“Robert Rauschenberg: Anagrams (A Pun)” But No Joke

11 days after being here for the final day of the “Chuck Close: Recent Works,” I returned to Pace’s 534 West 25th Street Gallery to see “Robert Rauschenberg: Anagrams, Arcadian Retreats, Anagrams (A Pun),” on view until January 16, 2016. Up a few steps to the back office area where the show continues, a short video of Rauschenberg at work in on view. As the camera looks down from slightly above, I noticed that surrounding him all over his studio were numerous works consisting of seemingly chaotic collages of images. I couldn’t help wondering about the effect on a visitor’s brain of spending 8 hours in that studio, and what it would  feel like to then walk outside. I wondered what they said about the images playing inside of Rauschenberg’s mind all the time. Day in. Day out, for the 82 years he lived. It might be why there’s so much to see in even one of his works. This new show makes clear that it may be a long time yet until everything that brain, and he, created in his professional life from the 1950’s until he passed in 2008 is seen, fully appreciated and assimilated.

These works are dated 1996 and 97. Visually, his work presaged the visual chaos of the internet age, and the graphic print style of David Carson and others. Seen in 2015 it fits right in with the everyday chaos of NYC, both on the physical level, where pedestrians have to face a never ending life, death or injury battle with bikes, cars, buses, trucks and lord knows whatever else, simply to get from point A to point B, while being bombarded with every square inch plastered with ads, images or graffiti on the visual level.

The modern world makes me try to make sense out of it’s visual chaos- like Rauschenberg did so masterfully.

Visual chaos, 2015. Without the “Art.” By the way? Times Square was better before

“Anagrams, Arcadian Retreats, Anagrams (A Pun)” is a bit different from any Rauschenberg show I’ve yet seen. It’s concise, catholic, coherent and sharply focused on this one series of works. As such, it’s a rare opportunity, since the artist’s work is generally divided thither and yon around the world. Pace’s release states the images are from Rauschenberg’s own photos, which continues a trend in recent shows of artists using, or basing their work on their own photographs (Richard Estes, Chuck Close). Rauschenberg also seems to have anticipated the image manipulation possible in software like Photoshop, while adding “painterly elements.” Regarding exactly what these pieces are and how they were made, Pace’s handout says- to create these works, “he developed and perfected a powerful new technique combing dye transfer with novel supports including plaster, large-scale paper and polylaminate panels…The process produced an aqueous and fluid appearance, blurring the crisp edges of his photographs…The inkjet dye process also liberated Rauschenberg from the mechanical production of printing screens, allowing him to produce sheets exclusively from his own photography on an in-studio printer. In addition to a more painterly effect, these works reflect a more nimble and freer approach to image-making than earlier works which were bound by the limitations of the mechanical process.”

 

It’s tempting to “read into” the collaged images, some of which are repeated verbatim in other works, and take them as a visual language, to be deciphered for “messages,” even hidden meanings. That will take a lot of looking to compile. Though “Anagram” is a word about words, I don’t think I’ll be taking it that literally.

The works range from very large to large and a few of medium size. Two, including the largest, (one, I felt to be the most impactful piece in the show), are owned by the Whitney. Most of the others are not titled, detailed or described. Many feature images from different cultures around the world from the Sphinx and the Pyramids to traditional costumes, apparently from trips he had taken shortly before, which are juxtaposed with images from the western world, like construction equipment, firefighters, store fronts, junked cars, bicycles and soda bottles. Despite being combined, layered, even processed, the results don’t look like images produced in Photoshop. They look more like paintings, which I find somewhat remarkable, probably because I am so used to seeing Photoshopped images. While he anticipated digital image processing and manipulation he continued doing things entirely his own way, and only selectively using technology when it suited his aims.

Though this work is entirely new to me, I wasn’t completely surprised by it as there are many Rauschenbergs that are based in his photographs. For me, Rauschenberg is kind of an American Picasso of the 2nd half of the 20th Century- his creativity and inventiveness knew no bounds. Even 7 years after his passing, we continue to discover new facets of this work, which seems as fresh and contemporary as anything else around today. That will, no doubt, continue at the first full scale retrospective of his work since the Guggenheim’s 1997 blockbuster to be held next year at the Tate Modern, London.

These are wonderful works that reward repeat looks from a period of the Artist’s career that strikes me as being under appreciated. They seem so of the moment, it’s hard to think they’re going on 20 years old. In that sense, like their creator, they are ahead of their time, even now. I’m continuing to try and get the modern world to look like a Rauschenberg to me, to make that kind of sense, possibly even find the “Art” in it…that is when I’m not dodging bikes, cars, and the rest to actually feel safe enough in it to look around. That danger is what’s missing in these Rauschenbergs. Probably because he seems to be focused on the bigger picture, the dangers of the modern world to ancient cultures and ancient creatures. Including man.

On a bigger scale, like that bike I don’t see coming the wrong way on a one way street, the modern world is obliterating all that came before.

DSC02584PNH

*-Soundtrack for this post is “Crosstown Traffic,” by Jimi Hendrix.

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

Why I’m Not Going To See “Steve Jobs”

Back cover of MacWorld UK for it's Steve Jobs tribute after he passed in 2011. Never been able to figure out if it was a real Apple Ad or not.

Back cover of MacWorld UK for it’s Steve Jobs tribute after he passed in 2011. I’ve never been able to find out if it was a real Apple Ad or not.

One. Mrs. Steve Jobs calls it “fiction.”

Two. Walt Mossberg says the Jobs he knew “isn’t in the film.”

Three. As people who know me know, I’ve been an Apple guy since 1990, so I lived through much of this by watching the Apple Keynotes & Media events (which you can still watch free on iTunes), by following Apple, and yes, through the media. The real danger in the film “Steve Jobs” I fear, even as a hard core supporter of artistic license and free speech, is that people who don’t know anything about Steve Jobs will make their minds up solely on the basis of this, and other Jobs films, the way Oliver Stone’s “JFK” has influenced the minds of so many that Oswald didn’t act alone. (Sorry. I think he did.) I was hoping “Steve Jobs” would be a kind of outright fantasy like the wonderful “I’m Not There” is “about” Bob Dylan. It gives a sense of him without attempting the impossible and trying to recreate him. For me, that is the best course to take. Even the “documentaries” released on Jobs thus far strike me as being messes.

It’s a real shame. Jobs though, by his own admission, was not a perfect human being, is an important enough one to deserve much better. Society, especially the young who may become “the next Steve Jobs,” deserves much better. If you really want to read something that catches the real Steve better, read “Becoming Steve Jobs,” by Brent Schlender & Rick Tetzeli. No less than Apple guru John Gruber calls it “remarkable,” and says it is “the book about Steve Jobs the world deserves.”

When you start seeing really mild mannered people like Tim Cook, who offered Mr. Jobs his own liver, get his dander up, you know it’s taken a lot. I feel for him, Mrs. Jobs, and those who actually knew Steve Jobs. I can’t even imagine their frustration.

“Yes, she’s gone like the rainbow that shined yesterday
But now she’s home beside me and I’d like her here to stay
She’s a lone forsaken beauty and it’s don’t trust anyone
I wish I was beside her but I’m not there, I’m gone”*

Cast your vote with your wallet and STAY AWAY.

*Soundtrack for this post is “I’m Not There” by Bob Dylan, Steve Jobs favorite musician, which appears on the “Basement Tapes” (Bootleg Series, Vol  11), and was written by Bob Dylan and published by Dwarf Music.

Comments are off, but that doesn’t mean I don’t welcome them, thoughts, feedback or propositions. Please send them to denizen@nighthawknyc.com.

 

Morrissey- “Beware the novelist.” Now…His Novel

DSC05683Pe

Click to enlarge.

Published a few weeks ago by Penguin, Morrissey’s first novel, List of the Lost,” has only been released in the U.K. thus far. Undaunted, I was on it as soon as copies were offered online. Now one of the first copies to reach our shores is in my hands. Not having read it (or any review of it) yet, I thought I’d share images before diving in. The back cover, above, teases what may lie within, maybe even the author’s motivation.

DSC05682Pe

The front cover, with a photo of runner Earl Young, reminds me that Morrissey was a runner in his school days, as he recounts, with fondness, in “Autobiography.” Hmmm…

The book, proper, starts auspiciously-

DSC05684Pe

Now to see where it leads…

I, for one, read “Autobiography” in a minimal number of sittings, and found most of it captivating. I loved his writing right up to The Smiths royalty case, which didn’t go well for him. His style seemed to change and I felt that section went on for too long (What does he say above on the back cover about “nothing ever being enough?”). It also didn’t really have a proper conclusion, which isn’t surprising because Moz is still doing it, and at a high level. I came away wondering – “Why “Autobiography” now? That’s the problem any living author of an autobiography faces, though- When? He could add some more very interesting content to it already- Writing and recording  “World Peace Is None Of Your Business,” then being dropped by it’s label almost immediately after it’s release, seemingly endless touring, writing “List”, and, cancer. Maybe cancer made him fear now or never.? In any event, I’m glad he wrote it. He seems to be in better health now. Hopefully, he’ll add to it one day.

I wonder if I will be equally glad he wrote “List.”

Stay tuned.

Reader meets author
With the hope of hearing sense
But you may be feeling let down by the words of defense
He says, “No-one ever sees me when I cry”

You don’t know a thing about their lives
Books don’t save them, books aren’t Stanley Knives”*

*-Soundtrack for this post had to be “Reader Meets Author” from the classic album “Southpaw Grammar” by the author of “List of the Lost,” which he wrote with Martin James “Boz” Boorer and is published by Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

Comments are off, but that doesn’t mean I don’t welcome them, thoughts, feedback or propositions. Please send them to denizen@nighthawknyc.com.

Chuck Close & Shepard Fairey – Obey The Close Giant

Two very different artists, at very different points in their careers, with Chelsea shows of recent work a block apart made for not all that disparate neighbors. Though Chuck Close and Shepard Fairey appear to have nothing in common at first glance, seeing their shows in succession I was struck by some similarities I hadn’t realized, though I’ve never thought of both at the same time before. With over two hundred galleries, Chelsea often makes for strange bedfellows.

DSC05222PNH

Start with a tag and you might end up in a Chelsea Gallery one day…

DSC05235PNH

Overtly sanctioned. It sure beats climbing up there in the dark yourself, right Shepard?

First, I should mention the Close show, “Recent Work: Red Yellow Blue,” ended as I left Pace on 25th Street today, October 17. The Fairey show, “On Our Hands,” is up at Jacob Lewis until October 24. A concurrent print show at Pace Prints, one floor down from Lewis, ends on November 7.

IMG_2185PNH

Chuck Close @ Pace, West 25th Street. Two Cindys and a Cecily Brown, from left to right.

Chuck Close, now 75, needs no introduction as one of the most famous living artists in the world, an artist who has incredibly overcome a brain aneurysm that not only didn’t end his art career, seems to have been a catalyst for the second part of it. He’s not only in the collection of about every museum in the world, he’s usually on display in all of them, which says much more. For instance- He may be only contemporary American artist who’s currently on display at Moma, the Whitney and The Met. Along with Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and Warhol, Close has been at the forefront of the continued evolution of the portrait and self-portrait in the 2nd half of the 20th Century, and he is probably the leader in the 21st, thus far.

Shepard Fairey, at 45, is the most famous living “street” artist in the world, and one of the most successful artist/entrepreneurs of our time. He has created a model of a 21st Century art business with Obey Giant that should be, and possibly is being, studied in art schools as we speak. Every artist dreams of making a living doing what they love. Mr. Fairey  has blazed a path that many are trying to follow. Creatively, his work is hard to argue with, though as he moves more and more into the realm of so-called “fine art,” his content is not. Timely, social, political, global, he has taken his street cred from the “covert to the overt,” as the title of his new self produced monograph says, trading late night graffiti bombing for the bright lights and the kind of huge crowds that came to his Lewis Chelsea opening. Given that he faces a possible 10 year prison sentence for a recent Detroit graffiti episode, he may opt to increasingly move more and more in these refined circles where his prints (in editions of 30 or so) fetch 10,000. EACH (at Pace). What me worry, indeed. At 10g for an edition of 30, his print prices are among the most expensive of any living, and most dead, artists. I didn’t ask how much the unique works (which are being called “paintings” on their website) were at Lewis.

IMG_2929PNH

Rarely seen unique (one of a kind) works by Shepard Fairey of the partially seen at Jacob Lewis. Click to enlarge.

For an artist who made the stencil and the multiple famous to a new generation, stickers, prints, posters, and to a lesser extent clothes and books, are the Obey they know best. The work upstairs at Lewis is a rare chance to see one of a kind Faireys. (Since he works with a team, it was left unsaid in the accompanying information, or in “Covert To Overt” as to who did what, and how much of this work was Fairey’s himself.) His name is on these shows, not Obey’s. The pieces themselves are eye stopping, beautifully designed, and feature a range of of the techniques he’s developed and evolved from collage to stencil, though I also remain unsure of exactly what is painted. The new book does show some photos of Fairey with a paint brush in his hand, and a couple others with a spray paint can. Is he detailing, touching up, or painting in a traditional sense? There are no captions and no explanation. Looking closely at the work, my guess is that the backgrounds are collage with stencils, the figures may be stencils, paint is applied (acrylic is mentioned), then the work enhanced and covered with varnish or other materials. The result is quite attractive, and over the past decade, Fairey has created something of a trademark style in these unique works (as well as in the “hand painted multiples,” or HPM’s, as works downstairs at Pace Prints are labelled in pencil at the bottom) that he says is based on the surfaces he sees on the street, surfaces that are often “natural collages” from the build up of materials applied to them over time. Seen from across the room, the works are striking. All of them. Seen up close, the attention to detail impresses- everything is in the service of the point being made, obvious at distance, refined upon close inspection. Mr. Fairey obviously values his process and applies fastidious attention to the details of his compositions and all the elements they contain. His compositions are at once classic, in the historical sense, and modern, if not as “edgy” as one might think from his reputation. He favors a distinctly “old school” style of graphic elements, beginning most famously with his use of a stencil of “Andre The Giant” that seems based on an image from the 1970’s or 80’s.

IMG_2920PNH

Mr. Fairey is now also doing sculpture.

IMG_2923PNH

Like “Operation Oil Freedom,” 2014, Bronze

The prints at Pace downstairs feature some of the same images seen at Lewis in HPM’s and limited editions, typically of 30. Others feature images that will be known to buyers of Obey’s Posters, which are done in signed editions of a couple hundred to about 400. Again, as an entrepreneur, Fairey has smartly enabled his “market” to acquire his work at varying price points from big money unique originals, to small editions for the mid market (10g), down to editions of up to 500 for, typically, less than 75. each, signed and numbered (astonishingly reasonable for so popular an artist.)

 

IMG_2941PNH

The same images from the first picture are available as limited edition prints downstairs at Pace Prints.

Content-wise, Mr. Fairey’s work alternate between his Obey brand and it’s associated icons and his stances on a wide range of topics ranging from big oil, the environment, the military industrial complex & the military, the police, big corporations, and…rock and roll. All of which are on view here. Noticeably absent was any 2016 version of that little piece he did in 2008 for the then Senator from Illinois that seemed to strike a chord in a lot of folks, including the Smithsonian Museum, where an original of it wound up. As a result of that, and his work before and since, at this point, Mr. Fairey seems to be about the most popular younger (under 50) artist (“fine” or not) working today. More power to him.

A short walk around the corner to the other Pace Gallery (there are 2 in Chelsea), there was another trademark style on display in the 2 large rooms and one smaller one, 95% of which was obviously done by Chuck Close himself, who though suffering from a paralyzed right hand somehow manages not only to paint, but also continue to invent a seemingly never ending range of new variations on his now famous grid technique, all in the service of his twin vehicles- portraits and self-portraits. No mater what he comes up with, one glance leaves no doubt who did the work. I’ve lost count of how many distinct variations he’s invented. (If you want to see a good number of them, check out “Chuck Close- Prints and Process” from a couple years back. He speaks about it here. This also reminds me that he & Mr. Fairey share being two, perhaps THE two, of the most prodigious print artists of our day, and both also share the trait of continually pushing their prints to ever new places.)

Immediately upon entering, I’m greeted by something new. The grid of 9 small Self Portraits are collages. They’re different for Close to be sure, and for me, they  feel experimental and turn out to be the least impressive pieces in a terrific show. They’re also, apparently, the only work in the show that are not entirely by Close himself. The catalog shows a young lady apparently in the act of cutting one of the colored pieces. No matter, the rest of the show is pure Close. The catalog, as usual, shows Mr. Close at work on a, typically, very large canvas, meticulously working his way through that grid, which he hides less and less as time goes on, one square at a time. The recent work shows him true to his tried and true process while playing looser with it than ever before. Like this-

IMG_2991PNH

Chuck, close.

I wonder if either had seen the other’s show. (I doubt it.) Process is a big part of both artist’s work, and both are open to testing the boundaries of theirs and exploring other means to their definite ends. Actually? This testing and exploring provides a good deal of the interest in shows of new work of either.

The first thing I notice in the first gallery is Close has blurred the boxes in his famous grids to much that the difference between seeing one of his works from a distance and up close (sorry) is even more striking than in his prior work. A number of other show goers noticed this and were fascinated by it. One even tried to document this effect on video, starting at a distance and walking toward the painting. I wonder how he made out. When I tried to take stills, fascinatingly, I found the effect could not be captured by my camera, unless one gets so close security won’t be far behind. When I was seeing the effect with my eyes, holding a camera up immediately brought the scene into focus, turning a very abstract into an obvious face. Always the master of the optical illusions, it’s hard to tell whether Mr. Close intended this effect or not. I’m sure he did.

Particularly amazing is that in addition to paralysis, this most famous of portraitists suffers from Prosopagnosia, a condition that prevents him from remembering faces! It’s so ironic, and incredible, that he ONLY paints portraits, has become such a master of them, AND very often paints the same people again and again, including everyone in this show.

IMG_2989PNH

The same Close, afar. “Self Portrait 1,” 2015

I was also felt echoes of the recently ended John Singer Sargent show at The Met. Sargent knew many of the art world’s leading lights of his day, including Monet and Robert Louis Stevenson. Mr. Close has spent 40 years painting his friends, many of whom turned out to be some of the leading creative lights of our day, including Cindy Sherman and Cecily Brown, as seen above. Their work is similar- masterpieces of depiction and pose, though Singer eventually stopped painting and his work didn’t evolve nearly as much as Mr. Close’s has incessantly. I don’t believe in comparing artists qualitatively. Suffice it to say that I think both will continue to speak over time and will endure.

IMG_2950PNH

“Self Portrait III” 2014 is 8 1/2 feet of Close.

Mr. Close continues eternally evolving, ceaselessly pursuing new effects, using strikingly new palettes, techniques and media in the pursuit of taking portraiture and self portraiture to more new places. Mr. Fairey’s diligence, creativity, dedication to his process, core values and his communication & organizational skills have taken him a long ways indeed so far. It remains to be seen if he will have similar success in the world of Art, or be remembered as a timely graphic designer and master of street art, who hit the nerve of his time trying to make people think about their country and the world. History shows that political art, GENERALLY, becomes quickly dated, and then forgotten. Picasso’s masterpiece “Guernica” and Francisco Goya’s immortal “The Third of May, 1808,” show, however, that there are always exceptions.

Soundtrack for this post- Philip Glass’ “Qatsi Trilogy” Glass is, perhaps, Chuck Close’s second most famous subject after himself. The “Qatsi Trilogy” immerses the viewer and listener in it’s depiction of how the modern world has effected the natural world, one of Fairey’s core themes.

Comments are off, but that doesn’t mean I don’t welcome them, thoughts, feedback or propositions. Please send them to denizen@nighthawknyc.com.

Shepard Fairey & Chuck Close Share Recent Work & Processes In Chelsea 

Two very different artists, at two different points in their careers, both with Chelsea shows of recent work. Though Chuck Close and Shepard Fairey appear to have nothing in common at first glance, seeing their shows in succession I was struck by some similarities.

First, I should mention the Close show, “Recent Work: Red Yellow Blue” ended as I left today. The Fairey show, “On Our Hands,” is up at Jacob Lewis until October 24. A concurrent print show at Pace Prints, one floor down from Lewis, also ended today.

Chuck Close, at 75, needs no introduction as one of the most famous living artists in the world, an artist who has incredibly overcome a brain aneurysm that not only didn’t end his art career, seems to have been a catalyst for the second part of it. He’s not only in the collection of about every museum in the world, he’s usually on display in all of them. To think- he may be only contemporary American artist who’s currently on display at Moma, the Whitney and The Met. Along with Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, Close has been at the forefront of carrying the torch for the development of the portrait and self-portrait in the 2nd half of the 20th Century, and he is probably the leader in the 21st, thus far.

Shepard. Fairey, at 45, is the most famous living “street” artist in the world, and one of the most successful artist/entrepreneurs of our time. He has created a model of a 21st Century art business with Obey Giant that should be, and possibly is being, studied in art schools as we speak. Every artist dreams of making a living doing what they love. Mr. Fairey  has blazed a path that many are trying to follow. Creatively, his work is hard to argue with, though as he moves more and more into the realm of so-called “fine art,” his content is not. Timely, social, political, global, he has taken his street cred from the “covert to the overt,” as the title of his new self produced monograph says, trading late night graffiti bombing for the bright lights and the kind of huge crowds that came to his Lewis Chelsea opening. Given that he faces a possible 10 year prison sentence for a recent Detroit graffiti episode, he may opt to increasingly move more and more in these refined circles where his prints (in editions of 30 or so) fetch 10,000. EACH (at Pace). What me worry, indeed. At 10g for an edition of 30, his print princes are among the most expensive of any living, and most dead, artists. I didn’t ask how much the unique works (which are called “paintings” on their website) were at Lewis.

IMG_2929PNH

Rarely seen- Unique originals by Shepard Fairey at Jacob Lewis. Click to enlarge.

For an artist who made the stencil and the multiple famous to a new generation, stickers, prints, posters, and to a lesser extent clothes and books, are the Obey they know best. The work upstairs at Lewis is a rare chance to see one of a kind Fairey’s (Since he works with a team, it was left unsaid in the accompanying information, or in “Covert To Overt,” about who did what, and how much of this work was Fairey’s himself. The pieces themselves are eye stopping, beautifully designed, and feature a range of 21st Century techniques, from collage to stencil, though I remain unsure of exactly what is painted (as well by whom, as I said)…let’s call them “multi-media.” The new book does show some photos of Fairey with a paint brush in his hand, and a couple others with a paint can. Is he detailing, touching up, or painting in a traditional sense? There are no captions and no explanation. Looking closely at the work, my guess is that the backgrounds are painted, the figures are stencils and various other parts are collaged, then covered with varnish or other materials. The result is quite attractive, and over the past decade, Fairey has created something of a trademark style in these unique works(as well as in the “hand painted multiples,” or HPM’s, as works downstairs at Pace Prints are labelled in pencil at the bottom). Seen from across the room, the works are striking. All of them. Seen up close, the attention to detail impresses- everything is in the service of the point being made, obvious at distance, refined upon close inspection.

The prints at Pace downstairs feature some of the same images seen at Lewis in HPM’s and limited editions, typically of 30. Others feature images that will be known to buyers of Obey’s Posters, which are done in signed editions of a couple hundred to about 400. Again, as an entrepreneur, Fairey has smartly enabled his “market” to acquire his work at varying price points from big money unique originals, to small editions for the mid market (10g), down to editions of up to 500 for, typically, less than 75. each, signed and numbered (astonishingly reasonable for so popular an artist.)

IMG_2941PNH

The same images also available as a singed & numbered print at Pace Prints

Content-wise, Mr. Fairey should be commended for his stances on a wide range of topics ranging from big oil, the environment, the military industrial complex & the military, the police, big corporations, and…rock and roll. And, oh yeah…there was that thing he did for that Obama guy that seemed to strike a chord with a lot of folks, including the Smithsonian Museum, where an original of it wound up. At this point, Mr. Fairey seems to be about the most popular younger (under 50) artist working today. More power to him.

A short walk around the corner to the other Pace Gallery (there are 2 in Chelsea), there was another trademark style on display in the 2 large rooms and one smaller one, 95% of which was obviously done by Close, who though suffering from a paralyzed right hand somehow manages not only to paint, but also continue to invent a seemingly never ending range of new variations on his now famous grid technique, all in the service of his twin vehicles- portraits and self-portraits. No mater what he comes up with, one glance leaves no doubt who did the work. I’ve lost count of how many distinct variations he’s invented. (If you want to see a good number of them, check out Chuck Close- Prints and Process from a couple years back.)

Immediately upon entering, I’m greeted by something new. The grid of 9 small Self Portraits are collages. They’re different for Close to be sure, and for me, they  feel experimental and turn out to be the least impressive pieces in a terrific show. They’re also, apparently, the only work in the show that are not entirely by Close himself. The catalog shows a young lady apparently in the act of cutting one of the colored pieces. No matter, the rest of the show is pure Close.

I wonder if either had seen the other’s show. I doubt it. Process is a big part of both artist’s work, and both are not so married to a particular way that they aren’t continually refining it or trying it in a new way.

The first thing I notice in the first gallery is Close has blurred the boxes in his famous grids to much that the difference between seeing one of his works from a distance and up close (sorry) is even more striking than in his prior work. A number of other show goers noticed this and were fascinated by it. One even tried to document this effect on video, starting at a distance and walking toward the painting. I wonder how he made out. When I tried to take stills, fascinatingly, I found the effect could not be captured by my camera, unless one gets so close security won’t be far behind. When I was seeing the effect with my eyes, holding a camera up immediately brought the scene into focus, turning a very abstract into an obvious face. Always the master of the optical illusions, it’s hard to tell whether Mr. Close intended this effect or not. I’m sure he did.

IMG_2991PNH

Can you see me now? Chuck- Close up.

I was also felt echoes of the recently ended John Singer Sargent show at The Met. Sargent knew many of the art world’s leading lights of his day, including Monet and Robert Louis Stevenson. Mr. Close has spent 40 years painting his friends, many of whom turned out to be some of the leading creative lights of our day, including Cindy Sherman and Cecily Brown, both depicted here. Their work is similar- masterpieces of depiction and pose, though Singer eventually stopped painting and his work didn’t evolve nearly as much as Close’s has incessantly. I don’t believe in comparing artists. I think both will continue to speak over time and will endure.

As for the moment, Close proves once again to be eternally evolving, ceaselessly pursuing new effects, techniques and media in the pursuit of taking portraiture and self portraiture to new places. It remains to be seen if Mr. Fairey will have similar success in the world of Art, or be remembered as a timely graphic designer and master of street art, who hit the nerve of his time trying to make people think about their country and the world. History shows that political art, GENERALLY, becomes quickly dated, and then forgotten. Mr. Goya’s immortal “the Second of May, 1808,” shows there are always exceptions.

Picasso Sculpts The Next Dimension

In the summer of 1980 I made 2 trips to New York specifically to see the Picasso Retrospective at Moma. Consisting of over 350 works (including the masterpiece “Guernica” in it’s farewell before being returned to Spain as Picasso requested in his will), it filled the entire building. I remember walking around the show in a daze. After the first floor, my brain had glossed over the way it does during mind-blowing sex. I staggered back out into the sunlight utterly overwhelmed…

Here it ALL was. ALL of what “Modern Art” was, and is. What else did you need to see?

Being a working musician at the time, I didn’t give any thought to what it must have been like to have been an artist seeing it. It must have felt like I did the first time I heard Jaco Pastorius a few years before. As a bassist, I almost threw my Rickenbacker 4001 electric bass into Miami’s Biscayne Bay that night (for real)- there was almost nothing left to play on the bass. I sold my Rick and started playing the upright bass, double bass or bass violin as it’s variously known. Can you imagine being an artist and seeing this show? You must have left it feeling like I did after hearing Jaco-

“Now what? What’s left to do that he didn’t do?”

I was reminded of all of this while attending another Picasso blockbuster show at Moma today, 35 years after that one- “Picasso Sculpture.”

IMG_2666PNH

“Do not attempt to adjust the horizontal…the vertical…” or, your Absinthe Spoon.

Like many artists in all realms of the arts, and many “other” people (I’ll be there, too), Picasso may not be high on the list awaiting canonization as a saint. Yet, as an artist, his legacy is likely to astound and influence artists and art lovers alike for centuries to come. Had he “only” been a sculptor people would be talking about him being among the greatest, both in terms of his work and how many unique styles he invented or co-invented.

Hmmm…kinda like that Spanish painter. What’s his name? Oh yeah. Picasso.

It’s the name that stands like the gigantic monolith in “2001” in the middle of the road to the future of art, where everything that is or will be is built on the shoulders of what was.

IMG_2666P2NH

“Open the Pod Bay Doors, Pablo Ruiz.”

I feel for the artists of today, or tomorrow, who’s life and work lie along that road. What’s left? Indeed.

Even only viewing his work in one medium (if you can call it one)- sculpture, his achievement is almost beyond comparison. Amazingly, though his dad was an artist (a painter) AND an art teacher, Picasso had no training in sculpture. Perhaps this is why, after he found his footing in it, his work quickly achieved a freedom that had never been seen before. He had nothing to “unlearn.”

Then, he began his journey towards freeing his vision. That is what we see here.

Whether working in “traditional” materials (especially bronze- more on that in a moment), or using things that had never been used in sculpture before, what’s now called “found” materials, his endless creativity, often in this show in interpreting the human form, astounds. In spite of the fact that there may be more monographs on Picasso than any other artist of the 20th Century much of what’s on view was new to my eye. Unlike any art monograph yet published (Coco Rocha’s app “Study of Pose” possibly excepted), you can get a full 360 degree view by walking around almost all of the pieces on display on Moma’s 5th Floor. As much as anything else it is, sculpture is a 360 degree medium.

Scale makes no difference to the impact these works have, either. Some are a few inches tall, moquettes (models) for what became very large/monumental public sculptures, like the one in the Daley Center, Chicago. Thought startlingly tiny for those who have seen the monumental versions, they have a different effect, yet one that is every bit as compelling. They reminded me of the amazing show of Bernini’s original small clay models of many of his monumental masterpieces at TM a couple years ago. Like architects creating architectural models (and there happens to be an interesting show of them on the 2nd Floor in the drawings galleries), Picasso, also, proves to be a master of scale.

What would Michelangelo think?

The first thing Picasso changed was the definition of the word “sculpture.” Truth be told, a number of these pieces are not “sculpture,” in the traditional sense. Some are collages (an art form he co-invented), multi-media works, a few are constructions, plastic arts, and yes, some are traditional sculptures. But, as they are 3 dimensional works, they are being called sculpture under a broader than traditional definition.

IMG_2666PNH3

Click, to enter another dimension.

The second thing he changed was the materials that could be used (including every day things like gloves, sand, upholstery fringe, absinthe spoons, nails, tin plate, and wire – all by 1930).

Most compelling for me among the traditional materials were the bronzes Picasso made while living in Paris during the Nazi occupation. They constricted bronze to military use only, but Picasso brazenly managed to get enough of it to  continue to work in it during the occupation. He, and his collaborators, no doubt risked death making these works in, of course, a style of art the Nazis had already branded “degenerate.” For me, the examples displayed are among the highlights of the show. (Since my posts to this point have been about shows that have ended, or were about to, and this one recently opened and runs until February 7, 2016, I’m not posting pics of the work to allow you to see it for yourself, which you should. Photos are allowed, and I’ll probably post some later.)

But, of course, the changes Picasso made didn’t end there. His creativity knew no bounds, and no one “style” could hold him for long.

IMG_2666PNH4

 

Cubism, which he co-founded, the style of painting that plays with dimensional perception, in 2 dimensions, has to rely on different techniques as sculpture. This may be why this section of the show is more interesting than it is filled with his best work. In the case of the work on view, it’s more an appendage to the paintings.

As we move to the next chronological gallery, it seems that as Picasso moved ahead from Cubism, he moved past dimension to dismantling the human body in ways no one- not even the surrealists had considered. In these works, starting with his wire figures, a whole nother world suddenly opens.

It’s as if Picasso had finally achieved the goal he was after when he (Braque, Gris and Leger) started Cubism- to achieve an entirely new way of seeing that existed beyond the 3 dimensions he was “bending” with Cubism, one that existed only in the dimension of his imagination.

After this breakthrough, Picasso was finally free. He then proceeded to dip in and out of the styles he had created, or elements of them, as parts of the larger language he had compiled over all these years by the time of his oft misunderstood later works, and often in the service of depicting his current muse in ways that only he could see her.

And then? We could, too.

IMG_2666P5

Soundtrack for this post- “Kind Of Blue” by Miles Davis- the whole album, released in August, 1959. I’ve often called Miles “the Picasso of Jazz.” The similarities in their careers, personalities, bodies of work are fascinating and compelling.

Comments are off, but that doesn’t mean I don’t welcome them, thoughts, feedback or propositions. Please send them to denizen@nighthawknyc.com.