to understand.” 4

“495 West 37th Street at Ninth Avenue, Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, From The New York Beautification Project,” February, 2001, Oil on Wood(?) Wall. Close-up, right. Photos from ellenharvey.info, which has it’s backstory.

This “What can Art do here?” approach can be seen all the way back in 1999, in her remarkable “New York Beautification Project.” In it, the Artist hand painted 40 five by seven inch oval oil paintings on top of existing graffiti, over the course of 2 years! During the project, she was mugged once, and had encounters with the NYPD. While her remarkable Paintings were influenced by classic (and classical) landscape Paintings (WHAT could be MORE out of place in the world of NYC graffiti?), what floors me is the map of the locations she created them.

Map of locations of the Paintings in Ellen Harvey’s “New York Beautificalion Project,” 1999-2001. From ellenharvey.info

She almost circled the entire City! Ok, she did this without permission, or renumeration, as the works were affixed to non-movable locations, to the displeasure of gallerists, which might make you wonder…”WHY???” I chalk it up as an early sign of the scale of, the dedication to, and persistence of her vision. It was a taste of things to come.

Her “What is it that people want from Art in this situation?” reached, perhaps, it’s ultimate expression when only a short time later she got a chance to do public art “for real.” Actually? Two chances. The NYC MTA commissioned her to create the Art for TWO NYC Subway stations. She is one of the very few (perhaps, the only one?) to have been commissioned to do more than one. In 2005, she created “Look Up, Not Down,” in 2,000 square feet of the Queens Plaza Subway Station. This MTA video provides a look at it, and the backstory, and also includes rare glimpses of the NY Beautification Project’s Paintings, which are now long lost.

Then, in 2009, she was commissioned to do the Art for the (new) Yankee Stadium Metro North Station. Typically, she took a Yankees ad logo, “The Home of the Stars,” and flipped it in a way everyone could relate to- Yankee fan, or not.

Someone once said that mosaics are the most durable medium. There are gorgeous examples in The Met from 200 AD. So, it seems fairly likely that her work in the subway (at least) will last for at least the next 100, if not 1,000 years. I’ve lauded the MTA on their choices of Artists to create Art for the Subway before. Here is another case where I think they made an excellent choice. Both of these works are related to the sky and stars theme that continues in “Nostalgia.” Well? I’m not sure even Ellen Harvey is going to find a bigger stage than the stars.

Regarding her statement about giving the viewers what they want, I remain to be convinced that many, if anyone else, sees the world as Ellen Harvey does. It seems to me that she takes spaces (or materials) and reimagines them in ways visitors might enjoy, but, perhaps, don’t quite expect, and I doubt anticipated. Her work seems to cut across and through periods, schools, styles- abstract or realistic, to speak to people, and so, it “gives the people what they want.” That’s a pretty rare gift. Christo & Jeanne Claude come to mind as Artists who are/were capable of similar things. Her projects often require her to bring an extremely wide range of talents to bear, in an equally wide range of mediums and scale, to create her visions, though like Rauschenberg, she has said she considers herself a Painter. A Painter, who loves Painting dearly, though she has real doubts about it’s ongoing relevance given many of it’s original functions having been replaced by other mediums. For my part, it seems Painting was in trouble in the 90’s, but I’ve seen any number of very good (and relevant) Painting shows recently, especially this past year. Since Painting is, still, my favorite medium, I remain hopeful.

Looking through the 300 plus pages of “Museum of Failure” it’s very hard not to be amazed at the daring of her work, it’s diversity, as well as the consistent quality of it. In two instances she has taken on Painting reproductions of the bulk of the collections of two museums(!)- the Whitney and the nudes in the Bass Museum, Miami, and rendered them exceedingly well- regardless of the style or period. Yet Painting is just one of the many mediums she works, and excels, in.

With “Nostalgia,” one of the best shows of the fall season, you might think that Ellen Harvey would be satisfied. But, no. On December 13, ANOTHER show, including new work, “Ellen Harvey: Ornaments and Other Refrigerator Magnets,” opened at the Children’s Museum of Art downtown.

The CMA show continues her exploration of ornamentation (a subject near and dear to my heart), which, gets it’s own section on her website, showing work going back to at least 2002. It’s a show that, hopefully, will inspire and instill a love of ornament in a young audience that will grow up to bring it back to a world that sorely needs it. In it, another of her themes, seen in her 2014 installation, “The Unloved,” at the Groeninge Museum, Bruges, Belgium, comes to the fore- the forgotten/overlooked/yes, unloved, in Art. These days? Not much is more unloved than ornamentation in Architecture.

“Those days are recalled on the gallery wall
And she’s waiting for passion or humour to strike

[Chorus]
What shall we do, what shall we do with all this useless beauty?
All this useless beauty”*

Appropriately, and prominently, placed around the show were various editions of Austrian Architect Adolf Loos’ essay collection, “Ornament & Crime,” as if saying “Ornament is NOT a crime!”

Adolf Loos’ “Ornament and Crime,”a collection of essays, including the title piece, a lecture given in 1908, appropriately displayed on a lovely, ornate pedestal.

Featured is her 2015 “Metal Paintings for Dr. Barnes,” in which she painted every piece of metal work installed at the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, on 826 wood panels with magnets inset then mounted on steel panels so they could be endlessly rearranged, unlike those in the Barnes.

“Metal Paintings for Dr. Barnes,” 2005, Oil on 826 wood panels with inset magnets, steel panels, overall, 25 by 15 feet, left, and “Mass Produced,” 2017, Metal hardware, screws, plywood, and plastic frame.

More recently, much of her work with ornaments has been inspired by her visits to the  American Wood Column Company, in Brooklyn, founded in 1916, and their collection of over 6,000 antique molds. On view was a 48 part visual catalog of samples of their work, which Ms. Harvey had photographed by accomplished Photographer Etienne Frossard, who has been working with her since 2012, in a new work titled “Mr. Lupo’s Collection,” in honor (in a sense) of this man and his company’s devotion to currently unloved work that may be on the verge of being lost.

“Mr. Lupo’s Collection,” 2017, 48 Framed Photographs, individually photographed by Etienne Frossard. (Apologies for the glare in my photo of them.)

Ornaments made by American Wood Column Company were featured in a large, new work that brings them right into the 21st Century. Not being satisfied with creating Art in two Subway stations, here, “Ornaments for the Subway,” 2017, goes further. It attempts to beautify that universal blight of all Subway stations- the ads. The card says, “It used to be that public spaces were covered with architectural ornaments rather than advertising….Here the Artist imagines taking back the public space from which they have been removed.” Bravo.

“Ornaments for the Subway,” 2017, Pressed glue ornaments made by the American Wood Column Co., plywood panels with inset magnets, subway posters and 20 steel panels.

Detail.

I spoke with Ellen Harvey at the opening, and she turned out to be exceedingly gracious, generously walking this complete stranger around her new show, pointing out all kinds of subtle detail that would take me many visits to discover. Here again, some of the themes I’ve seen in her other works are on display- a critique of Art, museums, and the rich, her passion for giving the viewers what they want, more use of mirrors (as mirrors this time!) and yes, “nostalgia,” is a theme, here, too. This work with mirrors includes people I know I’ve seen somewhere before.

“All That Glitters,” 2017. Card and detail below.

Detail of the lower right corner of the right side shows Mr. Putin, right, and Mr. Trump, above to the left of center, who’s wife appears elsewhere.

I titled this piece “Ellen Harvey’s Global Beautification Project,” because looking through her projects to date, they’ve taken place around the world, from California, to Miami to Philadelphia to Ghent, Bruges, Margate, Vienna, Warsaw, and of course, NYC, including the 2008 Whitney Biennial and the two Subway Stations. Together, they make part of a map of the world that will soon start to look like a global version of the map of her New York Beautification Project.

Before I left CMA, I came across “Walk In,” 2005, Oil on plywood and gilded frame, a booth to allow visitors to pose in glamorous surroundings, as if walking into a painting.

“Walk In,” 2005, 005, a work designed to be a background and frame in one for a do it yourself portrait.

Inspired by her work, and her approach, it was at that point that I decided to be a visionary, myself. “Hmmm….What does this picture need? What would the people like to see here?,” I asked myself.

The very gracious Artist graciously poses for yours truly in her “Walk In,” 2005.

And so, “My Portrait of Ellen Harvey” ends…with one.

“Ellen Harvey: Nostalgia” is my NoteWorthy show for November. 

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “All This Useless Beauty,” by Elvis Costello from the 1996 album of the same title, publisher not known to me. It’s rendered here.

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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  1. A new edition, which features “Arcade/Arcadia” on it’s cover, is the most complete book on her work and is recommended. Ellen Harvey’s website, ellenharvey.info is, also, a goto resource.
  2. The first question I asked Ellen Harvey was about engraving those mirrors- “What happens when you make a mistake?” “It happens often. I press on,” she said!
  3. “Ellen Harvey: Museum of Failure,” P. 299.
  4.  https://youtu.be/juIqarKNAGY

Chris Ware-“The World’s Smartest Cartoonist”

Chris Ware stands in front of the original Art for the covers of his new book, “Monograph,” at the opening for the show of the same title at Adam Baumgold Gallery on November 10, 2017. Click any Photo for full size.

Chris Ware has been universally respected among his fellow Cartoonists & Graphic Novelists for quite some time. At this point, it’s becoming relevant to consider his place among ALL his peers, including the all-time legends. Now, he has made that a much easier thing to assess with the release of his new book, “Monograph,” a gorgeous, and, (typically) meticulously well-done, Rizzoli mid-career autobiography and retrospective in one. But before anyone else can begin to assess his accomplishment through it, no less than Art Speigelman, one of those enduring masters of Cartons & Graphic Novels in that pantheon of legends, calls him “the World’s Smartest Cartoonist,” in his Introduction to it. After he, his wife, Francoise Mouly, the Art Editor of the New Yorker & an Independent Publisher, and Ira Glass have their say up top, the rest of it is so well done, I don’t think there’s a better case to be made for his accomplishment. Take that, future biographers/monographers! For the rest of us, no matter how closely you’ve followed Chris Ware, you’ll find known favorites alongside much that is previously unknown, including a surprising amount of detail about Mr. Ware’s life along the way.

“Good cartoon drawing is good design.” Charles M. Schulz, the creator of “Peanuts,” in 1997. The published covers from the Drawings, above, for  “Monograph,” 2017. Front cover, right side, and back cover, left. Their “meaning?” Perhaps, that there’s a lot going on in that head…Inside (between the covers).

Speaking of what might be going on in that head, along the way, “Monograph’s” 280 pages also provides the best evidence that Chris Ware is a bit of a throw-back in his tastes in Art, Cartooning, Music & Architecture, a side that co-exists with, and informs, the visionary that is given to flights of fantasy, usually involving the past or the future, often without notice. They all coalesce in Art that, at times, could be mistaken at a distance for an Architect’s plans, as seen above.

An echo? Speaking of Architects, Frank Lloyd Wright, “Madison Civic Center (Monona Terrace)” Night View, 1955, Ink on paper presentation drawing. When I first saw “Monograph,” this drawing by Wright, recently on view at MoMA, came to mind. Chris Ware lives near the early Frank Lloyd Wright houses in the Chicago suburbs.

By now, none of this is news to anyone who has seen his work over what is already 30…Can it be? Yes, it is…30 years! What’s lesser known is that, personally, he’s also an enigma. I’m only 15 years in myself, yet, what I still have trouble getting used to is that along with all the things Chris Ware is, he is, on top of it all, endlessly self-effacing.

I don’t think it’s an act.

Take a look at his expressions and body language during his first national television appearance, November 13th, on one of the last episodes of Charlie Rose, which is, also, a good introduction to him. Note the 5:07 mark, for instance-

For the past 15 years he’s been telling me off and on that his original Art, which now sells for upwards of many thousands of dollars per in galleries, “is easily disposable.” First, he said it in 2002, after “Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth” came out. Just this past week, he said it again. Standing in the middle of the opening of his newest show at Adam Baumgold’s East 66th Street gallery. I had commented on the fact that he is his best and most astute collector, and asked if he was planning to open a museum. He replied by talking about disposing of it.

From left to right- Art for “Hold Still,” an iconic 2005 New Yorker cover, Art for the Acme Novelty Lunchbox, a page of Rusty Brown, subject of his next book, a very early “Jimmy Corrigan” page from Acme #1, two Self-Portraits, and a page that appeared in the New York Times Book Review in October, 2015, far right. Mr. Ware’s Original is titled “Why I O Comics.” I heard he wasn’t pleased that the Times published this with the heading “Why I Love Comics.” All of this Art is, or was, part of the collection of Chris Ware.

All I could do was shake my head and nervously smile when he said it, again, because he can’t be serious. CAN HE? Taking no chances, I did the only responsible thing I could. I told him to call me first. Then, I looked for “answers” in the show, and in “Monograph,” itself.

The museums will, also, come calling one of these days. I have no doubt of that. In my opinion, they should have, already. I’m referring to his work being in the permanent collection of MoMA, The Met and The Whitney, and the other big museums around the world. To be fair, the Whitney Museum did include Chris Ware in their 2002 Biennial, when he was the first cartoonist ever invited, and was given an entire gallery where about 48 works, by my count, were on view. They even commissioned him to create the poster for the show. He has, also, been included in important shows at other museums, at NYC’s Jewish Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, both in 2006, and elsewhere.

During this latest encounter, we stood in the midst of the opening for his newest show with Mr. Baumgold, for “Monograph.” The rooms were filled with original Drawings by Mr. Ware going back to the late 1980’s, when he was 20 or 21 years old, works that even his most avid readers have not seen, or probably even knew about.

“The Sunville Daily,” 1987, Ink and red pencil on paper. By Chris Ware at about age 20. Looking very closely, you’ll find elements of his later work, but, overall, this is shockingly different from everything that came after.

The fact that he’s kept a good number of his earliest work that those long time readers have never seen, proves that he attaches at least some value to them, himself, and I have a hard time believing it’s only sentimental. Chris Ware has a professor’s level knowledge of the history of cartooning (as seen here), as well as an acute awareness of it’s current state, witness the expert (yes, expert) contributions he’s made to books on George Herriman and Daniel Clowes, as well as the astute quotes bearing his name that appear on many new and notable graphic novels, including being front and center on the front cover of, perhaps, the most auspicious debut of 2017, Emil Ferris’ “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters,” which I wrote about here. Of course that eye is applied first, foremost, and probably, most critically, to his own work.

Athletically challenged. “Gym Class,” 1987, Ink and red pencil on paper, depicts some of the dread, and possibly, the bullying, he dealt with in school. One of the earliest works in “Monograph,” elements of his now “classic” graphic style appear, and are already confidently rendered. A key point in Chris Ware finding his direction. (That’s a reflection from across the gallery above the center character’s head. Sorry.)

Mr. Ware came to fame with the release of his first full length book, the graphic novel, “Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid Alive,” in 2000. It won the Guardian First Book Award in 2001, an award that considers not only graphic novels, but ALL books released during the year. The glowing reviews served to highlight the fact that there had, literally, been nothing like it to that point. The graphic novel had seen it’s first big breakthrough in underground and non-superhero comics, perhaps, since Art Spiegleman’s “Maus,” the Pulizer Prize winner in 1992. Seven years in the making, it’s possible to watch his style solidify over it’s 380 unnumbered pages. Almost as soon as it was released, Chris Ware’s name had been made. When I first saw it, I knew from the one of a kind dust jacket that opened out into an amazingly intricate double sided poster that here was a truly unique book. 16 years later? A well worn copy is still near to hand. It’s a book that doesn’t reveal all it’s secrets in one reading. Every time I pick it up I still find new things, new threads, I’d previously missed. I’m not alone. “Jimmy Corrigan” has given rise to a continuing stream of critical examination, theorizing, analysis and speculation.

The original cover Drawing for the front of the remarkable folded book jacket/double sided poster for “Jimmy Corrigan” as seen in “Monograph.”

“Reading him, I always have the feeling that the pages aren’t big enough for everything he’s trying to squeeze into those orderly rectangular panels.” Ira Glass, “Monograph” Preface.

A flat of the whole, double sided cover, in color. The Drawing reproduced above is the left half of this image. Little discussed (perhaps because it’s the back of the cover/poster), the right half contains the story of Jimmy’s ancestors, including his African-American ancestors (one seen being sold as a slave), which were unknown to him. Some see commentary on the “imperialistic” nature of American colonization and the idealism of the “American dream” in the story of Jimmy’s ancestors as well.

“Jimmy Corrigan” turned out to be semi-autobiographical. In it, Jimmy gets a letter and phone call out of the blue from the father he’s never met suggesting they meet over Thanksgiving. Before going, he tries to imagine him and what impact knowing him would have on his life. When he finally meets him, he discovers he’s nothing like he imagined him to be. He also meets his dad’s adopted African-American daugther, Amy, who Jimmy had no knowledge of.

Some time after it was published we learned that Chris Ware, himself, never knew his father growing up, until finally meeting him, once, mid-way through writing “Jimmy Corrigan.” Sadly, the elder Mr. Ware passed away shortly before the book was finished, without ever having seen his son’s close-to- home masterpiece. Later, Chris Ware said that “I didn’t spend that much time with him. I added it all up once…I knew my father for just about five hours1.” That’s about as long as it takes to read it, something that is on my mind when I re-read it now, which I prefer to do in a single sitting to really feel that length of time pass. Through the mastery of his creativity, and the unique ways the characters are depicted, the work becomes more than a story, “more,” even, than Art. It’s also a record of the moment to moment thoughts, hopes and dreams of 4 generations of the Corrigans, and their reactions to events as their lives unfold before our eyes, across time. Reactions that most often include little, even no, inter-action. Almost every character in it is, mostly, cut off from every one else. In that sense, it’s also a classic of isolation, a meditation on it’s eternal nature (across generations)- Every character in Jimmy Corrigan suffers from extreme isolation and loneliness. Unlike the hard-core lonely, who have given up on the human race, every character longs for it to end. At least in Chris Ware’s work, life always happens in spectacular rendering, in color that speaks it’s own language, and with gorgeous, ever-surprising design.

Back at the show, increasingly sought after, only one “Jimmy Corrigan” original page, (from the Acme Novelty Library #1, which predates the book), was on display, but it was a good one, that succinctly sums up what I said about the book, itself.

“Jimmy Corrigan, Calling Mom,” Acme #1, 1993, Ink and blue pencil on paper. This page, from the first year he drew Jimmy  didn’t make it into the final “Jimmy Corrigan” book, though it captures much of the poignancy of it.

While Chris Ware is well-known as an admirer of the great George Herriman and his “Krazy Kat” strip, having done the cover art for the 13 volume reissue of what many, including he, consider the greatest comic strip of all time, his influence lives on in Mr. Ware’s own ground-breaking graphic design, which builds on “Krazy Kat’s” Sunday full pages, that Mr. Herriman treated freely, like a blank canvas, when it came to laying out his stories. Over the past 30 years, it’s been taken to the point that it has become one of his trademarks. Along with George Herriman, Charles Schulz and his “Peanuts” cartoon strip that ran for 50 years are another major influence on Chris Ware. “Charles Schulz is the only writer I’ve continually read through childhood and into college2.” Charlie Brown, who Mr. Ware calls “the first sympathetic cartoon character3,” is the predecessor of Jimmy Corrigan. Interestingly, the final Peanuts strip ran on February 13, 2000. After serializing the story in the early 1990’s, the first edition of the completed and collected “Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth” was published on September 12, 2000.

Learning at the elbow of the master. Chris Ware included this self-portrait in his “Tribute” to Peanuts after their final strip in 2000,  ending by paraphrasing Mr. Schulz final panel- “How could I ever forget them?” The complete strip is reproduced in “Monograph.”

In the years before and after Jimmy Corrigan, Mr. Ware developed a whole slew of characters, that appear sporadically, only some of them “human.” They range from “Quimby the Mouse,” and “Branford the Bee” to “Rusty Brown,” and “Rocket Sam.” But, in the end? It seems to me whatever lifeforms they are doesn’t matter a bit. It only serves to make them seem “uncannily human” to the reader.

“Quimbies the Mouse,” 1990, Ink and red pencil on paper. Later, he would lose the “siamese” aspect and it would just be “Quimby the Mouse.”

These appeared in the (shorter) installments of the “Acme Novelty Library,” released sporadically over the years. Mr. Ware’s full length books take him so long to create we’re lucky to get one per decade. There must be something in the water in the Chicago burbs because “Monograph” is second for this decade. And? At the show, he was speaking about ANOTHER book, to be released in 2018, “Rusty Brown, Part 1.” And though Zadie Smith commented “There’s no writer alive I love more than Chris. Ware. The only problem is it takes him ten years to draw these things and then I read them in a day and have to wait another ten years for the next one4.” it may take even Mr. Ware’s most devoted reader more than a day to work their way through “Monograph’s” 280 pages that are jam-packed with almost as many details as this image of the Milky Way.

“Monograph’s” surprises include this six page story including the red pencil underdrawing on paper he was using at the time. “I Guess, (from RAW Volume 2, No. 3, 1991),” 1990, Ink on mylar, red pencil on paper.

Over the years, Mr Ware has created books that range in size from miniatures to the gigantic, even one with a multitude of sizes (14) in one (the award winning “Building Stories,” 2012). Now? He has outdone himself. Weighing in at over 9 pounds and measuring 18 by 13 inches, it’s fitting that this mid-career Autobiographical Retrospective is large enough to mirror his achievement. In this case, “Monograph” needs to be this big. Trying to read the detail in something like the folded book jacket for “Jimmy Corrigan,” above, would be neigh impossible in a smaller size.

Speaking of gigantic. “Sparky’s Sparky Is Best Comics and Stories (I Am a Sickness That Infects my Friends.),” 1991, Ink, red pencil on paper, 50 inches tall(!) by 30 wide.

As for what else “Monograph” contains, Mr. Ware’s work has appeared on 23 New Yorker Magazine covers, almost every one of which eschews his “intricate” graphic design (the most recent one, in September, 2017, I wrote about, here), while also holding the distinction of being the very first “cartoonist” to have his work serialized in the New York Times.

The devil is in the details. Chris Ware is, also, endlessly fascinated with stand alone characters, especially hand-made mechanical examples. “Quimby the Mouse,” was incarnated as a wooden toy a while back. Unfortunately, the manufacturer painted every one of his eyes wrong. So? Mr. Ware grabbed the 14 of them in the vitrine and correctly hand painted each eye. Shown with the original Art for their box cover.

After “Jimmy” he continued to release regular installments of his “Acme Novelty Library,” along with smaller books, including “Lint,” two volumes of excerpts from his sketchbooks, a “Quimby the Mouse” collection, forays into mechanical figures, products and toys, book covers for others and the “Ragtime Ephemeralist,” an “infrequently appearing” volume devoted to you guessed it- ephemera, and scholarly articles, related to Ragtime, edited, designed and published by Chris Ware. The latest issue, from 1995, totals 256 pages! In 2011, he even broke out of the medium of print, for the first time, digitally publishing “Touch Sensitive” an interactive story from “Building Stories” that is still available for free download on iOS, here. In 2015, he debuted an actual internet-only work, serializing “The Last Saturday” online, here, on The Guardian’s website. Though he wasn’t a fan of technology early on, as the digital forays “Touch Sensitive” and  “The Last Saturday” show, Chris Ware is a man with one foot in the past who is, surprisingly, open to selectively dipping a toe in the future, though he is an avowed lover of the print medium.

3 Views of a Secret. A rare Chris Ware Painting, bottom, the Drawing for it’s appearance on an Acme cover, and a version of the same piece, as a New Yorker cover mock up, all featuring Jimmy Corrigan- with, and without, Super-man.

The next milestone was “Building Stories,” which had been partially serialized in the New York Times, released in 2012 in a large box containing 14 publications of varying size and bindings. The order which the reader read it was up to them, thereby creating countless ways it’s tales could be told. Five years later, almost to the month, now comes “Monograph.” It’s huge size is, no doubt, daunting to many. After seeing his original Art, I realized that “Monograph” mirrors the size of the illustration board Mr. Ware favors to draw his Art on. So, the book will provide an experience as close as is possible to seeing the actual original Art in person. As the ultimate Chris Ware (Auto)biography, it’s chocked full of historical Photos of Mr. Ware, his family, friends and associates, while it’s running commentary sheds new light on the path he and his Art has taken, an invaluable resource to those studying his Artistic development.

As we chatted this time, he drew two small self portraits in my copies of the Acme Novelty Datebook (his Sketchbooks), Vol 1 & 2. He seemed pleased to see them when I produced them for his signature, sketchbooks being near and dear to my heart (I made my own for many years). He mentioned that there would be a Volume 3! Later, I looked at the Drawings he did. Wow.

Sketch by Chris Ware in my copy of the Acme Novelty Date Book, Volume 1.

A bit reminiscent of this, which was on view in a corner across the room- “Acme #4 (Sparky’s Best Comics and Stories)” Cover, 1994, Ink and blue pencil on paper. What was I saying about all his characters acting “human?”

“The accolades he got he felt weren’t his, for some reason. He didn’t feel they were…deserved. And I think he didn’t feel particularly connected to the world.
He was appreciative and very, very loving about all of the good things that came his way but I think he was always mildly surprised.” Whoopi Goldberg on Charles Schulz 5

As with Charles Schulz, the creator of the most famous comic strip in history, I don’t know what lies at the heart of Mr. Ware’s self-effacement, but  I hope it won’t take another 30 years for him to accept the compliments his work receives. If he continues producing the kind of work he has over the past 30 years, then, he might not have any choice but to get used to people saying nice things about his work.

Back from the show, with this question on my mind, I began to re-read Jimmy Corrigan for the umpteenth time, this time in it’s paperback incarnation (which has a few significant differences from the hardcover), I happened upon this beauty on the lower right back cover.

A-ha! Chris Ware dumpster diving to SAVE copies of his work that have been discarded! “Jimmy Corrigan,” Paperback edition, back cover detail.

I get it! I FINALLY found the answer to his self-affacement. He WANTS me to throw out his work so he can save it and re-sell it!

They’re right. He IS smart! ; )

**********************************************************************
Collector’s Note- This is something I’ve yet to see anyone point out. While I suspect that many/most of Chris Ware’s fans already have “Monograph,” for those that don’t, I’ve discovered something that you might want to keep in mind.

There are TWO editions of “Monograph.”

When I discovered it, I called the publisher, Rizzoli, and even they didn’t know what the differences were! So, I took it on myself to find out. The “regular edition,” ISBN 978-0847860883, is the one most commonly available. However, there’s also the “Bookplate Edition,” ISBN 978-0847858125, which I’ve almost always seen selling for the same list price ($60.00) as the “regular” edition. However, it contains 2 major differences. First, it comes with a small double-sided “errata” sheet that is SIGNED by Chris Ware. Second, the “errata” sheet comes tucked inside of a folded reproduction of the original Drawing for his quite rare 2002 Whitney Biennial Poster, “The Whitney Prevaricator.”

Top of the inside of the inserted Reproduction of the Drawing for the Whitney Biennial Poster. If you collect Chris Ware, I recommend you get the “Bookplate Edition,” which is signed TWICE by Mr. Ware, and includes this.

On the top of the verso of this sheet is text noting that this is the “Fine Art Edition,(referred to as the “Bookplate Edition” in the trade) of “Monograph,” which Chris Ware has ALSO signed, and numbered out of an edition of 550. Buyer? Be Ware. (Sorry.)

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “In The Future When All’s Well,” by Morrissey from “Ringleaders of the Tormentors.” Another Artist who’s work is deemed “depressing” by some.

On the Fence, #16, The Smartest Birdies…on this Fence…on April 1st…at 3pm” Edition.

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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  1. http://edition.cnn.com/2000/books/news/10/03/chris.ware.qanda/index.html
  2. https://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6329/chris-ware-the-art-of-comics-no-2-chris-ware
  3. http://classic.tcj.com/alternative/interview-with-chris-ware-part-1-of-2/
  4. Quoted on a sticker on the shrink-wrap for “Monograph.”
  5. in “The Complete Peanuts, Volume 5 1959-1960, p.xi.

Now Is A Good Time To Join The Met- UPDATED 1/4/18

This is an update to my recent Post “Now Is A Good Time To Join The Met,” published on December 10, 2017.

Incomparable. That’s one way to describe Michelangelo. The buzz for “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer ” is that it’s “once in a life-time.” I’ve been anticipating it all year. With 133 of his Drawings(!). 3 Sculptures(!). His earliest Painting (The Met’s experts say it’s his. I’ve saw it in 2009 and it’s hard to argue with them)…That sounds about right. Here’s the sign at the entrance, fronting part of the scaffolding TM built to mimic Michelangelo’s own for the section on the Sistine Chapel. Click any Photo for full size.

Well? Anytime is a good time to join the country’s greatest Art museum. They can use the support. I’ve been a member of The Met since 2002, during which time I’ve gone over 1,400 times. It still truly feels like Home to me. Today, I renewed and a perusal of the shows up right now made me feel that it may be the most amazing lineup I can recall at one time.

Here’s what’s there right now

The Met’s Current Exhibition page on December 8, 2017.

“He’s making a list
He’s checking it twice…*”

Let’s see…

Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer 

-the David Hockney Retrospective

Rodin At The Met

World War I and the Visual Arts

Leonardo to Matisse: Drawings from the Robert Lehman Collection

EACH one is a big show at 1000 Fifth Avenue. Depending on your stamina, seeing all of any one of those would make for a good visit to The Museum in itself. And? These smaller shows are also there-

Frederick Remington at The Met

Talking Pictures: Camera-Phone Conversations Between Artists

Cosmic Buddhas in the Himalayas

Company School Painting in India (ca. 1770-1850)

Japanese Bamboo Art: The Abbey Collection

And? Since too much is never enough in NYC-

Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bed

Modernism on the Ganges: Raghubir Singh Photographs

Delirious: Art at the Limits of Reason, 1950-1980

Are up at The Met Breuer.

Yes. Santa came early for NYC Art lovers. Suffice it to say that I, also, bought a new pair of shoes cause I expect to be wearing my current pair out soon.

And then there was this…

All I wanted for Christmas. My name up in lights on a wall in The Met! Actually, before I feel special, they do this for all new and renewing members. Pay attention. Your “immortality” lasts for 3 seconds.

Ahhhh…It’s good to be Home for the Holidays…

UPDATE– January 4, 2018. The world’s greatest Museum announced an “updated” admissions plan this morning. The gist of it is-

  • The “pay as you wish” policy will continue for all New York State residents.
  • This will be expanded to cover students from New Jersey & Connecticut.
  • Mandatory $25.(general)/$17. (seniors)/$12 (students) admission fee will be required henceforth for all of those from elsewhere/non-students from NJ & Ct.
  • All full-priced tickets will be honored for three consecutive days.
  • The “updated” policy will be implemented on March 1, 2018

This morning, Daniel Weiss, President of The Met, said-

“…The Met is a profoundly different place from that envisioned by its founders. Decades ago The Met made a decision to expand its operations and outreach and to become the Museum that we know today: a cherished institution that is both the top tourist destination in New York City and a world-renowned center of scholarship and learning.

Maintaining this level of excellence, and continuing to serve the New York region at the same high level, requires that The Met take stock and decide, once again, what kind of Museum we want to be for future generations. The world has changed dramatically in the almost 50 years since our admissions policy was last reviewed, and the way we budget and plan for the future needs to change as well.

What is clear is that our current pay-as-you-wish policy is no longer sufficient to meet the Museum’s daily operational demands. Paid admissions represent only 14 percent of our overall revenue, one of the lowest percentages among our New York City peers. Moreover, in the past 13 years the number of visitors who pay the full suggested admission has declined by 73 percent. We are now the only major museum in the world that relies exclusively on a pure pay-as-you-wish system or that does not receive the majority of its funding from the government.”

His full statement on the matter is here.

Personally? I’m for this. TM has an estimated 10 million dollar deficit. It’s the fifth consecutive year they’ve been in the red, with an 8.2 million shortfall in 2015-16. This at a time where they are the #1 most attended Art museum in the world.

The Met’s Grand Hall, December 28th. I can’t recall ever seeing TM as crowded as it was this weekend. There were waiting lines to see Michelangelo & David Hockney.

What happens when the Art boom fades, or slows? Yes, it’s easy for me to say I support this since I could get in paying what I wish. I could have for the past few years. I’ve been a Met Member since 2002, and I will continue to be a member. Why? I believe, for any number of reasons I’ve outlined on NighthawkNYC over the past two years, like here, they are the best Museum in the world. And? They need my support. And your’s, too. Remember that if you are one of those effected by the new policy.

Or? You could just join. As I said, this is as good a moment as any.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” writer & publisher unknown to me. Ok. I’ve been naughty. Coal for me. I’m used to it…

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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Gary Hume and The Long Goodbye

“Is it all in that pretty little head of yours?
What goes on in that place in the dark?
Well I used to know a girl and I would have
sworn that her name was Veronica”*

Too many people can relate to this.

Like cancer, almost everyone knows someone who’s suffering, or has suffered, from dementia or alzheimer’s disease. Gary Hume does. So do I. I mention it because that might make me, perhaps, not the most impartial viewer of Mr. Hume’s new show, “Mum,” at Matthew Marks Gallery. Mr. Hume’s “Mum,” Jill Henshaw, has dementia. The 14 works on view relate to his Mum, as seen by the Artist as a child, and as an adult. Mr. Hume said in a New York Times interview, “I just wanted to paint a picture of my mum, and I wanted to do it to honor her.”

Knowing the subject before I walked in, the show still blindsided me with it’s understated power. Though there is only 1 portrait of his Mum on display, the other works leaving it to the viewer to connect them with her, the real strength of the show comes in it’s sum effect.

It had me close to tears.

“Three Leaves,” 2016-17, Enamel paint on paper. Falling as part of the cycle of their life. Falling like tears. Or, they could be floating away on a river of rippled paper…Click any photo for full size.

Mr. Hume is part of the “Young British Artists” group that sprang out of the Freeze “Sensation” show in 1988, though he’s not as flamboyant as some of it’s other members who were his classmates, studying for their B.A.’s in Fine Art, at Goldsmiths College, London, at the time. Now 55, his choice of subject has led to Mr. Hume’s work taking something of a radical turn, resulting in his most personal show yet. While Artist’s mothers are certainly not an unusual subject in Art, dementia is, in my experience. In Art, perhaps it’s most been discussed by those wondering if they can “see” Willem de Kooning’s dementia in his work.

“Georgie,”(Mr. Hume’s wife), left, and “Mum on the Couch,” right, both 2017, Enamel paint on aluminum, and a perfect place for a bench.

An initial visit to the show gives the impression that Mr. Hume’s Paintings share the quiet dignity of Ellsworth Kelly’s final Paintings that recently hung on these same walls. They also possibly share a similar technique with Mr. Kelly’s Plant Drawings that hung next door at the same time, both Artists being fond of rendering a plant in outline. (I wrote about both Ellsworth Kelly shows here.) But their apparently simple compositions and minimal palette are deceiving.

Mr. Hume has developed new techniques that he has mastered to the point that he can use them with wonderful subtlety. Raised lines of paint lie on the flat surface, and act like the lines in a Drawing, delineating and detailing shapes. Elsewhere these lines are smudged, possibly with a finger, into the shape of a mouth, or an eye. They are executed in the same color as the shape they appear on, making details hard to see clearly, requiring the viewer to stand close to the work to see them. This remarkable effect adds to the “there/not thereness” of the image. Paintings on paper became crinkled and wavy as the enamel house paint Mr. Hume uses (in colors pre-mixed in a hardware store) dries creating marvelous textures and effects. Other works on aluminum have very flat background surfaces, and reflect light making it even harder to see the detail. Using these techniques, and others, Mr. Hume does a remarkable job of making us feel both presence and absence in the same image. They are, also, a meditation on the nature of memories.

Even standing in front of the bench, the detail is hard to see.

Close-up of “Georgie,” reveals one of the “drawing” techniques Mr. Hume uses to add still nebulous “details” to these works.

The middle room of the show features Paintings of his Mum, and his wife, Georgie, surrounded by Paintings of plants, flowers and gardens, including this one.

Abstraction of another sort. “Grandma Looks at the Garden,” 2017, Enamel paint on aluminum

“Well she used to have a carefree mind of her
own and a delicate look in her eye
These days I’m afraid she’s not even sure if her
name is Veronica”*

The third and final room seemed to be focused on life continuing. It includes a painting of yellow rain against an orange background that struck me as, possibily, a sunshower.

“Rain,” 2017, Enamel paint on paper. A seemingly “simple” idea that in the context of this show takes it entirely elsewhere.

Contrastingly, next to it, is possibly a garden seen at night, where only the outlines of the plants are visible. Together, they emphasize loss, and memory, being something felt day and night, triggered by almost anything, and manifesting themselves in every situation and time.

“No Light,” 2016, Enamel paint on aluminum. Difficult to see clearly, like many memories are…

On an adjacent wall, a bird looks skyward, it’s beak closed, without a song.

“The Diver,” 2016-17, Enamel paint on paper.

And, finally in this room, one of two Paintings of berries, “Ripe,” below, bursting with life. (Whiter to, from here?)

“Ripe,” 2015, Enamel paint on paper. Bursting with so much life, the paper can barely contain it.

Meanwhile, the flowers in the show are mostly muted. After all, flowers are, often, symbols of beauty, and loss. Seen at both weddings and funerals.

“Mourning,” 2016, Enamel paint on aluminum

In her article about these works in the New York Times, Barbara Pollack said that Mr. Hume “recoils at any interpretation that reduces the work to merely being a response to his visits with his mother. He prefers to think about the relationship to subject matter as a process of ‘permissions.’…” The thing about Paintings, or Art, is that once it’s been created and put on public display, every person who sees it will have their own “interpretation” of it. I doubt these (especially my own) line up with the Artist’s very often.

Perhaps nowhere here is this better summed up than in “Blind,” a 2016 Painting in the first room. Pale flowers are shown against a white background. A nut seems to be falling towards the lower right corner. Every time I see it, it speaks of something else, but it, also, speaks to loss/impending loss of a mother, with the seed, the harbinger of new life, symbolizing the offspring…himself.

“Blind,” 2016, Enamel paint on aluminum, seen in the show’s first room.

These “ridges” appear in a number of works (like the other flower Paintings above), and are interesting to contrast with the more often than the “softer technique he uses in “Georgie,””Mum on the Couch,” and “Rain.” I haven’t found out as yet how he creates them, but they are stunning and add much to the mystery, and beauty, of these works. The Artist has been trying to replicate them in his prints.

As I said, I may well not be impartial when looking at these works. Ironically, my Mom’s dementia first became apparent one Thanksgiving day. Ironically, this show happens to be up from November 4 to December 22. I was drawn back to it 3 times Thanksgiving week. Now, stepping back from myself, and thinking about the beauty and the power of “Mum,” and seeing other works that Mr. Hume has created recently in the show’s catalog, it seems to me that Gary Hume has made a breakthrough both stylistically, and in portraiture.

“Mum in Bed,” 2017, Enamel paint on aluminum, not on view in the show, from the show’s catalog.

“Do you suppose, that waiting hands on eyes,
Veronica has gone to hide?”*

Mr. Hume’s work has greatly evolved in the almost 30 years since the “Sensation” show brought him and the YBA’s to wide attention. For years known as the “quiet one” in that group, it’s hard for me not to feel he’s only now hitting his stride. Though I doubt that many will agree with me at the moment, Gary Hume may yet turn out to be the Artist the YBA’s are remembered for. While each work on view is uniquely beautiful on it’s own, it’s as a group where each plays a part in telling a larger story, a story of life, love and impending loss (“the long goodbye,” as it’s called), ironically, in slivers that are almost there…like memories.

Human memories may have a finite lifespan, even under the healthiest of conditions. It’s in translating them to other forms where they have their back chance to live on…indefinitely.

Gary Hume, “Mum,” is my NoteWorthy show for November. 
*- Soundtrack for this Post is “Veronica,” by D.P.A. MacManus (aka Elvis Costello) and Paul McCartney,  from “Spike,” published by Universal Music Publishing Group.

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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Exclusive! A Visit to Raymond Pettibon’s Moscow Show

A retrospective of 400 works by controversial American Artist Raymond Pettibon in Moscow, Russia, of all places, in this tempestuous year of 2017?

This I gotta see.

But, since the MTA doesn’t go to Russia, I missed it. Still, the idea of this Artist in this place at this time, what this show could include, and the reaction of local viewers left me scrambling to find out as much as I could. I even ran ads on craigslist in Moscow seeking reactions from show goers. To this point, I’ve found almost nothing about it in the media, save for this one article in the Russian press, in which writer Igor Gulin says, according to translation, that Pettibon is an Artist “who for a long time left the punk aesthetics of his youth, but did not lose a drop of rage.” Finally, my International Art Researcher friends over at the Hattan Group agreed to go and cover the show for me. So, thanks to their kindness, and efforts, I am able to present an exclusive look at what shaped up to be one of the most intriguing shows of the year, through their eyes and Photos.

A ticket for the show. Let’s go in! All Photos courtesy of the Hattan Group. Click any for full size.

Midway through the run of the most recent NYC Pettibon show, “Th’ Explosiyv Shoyrt T” at David Zwirner, which I wrote about here, came word that a retrospective in Moscow called “The Cloud of Misreading” (on the website), or “The Cloyd o’ Misreadyng,” on Pettibon’s hand-painted mural, below, was due to open on June 7 in Moscow’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, and would include 400 pieces. Founded in 2008, by Dasha Zhukova and Roman Abramovich, Moscow’s Garage Museum is a fairly new, and rising, star on the global Modern Art scene. That it’s gotten off to a fast start can be seen in NYC, where as I write the show, “Proof: Francisco Goya, Sergei Eisenstein, Robert Longo,” that originated at the Garage in Fall, 2016, is now at the Brooklyn Museum. And, as if Moscow wasn’t enough Raymond Pettibon, the New Museum’s blockbuster retrospective, “A Pen of All Work,”  which I wrote about here, traveled to the Bonnefantenmuseum, in the Netherlands, where it opened on June 1, with 700 pieces. Phew…Raymond Pettibon and the curators are clocking some serious frequent flier miles. We’ll hear from one of them later.

The show’s entrance features one of Raymond Pettibon’s famous hand-painted murals. I hope the Russians are up on their “Pettibon English.”

Given all that’s gone on in the past year the timing of this show is most auspicious. Especially since Raymond Pettibon has never been an Artist to mince words, pull punches, or look at the USA (or anything or anyone else for that matter) through rose colored glasses.

Pettibon’s large, hand-painted mural, seen here and in the following three details, features that most alien of sports to Russia- Surfing.

Pettibon’s murals are painted over at the end of the show they were created for. This one lasted until August 13.

Before it opened, I wondered if some of his “stronger” works, or topics, would be omitted. Certain of Pettibon’s long standing subjects, say, Surfing or Charles Manson (Note- I wrote this piece before word came down today, November 20th, that Manson died earlier today. I also note that Pettibon has been unusually silent on his Twitter page for the past week, so, he’s had no comment on it as yet.), would seem to have little resonance in Russia to this outsider. After the show opened, I was able to “visit” it online through the exhibition brochure, which includes color photos of all 400 works on view, and which can be downloaded here.

The center vitrine contains Pettibon’s early Zines, Record Covers and excerpts from his archives. On the wall to the right are works pertaining to drugs, death/murder, and the hippie sub-culture.

Pettibon’s world famous 4 Bar “Black Flag” logo, seen in the vitrine, speaks a universal language. Of it Igor Gulin says, “In 1977, he painted a logo for his older brother Greg’s Black Flag group. Four black bricks are a constructivist version of an anarchic flag, in which the rage of protest does not flare up, but crumbles. There is no integrity, vigorous unity, but there is a strained friction of the elements, frightening the rhythm between them.  In this seemingly elementary thing, one can see the prototype of Pettibon’s future work.”

The show was curated by Gary Carrion-Murayari, of the New Museum, NYC, & Massimiliano Gioni, Artistic Director of the New Museum, NYC, the team that curated the New Museum’s unforgettable 800 work “Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work,” here, earlier this year. They are rapidly becoming major players in the larger Art World, in addition to raising the standing of the New Museum here in town.

This room features works highlighting abstraction in nature. A wall of Pettibon’s classic Wave works, right, joins other works depicting marble, crystal, rocks. Notice that most of the works on these 3 walls, including the huge Wave piece, right (which may be worth upwards of a million dollars), are not framed, but simply tacked the walls. In the back room, straight ahead, are works pertaining to recent “US foreign policy.” As for Surfing in Russia? Here’s where the surf’s up.

Gumby and Vavoom, two of Pettibon’s alter egos are featured on the wall to the right. To the left are works depicting trains and locomotives.

Works pertaining to Christianity, left, with the other half of the train and locomotives wall, right.

On the back wall are works that include images of fighting, on the right works that include nudes. One visitor commented that the show contained “a lot of sex.”

Mr. Carrion-Murayari introduces Pettibon and the show this way– After becoming an underground legend, beginning with his work in early days of the L.A. Punk scene, he says, “The stark imagery and darkly humorous captions of these works made Pettibon an underground legend long before he came to the attention of the larger art world. By the early 1990s, Pettibon’s vision gradually expanded to encompass the breadth and complexity of American history and culture. The tenor of his work shifted from strident to poetic, with a gradual softening of his graphic style and expansion of his subject matter. In the past thirty years, he has created iconic series of drawings on subjects as varied as surfing, baseball, cartoons, natural history, love, war, and his own artistic aspirations and failings. The title of this exhibition evokes the creative use of language that has evolved in Pettibon’s work over the course of his career.”

“No Title (Nobody Reads Dostoyevsky…),” 1986, Pen and ink on paper. Stalin also appeared in Pettibon’s David Zwirner show, where it looked like it had been used for target practice due to the paint splatters left on the wall from when Pettibon had worked in the gallery space.

Looking at the selection of works, I became fascinated by just which works were chosen and what they might reveal about any “message” in the show. I went through the show’s brochure and created a list of subjects and which works fell into them.What did this exercise tell me? Pettibon in Moscow is full-force Pettibon. No topic was “taboo.” All of the Artist’s, by now, well-known subjects are represented in depth.

Even more fascinated, I asked Mr. Carrion-Murayari what went into selecting the works for this show. He replied-

“In terms of the selection of the works, it was of course impossible to represent more than a small percentage of Raymond’s total oeuvre and even impossible to show all the variety of series or recurring images that he has produced over the years. We focused on three general areas of thought within his work: work on politics, work on the dark side of America and American culture; and work on creativity and the artistic or writerly temperament. We tried to represent some of his most iconic series and also demonstrate the way certain ideas and images pop up again and evolve over the duration of his career. We looked at thousands of drawings just to get to the final 800 or so that we included in the show, but even so, there were a number of early drawings that had appeared in books or zines that we searched for over the course of many months and were never able to track down. It’s entirely possible to imagine a dozen alternative Pettibon shows that would be equally as rich and surprising.”

“No Title (Will you give…),” 2007. Pen and ink on paper.

I then asked him what role Raymond Pettibon played in the selection of works for this show, if any. Mr. Carrion-Murayari said-

“Raymond wasn’t so involved in the selection of the specific works for the show. He pretty much left it to us, as he has done for many of the museum shows he’s done over the years. For the show at the New Museum, he was most focused on creating a number of new drawings specially for the exhibition and then of course on making the fantastic site-specific wall drawings at the New Museum, the Bonnefantenmuseum, and the Garage.”

“No Title (This one reminded…),” 2008, Pen, ink and gouache on paper.

Not to mention that, as I noted in my piece on the Zwirner show, Pettibon was, also, holed up in David Zwirner’s 519 West 19th Street space for the first part of this year creating the works for “Th’ Explosiyv Shoyrt T,” which opened barely 2 weeks after the New Museum show closed. So far in 2017, Raymond Pettibon has had THREE museum shows, that featured 1,900 works, AND a gallery show of a further 100 NEW works, making an even 2 grand. Phew. And on the 7th day…

Here are some of the other works on view at the Garage-

“No Title (I’d rather starve…),” 1987, Pen and ink on paper.

“No Title (We can’t start…),” 2012, Pen and ink on paper.

“No Title (I wanted moreover…),” 1999, left, and “No Title,” 2004, Both pen and ink on paper. Believe it or not, baseball appears to be gaining popularity in Russia.

“No Title (Duly facing myself…),” 2000, Pen and ink on paper

“No Title (It taught, it…),” 2003, Pen and ink on paper.

A closer look at a wall with works pertaining to US “foreign policy,” includes some of the following-

“No Title (The U.S. has…),” 2015, Ink and acrylic on paper.

“No Title (Till the map…),” 2008, Pen, ink and gouache on paper.

“No Title (CCCP, Sputnik, Cosmos…),” 1990, Acrylic on canvas. A rare Pettibon Painting.

“No Title (Advances in medical…),” 2007, Collage, pen and ink on paper.

“No Title (It is normal…).” 2001, Pen and ink on paper.

No Title (To Jill St. John…),” 1985, Pen and ink on paper.

This has been a year that would be extraordinary for any Artist. For the first 10 months of 2017 it was possible to see one, or three, major Raymond Pettibon shows somewhere in the world at any given moment. Since these shows are planned long in advance that they are happening (coincidentally ) at a time of such tumult in the country and in the world makes for one of the most auspicious run of shows in memory.

No matter the location, a highlight in each of these shows for many viewers are Raymond Pettibon’s Wave and Surfer works, which seem to lie at the center of his output these past 40 years. 4 of the 5 highest auction prices (1 million dollars, plus) for a Pettibon work depict one or both, for whatever that’s worth. Yet, they are a very small part of his huge output (numbering over 20,000 works as of earlier this year).

“No Title (Is some one…),” 2013, Pen and ink on paper…and tacked to the wall. Is doing so a remnant of “punk” attitude and street beginnings?

He could sit back and do them indefinitely and, no doubt, sell every single one he does. But, he doesn’t. In the last show of his new work, at David Zwirner, there was only 1 large Wave Drawing out of 100 works. In fact, the biggest one he’s done recently was the one for the wall painting for the Garage’s show, up top, which was painted over when the show came down. It’s far bigger than any of the 4 that sold for a million dollars or so at auction, yet it was done to only be on view for a short time.

It’s now gone…like the waves it depicts- a phenomena of nature, beautiful while it lasted. Like the mural (or the show), you had to be there to see it, and get it’s full effect. If you weren’t? You missed it.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Surfin’ USA” by Chuck Berry & Brian Wilson, and recorded by the Beach Boys.

My thanks to Gary Carrion-Murayari and Paul Jackson of the New Museum.
My thanks and gratitude to the Hattan Group for getting to the Garage show and allowing me to publish their photos.

On The Fence, #15 , The Cloyd Woyd.”

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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On The Frontiers of Photography: Trevor Paglen, Willa Nasatir, Caslon Bevington

While I’ve spent much of this year exploring the world of Photography, my focus has largely been on the period beginning with Robert Frank’s universally revered book “The Americans,” 1958. Most of those I’ve encountered work in fairly “traditional” realms- “Find a subject and shoot it.” Ah…the good old days. Of course, the world isn’t going to stand still for me while I look back, thank goodness, a point brought home by 3 concurrent shows this fall.

Unprecedented times call for extlraordinary means. Trevor Paglen at work on a prior project using equipment originally designed to see distant galaxies. Photo from his website.

Trevor Paglen (B. 1974), who holds both an MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago’s School and a PhD in geography from Berkley is, perhaps, best known for his Photos of “black sites”- classified defense department/CIA/NSA installations. Those pictures are usually murky, because of the haze from the extreme distances he has to work from because of security, and legal, restrictions to shoot many of these places. He prefers them that way, usually foregoing clearer images because, as he told the New Yorker in 2012, his “aim is not to expose and edify so much as to confound and interest1.” In the same piece, he said that a clearer image would say “a little less, really,” adding “that blurriness serves both an aesthetic and an ‘allegorical’ function2.” “It makes his images more arresting while providing a metaphor for the difficulty of uncovering the truth in an era when so much government activity is covert,” writer Jonah Weiner concluded3. As a result, some of his more “atmospheric” work have been compared to Painters, including J.M.W. Turner and Gerhard Richter, by some.

So, I was somewhat surprised when I walked into his new show, “A Study of Invisible Images,” at Metro Pictures. Robert Longo’s “The Destroyer Cycle” had recently been up on these walls, featuring huge charcoal drawings deep with socio-political imagery. I was expecting more of the same from Mr. Paglen given his books of “black site” Photos.

That’s not quite what we get.

Installation view, with a still from his video, “Behold These Glorious Times,” 2017. Click any image for full size.

It’s about something different, though not entirely unrelated. It turns out that Mr. Paglen has, also, been deeply involved in studying computer learning, specifically, how computers see the world. As he explains in the “Artist’s Notes” for the show-

 “Over the past decade or so, something dramatic has happened to the world of images: they have become detached from human eyes. Our machines have learned to see. Without us.”

He goes on to talk about how smart airports, smart homes, even smart cities are becoming ubiquitous, with self-driving cars possibly on the way, before adding, “Most images these days are made by machines for other machines, with humans rarely in the loop. I call this world of machine-machine image making ‘invisible images,’ because it’s a form of vision that’s inherently inaccessible to human eyes. This exhibition is a study of various kinds of these invisible images.” They break down to three groups- “machine readable landscapes (landscape images overlaid with marks that show how they’re being interpreted by machines), training images (made by humans for machine eyes), and things that we might call ‘ghosts.'”

“It Began as a Military Experiment,” 2017, ten pigment prints

While the new iPhone X uses facial recognition technology instead of passwords or fingerprints, this technology is nothing new. The military wanted it developed back in the mid-1990’s, so the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) began funding research. They quickly realized they needed to create a gigantic database of facial images and these folks, above, mostly military employees, were among the first of tens of thousands of photos it took and compiled into what was called the FERET database. Mr. Paglen then combed this database to arrive at this selection of faces. He then ran them through an algorithm to locate the key features of their faces. “One of the ways I think about these portraits is as a kind of super-structuralism in the sense that they are images not made for human eyes. They are meant for machine eyes. What’s more, these photos represent the original faces of human facial recognition- the ‘Adam and Eves’ that nearly all subsequent facial recognition research has been built upon,” he says in the “Artist’s Notes.”

Closeup of the fifth portrait, shows the key points on his face.

Recognizing one face out of this gigantic database first requires a “faceprint,” made out of all of the faces of a particular subject, aligned so their eyes and mouths are in the same place. Once you “average” them, you subtract the average image of all the other people in the database from the average of your subject. You’ll end up with a faceprint of your subject showing what distinguishes him form everyone else in the group. This portrait translates the faceprint of philosopher Frantz Fanon into an image that looks like a face to human eyes.

We’ve gone from the images seen just above- images that humans would recognize as people and faces, to this, an image constructed from computer to computer images so humans can recognize it as a face. “Fanon” (Even the Dead Are Not Safe) “Eigenface,” 2017, Dye sublimation metal print. The Afro-Carribbean psychiatrist Frantz Fanon is the subject.

It gets stickier from there. The Artist’s Notes continue, “A.I.s (artificial intelligences) are taught how to recognize objects by giving them training sets….(which may) consist of thousands or even millions of images organized into pre-sorted classes that correspond to each of the kind of objects that the A.I. will eventually be able to distinguish. For example, if you want to train an A.I. to recognize all the objects in a kitchen, you might give it a thousand pictures of a fork, a spoon, a knife, a countertop, etc…Once that A.I. is trained, you can give it a picture of a fork it has never seen before and it should be able to recognize it as a fork. ” After mentioning that “every image posted to Facebook or other social media sites undergoes powerful artificial intelligence algorithms that can recognize the identities of people, the objects, the products, and even the place depicted in those images,” Mr. Paglen created his own “massive” training sets, “based on literature, philosophy, folk-wisdom, history, and other ‘irrational’ things, and taught the A.I. to recognize things from those ‘corpuses.'” The last half of the show consists of the results of these experiments, which are much more ethereal and evocative than literal, at least to this human’s eyes.

“A Man (Corpus: The Humans) Adversarially Evolved Hallucinations,” 2017, Dye sublimation print.

Mr. Paglen has groups this part under the broad heading of “Hallucinations,” or “Adversarilly Evolved Hallucinations.” These further break down into the subcategories, or “Corpuses,” which includes-
“Corpus: Eye Machines” (Fittingly)
“Corpus: American Predators” (The Artist’s notes include Mark Zuckerberg, who he lists as a “predatory machine,” reminding viewers that computers mine every image loaded to his site and are capable of reading a tremendous amount of information from them.)
“Corpus: The Humans” (As seen in the image above. Porn was included in the training sets, and another image depicts it as seen by a computer…or so the title says.)
“Corpus: Omens and Portents”
“Corpus: Interpretations of Dreams” (Examples of both are seen below.)

“Rainbow (Corpus: Omens and Portents),” left, “False Teeth (Corpus: Interpretation of Dreams) both from “Adversarially Evolved Hallucinations,” 2017, Dye sublimation prints.

Trevor Paglen seems to like to push the boundaries of our perception while avoiding the sharp detail most Photographers live by, which, indeed, ventures into the domain of Painting. Now, he has gone beyond what humans can perceive, and into the realm of what is only “seen” by computers to create Art for humans. I wonder how long it will be before computers get around to doing that for us on their own.

Installation view, with another still from his video, “Behold These Glorious Times,” 2017.

These images are haunting, nightmarish, and beautiful, at the same time. In his Art Basel Conversation with Jenny Holzer, Mr. Paglen said the basis of his work can be summed up as- “How do you see the historical moment that you live in?” This show certainly provides answers to part of that question, though it raises others. Mr. Paglen’s new work is no less unsettling than his “black sites” and drone Photos. Perhaps most unsettling is not what’s in these images. It’s what they portend for the future.

Willa Nasatir,”R.V.,””The Green Room,””Bird,””Blue Girl,””Sunbather,””Conductor,” 2017, Chromongenic print mounted on wood, from left to right. Installation view, Whitney Museum.

Unlike the other Artists featured in this piece, Willa  Nasatir (B. 1990) doesn’t use digital techniques to create her Photographs. That might be hard to believe after seeing her work. Her analog process involves creating props, often from found objects, shooting them, and then reshooting the resulting Photographs, which has sometimes been modified by fire, water, and any number of other things. The results, as seen in her revelatory Whitney Museum show, “Willa Nasatir,”achieve something of a 3D effect in a 2D work. Fresh from a show at the Knox-Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, who owns one of her most stunning images, Ms. Nasatir shows herself to be at once a throwback, and a visionary.

“The Red Room,” 2017, Chromongenic print mounted on wood. The-Albright-Knox Art Gallery owns this one. They chose well.

Ms. Nasatir created the 6-part work, shown first in this section, especially for the Whitney’s long gallery wall, the unifying feature of which seems to be the color grey with green or blue. All of the works on view are dated 2017 and show a remarkably consistent unity of style and vision, and a somewhat daring use of color.  As for what’s going on in these, or any of her work? You’re on your own. The Whitney’s introduction to the show says, in part, “The resulting works are hand-manipulated images that become psychologically charged and difficult to discern; the viewer is left to parse out unresolved narratives that the image only implies.”

“The Green Room,” 2017. When I look at this, with it’s mirror reflection, even some of it’s props, I can’t help but recall Samara Golden’s work in this year’s Whitney Biennial.

Hmmm…Where have I heard that recently? Her style shares some similar props and some of the effect of Samara Golden’s work, particularly “The Meat Grinder’s Iron Clothes,” 2017, which I felt was the show-stopper of this year’s Whitney Biennial. Ms. Golden’s work can look like “sets” that Willa Nasatir might base one of her Photographs on. Whereas I called Ms Golden’s astounding work in this year’s Whitney Biennial “unphotographable,” (as a whole), Ms. Nasatir’s Photographs are often impossible to locate in the real world. Both Artist’s works features elements of the “known world,” but place them in contexts which are unknown, mysterious, ominous.

Samara Golden’s “The Meat Grinder’s Iron Clothes,” (detail), 2017, at the Whitney Biennial earlier this year.

In thinking about precedents for Ms. Nasatir’s work, Man Ray once again comes to mind. Ray, of course, didn’t use digital techniques, either. He pre-dated them. The Dadaists, Marcel Duchamp, the German Expressionist filmmakers also come to mind, as do Robert Rauschenberg’s found objects. But, as with Samara Golden, it’s what these image stir in the mind, and the mind’s eye, that overcomes any attempt at reference- in the real world, or the historical one.

Willa Nasatir, “Street Sweeper,” right, “Half Heart, Bus Depot,” both 2017, Gelatin silver prints.

It all fades away as you ponder “What happened here?” Or, “What is about to happen?,” and then feel resonances in your mind and life. Oh, and by the way, there’s the beauty of her work, which I say as almost an afterthought, though it’s not, to their main impact- mystery.

“Butterfly,” 2017, Chromongenic print mounted on wood.

With two museums shows to her name by her mid-20’s, Willa Nasatir is an Artist who’s stock is rising pretty quickly. It will be interesting to see how her work evolves from here.

Caslon Bevington (B. 1992) is an up and coming NYC Artist I met during the run of the Raymond Pettibon show at David Zwirner. Her reaction to that show struck me, so I became interested in seeing her work. To this point, I had only seen what’s on view on her gallery’s, Apostrophe NYC’s, website.

One of the earlier pieces by Csalon Bevington I saw on Apostrophe NYC’s site. When I saw it in person, I guesstimated it at 12 feet tall. Photo courtesy of the Artist & Apostrophe NYC

My shock was palpable when I walked into her show, “A Home for Formless Creatures: The Charisma of Fragmentation,” at Apostrophe NYC’s studio & gallery space at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, NJ. (Yes…I went to N.J.) to find she had spent the summer creating a new body of work that, at first look seemed quite different from what had come before. When I looked at the show of new work one word summed up the experience.

Qucksilver…

Installation view of Caslon Bevington’s show “A Home for Formless Creatures: The Charisma of Fragmentation,” shows her new, “Translation,” series, 2017. Photo by Roman Dean, courtesy of the Artist and ApostropheNYC

As fast as lightning, her work had altogether changed and, low and behold, there was an entire show of new work that was largely unlike any of her work I’d seen thus far. The show centered on a series of 10 works in which the Artist takes found and original images and processes them using more software programs than she could list for me, including some involving sound waves. The results were outputted to paper and then mounted on wood blocks with resin to create a series of black and white works titled “Translation” that are quite mezmerizing.

Caslon Bevington, “Translation #8”, 2017. Photo by Roman Dean, courtesy of the Artist and Apostrophe NYC

They have the glossy surface of gelatin prints, but the images are mounted on blocks that extend 2 and a half inches out from the wall, jutting into the viewer’s space. Their rectangular shape and size (7 x 11 inches) is different from the usual sizes of Photographs, making them feel like something else. In them, images are juxtaposed- sometimes recognizable images (like fire escapes), with unrecognizable images, or repeating lines or waves, or abstract patterns or circles, leaving the viewer somewhere between reality and…?

“Translation #10,” 2017. Photo by Roman Dean, courtesy of the Artist and Apostrophe NYC.

They have a presence as a group, like a visit to another world that exists in multiple visual dimensions. Images explode out of some, interrupt others, or dialogue with each other, or mirror each other, while sharing not quite half of the work. There’s an elegance, an other-worldliness, and a haunting presence to these new works, especially, when seen in a group of them.

As for Quicksilver…What are the processes in an Artist’s mind that leads to such radical changes in their direction? Changes that seem “quick” to outsiders?

The Artist’s statement in the lovely catalog she produced, in conjunction with Apostrophe NYC, for the show.

Later, she gave me a tour of her studio, and we looked at, and discussed, her earlier work. I was very surprised at the journey her work has taken. Having studied at the Art Student’s League and Parsons, the drawings she showed me were by no means academic. They explored geometric possibilities of color in abstraction. Later works all around were often complex weaves (literally) of painted cut strips of fabrics and canvas, in a square or rectangular grid. She then explored the possibilities of rope in patterns that freed the composition from the grid, and made the picture plane transparent, including one fascinating and intricate rope work of many layers on a large rectangular frame that looked to me to be about 12 feet tall (shown earlier). Ms. Bevington has also worked in metals bending strips of them onto a frame, delicately weaving each piece, and in fashion, creating a very cool T Shirt for the show.

“Flying Saucer Archive,” 2017, Photo Transfer on Linen. Photo by Roman Dean, courtesy of the Artist and Apostrophe NYC.

Along with these works, were some works, that also involved Photographs, on woven grids, that seem to bridge the woven grids seen in some of her prior work. One features found images of UFO’s, or what might be UFO’s. Two others featured images of sunsets shot from moving vehicles.

“Photos of Sunsets Taken From Moving Cars #1 & 2,” 2017, left to right. Photo by Roman Dean, courtesy of the Artist and Apostrophe NYC.

Whereas earlier she took abstract painted canvas cut into strips and imposed “order” on them by subjecting them to being woven into a rectangular or square grid, now she does the same thing using images. Along with these, also on view was an Artist’s Book she created from found images using all kinds of search algorithms- closeups of fabrics, rugs, and she only knows what else. Caslon tried to explain the process of finding and selecting it’s images to me, but I was lost looking at the pages go by as she turned them. Besides, knowing too much often steals some of the mystery. This beautiful object was produced in an edition of 9, while the other works shown were unique.

Yes, there was Painting, too. “Static Painting,” 2017, Oil on Wood. Photo by Roman Dean, courtesy of the Artist and Apostrophe NYC.

The “Translation” pieces struck me, among other things,  as creating successful, new, compositions out of the juxtaposition of existing images. Thinking about her new and earlier work, while she makes something “else” out of unexpected combinations (of materials or images), for this viewer, they share the common thread of having a “new order” brought to them.

Caslon Bevington seen with “Translations #10, 11, 12, 13 and 14,” 2017, left to right, at Apostrophe NYC’s gallery at Mana Contemporary, Jersey City.

Caslon Bevington is part of “Base 12,” “an experimental project…(that) groups together 12 emerging artists in a quasi-collective,” represented by Apostrophe NYC, which is run by the brothers Sei and Ki Smith, and has been in residency at Mana Contemporary. Given how rapidly Caslon’s work is evolving, seemingly like quicksilver, she’s an Artist who will be fascinating to watch. It will be interesting to see what she does next, and if she continues to explore this new realm of her work, or moves to another new frontier.

Bonus Show- Lucas Samaras (B. 1936) may be as familiar to many Art lovers as a subject for Chuck Close (like this one) as he is for his own work. At his new show, “New York City, No-Name, Re-Do, Seductions,” at Pace, 510 West 25th Street, all the works on view were digitally modified Photographs. The show  concluded with a large gallery of what he calls “Kastorian Inveiglements,” works that began as Photographs that depict “every day objects” subsequently manipulated in Photoshop into symmetrical abstractions.

Lucas Samaras, “NO NAME (Kastorian Inveiglements),” 2017, Pure pigment on paper mounted on Dibond

Detail of lower left quadrant.

Having seen other Artists experiment with these, though not to this level of complexity or accomplishment, I decided to try one myself to gain an understanding of the process. Here is my first experiment-

“Symmetrical Abstraction 1,” 2017, based on one of my Photos.

It shows that I’ve got a ways to go to match Mr. Samaras, as I do in getting up to speed on the frontiers of Photography, and Photo-based Art. Before it moves, again.

“Willa Nasatir” is my NoteWorthy show for October, though it ended on October 1.
*- Sundtrack for this Post is “X-Ray Visions,” by Clutch, from the appropriately titled album “Psychic Warfare.”

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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  1. New Yorker, October 22, 2012, P.56
  2. ibid P.57
  3. ibid P.56-57

Up All Night With Frank Lloyd Wright

“Architects may come
Architects may go
and never change your point of view.
When I run dry
I stop awhile
and think of you.”*

Once, back in the day, I came home from work on a Friday evening and put that Simon & Garfunkel song on. Then, I hit the repeat button. “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” played all weekend, non-stop, until I had to go to work on Monday. Even while I slept.

Such was my life under the spell of Frank Lloyd Wright.

The mark of genius. Frank Lloyd Wright’s “symbol” (the red square) and his signature on the corner of one of his Drawings. “The color red is invincible. It is the color not only of blood-it is the color of creation. It is the only life-giving color in nature…1” Click any photo for full size.

I guess I hoped that playing this unique song from “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” with it’s unusual marriage of Brazilian rhythm and a string quartet under the ethereal vocals, would lend a different perspective on Wright and his work.

In the years after my father passed, Wright, became an all encompassing figure to me, something I didn’t realize until a German Architect I was dating pointed it out to me. She might have been (W)right. Looking back, though, I think it was the discovery of, and the falling in to, the seemingly bottomless pit of creativity that was Frank Lloyd Wright, and the enigma and charisma of the man, his ideas and his accomplishments (including the countless buildings he designed that were never built, or that were built and since lost). This passion took many forms in my life at the time. Along the way, I learned that the man was a great Artist in other ways beyond Architecture- as a draughtsman and, in my opinion, as a writer. His writings often marry Art & Architecture and philosophy. He was, also, something of a “teacher,” or model, later in his life at his Taliesen Fellowship. His “teaching” seems to have greatly influenced some, and left others unhappy. Beyond all of this work, his personal life? Well…as I’ve said previously about others…is not for me to judge. My interest in is the Art, his creative ideas and the work.

Speaking of teaching & learning…Just outside MoMA’s show, in “The People’s Study,” the public was invited to create and experiment with a range of materials, including blocks, which Wright, himself, created with as a child. Along the windows, they were invited to design their own “Broadacre City,” Wright’s concept for urban/suburban development.

MoMA’s show, “Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive” is a major event, honoring two major events.  First, it opened on June 12th, four days after Frank Lloyd Wright’s 150th Birthday. Second, it marks the joint acquisition by MoMA and the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library of Columbia University of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Archives. It’s a fascinating show, though, of course, it’s a mere sliver of the massive Archive that will keep scholars busy for decades Some of the early fruits of their labors were on view, particularly in short videos on display in each gallery where curators spoke of some of the highlights they’ve found so far. Parts of Wright’s Archives have been known to me through earlier shows at MoMA and the Guggenheim, and through books, most notably “In His Renderings,” the final volume of  the landmark 12 volume box set published by A.D.A Edita Tokyo in 1984, right in the middle of my Wright obsession2. The 200 drawings “In His Renderings” included made the case for Wright’s drawings being works of Art in themselves, and a good many of them are in MoMA’s show, which totals about 450 items. Indeed, they are right at home on the walls of the great museum.

The show is made up of galleries devoted to individual projects and galleries devoted to aspects of his work. Of course, given his career lasted over 60 years, only selected Wright projects are here and they range from key buildings, like the “Imperial Hotel,” 1923, to some much less well known, like his design for the “Rosenwald School” “for Negro Children,” 1928, as it was labelled, as well as galleries devoted to Wright’s Ornamentation (an almost completely lost art in today’s Architecture), Urban projects, the role of landscaping in his projects, and built, and (mostly) unbuilt projects for NYC. There is also a gallery showing 2 rare videos of Frank Lloyd Wright- one an infamous interview with Mike Wallace in 1957, the other an appearance on the game show, “What’s My Line.” The long central, first gallery includes a range of Drawings, many masterpieces- both as Architecture and as Artworks, from a wide range of periods of Wright’s career, including the “Winslow House,” 1893, “Unity Temple,” 1908, “Fallingwater,”1935, and the “Marin County Civic Center,” which opened in 1962.

Frank Lloyd Wright seen at the end of the first gallery as he’s interviewed by Mike Wallace in 1957, at age 90. Still sharp as a tack.

When Wright burst on the scene, after leaving his employer & mentor, the great Louis Sullivan3, the “Father of the Skyscraper,” (who he held in such high esteem, he referred to him as “Lieber Meister,” German for “Dear Master”), and began his own practice, there was no such thing as a truly “American” style of Architecture.

Louis Sullivan’s “Bayard-Condict Building,” 1898, on Bleecker & Crosby Streets, his only NYC building, was one of the first steel skeleton skyscrapers in NYC. As the columns between the windows rise, they lead to the parapet decorated with angels.

Even half-hidden by scaffolding the genius of Louis Sullivan’s ornament is impossible to miss, here on the entrance.

While Henry Hobson Richardson and Sullivan (both a bit under appreciated today), had taken steps towards creating an American style, Wright completed it with the introduction of his Prairie Style in the first decade of the 20th Century, like the “Unity Temple,” 1908, in Oak Park, IL, below.

Rendering of “Unity Temple,” Oak Park, IL, 1908, which still stands, an example of his “Prairie Style,” with it’s low, land-hugging profile. Wright, who’s church was “Nature,” went on to design churches for many religions.

Off the central gallery, the first side gallery is devoted to Wright’s “Imperial Hotel,” Tokyo. Incredibly, it was dedicated on September 1, 1923, the very day of the devastating Great Kanto Earthquake that killed 100,000 people and leveled almost every other structure in Tokyo, except for Wright’s Masterpiece, which he had designed to withstand such an event. Instant world-wide fame followed. The genius in it’s floating concrete foundation below was also abundant in the superhuman amount of creativity above it.

“Imperial Hotel,” 1923, cross section.

Wright designed the furniture, the windows, the lamps, the dishes- all of it. He created a massive building that was one unified composition from top to bottom, down to the smallest detail. I couldn’t get over it. Yet, the “Imperial Hotel,” was far from the only building he did this for. No other Wright structure has captured my fascination, and awe, more than the “Imperial Hotel” (which is saying something), perhaps because, though it was gigantic, so little of it remains- even in photographs, film or books (An amazing online collection of photos and relics of the “Imperial Hotel” I’ve seen is to be found here.). What is left teases the viewer to imagine the rest. I’ve tried to imagine walking around in it…what that must have looked like and felt like. It withstood what Nature (Wright capitalized it, since he said it was his “religion,” my inspiration for capitalizing “Art,” “Music,” “Painting,”etc.) threw at it, and World War II, but it couldn’t withstand the rising value of Tokyo real estate leading to it’s tragic demolition in 1958 after standing for a mere 45 years! The facade was saved and reconstructed at Japan’s Meiji Mura Outdoor Architectural Museum, a few pieces of furniture are in The Met (which also has one of the Urns that was out in front of the entrance), and other items are in collections elsewhere.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s First Symphony. The “Imperial Hotel,” Tokyo. Imagine designing this, AND all the furniture, dishes, windows, lamps, and on an on. For my money, one of mankind’s supreme creative achievements. It’s so large it extends off the frame from across the street. Part of the entrance is barely visible to the right, center.

Fragments of the “Imperial Hotel.”  The two side chairs are on loan from The Met. The dishes are reproductions.

Wright’s other huge early masterpiece was Chicago’s “Midway Gardens,” 1914, an indoor/outdoor entertainment complex in the Hyde Park section. Again, Wright designed all of it, and once again, almost nothing remains. Either one of these two buildings would have been enough to secure his name, and his legend. “Midway Gardens” stood for FIFTEEN years. The loss of both is a cultural tragedy that will echo on through centuries to come.

Like a vision of the past through a misty glass. Rendering of “Midway Gardens,” 1913, Chicago. Another early lost masterpiece.

Represented in MoMA’s show by this “Block for Midway Gardens,” 1914. Remnants of it are extremely rare. Photos of, and more about “Midway Gardens” can be found here. (Scroll down.)

Gone forever was the chance for young Artists & Architects to experience and be directly influenced by them the way you only can from seeing Architecture, or Art, in person. Wright’s buildings require your presence in their space to fully appreciate them. He was fond of low corridors giving way to large open spaces, and this is just one of the experiences you can’t get from a book. Speaking of books, after one of my visits, I wandered into MoMA’s bookstore. A young couple next to me picked up a book on Wright and one said, “What did he build? Oh! He did the Guggenheim.” I thought everyone knew who Frank Lloyd Wright was. I don’t know if they went up to see the show or not, but I decided then and there to write this Post.

After these early masterpieces, Wright’s style evolved from the Prairie style, through the Mayan and Japanese influence seen in the “Imperial Hotel” and a number of houses he designed at the time, to his “Usonian”style of the mid-1930’s, to buildings beyond style, like the “Johnson Wax Headquarters,” “Fallingwater,” and eventually, The “Guggenheim Museum.” They would all fall under the umbrella of “Organic Architecture.” The “Usonian” houses began around 1936, and have a style which brings these houses even closer to the land than the “Prairie Style” houses, being almost universally a single storey, while featuring simpler materials, which, Wright believed, would make them more affordable. Though more “popularly priced”, he still designed all the furniture for them as well, and the chair I once owned came from a “Usonain” house. These “Usonian” houses, along with his “Broadacre City,” were part of his vision for urban and suburban landscape design, called “Usonia,” as in “U.S.-onia.”

Rendering of the “Johnson Wax Headquarters,” 1936. It’s innovations are everywhere from the dendriform columns in the great workspace that rise from 9 inch bases to 15 foot “lily-pad” tops (see below), to the design of the furniture to expedite cleaning, to the use of glass tubes to block out the “urban blight” outside while creating a soft light inside. A sideshow of Photos of this incredibly beautiful building are here.

No one believed Wright’s slender columns for the Johnson Wax HQ could support enough weight to be practical. So, he staged this demonstration and piled 60 TONS on top of one! Photographer unknown. 81 years later? They’re still standing tall.

The later masterpieces while unique to themselves, still remain true to Wright’s core beliefs. Herbert F. Johnson, president of the S.C. Johnson Company hired Wright to build his company’s corporate headquarters in 1936 in Racine, Wisconsin. The resulting landmark, above, is a sheer wonder- a cathedral of capitalism. Though they encountered some problems, Mr. Johnson was so pleased with Wright that he contracted him to build a research tower on the property and then to design a large house for himself, known as “Wingspread.”

Within the year, he, also, created what may be the most famous private house ever built. “Fallingwater,” for Edgar J. Kaufmann, owner of Kaufmann’s department store.

Rendering of “Fallingwater,” 1935. Legend has it that Wright had put nothing on paper though his client, Edgar Kaufman, was on his way from the airport to see the design of his house. Wright had it all in his head and put it down on paper in time for Mr. Kaufman’s arrival. This is probably not that Drawing.

Perhaps nowhere in Art is there greater harmony of Art & Nature than there is in “Fallingwater,” which may make it Wright’s ultimate expression of his “Organic Architecture.” In it, the Artist strives to achieve the ultimate- create something worthy of a spectacular natural site, a work that seems to grow out of it, and be integral to it. Mr. Kaufmann was expecting the house to be sited across from the waterfall so he could enjoy looking at it. Instead, Wright put the house directly on top of it, centering the living room on a rock the family liked to picnic on.

As a result of all of this, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that later in his career he spoke defiantly about the Architects of the new “International Style,” with their bland, impersonal boxes of steel and glass, that are about as far from “Nature” as anything could be. Here in NYC, as in many other places, a casual look around reveals they’re already dated, and many (most? All?) are plain eyesores. One thing MoMA’s show reinforces is that Wright’s work has a way of not going out of fashion. Perhaps it’s because it’s so tightly integrated with it’s surroundings- with nature. It also helps that most of what he built and remains is out in nature, i.e. not in a City. Then again, perhaps it’s because his endless, unique, creativity serves to constantly inspire. Like the song says. For myself, my now long-standing passion for the work of Frank Lloyd Wright leaves me wondering if he is not the greatest Architect who ever lived. I’m lucky. I don’t believe in qualitatively comparing Art or Artists. But if I did? That’s one statement I might actually make. Now, I’m content wondering.

“The tree that escaped the forest.” Like a tree, it looks different from every angle. Originally designed for Astor Place in Manhattan, after it was rejected, it was redesigned and became the only “skyscraper” Wright built during his lifetime, the “Price Tower” in, you guessed it- Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

Speaking of “not being in the City,” though Wright has only one building in NYC, that’s not because he didn’t try. Though he loathed cities, particularly this one, he did. He designed many structures that he wanted to have built here but he was shot down by the powers that be every single time4! Only when he had a client powerful enough to push through his project did the Guggenheim get built. MoMA’s show serves as a reminder of this nightmare as it shows us some of the projects he envisioned for the City, along with an in-depth look at the Guggenheim’s coming to be. It, therefore, serves to remind us that the travails of that other brilliant Architect named “Frank,”…Gehry, has had getting projects built here are nothing new. To date. Mr. Gehry, who has tried to get countless plans built that would have transformed the City, to date has only two. Between Wright & Gehry? Ohhhh…the City we should have had.

Rendering of the “New York Sports Pavilion,” for Belmont Park, 1956 , another of the countless structures Wright designed for Manhattan that were never built.

As his only NYC building, the Guggenheim Museum it is still able to inspire with it’s incredibly bold vision almost 60 years on. It echoes the trees across 5th Avenue in Central Park as a way of bringing a hint of Nature across the street into the City. But, lesser known is the building as we see it now went through quite a metamorphosis on the way. Take a look at this-

The Guggenheim Museum underwent extensive design modifications between this model and the finished building. Looking at it from the 5th Avenue side, very little is the same besides the ramp/rotunda (though here it’s located on the East 89th Street corner, instead of the East 88th Street corner, to the right, as it was built), and the lower overhanging floor. Everything else is different.

This detail fascinates me. It shows Wright’s rarely seen original design for the roof, most notably the skylight over the famous rotunda. The variously sized circles make much more sense to the overall composition than the grid that’s up there now, since so much of the composition involves circles (right down to circles being etched on the sidewalk out front). Of course, the Guggenheim chose to ignore all of this when they put a square building behind it. I wonder why this design was not used. Nor were the surrounding small domes.

The rotunda is now on the right in this rendering, done to demonstrate how it would look in pink. Yes…pink! Still, along with the final color, so much about the building remained to be finalized even here.

The Guggenheim didn’t follow through on all of Wright’s ideas when completing the building (which may, or may not explain the current skylight). So, perhaps, it shouldn’t be a surprise when the Guggenheim was altered in the early 1990’s, terribly in my opinion. I was actively involved in trying to prevent it, and the modification of the Breuer Whitney Museum (now, unmodified, it’s The Met Breuer). To that end, in June, 1987, my letter was published in the New York Times-

My letter in the NY Times Op-Ed page opposing the & Guggenheim & Whitney modifications, June, 1987. I love the very fitting drawing they added.

“So long, Frank Lloyd Wright.
All of the nights we’d harmonize till dawn.
I never laughed so long.
So long.”*

Today, are there ANY Architects who are also designing the dishes, rugs, windows, lamps & furniture for their buildings on a regular basis? Having owned an original Frank Lloyd Wright chair I can attest to both the ingenuity of the design (though “impractical” most people who saw it said, it’s 3 legs required you to sit with both feet on the floor, or fall off. Wright teaching proper posture), and to the fact that it was in itself a miniature work of Architecture. When I thought of Wright, I thought of Brahms, Mahler or Anton Bruckner (all of whom were alive during Wright’s lifetime) or his beloved Bach & Beethoven. Wright was building symphonies in the physical world. The extraordinary attention to detail in his work- down to even designing the napkin rings at “Midway Gardens,” is something akin to the musical structure of any of those Composer’s compositions, where every note plays a role in the whole. Wright creates a unified physical structure that is hard to find in any other Architect’s work- before or after. Music was the only analogy I could think of for what he had done. At least for me. I think he may have agreed- music was always central to him, particularly chamber music, which he would have weekly performances of at his Taliesin homes. It was hard for me to understand my fascination & obsession with all things Frank Lloyd Wright until I realized what he was doing was creating buildings the way Bach, Mahler or Bruckner created “edifices in sound.” Wright loved music and the connection is something that needs closer study.

Like Picasso, or Miles Davis, he was not one to stay in the same place for long. They are the only two other 20th Century Masters who had multiple unique “periods.” Wright’s style continually evolved, but it were always true to his principles- using nature as the supreme guide, building in harmony with the site, and building “organically.”

Approaching age 90, Wright unveiled one of his most daring ideas yet- “The Illinois,” perhaps better known as the “Mile High Skyscraper,” because that’s what it was- a mile tall. A number of Drawings related to it were on view at MoMA, five about 8 feet high each.

8 foot tall rendering of “The Illinois,” 1956. Wright’s “Mile High Skyscraper.” Designed to be made of concrete, some doubt it’s feasibility. It would have been FOUR times the height of the Empire State Building!

Interestingly, in one Drawing, the “Mile High” shares the sheet with extensive text. The curator’s video in the gallery says this drawing is his second “Autobiography,” to the book of that title. On it, Wright pays tribute to his influences, and proceeds to list some of his accomplishments. As a result, it’s perhaps the most fascinating drawing in the show. It’s something of a testament. It’s hard for me to look at the “Burj Khalifa” in Dubai and not think it’s Architect, Adrian Smith of S.O.M., owes a serious debt to “The Illinois.” It’s “only” 2,722 feet tall, though, half of the proposed height of “The Illinois.”

Wright’s “salutations,” list of accomplishments, and building stats on the top half of another 8 foot tall drawing of the “Mile High.”

One striking thing about Frank Lloyd Wright is that at the time of his death on April 9, 1959, Frank Lloyd Wright was exactly half as old as his country. (He was 91, the country was 182 years old.) Remarkable. When Wright started in Architecture, working for Joseph Silsbee in 1872, he did so in a Chicago that was still digging out from the Great Fire the previous year. There were no skyscrapers until his “Lieber Meister” Sullivan began to create them 20 years later. When he passed away in 1959, one of his final masterpieces, the Guggenheim Museum was about to open. Much had changed in the 87 years between. But, given that he stayed true to his core belief in “Organic Architecture,” (“building as nature builds,” he said), I’m not sure that Wright changed all that much as much as he evolved. As a result, in the final analysis, he showed us that his idea was infinitely pliable, and that creativity and imagination had a central role in it, something that seemed to go out of Architecture, increasingly, during that same period. While some of his greatest works are gone, his Archives contain an enormous wealth of materials that can bear witness to them, and the thousand or so projects he undertook (about 400 or so still stand). It was a lot for one life- even one that lasted 91 years.

Frank Lloyd Wright during the “Mike Wallace Interview,” 1957, near the age of 90, two years before he passed away.

“So long, Frank Lloyd Wright.
I can’t believe your song is gone so soon
I barely learned the tune
So soon, so soon”*

As I left this show, filled with that same, familiar, head-shaking amazement, I was reminded of a quote of Wright’s- “The scientist has marched in and taken the place of the poet. But one day somebody will find the solution to the problems of the world and remember, it will be a poet, not a scientist5.” Whether the world will listen to the next poet is a question that remains to be answered. In the meantime, with regard to this poet, there is much still to learn.

“Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive” is my NoteWorthy Show for September.

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright,” by Paul Simon, which is, also, something of his farewell to Art Garfunkel as Garfunkel was about to leave to go to Mexico to shoot “Catch 22,” which marked the end of Simon & Garfunkel. Garfunkel majored in Architecture at Columbia, admired Wright, and suggested to Simon that he write a song about the Architect. Published by Universal Music Publishing Group.

On The Fence, #14,” the Stair way to Heaven Edition.

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
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  1. Kliment Timiriazev
  2. Eight of the other eleven volumes are monographs dedicated to period of Wright’s career, the remaining 3 volumes contain preliminary studies, which I assume are part of his Archives. These books were the only way most of us could see these pieces of the Archives, except for occasional shows, until now.
  3. Controversy still surrounds whether he left or was fired by Sullivan for taking freelance commissions on the side.
  4. To read this very sorry tale, in detail, I highly recommend the book “Man About Town,” by Herbert Muschamp, who details Wright’s plans for Manhattan and efforts to overcome the powers that be. i.e Robert Moses.
  5.  As quoted in “The Star,” 1959, and “Morrow’s International Dictionary of Contemporary Quotations,” 1982, by Jonathon Green.