Stuart Davis- The King of Swing

Try it yourself.

Walk into your local Art Museum and look for Stuart Davis. I bet they own at least one, and I also bet it’s on display. I’m making this wager based on my experience that every American Museum I’ve been to, including many smaller ones, owns at least one work by Stuart Davis, and that work seems to always be on view1. This is a testament to his wide, and ongoing, appeal. Stuart Davis’ Art still has a contemporary look and feel to it. Maybe that’s because so many Artists who have come after him, like much of “Pop Art,” have been influenced by him. Somehow, Davis is also an Artist who is rarely given a show. The last big one I know of was “Stuart Davis: American Painter” at The Met in 1991. It’s left me with years of longing to see more than one or two of his works at a time, so I was very excited when I heard about “Stuart Davis: In Full Swing,” June 10-September 25 at the Whitney.

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It turns out to have been worth the wait. With 75 works ranging from 1923 until his final work left unfinished on his easel the night he died in 1964, we get to see much, if not all, of his accomplishment. The 1991 Met show featured 175 works, 31 before the earliest work in this show. While I’m a bit disappointed the show is missing the first decade of his work, (the title “Stuart Davis: In Full Swing” refers to his career being in full swing during the period of his work displayed), what’s included has been marvelously hung adding much insight into Davis’ process and development.

Davis' seminal 4 "Egg Beater" Paintings, 19__, rarely united

Davis’ seminal 4 “Egg Beater” Paintings, 1927-28, rarely united.

…I nailed an electric fan, a rubber glove and an eggbeater to a table and used it as my exclusive subject matter for a year.” Egg Beater No. 4," 1928

Breakthrough. “I nailed an electric fan, a rubber glove and an eggbeater to a table and used it as my exclusive subject matter for a year.2” Egg Beater No. 4,” 1928

Beyond this, it’s simply gorgeous to behold. Davis, the colorist, is  something not often  spoken about, and for me, is under-appreciated. His work needs to be seen in person, where his color makes a vibrant, stunning, often shocking first impression- even in 2016. Looking closer, it becomes apparent that though he uses relatively few colors and repeats them from piece to piece he is a master of color schemes. Has any American Artist used Yellows or Oranges the way Davis has?

"Cliche," 1955

“Cliche,” 1955

Having come out of the end of the era of  “Ashcan School,” Davis’s early work, often depicting street scenes of the greater New York area, shared their darker palette. Here and there he’d inject very bright passages of color, as in “Bleecker Street,” 1912. Soon, they would dominate as the influence of the Europeans, the Cubists 3, and Joan Miro took hold, his palette brightened. Matisse was also an early influence, and  even in the 1950s, Davis’ work features shapes that echo those found in Matisse’s late Cut-Outs.

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“Midi,” 1954

The title “Stuart Davis: In Full Swing” is a double entendre, also referring to his love of Jazz- “swing” being the most popular form of the music in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Stuart Davis loved Jazz. As I wrote not all that long ago upon accidentally discovering where he lived for 20 years in Greenwich Village, it was, coincidentally or not, around the corner from some of the greatest jazz clubs in the world4.

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The plaque outside Davis’ home of 20 years where he created works that have “come home” to the nearby Whitney.

Looking at his work, it’s clear that he “gets” what it’s like to play Jazz, what goes on in the mind of the musician or singer, and it comes out of his hands, like it does for musicians, too.

Davis In Full Swing. "Swing Landscape," 1937

In Full Swing. “Swing Landscape,” 1938, over 14 feet long, the largest work here, originally intended for a Brooklyn Apartment Building.

Walking around, I spent quite a bit of time trying to associate Davis’ work with specific Jazz Artists. While I found there were many who came to mind for specific works, I came to feel that Davis’ work was ahead of it’s time, musically, as well as visually/Artistically. His shapes seem to anticipate the angular developments of Musicians like Thelonious Monk and Andrew Hill. Standing in front of a work like “Swing Landscape,” 1938, an endlessly fascinating blend of nautical visual motifs in a riot of color, the feeling is like listening to a great Big Band. Take Duke Ellington’s or Count Basie’s classic Big Bands that were chock full of unique soloists. each one with a recognizable solo voice. When Lester Young soloed on Tenor Sax for Basie, there was no doubt who was playing. Same for Johnny Hodges, “Tricky” Sam Nanton, Ben Webster, or Bubber Miley with Duke, not to mention Duke and the Count, themselves. Looking at “Swing Landscape,” is like hearing a big band to me, a band comprised of unique voices (colors on shapes), each playing their own part, but still a part of the whole. There is an overriding feeling of joy, and life. But, there were other works that looked to me more like the music of non-swing Masters Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and even early Ornette Coleman. Though I mixed them in, and many others, I found myself repeatedly returning to Duke Ellington, one of the greatest composers of the century, in any style of music, who also continually pushed and evolved his style, taking the Big Band to many other places musically, like Davis did with Cubism, as the soundtrack for my visits.

Stuart Davis with Duke Ellington, 1943, from the show's catalog.

Let’s talk about Jazz. Stuart Davis with Duke Ellington at a Davis show, 1943, from this show’s catalog.

Also like a Jazz Artist, Davis returned again and again to earlier compositions and “riffed” on them, as Patricia Hills said 5. Davis re-interpreted his earlier compositions the way Jazz Artists reinterpret standards- using his original theme as a jumping off point to create something entirely new.

Progress in the Process. All 3 of these works are based on the center work from 192_. Left, 195_ and 19__, right

Riffin’ on a Theme. All 3 of these works are based on “Landscape, Goucester,” center, as follows.

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“Landscape, Goucester,” 1922…

"Colonial Cubism," 1954

Became this- “Colonial Cubism,” 1954

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And then, this- “Memo, #2,” 1956

In terms of Jazz in Art, I can’t think of another Artist who has a similar effect on me. Other Artists listened to Jazz, during the same time and later, but Stuart Davis’ work looks like Jazz to me. I get that feeling from isolated works by other Artists, especially that of Romare Bearden, who Davis told to visualize the relationships between jazz and art in 1940, though his works are primarily collages, not paintings, but Davis’s whole body of work, with rare exception, gives me that feeling6.

Blue Note. "The Woodshed," 1969, collage by Romare Bearden. The "Woodshed," or "Shed" is where musicians hone their craft.

Blue Note. “The Woodshed,” 1969, collage by Romare Bearden, at The Met Breuer.. The “Woodshed,” or “Shed” is where musicians hone their craft.

Yet, there’s more going on here than Jazz.

Revolutionizing the still life. “Super Table,” 1924. For me, the earliest masterpiece in this show.

We watch Davis breaking through and coming into his own in works like “Super Table,” 1924, and the “Egg Beater” series of 1927-28, which were revolutionary takes on the Cubist “still life,” that proved to be the jumping off points for all his future work that would see him develop his own approach to Cubism, becoming one of the very few outside of the inventors of the style to do so. While he built upon the influences of others, he was very influenced by place and environment as well. His 1928 trip to Paris crops up again and again in his later work. His summers along the water in Gloucester, Mass supplied a life long reservoir of nautical imagery, as did, NYC, while Jazz provided inspiration. Products appear in Davis’ work, possibly evolving out of the still life works of the Cubists, but quickly becoming his own. He then takes words, first seen in ads and on products, and uses them in new ways, sometimes referencing the “hip” jargon of the time, sometimes cryptically, that only he really understands.

"Odol," 1924, a bottle of mouthwash, presaging Warhol by 35 years.

“Odol,” 1924, a bottle of mouthwash, presaging Warhol by 35 years.

A walk through the show reveals that Pop Art, and a number of it’s leading lights were creating work that featured elements Stuart Davis began using way back in the 1920’s. In fact, after seeing it, you may never look at Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns or James Rosenquist quite the same again. Beyond his use of products, his use of words is something that many Artists since Davis, right up to Ed Ruscha, Jenny Holzer and Wayne White, have continued, some basing their entire Artistic output on them. While his influence is huge, it’s also interesting to me how different his work is from the work of the other Abstract Artists of his time, especially the Abstract Expressionists, who were then working right around him every day in NYC and it’s suburbs. Philip Guston speaks of knowing him 7. What about Jackson Pollock, (who was born, lived and work, then died during the time Davis was alive)? Did Davis know him? It would seem to me they must have met, especially since they both worked for the WPA (Works Progress Administration). It’s hard to imagine two more different Abstract Artists.

The end. "Fin," 1962-64, as it was left on his easel when he died.

The end. “Fin,” 1962-64, as it was left on his easel when he died. The yellow-ish lines are masking tape Davis used as guides.

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“Arboretum by Flashbulb,” 1942

It must also be mentioned that Mrs. Gertrude V. Whitney was a substantial, and early, supporter of Davis, in a number of ways, both financially (buying his Art and advancing him funds) and through the Whitney Studio Club, the precursor of the Whitney Museum, where he got his “big break,” 8 with a 2 week retrospective exhibit in December, 1926. 90 years later, Davis returns to the latest incarnation of the Whitney Museum, a few minutes walk from where he once lived, something of a “champion” of American 20th Century Art, himself. His influence is ongoing. His achievement is still being considered. Yet? All in Stuart Davis’ Legacy is not painted in the bright colors he used so masterfully in his work.

"Little Giant Still Life," 1950, a box of "Champion" matches

“Little Giant Still Life,” 1950, a box of “Champion” matches.

While the joy, beauty and insights this show provides will stay with me for a very long time, it’s impossible not to also be reminded of the fact that 90 works by Stuart Davis were discovered to have been “looted” 9 from the Artist’s Estate by Laurence Salander of Salander-O’Reilly Gallery, the long time dealer for Stuart Davis’ Estate, in 2007. The court ruled that Salander owes Earl Davis and the Estate $114.9 million dollars, but being as Salander is behind bars on Riker’s Island no one knows if and when any of that money will be repaid. As bad as that is, perhaps even more tragically, to this day, I’m not sure that all of Davis’ works have been accounted for. The case led to the creation of new laws pertaining to Artist/Gallery dealings. That is the saddest part of what is otherwise the great and ongoing influence that is the legacy of Stuart Davis, one of America’s greatest, and most influential, Artists.

Even his beautiful signature, boldly featured in many of his works, has the peaks and valleys, the ebbs and flow, of a Jazz solo.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” by Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, the title of which appears on Davis’ painting “Tropes de Teens,” 1956.

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  1. I’m not wagering “anything” on this, so if you find one that doesn’t have a Stuart Davis, write me and let me know and I’ll send this Post to them to hopefully influence their future purchases!
  2. Stuart Davis “Autobiography” in “Stuart Davis” edited by Diane Kelder, P.26
  3. Davis, 21, was the youngest artist to be included in the legendary Armory Show of 1913, the first modern art show in America, which marked the arrival of Cubism in New York.
  4. His parents had lived in the Hotel Chelsea, 11 blocks north.
  5. “Stuart Davis,” by Patricia Hills, P. 19
  6. I am only talking about Artists who were/are Painters first, so I am leaving out Musician/Artists like Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Tony Bennett, Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, et al..
  7. Guston “Collected Writings” P.40
  8. according to Patricia Hills “Stuart Davis” P.73
  9. Artnews April 18, 2014

Oh My God! A NEW Tribe Called Quest Album Is Coming

“One for the treble
Two for the bass
You know the style Tip
It’s time to flip this”

Again!

This, today, from Q-Tip via facebook-

Q-Tip via facebook

Q-Tip via facebook. Click to enlarge

Way back in 1998, when Old School was New School, Quest dropped their last album, “The Love Movement.” I don’t think anyone, except Quest themselves, saw this coming, especially given the tragic passing of Phife Dawg earlier this year.

Tribe has never gotten old. Masters of melding influences from all over the map, especially jazz with hip-hop, they created tracks that are still unique, fresh and a model for all that’s come after. Add Tip and Phife on top of all that…”Abstract Poetry” was born.

My world has never been the same since.

What’ll this new record sound like? We’ll know soon. Q-Tip, who’s last solo album, 2008’s “The Renaissance,” is essential, says that Busta Rhymes, who Tribe helped make famous on 1992’s “Scenario,” (and who makes an appearance below), and Q-Tip’s cousin Consequence will be on board.

Whatever happens on November 8? The world has something very special to look forward to on November 11 !

With the way things have been going? What could be a better way to flush out our ears than by listening to a brand new Tribe Called Quest album? I think we’ll need it then more than ever.

All I can say is Oh…My…God. YES!

*-Soundtrack for this Post is, of course, “Oh My God,” by A Tribe Called Quest from their classic album “Midnight Marauders.”

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Met’s Costume Institute 2017 Exhibition To Focus On Rei Kawakubo

The suspense is over. The Met announced it’s 2017 Fashion Show today, and chose the legendary founder/designer of Comme des Garcons. I’m stunned. It’s only the 2nd time The Met has ever given a living designer a solo show, the first since Yves Saint Laurent in 1983! My hat is off to Magda, who suggested this was going to happen last month. I said I doubted it because living designers don’t get solo shows at The Met. Well? Andrew Bolton is showing he’s his own man (with the approval and backing of Ann Wintour and Thomas Campbell & The Met). More soon. For some perspective on the recent past, my piece on The Met’s 2015 Show, “China: Through The Looking Glass” is here, and this year’s, “Manus X Machina” is here. In the meantime, here’s The Met’s Press Release-

Costume Institute’s Spring 2017 Exhibition at The Met to Focus on Rei Kawakubo and the Art of the In-Between

Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons

Costume Institute Benefit on May 1 with Co-Chairs
Katy Perry, Pharrell Williams, and Anna Wintour;
and Honorary Chair Rei Kawakubo

Exhibition Dates:  May 4–September 4, 2017
Member Previews:
May 2–May 3, 2017
Exhibition Location:   The Met Fifth Avenue
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall, Floor 2
Press Preview: Monday, May 1, 10 am–1 pm

(New York, October 21, 2016)—The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced today that The Costume Institute’s spring 2017 exhibition will be Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons, on view from May 4 through September 4, 2017 (preceded on May 1 by The Costume Institute Benefit). Presented in the Museum’s Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall on the second floor, the exhibition will examine Kawakubo’s fascination with interstitiality, or the space between boundaries. Existing within and between entities—self/other, object/subject, fashion/anti-fashion—Kawakubo’s work challenges conventional notions of beauty, good taste, and, ultimately, fashionability. Not a traditional retrospective, the thematic exhibition will be The Costume Institute’s first monographic show on a living designer since the Yves Saint Laurent exhibition in 1983.

“In blurring the art/fashion divide, Kawakubo asks us to think differently about clothing,” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of The Met. “Curator Andrew Bolton will explore work that often looks like sculpture in an exhibition that will challenge our ideas about fashion’s role in contemporary culture.”

In celebration of the opening, The Met’s Costume Institute Benefit, also known as The Met Gala, will take place on Monday, May 1, 2017. The evening’s co-chairs will be Katy Perry, Pharrell Williams, and Anna Wintour. Rei Kawakubo will serve as Honorary Chair. The event is The Costume Institute’s main source of annual funding for exhibitions, publications, acquisitions, and capital improvements.

“Rei Kawakubo is one of the most important and influential designers of the past 40 years,” said Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute. “By inviting us to rethink fashion as a site of constant creation, recreation, and hybridity, she has defined the aesthetics of our time.”

Rei Kawakubo said, “I have always pursued a new way of thinking about design…by denying established values, conventions, and what is generally accepted as the norm. And the modes of expression that have always been most important to me are fusion…imbalance… unfinished… elimination…and absence of intent.”

Exhibition Overview
The exhibition will feature approximately 120 examples of Kawakubo’s womenswear designs for Comme des Garçons, dating from her first Paris runway show in 1981 to her most recent collection. Organized thematically rather than chronologically, the examples will examine Kawakubo’s revolutionary experiments in interstitiality or “in-betweenness”—the space between boundaries. By situating her designs within and between dualities such as East/West, male/female, and past/present, Kawakubo not only challenges the rigidity and artificiality of such binaries, but also resolves and dissolves them. To reflect this, mannequins will be arranged at eye level with no physical barriers, thereby dissolving the usual distance between objects on display and museum visitors.

Exhibition Credits
The exhibition will be curated by Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute, who will collaborate on the exhibition design with Rei Kawakubo. Nathan Crowley will serve as exhibition production designer for the fifth time, working in collaboration with The Met’s Design Department. Raul Avila will produce the gala décor, which he has done since 2007.

Special thanks to Apple, Condé Nast, Farfetch, H&M, and Maison Valentino for their support of the exhibition and benefit.

Related Content
A publication, authored by Andrew Bolton and designed by Fabien Baron, will accompany the exhibition. It will be published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press.

A special feature on the Museum’s website, www.metmuseum.org/ReiKawakubo, provides information about the exhibition. Follow us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter to join the conversation about the exhibition and gala. Use #MetKawakubo, #CostumeInstitute, and #MetGala on Instagram and Twitter.

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NoteWorthy Shows-October, 2016

As a counterpoint to my longer pieces on big shows, here’s something else-  shorter looks at some especially Noteworthy Shows that I’m not going to have the time to do the full pieces on that they each deserve, but that I want to bring to your attention.

Post-Labor Day has seen things quiet down on the NYC Museum show scene, after an insanely busy summer. The action has turned to the galleries. Here are some shows I saw recently that I was especially impressed with, in no particular order-

Ethan Murrow: Water Almanac” @Winston Wachter. A show of very large drawings(!) about the folly of man trying to control nature, many featuring water, shown in a space that was partially submerged almost 3 years ago after Hurricane Sandy, destroying some of Mr. Murrow’s work. When I pointed out the irony of it to him, he responded, “At least they weren’t people,” he said referring to his lost work. When I asked him why he draws instead of paints he spoke of the minimal amount of materials necessary. His work has wonderful elements of the Surrealism of Max Ernst and Bruce Conner that he makes seem everyday real world.

"Deluge Estimator," 2016, graphite on paper

Ready for the next Sandy? Hmmm… “Deluge Estimator,” 2016, graphite on paper

Ethan Murrow (in orange shirt) at his opening.

Ethan Murrow (just to the left in orange shirt) at his opening.”Hail Cannon Rainmaker,” 2016, graphite on paper, 60 x 48 inches, right.

"To Redirect the Tempest," 2016, graphite on paper

“To Redirect the Tempest,” 2016, graphite on paper, 52 x 72 inches

Meleko Mokgosi: Democratic Intuition” @ Jack Shainman Gallery. I’d write something about this, if I could ever finish looking at it and thinking about it.

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“Democratic Intuition- Comrades II,” a very large work

And seen at the show's 2nd location.

And as seen at the show’s 2nd location.

Sol LeWitt” at 3 Paul Cooper Gallery Locations, Pace Prints, and The Met. Yes, no less than 5 simultaneous shows featuring Lewitt’s drawings, scultpture, photography, collages, prints and, suddenly ubiquitous wall drawings (not to mention the permanent one on view in the NYC Subway at 57th Street & Columbus Circle!).

"Complex Form #65," 1989, painted wood, 59 x 38 x 40 inches, in front of "Wall Drawing #368" @ Paula Cooper.

“Complex Form #65,” 1989, painted wood, 59 x 38 x 40 inches, in front of “Wall Drawing #368” @ Paula Cooper.

Detail

Detail

"Wall Drawing #370" as seen at The Met

“Wall Drawing #370” as seen at The Met

“Alexi Torres: Sun Light” @ UNIX Gallery. No mere photo-realistic interpretations of source photos here. Visions- exquisitely executed.

"Sun Light-Ernesto," 2016, oil on canvas

“Sun Light-Ernesto,” 2016, oil on canvas, 72 x 68 inches

"Sun Light-Miguel," 2016, 84 x 80 inches, oil on canvas

“Sun Light-Miguel,” 2016, , oil on canvas, 84 x 80 inches

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Detail

Miguel- Source Photo

Miguel- Source Photo

Robert Currie in “Mind Storm” @ Bryce Wolkowitz. A name new to me. As close as I can gather, Robert Currie applies paint to monofilament thread in rows, which can be seen from the side, or in their reflections, below the works. The image can only really be seen from directly in front. Somehow, they still manage to evoke the sense of the place as well as the sense of a bygone era.

Installation View

Installation View

"17,820cm of nylon monofilament and acrylic," 2016. That's 590 feet.

Entitled- “17,820cm of nylon monofilament and acrylic,” 2016. That’s 590 feet of it in a work that’s 12 x 16 x 5 inches.

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Side view

Fahamu Pecou: #BlackMatterLives” @Lyons Wier Gallery. Prolific and multi-talented, this could be a breakthrough show for him. Powerful. Gorgeous rawness. Present tense.

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“Even In Darkness,” 2016, acrylic, spray paint, gold leaf on canvas, 60 x 48 inches

"Ultimate Yello Brick," drawing

“Ultimate Yello Brick,” 2016, graphite and iridescent ink on paper

And- “diane arbus: in the beginning” @ The Met Breuer. Memorable as much for the show’s content as for it’s innovative display, Ms. Arbus’ beginnings show the Artist’s eye fully formed. Each of the 100 plus images on view is given it’s own wall- a side of a “mini-pillar” that allows the viewer to move through the show any which way they want to. Ingenious and ground-breaking, it’s more a case of The Met showing off it’s construction capabilities and resources more than “why didn’t anyone else think of this before?”

There is no "recommended" way to see this show.

There is no “recommended” way to see this show.

Especially noteworthy for me was a photo of my late friend, the legendary Storme de Laverie, titled “Miss Storme de Laverie,The Lady Who Appears to be a Gentleman, NYC,” 1961. I knew Storme during the final decade of her life, and she had told me that Diane Arbus had photographed her, though I had not previously seen it. I took it with a grain of salt, given to tall tales as she was on occasion (will we ever know if she really was the “cause of,” or started, the Stonewall Uprising, nee “Riot”, which I heard her claim she was?). But, there she is, sitting elegantly on a park bench in 1961, immortalized for all time, in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and on view as part of this very good show at The Met Breuer. Diane Arbus had one of the greatest eyes in photography. R.I.P., Storme.

Storme, in full effect in 1961. 45 years before I would meet her.

Storme, in full effect in 1961. 45 years before I would meet her.

Some of these shows are still up, some have just closed. And somewhere the singer is saying…

“’cause no one knows about a good thing
Until a good thing is gone.”

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “No One Knows About A Good Thing” by Curtis Mayfield and Daryl Simmons, from Mayfield’s album “New World Order,” and published by Warner- Tamerlane Publishing Corp.

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Does Humor Belong In Art? Ask Wayne White

In 1986 the great Frank Zappa released an album who’s title asked “Does Humour Belong In Music?” The same year Wayne White was working as set designer, puppet creator & operator on the ground breaking, now classic, avant-garde TV show, “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse,” for which he won 3 Emmy Awards. Not content with that, 1986 also saw him win a Billboard Magazine award for best Art Direction for Peter Gabriel’s music video “Big Time.” He followed that up with an MTV Music Video Award for designing the Smashing Pumpkins video “Tonight, Tonight” in 1996. Oh, and then there was this. Note the sailboat painting-

21 years later I caught up with what he’s doing now over at his show, “I”m Having A Dialogue With The Universe And You’re Just Sitting There,” at the Joshua Liner Gallery, in the shadow of the new Zaha Hadid Building still going up on West 28th street. (They’ve added her name in very large letters at the very top, looking not unlike one of Wayne White’s “Word Paintings,” though it’s temporary…I assume.) As for Wayne White, he’s moved on from Pee-Wee to this-

3 Works in Wayne's custom hand holders.

Wayne White’s “set-like” installation for 3 of his “Word Paintings.”

The endless sailboat is now the endless covered wagon above on the left, below, and is joined by a series of Wayne’s “Word Paintings,” which consists of words and phrases he paints on top of old lithographs he finds in thrift stores, and one sculpture.

"I'm Having A Dialogue With the Universe And You're Just Sitting There," 2016

“I’M HAVING A DIALOGUE WITH THE UNIVERSE AND YOU’RE JUST SITTING THERE,” 2016

It turns out that all the while (actually, most of his life) Wayne White has been drawing incessantly, as can be seen in the 400 page monograph edited by designer Todd Oldham entitled, “Wayne White: Maybe Now I’ll Get The Respect I So Richly Deserve.” But even this only covers some of his creative work. Yet, he is clear on what he wants to accomplish.

“My mission is to bring humor into fine Art. I’m not talking about coy art world funny. I’m talking about real world, Richard Pryor funny. Humor is our most sacred quality. Without it, we are dead,” he says.

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“HAD IT GOIN ON BUT LOST IT THEN GOT IT BACK THEN FUCKED UP AND LOST IT,” 2016

"DEMAGOGUE," 2016

“DEMAGOGUE,” 2016

Is this Art? Hmmmm….Time will tell. There is a history of “word art” in museums, from Stuart Davis through Jasper Johns, Warhol, Ed Ruscha, Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger.

Ed Ruscha's "OOF," 1962, at Moma, one of the most beloved works in Western Art at the NighthawkNYC Offices (It's an inside joke.)

Ed Ruscha’s “OOF,” 1962, at Moma, a favorite here at the NighthawkNYC Offices.

There is the whole question about the ethics of taking someone else’s art and painting over it, though Mr. White only paints on lithographs, not paintings, so he’s not defacing a one of a kind, like Hans-Peter Feldman, who happened to have a show right around the corner, does. There is recent precedent for this in Ai Weiwei’s “Coca-Cola” painted on an antique Chinese Urn, among others, but I am not an intellectual property lawyer.

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I find it ironic that he did the Art Direction for Gabriel’s Big Time…

whose lyrics now seem prophetic-

“The place where I come from is a small town
They think so small, they use small words
But not me, I’m smarter than that,
I worked it out
I’ll be stretching my mouth to let those big words come right out”*

Born and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, his life changed when he discovered the underground comics of Art Spiegelman and R. Crumb. He hunted down Spiegelman and took his cartooning class at the School of Visual Arts. After graduating, Pee-Wee, and the music videos, a studio accident led to his putting words on found art, and his “Word Paintings” were born. Over a decade later, they are becoming iconic- most of those on view are sold, some for as much as $25,000.00. But, they are only one side of the man’s talent. I yearn to see a more complete showing of his range- his more abstract Word Paintings, as well as his other paintings which are not based on found lithographs, his sculpture, his puppets, and on and on. The breath of his talent is both mind-bending and mind-opening.

Mr. White is, also, quite a self-promoter, which he accomplishes with both southern charm and his trusty banjo in hand. There is no better sample of, or introduction to him, than this-

And? If you want to see more of him, there’s a new documentary on him called “Beauty Is Embarrassing,” that was a hit at the festivals and is now out on DVD.

Also of note is the installation- a set design, itself. Along with the “art holders,” White has collaborated with a Brooklyn company to create his own “Waynetopia” wall paper, which in installed in the back half of the show. You can buy it for 11.00 the square foot.

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The rear half of the show features White’s “Waynetopia” wallpaper, available at $11. the sq foot, and a windmill word sculpture.

Side view of one of White's Art Holders.

Side view of one of White’s Art Holders. LOVE the painted faux shadow lines on the wall..

High above the show are his initials, as he signs his patintgs.

High above the show are his initials, as he signs his paintings.

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Oh! And lest I forget- If you don’t have a spare $20,000. laying around for a painting, you can always head over to the wonderful Fishs Eddy who have collaborated with him on a collection of serving trays. Yes, serving trays. At popular prices. I guess with a couple of hooks you could hang one on your wall, and take a trip around the world with the savings. (I’ve got my eye on the “Luv Hurtz” tray myself, though “Beauty Is Embarassin’!” is a close second.)

Wayne White Serving Trays in collaboration with Fishs Eddy, NYC

Wayne White Serving Trays in collaboration with Fishs Eddy, NYC, seen in their Broadway store.

While I prefer his edgier work (surprise, surprise), Wayne White is so prolific, he’s like the weather in Miami- If you don’t like it now, wait 15 minutes- it’ll change. Meaning, he’s almost certainly got something in his oeuvre to wow you. He has begun to get shows where he’s been able to bring all of his talents to bear, (like “BIG LICK BOOM,” an installation at the Taubman Museum,Roanoke,VA. in 2012). He is yet another of the generation of Artists who have come up influenced as much by  R. Crumb’s “Zap” and Art Spiegelman’s “Raw” as by Raphael. Yet, I’ll give him this- Wayne White is, perhaps, funnier than Speigelman or Crumb (though both, assuredly, have many moments of their own, I don’t think humor is their primary goal.) Time will tell what Wayne White’s ultimate “goal” is. For now, he’s building a following and breaking barriers. It will be interesting to see where he takes things.

"THOSE GUYS ARE PUSSIES, 2016. I can see this hanging on some exec's wall.

“THOSE GUYS ARE PUSSIES, 2016. I can see this hanging on some exec’s wall.

WE WERE IN AWE OF HIS WORK BUT HE WAS A GIANT ASSHOLE, 2016

WE WERE IN AWE OF HIS WORK BUT HE WAS A GIANT ASSHOLE, 2016

As I left Joshua Liner, I came away thinking that it’s not often an Artist goes to such lengths to install a show, especially one that is only up for exactly one month. The work designing and creating this installation must have taken much much longer. As much as the work on display, I was impressed by what that says. It really was like walking around in a “Wayne White World.” It’s unique, wonderfully well thought out, and, ummmm, what’s that word I’m looking for? Oh yeah….FUN!

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Big Time” by Peter Gabriel, from “So,” and published by Sony/ATV Music Publishing, LLC.

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

Clearing Up My Glaucoma…And, A Major Mystery In Art History

1. The Treatment

“I’ve been through worse.”

That’s the Mantra. I learned that after surviving cancer, and cancer treatment, nine years ago. “If I can get through that? I can get through this.”

Whatever “this” is.

It works! At least? So far. After all, what could be worse than cancer? That’s what I tell myself.

Blindness is up there. I have anatomical glaucoma. In both eyes. So, the risk is I could become partially blind at any time in either, or both eyes. On my second opinion, I find a doctor who says with 2 laser treatments he can give me a 100% chance of fixing it permanently.

Those are my kind of odds.

Today is Round 1. I got up insanely early for the Nighthawk. 10:30am. Uggh. As hard as that was for me, my friend had a harder road. In fact, 3 hours of one, on the bus down from Upstate New York to come with me. She was more worried that I’d oversleep than anything else, she said. We walked over to a “leading New York Hospital” on a glorious September Monday to experience one of the great joys of modern medicine- the registration line ALL patients must wait in. No matter what, no matter I had been there twice in the past few weeks, and no matter neither my health insurance nor living address change that often. The line was half as long as last time, but twice as slow moving. A guard came over and asked for my info. ? Since when? He relented, but the ex-military guy behind me in line got a bit set off when he tried it on him, which led to him feeling one of the counter clerks didn’t want to serve him. He requested a supervisor, and the clerk’s name to file a complaint. Good luck with that. The supervisor listened to him complain that said counter woman “picked up and put down the same paper repeatedly so as not to serve him.” I found this a bit odd, since I was in front of him in the line, and I was still waiting.

I fnally got to see a clerk, who wound up giving me all the paperwork, including her copy. ? Ok…Onwards to treatment, glad to be done with this chaos.

Upstairs, in glaucoma, the woman behind the desk never even looks up from her phone call to acknowledge me. She was making her case to someone about something that had happened at work. I put my paper on the desktop and made sure my friend was seated. The woman looked up long enough to tell me to take my paperwork, calling me by name. ? How did she know who I was?

We settled into the empty waiting room. After a bit, she pulled out an Art History book, and we started looking through it, and discussing it. Unawares, little by little, the room filled up around us, and we became surrounded by a range of mostly older people of all races and languages. A number of them appeared to be suffering from various mental issues, some so incapacitated they had assistants to speak for them, in addition to whatever eyesight issues brought them to the glaucoma department. Yet, there we were, lost in making comments back and forth about Ingres, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Hopper (who’s “Nighthawks” was on the cover. Good choice! Wink), and her favorite Artist, Chagall.

About 45 minutes later, (45 minutes past my scheduled appointment), I was seen by a technician. He checked my vision, then I came back out and we continued looking at Art. An older gentleman came in with a walker, sat down and proceeded to sing in full voice. This elicited looks from the staff, but nothing more. No one said anything. I turned to my friend and said, “Welcome to New York.” Luckily, he was quickly called, and a semblance of silence resumed. A young man walked in with a large pizza and a soda. “He’s a doctor,” my friend said. Yup. He was. A man walked back and forth behind the counter, from time to time, saying nothing nothing to anyone, and accomplishing…? The woman behind the front desk put on a mask. Her boss came over and asked her “Why?” She muttered something then kept it on throughout. A woman sitting next to my friend began to snore. Somehow, she managed to hear the soft announcement calling her name.

We continued looking at Art. Kandinsky, Monet, more Ingres, more Leonardo- the Mona Lisa looking wayyyyy better than you’d ever see it in person, and a few contemporary Artists I don’t know, capped off with Mark Rothko (the Rothko Chapel, important, but not representative as his only work shown) and Bridget Riley. There was also the Laocoon & his sons, in a full page photo. All of a sudden I had one of those Sherlock Holmes-“Wait a minute!” moments. “Oh My God. LOOK AT THAT! It’s a Michelangelo!,” I thought to myself when I saw it.

"Laocoon" from "When Art Really Works," published by Barron's

The photo in question from “When Art Really Works,” published by Barron’s.

“Hello? Can we put the glaucoma treatment on hold? I may have discovered a Michelangelo, right here in the waiting room!,” I said in thought. We paused and I said (out loud) to my friend that the Laocoon was a huge sensation when it was discovered, instantly recognized as a lost supreme ancient masterpiece, and that there was a theory that Michelangelo had secretly created it.

Hmmmm…

At that moment, I was called to have drops put in before the procedure. 30 minutes later, at 2pm, I was called back for the treatment. 2 doctors surrounded a machine with arms, scopes and all kinds of things sticking every which way. I carefully wiggled onto the odd stool I was to sit on, which required a bit of contorting, hoping I could hold my head steady sitting on it. After all, I didn’t want them to miss with the laser! A nurse was present to make sure I was who they thought I was. She asked questions only I would know, I guess- “Why are your Posts so long?” “Why do you stay up so late?” Ummm….Doctor 1 drew a dark mark on my head over my left eye in the dark room. “Chin up. Lean forward. Look at the yellow light.” Inside the machine I was bombarded by bright flashing red and green lights, a slight squeezing sensation and then it was over. “Perfect,” Doctor 1 said when I asked him how it went.

Phew. Exhale. I have been through worse. Score another one for the Mantra!

Back out to wait to get a blood pressure reading. “Am I bleeding,” I asked my friend. “No,” she said. I was bloodshot, and a bit sore. Things were very fuzzy out of that eye, like I was looking through an extremely smudged eyeglass. I saw the Doc again, scheduled the right eye, and we left, arm in arm because while I could see, I didn’t know how well yet. I felt ok, but quickly found that you can’t keep one eye closed very long. I immediately put my shades on. Lord, it was bright outside. Don’t they do these at night?

Later, maybe in the throes of the steroids I’d be on for a week, or the rush from having gotten through it, I was struck by how amazing the experience was. Not medically. Interpersonally. I’ve never had someone who shared my love of Art like this in my life. That’s part of the reason I have this Blog. I need to share it with someone. Later, while she was back on the long road home, I told her it was very special to me that we were sitting there together reading about Art, no matter what was going on around us.

She said that the other people there probably thought WE were the crazy ones.

Art is in the beholding.

2. The Fog Lifts

I had a cloudiness, then a darkness in my left eye that lasted all afternoon and evening. All day I’d been haunted by the picture in her book of the Laocoon Sculpture. An iconic work of early Ancient Art, dated at about 20 BCE, that had disappeared until it was rediscovered in 1506, it looked amazing for 2 thousand odd years old. The ancient historian, Pliny the Elder, had written about it, in his Natural History in 79AD. He said

“Such is the case with the Laocoon, for example, in the palace of the Emperor Titus, a work that may be looked upon as preferable to any other production of the art of painting or of statuary. It is sculptured from a single block, both the main figure as well as the children, and the serpents with their marvelous folds. This group was made in concert by three most eminent artists, Agesander, Polydorus, and Athenodorus, natives of Rhodes.”

With such a buildup, it’s no wonder it’s discovery was a sensation- among the public and among Artists. It was immediately acquired by Pope Julius, and it holds a place of honor in the Vatican to this day. That much is known. But? What about this theory I’d heard about it? Finally, around midnight I could see enough to read my computer screen. The first thing I did was look up this-

“Michelangelo Laocoon”

I came across two pieces in the NY Times within days of each other in 2005 (here, and here). The pieces talked about a Columbia University Lecturer, Dr. Lynn Catterson, and her theory that Michelangelo had created the Laocoon. i.e. Michelangelo had created a forgery of the Laocoon in Pliny and hid it so it could be “re-discovered” at long last- “All too conveniently,” as Dr. Catterson put it.

2005? Hmmm…Eleven years ago. Nothing since. That’s strange. No mountain of outraged PhD’s spewing vitriol at her and her claims? Now, I was VERY interested. My gut radar went off as it rarely does this morning. But, let’s get real- this is one of the most sensational claims there could be in Art. If true, it would rewrite Art History for BOTH the Modern AND Ancient worlds! Not to mention Michelangelo’s.

Then again, as Michelangelo specialist, author and educator, Professor William Wallace says in one Times piece, works supposedly by Michelangelo have appeared often- seventeen from 1996-2005. Even I have seen these claims in the past, and frankly, after checking a few of them out, you become numb to them. In fact, right now, at The Met there is a small sculpture on display- of Cupid (which they now call “Young Archer” on their website), on extended loan, that no less than The Met’s experts, who I hold in highest esteem, say is by Michelangelo! Not “Attributed to.” Not “Michelangelo and assistant.” It says, “Michelangelo” on the card, below, and on the web page. IF it is an original Michelangelo? It is the ONLY Michelangelo sculpture in the Western Hemisphere. Pretty big deal. But? Other experts disagree about it. Is THIS the forgery of a Cupid Michelangelo is known to have made? Now that it’s called “Young Archer” on their website does that mean the well-known Cupid forgery is ANOTHER work? Also, nothing is mentioned about WHY they think it’s a Michelangelo. After spending a good deal of time looking at it from every angle. I remain to be convinced it is a Michelangelo. Then again? Part of a forger’s work is to adopt another identity.

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Michelangelo, “Cupid” & it’s card at The Met. Their website calls it “Young Archer.”

Though I remain unconvinced by the Cupid at The Met, I was more convinced by their “Michelangelo’s First Painting” show, in 2009, of a restored painting titled “The Torment of St. Anthony,” which was based on a print by the great Martin Schongauer. I drank their cool-aid, and I bought what they were selling about it. Interestingly, The Met didn’t buy this work, themselves, when they had the chance to! I’d love to know why not. It was bought by the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, who The Met restored it for. Very peculiar. Michelangelo changed Schongauer’s original, adding his own touches and putting his own mark on the work, which he created in color(!), compared to the black and white original print, they hung next to the painting. While he didn’t create this work as a forgery (as far as I know), Michelangelo has a history of creating forgeries and was caught making at least one. The risks were great. Yet, according to Dr. Catterson, he continued making them, even creating the Laocoon right along side the immortal Pieta also now in the Vatican.

Reading her full piece, Dr. Catterson makes a strong case. I urge you to check it out. Here are some highlights-
-The found Laocoon wasn’t in one block as Pliny said, but 7 connected pieces of marble, making transporting it to the site feasible
-Michelangelo had the money, marble, space and time to create it before it was “found.”
-It’s miraculously superb condition(! ?)(Walk around The Met and check out the condition of sculpture from that period, BCE. Oh, and count how many still have a whole nose!)
-The “rediscovery” of the Laocoon was, seemingly, “made to order”. Consider-
-No less than Michelangelo, himself, was called to be there when it was discovered.
-Michelangelo had only recently arrived back in the area.
-Michelangelo also worked on it after it was discovered
-There is a drawing by Michelangelo that matches up uncannily well with the rear of the sculpture when superimposed on it’s photo
-Michelangelo destroyed an unknown number of his drawings before his death. Why, if they didn’t reveal what works he forged?
-Michelangelo wrote a letter in which he speaks of the Pope killing him if he discovered something. What? Aside from the construction of the Pope’s tomb, the only other interaction they had at the time was the Pope recently acquiring the Laocoon.

That’s the shortlist.

“Last night I dreamed about you
I dreamed that you were older
You were looking like Picasso
With a scar across your shoulder
You were kneeling by the river
You were digging up the bodies
Buried long ago
Michelangelo”*

My question is “WHY?” Actually it’s a 2 part question-

-Why did he make these fakes, and then keep making them? And,
-WHY didn’t he ever come clean and take credit for them, especially the Laocoon, which instantly became iconic? Here is an Artist who, according to Vasari, snuck into the Vatican overnight to carve his name on the sash of the Pieta so everyone would know who created it! (Though, he regretted doing that, and swore to never sign a work, again. He didn’t.) To create a work that is, along with the Pieta, one of the greatest sculptures we have, at about the same time, and NEVER take ANY credit for it at all, even on his death bed? On the flipside, making, then hiding, something like this would seem to be extremely hard to keep secret. Someone else must have known. And yet, there is not a peep of this anywhere, until Dr. Catterson’s theory. Michelangelo was the first Artist to have a biography written during his lifetime (actually, 2). Why didn’t anyone, especially his enemies and rivals, “out” him? This puzzles me.

I await hearing what someone/anyone else has to say to negate, or substantiate her claims. Professor William Wallace, countering the initial outrage Dr. Catterson’s theory received, said– “…the intriguing thing is that nobody who studies classical art in a way wants the ‘Laocoon.’ They find it kind of a Hellenistic embarrassment, maybe because it really doesn’t look like anything else comparable in the history of classical art.” Why? As Dr. Catterson points out, Michelangelo used contemporary models, including Filippino Lippi, not ancient ones, when he created this.

As much as I love sculpture, I’ve never really paid much attention to the Laocoon. Why? I hate snakes! So, this is a pretty nightmarish image for me. Funny thing? My friend said the same thing Monday when we saw it! I have been, however, reading quite a bit about Michelangelo these past 5 or 6 years. I’ve read the 2 volume set of his Letters, a number of biographies, including Condivi’s and I’m in the midst of Martin Gayford’s “Michelangelo: His Epic Life” Biography right now. (He doesn’t mention Dr. Catterson’s theory, though his book was published in 2013.) I have some superb books of photos of his sculptures, including the XL Taschen monograph. I look at them frequently. Michelangelo is in my mind, like Leonardo da Vinci was that day in London in 2012 when I saw the “Salvator Mundi/Savior of the World”in the once in a lifetime Leonardo show in London’s National Gallery, after it had recently been credited to Leonardo. Seeing 7 of his other paintings that have been credited to him for much longer, immediately before.1, I came away believing it is a da Vinci, unlike the Shroud of Turin. So, when I suddenly saw the Laocoon Monday afternoon in my friend’s book, I was stopped dead in my tracks…

Michelangelo. I believe Dr. Catterson is right.

“We’ll never have the certitude a scientist gets,” Professor Wallace said, “It can only be tested by the weight of scholarly opinion and time.” And, I humbly suggest- your eye, and your gut.

“That the Laocoon was carved by Michelangelo explains why then, and now, its effect is mesmerizing.” Dr. Catterson’s piece coincidentally ends.

In at least two ways on Monday, the mist cleared, and now I see.

ONward to Round 2!

(For Sv.)
*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Michelangelo,” by Emmylou Harris, published by Universal Music Publishing Group.

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

  1. You can see it exactly where I saw it, described by curator Luke Syson, who’s now at The Met, here.