R.I.P. Master Saxophonist Arthur Blythe

I was very saddened to hear of the death of Arthur Blythe this past week. Mr. Blythe was a Master of the Alto Saxophone, who, after having worked as a bouncer, started making his name (as “Black” Arthur Blythe) on the NYC avant garde loft scene, centered around Sam River’s “Studio RivBea” in the late-1970’s. This led Mr. Blythe to tantalizing first solo records for small and adventurous labels, before finally breaking out in 1980 on Columbia Records.

Arthur Blythe on the cover of his 1991 ENJA album “Hipmotism.”

“Adventurous” is a word I’d use to sum up what attracted me to him, actually. His early masterpieces like “The Grip” and “Metamorphosis,” (both on India Navigation) were never far from my turntable back in the day, bringing a breath of fresh air both in his writing and compositions as well as in his choice of instrumentation (bringing back the tuba, a staple of Jazz’ earliest bands, instead of the bass), as in his singular, searing and singing tone, his instantly recognizable “trademark.”

Adventure Lives! “The Grip” and “Metamorphosis,” both recorded live on the same date have been reissued on this “In Concert” CD.

The back of “Metamorphosis” with some of it’s early reviews. Exhilarating & ground-breaking, I say.

Mr. Blythe retained that adventurousness on his first Columbia records, “Lenox Avenue Breakdown,” and “In the Tradition,” both very good, leading to his masterpiece, “Illusions,” which alternated a classic acoustic Jazz Quartet, featuring John Hicks, with his more adventurous electric group,l which included guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer, cellist Abdul Wadud and Bob Stewart’s tuba, on a record that I don’t think anyone quite saw coming. Coming smack dab in the middle of the fusion/jazz purist war started by Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew,” in 1969-70, here was a record that had a foot in both camps at the same time, which was unheard of. Then, he was increasingly forced by label pressures to “go commercial,” and his subsequent Columbia releases proved more and more disappointing, especially after “Light Blue,” his Thelonious Monk album. Later, Arthur Blythe recorded for ENJA, Contemporary Records, and others, with mixed results. But, live, in concert, or in a club, remained a great place to hear him, and his unique sound, one of the most powerful on the Alto of his generation, a power matched by his inside/outside style, which made him comfortable in any musical setting (like Jack DeJohnette’s “Special Edition” Band), and a presence that struck me as being defined by grace, even though he was a large man.

“Illusions” One of the great Jazz Albums of the 1980’s.

More recently, I’d heard rumors of illnesses, including Parkinson’s, but hoped he’d finally get a chance to be himself and fully realize his unique musical vision. Those chances seemed both rare and elusive. Now? To my mind, he leaves us under-appreciated, which is complicated to change because of the external factors I mention that effect his discography. I hope that future diligent Jazz lovers will explore his records, and keep his legacy alive.
*- Soundtrack for this Post is “My Son Ra” by Arthur Blythe, a staple in his live performances, it appears on both “In Concert,” and “Illusions.”

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R. Crumb Meets His Match

(This is, also, my NoteWorthy Show for January, 2017.)

I’ve been looking at R. Crumb for a very long time. At least 20 years. Of course, his work predates that by a further 35 years, and today I still find all of it compelling. Unfortunately, the chances to see a number of original works by R. Crumb remains all too rare. The chance to see the Artist himself, rarer still. So rare, I never have. I tried in vain to find out if he would be appearing at the opening for the show co-starring his wife of FORTY YEARS (in 2018), Aline Kominsky-Crumb, “Drawn Together,” on January 12, then decided to take a chance and swing by David Zwirner Gallery (most recently the scene of “William Eggleston- The Democratic Forest,” which pretty much turned my entire life upside down, launching my free-fall into a bottomless pit of research into Contemporary Photography. In fact, If I’m not careful, this will become a Photography Blog very soon!) and have a look see, anyway. I’m not one to attend Art Openings unless an Artist I’m interested in is making an appearance.

The Nighthawk At The Opening (Artist’s conception, cause I generally don’t attend them). Adapted from The New Yorker’s March 13, 2017 cover called “Opening Night.” I couldn’t resist. My Apologies to Artist Carter Goodrich, and the great editor Francoise Mouly (a friend of R. & Aline Crumb).

R. Crumb’s work occupies a unique place somewhere between what’s been traditionally the so-called “low-brow” world of comics and “Fine Art,” that’s been hard won. Bursting on the world’s awareness like a supernova in 1967, when he was there are the genesis (sorry) of what would come to be called “Underground Comics,” a genre of which he soon became the de-facto figurehead of, and, for many, it’s most important Artist. Over the years, his work has begun to be more fully appreciated beyond the world of Comics. The late Art Critic Robert Hughes called him “the Brueghel of our time.” Even that lofty observation barely scratches the surface of R. Crumb’s impact and influence. While I was walking the streets of Chelsea to the opening of this show, admittedly with Crumb on my mind, I found it quite hard not to see his influence in the work of a number of shows I passed by Artists who’s work has nothing to do with comics or graphic novels and even in the flared pants snd chunky shoes women seem fond of these days. While Crumb’s work remains under-appreciated by the Fine Art world, in my opinion1, his influence has barely begun to be seriously considered2.

Arriving, I walked in to a good sized crowd…and live music. As I made my way through the gallery to the rear, large room. Low and behold…

R. Crumb, himself.

Art, and Artist. R. Crumb on left-handed mandolin(!), appropriately on the far left, performing with the East River String Band, at the Opening, David Zwirner Gallery, West 19th Street, January 12, 2017.

…looking just like a comic of R. Crumb, himself. He was seated wearing a cap and playing a mandolin with a group, the “East River String Band,” who’s blonde singer and one of the musicians I immediately recognized from covers R. has drawn for the band’s albums. The music was lively and pleasant, but, frankly, it went right past me. I couldn’t get over the fact that here he was, a few feet in front of me. Every little move he made fascinated me- he plays left handed!? (he writes & draws lefty, too), how he interacted with the other musicians (he seemed to mostly follow), how he held his instrument, how he sat while playing it (slightly folding himself around it)…Partly, the former Musician in me was interested. Mostly, it was because R. is someone who seems to do everything he does deliberately, so this might reveal some small key to the Artist.

The set ended, and I moved a bit closer as the equipment was torn down. R., his instrument put away, remained in his chair. Carefully approached by a few (the legend of his not being a fan of his fans well-known to his, um, fans), only one, who he appeared to know, actually dared speak to him. He presented a book. It may have been one they collaborated on.

Alone in a crowd. R. Crumb after the set.

I watched the Artist reach into his inside jacket pocket and produce a white pen to sign it. I immediately recognized it as a Rapidograph pen, the pen he’s made famous, at least for me, because they are what he’s drawn with for lord knows how long now. I had never heard of them until I found out he used them a decade ago, and immediately bought a set for like 120 bucks. Then, I realized that drawing in ink is not for those squeamish at the site of their own blood. So? Back to graphite and my trusty eraser it was for me, leaving ink to Master Draughtsmen, like R. Crumb. To this day, It’s always funn to look at a Crumb original and see if there is any use of White Out Correction Fluid on it or not. He will do the most intricate cross hatching and there will be no White Out to be seen, anywhere. I don’t think I’ve drawn in ink since.

Happy Early 40th R. & Aline! HOW did you do it?? Maybe the gent in the back is wondering, too.

He looked a bit older than the last time I’d seen him on video, a bit frailer, perhaps, then he stood up, and with Aline alongside, made his way through the throng to the gallery’s offices, not to be seen again (at least while I was there). Due to the Opening Night crowd, I returned a number of other times to see the actual show.

What I saw was shocking.

As shocked as those at the opening may have been by the unannounced (as far as I know) appearance by the Artist, more may have been shocked by the excellence of the “other Artist” who shared the bill with R. Crumb, his wife of 40 years (next year. Sorry. I can’t stop saying that because it blows my mind), Aline Kominsky-Crumb.

Yes, excellence.

Anyone who can go toe to toe (not to mention parts more intimate, but no less appropriate to this show), with R. Crumb over the course of most of a show (and ALL those years of marriage) is someone who deserves an award. Well, at least recognition. It’s high time Aline Kominsky-Crumb be acknowledged, and accepted, and her considerable body of work be appreciated. “Drawn Together” made the case for that as well as it’s likely to be made.

The standard “knock” against her has to do with her draughtsmanship. Even she mentions it in a panel here. There are many cartoonists, graphic novelists, even Artists hanging in The Met, who’s draughtsmanship is “suspect,” (to be kind). It’s missing the point. The point of Art is to express and communicate, (even if the latter is “only” a byproduct). Those just happen to be Aline Kominsky-Crumb’s strongest suits.

But, yes, there are masterpieces by the Master of Underground Comics to be seen here, too. The ten page story, “Walkin’ The Streets,” wherein we witness a conversation between R. and his late brother, Charles, strikes me as one of his great(est) works.

R. Crumb’s “Walking The Streets,” with his dear brother, Charles.

Charles(left)? I was just saying the same thing, here, a few weeks back.

In fact, on the subject of draughtsmanship, it’s actually arguable who among the three Crumb Brothers, was/is the greatest. R. has spoke glowingly of Charles’ talents. He passed at age 50 from an OD of his prescribed drugs.

A page from an extremely rare surviving sketchbook by Charles Crumb reveals his obsession with “Long John Silver.” See Terry Zwigoff’s superb documentary “Crumb” for more, and seldom seen video of Charles and Maxon.

The other brother, Maxon’s, work is ingeniously intricate, and brilliantly executed, though both of those are matched by his penchance for obfuscation and symbolism. If you can fight through that, you will find an Artist who doesn’t fit into the “comic book,” or even graphic novel genre, but an Artist, who’s path is closer to that of a Fine Artist. While R.’s originals sell for up to six figures (before the decimal point), Maxon’s drawings sell for hundreds, maybe a thousand dollars, his scarcer paintings for maybe 10 to 15 grand. In my opinion, he is very unfairly overlooked, (a bit like Charles Pollock is to his brother, Jackson Pollock.) Look at this-

Maxon Crumb’s “Take Thy Beak From Out My Heart,” Ink. The intricacy of this work is just staggering. (This was not in the show).

Speaking of being overlooked, R. Crumb has been ever so gradually finding acceptance as a Fine Artist on his way to being recognized as a “great Artist.” Beyond his draftsmanship, the honesty in his work is something that might seem common now, in this age of so-called “reality” shows. R. Crumb is the original reality star in the sense of honesty depicting himself- “good,” and “bad.” This turned off many, and it, too, hasn’t “mellowed” much over time. Though things like his sexual preferences (and appetites) remain controversial, and retain the ability to shock, as does how nakedly he discusses his inner feelings and thoughts. His wife is no shrinking violet, either. She never hides what she’s thinking or feeling, about herself, or anyone else, either. As a result, she is, perhaps, the ideal collaborator and foil for R..

R. & Aline Crumb, “Should Oddball Types…,” ink. Just one example.

The results present countless fascinating insights into their lives and their long standing open marriage. Making it a family affair, daughter Sophie, now an adult Artist with children of her own, makes an appearance, too. Want to hear what the Crumbs think about having kids? How Aline knows that R. hasn’t left her? (Hint- It has to do with vinyl.) How much R.’s “Book of Genesis” was sold for by Zwirner? How sobriety has been going for Aline? The joys of owning a “vintage” refrigerator,” or, you just want to watch R & A get “50 Shades”-style kinky? It’s all here. In fact, what’s here, and unspoken, is that the two of them have quietly amassed a major body of work. Appearing, variously, under titles including “Self-Loathing Comics,” or “Dirty Laundry Comics” (what could be more appropriate?) it’s now, finally, collected in the 184 page catalog for the Cartoonmuseum Basel version of this show, entitled “Drawn Together.”

R., Aline & Sophie Crumb, “Dirty Laundry” Cover Art, Ink.

R. & Aline Crumb, “Self-Loathing Comics,” Cover. Ink. After the age of “superheroes,” R. ushered in the “reality” based Artist as anti-hero age, we’re still in the midst of. And, Aline will keep drawing her hair to prove it!

Highlights? For me? Aline’s “My Very Own Dream House,” which takes up almost the entire front gallery, and holds rapt attention over 33 pages.

Aline Kominsky-Crumb’s “My Own Dream House,” Ink, beginning.

Installation view of (almost) all of it.

Her “Goldie in Fanatic Female Frustration” in the main room, in a different drawing style, is sparser, but none the less engrossing.

Aline Kominsky-Crumb’s “Goldie,” ink. Even at a distance, the unique style of this terrific work grabs you, and perfectly conveys the fanatic frustration within.

Along with these, we get a case of R.’s classic underground comics, ranging from “Zap” #0 to “Fritz The Cat” to “Weirdo,” a case of early drawings and sketchbooks, including the very rare sketchbook of Charles’ shown above, and a collection of family photos.3

A Hall of Fame of Underground Comic Classics.

If Aline was the star of this show, if not a revelation for me, R.’s star now shines all over the world, as we see in their collaboration about their visit to Belgrade, where they were treated like “superstars,” Aline writes. At Zwirner, the range of folks coming in to see this show was striking. It was, literally, every kind of person imaginable. Young, old, male, female, black, white, hipster, hippie, businessman, writers, photographers and yes, Artists.

One thing that surprised me was how many of them took the time to read the works. It’s one thing to read a comic book or graphic novel in a book, it’s another to read a 10 or 20 page story hanging on a wall, especially when half of it is hung higher than eye level. Yet, I watched person after person read each panel before moving a foot to their right to read the next. Since comic Art or Graphic Novels aren’t often seen in galleries or museums, I found this an unusual, interesting and refreshing thing. Most people seem to spend 1/4 the amount of time in front of paintings.

Crumb shows are way too infrequent. The last NYC show, “The Book of Genesis,” was also at Zwirner in 2010! While I expect, and welcome, future Crumb gallery shows, the time has come for a Crumb show in an NYC Museum.

Any bets on who will be the first to step up? My guess is MoMA. I think it’s a matter of when, not if. It’s hard to imagine it not being a blockbuster show.

It would be nice if it happened while he’s still around to see it. That is, IF he decides to actually show up to see it.

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “Ball and Chain,” as recorded by Janis Joplin and Big Brother & The Holding Company (what else?), as recorded on “Cheap Thrills,” 1968(! FIFTY years ago next August), with an R. Crumb cover, one of the most classic album covers ever done, which might have made him as famous as anything else, and written by Big Mama Thornton.

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. Though collectors paid large sums paid for his work at auction last fall.
  2. I have wondered if even the great Philip Guston’s late work may have been…?
  3. For those so inclined, The Strand somehow STILL has signed copies of Aline’s gorgeous, unique Autobiography/ScrapBook/Graphic Novel entitled “Need More Love,” which has long been out of print for all of TEN DOLLARS! Word.

About Banner #6…

 

Click to enlarge any image on this site.

This time the Nighthawk is to be found Home on the Range. The cows are out to pasture and the other critters are burrowed deep somewhere warmer. Like the subway. Oof is safe, right here as always, and not in one of those cruel “Owl Cafes” in Japan! Ok…ok…I’m not on the Ponderosa, I’m up on the High Line, in an area known as the “Chelsea Grasslands,” between West 24th & 25th Streets, which, in February has this gorgeous, stark, “Zen Garden”-like feel, as I’ve written about, and Posted photos of, twice in the past month.

Alas all the wonderful, tall, golden Purple Lovegrass you see will be gone by the time you read this, as the “Spring Cutback” is well underway. So? I’ve chosen to memorialize it in Banner #6, where it will live on, after calling it the NoteWorthy “Show” for February.

A hundred feet, or so, to the right, and down about 30 feet, is GalleryLand.

Fear not. I’ll be back there soon…

NightOwls Among Us #2- Todd Hido

The second installment in my infrequently added to series, wherein I bestow an Honorary “Oof” (the Nighthawknyc Owl) on others who burn the midnight oil. The first recipient, who recently retired, is here

“Oof” The NighthawkNYC NightOwl

Many have tried to channel Edward Hopper, or build on his accomplishment, but I’ve long searched in vain for anyone else who’s work really “gets there,” and evokes those feelings in me that Hopper’s defined. If you love his work, too, perhaps  you agree. I get some of them looking at Richard Estes. They both work (in Estes’ case)/worked (in Hopper’s) in NYC and in Maine, both painted the nature of the country and the unnatural life of the City. While Hopper, possibly, has an equal number of works with people as without, Estes often doesn’t include people in his work, and when he does, they are almost never the central focus. Estes was born in 1932, 50 years after Hopper. Since Hopper passed away in 1967, a whole new generation of Artists has already grown up being, at least, aware of Hopper, if not influenced by him. But no one that I’m currently aware of has come closer to taking me to some of those places Hopper owns as the Photographer Todd Hido does.

I haven’t written much about photography here thus far. So, during my research for my piece on the recent “William Eggleston: The Democratic Forest” Show, I asked a wide range of gallerists and pros I encountered which photographers working today they liked. I’m still digging through their lists and so far I’ve looked at a lot of work by names new to me, by Journalists (like Alec Soth, and Moises Saman, both members of the legendary Magnum), street shooters (like Mike Brodie), and Artists (like Catherine Opie) in books, shows, and online (which we all know is not an ideal place to see photography, or Art)- all of who everyone should know, and who’s work is likely to stand the test of time, it seems to me. Then, Todd Hido stopped me in my researching tracks.

Todd Hido, “#2638 Levittown, NY”, 2001, C Print. If this isn’t “me,” I don’t know what is.

His work is autobiographical, referring to his upbringing in suburban Ohio, but I didn’t find that out until after I’d felt the (immediate) resonance with my own life, the isolation inherent in suburban living, which, yes, does also exist in urban living, both of which are known to me. It’s inherent in living, in being human, period. Hido’s early “House Hunting” series, like the shot above, culminating in the already classic book of the same title (of which there are only 4,000 copies as far as I can tell, so not a lot of people have actually seen it), consists of photos of the exteriors of a house, or houses, at night. They, generally, have one, maybe two, lights on inside. People are never seen.

Home- at last. “House Hunting” by Todd Hido, 2001, Nazraeli Press. A modern classic in my opinion. 56 pages that measure 17 by 14 inches. One of only 4,000 copies. I spent 3 months “hunting” “House Hunting.”

We are left to ponder many things, including the life going on inside. Having walked by countless scenes exactly like this in my life, and been the cause of a single light burning deep into the early morning, EVERY morning, I am the low hanging fruit among his target audience. What strikes me most in these works is they have a similar mystery to Edward Hopper without the interpersonal drama seen in works like “Second Story Sunlight,” or “Excursion into Philosophy,”  But, they are not (quite) as voyeuristic as “Office At Night,” “Night Windows,” or even “Nighthawks,” largely because there is no “looking into” in Hido’s “House Hunting” series.

So? In that sense, Mr. Hido has gone me, and the header of my Blog, one better, in removing even the last figure from a work like “Nighthawks” and left us to ponder what the man made environment says. As William Eggleston says about his work that often does not include people, “Objects in photos are naturally full of human presence,1” Having long instinctively felt this, I found this a key statement that applies to much Art I respond to. This is one of the reasons I’ve always loved Estes (though a Painter), among others like Charles Sheeler (Painter & Photographer), and more recently, the Photographers William Eggleston and Robert Cumming. Human presence lives on in man-made objects, buildings, urban/suburban environments as well. Todd Hido’s “houses at night” pieces are classic examples of this.

While Edward Hopper created paintings that looked in people’s windows from the safety of his Washington Square Apartment, Mr. Hido has to aim a camera right at them to create these works. Apparently, he has had the police called on him by concerned residents while he was making the long time exposures he uses, but, there was no reason to fear- he saved any hint at titilation for his later series of portraits, introduced with his book “Between the Two,” in 2007, many shot inside hotel rooms, which I find equally mysterious and equally captivating, some of which feature nudity. While I have no idea what they have to do with his “autobiography” (though he has said they do), they have an air of introversion to them, like looking at those lit house windows, but these, almost magically, retain that overlying sense of mystery, so they, too, strike me as “Hopperesque,” since quite a few of Hopper’s contain one figure in a room. Though all of this is a recent discovery for me, someone else realized it back in 2014 and included 2 works by Todd Hido in the Whitney Museum show, “Edward Hopper And Photography” (William Eggleston had 4).

Back outside, the “houses at night” became “apartments at night,” and then “landscapes in the rain, snow, or at night” photographed through his car window. Yes. Shot through his (often rain streaked) windshield. The results played into his penchant for creative printing. “I photograph like a documentarian, but I print like a painter,” he said in “Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors, and the Nude: The Photography Workshop Series,” (Aperture, 2014).  These works have a way of also evoking a bit of Turner and Millet for me. Like this one-

Todd Hido, “Untitled #3513, from ‘Roaming,'” 2004, color coupler print

You can see more of these later, post- “House Hunting,” works in this compilation (though be warned, the morphing they’re using is quite distracting). These pieces also reveal Todd Hido to be an Artist who’s not content to repeat himself, but rather someone who is continually trusting his eye and adapting his formidable photographic & printing techniques to exploring his vision. The next chapter in his story is due in 2018 when his new collection of work is slated to be published by Nazraeli Press. You can check out all six of his books to date here.

And so, I have chosen to include Todd Hido in my “NightOwls Among Us” Series not only for his “houses at night” series, but also because I was taken by his description of his process that can involve 5 hours of driving around at night looking for the perfect scene to immortalize. As you can see him actually do, here-

Recently, he’s been doing work for fashion magazines and the New York Times. Time will tell where else Todd Hido’s road takes him. Wherever it goes, I hope that mystery remains paramount in his work.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Behind Closed Doors,” by Kenny Odell and published by Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., because “no one knows what goes on behind closed doors.” Photos from my collection.

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. “William Eggleston: From Black And White to Color” P.12

Thomas Campbell Resigns

I was as surprised as anyone to learn that Thomas Campbell has resigned as Director & Chief Executive of The Met Tuesday. Given the challenging financial situation the Museum is in, I can’t say it was a complete shock. The tenor of his his letter to members, which I received at 1pm today and appears below, announcing his decision, indicates it might not have been his plan to leave at this point.

———————————————

The Met
Dear Member,

I write to share the news that I have decided to step down from my role as Director and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is not an easy choice to step away, especially at such a transitional moment. That said, the Museum’s current vitality is what makes it the right moment to do so. For the next stage of my career I look forward to new challenges beyond The Met, always in service of art, scholarship, and understanding.

I couldn’t be more proud of The Met’s accomplishments during my tenure. Our exhibitions, publications, and acquisitions continue to be celebrated across the entire art world. The Met’s curatorial and conservation programs have grown and flourished in areas of traditional strength, but also in new directions where The Met has previously been less active. Our education and live-arts programs have also evolved in exciting and innovative directions.

The resulting impact has been spectacular. We have enjoyed ever-larger audiences—this year we exceeded seven million visitors for the first time. The Museum has made significant gains in expanding its outreach, and was voted two years running as the world’s best museum by TripAdvisor users. And while the external digital revolution of the past eight years brought about seismic changes to every aspect of our culture, The Met has emerged as a global leader in both its digital practices and its reach.

Change is, by nature, never easy, especially for an institution as august as The Met. But it is necessary. Through a series of thoughtful analyses—of infrastructure needs, of elective ambitions, and of audience engagement—we have laid the foundations for our future growth. Some of these are already part of our current Five Year Strategy, others are exciting projects for the future.

The Met’s President, Dan Weiss, will be the interim CEO. His presence is a further reason this is an opportune moment to step away. We have worked closely together since 2015, and I am confident that his vision, level-headedness, and experience are precisely what the Museum needs to continue on its positive trajectory.

In conclusion, let me say that the successes the Museum has achieved during my tenure are entirely the result of the commitment of the brilliant staff, Board, Members, and supporters of this great institution. Thank you all; it has been an honor to fulfill this role over these past eight years.

Sincerely,

Thomas P. Campbell
Director and CEO

——————————

My immediate thoughts are- Where to for the directions and initiatives he began? Particularly, I wonder about Sheena Wagstaff, who I recently wrote having an especially memorable 2016, and the “Modern & Contemporary Initiative” she is the departmental head of1. Plans for expanding the 1000 Fifth Avenue building to accommodate new M&C galleries have, already, been indefinitely postponed. Though some of Mr. Campbell’s other changes have been rolled back, specifically his digital department, I wonder what the future holds for Ms. Wagstaff, (who was not chosen to lead the Tate in January), and the Museum as a whole.

Right now? All bets are off as to where The Met will go next.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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  1. Coincidentally, or not, a number of Englishmen have joined their compatriot Mr. Campbell at The Met during his tenure, including Luke Syson who curated the once in a lifetime Leonardo show at the National Gallery, London in 2011-12. Will this move effect them as well as Ms. Wagstaff, who is also English.

Kerry James Marshall: The Revolution Was NOT Televised

“The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised
The revolution will be no re-run, brothers;
The revolution will be live.”*

Gil Scott-Heron was right. The revolution wasn’t televised. It was painted. Well, one revolution…so far, was.

Kerry James Marshall: Mastry,” was live, on the walls of the 3rd and 4th Floors of The Met Breuer (TMB), where it was nothing less than a revolution, bringing black figures to Art in Museums, for the first time, in the form of a Retrospective of 35 years of Marshall’s work. While that might be the lead, in my book, it also established it’s subject, KJM for short, as a modern Master, and proves his work belongs in our greatest Museums, and well, any Museum.

Life, and Remembrance. Mastry’s opening gallery @TMB presents two of his major themes. In “De Style,” 1993, right, one of his most iconic works, KJM’s barbershop is full of life, culture, individuality and invention- painted and coiffed. On the left, his “The Lost Boys,” also 1993, a title borrowed from Peter Pan, is an homage to two children lost to gun violence, and all the boys who were “lost” to a variety of causes.

The revolution takes place…in a barbershop. “De Style’s” title seems a coy play on the name of the Dutch Art Movement “De Stijl,” brought to “Percy’s House of Style,” though the painted style of this work is purely his own. A very wise purchase by the L.A. Museum of Contemporary Art in 1993, the year it was completed, 22 years before The Met acquired one.

In bringing the black figure to Museum(s), KJM seems determined to fill as many of the “slots” they’ve been overlooked in heretofore as he can. We see boy scouts, girl scouts, lovers, monsters (“Frankenstein,” and his “Bride,”), models, Self Portraits, murderers, (imagined) Self Portraits of other Artists, portraits of historical figures, as well as scenes from family life, in the suburbs, the inner city and in recreation, as well as daily life, and home life, in the Artist’s studio, at the barber shop & hair salon, which are becoming his most famous works. Along with these, we see memorials to slain children and cultural leaders, the questioning of the aesthetics of beauty & desirability, and the Artist’s own graphic novel, “Rythm Mastr,” (which left me longing to see much more of it). And, yes, there are even revolutionaries.

Early works. “Portrait of the Artist & A Vacuum Cleaner,” 1981, age 26. Cleaning up Art History.

“So This Is What You Want?,” 1992, tells a story in a different way that would soon coalesce and lose the “collage” feel. The image of the uterus (left of center) appears in a number of his works, including “De Style.”

Art History runs strong in the work of KJM. While many Artists study the past, copy the great Masters, and “borrow,” even steal some of their styles, etc., it’s unusual to see an Artist who is as familiar with the range and breath of Art History as KJM is. Charles Wilbert White, in particular, was an early idol, then a teacher and friend, so it’s not surprising that something of his style does seem to have echoes in KJM’s, especially in his portraits, Marshall’s fluency with Art History is something that reveals the long hours of study he spent in Museums and studying Art Books. The way he will use bits of a style, seemingly out of nowhere is thrilling,  makes the old “modern,” while seamlessly making it a part of his own style, often to the end of adding mystery. Abstract Expressionism seems to be a particular favorite, given how often passages of it occur in the works here. Then, there is the anamorphosis portrait of “Sleeping Beauty,” painted oblong right smack dab in the center in “School of Beauty, School of Culture,” 2012 (below), who can only be properly seen from the side. An homage to Hans Holbein the Younger, who used this technique in his masterpiece, “The Ambassadors,” 479 years earlier in 1533, where a skull appears that’s visible only looking at it from the painting’s side. In both works, it’s an optical tour de force, the sheer brilliance of it lies both in the audacity of using it in this work, as much as it appears directly under a coy “Self Portrait” of the Painter, himself, shown behind the flash of his camera. That this was hanging in The Met Breuer, part of a Museum that owns no less than 5 Hans Holbein the Younger’s paintings (though not “The Ambassadors”), was as much of a statement as anything else in this show.

“School of Beauty, School of Culture,” 2012, 13 feet long, pays homage to Art History, and Hans Holbein in the center, in a work that is wholly unique, fresh, exciting and endless fun to look at.

A child looks at Sleeping Beauty, while the Artist takes a step back to shoot the whole scene (in the rear, with flash).

Elsewhere there are echoes of Winslow Homer, Breughel, and, there is also a spectacular homage to Edward Hopper’s “Early Sunday Morning.” Marshall’s is, like Hopper’s, a tale of urban reality, and like the original, it finds it’s own way to make magic with the early morning sunlight.

“7am Sunday Morning,” 2003, 18 feet long. KJM’s take on Edward Hopper’s “Early Sunday Morning,” 1930, an urban work that reflects the Great Depression, Marshall’s features Chicago’s South Side, with one remaining high rise from the Robert Taylor Homes, the rest having been raised, with music coming from it, and includes a painted interpretation of a camera’s lens flare, in the right half.

As work after work goes by, it becomes plain that more than paying homage to Art History, KJM has added his name to the list of Masters- Old, and “New,” and, in the process, he brings the Art of Painting kicking and screaming into the 21st Century, along with him.

“Rythm Mastr,” 1999-on, is his endlessly inventive graphic novel. Sometimes broadsheet handouts, sometimes lightboxes, as here. I traveled to a satellite show at IPCNY just to see more of it. I’ve never seen anything like it. Publish it all, please!

Along with all of this, 1/3 of the way through, there is, also, a large gallery full of works chosen from The Met’s permanent collection by the Artist, for a “show within a show,” called “Kerry James Marshall Selects.” Which reminds me, that though The Met has had a “tempestuous” past when it comes to the work of Modern & Contemporary Art & Artists, as the world’s greatest depository of 5,000 years of man’s creativity, it is uniquely suited to “highlight Mashall’s deep connection to history,” as Met Director Thomas P. Campbell said in their October press release, and dialogue with it, as the show within a show does.

“Kerry James Marshall Selects,” Installation view. In my dream, I get to do this…Of course, in the same dream, I’m also a genius painter, so The Met will let me.

Charles Wilbert White, “John Brown,” 1949, idol of, later teacher and friend of KJM.

Among the pieces chosen by KJM were works by Ingres, Batlhus, Ad Reinhardt, Gerhard Richter, Durer, Paul Cadmus, DeKooning, Bonnard, Seurat, the aforementioned Charles Wilbert White, Toulouse-Lautrec, Yoshitoshi, Utagawa, Andrew Wyeth, the Bamana and Senufo Peoples, Jacob Lawrence, Horace Pippin, George Tooker, Matisse, John Graham, Romare Bearden, Roy DeCarava, Walker Evans, Aaron Douglas, and yes, Holbein The Younger. I list them here for those interested because the only place they appear in on page 265 of the show’s excellent exhibition catalog, which quickly went out of print, halfway through it’s run at TMB, and before it even opens at LA’s MOCA in March!1 KJM lived in LA, and works remembering those days are some of the most complex in the show. He currently lives in Chicago, where the show originated in April, 2016 at the MCA.

“Untitled,” 2009, an imaginary portrait of a female Artist that deftly melds a number of styles, including Abstract Expressionism and “paint by numbers” that leave you wondering what the imaginary Artist’s work looks like.

An analysis of Marshall’s mastery of At History, as seen in the works in “Mastry,” alone, would be a book of it’s own. I don’t know if he anticipated that the end result of his study would be his carrying on dialogues with his influences for the rest of time on the very same walls. But? That is most likely what will happen now.

Mastr-piece. “Untitled (Studio),” 2014. The only work in the show that belongs to an NYC Museum. The Met acquired this in 2015. They started late, but very well.

In October, the New York Times called him, and I quote, “an immortal man,” in a profile in their “The Greats” issue. That click you heard was the sound of a very deserving Artist “making it.”

“Untitled (Blot),” 2015, the most recent work in the show, ends it. Bruce Conner was famous for these, but in ink.

Welcome to forever, Kerry James Marshall.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” by Gil Scott-Heron, from the classic live album of the same name. Published by Carlin America Inc.

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  1. If you want one, don’t pay the 200-300. being asked online for the few copies for sale there. I’d say wait. There MUST be a 2nd printing coming…right? In the meantime, The Met has an excellent website for the show that features images of the pieces and it’s audio guide, here. That there were no copies for the hundreds of people who wanted one during the second half of the show’s run at TMB astounds me. This cost The Met thousands of much needed dollars in revenue. Also, during it’s run at TMB, limited edition signed & numbered prints by KJM went from 2,700.00 each at the show’s opening to 4,000.00 each at The Met’s store currently. A 50% increase.