This Summer In “The Era of Rauschenberg”

Everyone thought it was a joke, the gallery owner included, in it’s debut in Rome. Now, the respected reviewer of a show of work by a 28 year old Artist at it’s second stop at the Galleria d’Arte Contemporanea in Florence, Italy, called it a “psychological mess.” But, he wasn’t done. After continuing in biting terms, the reviewer concluded that the work should be “thrown into the Arno (River).” Shortly thereafter, the Artist sent the reviewer a note that read, “I took your advice.” Saving five or six works to bring home to NYC, he threw the rest, discreetly, into the Arno, finding a spot where he wouldn’t be caught in the act, and doing so in a manner to prevent their re-surfacing1.

The Artist’s photos of his hanging works called “Feticci personal,” or “Personal fetishes,” displayed in his shows in Rome & Florence. One, left, shown hung on a bust. 9 of them shown hanging in a park, right. They seem to have disappeared since. Click any photo to view it full size.

His story continued…as the esteemed Calvin Tomkins tells it…

So branded an “Enfant Terrible,” “he had come back with two wicker trunks and five dollars in cash, and for a while that spring and summer he lived on the far edge of poverty. He found a loft on Fulton Street, near the fish market, a big attic space with twenty-foot ceilings but no heat or running water; the rent was fifteen dollars a month, but he talked the landlord into letting him have it for ten. A hose and bucket in the backyard served as his basin, and he bathed at friend’s apartments, sometimes surreptitiously, asking to use the bathroom and taking a lightning shower at the same time. His food budget was 15 cents a day, usually spent at Riker’s cafeteria, and supplemented by bananas he picked up on the United Fruit Company’s docks. Living that far downtown, he saw few other artists. Most of the New York artists lived in Greenwich Village then, or further uptown, and he could rarely afford the subway fare (still only a dime) to socialize.2” Shortly after, his NYC Dealer was not overly enthused about his latest paintings, so she dropped him.

So…You say you wanna be an Artist? Somehow, as bad as things got, he persevered when few would have.

44 years later, in 1997, his work filled Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum Building, spilled over to fill the Guggenheim Soho (it’s final show ever), the Ace Gallery downtown, and numerous other satellite shows in galleries around town simultaneously, in what was to my eyes at the time, and my mind since, a monumental and utterly overwhelming Retrospective, an effect not unlike seeing the incomparable Picasso Retrospective, which filled all of  MoMA in 1980, or the Rothko show at the Whitney in 1998. 64 years A.A. (After Arno), as I type, his work fills MoMA’s 4th floor (until September 17). No less than Frank Lloyd’s Wright’s just happens to fill the 3rd floor. Be careful walking by MoMA. With that much American creativity on view, the building might just levitate.

The entrance on MoMA’s 4th Floor.

Speaking about his achievement, Artist, and former partner, Jasper Johns once said he “was the man who in this century had invented the most since Picasso3.” In the Catalog for that Guggenheim Retrospective, Charles F. Stuckey wrote-

“Globally speaking artists and their audiences have been living since around 1950 in what might well be called the Rauschenberg Era (his cap). As we look toward the culture of the next millennium, our vantage is from atop his shoulders4.”

Wait. Stop the march of time for one second. WHO has an “Era?”

Michelangelo and Leonardo share the Renaissance, with Raphael, Titian and a host of other “Old Masters.” Rembrandt & Vermeer are part of the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th Century that includes literally hundreds of Artists still fondly considered almost 400 years on. The Impressionists were a group. So were the Surrealists and the first generation Abstract Expressionists (though Rothko had his own name for it). Perhaps Picasso (who, early on, shared Cubism with Braque and Juan Gris) comes closest, especially in recent times. Well, Picasso is Picasso.

How did Robert Rauschenberg get from being told to throw his work into the Arno, to having an “Era” that’s lasted 50 years (to 2000), and may well still be going on, even though he passed away in 2008? This, and other questions, were foremost on my mind, during the first of 17 visits to MoMA’s 250 work retrospective, “Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends,” and half as many to the 4 satellite shows around town, in this “Summer of Rauschenberg,” as I saw a writer call it. The other questions included- Does the show finally make the “case” for his later work? Does it finally make one for him as a major Photographer? First, putting off a look at the other shows, let’s take a look at “Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends.” Outside, on the entrance wall, Photos of Rauschenberg & his friends, seen above, reinforce the message that the show features his interactions, mutual influence and collaboration with his friends, many of who happened to be brilliantly talented Artists, themselves. This is the view immediately inside those Star Trekian automatic sliding glass doors. Beam me up, Bobby.

Partial installation view of the first gallery.”Untitled (Double Rauschenberg),” c.1950, Monoprint; Exposed blueprint paper, a collaboration with Sue Weil, center, “White Painting (Seven Panel),” 1951, left and “Untitled (Black Painting),” 1952-3, right, examples of the two bodies of work that were to come shortly after, once Rauschenberg had decided to become a Painter, not a Photographer. The “White Paintings” would inspire John Cage. Of the “Black Paintings, which had newspaper collaged on them, painted over with black paint, he said- “I was interested in getting complexity without their revealing much. In the fact that there is much to see but not much showing. I wanted to show that a painting could have the dignity of not calling attention to itself, that it could only be seen if you really looked at it5.”

“Untitled (Black Painting),” 1952-3, Oil and newspaper on canvas, affixed to screen door.

The first room contains his earliest work (unlike the 1977 Rauschenberg Retrospective, which came to MoMA, and started with his newest work). On either side of the door, and facing it, are 3 of the Blueprint images he created with Artist, and future ex-wife, Sue Weil in 1950 & 51. They were as attention getting then as they are now, garnering the couple a 3 page spread in Life Magazine in April, 1951, in which they demonstrated their process. To the right, a wall of his early Photographs are collected, mostly done in his days at Black Mountain College, including two that were the first works by Rauschenberg to be acquired by MoMA, in 1952, six years before it would acquire anything else by the Artist.

To the right of the door, a wall of early Photographs, and the Blueprint, “Sue,” c.1950, make it easy to see why he had a hard time deciding whether to be a Photographer or a Painter. I’m not entirely sure he ever truly chose one.

To the left are his earliest non-photographic works, including his earliest surviving painting, “22 The Lily White,” c.1950, the only survivor from his very first show at Betty Parsons Gallery in May, 1951.

“22 The Lily White,” c.1950, Oil and graphite on canvas. The earliest surviving Rauschenberg Painting. The red star mimics those galleries put near sold items. This one didn’t sell. Perhaps viewers thought it had already been sold.

“Untitled,” 1952, Mirrors and objects in Coca-Cola box. The shape of things to come..Perhaps his first effort at blurring the lines between Painting & Sculpture he would revisit in his “Combines.” Believe it or not, at this point, he had not seen the boxes of Joseph Cornell.

Behind the pillar displaying “Double Rauschenberg,” is a Six Panel White Painting, left, and 3 of the Black Paintings, which came next. In the center of the space is a vitrine containing, among other artifacts, the original “score” for John Cage’s infamous “4’33,” which the “White Paintings,” which Cage was a vocal, and poetic, admirer of, were one of the inspirations for.

The most avant-garde piece of “music” ever “written”. The manuscript John Cage’s “4’33” 1952-53,, partly inspired by Rauschenberg’s White Paintings. The cover is seen, left, and the actual “score,” right. Go ahead. Try it at home.

The first “performance” of Cage’s “4’33” consisted of pianist David Tudor walking on stage and sitting at the piano for 4 minutes and 33 seconds. Then, he got up and walked off. It’s hard to imagine a more “avant-garde” piece of “music.” Rauschenberg’s exploration of the possibilities of materials, beyond painting, now took center stage in his work. “He thought of his work as a collaboration with materials, as he put it. He was not interested in expressing his own personality through art- ‘I feel it ought to be be much better than that,6‘”

“Dirt Painting (For John Cage),” 1953, Dirt and mold in wood box. “Painting” doesn’t get more avant-garde than this (or, his “White Paintings.”). More on this subject later.

More of the second gallery showing “Elemental Sculptures,” “Scuttle Personali” 0r “Personal Boxes,” both on pedestals, the “Erased de Kooning Drawing,” right, another “White Painting,” “Tiznit,” 1953, Oil on canvas, by Cy Twombly, left corner, and the “Automobile Tire Print,” with John Cage,” 1953, in the back.

At this point, he went to Italy with Cy Twombly, culminating with the shows mentioned at the beginning, after which he returned to NYC. He decided to commence a series of Paintings using red, because White, and then Black “impressed  a lot of people as aggressive, ugly, and full of the anger of negation. So, Rauschenberg “thought he had better find out whether there was any truth to these charges. He would test his own motives by turning from black and white to red, for him almost aggressive, the most difficult, the least austere color in the spectrum. [7, “Off the Wall,” P.78]” These are featured in the 3rd gallery, and include some of his most well-known and influential works.

“Charlene,” 1954, a “Combine Painting,” and the last “Red Painting,” “Bed,” and “Rebus,” both 1955, left to right, with a column of 3 “Untitled drawings,” 1954 by Cy Twombly in between.

On the facing wall is “Minutiae,” 1954, a Combine, created as a set for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, which Rauschenberg served as set, costume and lighting designer for at the time.

Something happened to Robert Rauschenberg in 1954. A number of writers have tried to explain exactly what it was. I’m not sure I understand. Whatever it was, it led to a breakthrough. He started adding more to his collages, anything was game, he said, as in “Bed,” 1955, which uses an old comforter since he had run out of canvas. Then, Red went out and was replaced with more neutral tones seen in “Rebus,” 1955. He had been including newspapers in his works going back to the Black Paintings, in 1951-2. At some point, around this time, he, also, began including photographs- found images from magazines and newspapers, etc.7 As time went on, however, he started incorporating large found objects, including an Angora Goat and a Bald Eagle, which, of course, grab your attention before you get to any of the details the works also include. “Among Friends,” is a very rare chance to see “Monogram” and “Canyon,” featuring them, together. 8

Reinventing Painting, Sculpture & Drawing. “Monogram,” 1955/59 on loan from the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, front, with “Gift for Apollo,” 1959, right, “Winter Pool,”left, both 1959, and “34 Illustrations from Dante’s Inferno,” 1958-60, on the far wall. Some of the most revolutionary Art of the past 60 years.

“Canyon,” 1959, Combine. One of the masterpieces of post WW2 Art. Rauschenberg on the Ganymede myth, with a Bald Eagle standing in for Jupiter’s Eagle, and fascinating to compare with Rembrandt’s “Abduction of Ganymede,” 1635, down to the inclusion of Rauschenberg’s Photograph of his son Christopher, on the left.

“Canyon,” 1959, is my personal favorite among his Combines (the word denotes a work that is a “Combination” of Painting and Sculpture, or as Jasper Johns said, “It’s painting playing the game of sculpture9.”) The controversial American Bald Eagle’s very strange “pose,” standing on the sides of an open cardboard box, notwithstanding. It audaciously revisits the Ganymede myth, as he was doing in the Dante Illustrations (bringing a contemporary interpretation to an ancient tale) and, creating something of his own mythology, enhanced by the presence of a Rauschenberg Photo of his young son, Christopher (now a Photographer and head of the Rauschenberg Foundation), and including the cardboard box, which would become a staple Rauschenberg material (from the days before acid-free papers, adding to the conservator’s nightmare this works is). It takes the concept he realized in his “Dante’s Inferno Illustrations” one step further, into a 3-D Combine. 58 years later, it’s still a thrilling, unique experience, that’s every bit as audacious as it must have been in 1959.

As they hadn’t in Italy in 1953, a sizable amount of the viewing public still didn’t take Rauschenberg seriously by the late 1950’s, and the Combines actually served to reinforce that. Standing near “Monogram” for 15 minutes on 3 different occasions, I noted the immediate reaction of at least 75% of viewers were smiles, or outright laughs. I don’t know what they wound up thinking of it after taking a closer look. Increasingly “troubled10”  by this reaction 60 years ago, in 1958, he decided to illustrate Dante’s “Inferno.” To do so would require nearly 3 years. The resulting series of 34 Illustrations, displayed at the Leo Castelli Gallery in December, 1960, finally served to alter the public, and critical, perception of Rauschenberg. The complete series lines the back wall of this gallery, where they loom as something of a “spiritual center.” For me, their Artistic importance in his entire oeuvre cannot be overstated- so much of what was to follow can be seen in them. Including his use of Photographs, now as independent elements, standing in for many of the characters in the “Inferno,” in Rauschenberg’s unique, contemporary imaging of the story.

The Combines and Combine Paintings lead us to a “central” gallery containing his classic Silkscreen Paintings of 1962-64, and “Oracle,” a five-part found object assemblage integrated with technology that he created with engineer Billy Klüver and 4 others between 1962-5. Rauschenberg discovered silkscreening during a 1962 visit to the studio of Andy Warhol, who had been working with the technique since 1961. Silkscreening provided the answer he had long sought- how to transfer images to canvas in good resolution. His Transfer drawing technique only taking him part of the way (though he would continue to use it when he felt it was needed through the years).

“Oracle,” 1962-65,a five-part assemblage, with wireless microphone system, concealed radios & speakers, washtub with running water, surrounded by 10 of his groundbreaking Silkscreen Paintings, 1962-64

His silkscreens look nothing like Warhol’s, as can be seen below. Especially early on, Warhol took a single image and replicates it and/or varies it, using a grid. While Rauschenberg may repeat the same image up to 4 times in a work (usually varying it), he never allows it to become the central “point” of the work.

Warhol’s “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (Rauschenberg Family),” 1962, Silkscreen on canvas, along side Rauschenberg’s early Silkscreen Painting, “Crocus,” 1962

Rauschenberg’s insatiable creativity led him to move forward, so the period he made these Silkscreen Paintings lasted only from 1962-64. Though he used some Abstract Expressionist techniques (his work is characterized by his use of everything & all techniques), they complete his moving beyond the style of Abstract Expressionism, something he began working towards doing in the early 1950’s, to Painting wholly in his own style, and in the process, freeing Art to move on. While these works include some of his own Photographs, the featured images are, primarily still found images. As such, as great as they are, they are another step, an important one, to what his work would eventually become.

“Persimmon,” 1964, Oil and silkscreen on canvas. There’s much to say about this revolutionary work, but notice the mirror in Ruben’s Venus, which I’ll get to. Interestingly, Ruben’s Venus appears in a number of the silkscreen paintings, and curator Roni Feinstein noted they seem to be a female counterpart to JFK, who appears many times.

After becoming the first American to ever win the grand prize in Painting at the 1964 Venice Biennale, he would soon largely stop painting and turn his focus to performances, and the marrying of Art & Technology. The latter took place in both stand alone works, and in performances, particularly “9 Evenings,” which is marvelously explored here11, and includes Rauschenberg’s contribution, “Open Score.” The massive “Mud Muse,” which I’ve seen described as an experience akin to a visit to Yellowstone, is one stand alone work that is certainly popular with younger viewers. A monumental feat of installation considering the work holds 8,000 pounds of “listening” Bentonite mud,  with embedded sensors that cause the mud to react with the music being played on the control unit nearby. On loan from the Moderna Museet, Sweden, it’s one of the most ambitious and technologically complex works Rauschenberg ever made, and is making it’s first NYC appearance since Rauschenberg completed it in 1971.

Now, I’ve seen everything. “Mud Muse,” 1968-71, 8,000 pounds of Bentonite mixed with water, in action.

From there, the show moves through his “Cardboards” (sculptures made from found cardboard boxes), the famous “Son Aqua (Venetian),” 1973, with it’s water filled bathtub, and works inspired by trips to India, before getting to the penultimate, large gallery of later works.

“Sor Aqua (Venetian),” 1973, Water-filled bathtub, rope, metal, wood and glass jug. Rauschenberg continued to use found objects, like these, his entire career, even after he could afford traditional supplies. “Gifts from the Street,” he called them. After a while of looking at this, it hit me- There’s no drain in the bathtub. Maybe that’s why it’s owner threw it out, to become a Rauschenberg found object. A guard told me he called the metal on wood structure above, “The Angel.”

The large gallery of later works includes”Hiccups,” 1978, the horizontal rows, left & right, joined by zippers,”Glacial Decoy,” the collaboration with Trisha Brown (black and white photos, left), “Triathlon,” 2005, from “Scenarios,” the color painting, left of center, his final series, and “For A Friend And Crazy Kat (Spread),” 1976, along with a few examples from his “Gluts” series of found metal objects & signs. I will long wonder about what was omitted from this gallery.

The large gallery of later work, above, includes a very wide range of pieces that attest to some of the incredibly wide range of materials and styles Rauschenberg worked in. It highlights the fact that he continued to use found materials even when he could well afford art store materials. This was one of his ways of bringing “life” into his work, which he felt was essential in Art. Though not nearly as well known as the earlier periods of his work, there are a number of major works on view here, too. To my eyes, “Mirthday Man,” from his “Anagrams” series, Inkjet dye and pigment transfer on polylaminate (center, on the wall in the photo below), created on the Artist’s 72nd Birthday, in 1997, is one. “Booster,” a print from 1967, to it’s right, is as well.

“Urban Katydid, (Glut),” 1987, Riveted street signs on stainless steel,, front, “Mirthday Man,” 1997, Inkjet dye & pigment transfer created on his 72nd Birthday, center, and “Booster,” 1967, Lithograph & screen print, right, end the gallery of late works. The latter two feature almost life size X-rays of Rauschenberg. Both are among his major works in my opinion.

Partially seen in the last gallery photo, on the back wall to the left, and below, are black & white photos that form the backdrop for Rauschenberg’s collaboration with the late Trisha Brown called “Glacial Decoy,” 1979, in an installation by Charles Atlas, who worked with Rauschenberg. The piece comes closest to showing Rauschenberg’s later Photography, cleverly getting 620 examples of it in the show, though the images move one space from left to right every 4 seconds. The smaller color screen hanging in front shows video of a performance of the work from 2009 at BAM. All the way around, this is a terrific work, though if you want to focus on the Photos, you have 16 seconds to ponder each one before it disappears. The performance is, also, amazing. The installation? I’m not so sure. Sitting directly in front of the transparent hanging color screen, it’s a bit hard to make out everything that’s going on onstage since the large black and white photos on the back wall shine through. Though they are in the same sequence as in background of the performance, they’re in a different scale and serve to make it hard to see the screen, so the effect is somewhat strange. I found it better to see, standing quite a bit off to the side, as below.

“Glacial Decoy,” 1979, with 620 Photographs that scroll from left to right in 4 second segments & costumes by Rauschenberg, choreography by Trisha Brown. Interestingly installed by Charles Atlas, who worked with Rauschenberg.

As with his fondness for found objects and Photography, Rauschenberg continued to refine and develop his techniques from the beginning to the end, as we see in “Holiday Ruse (Night Shade),” 1991, a captivating work, which has a look that seems to harken back to his “Black Paintings” (like “Untitled (Black Painting),” 1952-3, shown near the beginning), bringing them full-circle, with black images layered under black paint requiring a very close look to make them out.

“Holiday Ruse (Night Shade),” 1991, Screenprint chemical-resistant varnish, water and Aluma-Black

Also noteworthy, among the “Gluts,” works made of found street signs and other metal objects, “Mercury Zero Summer (Glut),” 1987, an electric fan with metal “wing,” an ecology-themed work, stood out. Finally, “Triathlon (Scenario)” 2005, Inkjet pigment transfer on polylaminate, from one of his final series, “Scenarios,” immediately “looks different,” than all that’s come before, with each of it’s Photos given their own place, and not being layered as earlier, with added prominence intriguingly given to white space, the overall effect is striking. Finally, Photos, in stunning clarity, stand to speak on their own as “characters” in the whole. The three images of the hand with the sphere, left, remind me of the repeated/slightly altered birds in “Overdrive,” and other Silkscreen Paintings, and masterfully unify the composition horizontally. Interestingly, since his right (Painting & Photographing) hand had been paralyzed in a stroke a few years earlier, and he could no longer take Photos, he had to, again, use the Photos of others (possibly under his direction at times), as he had done when he first started to use Photos, in the 1950’s.

“Triathlon (Scenario),” 2005, from 3 years before his passing is the latest work in the show.

The show concludes with a room dedicated to R.O.C.I., the Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange, “a tangible expression of Rauschenberg’s long-term commitment to human rights and to the freedom of artistic expression,12,” a self-funded collaboration with Artists in 10 countries that Rauschenberg was extremely dedicated to, even mortgaging his homes, and selling his vaunted Art collection to fund.

The final gallery contains 12 Posters for R.O.C.I.- the Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange, 1985-91, along with 3 videos shot in Mexico, Cuba and China. 10 countries are represented here.

Though work by Rauschenberg has been in 152 shows at the Museum, only ONCE before has MoMA presented a retrospective of his work- FORTY years ago, in 1977. That show originated at the National Collection of Fine Arts (associated with the Smithsonian) and was curated by it’s Walter Hopps. “Among Friends,” is co-produced by MoMA and the Tate Modern, London, where it appeared under the title “Robert Rauschenberg.” So, this is the FIRST large show devoted to Rauschenberg that MoMA has been credited with creating. In fact, of those 152 shows I mentioned, only 4 had his name in the title- this is number five13. For someone so important and influential, I find this most puzzling. In fact, it’s only been fairly recently that MoMA has begun to fill in some of the substantial gaps in their Rauschenberg holdings, acquiring “Rebus,” 1955, one of his most important Combine Paintings, “Canyon,” in 2012, one of the most important Combines, and the now classic Silkscreen Painting, “Overdrive,” 1963, (seen in far left in the photo of the Silkscreen Paintings with “Oracle,” above) in 2013.

“Rebus,” 1955, Combine painting. The info label says it’s a “promised gift,” but Calvin Tomkins says MoMA paid 30 million dollars for it. (“Off the Wall,” P.282) This would be most interesting as MoMA’s Alfred Barr was offered “Rebus” in 1963 but he declined. (ibid.).

My reaction to “Among Friends” was tinged with a bit of disappointment- Though the early galleries, up through the “Mud Muse”/’9 Evenings,” 1965, are extraordinary. Stories abounded of curators bringing in “people who were there” to recreate how works had been originally displayed, complimenting major loans, like “Charlene,” “Monogram,” among many more. After 1965, I felt the show “thinned out.” The huge, penultimate gallery of his late works (a period I believe is very under-appreciated), left me wondering why it had so much empty space. In fact, I can’t quite recall seeing anything like it in a major show. Part of the reason is “Among Friends” attempts to integrate videos of performances right in the show, as opposed to having separate rooms for them (as MoMA did with “Bruce Conner: It’s All True,” last year). The spot chosen for “Glacial Decoy’s” installation left a large corner completely dark and empty. As nice as it is to see all of “Hiccups,” 1978, a beautiful work consisting of 97 solvent transfers (an “update of his “Transfer Technique”) on paper panels held together by zippers, so it can be endlessly rearranged. (Rauschenberg worked, briefly, in a zipper factory.) Taking up the better part of 2 long walls, I was left feeling that space could have been put to better use, and “Hiccups” displayed in another manner, as it has been in the past.

Another view of the later works gallery shows a lot of open floor space, and on the right, behind Charles Atlas hanging video screen for “Glacial Decoy,” a dark, empty corner. An interesting installation, I’m not sure was entirely successful, but should it have been mounted elsewhere?

Rauschenberg, perhaps more than any other Artist, established what it was to be an American Artist around the world, continually going seemingly everywhere, beginning in the early 1950’s, but his travel during his later years is not mentioned in the later works gallery, including his trip to China in 1982, where he collaborated with local paper makers, and others, the trip resulting in a typically large creative output, entirely absent here. That’s one example. The travel thread is picked up in the next, and final, R.O.C.I. gallery.

Whereas the show to this point had been chronological, this room is a bit all over the map, with works ranging from 1967-2005 on view. With the only large placard, the show uses to give context, next to “Mirthday Man,” one of the last works in the show all the way on the other side of the gallery, visitors here were left a bit hanging about what was going on in Rauschenberg’s Art and the path it’s development was taking, which it’s non-chronological display didn’t help. It’s a bit of a shame. While what’s included in this gallery may serve to pique the interest of viewers to investigate it further, the overall result, I feel, is a “sketch” of what the Artist created, achieved and accomplished in this period. The result is the show feels like it progressively winds down in the later galleries, and ends on somewhat “quiet” notes. A chance to shine new light on Rauschenberg’s late period was, I feel, missed. It should be noted that, not unlike Picasso, Rauschenberg’s later works have been largely overlooked by the Art world to this point, save for a few gallery shows (including this one I wrote about in 2015). So, the other possibility is, of course, that the show’s curators do not feel the rest of his later work is important enough to be here.

With the catalog for the 1997 Guggenheim Retrospective, one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen, listing 480 items, almost double the amount here, I prefer to think of this show as an “overview,” being as it wonderfully selects key works from key periods through 1965. With an Artist as prolific as Rauschenberg was (Calvin Tomkins says he created over 6,000 works by 2005, not counting multiples), it’s probably not likely a full retrospective is even possible. But? I would LOVE for someone to try!

Still, “Among Friends” is, caveats aside, important in it’s own right because it does include so many works created at key moments in his career, and because it shines a light on the importance to his work, and accomplishment, of collaboration- with other Artists, Engineers & Performers, and with the materials he was working with14 It also allows a very rare chance to see, and experience, rarely seen works involving technology (collaborations with engineers), putting “Oracle,” “Mud Muse,” and “9 Evenings” front and center, each one a major feat of museum installation. Alas, it, also leaves, until another day, a complete assessment of both his late period and his Photography (i.e. the body of Photographs he created). Regardless of what isn’t here, a careful examination of what does comprise the 250 works in “Among Friends” reveals there is no doubt whatsoever that this is an important show, a major event in Rauschenberg scholarship and appreciation, and one of the best shows of 2017.

In the early 2000’s, Rauschenberg suffered a stroke which paralyzed his right (Painting & Photography) arm. Nonetheless, he continued creating, having others take the photos, and signing his works, with difficulty, with his left hand, as here, on “Triathlon,” 2005, from “Scenarios,” one of his last series.

Speaking of friends and collaborators, another question lingers with me- As “Among Friends” beautifully details, Rauschenberg was friends early on with John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Morton Feldman, among others, who were among the most avant-garde creators of the 20th Century. HOW was it possible that Robert Rauschenberg, alone among them, escaped the “avant-garde ghetto” to achieve both fame and fortune, while holding on to his integrity? I well remember when avant-garde composer Pierre Boulez was named Musical Director of the New York Philharmonic, succeeding no less than Leonard Bernstein, and how audiences voted with their feet and voices in displeasure when he performed a modern & contemporary work, as you can plainly hear on recordings of the Philharmonic broadcasts at the time. Rauschenberg, as I mentioned earlier, was actually an inspiration for the most avant-garde work of music ever “written”- John Cage’s “4’33,” 65 years later, Cage is highly respected, but, still his music is sparsely performed. Among his other friends, Morton Feldman (a major composer who remains under-known, and who Rauschenberg gave his first public performance at one of his early shows), is a cult figure who shows signs of becoming more. Even Pierre Boulez, who passed last year, is, mostly, remembered for creating the most “definitive” body of recordings of 20th Century music we have thus far, while his own music is still sparsely performed. Meanwhile…during all of this, Robert Rauschenberg had, or has, an “Era,” and had a long career that was marked with a good deal of success, however you’d care to define it, including financial. Given the “edginess” of much of his work, a fair percentage of it’s components coming from the trash, and not art supply stores, I find it absolutely remarkable.

How was Rauschenberg able to avoid the “Avant-garde ghetto?” Walking through the show, I think it is possible to “experience” the answer. As “Among Friends” highlights, collaboration may well have been key to his success. Beyond collaborating with so many gifted Artists, across realms, and collaborating with his materials, as Calvin Tomkins said- “All his work, Rauschenberg increasingly felt, was a form of collaboration with materials. He wanted to work with them, rather than to have them work for him15.”

There is more. One of his most famous quotes is “Painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made (I try to act in the gap between the two)16.” That gap also includes life being lived now…i.e. the viewer’s experience.

Have a seat. (No, Don’t!) Rauschenberg understood that his ultimate collaboration was with his viewers. He continually strove to bring them in to his works. “Pilgrim,” 1960, Combine Painting.

Rauschenberg’s most important collaboration may be with his viewers. He never forgot the experience of the viewer, something, it seems to me, most other avant-gardists of the period seemed to ignore, if not take a polar opposite approach to. Therein may lie the key. As one of them, John Cage, himself, wrote in “Silence,” “The real purpose of art was not the creation of masterpieces for the delectation of an elite class, but rather a perpetual process of discovery, which everyone could participate17.” It seems to me that this, as much as anything else, was at the heart of Rauschenberg’s approach during his entire career. As he said, “I don’t want a painting to be just an expression of my personality. I feel it ought to be much better than that18.” What’s “better than that?” He said that he wanted to create a situation  “in which there was as much room for the viewer as for the artist19.” This collaboration  takes an exceedingly wide range of forms. The “White Paintings” were intended to allow the shadows of viewers, and the atmosphere of the room to be “reflected” on their surfaces. Numerous other works, from  “Charlene,” in 1954, right through the late “Gluts” have reflective mirrors or surfaces that reflect whatever is in front to it, even the viewer themselves. This goes way back to the mirrors in the upper left corner of “Untitled,” 1952, pictured early on. And, in “Persimmon,” Ruben’s Venus holds a mirror so she can look out at us, though her back is turned.  Once you look for ways that Rauschenberg includes the viewer in his work, you’ll see it more and more- throughout his career. Like that welcoming chair in “Pilgrim,” 1960, above. But, don’t really sit in it. You know…

Another thing that becomes apparent- The more work of Robert Rauschenberg’s I look at, one thing strikes me above all others- While I loathe comparisons of anyone creative, I don’t think I’ve ever seen any Artist with a better “eye” than Robert Rauschenberg. “I have a peculiar kind of focus,” he once told an interviewer. “I tend to see everything in sight20.” He was, also, one of the most creative people I’ve ever  come across. He broke all the rules, and used that eye to create his own world out of ours.

Regardless whether you think we are still in the “Rauschenberg Era,” or not, one thing strikes me as undeniable- Nearly 10 years after his 2008 passing, the full assessment of the achievement of Robert Rauschenberg is no where near finished. “Among Friends” is another piece, one that will be long rememeberd, towards that end.

*- The soundtrack for this Post is “Moon Rocks,” by Talking Heads, from “Speaking in Tongues,” 1983, which Robert Rauschenberg did the artwork for the limited edition release of. Another classic collaboration. NASA invited Rauschenberg to witness the launch of Apollo 11, in July, 1969. 

“Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends” is my NoteWorthy Show for August. 

Between MoMA’s “Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends,” “Rookery Mounds,” and “Selected Series from the 60s & 70s,” at Gemini G.E.L. at Joni Moysant Gallery, “Robert Rauschenberg: Early Networks” at Alden Projects, “Robert Rauschenberg: Outside the Box,” at Jim Kempner Fine Art, and “Susan Weil” at Sundaram Tagore Gallery, there were too many highlights to include here. A second Post will focus on some of them.

Thanks to Gina for research assistance.

“On The Fence, #10, The Rausch-and-Bird Edition.” (Sorry, Bob.)

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  1. The story in this section is excerpted and paraphrased from Robert Rauschenberg’s work, “Autobiography,” and from Calvin Tomkins’ excellent biography of Robert Rauschenberg, “Off The Wall,” 2005, P. 72-4.
  2. “Off the Wall,” P.76
  3. Paul Schimmel “Robert Rauschenberg: Combines,” P.9
  4. Charles F. Stuckey in “Robert Rauschenberg: A Retrospective,” Guggenheim Museum, 1997, P. 31
  5. Tomkins “Off The Wall,” P.65
  6. Calvin Tomkins- “Master of Invention,” New Yorker Oct 13, 1997 P.92
  7. the Combine, “Untitled,” ca.1954, not in the show is the earliest work I’ve seen this in so far.
  8. MoMA had a chance to acquire “Monogram” early on, but Alfred Barr passed, fearing it might harbor vermin, among other reasons. “Off the Wall,” P. 282.
  9.  Everything In Sight,” Calvin Tomkins New Yorker May 23, 2005
  10. “Off the Wall,” P.143
  11. and it’s also wonderfully displayed in “Robert Rauschenberg: Early Networks” at Alden Projects
  12. raushcenbergfoundation.org
  13. Two of the those featured the “34 Illustrations for Dante’s Inferno” as a set, in 1966 and 1988, the other featured his work “Soundings,” in 1969.
  14. Guggenheim Retrospective Catalog, P.36-7.
  15. Tomkins in “Off The Wall,” P.79
  16. Rauschenberg’s statement in “16 Americans,” MoMA Exhibition Catalog, 1959
  17. “Off The Wall,” P.62
  18. “Off The Wall,” P.66
  19. “Off the Wall,” P.xv
  20. “Dore Ashton, Art News, Summer, 1958, quoted in “Off The Wall,” P.8

Chris Ware’s “Hurricane Harvey”

The latest issue of The New Yorker, ironically dated September 11th, features this timely, sad, and poignant cover by Chris Ware, titled “Hurricane Harvey.”

Click to enlarge this photo of my issue.

Mr. Ware went to school in Austin, as his long time readers know, and spoke about those days recently, here.

My thoughts are with readers, and everyone effected, or about to be, by Hurricanes Harvey & Irma. As I write this, Irma may be about to hit. I hope it makes a drastic last minute turn and heads out to the Atlantic Ocean. If not? Stay safe.

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This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

NoteWorthy Shows- June & July, 2017

“Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city.”*

Summer in the City brings temperatures in the 90’s and short schedules in the galleries. Still, this summer has brought with it a surprisingly high number of very good shows. While the blockbusters “Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends,” and “Frank Lloyd Wright at 150,” both at MoMA, have captivated me, they haven’t kept me from seeing the rest. Here are some I found especially NoteWorthy.

Installation View of Room 3, and part of 2, left. On the right, “The Waves of Sea and Love,” 2017, Oil, emulsion, acrylic and lead on canvas. The other works are watercolor on paper. Click any photo to enlarge.

“Anselm Kiefer: Transition From Cool To Warm” (at Gagosian, West 21st Street)- Hold the Apocalypse. Though there were moments recently where it seemed imminent some respite was to be found at Gagosian on West 21st Street this summer in a large show of lyrical works by renowned German Artist Anselm Kiefer. Yes, Anselm Kiefer- the same Artist who sees civilization as a  shining moment between dark ages. It’s been getting harder to argue with him.

The Evening of All Days, The Day of All Evenings,” 2014, Watercolor on paper.

Maybe Mr. Kiefer’s crystal ball also told him there would be a need for a “brighter” moment this summer. Whatever the inspiration for it, it’s certainly a bit shocking that this ray of light would come from this Artist after the dark shows that he’s had recently, like this one in London this past winter. You’ll look long and hard (as I did) for signs of it at Gogosian, where female nudes, many, apparently, under the spell of Eros, lush waters and copious flora abound instead creating a plethora of beauty that lingers in the mind, while we await whatever is coming next. And I mean plethora. Over 100 pieces, probably upwards of 300 individual works.  A “Transition from Cool to Warm,” a term used to describe color temperatures by watercolorists, in more ways than one.

“For Segatini: The Bad Mothers,” 2011-12, Oil, emulsion, acrylic, shellac, wood, metal, lead and sediment of an electrolysis on canvas. The book in the top half, and the tree branch in the bottom half, are mounted on, and extend from, the canvas. It’s hard to capture how thickly the paint is applied. All the other books in this show contain watercolors.

It’s rare, in my experience, to see a show this large that is, primarily, watercolors. Interspersed with them are some large landscapes in oils that are spread on thick and heavy, some combined with elements that include tree branches, lead and sediment of an electrolysis, like “For Segatini: The Bad Mothers,” above, which served as an echo for me me of Robert Rauschenberg’s groundbreaking “Combines,” from 60 years earlier, on view 30 blocks north at MoMA.

Installation view of the central gallery, “Klingsor’s Garden,” displaying 38 Artist’s Books, each one containing 8-12 watercolors.

Anyone who has tried watercolors quickly learns that this tricky medium tends to have a mind of its own. Kiefer long ago mastered them, as he demonstrated in 1977 in a book of them of the same name as this show. He’s been hard at work since creating a number of individual watercolors and about 48 unique Artists Books (the other 9 are in the final room) filled with them on view here. In this age of Artist’s Books, you’ll look long and hard to find even one that can match these (or their prices), each page of which contains a finished watercolor, many of the books containing 10.

Two books of watercolors in a vitrine, each bearing the same title as room, “Klingsor’s Garden.” Watercolor and pencil on plaster on paper, executed in 2016-17.

His watercolor nudes bear a passing similarity to Gustav Klimt’s and Rodin’s famous nude watercolors, but Mr. Kiefer (who says he didn’t know Rodin’s watercolors until after he had started doing his own) makes them seem as something of a jumping off point for his own striking poses, done from models, that seem to float on the gesso he uses to create an imitation marble “ground,” intertwined with snakes, or accompanied by other elements, typically water and flowers in the standalone work, which feature sunsets (as seen in the first photo), somewhat barren landscapes, with muddy roads, or seascapes.

The partially opened books lead the mind to construct whole images out of halves of different pages, as seen here. Mr Kiefer says books “are more than half of what I make…the pictures come and go away, and then a new one comes. So it is always the picture between two pages. You turn the page, you still have the other one, but you already have the new one. I like this very much because it’s not a fixed picture, it’s a transition, it’s an action.” (Interview with Gagosian, 2017)

In many of them Keifer alludes to a wide range of literature, from the bible to poetry, a good many of them being fairly obscure, with handwritten notations on the works. The central room, containing most of the vitrines of Artist’s Books filled with (mostly) nudes, is named “Klingsor’s Garden,” seen above, which I take as a reference to Wagner’s “Parsifal” where the magician Klingsor has a garden full of beautiful flower-maidens under his power.

An element of darkness creeping in? “Aurora,” 2015-17, Oil, emulsion, acrylic, shellac, and sediment of an electrolysis on canvas, seen adjacent to 6 watercolors.

This is the first show I’ve seen of Mr. Kiefer’s, who has had a large work continuously on view in The Met’s 5th Avenue Modern & Contemporary galleries, in the same spot, for over 20 years. Having given up looking for a “darker message” in these works, I succumbed to the beauty and preferred to simply study the technique in the large oils, and enjoy the chance to see so many unique watercolors in one place. It will be interesting to see what his next show is like. While the world and universe will end one day- sooner or later (the jury being still out on civilization’s longevity), it’s the fleeting moments of beauty, and Art, that make this temporal experience special.

“Ellsworth Kelly: Last Paintings,” “Ellsworth Kelly: Plant Drawings” & “Ray Johnson” (all at Matthew Marks Gallery)- Each of these memorable shows deserves it’s own writeup. Both Ray Johnson and Ellsworth Kelly are Artists whose importance seems to be increasing as time goes by.

In “Ray Johnson” at Matthew Marks, West 24th Street, “Untitled (David Bowie),” 1979-94 is one of a group of “silhouettes” on display, perhaps  the most complex. Ink and collage on board. The multiple dates of Mr. Johnson’s work reflect the fact that he often rethought a work many times.

In Ray Johnson’s case, substitute “being taken more seriously as time goes by.” It’s about time. Mr. Johnson studied at Black Mountain College with Artist, and legendary teacher, Josef Albers, and Robert Motherwell, while Rauschenberg, John Cage, and others, were there in the late 1940’s heyday of that legendary institution. After burning his early paintings, possibly to get out from under the cloud of his illustrious teachers, he became something of a “shadow figure” in the Art world, though he seemed to know almost everyone in it. He started the Mail Art movement, and the New York Correspondence (or “dance”) School, and worked, mostly secretly, on collages. After his tragic and mysterious death, a suicide (or “Rayocide,” as Mark Bloch called it, which many considered to be his final “performance,” in a life that had been full of performances, like his “Nothings” earlier on), a wonderful 2002 documentary, “How To Draw A Bunny,” seems to have begun a reassessment/fuller appreciation of Mr. Johnson’s work that is, finally, seeing it loom larger than his large, unique/endlessly quirky personality. This show consists of an excellent cross section of those collages, some doing double duty as Mail Art, and two other works that defy easy description, one seen below, the other further down.

Iinstallation View of the second gallery (with gallery #3 and 4 ahead), showing the “Candy Darling Cast,” 1970- of her face, complete with fabulous eyelashes, in it’s clear carry bag, center.

“Untitled (Self Portrait/Dance Diagram), 1992, Collage on board (double sided). The shoes are reminiscent of the ears on the Bunnies with long squishy noses that are Mr. Johnson’s “trademark.”

Ray Johnson was a unique Artist who was a Master of graphic design in my eyes, and still ahead of his time. He was a vital part of the NYC Artist community, until he opted to drop out of it, and NYC, moving to Long Island, and finally to Locust Valley, NY, where he lived as a recluse, like his friend, Joseph Cornell. He stopped showing, or selling, his work, other than continuing to mail some of it. Some see him as a precursor of “Pop art,” because of his use of celebrity portraits before Warhol (who he met in 1956), and benday dots before Roy Lichtenstein. He was also fond on including his own portrait in his work, and these are the works I find among his most engrossing given his reclusiveness. Every time I saw someone posing for a selfie in front of one of them, I couldn’t help wonder what Mr. Johnson would make of it. email and instant messages don’t have the charm of actual mail, or it’s creative possibilities. It’s a shame that it’s now unlikely another “Mail Artist” will come along to further what Ray Johnson started in this “medium.” It may have ended with him (or, “Post-Secret.”)

In this “Summer of Rauschenberg” in NYC, as I saw one writer aptly call it, Ray Johnson is not forgotten. In 1955, Rauschenberg was invited to participate in the Stable Gallery Annual. Artists had been allowed to propose new artists for the following years’ exhibition, but they changed the rule. To circumvent this, Rauschenberg asked Jasper Johns, his former wife/Artist Sue Weill and Johnson to each create a piece that he would install inside of his piece, thereby getting them in the show. Johnson’s contribution didn’t reach Rauschenberg in time to be included. “Short Circuit,” Rauschenberg’s resulting piece, and it’s circuitous story, are included in the MoMA Rauschenberg show. In Calvin Tomkins’ Rauschenberg biography, “Off The Wall,” Tomkins says that in 1955, he asked his friend Johnson to contribute to it in because he was “another young Artist who was unjustly neglected[P. 121].” 62 years later, the world is still catching up.

‘Untitled (Dali/Courbet/Dear Marilyn Monroe),” 1975-94, Ink and collage on board. One of a group of collages that are variations on Dali’s “Crucifixion.”

“A Shoe (John Cage Shoes),” 1977. Mixed media. Johnson met composer John Cage at Black Mountain College, and later lived in the same building with him in NYC. Both were parts of the Artist circle that included Jasper Johns, Cy Twombly, Morton Feldman, Merce Cunningham and Rauschenberg. What any of this has to do with these shoes? I have no idea.

John Cage, appears again, next to Picasso, across from Rene Magritte on top of the bottom half of a Photo Photo Portrait of Ray Johnson and the inscription “DONALD TRU” under. Could this be another piece referencing Donald Trump from years ago (this one, 1972), like Raymond Pettibon’s piece seen earlier this year from _____? “Untitled (Cage, Picasso, Magritte, Donald Tru),” 1972-90, Ink and collage on board.

At Matthew Marks on West 22nd, Ellsworth Kelly’s 9 Last Paintings, and a selection of 16 of his beautiful Plant Drawings spanning almost 60 years, occupied adjacent galleries. Kelly, seemed to be on a lifelong mission to “free shape from its ground, and then to work the shape so that it has a definite relationship to the space around it, so that it has a clarity and measure within itself of it’s part (angles, curves, edges and mass), and so that, with color and tonality, the shape finds it’s own space and always demands it’s freedom and separateness.” as he said. Included in the seminal 1959MoMA show, “Sixteen Americans,” along with Jasper Johns, Louise Nevelson, Jay De Feo, Frank Stella, and Robert Rauschenberg, his career lasted a long time. As a result, it’s sometimes easy to overlook his work, and that would be our loss, especially in these wonderful last works.

“Ellsworth Kelly: Last Paintings. This work is “Spectrum IX,” 2014, Acrylic on canvas, twelve joined panels, 107 x 96 inches

Installation view of “White Diagonal Curve,” 2015, Oil on canvas, 52 x 120 inches

Installation view of “Diptych: Green Blue,” 2015, Oil on canvas, two panels, 80 x 114 inches.

Installation view of “White Form Over Black,” 2015, Oil on canvas, two joined panels, 75 x 87 inches.

One look at his marvelous Flower Drawings, and I was transported back to my first encounter of them in a mesmerizing show at The Met in 2012. They still leave me wondering “Why hadn’t I seen anyone do this before?” And, I still haven’t. They are true to the statement quoted earlier, though they are more easily “seen” to be based on real objects, though real-life observations were at the heart of his abstractions, as well. As such, these two side-by-side shows provided a rare chance to compare two, seemingly quite different aspects of his work, and find the commonality. They share that zen-like essence, this time of line, rather than shape and color, like the last Paintings. Both, in relation to space.

Next door to “Last Paintings,” the entrance to “Plant Drawings”

From the  catalog for this show.

Installation view.

“Peony,” 1982, Graphite on paper, 30 x 40 inches.

Each shows is accompanied by it’s own wonderful catalog, adding to the line of excellent publications Matthew Marks Gallery has produced. The “Last Works” catalog includes photos by Jack Shear showing Mr. Kelly’s studio as he left it, complete with some of these very works. Touching and profound. Of course, seeing them in Matthew Marks beautiful, spacious Gallery is more akin to where these works will most likely be seen henceforth- on Museum walls.

“And babe, don’t you know it’s a pity
That the days can’t be like the nights
In the summer, in the city
In the summer, in the city”*

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “Summer In the City,” by Steve Boone, Mark & John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful, published by Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Carlin America Inc, BMG Rights Management, US, LLC.

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Words To Live By From Man Ray, #3

Man Ray, “Lampshade,” 1919/1964, top, with “By Itself II,” 1918/1966 seen in the Man Ray Show at Francis Naumann Gallery, in 2016, that I wrote about, here.

“No. 89, DREAM

(A) My object is to realize my dreams, not simply record them.

(B) But when you write down your dreams or paint a picture representing the images that occurred in the dream, provided you are being faithful to these images, aren’t you simply recording the dream?

(A) Not at all, neither in the writing nor in the painting do I refer to the subject as a dream. In this way it becomes a part of my waking life, just as for every one else who is ignorant of the source of my inspiration, my work is accepted as a product of my own peculiar brand of reality. In this way are my dreams realized.”

Man Ray, “Writings on Art,” From “The Hollywood Album,” P. 204, Edited by Jennifer Mundy, Published by Getty Research Institute, 2016.

 

The first two installments of this series are here (scroll down).

*- Soundtrack for this post is, what else? “Man Ray,” by the Futureheads from their 2004 self-titled album.

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Rod Penner’s Neighborhood

“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?”*

In 1927, the Painter & Photographer Charles Steeler spent six weeks Photographing the 2,000 acre Ford Rouge plant in Detroit on assignment for an ad agency1. So taken by what he had seen there, over the next 9 years, he produced a series of Paintings of the plant based on the Photos he took. While both his Photos and his Paintings are now seen as classics, that’s perhaps the closest an Artist has come to creating a series of Paintings of a small neighborhood as seen at the same time. Now, the Artist Rod Penner tells me he has completed one such series. “Mr. Penner’s Neighborhood” (with apologies to Fred “Mr.” Rogers) of choice for his series of 2015-17 Paintings is San Saba, Texas, a town of about 3,000, an hour north of Austin, as seen in the source material he collected in various mediums (plural- they consist of more than Photographs he told me), during a trip he took there early one winter Saturday morning. To date, they had numbered 10 Paintings, 9 of which were shown at “Rod Penner,” at Ameringer McEnery Yohe Gallery, NYC in May2, (which I wrote about here and here. My follow-up “Q & A” with Rod Penner is here.)

“San Saba Butane,” 2015, Acrylic on canvas, 10 x 15 inches. Photo courtesy Rod Penner and Ameringer McEnery & Yohe. The first work in Rod Penner’s “San Saba Series,” and was not in the AMY show. Comparing this to the smaller work with the same title, I wrote about here, is endlessly fascinating. Click any to enlarge.

The tenth, (actually, the first to be completed in 2015), above, gives us a view of “San Saba Butane” seen from the side, which contrasts with the smaller painting of the same title that captivated me at the show where San Saba Butane is seen from the front. This perspective makes it part of a neighborhood, and not seem to be an island. A neighborhood where the other buildings seem to be in better condition, and most likely still in use. Here, it still looks like a relic, just a relic that is part of a large community, something we don’t often think of relics being. Interestingly for me, the lone car is stopped at a light, the only time this occurs in the San Saba series, as if symbolizing time standing still here.

The new 11th, and final, painting in his series is, interestingly, entitled “Welcome to San Saba.” I quickly moved past the irony of ending a series with a work that would seem to indicate it was the first work in the series to look at this photo of it.

The 11th and final work in Rod Penner’s San Saba Series, “Welcome to San Saba,” 2017, Acrylic on canvas, 10 x 15 inches. Photo by Rod Penner. Courtesy of the Artist and Ameringer McEnery Yohe.

Ah…G & R Grocery (cut off on the right), The Station (dead ahead, left of center)…some familiar sights from their own works in the show…the familiar damp streets… Yet? Much was new to me.  Take the mural on the yellowish wall seen facing us to the right of center, for instance. During the run of the show, I looked long and hard at the miniature version of that mural alongside the G & R in it’s 5 x 7 1/2 inch painting at Ameringer, below, where it is seen at a sharp angle, trying, in vain, to see what it depicted.

Flashback. “G & R Grocery,” 2016, 5 x 7 1/2 inches, as seen in the Ameringer show in May.

Seeing it now, face on, is “another part of the puzzle.” It’s a picture in a picture that adds a surreal element to this work, especially because we can’t really see all of the storefronts along the side of “Welcome to San Saba,” and so it seems to ask the question “Is THIS San Saba? Or, is what’s in the mural San Saba?” Well, I hear that hunting is second only to pecans as a business in San Saba, so? They both are. Maybe that’s why the deer in the mural has that “in the headlights” look, which mimics the distant car with it’s headlights on coming down the street. While we’re busy pondering all of that, one thing’s for sure, besides that car, there’s not a heck of a lot going on.

The perspective giving us this view strikes me as brilliantly subtle. We’re not exactly in the street, or on the curb. We’re not looking exactly straight down the sidewalk, or really, right down the street. Only the mural is seen whole, balanced by the facade of “The Station,” across the street in the distance. The pavement is masterfully done, as usual. It’s astounding, really. Right down to the varying degrees of wetness, and that horizontal crack breaking things up. While we’re admiring Mr. Penner’s technique, other visual pleasures include what can be seen of the facades of the stores seen in perspective, the peeling paint on the mural wall, and of course, the “Penneresque” skies, as I call them, this one different from some of the rest because it’s lacks any hint of the sun breaking through, or being covered up, as in the larger SS Butane. The bare tree on the left marvelously balances the piece, and is, like everything else, wonderfully done.

Flashback #2. “View of San Saba,” 2017, 5 x 7 1/2 inches. Looking down the same street as “Welcome to San Saba,” which takes place halfway up the road on the right, as seen at Ameringer in May.

Finally, there are the many festive lights, including those that run along the top of all the buildings, reinforcing that it’s the holiday season, which adds more poignancy for the viewer. The lack of people and cars, except for the distant one approaching makes this feel more haunting to me than “View of San Saba,” above, possibly because we’re not in the middle of the street now, and we’re right among the buildings. Odd for that time of year, there’s almost no activity, no one is shopping, doing errands, etc., save for the headlights of the car approaching in the distance.

It’s more than a terrific Painting. It’s a worthy end to a compelling, unique series.

As importantly, the more I looked at it, the more I realized it was effecting some of my thoughts about the rest of the series, and making me see “more” in them. As I mentioned last time, this series presents different views of much of the same small neighborhood in each succeeding work, with each angle presenting new information, and giving a new perspective. A subtly engrossing concept that adds another layer to the already meditative nature of his work, which takes us from pondering individual scenes to assessing the larger community, seen in the first, and last two works in the series. Assessing them, I’m reminded that I paid so little mention to the “Holiday” aspects I just mentioned that, also, recur in some of these works- “Yard Inflatables,” and “The Station,” as seen at Ameringer, (a pic of “The Station” I Posted previously). This combined with the universal absence of people, the often darkening skies lends a sense of isolation, even lonelieness that feels (to me, at least) akin to that in Hopper. But, that is the real joy of looking, and seeing what they say to you. Your results may differ.

It’s the holidays in the neighborhood. Rod Penner, “Yard Inflatables,” 2016, 6 x 6 inches, seen at Ameringer.

“Yard Inflatables” is, also, a charming example of Mr. Penner’s subtle humor. Something that also appears, in somewhat subtler form, in “Welcome to San Saba,” possibly in the title, itself. Mr. Penner, who describes himself as “an avid hunter, big on wildlife management and conservation,” also had to tell  me (because I’d never have guessed) the mural is a bit of a jab at some of his  some of his anti-hunting friends, and sent this photo of the actual mural along. I’m sure most residents disagree, but I like his version of it much better.

“Welcome to San Saba” Mural. Photo by, and courtesy of, Rod Penner. Interestingly different perspective than seen in the Painting.

The photo of the mural also puts yet another nail in the coffin of what’s called “photorealism,” something that has less and less to do with Mr. Penner’s work the more I see of it. Just compare it to the mural in the painting. So, if Rod Penner is not a “photorealist,” what is he? He’s an Artist. It’s becoming apparent to me that he is directly in the line of “American Realists”3 that goes all the way back to Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), and extends up through George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879), the Hudson River School (including Thomas Cole 1801-1848 and Sanford Gifford 1823-1880),  Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), Reginald Marsh (1898-1954), Edward Hopper (1882-1967), and yes, Charles Sheeler (1883-1965) (Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood are among others included by many). Not a bad “neighborhood” to be in. Speaking of those “neighbors,” I find myself wishing the whole series had gone to a museum, like the Whitney, where it would look wonderful along side their Hoppers and Sheelers, while showing that tradition is alive and well in 2017.

Rod Penner’s “San Saba Series,” strikes me as walking that line between intimacy and distance. Standing in front of someone’s house, especially at Christmas, has an intimacy to it that it probably wouldn’t have seen at any other time of the year. The owners are “letting us in” a little bit into who they are through their decorations. So is the town with it’s “public” holiday decorations, seen in the streets of “The Station” and “Welcome to San Saba.” Yet, there is an undeniable distance and an almost foreboding sense of isolation that’s reinforced by the ever-present, slightly ominous “Penneresque” skies. Works like the smaller “San Saba Butane” are not at all welcoming. Even if you were to venture inside the crumbling building, you wouldn’t really “be” anywhere. “View of San Saba,” above, the next to last work Mr. Penner completed, is also not welcoming. We may be risking our lives standing in the middle of that street for long with our backs turned. In “Welcome to San Saba, some lights are on, but nobody’s out. It’s a bit reminiscent of those old western movies when the bad guys come to town and everyone’s hunkered down indoors.

As the 9 Paintings at Ameringer McEnery Yohe sold, I now feel lucky to have been able to see that many of them in one place, since their “interaction” adds so much, as I’ve tried to show, and since who knows when that might happen again. Walking through these 11 Paintings, in my mind now, “Mr. Penner’s Neighborhood” still fascinates me and still makes me look deeper. I guess I’ve become a neighbor.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” by Fred M. (“Mr.”) Rogers.

On The Fence, #9, The Sitting Ducks” Edition

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  1. Some may be seen here.
  2. The show’s site is here.
  3. With all due respect to great Realists the world over.

Raymond Pettibon: Artist Americanus

Gumby had magical powers.

Gumby! You made quiet a mess on the floor of David Zwirner Gallery! Click any image for full size.

Using them, he was able to walk into books and become part of the story inside, usually solving whatever the problem was.

And, the walls, too! What? Raymond Pettibon did this? Oh. O.K.

Well, his “super human” powers really shouldn’t surprise anyone. He wasn’t human! He was 100% clay. Most people who remember Gumby remember him as a character in a kid’s TV show from the 1950’s that was reincarnated a few times over the succeeding decades. Most recently, he’s also had a reincarnation as the alter ego of Artist Raymond Pettibon1. In this “life,” he doesn’t have to walk through the walls David Zwirner to be inside the story, he’s been welcomed in as part of Pettibon’s latest show, “TH’ EXPLOSIYV SHOYRT T,”  as we shall see. Ok…ok…that’s my Gumby, above, that’s been a sidekick of mine going back to the 1990’s. But, Gumby, I mean Raymond Pettibon, really did create those paint splatters while he was creating many of the works in the show. Renown for the hand drawn & painted elements he creates for each show ranging from texts to wall drawings to murals, these splatters and drops provide mute testament to his creative process that recently occurred in this very space, possibly including this-

“No Title (It sounds powerful…)” 60.5 x 101 inches, 2017, Ink, acrylic, and collage on paper.

Fresh off the unabashed success of his blockbuster retrospective at the New Museum, “Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work” (which I wrote about here), his first show at a major NYC Museum, some 40 years in the making, with EIGHT HUNDRED works dating back to the 1960’s filling three full floors, barely had my thoughts about it had time to begin to congeal, when along came word of a show of new works by Pettibon at David Zwirner, 519 West 19th Street, where the Artist had been holed up since January, I was told, creating many of them.

Down the rabbit hole I go, again. “No Title (Dear Master V…), 2017, “V” for Vavoom, the old cartoon sidekick, capable of only screaming his own name, is the other Pettibon alter-ego, along with my friend, Gumby. Pencil, ink, watercolor, goucache, acrylic and collage on paper.

Lo and behold, when the doors opened on Saturday evening, April 29, there they were, 99 new works, only 2 of which I saw at “A Pen…,” where they were tacked up as part of the lobby Mural, as if giving us a taste of what was to come. Talk about prolific. What’s another 100 after having just seen 800? It, also, provides an all too rare opportunity to get the “rest of the story,” from his beginnings as seen in “A Pen…” right up to the present moment.

David Zwirner Gallery, 519 West 19th Street. In it’s case, the doors roll up.

Meanwhile, “A Pen of All Work,” has now opened at the Bonnefantenmuseum, Masstricht, The Netherlands, where it will remain open until October 29, complete with it’s own brand new, hand painted, circular wall mural, in 4 parts, which may be glimpsed here. Look now while you can. Like his other murals, it will be history when the show is. But, here & now, in West Chelsea, the paint was barely dry on the walls, and the floor, too, of 519.

What was to come, as far as the new work goes, was a continuation of what we saw in “Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work”- in almost every way, most importantly including quality. Also continuing are most of the themes Pettibon is known for. Well? There was only one work related to Music, perhaps surprising to those who still think of Pettibon as a “punk” Artist, even though that period was 35 years ago. On the other hand, of all things, wrestling appears to be on the ascent among his themes.

A week before the end of the show, “O.G.” Pettibon returned to graffiti his own sign.

But, before we get too far into it, let’s start outside. Above the door, in lieu of one of his usual wall drawings or murals Raymond Pettibon has simply written the show’s title. Keyword: “simply”-

Wow. He wrote this, and even I can read iyt!

Well? “The Explosive Short-T” is one version of the show’s title. On the David Zwirner website, the show is referred to as “TH’ EXPLOSIYV SHOYRT T.” That’s easy for Raymond Pettibon to say, in his unique “way with words,” something I am quite fond of doing, myself. Two titles? What gives? I was told the latter is the “official title.” Fair enough. But? What does it meayn? My research led me to the 1963 Football coaching guide by Homer Rice, a coach at the University of Oklahoma, called “The Explosive Short-T.” It’s back cover bills it as “A complete guide to building a winning football offense with the newest and most powerful variation of the T-formation.” And, compared to the massive “A Pen…” it is short-er.

The cover of Home Rice’s rare 1963 book. I don’t think he suspected his title would also be that of an NYC Art show 54 years later!

I know what you’re thinking- “Of course!” Further adding to the intrigue of the title, among the works inside pinned, (yes, Art, some of which was priced at $150,000.00 per, was all pinned to the walls), Raymond Pettibon, sports aficionado, has depicted the following sports (and in parenthesis how many times each in this show). For those of you keeping score at home, my count by sport is-

-Baseball (4)

-Wrestling (3. One could be boxing, but I think it’s wresting.)

-Surfing & Waves (2. 1 of waves, 1 of surfers changing their clothes)

-Football (None)

“No title (The false thread…,)”,…is easily found,” it concludes. All works are by 2017, Ink and acrylic on paper, unless noted.

Ok, so if the show’s title is a Football reference and there’s no football to be seen, what does it have to do with the 99 Art works on display? Unless it’s a “false thread?” I don’t claim to have any “answers” when it comes to the work of Raymond Pettibon. I just enjoy pondering what his work says to me each time I look. Not willing to give up on this “thread” so quickly, I chose to take the “formation” part literally, and see what the groups (the formations) the work is arranged in might offer.

I decided to focus on this group of 11 works.

The first thing that struck me about the curating of this show was a major difference with the New Museum Retrospective, which was arranged by themes throughout it’s 3 floors. This show is not, as far as I can tell. I asked who was responsible for the arrangement and the answer I got from the staff was Pettibon and David Zwirner. I’ll go with that. It’s hard for me to imagine the Artist didn’t have a hand in it. Afterall, he had been in this space working, and he did paint the title over the door, and? The grouping is as interesting to consider as the individual works they consist of. But, I must bear in mind what Pettibon said in 1999-

“When I hang a show, for the most part, it’s usually just as well to put up the drawings randomly, because that’s the nature of the work. There are dissociations and attachments and the mind will fill in the blanks. Beyond that, it becomes overly fussy and contrived. So just about any way the work is hung, really, it’ll work.”

Yes, my mind couldn’t help but to “fill in the blanks,” helping to see the combinations as “explosive.” Take the group, above, for example. Right smack dab in the upper middle is a work, who’s upper thought bubble says-

Detail of “No Title (Was there any…),” Ink and acrylic on paper. It could be my mantra.

But then, the “kicker.” Under a pile of black lines, the words “Was there any going back on that? It seem’d ready to unravel.” What do they refer to? Slightly higher, on the left, is a skull, with a thought bubble that reads “Little Cloud That Cares.” Two brains, one in a skull, connoting a “dead” brain, and one, of an apparently “live” brain, without a skull, both with thought bubbles. On the left side, directly under the “Cloud That Cares” is a drawing of 2 Baseball players. Bo Billinsky and Dean Chance. During the opening, on April 29, Raymond Pettibon told me that his son, Bo, who was in attendance, was named after Bo Belinsky. Bo Belinsky, was a 6′ 2 left-handed starting pitcher for the L.A. Angels, from 1962-64, when his record was 21 wins and 28 loses. An interesting choice, to say the least.

Pettibon’s son’s namesake, alongside his own favorite player. “No Title (And then other…),” Pencil, ink, watercolor, gouache and acrylic on paper.

He also told me that Dean Chance was his favorite player, so (my interpretation) their dual portrait is a way of putting himself and his son into a work. (The Artist also has a dog named Boo.) Bo Pettibon announced to all who would listen that he wanted to become an Artist. In an interview with Dan Redding, Raymond Pettibon said that he looked forward to collaborating with Bo. So? This piece may also be a harbinger of Raymond Pettibon’s future work. It appears to me, though, this this is a rare work that may have some personal relevance to Raymond Pettibon. It’s fascinating to me how very few of his works that I’ve seen seem do. It seems to me his work is more about “self,” not about “him self.”

Surrounding these 3 works are pieces that speak of luck- good (below, center, a skier apparently narrowly misses a tree), bad (upper right- a bomber on fire, seemingly about to crash), faith (a bible, or bibles, seemingly falling),  fate (a naturalist monitors the progress of his disease in a piece that seems to equate the progression of a disease to a pen that finally produces ink). Beneath it is a most interesting image. Gumby/Pettibon and Shakespeare are joined by a quintet of 4 men and a woman. The man in the center holds what appears to be a frame. The text reads, “As withouyt the advantage of educatioyn or acquaintance among them.” The man holding the frames looks like he could be Churchill, a passionate painter throughout his life, to me. The man to his left (the far right) could be Stalin. The man “Churchill” shows what’s in the frame to (F.D.R.?) appears to be startled by it, as does the man looking over his shoulder at it. Gumby, “represents me as an alter ego,” he said on PBS’ Art21. Yet, both he, and Shakespeare have blank expressions, appearing as witnesses, and either the piece in the frame is blank, if it’s facing us, or hidden, if it’s not. Either way? No matter how long we look at it, it will never become clear.

“No Title (Rereading Pettibon)”

Fascinatingly, to it’s immediate right is an image of what might be a demon, with a red tooth, who is busy “Rereading Pettibon,” something many viewers to his New Museum Retrospective had just been busy doing, revisiting his work going back decades.

“No Title (Whipper paused a…)” Ink, watercolor and acrylic on paper.

The final piece in this section’s bottom left features a pitcher nicknamed “Whipper,” who, it says, won 19 games in 1960. The only major leaguer to win 19 games in 1960 was Lew Burdette, but he lost 13 games, not 8 as it says on the drawing, and his lifetime record was 203 wins and 144 loses (not 161-127). So? Whipper may be fictional, or a non-major leaguer. Still, I find it, another, compelling Baseball work. While so much ink is devoted to Raymond Pettibon- “punk Artist,” very little is devoted to Raymond Pettibon- extraordinary “Baseball Artist.” Which leads me to ponder- Who is the OTHER great Baseball Artist?

So, the right half of this wall is dark with war, death, disease, demons, and trying to maintain your sense of self during this. In the middle might be luck- at writing one good thought or narrowly escaping serious injury/death. On the left side is an image of the Washington Monument with text reading “There is no other that in comparison with it stands,” but it mirrors the narrowly missed tree to it’s immediate right, and above everything else on this wall is a skull, a symbol of death, that somehow manages to produce a thought bubble “Little cloud that cares.” Clouds care? The dead have thoughts? I’m deeply inside the rabbit hole now. I make no claim to “understand” any of them. But? I just can’t stop looking at them, and thinking about them.

This is only one section of the show- 11 works. It leaves 88 others to consider! Don’t worry. Every now and then I remind myself that this is a Blog, not a Book, so I’m not going to go through all the rest. But, I will show a few others.

Installation view of ALL of “Raymond Pettibon: TH’ EXPLOSIYV SHOYRT T” at David Zwirner. The wall I was speaking about is just to the right of the left corner.

Of the other noteworthy works here is, of course, the huge Wave piece shown earlier, which, though 4 of his 5 highest selling works at auction to date have been large Surfer/Wave pieces (one sold for 1.5 million dollars), this one is mounted all the way in the back corner, high on the wall. So high, it’s very hard read the small text fragments among the collaged waves. Of course, it was sold early in the show’s run (if not before it opened), and most likely was the most expensive piece in the show. Well? It’s safer high up. It also does give the effect of looking up at a huge wave.

The intriguing rear wall and right corner of the show. A show of power- natural, and man made.

In his oeuvre, Pettibon’s surf pieces are like the “golden section” in a piece of Music-they live at the center of his universe. He’s said he enjoys Drawing waves more than anything else. It shows. This one is displayed above leftover paint splatters, and the portraits of two tyrants- Stalin, looking like he was the target of a paint gun war, and to his right, J. Edgar Hoover, cornered. For a change. Around the corner, on a wall by himself, hangs the only Self Portrait of the Artist, looking “cautiously” out on all he has wrought. Well, he not only can’t see Stalin or J. Edgar from there- he has his “back” to them.

“No title (I glance cautiously around the room…)” And…

moving cautiously around it, too. Raymond Pettibon enters his show at the opening, April 29, with a cane. That small figure running in the distance is his son, Bo.

Hobbled by what he said was a bout of gout, the Artist, himself, nonetheless persevered and arrived to surprise visitors to the opening, including yours truly, with his presence, and I had the privilege to meet him and speak with him.

Raymond Pettibon at the opening, April 29, while we were chatting.

We spoke about a range of things after I remarked that since he is associated with many things California, I was still getting used to him being a New Yorker, which he has been for six years already. We then touched on the Biennial, Owls (which appear fairly often in his work. He then proceeded to sketch this one-),

Baseball (as I mentioned, above), and some of the books about his work. His son, Bo, came by and drew in a fan’s book his father was signing, and announced to all present his intention to become an Artist. Pettibon has spoken about looking forward to collaborating with Bo, so Craig? Hang on to that drawing! Bare chested, Bo then proceeded to run out to the sidewalk and take startled passersby by the arm to try and get them to come and “see Daddy’s show.” As I commented to the staff, you can’t buy that kind of marketing!

If you thought the first group of 11 was “complex,” 42 works line the very long eastern wall in one group. At the far left is a work about the beginning of life (shown below), at the far right, one about death (JFK’s). Smack in the middle is a large cathedral piece, with a UFO work over it, and one, perhaps, about suicide, and the luck of dice to their right.

The piece on the far left side, above. “No Title (Think What It Took…) Ink and acrylic on paper.

Detail of the text. If I had the money, I might buy this one.

It’s too early to calculate Raymond Pettibon’s influence because it’s still in the process of spreading, something which no doubt surprises many who only know him as a “punk Artist.” His has become a world-wide presence, with shows going on in Moscow, and “A Pen of All Work” reinstalled in the Netherlands as I write this. Over the past 40 years, he’s gone from being a shadowy background figure, creating fliers, record covers, zines and Artist’s Books, to being an established Artist in the world of “Fine Art,” who’s work is now being shown, more and more, in Museums. Around the world, in press releases, he’s invariably referred to as an “American Artist.” “Artist Americanus” is my play on “Homo Americanus,” the title of a large traveling European show of his work last year (which I take to mean “American Male”). When I think of that term in a “classic” sense, it means thinking for yourself, making up your own mind, and expressing yourself in your Art.

Regardless of whatever “meaning” you take from one of his works, Pettibon is an Artist who has maintained a remarkably consistent creative path since, at least, the mid- 1970’s. He’s said in interviews that he’s worked like this (putting words to drawn images) since he was a small child. Right now, 40 years on, Pettibon’s influence can already be seen even beyond his work, itself. The “alternative means” he used to get (fliers, zines, record covers, Artist’s Books, et al) his work seen2 is being followed by countless others, as can be seen at New York’s “Printed Matter.”

New York’s renowned “Printed Matter,” where the work of some Artists following in Pettibon’s footsteps is available, has over 15,000 titles in stock.

I, too, have been inspired by his example with this site, and I thanked Pettibon for the “inspiration,” when we parted. I’m not sure he knew what I meant. Beyond this, his other great influence is helping Drawing to be reborn in Modern & Contemporary Art. Artist (and Pettibon collaborator), Marcel Dzama credits Pettibon for being the Artist who put Drawing on the map in Contemporary Art3, and getting it taken “as seriously” as “finished works of Art,” and not as preliminary works for a Painting. That, too, seems like it’s already ancient history.

Inside “Printed Matter,” a table features recent Drawing books. A few years back, you’d look long and hard to see books of Contemporary Drawing.

 Some 900 works in to exploring his work and career Raymond Pettibon remains a fascinating mystery for me as he probably is for almost anyone else interested in his work. Much of his Art seemingly defies (easy) “understanding.” Regarding the “crypticness” of his work, in an interview, he said, “I think if I brought you through the work you’d see what I was trying to get at. You can say it’s open-minded, whatever, but it’s never a random association between the language and the image. There’s always a reason.” I keep looking for it, and more importantly, thinking about it, and whatever the topic(s) he’s addressing. That a good many of his topics relate to either current events, American History (previously drawn from a distance of time, because history tends to repeat, as he has said, and more recently including almost current events), or social & cultural history, give them an ongoing relevance, and importance that is rare in Art seen in Museums these days.  It’s taken him almost 40 years to get there. Fittingly, Raymond Pettibon turned 60 today, June 17, as I write this. Happy Birthday!

Sorry. Gumby insisted on a selfie.

When “A Pen…” opened at the New Museum, it was February 8th. 900 works later, when the Zwirner show ended, it was June 24! Most of 5 straight months of Raymond Pettibon! Still? I was already thinking- When’s the next show? It turns out I didn’t have to wait long. On June 27th, David Zwirner opened the “Thread Benefit Exhibition,” featuring 26 works donated by gallery Artists, a few doors west at 533 West 19th Street.  It includes this piece by Raymond Pettibon,

“No title (I luyv y’all…), 2014, “You Don’t Love me?” Ink, graphite, and acrylic on paper. Seen at the June 27th opening of “Thread.”

which speaks for itself. Or? Does it. I’ve been “trained” to look twice. Thus far, it strikes me as a terrific culmination to this remarkable “half year of Pettibon, NYC.”

The Artist didn’t appear, at least while I was there, that night. Leaving, I passed by 519, where “TH’ EXPLOSIV…” had ended 3 days before. I looked in and saw the wall he hand painted had already been painted over in preparation for whatever is going in there next. I turned the corner onto 10th Avenue, and a few hundred feet down, I saw this, propped up against the wall…

Unknown Artist, “I Love You.” Dated June 27, 2017 along the bottom, Unknown medium, seen on 10th Avenue, June 27, 2017,

What? The show had been open all of one hour, and already someone had copied Pettibon and had it up for sale on the street! WHOA. I was reminded of this quote of his- “I’ve never really thought of it in this way, but it is kind of cool to be the Gucci of my kind of work. I mean that in the way that Gucci and all those type of trademarks can be cheaply copied and reproduced like my comic books or flyers. I don’t get any royalties from that. I haven’t got a cent from SST ever, and I don’t get any royalties from the tattoo trade. The tattoos are when it becomes an even more substantial brand because it’s stuck on someone permanently. And if someone wants it off, then the mother has to go through even more pain to have it taken off than he did to put it on,” he said here.

I’m not the only one who owes Raymond Pettibon a “Thank you,” at least, for the inspiration.

“Raymond Pettibon: TH’ EXPLOSIYV SHOYRT T” is my NoteWorthy Show for June, 2017.
My thanks to Craig, Anisa & Caslon of David Zwirner for their assistance, and forbearance, during my dozen or so visits. 

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Don’t Believe The Hype,” by Public Enemy, for all those who hear that Pettibon is a “punk Artist.” And, because Pettibon loves hip-hop, some East Coast.

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  1. “Gumby represents an alter ego for my work as an artist. He represents me as an alter ego. There’s actually a lot more to that figure than just ninety-eight ounces of clay or whatever. Art Clokey was into Zen Buddhism and into a lot of pretty deep stuff for Saturday morning cartoons. Clokey was a pretty hip figure in Los Angeles and in the counterculture of the ’60s and the ’50s—the beatniks and the hippies. I have a lot of respect and affection for him, and for Pokey as well, and Goo, Prickle, and even the Blockheads. One other thing that I’ve never thought of—that Gumby does for me in some of his cartoons—is he goes into a biography or historical book and he interacts with real figures from the past: George Washington or whatever. And I tend to do that in my work and in my videos, as well.” From Art21.
  2. Not always successfully. He’s said repeatedly he wound up giving away or destroying most of the copies of his self published early books, making them very rare today.
  3. Along with William Kentridge, R. Crumb, Robert Longo, and a few others.

On Buying Art

For NighthawkNYC’s 2nd Anniversary, I decided to share some thoughts based on my experiences buying Art over 3+ decades. I hope they’re useful. My thank yous for year 2 appear at the end. 

Everyone should have something that speaks to them on their walls or in their space.

It could be something personal, something from your past, or, it could be a piece of Art. If you find both lacking in your space(s), I hope you’ll think about changing that and seeing what it adds to your life. If you choose something personal? You’re on your own. If you would like to try a piece of Art? I’d like to share my experiences and thoughts about it with you, for whatever they’re worth.

Todd Hido “Untitled #7910,” from “House Hunting,” 2012, seen at AIPAD, as I mentioned, here. It only took me 2 trips to see it to buy it. It’s me, right? Click to enlarge.

Of course, you could make something yourself. Most people take photos, so it might be worthwhile to get them all together and go through them and see if you have one you’d like to print and display. Or, you could create something from scratch- a Drawing, a Painting, a Sculpture, or…? While almost no one is a brilliant Artist right away, if you’re determined to create something that speaks to you and you feel proud enough of to display? With a bit of work, you might surprise yourself with the results. But, if you decide to buy something, there are some things to consider. Since I don’t know how much readers might be looking to spend on Art, I’m going to take the big picture view of it, to include as many cases as possible. If you haven’t bought Art before, it’s probably something you don’t want to rush right in to. While there could be a virtually endless amount to learn if you want to do this on a “serious” level, there are some essential things to keep in mind when you’re starting out that I think also apply to those with experience buying Art.

Of course, setting an amount you’re comfortable spending of your budget is essential. It’s too easy to spend over your means on Art and that might well mean having to sell it quickly, usually at a loss. I’ll call this budgeted amount “$X” since it varies by person. Once that amount has been determined, over many years, there’s one thing I’ve learned that, as far as I’m concerned, comes closest to being THE #1 “Rule” for buying Art-

ONLY BUY WHAT YOU LOVE.

Buying only what you love establishes your philosophical approach to buying Art. There’s a number of reasons I recommend this approach, most importantly the long term satisfaction with your purchase. If you love something, you’re going to enjoy it more than something you don’t, right?

Should I buy it? Umm…What is it? Is it Art? I think it’s actually an air vent for the 8th Ave Subway under it until some clever fellow decided to try to sell it for a cool 1.2 million. Maybe he was kidding? Well? I’ve been known to laugh at asking prices, too.

Of course, any time you spend more than a few hundred dollars on something, the investment aspect of it comes into play. Before you buy, look at comparable examples of the Artist’s work and see what they have sold for and when. After you buy the work, you should continue to do this- how often is up to you. But, in terms of buying Art purely because of what it’s value may be in the future? That’s an unknown. NO ONE knows what’s going to happen to Art prices in 5 years, or 50 years, or 200 years. Therefore, this can’t be your main reason for buying Art. Plain and simply, buying Art primarily for investment purposes is nothing but a crap shoot. The Art market has gone up and down during my lifetime, something that those who have only been in it for the past decade of rising prices can’t imagine. IF, heavens forbid, the Art market tanks, again…No. Not “IF.” WHEN the Art market tanks, again, and the piece you own becomes worth less than you paid for it, you can still get real value from it by enjoying it, IF you love it.

“Cos I don’t care too much for money
Money can’t buy me love.”*

They’re a bit more “bullish” on the “Art market” than I am.

I say “When the Art market tanks, again,” because the historical data shows that it’s VERY likely to happen. Sooner, rather than later. NOTHING goes up for ever- not even NYC real estate. Across the board, Art prices are as high right now as they’ve ever been. I look long, hard and generally fruitlessly to find any Artist who is “undervalued” today, and that includes many Artists who are not even in major museum collections yet. Is this sustainable? Very possibly not. Will prices go higher? Maybe. Will they go A LOT higher? I’m not convinced. I’ll put it this way- Right now, in my opinion, in general, there is far more risk that prices will go down than there is the chance they will go a lot higher (an increase of 40%, or more).

As strange as this might sound to say, I also believe that the Art market going through a substantial downturn might not be a bad thing all the way around. Yes, there will be a ton of pain. Many Art galleries and some institutions will no longer be with us, and many jobs will be lost. Many Artists will turn to other fields of endeavors. I may not have anything left to write about. None of these things are good, and I don’t want any of them to happen. Yet, it might also return some semblance of sanity to the Art market. If the investors are out of Art, only Art lovers will be left.

Ok. So now that I’ve gotten the negativity out of the way (i.e. the risk), let’s get back to why you want to buy Art- because you love Art. In the end? I think that people will always love Art. Some/many/most of them will want to have some in their spaces. Those are the people I’m talking to here. If you buy Art you love? Your risk is less than someone who buys it as an investment. As an Art lover, the good news is that even now you don’t have to spend a fortune to buy Art. There is Art for sale at every price imaginable. Set a budget and you’re good to go.

Whether you should, or shouldn’t buy something will rarely be this easy to know.

If you’re buying Art today, or in the future, here are a few things to keep in mind-

First, educate yourself as much as you can about the Artist, the piece, the medium it’s created in (Is it a Painting? A Drawing? A Limited Edition Print? Or…what?). Does it appear in any book on the Artist? If so, what does the author say about it (description, dimensions, year created, size, etc.). Does all of this match the piece you’re considering? If so, this is good, but it may not completely close the question of authenticity, forgery, or being “right” I’ll get to in a moment. The second part is to educate yourself on the Artist’s “market”- what is their work selling for. Selling for. Not what people are asking for it. What are people actually paying for it. People are free to ask whatever they want for it (like our friend with the air vent, above). But? ANYthing is ONLY worth what someone is willing to pay for it. How do you find all of this, and more, out? You have to dig.

Going up to dig. Once a week I climb these stairs to The Strand’s Art Book Dept on the 2nd floor. More often if I’m really stumped.

Second, is it genuine? This is a very sticky question that, unfortunately, rears it’s head in almost every Art transaction- or, it should. I will say that it seems to me that forgers seem to focus on Artists who have a certain status, and a well-paying market, but you never know. Pieces that are “not right” in some meaningful way (they’re damaged, repaired, mis-identified, stolen, “sketchy” is some other way, etc.) are more common in my experience. You want to know you’re getting what you paid for. What does the Artist’s genuine signature look like? What are the telltale signs of his or her style, and on and on. Is it an original (one of a kind) piece, or is it a limited edition? If it’s a one of a kind- is it signed, dated or titled? Does it appear in the Artist’s Catalogue Raisonne, or other authoritative guide? If it’s a Limited Edition- How many copies are in the edition, how many “Artist’s Proofs” are there, and what was the Artist’s involvement in making the print, are some of what I’d need to know. You may never get to be expert enough to replace the opinion of a real expert but it’s your money and you should know as much as you can about what you’re buying. I stay away from pieces that are not signed by the Artist. Why? Though they are, generally, (much) cheaper, I want to have that connection, and it means less chance of a forgery or an unauthorized edition. I also stay away from prints that are “open editions,” because, in theory, additional prints can be created indefinitely, and the larger number there is of anything out there, the less valuable it generally is1.

I KNOW this Raymond Pettibon Owl sketch & signature are genuine because he drew them right in front of me. “Obtained directly from the Artist,” is, also, the best provenance there is, though the hardest to get.

Third- What condition is it in? You may need an expert’s opinion on this, and you should get one if the work is over 50 years old or you’re spending substantial money on it, but you should look it, and whatever supporting documentation the seller has for it, over carefully yourself. If he doesn’t have it? That’s likely a deal breaker. I think you want to get in the habit of getting complete documentation for the Art you buy which may include a receipt, the provenance, a letter of authenticity from an expert or someone personally involved with the Artist, a condition report, etc. Learning the terms of, and some of the ins and outs of the various mediums (Oil Painting, Acrylic Painting, Watercolor Painting, Drawing, etc) will help you and help you understand what the experts tell you. Old paintings may have been subject to restoration, cleaning, or even additional painting added to it by others, and these are very sticky waters for any Art buyer- even museums2. If you’re buying a piece that is already framed, it is possible the frame is hiding damage that could materially effect the value. At some price level, it becomes imperative the work be examined unframed, and the seller may, or may not, be willing to do this.

Pettibon, again. Very rare among Artists, his work is pretty easy to examine unframed at his shows, but any buyer of it should immediately take it to a framer. A view of part of the final room of “A Pen of All Works,” at the New Museum, includes work he created right on the wall itself!

Fourth- Who am I buying this from? What is their background and area of specialty & expertise, and is this Artist in that area? What is their connection to this piece, and to the Artist? Do they represent the Artist, or their estate? What is the provenance of the piece? I will not buy a piece without a known provenance, and ask it be spelled out in writing by the seller. Why? Whoever buys this piece from you will ask you for it, and it helps assure me the work is not stolen. How knowledgable is the seller about this specific work, and it’s condition? Anyone who knowingly withholds information about damage or something “not right” with a piece is not ethical, and shouldn’t be in business. But? They’re out there. It’s happened to me. They’ll claim they “missed it,” so? Buyer beware. What’s the return policy if something turns out to not be “right?” Ideally. you want to buy from someone who stands behind what they’re selling and what they’re saying about it. There are an unlimited number of people and places selling Art these days. I’m not going to recommend any one. (Oh, and for the record, no one sponsors me). However, I will say that I think if you’re buying Art for the first time, go and look at it in person. Buying Art online that you’ve never seen in person is hard for an experienced Art buyer, very hard for an inexperienced one. For one thing you can’t get the full effect of the piece, in my opinion, from a photo, and you can’t assess things like condition and damage anywhere near properly enough from one. Terms vary by seller. Look over them closely before you commit to buying anything from anyone. Learn to develop your own terms- what you require and what you won’t accept regarding payment, paperwork, returns & refunds, authenticity, condition, etc. If you see something that doesn’t sound reasonable, or is against your terms, walk away. Keep in mind that where limited edition prints are concerned there’s a chance you can find the same item being sold by someone else, especially if it’s less than 10-15 years old.

Almost every window in this Photo is of an Art gallery on West 26th Street, which is full of them from 10th to 11th Avenues, as are many of the adjoining Chelsea streets.

It’s vital to get out there and look. Books and the internet can provide information, but there’s still no substitute for seeing Art in person, as I said, especially when you are forming your tates. Even if nothing is being offered for sale (as in a museum show), you’ll learn something every time you look. See what’s being shown and how your feel about it. Gradually, your tastes will come into focus. Wait until you get “that feeling.” You know- like when you fell in love. If you don’t? Keep looking, enjoy what you see, and learn about it. Another thing that’s become apparent to me is that I like Art that says something different to me every time I look at it (as I’ve mentioned in prior Posts). This has become an essential element I need to have in anything I actually buy because I’m going to be looking at it a lot for, hopefully, a long time. While I have never bought a piece I didn’t love, as in other types of “love,” I find it’s the piece you can’t live without that may be the piece to buy. Keyword- may be. Obviously, many other things are more important to life than Art- Shelter, food, health, and those things effecting survival come way before one gets to the point of considering buying Art. Art adds to and enhances life. But, no one ever died from not having Art, as far as I know. (Though, some people who live without Art may not be living!) So? Wait until you find a work that gets inside of you and won’t let go.

Looking is hard work. Quick- What do you see? A rabbit facing right, or a duck facing left? From Wittgenstein’s “Philosophical Investigations,” as reprinted in Errol Morris‘ superb “Believing Is Seeing,” which I recommend to everyone who looks at Art.

Fifth- What other expenses am I going to incur buying this piece? Tax, shipping, framing and insurance are the most usual ones. Packing and appraisal (which you may need for insurance if the value rises above what you paid) may be others.

Professional Art handlers and movers may be needed to handle large, heavy, delicate or unusually sized pieces, like these seen here during an installation earlier this year at Metro Pictures. Doing it yourself may risk damaging it. Damage= lower value.

Deinstalling Richard Serra’s “For John Cage” series at Gagosian last year. Hopefully your needs won’t be this involved.

Also, once you buy a work, you are then responsible for “curating” it- keeping it in as good condition as you bought it to maintain it’s value. If you are considering having a work framed? Go to an established pro who regularly does work for museum and gallery shows. I only use City Frame, in NYC. I have used many other framers and since I don’t believe in being negative here, I’ll simply say, call Corinne Takasaki at City Frame if you want something framed. They’re the best I’ve found. No. I don’t get a cut from them for saying that. If you’re buying a work on paper that is from before the days of acid-free paper be aware that you’re going to have yellowing to deal with over time going forward. Consult an expert about what this might entail before buying it.

The first stage of framing at City Frame. A photo about to be measured.

Sixth- So, if you’ve bought what you love? Hang it and enjoy looking at it each time it comes into your view. If, after time has passed, you’ve decided to part with it? Selling is a subject for a whole other Post (or 10). I will say this, though- In general, it takes time to sell Art for what it’s worth. I mention it now because it’s something to keep in mind. BEFORE you buy something. You should ask yourself- IF, and when I decide to sell this, what are my options? One thing many people fail to realize is that new & largely unknown Artists have one market- the dealer who represents them. Most likely, you are buying their work from them. When it’s time to sell it? They may well be your only option. They know the Artist’s market and his/her existing collectors. They’re going to take a piece of the sale price to do so. How much varies by dealer, but it’s something to keep in mind. Auction houses may not accept the work of Artists who don’t have a proven track record of sales. You can search for this online and it’s something you should do before you buy a work that costs more than $X (unless you’re prepared to lose this money). I applaud people who buy the work of “under-known” Artists because they love their work. You are helping that Artist survive, and make more Art. I’ve been able to actually buy Art directly from the Artist, which you might be able to do before they sign with a gallery to represent them and handle their sales. It adds a personal element that’s hard to forget, and hard to equal.

Christie’s, Rockefeller Center. The big auction houses rarely sell the work of Artists who aren’t “established.” On the other hand, living Artists don’t get a percentage of re-sales of their work at auction (though most auction houses get paid by both the buyer and the seller). Look! They have their own flag (center)!

ALL of this being said, you don’t need to spend a fortune on a piece of Art! Art is available at almost any price you can mention. Just remember everything I’ve said above still applies, and that buying even relatively inexpensive Art may require some of the additional expenses I mentioned earlier, or others I didn’t. Everything I’ve said is based on my own experiences over the past 30 some years. I make no “warranty.” This is by no means meant to be “advice” or a “complete guide.” In my opinion, there is no such thing.

It’s a good thing I don’t have one of those stencils.

Another thing I’ve learned from looking at a lot of Art is that I will never own 99.99% of all the Art out there in the world. I’ve come to terms with that. Sure, I want to take Hopper’s “Nighthawks” home and hang it here, though that’s incredibly selfish. Yes, I see things every time I look that I think about buying (with varying degrees of seriousness). But? That’s ok. I’ve learned to use shows as another room in my home. It’s like if I go to a show often it’s a bit like living with the work on display, which is kind of fun-and? It’s as close as I’ll ever get to really doing that.

I still walk around this show in my mind. “Nasreen Mohamedi” at The Met Breuer, 2016

25 visits was easier than getting one of these home. Ai Weiwei at Lisson Gallery, 2016

Another important consideration in buying Art that you love is timing. As I’ve mentioned, I believe the Art Market is (at, or) near a peak in value. As a result it becomes extremely hard to find Art that is “undervalued.” Far more Art is “overvalued,” in my opinion. Of course, there is no way for anyone to really know what Art is going to speak to, and be valued by, future generations. We can only make assumptions. One of those is- “If it’s spoken to people for x hundred years, why won’t it continue to do so?” Another is, “They’re not making any more Vermeer’s.” So, yes, supply and demand is always the key element. And that brings me to a final point. While “Contemporary Art” has a certain “sex appeal” that comes with being new, as I touched on earlier, most new Artists don’t have an established market. This is very, very risky, in my opinion for anyone buying their work for more than $X, which, apparently, many people are doing. It seems to me that most people, especially those new to buying Art, would be better off buying the work of Artists with (long) track records, which also allow a wider ranger of selling avenues, if/when the need arrises.

Henry Taylor & Deana Lawson shown together at this year’s Whitney Biennial, where they were among the “stars.” Being included, means it’s too late now to “get in at the bottom,” on either, but it’s still no guarantee either will “make it,” and their prices will rise substantially the next 20 years, since both are still in “mid-career.” Therein lies the rub, and the risk, in buying the work of good Artists who are beginning to “make it.” Are you now paying for the quality of their work, or it’s future price potential? At least the Artists get paid.

Going back to the Master of Delft, it’s hard for us to realize that Vermeer lived in obscurity after his death for many, many decades (like Van Gogh lived during his entire life).

Yes, that really is Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” at MoMA, or as close as I could get to it. I often wonder what Vincent would have made of his incredible popularity now.

It’s quite possible “another Vermeer” is out there waiting to be discovered right now. Carmen Herrera, who’s now 102 years young(!), had only one major show (in 1984) before being given a solo show at the Whitney Museum LAST YEAR (2016)!

Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight” at the Whitney Museum, January, 2016.

With all the Art that’s been created in just the past, say, 300 years, I think it’s a virtual certainty that someone major has gone over looked. So? If you get good at this, you go to see enough Art, know what to look for, and you have your eyes open? Who knows what you might find!

But? Don’t buy it if you don’t love it.

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “Can’t Buy Me Love,” by John Lennon & Paul McCartney, of The Beatles, published by Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC.

Two Years! This Post marks the Second Anniversary of NighthawkNYC.com. I can’t let it pass without saying “Thanks!,” first to Sv for pushing me to start it, to kitty for research assistance above and beyond the beyond this past year, to all the fine people I’ve met who work in the galleries and museums I haunt who have answered questions, shared insights, helped, and especially for putting up with “him, again,” to all the Artists who have spoken with me this year, and everyone who has taken the time to check out the 150 Posts I’ve done so far. Thank you! Oh! And I almost forgot- to my two fine feathered friends, aka “The Birdies” of “On The Fence.” For those who have wondered “What the heck?”  They represent the random voices I hear commenting at shows, though, unfortunately, only I am to blame for what comes out of their mouths. Don’t worry- No actual Birdies were harmed in the making of that series. But? Their picture has sure taken a beating!

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
Click the white box on the upper right, for the archives, to search, or to subscribe.
This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

 

  1. I’m not speaking further about buying Photographs in this Post. From what I’ve seen, and learned, this year, that is a whole other topic.
  2. If you want to get an idea of HOW sticky it can get, or you want to see how world-class experts work, check out the Rembrandt Research Project’s controversial findings on all of the Master’s Paintings, here. Well, the ones they accept as being by the Master, himself.

About My Art Show Posts…

There are so many writers who write about shows immediately as they open, and that’s great. It gives people an idea if they want to see them or not. As you may have noticed by now- I’m not one of them. Many (most) of my Posts on Art shows appear after the show closes.

Why?

If a show is large, there’s too much to see in one visit for me to do it justice. I only scratch the surface of it the first time I see it. If it’s over 100 pieces, I’ll typically do a walkthrough to get “the lay of the land,” so I can strategize how to approach seeing it in full, based on how long it’ll be there. I prefer to see larger shows in sections.

Just keep moving towards the light. April Gornik @ Danese Corey

I find it takes me time to see Art. To see 100, 200, or 800 pieces? That takes me A LOT of time, and visits. In such cases, I’ll go and see it as many times as I can. While many shows have some works that may be familiar from books or photos, no matter how much Art you’ve seen, most of the work on display in any given show are pieces that are either not famous, rarely seen, unseen, or new. Also, great curators hang shows in unique ways and combinations that need to be appreciated and pondered on their own. Beyond all of this, really good Art rarely reveals all it’s secrets in one viewing. I find that Art I especially admire says something new, or something different, to me each time I see it. Given the high prices of Art these days, there is no other way to see these works, unless they are publicly displayed. Therefore, making multiple visits is as close to “living with the Art” as I’ll ever get. Often, while I start writing about a show while it’s up, the real work begins once I can no longer see it and I have time to let the dust settle, and see what remains.

Outside Alexi Torres‘ excellent show @ UNIX Gallery in 2016.

On the other hand? If I don’t like a show? You’re not going to read about it here. The same applies to music. This has always been my policy, even when I was writing for a national music magazine. There’s too many great things around to waste time and space writing about things I don’t like. Besides, I also believe that “Someone who loves something may know more about it than someone who doesn’t.” So? I prefer to revisit whatever it is I don’t like on another day. Maybe I’ll “get it” then. (But? Yes. There are things I can’t stand that I know I will never come around about!)

Outside “Jeff Elrod” @ Luhring Augustine. I walked through that door quite a few times while it was up.

It further seems to me that once a show is over, it’s gone. It only continues to live on in the show’s catalog (if there was one), and whatever was written about it or posted online. Therefore, my aim is to Post something as substantial as I can about the shows I write about, to that end. Most people don’t live in or near NYC, and so, will have missed much of what goes on here. Hopefully, these will provide a bit of a sense of what the show was like.

The Skylight @ Matthew Marks Gallery

This is the approach I’m taking in this Blog. So be warned- My Posts aren’t meant to be the “This just opened,” type.

A Skylight @ The Met. At night, when I’m usually there.

Sorry, Jeff!

The bottom line is that while some shows may still be up by the time I get my Post about them up. Increasingly? They are not. Even a long running show like “Unfinished,” which opened on March 8, 2016 (to members), and only closed on September 4, 2016 ended TEN DAYS before my Post was finished! I find that I’ve been spending months doing additional research about the shows, and Artists, I’m working on writing about, but I never read what anyone else has said about something I’m going to write about. I research the Artist, what they’ve said, or written about the work, and what was going on before and during the period they were creating the work being displayed. And this is taking more time than I expected it to. Even with Artists I have been looking at for a long time- like Robert Rauschenberg & Frank Lloyd Wright, who I’m currently working on.

February, 2015. It’s good to be Home. 1,500 visits to The Met later I’ve spent more time there than I have at all but 2 places I’ve ever lived in.

Most of what’s out there doesn’t speak to me. Much of it is decorative, which is fine, but it’s not for me.

“It has to go with my wallpaper.” Yes. I’ve actually heard prospective buyers say this in Art galleries.

With so much going on, I’m lucky if I can keep from missing something great, which, unfortunately still happens no matter how hard I try to keep it from happening.

The fliers for old and new things going on are probably inches thick on this wall. No one can see everything going on in NYC.

These Posts are more meant to be- “This was here, and here’s a bit of what it was like, and what remains with me.” So, buyer beware!

Until the next time I darken your gallery doorway, again.

Thanx for your understanding.

Have a great night,
Kenn.

On The Fence #10, Him, again, Edition “

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “I’ll Remember You,” by Bob Dylan.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
Click the white box on the upper right, for the archives, to search, or to subscribe.
This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

NoteWorthy Shows: March Through May, 2017

Catching up from my March computer meltdown. To recap, AIPAD-The Photography Show, was my NoteWorthy Show for March, “Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work” at the New Museum for April, “Rod Penner” at Ameringer McEnery Yohe for May. Here are some other “NoteWorthy Shows” I saw from March through May (in no particular order). Better late than never…especially where these fine shows are concerned. 

“Elliott Hundley: Dust Over Everything” (@ Andrea Rosen Gallery)- According to Siri there were 41 days between January 1 and February 10, during which Elliott Hundley must have been THE busiest man on the planet creating the 22 works for this show, which opened on February 10. He must not have eaten, slept, or gone to the food store, saving every second of every day to create what are the most intricate works I’ve seen in years, each one of which is dated “2017.”

“the song dissolves,” Paper, oil, pins, fabric, foam and linen over panel, 11 3/8 x 14 3/8 x 2 3/4 inches. Click any image to enlarge.

Side view.

Theatrical…Intimate…Grand…Microscopic…Bombastic…Quotidian…There are as many styles as there are works, and almost as many materials listed having been used on them. Ok. He probably had (some) help creating these. Practically? I get that. But, you can’t see it. Every single detail seems to spring from the same source- a seemingly boundless imagination that shows us a different side of it in each piece.

“Dust Over Everything,” Paper, oil, plastic, fabric, pins, foam and linen over panel. 36 1/4 x 24 1/4 x 6.

And the pins! I feel for whoever has to count them when these works wind up in Museums. “Countless” is how I’d describe them. It must have taken an army of acupuncturists a week to do even one of these works, because they are so extraordinarily well placed I found myself continually looking at the works from a 45 degree angle so I could appreciate them all. They’re such a tour de force as to be, a bit, distracting. I wondered what order they were placed in, which took away valuable moments I should have spent pondering the work as a whole (before getting to the details.) They are a bit like veil on a stage that you have to look through (after you’re done appreciating them) to ponder all that’s under them. But, they are not present in every work here. What’s under them struck me as being a whole life told in episodes, glimpses, memories and relics.

“Gallows Bird,” Oil and paper on linen, 80 1/8 x 96 1/4 x 1 7/8

Suffice it to say there’s, also, a life time’s worth of looking ahead for whoever buys these obsessive works- some of the freshest work I’ve seen in the first 65 days of this year, and among the densest work I’ve ever seen.

“Until the end,” Paper, oil, pins, glass, lotus, plastic, foam and linen over panel, 96 1/2 x 80 1/4 x 8 1/2

Detail of the right side. Mr. Hundley features friends & family in his work, giving them a personal depth he feels comes across to the viewer.

“Seurat’s Circus Sideshow” (@ The Met)- From the first time prehistoric man made a mark on a surface, countless billions of people down through the intervening millennia have drawn. Where is the OTHER one among them who draws, or drew, like Georges Seurat? Seurat only lived 31 years, so he didn’t get the chance to create either a lot of drawings, or a lot of paintings, so this was a very rare chance to see (mostly) his drawings, along with 2 paintings, and works by others, all more or less related to the theme of the circus, with Seurat’s “Circus Sideshow,” from The Met’s collection, as the centerpiece. How fascinating it must have been to watch him make one of these unique Drawings, let alone one of his even more remarkable paintings? So, even the otherworldly presence of Rembrandt’s “Christ Presented to the People” wasn’t enough to distract from focusing on the extremely rare opportunity to see a number of Seurat’s drawings in one place.

Looking down at the entrance for “Seurat’s Circus Sideshow”. Exactly one year ago this Robert Lehman Wing Courtyard was full of scaffolding for the false floor of the “Ghost Cathedral” of the Manus X Machina Fashion Show sat at the level of the upper floor here- a few hundred feet in diameter! Amazing.

“Seurat’s Circus Sideshow” entrance, features the titular work.

“Trombonist,” 1887-88, Conte crayon with white chalk

“At the Gaiete Rochechouart,” 1877-78, Conte crayon with gouache

“Lygia Pape: A Multitude of Forms,” & “Marsden Hartley’s Maine” (@ The Met Breuer)-

Meanwhile, across town, Sheena Wagstaff , The Met’s Modern & Contemporary Art Chairwoman, continues to give us unexpected shows of M&C Art at TMB, this time focusing on the late Brazilian female Artist, Lygia Pape (1927-2004), and American Painter Marsden Hartley (1877-1943)- two Artists who have almost nothing in common, except, perhaps, Ms. Wagstaff as a champion, and that neither has had a substantial show in NYC, for at least anytime in the recent past (as far as I know). I couldn’t escape the feeling that Ms. Pape has a style not all that unlike the great Nasreen Mohamedi, who Ms. Wagstaff chose to be the very first show of M&C Art at TMB. Mr Hartley, however, does not. “The Painter from Maine” has a strong, muscular style that is worlds away from the from the geometric abstraction Ms. Pape’s and Ms. Mohamedi’s works may seem to be at casual view. His in another part of the story of American 20th Century Art, one that is often, unfortuatley, overlooked, perhaps because it’s rare to see more than one of his works at a time. His place in the long line of important Maine Artists that runs from Thomas Cole to Winslow Homer (a key influence on Hartley) through Edward Hopper to the Wyeths and Richard Estes is assured. While the opportunity to see more of these interesting Artists was most welcome, for me, these shows were equally interesting for what “more” they might reveal of Ms. Wagstaff’s direction, which, given the state of flux The Met is in at the moment, I believe in supporting.

Lygia Pape’s vision extended from paintings to sculpture to people, as seen on the screen on the left,”Divisor (Divider), 1968, performed in 1990,, which seems to mimic the effect of the wall sculpture, “Livro dos caminhos (Book of paths),” 1963-76, paint on wood,  on the right.

Lygia Pape, “Tteia, 1, C,” 1976-2004, Gold thread, light and a few staples create a haunting, shimmering vision.

Lygia Pape, “Liver do tempo (Book of time),”1961-63, A tour de force of almost endless creativity & variety in 365 tempera and acrylic on wood pieces in relief.

I particularly admire these 3 early Landscapes by Marsden Hartley done between 1907-09, with their unique, almost “Pointilistic” technique, (26 years after the Seurat’s death), which is much “softer” than his “muscular,” later landscapes, like the next one.

“The Lighthouse,” 1940-41, Oil on masonite

Perhaps the most “muscular” painting since the Mannerists.

“Romare Bearden: Bayou Fever and Related Works” (@ DC Moore Gallery)- Highlighted by 21 collages from 1979 Romare Bearden (1911-88) created for a ballet entitled “Bayou Fever” that he hoped Alvin Ailey would choreograph, they confirm Mr. Bearden’s place as a master of collage who was ahead of his time. While some works have an overt Matissean influence, everything here is uniquely Bearden, an Artist who is not seen nearly often enough and never seems to fail to impress when he is seen. I mentioned him in in my Post on his friend, Stuart Davis, and my Post on Kerry James Marshall, who selected a piece by Bearden for his “KJM Selects” section of his excellent TMB Retrospective.

Installation view. The 21 collages from “Bayou Fever,” 1979, are seen to the right.

2 works from “Bayou Fever”- “Untitled (The Conjur Woman),” left and “Untitled (The Swamp Witch, Blue-Green Lights and Conjur Woman), both Collages from 1979

“Feast,” 1969 21 x 25,” Collage

“Noah Means A New Day,” No date, Collage

“Prevalance of Ritual/Tidings,” 1964, Gelatin silver print

“Rat Bastard Protective Association” (@ Susan Inglett Gallery)- Who? The RBPA was “an inflammatory, close-knit community of Artists and Poets who lived and worked together in a building they dubbed ‘Painterland,'” in San Francisco, to quote the press release. As I wrote about last year, Bruce Conner was, somehow, new to me when I first walked through the black curtain at the entrance of the utterly amazing “Bruce Conner: It’s All True” at MoMA last year but, Susan Inglett had a long history with Bruce Conner, as I learned in speaking with her briefly, earlier this year. So, her (always excellent) gallery’s show of works by “The Rat Bastard Protection Association,” a group of San Fran Artists that included Mr. Coner was something special, and quite rare. In addition to the chance to see amazing work by Bruce Conner I’d never seen before, the show marked my first chance to see work by his Artist wife, Jean Conner, an important Artist in her own right. Add Jay DeFeo, Wallace Berman, Michael McClue to the roster and this was a small show that packed a punch, and pointed out, once again, that the East Coast needs to become much more familiar with this whole group of San Francisco based Artists, who were associated in the Rat Bastard Protection Association from the late 1950’s to early 1960’s. Up from April 27 to June 3, it anticipated the Robert Rauschenberg show now at MoMA and provides a reminder that these Artists were working strikingly similar veins at the same time, 2570 miles, as the crow flies, apart1.

Bruce Conner, “THE EGG,” 1959, Mixed media assemblage in a convex brass frame. Even his extraordinarily wide-ranging MoMA Retrospective didn’t prepare me to see this.

Bruce Conner “MARY, MOTHER OF GOD,” 1960, Charcoal on paper. Almost “conventional,” it shows little sign of the revolutionary drawings to come.

Two collages from 1960 by the overlooked Jean Conner, both titled “(ARE YOU A SPRINGMAID)

Two assemblages by Bruce Conner, “UNTITLED (DO NOT REMOVE),” 1960 and “FLOATING HEAD,” 1958-59

“Alice Neel, Uptown” (@ David Zwirner Gallery)- An increasingly beloved and respected New York Artist (she settled here at age 27, and lived here for over 50 years), her star continues to rise, though it’s taken a long time (she passed in 1984, at age 84). She always leads with her humanity, and it seems to me that that’s something that makes New York proud of her. Though one of her works was the featured/poster image for The Met Breuer’s 2016 blockbuster “Untitled: Thoughts Left Unfinished,” a perfect choice, IMHO, there hasn’t been an Alice Neel show all that recently, as far as I can recall. This one would still prove itself different even if there had been a few. For one thing it focused on work Ms. Neel did while she was living “Uptown,” in East Harlem (aka Spanish Harlem), from 1938 to 1962, and, as the press release says, it focuses on portraits of her family, friends and neighbors. The results are classic Alice Neel. Though not everything here is a major work, the breath of fresh air it provided only hints at how much pent-up longing I think there is to see more of her work.

The time has come!

The show has moved to Victoria Miro, London, where it can be seen through July 29.

Shown in two adjoining David Zwirner locations, this is one of the two entrances.

“Building in Harlem,” 1945, Oil on canvas. Ms. Neel lived in East (Spanish) Harlem from 1938-62.

“Alice Childress,” 1950, Oil on canvas. An actor who became a playwright and novelist when she found “little dramatic material that represented the lives of black women she knew,” per the show’s curator, Hilton Als.

“Two Girls,” 1954, Ink and gouache on paper.

Georgie Acre, a young Puerto Rican boy who often ran errands for Ms. Neel, seen in 4 Drawings and a Painting from 1950-58. In 1974, Mr. Arce was convicted of murder. He’s shown praying in the second Drawing from left.

“Ron Kajiwara,” 1971, Oil on canvas. A son of Japanese immigrants, he was detained in a California internment camp during WW2. He later became a design director for Vogue before dying of AIDS in 1990.

And finally, Kevin Francis Gray (@Pace, West 24th Street)- I can’t recall encountering anyone who’s doing what Mr. Gray is with “figurative” sculpture.

“Reclining Nude 1,” 2016, All works are Carrara Marble

Does he use a secret laser ray? Has he discovered how to melt marble, then work it in it’s molten state? Somehow, he’s able to make Carrara marble attain the properties of clay!

“Salamander,” 2017

Ummmm…Yes, I had to remind myself continually, after tying my hands behind my back so I wouldn’t touch them to appease my wonder… These are MARBLE!

“Reclining Nude 1,” 2016, front, and “The Aristocrat,” 2017

I find it daring, exciting, and revolutionary. Along the way, he blurs the lines between the representational and the abstract, while adding all sorts of new levels of appearance, meaning, and possibilities to “portraiture.”

Detail of “Reclining Nude II,” 2017

While some of his past works, especially his “Twelve Chambers,” 2013, group of 12 life-sized figures vaguely reminded me of Rodin’s “Burghers of Calais“, these recent works appear, to me, to be a breakthrough. Is Kevin Francis Gray the successor to Rodin? He’s only 45. We’ll see where his new developments lead him. Stay tuned…he said, with bated breath.

“Heavenly bodies…”

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “It’s Quiet Uptown,” by Lin-Manuel Miranda, from “Hamilton.”

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This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

  1. My fine feathered friends (aka “The Birdies”) just smirked when I said that, again, and said they stand by their prior comment on the matter, here.

Drop What You’re Doing And Read The Story of Emil Ferris

NOTHING stops Emil Ferris.

-Not the West Nile virus that left her paralyzed from the waist down at 40, while she happened to be the single mom of a 6 year old daughter.

-Not the resulting loss of the use of her right (drawing) hand.

-Not being so poor she learned to live on free bank coffee and food store samples.

-Not having to relearn how to use her hand and eventually even rising from her wheelchair to be able to walk, again, with the aid of a cane, or two on a “bad day”.

-Not even the loss of the entire run of her book when the Chinese shipping company transporting them went bankrupt resulting in their ship being confiscated at the Panama Canal.

“‘I was also severely hunchbacked, which is why I loved monsters,” Ms. Ferris said. “‘Absolutely astonishing,’ Chris Ware,” is quoted at the bottom

Those are some bullet points. Ms. Ferris, herself, draws her story better than I can tell it—–> here. And, you can actually hang out with her while she draws, here. The Times wrote about her, here.

There are few, if any, stories in today’s Art world more compelling, and more downright remarkable than that of Emil Ferris. What this Artist has overcome to produce her riveting and extraordinarily well done first graphic novel, “Mr Favortie Thing is Monsters” is nothing short of astounding.

All 400 pages of it.

A signed copy.

Though I recently listed her among those I feel should have been included in the Whitney Biennial, I would be extremely remiss if I did not add my voice to the chorus lauding her accomplishment, unbelievable inner fortitude, unimaginable dedication, AND talent. But, my voice will not even register alongside those of the “father of the graphic novel,” Pulitzer Prize winner, Art Spiegelman (Ms. Ferris’ “hero.” She cried after he shook her damaged right hand in congratulations last winter), and the contemporary master of the graphic novel, fellow Chicagoan Chris Ware- both have heaped raves on Ms. Ferris and her book.

I’m not here to sell you anything, but if you were to go out and buy a copy of it from your favorite brick and mortar Bookstore, now that the second edition of it is out, you’d be supporting a very deserving Artist.

…like The Strand. I love Heather’s signs, but I don’t endorse violence…especially against Art books.

No matter what the rest of the year brings the Art World, 2017 will, also, be remembered as the year Emil Ferris overcame EVERYTHING, and, then astonished the world.

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “Shining Star,” by Earth, Wind & Fire.

Thanks to kitty for research assistance.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
Click the white box on the upper right, for the archives, to search, or to subscribe.
This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com