Having It Out With Philip Guston

I had mixed feelings when I heard about “Philip Guston Painter 1957-67,” on view from April 29 to July 29 at Hauser & Wirth’s temporary Gallery in the former Roxy Nightclub space. On the one hand, large Guston shows are a rarity, on the other hand, I have long struggled with his works of this period. So, it was with a desire to have it out with them in a battle to the death, over the very generous 3 months it was up, and either, finally, “get” them, or not that I climbed their candy-cane striped stairs to enter a space I had known in it’s previous incarnation.


This space had a “colorful” past, in a different way. One that involved roller skates.

I am happy to report that July 30th dawned to find me still among the living.

The show is focused on paintings from 1957-1965, 8 of Guston’s most “abstract” years , and drawings dated from 1967-69, at the beginning of his return to “figurative” work.  The 1957-65 period of Guston’s paintings is, perhaps, his least known, possibly least loved, (according to one owner- Guston’s daughter, Musa Mayer’s, experiences when guests have seen it) 1, and least seen works by this Artist, who Hauser & Wirth calls “the preeminent 20th century American Artist” in their press release.

Really? I am very interested in his work, and have a lot of respect for him, but “the preeminent?” Hmmm…Comparing Artists qualitatively is against my religion, though some other candidates are here2. Still, a group of 35 of these is unheard of, and seems unlikely to be repeated any time soon.

While his early abstractions from 1950-55 are seen regularly and much admired, the works of his next period are very different. Gone were the luminous colors and shimmering qualities of the earlier works replaced by a darkness that feels to be continually encroaching as these 8 years progress.

What came before... "Painting," 1954, on view at Moma

What came before… “Painting,” 1954, on view at Moma

“What shall I paint but the enigma?”

A revealing quote from Philip Guston in 19693? Possibly. Guston, apparently, mis-translates, or misquotes a translation of the inscription on a “Self Portrait,” from 1911, by Giorgio de Chirico, a major lifelong influence, who he was speaking about when he uttered it. It’s de Chirico’s motto. The original reads- “Et quid amabo nisi quod aenigma est?” Most of the translations I’ve seen of it are- ‘What shall I love if not the enigma?’ Maybe it’s Guston’s interpretation of it?

It would, also, seem to be a fitting motto for this show.

This show begins. "Fable II," 1957,

The show begins… “Fable II,” 1957,

Guston came to abstraction very gradually, the end result of a period of consternation over his direction during which his work was gradually leaving figuration behind. In late 1948 he took a break from painting and armed with a Prix de Rome and a grant from the American Academy of Art and Letters, made a trip to Italy to see the works of his early Reinassance heroes, Piero della Francesca and Masaccio. To that point, the dissolution of the figure in his work can be traced through “If This Be Not I,” 1945 (perhaps my favorite work of his), to “The Porch I & II,” 1947, and especially in “The Tormentors,” 1947-48, his last work his trip to Italy. Upon his return, his “Red Painting,”1950, and “White Painting,” 1951, begin his “non-figurative” periods, from which the works on view eventually followed. He said,“The 1950-55 paintings, (see “Painting,” 1954, above), in general, were very diffuse lyrical pictures. About 1956 I began to become very dissatisfied. I began to feel a need for a more solid painting. I began to look at my earliest work with a kind of renewed interest, the solidity of that. I found it a terrific challenging problem, in my own terms, to create forms.” 4

"Traveler III," 1959-60

“Traveler III,” 1959-60

Then, in 1956, right on the cusp of the period in question, he told writer and friend, Dore Ashton, “I’m in love with painting.5” Looking around this show, that was the first thing that struck me- how painterly these paintings are. Guston’s brushwork has never been so nakedly at the forefront, even in the abstractions from 1950-55, as they are in every work here. It feels like it would be possible to follow each and every one in some of these works.


“Position 1,” 1965, Detail.

They have a freedom, a rawness, an energy that strikes me as being completely opposite from his earlier abstractions, someone dubbed “abstract impressionism,” a term he hated, works that are calm, subtle, delicate.These seem almost defiantly, perhaps reactionarily, different. They all contain shapes. At first, a mass of them, later individual shapes, and finally one shape, on a murky grey/blue with pink background. After all the depth of field has gone out, which began in his mid 1940’s work, completed from 1950, after the variety of color has gone out. The enigma remains.

"Turn," 1959

“Turn,” 1959

“There can be no adequate understanding of Guston’s life work unless we are prepared to go back over the whole road,” Dore Ashton wrote in 1990 6. In the earlier work, the enigma was different. It came with, and in the guise of persons, places and things. Guston’s work begins, as far as public collections go, in 1930. And? Talk about starting with a bang!

Guston was a lifelong creature of habit. Some of those, possibly, led to his early death at 66 in 1980. As a child, he retreated from the world to his closet, where he would read, and even paint, by the light of a single light bulb. He painted hooded KKK guys7, who he actually saw break up strikes. At age 13 he discovered his father, hanging, having committed suicide.(!) At age SEVENTEEN, he created this-

"Drawing for Conspirators," 1930, Whitney Museum

Drawing for “Conspirators,” 1930, at the Whitney Museum

There’s so much going on in this. First, note the figure hanging in the background. Then, the figure in the foreground handling rope. In the 1970’s when these hooded figures8 returned to his work, he said they were self-portraits9 Is this Guston pondering guilt over his father? Look at the abstraction of space- everything is enclosed in a very narrow area, which would reappear in the 1940’s, and again in the late work. The faceless head shapes, the narrow stage, and the brick wall are reminiscent of de Chirico. The angled cross from Piero della Francesca. Many of these elements, along with the single light bulb, his fascination with shoes, as well as many of the lessons he had picked up from his beloved early Renaissance Masters and, de Chirico, we see in the late work of the 1970’s. Also seen in the late work is Guston’s early love of comics. He reacted strongly when someone mentioned this to him, yet, I think it’s undeniable. As I wrote, I wonder what influence R. Crumb may have had on him. Though most of these are not readily apparent in the work in this show, they set me wondering how far away he ever got from them. After returning from Italy, his work shows an ever gradual reduction of elements, especially in his work from 1956-65, until he even stopped painting. Such was the effects of the admitted despair he was in, again, in 1966, as he was stuck before his next direction, which led to the outpouring of his final decade.

"Accord I," 1962

“Accord I,” 1962

Meanwhile, I was in the middle of my struggle with these works. It was on my 3rd visit, sitting in the nicely cavernous space that a key question hit me-

“Exactly HOW ‘abstract’ are these works?”

Look at the titles. “Painter,” “Actor,” “Alchemist,” “Vessel,” and “Portrait I,” among them. Guston commented that the titles were added after the piece had been completed. It’s rare for abstract works of the “New York School” Artists of this period to have such blatantly suggestive titles such as these. They make it impossible to give one’s imagination the completely free reign the usual “Untitled” does. In fact, they force one to attempt to “see” what the title “means” in the work. This brings you back to the way you experience figurative painting. Once this happened to me, I was never able to go back to seeing them as completely abstract again. I began to “suspect” the other works. More titles- “Rite,” “Traveler III,” “Turnabout,” “”The Room,” “Garden of M.” and “Inhabiter.” Without trying very hard, that’s 11 titles of the 36 paintings. Hmmm…


"Inhabiter," 1965

“Inhabiter,” 1965

“I think a painter has two choices: he paints the world or himself. And I think the best painting that’s done here is when he paints himself, and by himself I mean himself in this environment, in this total situation.’– Guston said in 1960.

The evolution during this period can be seen in this next photo. Note the differences between the works on the left, and those on the right. Color has largely gone out, forms have been reduced. The overall feeling becomes one of darkness and isolation.

Left- 2 works from 1960. Right- one from 1964, one from 1965

Left- 2 works from 1960. Right- two from 1965

This reduction would continue through 1965, until he was left with one dark form against a murky blue/grey over pink background, with (see “Portrait I,” 1965, below), now, the white of the naked canvas encroaches. After these, painting itself, went out. In 1967, he would start all over by drawing. But, he’d quickly come to see that this new direction offered insufficient room to grow. These zen-like drawings (see the 3 photos following “Cabal,” below) were their own end game. Shortly after, he would make yet another new start. Now, pieces of his past were everywhere to be plainly seen.  This would see him create his long misunderstood, now quite popular and influential final works, like “Cabal,” below.

"Cabal," 1977, The Met

“Cabal,” 1977, at The Met

While the “figure” went out of his work from 1950-1965 in works that are called “abstract” (a term he loathed), there is much in his work before, and after that is, also, “abstract”- even in his late work, where people and objects return. After all, isn’t this late work, which is called “figurative,” really “abstract?”

When you look closer at this hooded head in the foreground of “Conspirators,” above, with it’s two black eye holes in the white bedsheet, which somehow manage to be quite expressive. I couldn’t help but think about that when I saw this, “Untitled” drawing among those on the final wall at Hauser & Wirth.

"Untitled," 1968. Drawing.

“Untitled,” 1968. Drawing.

Then, again? With an “Untitled” work, the mind is free to go where it may, right?

Revisiting his subsequent later work while looking at the show of the Small Oils Guston did from 1969-73, that was up at the McKee Gallery in 2009, and you can see here, in addition to the hoods, shoes, single light bulb and other elements from his past, cigarettes, books, the modern city, and his wife, Musa, from his present, I suddenly see other connections (hindsight being 20/20). The same murky grey over pink backgrounds appear in a number of his smaller oils (“Cabal” has a dark background, too.). Some of these also have strange forms alone against this background. All of a sudden they don’t look like they were created by an entirely different Artist than the one who created the works in this show. Well, Philip Guston was a different Artist than the one he was in 1957-65, but he’s still Philip Guston. Since there is much that is common between his early and his late works, it makes me wonder about all of his work. That was my initial question before seeing this show- Would what came before, and after be evident here? Using hindsight you can see connections. How he didn’t completely forget this period. Parts of it remained in his work until the end of his life.

"Untitled," 1968 Drawing

Starting over, again, from the beginning. Abstract or figurative? A pencil? A line? A tightly sealed mouth? “Untitled,” 1968 Drawing

Guston was not considered a founding member of the Abstract Expressionists, nor does he appear in the famous “Irascibles” photo which defined the movement’s members for many. The Met now lists him among the 14 Artists they group in the first group, along with Lee Krasner (the circle is now complete)! I think that part of the reason he wasn’t initially considered part of the group was that he was moving in that direction slowly from 1945 to 1950 which made him miss the first round of fanfare these works received, and which subsequently “grouped” them as “Abstract Expressionists,” a term Guston loathed10. Rothko, himself had called it “their enterprise 11.” Philip Guston, eternally, followed his own star. Though Jackson Pollock was his closest childhood acquaintance and the two were expelled from Manual Artis High School12 together for calling out the fact that more money was being spent on sports than on the “Arts,” and someone who remained in his life until his death in 1956, Guston was his own man, who’s Art owed more to the early Italian Renaissance and Giorgio de Chirico than it did to Pollock, or Rothko, who he was on friendly terms with.

Zen Master. 48 "Untitled" Drawings, 1967-69.

Zen Master. 48 “Untitled” Drawings, 1967-69.

Philip Guston was never a painter of “realism.” It now appears to me that though the end results look different as his style changed and evolved, he was continually bluring the lines between figuration and abstraction all through his career, in the service of painting images that expressed himself as he evolved in his times and in his environment. It’s obvious that he never forgot his past, or the past masters who’s work he loved. The more I look at his work, from all periods, the more I see the impact of, perhaps, his biggest influence, Piero della Francesca, in it. Piero’s figures have the most inscrutable, almost deadpan expressions. Their faces, often, reveal little to nothing of what they are feeling. They take that crutch of reading a whole image from the face away from us. That feeling stays in my mind when I approach a work of Guston’s now, no matter if there are “figures” or objects in the work or not. (Many, even most, of his figures are hooded, or masked, anyway). “Reading” a Guston is a little like to trying to “read” a Piero (or de Chirico). It’s not the expression on the face, it’s the whole thing- the figure in it’s environment, to paraphrase Guston’s quote, above (in Piero’s case, each one is placed with utmost mathematical precision as part of the whole). Guston’s masks are akin to Piero’s inscrutables. We can’t read the expressions or the feelings of these figures. This makes them “abstract,” in another sense, too. I wonder about them. Since they are hooded, or masked, or a black form in his “Portrait I,” 1965, we’ll never know what they are feeling- like in Piero.

"Portrait I," 1965

“Portrait I,” 1965. As if hooded(?), in his environment.

It’s not only his 1957-65 paintings that mystify us.

“You see, I look at my paintings, speculate about them. They baffle me, too. That’s all I’m painting for.” “Philip Guston Talking” 1978, two years before he passed away.

Yet, he has left clues, along with the enigma.

(This is the third, and final, installment in my cycle of Posts on the recent, concurrent shows of Jackson Pollock, Lee Kranser & Guston- three Artists who’s lives are eternally intertwined, personally, and Artistically.)
*-Soundtrack for this Post is “For Philip Guston,” by his close friend, the brilliant composer Morton Feldman. If you have 4 hours to spare, check this out.

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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  1. Musa Mayer, “Night Studio,” Da Capo Press, P.102
  2. Hopper, Stuart Davis, Pollock, Rothko, Georgia O’Keefe, Charles Sheeler, Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, Chuck Close, Richard Estes, insert your own.
  3. Guston, “Collected Writings,” University of California Press, P.125
  4. Schimmel, Exhibition Catalog for this show, P.15
  5. Dore Ashton, “Philip Guston,” Grove Press, Inc.,1960 P.49
  6. Ashton, “A Critical Study of Philip Guston,” University of California Press, 1990,  P.9
  7. Ashton points out “At the time Guston was working on this painting it was estimated that there were more than 4.5 million members of the Klan in the United States, a great many of them residing right in Los Angeles, where they burned crosses and raised hell all during Guston’s childhood and youth.” Ashton, “A Critical Study,” P.7
  8. Ashton points out that hooded figures “not only recalling the Ku Kluxers of his early paintings but also the artists in the scriptoria of the medieval plague years who donned hooded gowns in the vain hope of avoiding the plague Ashton, A Critical Study, 1990, P.156
  9. Guston- “They are self-portraits. I perceive myself being behind a hood. In the new series of “hoods,” my intention is not really to illustrate, to do pictures of the KKK as I had done earlier. The idea of evil fascinated me… Guston, “Collected Writings,” P.282
  10. Schimmel, Show catalog, P.9
  11. Ashton, “Critical Study,” P.79
  12. Mayer, “Night Studio,” P.13

The Scene of the Crime- Aftermath

With a suspect in custody, here’s what the site of the explosion looked like this evening.

Seen from the corner of 6th Avenue, as close as anyone was allowed. My crude arrow points to the spot of the blast. As you can see, there are still other dumpsters there.

Seen from the corner of 6th Avenue, as close as anyone was allowed. My crude arrow points to the spot of the blast. As you can see, there are still other dumpsters there.

The former Tekserve, as seen in my previous Post, is the white building on the right. To the left is a church (the second white building), a brownstone and The Associated Blind, under the scaffolding. My crude arrow points to the approximate spot of the blast, which was in or near a dumpster. As you can see, there are still other dumpsters there, which is somewhat surprising. Yes, that’s a street cleaning machine, left with headlight on, but the water on the street is from rain.


23rd Street between 6th and 7th Avenues is still closed. The cleanup is continuing. The police, and the media, were out in full force, with two live broadcasts going on.

As you can see, it’s a pretty non-descript location for Manhattan, hence my question- Why (there)? As I predicted, I’m not surprised to hear the suspect arrested this morning in New Jersey, surprisingly quickly, is not a New Yorker.


Subway & Path Train Station entrance to the right. The bomb exploded a few hundred feet down the block.

Subway & Path Train Station entrance to the right. The bomb exploded a few hundred feet down the block.

Interestingly, perhaps meaningfully, there is a PATH train station (an express train connecting NYC & NJ) right on the corner of this block.

Besides the street closing, everything else seemed to be back to normal today.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

They Missed Me.

It had been a typical weekend over here at NighthawkNYC.com. Friday night, I went back to see a show that is closing today that I plan on writing about. On the way home, I walked along West 23rd Street, west from 6th Avenue. I passed by what had been the home of Tekserve, our neighborhood Apple place the past 29 years, which has just gone out of business-

Immediately to the let of this shot, taken this week, of the former Tekserve, a bomb blew up last night.

Immediately to the left of this shot of the former Tekserve, a bomb went off at 8:30 last night.

Then, last night I was sitting here writing, when I was stopped by a very loud noise.

“What was THAT?”

I got up and went to the window. During those few steps, I knew something had just happened. I (instinctively) thought back to 9/11. when everything happened in 102 minutes. So, I noted the time- exactly 8:30pm.

This is a busy area. You get used to hearing a wide range of sounds. This one was DEFINITELY something way out of the norm. It sounded like a building had collapsed.

I looked out my south facing window. All I could see were my neighbors who had come out of their apartments pondering the same question looking back at me. I couldn’t see anything else.

“Well, they’ll stone you when you’re trying to be so good
They’ll stone you just like they said they would
They’ll stone you when you’re tryna go home
Then they’ll stone you when you’re there all alone”*

Shortly, there were a lot of sirens going off and that continued, off and on, all night.

Turning on the local news, it seems there was an explosion in or near a dumpster just to the side of Tekserve, between it and the Associated Blind (a home for the visually impaired.) Without being more specific, let’s just say, very close to home. There’s a fortress like Church immediately west of Tekserve, then there’s a small brownstone, and then there’s the Associated Blind, the facade of which has been under construction, and is covered in scaffolding. Right between the Associated Blind and the brownstone is where the blast happened.


23rd Street is an historic place. Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan, Arthur C. Clarke, Tom Waits, and on and on, all lived at the Hotel Chelsea, a half block away, between 7th and 8th Avenues.. Much of Patti Smith’s “Just Kids” takes place there. I’ve lived a LOT of my life on 23rd Street the past 25 years. It has been my extended home base, as those who know me know.

The Hotel Chelsea, this week. So much of my life these 25 years took place on this block, I feel it's part of my home.

1/2 a block west. The Hotel Chelsea, this week. So much of my life these 25 years took place on this block. Bob Dylan wrote “Blonde on Blonde” here .

About 2 hours after the blast, it was announced that they had located a second device, on West 27th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues.



What’s there? Not a heck of a lot besides businesses and apartment buildings. The Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.) is across 7th Avenue between 7th and 8th.

At 12:37am the NYPD sent a cell phone blast around asking residents of 27th to stay away from their windows. A few hours later I heard, and saw on social media, that they had used a robot to remove the device. They didn’t officially announce that until 2:35am, prime time for the Nighthawk.


The mayor announced that there was “no terror connection.”


Dude- If it’s determined that this wasn’t a force of nature, or some chemical reaction due to combustibles left at a construction site, and it was, therefore, “intentional,” as you also said…?


I’m sorry. Setting off an explosion in a residential district like Chelsea and 29 innocent people were hurt is an act of terrorism.


I was up late watching what was going on.

I could see that there were teams of folks in matching uniforms scouring the block- from end to end, even way at the other end from where the explosion was. They had light towers at both ends of the block, and this went on til after 6am when I went to bed. This morning, much of my neighborhood remains roped off.

Left-The bomb scene at 530am. Right- West 34th & 7th Avenue. Macy's is across the street to the upper left. Madison Square Garden is right behind to the lower right.

Left-The bomb scene at 530am. Right- West 34th & 7th Avenue. Macy’s is across the street to the upper left. Madison Square Garden is right behind to the lower right.

Somebody else sure thinks this is terrorism.

But? This is not my first rodeo.

I was right here on 9/11. I saw the North Tower on fire at 9:05am from the same window I looked through last night. The first plane, American Airlines Flight 11, flew down my block, which triggered unexpected nightmares for a few months after, where, somehow, my brain combined Flight 11 with Flight 93, and the passengers fought back, and caused Flight 11 to crash early- into my apartment. (Yes, I was very lucky that that’s all that happened. Later, I watched the North Tower collapse from 5th Avenue. Both of the people I knew who worked there at the time got out.) In 2004, there was a 2 day blackout. No big deal. Some years later, a nor’easter left me without water for 4 days. Then, in Halloween week 2012, Hurricane Sandy left me without power for 5 days, and brought the Hudson River within 2 blocks of my door. The subways here have never been right since 9/11.

During the last few of these events, much of the rest of the City was unaffected. I was especially reminded of this during the Sandy blackout. Going north of 30th Street was like going into a different world. There were lights on. Restaurants and delis were open(!) People were using their phones without constantly looking at their power levels. No one carried a candle or a flashlight. Very few of them seemed to know, or care, frankly.

I felt pretty alone.

So? This is part of the price I pay to live here and be able to experience all the great Art and culture NYC has- what makes NYC the greatest City in the world to my myopic eyes.

Still, right now? Now that everyone has been released from the hospital, and no one was killed, thank god, my main thought is-


Why did whoever did this pick these two places?

The Associated Blind??? Given the damage from this powerful blast, it’s amazing, and amazingly fortunate, they didn’t have to evacuate it. And, a side street in a pretty quiet area at that time of night???

It seems to me that whoever did this was either paying back something personal, or were sending a message to the effect that “You’re never safe. Anywhere. Anytime.”

“They’ll stone you when you’re at the breakfast table
They’ll stone you when you are young and able
They’ll stone you when you’re tryna make a buck
They’ll stone you and then they’ll say, “Good luck””*

Whoever it is strikes me as being someone who’s not a real New Yorker. First, real New Yorkers respect each other.

Second- Living here, you take your life in your hands when you step outside your door. You could get hit by a car, bus, truck or bike, or whatever, at any moment. Yes, surviving as a pedestrian here, I’ve long believed, is an unacknowledged, and under-appreciated Art form.

So, if you’re trying to scare me, or my fellow New Yorkers?

Get real.

Better yet?



(For the aftermath, see my follow up Post, here.)

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” by Bob Dylan, from 23rd Street’s own “Blonde on Blonde” and published by Dwarf Music.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

If You Ever Missed A Show At Moma? You’ve Just Been Reborn!


“If I had my life to live over
I’d do the same things again
I’d still want to roam
Near the place we called home
Where my happiness would never end”*

This, today, from MoMA-


Installation Photographs, Archival Documents, and Catalogues of Exhibitions Now Available to Students, Researchers, Artists, Curators, and the Public

NEW YORK, September 15, 2016—The Museum of Modern Art announces the release of an extensive digital archive accessible to historians, students, artists, and anyone concerned with modern and contemporary art: a comprehensive account of the Museum’s exhibitions from its founding, in 1929, to today. This new digital archive, which will continue to grow as materials become available, is now accessible on MoMA’s website, at moma.org/history.

Providing an unparalleled history of the Museum’s presentation of modern and contemporary art on a widely available platform, the project features over 3,500 exhibitions, illustrated by primary documents such as installation photographs, press releases, checklists, and catalogues, as well as lists of included artists. By making these unique resources available at no charge, the exhibition history digital archive directly aligns with the Museum’s mission of encouraging an ever-deeper understanding of modern and contemporary art and fostering scholarship.

“The Museum of Modern Art has played a crucial role in the development of an audience for modern and contemporary art for nearly 90 years,” said MoMA Director Glenn D. Lowry. “In making these materials freely available, we hope not only to foster and enable scholarship, but also to encourage a wider interest in this important chapter of art history that the Museum represents.”

The exhibition history project was initiated and overseen by Michelle Elligott, Chief of Archives, and Fiona Romeo, Director of Digital Content and Strategy, The Museum of Modern Art. Over the course of the last two-and-a-half years, three MoMA archivists integrated over 22,000 folders of exhibition records dating from 1929 to 1989 from its registrar and curatorial departments, performed preservation measures, vetted the contents, and created detailed descriptions of the records for each exhibition.

The digital archive can be freely searched, or browsed in a more structured way by time period or exhibition type. Each entry includes a list of all known artists featured in the exhibition. Artist pages likewise list all of the exhibitions that have included that artist, along with any of their works in MoMA’s collection online. The index of artists participating in Museum exhibitions now includes more than 20,000 unique names.”

I almost fell over when I saw this. Now? You can revisit every show in the history of MoMA. Unprecedented! I’ve lost my day looking through this site. It’s absolutely unbelievable! Having the chance to FINALLY “see” shows I missed and only heard about, and shows I saw (like the 1980 Picasso Retrospective, possibly the greatest Art show ever), again, is just a dream come true! Here’s a sample, from Moma’s very first show titled “Cezanne, Gaugin, Seurat, Van Gogh,” in 1929!

Mom'a First Show! Installation view of the exhibition Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, Van Gogh, on view November 7, 1929 through December 7, 1929 at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York. Photographer: Peter Juley

MoMA’s First Show! Installation view of the exhibition Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, Van Gogh, on view November 7, 1929 through December 7, 1929 at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York. Photographer: Peter Juley

To this point, Art shows have only lived on, after their closing, through exhibition catalogs and what’s been written or posted about them.

No more!

Here’s a chance to see how the show was hung, what works were grouped together or hung next to each other. Just Wow!

And? You can download catalogs, too!

Now? Of course I’m hoping The Met shocks me with something similar, and every other Museum in the world follows Moma’s groundbreaking example!

Don’t wait. Do not pass “Go.” Go here, now!

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “If I Had My LIfe to Live Over,” by Larry Vincent, Moe Jaffe and Henry H. Tobias, and performed by Doris Day.

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

Unfinished. Auspicious.

“Well, let me tell you ’bout the way she looked
The way she acts and the color of her hair
Her voice was soft and cool, her eyes were clear and bright
But, she’s not there.”*

"Portrait of Mariana de Silva y Sarmiento," 1794, by Mengs

“Portrait of Mariana de Silva y Sarmiento,” 1794, by Mengs

Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian, Van Eyck, Durer, Rembrandt, Velazquez, Manet, Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Picasso, Pollock, Warhol, Mondrian, Basquiat, Whistler, Alice Neel, Lucian Freud, Klimt, Munch, Whistler, Robert Smithson, Cy Twombly, Gerhard Richter, and on and on. “Unfinished” is a mimi-Museum unto itself that probably rivals quite a few entire Museums. “Unfinished,” along with the “Nasreen Mohamedi” Retrospective, were the inaugural exhibitions at The Met Breuer (TMB), the first shows of two new eras- The Met’s new 8 year Breuer Building Lease (at a reported $17 million a year 1), and Sheena Wagstaff’s tenure as Chairwoman of The Met’s Modern & Contemporary (M&C) Department. No pressure there. It’s a show that leaves you wondering “Why didn’t anyone think of this before,” before you’ve even gotten to it’s second floor.

Opening Day of The Met Breuer. Member's Preview, March 8, 2016

Welcome to the future! Opening Day of The Met Breuer. Member’s Preview, March 8, 2016

Well, for one thing, though many of the works here come from other sources, not a lot of places have the resources The Met has, so yes, a part of this is “showing off.” They’ve chosen to install this in a brand new branch that previously held the entirety of one of the other “Big Three” Manhattan Museums, before the Guggenheim made it the “Big Four.”

If that’s not showing off? I don’t know what is.

The rest is the pure joy of discovery, of seeing a curtain lifted and getting an all too rare chance to see some of what goes into making a masterpiece, a work of Art. And? The hits just keep on coming. The big names, that is, if not the most well-known work by any of those names. 197 works in all filling the 3rd & 4th Floors. While nothing here is “famous,” even in their, supposedly, incomplete state (either left unfinished on purpose, or not, in the case of Lucian Freud’s “Portrait of the Hound,” which was left as we see it on his easel when he died), these works hold up just as they are, making this a show jam packed with excellent, even important pieces. Yes, curating a show of “unfinished” work THIS well is also showing off The Met’s superb staff. Along with the pleasure of looking, they also provide fascinating, voyeuristic, even unique, insights into the Artist’s process- both working and thought. Some, as in Alice Neel’s “James Hunter Black Draftee’, 1965, are, perhaps, more evocative than it might have been had it been “finished.” Mr. Hunter never returned for additional sittings. We are left to wonder why not.

"James Hunter Black Draftee," 1965, by Alice Neel

“James Hunter Black Draftee,” 1965, by Alice Neel

The whole question of “When is a work of Art, finished?” comes front and center here as well, and no less than Rembrandt chimes in on it.


Highlights? I’ll list those that come to mind quickly because there are so many. For me, Jan Van Eyck was the very first Artist who truly captivated me as a kid. Shortly after getting my driver’s license, I drove the almost 6 hours each way just to see his “Annunciation” in Washington’s National Gallery, then drove right back. Seeing his underdrawing for his unfinished St. Barbara was just breathtaking. It’s truly unbelievable to think that something like this lies underneath his finished masterpieces, like The Ghent Altarpiece! While he is legendary for the extraordinary and exquisite detail of his painting, which has held me in disbelief for all these decades, apparently, he could also draw every bit as well2

Small wonder. "Saint Barbara," 1437, Jan Van Eyck. Barely 12 inches tall.

Small wonder. “Saint Barbara,” 1437, Jan Van Eyck. Barely 12 inches tall.

Just astounding. Oh, and sitting a few feet away was a da Vinci portrait profile that was positively otherworldly. When the show opened (along with the Met Breuer) in March, it was flanked by Leonardo’s “Sketches for the Virgin Adoring the Christ Child” and Michelangelo’s “Study for the Libyan Sibyl.” Since “Unfinished” was up for a very generous four and a half months, the later two were replaced after a while, no doubt due to their fragility. It seemed to me they may have been there in honor of TMB’s opening. Both works are in TM’s permanent collection. More showing off? (Slight smile)

Blink, and you missed it. Briefly on view, Leonardo, center and left, Michelangelo, right.

For a New York Minute, the two greatest figures in Western Art were on view together. Leonardo, center and right. Michelangelo, left. Has so much hunan genius ever been side by side than when work of these two are shown together? March 8, 2016.

Oh, all of this is in the 2nd room. In the first room, upon getting off the elevator on the 3rd Floor, at the show’s beginning, you’re immediately faced with 2 large, powerful Titians that are guaranteed to stop you for a good long while, and a Jacopo Bassano.

This view once the elevator doors opened on 3 is one I'll long remember.

The opening salvo. This is the first thing many visitors to TMB saw after the elevator deposited them on 3. Bassano, left, with 2 Titians.

Rembrandt’s St. Bartholomew, a whole room of Turners, a beautifully selected print gallery, a very “different” Degas of a horse race, a Van Gogh who’s color filled the entire room, a stunning Munch self portrait…all on the 3rd floor, wowed me.

"Street in Auvers-sur-Oise," 1890. In the year he died, no dark clouds in this sky.

Life affirming. “Street in Auvers-sur-Oise,” 1890. The year he died, no dark clouds in this sky. I am among those who believe Van Gogh did not commit suicide.

Finished, or Un? "Lucretia," 1642, by Guido Reni. Magnificent.

Finished, or Un? “Lucretia,” 1642, by Guido Reni. Magnificent.

On the 4th Floor, getting off the elevator was no less dramatic. No less than 4 amazing Picassos greet you, one of which is “the Charnel House,” the work which bookends (with “Guernica”) his WW2 years. While “Guernica,” rightfully, is seen as one of the landmarks of 20th Century Art (and one I’m eternally thankful I got to see in person at Moma’s Picasso Retrospective in 1980 before it was moved to Spain as Picasso’s will required), here is a work that I think deserves more attention. It’s surrounded by 3 other pieces, in 3 other styles (in addition to 2 others in the next gallery, and a few more on the 3rd floor), that show Picasso in the process of thinking through the problems inherent in each work- each one in a different style. After the 1921 “Portrait of Olga,” right, below, he was inventing each of these styles. It’s akin to inventing a new language. There was no one else to help him or guide him. Some artists, like Jackson Pollock, have done this once. Picasso? There’s three in this one gallery, and it doesn’t even include Cubism.

Pick a style-any style. 4th Floor Lobby/Galley 1. Picasso 1921, '29, '31, '45.

Pick a style-any style. 4th Floor Lobby/Galley 1. Picasso 1921, ’29, ’31, ’45.

There was quite a bit of fanfare paid to The Met’s announcement of The Met Breuer as a “Contemporary Outpost,” especially during the years when the 5th Avenue Modern & Contemporary Galleries were to be undergoing the reconstruction they had also announced. Yet, in this co-inaugural show, we get quite a bit of what The Met is famous for, along with about two thirds of the 4th floor of more recent works. The size of many of these newer works seems to cut down on the number of pieces, however, making the show feel skewed towards older Artists. Of the 197 works in the show, I counted 74 works by Artists born after 1900, 12 by Artists born after 1950. (The youngest Artist represented is Urs Fischer, who was born in 1973, and who’s mysterious cast bronze “2,” from 2014 is also the newest work here by my reckoning.)

The day after at the NighhawkNYC offices? No. "2," 2014, by Urs Fischer.

The day after at the NighthawkNYC offices? I’ll never tell. Actually, this is “2,” 2014, by Urs Fischer.

“But it’s too late to say you’re sorry
How would I know, why should I care?
Please don’t bother trying to find her
She’s not there”*

Yet, even among the M&C pieces here on the 4th floor, there are memorable pieces. In additon to Urs Fischer’s “2”, the unfinished Mondrian struck me as a revelation. Yayoi Kusama’s genre defying paintings of consecutive numbers gave pause for thought, as did Sol LeWitt’s amazing tour de force  “Incomplete Open Cubes” nearby  and, Kerry James Marshal’s “Untitled,” 2009, was a nice appetizer for his much anticipated “Mastry” show opening at TMB October 25. The show concludes with a wonderful selection of sculpture, including haunting works by Louise Bourgeois, “Untitled (No.2), 1996, and Alina Szapocznikow’s work about her own battle with breast cancer, “Turmors Personified,” 1971, in dialogue alongside 3 Rodins. The final gallery consisted of only one work- a series of 6 pieces by Cy Twombly, entitled “Untitled I-VI (Green Paintings), 1986, which provided a meditative, cleansing experience I found especially memorable.

The Cy Twombly Gallery closes the show seen in panorama.

Water works? It’s hard not to feel a sense of water in movement in this gallery of 6 Cy Twomblys, which closes the show, seen in panorama.

Overall, what I took from this show as a whole was a possible template for what The Met plans to do going forward, the kinds of Artists they may include in their “new initiative.” It’s something I plan to watch closely as it unfurls. I should say that I have been in the minority regarding The Met and M&C Art. I liked that they were taking their time and allowing time to give some perspective on Contemporary Art before jumping in. It’s always been an honor to be in The Met- they have the best of the the best across all cultures and all times. Yet, given the unprecedented popularity of M&C Art today, they have opted to move more fully into it. Ms. Wagstaff, who I met in June, seems to have a great sense for all of this, and if anything, “Unfinished,” is a show that consists of work across at least a few Met Departments. Being able to work, apparently, so well with the other Met Departments augers well for the future. After all, The Met has 2,000,000 items in it’s collection. Showing M&C Art along side of selected objects in their collection is something I am all for.

Floor beach. As close as I got to a real beach this summer.

Floor beach. “Mirrors and Shelly Sand,” 1970, by Robert Smithson. As close as I got to a real beach this summer. I shot this wearing shades.

For me? That’s what this show says- Here are (unfinished) works by many of the greats. This is where we are starting from. Let’s see how other work that may, or may not, have been influenced by them, looks alongside these. The show may be seen as a number of conversations between Artists they are displayed alongside- Leonardo with Michelangelo. Van Eyck and Durer, Rembrandt with Velazquez(!). Degas and Manet. Van Gogh and Whistler(!). Picasso and Cezanne. Pollock and Kusama. Smithson and Fischer. Marshall and Warhol. Szapocznikow and Rodin. Rauschenberg and Mondrian. And, Picasso, also…with himself, among them. I say bring it on!

Still, there’s no denying that The Met Breuer is a HUGE gamble. Who knows how long Contemporary Art will stay as “hot” as it is? For that matter, who knows how much longer record number of viewers will go to see Art, as they have these past few years? The Met is locked into this for 8 years, and they have already announced a budget deficit that caused them to put off the previously announced reconstruction of the Modern & Contemporary Galleries, and, more sadly, even forced an unknown number of lay offs.

When they return to better times, IF they decide to move forward with those reconstruction plans, they will, most likely, need additional space for the temporary display of their Modern & Contemporary holdings, and Special Exhibitions. What will they do? Extending the lease on the Breuer will be VERY expensive. So far? I have yet to see it’s galleries very crowded. The “Diane Arbus; In The Beginning” Show, which recently opened on the 2nd floor, seems to be drawing pretty well, and “Unfinished” was fairly crowded during it’s last weeks. Yet? They’ve already closed the 5th Floor Cafe & Bookstore and remodeled it as additional Gallery space, which indicates that they want to have more going on there for visitors to see, and their basement restaurant is scheduled to open in about a month, which will be open during some hours The Museum is not. Obviously, this is all new, and still in flux. The Met seems to be reacting fairly quickly, which is a good sign. They did away with late Thursday nights, which I seemed to be among the very few that went to, and changed to late Friday & Saturday nights, like TM, 5th Avenue.

"Tumors Personified," 1971, by ALina Szapocznikow.

Survivor. “Tumors Personified,” 1971, by Alina Szapocznikow.

So far, on very little evidence, I like the direction TM is going at TMB, and with M&C Art. “Nasreen Mohamedi” was a revelation that struck me as the “perfect choice” to be the first M&C Show. “Unfinished” was an unexpected blockbuster the likes of which has never been seen before, which is somewhat startling given how long there have been painting shows. The Diane Arbus show is fascinating and features a ground breaking installation. Also, not to be lost is the reconfiguration of the M&C Galleries at TM on 5th Avenue- I love what they’ve done. The Art has been imaginatively rehung in fascinating new combinations, with some pieces given new prominence, like Edward Hopper’s majestic “The Lighthouse at Two Lights,”1929, and other pieces shown that have long been in storage. Along with this, Thomas Hart Benton’s “America Today” Mural appears to have now been permanently housed, at the center of supporting works and works that enter into interesting dialogue with it nearby. Other galleries are arranged by theme, instead of chronology.

So? There’s been a lot of action coming from new M&C Chairwoman Sheena Wagstaff and her Department. There’s a long way to go, but so far? It’s hard for me to give her less than an “A” for what she and they have accomplished.

Haunting, and then some.

Haunting, and then some. “The Return of Mary Queen of Scots to Edniburgh,” 1870, James Drummond.

Most of the Artists in “Unfinished” won’t get the chance to finish what they started. The Met will.

Stay tuned.

*-Soundtrack for this post is “She’s Not There,” by Rod Argent, recorded by The Zombies, and published by Marquis Songs, USA.

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
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  1. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/05/arts/design/breuer-building-expands-the-imagination-and-the-budget-of-the-met.html?_r=1
  2. Yes, I saw “A New Look at a Van Eyck Masterpiece” at TM proper, which featured a drawing of the Crucifixion from Rotterdam that may, or may not be, by Van Eyck. I came away VERY impressed by it to be sure, but remaining to be entirely convinced.

752,995 Attend The Met’s Manus x Machina

From The Met today-

“(New York, September 6, 2016) – The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced today that Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, which closed yesterday, attracted 752,995 visitors during its run from May 5 to September 5, putting it in seventh place among the Museum’s most visited exhibitions, joining blockbusters such as Treasures of Tutankhamun (1978), Mona Lisa (1963), and Painters in Paris, 1895-1950 (2000).  The show also becomes the second most visited Costume Institute exhibition, surpassing Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty (2011), which had 661,509 visitors.  China: Through the Looking Glass (2015) remains the department’s most popular show with 815,992 visitors and The Met’s fifth most visited.   All three exhibitions were curated by Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute.

“We are thrilled that so many people from around the world experienced this exploration of the artistry of fashion,” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of The Met.  “The exhibition required the transformation of the Robert Lehman Wing into a domed cathedral-like space that invited people to slow down and contemplate the process and craft of the objects.”

The exhibition, originally set to close on August 14, was extended by three weeks, and hours were added on September 2 and 3, when it stayed open until midnight, three hours past the usual 9:00 p.m. closing time on Friday and Saturday nights.

Manus x Machina explored how designers reconcile the handmade and the machine-made in the creation of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear. It addressed the distinction between the hand (manus) and the machine (machina) as discordant tools in the creative process, and questioned the changing delineation between the haute couture and ready-to-wear.” (End.)

Worshipping at the Altar of Fashion. The entrance.

Worshipping at the Altar of Fashion. The entrance.

Ok, so I was 250,000 short on my ambitious guess of a million. I am surprised it topped the unforgettable McQueen Show, which felt more crowded during my 8 visits, but I haven’t checked to see how many days each show was open. I saw Manus about 10 times, and was blown away by the trnsfiguration of the Robert Lehman Wing into the “cathedral” Mr. Campbell describes in The Met’s press release, above. While, they’ve gone above and beyond every year with their fashion show installations, this was was over the top. If you’ve been to the Lehman Wing before this show,  you have an idea of the scope of what they did. Here’s how it looked when I visited it in 2013-

Robert Lehman Wing Courtyard, January, 2013, during "Bernini: Sculpting in Clay"

Robert Lehman Wing Courtyard, January, 2013, during “Bernini: Sculpting in Clay”

And during Manus x Machina-

Yes, they built an entire floor over above the courtyard! Ground in this pic is at the same level as the top of the Bernini Bust in the pic, above.

Yes, they built an entire floor over the courtyard seen above! The floor in this pic is at the same level as the top of the Bernini Bust in the pic, above. Side view- Chanel Wedding Ensemble by Karl Lagerfeld, Autumn/winter 2014/15, also seen in Pic 1.

Back view. Chanel Wedding ensemble, Autumn/winter 2014/15

Front view. Chanel Wedding ensemble. Projected on the dome, above, is a blow up of the train, based on Lagerfeld’s drawing.

Back view. Probably the most popular view.

Back view. Probably the most popular vantage point.

The grey area in front is the amazing temporary floor.

The grey area in front begins the amazing temporary floor.If you didn’t know it was temporary, you’d never suspect it.

The show was focused on the craft of fashion, with each gallery turned into a section for various crafts like Embroidery, Artificial Flower Making, Leatherwork, Featherwork, Pleating, Lacework and Tailoring. Some of the more adventurous pieces follow-

A Featherwork Gallery

A Featherwork Gallery

Lacework.? Iris van Herpen, Autumn 2012, 3D Printed dark orange epoxy.

Lacework.? Iris van Herpen, Autumn 2012, 3D Printed dark orange epoxy.

Threeasfour, "Interdimensional" Dress, 2016. Machine sewn white neoprene, hand-applique 3D ivory resin.

Threeasfour, “Interdimensional” Dress, 2016. Machine sewn white neoprene, hand-applique 3D ivory resin.

Gareth Pugh, Dress, 2015. Individually hand-cut drinking straws.

Gareth Pugh, Dress, 2015. Individually hand-cut drinking straws.

It wouldn't be a Met fashion show without McQueen. Here, Sarah Burton's 2012 White pony skin on black leather ensembles.

It wouldn’t be a Met fashion show without McQueen. Here, Sarah Burton’s 2012 White pony skin on black leather ensembles.

"My dear, your tailbone is showing." Iris van Herpen, Dress, 2011-12, 3D printed white polyamide.

“My dear, your tailbone is showing.” Iris van Herpen, Dress, 2011-12, 3D printed white polyamide.

Shapeshifter. Issey Miyake, Master of the Pleat, the same designs, seen first as flats, here, and...

Shapeshifter. Issey Miyake, Master of the Pleat, the same designs, seen first as flats, here, and…

Opened. Ii.e. "Not flat"

Opened, i.e. “Not flat,” with my numbers added. “1” flat becomes “1” opened…

Tailoring & Dressmaking Gallery

Tailoring & Dressmaking Gallery

To see more of the show, I highly recommend TM’s Manus x Machina website, where you can see Overviews of each gallery and additional images of displayed items.

“I work all day at the factory
I’m building a machine that’s not for me
There must be a reason that I can’t see
You’ve got to humanize yourself.”*

Some shots of the installation-


Meanwhile, in the part of the Lehman Wing still displaying Robert Lehman’s collection, left, St. John seems to be striking an auditon pose to get into MxM, right, where you can see some of the temporary structural work done to create the “cathedral,” seen through the outer mesh.

Even the stairwells to the lower floor of MxM were imaginatively used, again, seen through the mesh.

Even the stairwells to the lower floor of MxM were imaginatively used, again, seen through the mesh.

This show didn’t have a “hook” into the psyche of the moment as “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” did with Lady Gaga wearing his amazing “Armadillo Shoes” on the cover of Rolling Stone, and with McQueen’s recent tragic passing still fresh in the mind, yet for those with an interest in the craft of fashion, it was an excellent overview. While a few designers, especially Iris van Herpen and Issey Miyake, received major attention in the form of (too?) many pieces, the show wasn’t too big and was beautifully laid out. As very, very good as the fashion was? I’ll never forget the unbelievable and incredibly creative job they did installing this show.


A very popular Irish Wedding dress circa 1870 on the left.

A very popular Irish Wedding dress circa 1870 on the left.

This show came during the news of TM’s budget shortfall, which put on hold the rebuilding of the Modern & Contemporary Galleries. After seeing the Lehman Wing transformed, I wonder if the Lehman Wing will be the next area of TM to be rebuilt, after the M&C Galleries are done…whenever that is.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Rehumanize Yourself,” by Sting & Stewart Copeland, from The Police’s album, “The Ghost In The Machine,” and Published by Sony/ATV Music Publishing, LLC.

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