Catherine Murphy’s Dreams

After months of Photography shows…Hark! I see a flag and a light that portends some State of the Art American Painting & Drawing in 2018 within.

Fellow lovers of Painting, fear not. I’ve surfaced from my year long deep-dive into the world of Contemporary Photography, finding equilibrium just as the New Year is continuing the holiday spirit, bearing Art gifts of it’s own. First, there were the unexpected wonders of “Edvard Munch: Between The Clock and the Bed,” at The Met Breuer, the fascinating “Figuratively Speaking” at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, and now with “Catherine Murphy,” the long awaited show of recent Paintings & Drawings by the singular and influential Artist and Educator1 at Peter Freeman, Inc., I can positively feel the wind of great Painting blowing through my hair once again. Well, at least my eyebrows. “Long awaited” as Ms. Murphy’s last show, “Catherine Murphy: Working Drawings” at Sargent’s Daughters, was in 2016, but the last show of her Paintings and finished Drawings, also at Peter Freeman, Inc., was back in 2013.

Over a career that now extends more than 50 years, though her style, focus, and her choice of subjects have evolved, there is one constant- an extraordinarily high level of accomplishment. It’s hard to think of another Artist who’s Paintings AND Drawings are among the finest created in each medium over that time. Both bodies of work are marvels. And, at least her more recent pieces are inspired by her dreams. Her new show, which focuses on this more recent work, is a visual tour de force- in more ways than one. No less than Artist Rod Penner told me in the Q&A I did with him last year that, in his opinion, Catherine Murphy “is in a class of her own,” among Artists he feels have been overlooked and/or are “important” today.

Installation view of part of the first gallery. All Photos by Kenn Sava, courtesy of the Artist and Peter Freeman, Inc. Click any Photo for full size.

As I moved through the galleries I was struck by something I hadn’t noticed as a focus of her work before. Unlike, say, her early landscapes, many of the pieces on view shared the common theme of seeing & perception. Take for example the first Painting in the show, “Cherry Pie,” from 2104. It’s obviously a pie, yet even a quick look reveals it’s a Painted pie, not a “photorealistic” pie.

“Cherry Pie,” 2014, Oil on canvas, 38 x 45 1/4 inches

No matter how close, or far, you stand from it, the work remains just out of focus, as if seen at a glance or in a slightly blurry photograph, but the level of artistry brought to bear in the entire work is staggering. The crust is open, missing one section. Strange. You’d expect a slice to be missing. Looking closer I was enraptured by what I saw.

The cherries, for instance, seem to have taken Cezanne’s immortal still lives to a different level. (Not “better,” I don’t believe in those kinds of comparisons. Different.) Look at how finely the highlights and the shading are done on each one. Then look at the broken edge of the pie crust to the left- each flake is carefully and sharply delineated in a way that is positively surreal. When have you seen real pie crust look like this? Their sharpness is in contrast to the overall blurriness, as if they are the point of focus for the absent camera. Then, there’s the pie tin. It’s countless folds appear to be almost individually colored as the light plays off them so magnificently, echoed in the wonderfully realized cast shadows underneath. If we take the pie tin for a “ground,” the work strikes me as a Painting that strives to go beyond two dimensions. It wants to, at once, lie above the surface, on it, and under it- all while drawing us inside of it. These questions of seeing (What do you see? What do you expect to see?) and looking into, though a painting is a flat, thin surface, recur repeatedly in this show.

“Shift,” 2016, Oil on canvas in two parts, each 37 7/8 x 45 1/8 inches.

Directly across the room from it is another pie-related work, in two parts. This time, what is apparently the top of the crust is an entirely separate work, displayed next to the empty pie crust. If these were hung separately, Would we think they are a pie crust and it’s top? They could be one of Edward Burtynsky’s aerial landscape Photographs of some distant land and an aerial shot of a crater in an icy land. Still, even in this context, shown together, it seems strange. It’s hard to not see the apparent top being on a pie. I kept thinking about what’s under it. Nothing but the surface it’s laid on. As for the pie crust, itself, we’re left to imagine what’s going to go inside, while we ponder the top now being a surface instead of a top and the empty space of the pie drawing us into a space, which is in reality, flat.

“Flat Screen,” 2016, Oil on canvas, 35 1/2 x 19 1/4 inches.

Adjacent to the previous two works is “Flat Screen,” a work that depicts a lovely, Painted, sunny, outdoor scene on the titular flat screen monitor. Perhaps, it’s a screen saver given the partial text on the lower right. The window behind it is blank being mostly covered by what appears to be a window shade. The light that does come through around the shade mimics the black border around the monitor’s screen. I wonder…wouldn’t we expect see the reverse- a blank, or grey, computer screen, and the sunny outdoor scene outside of the window?  It might be technology taking the place of experiencing nature via a live feed from outdoors, except that we see it’s a Painting. Is it the scene outside the window? We’ll never know. Continuing the spacial relationships, it also reminds us a monitor is flat and presents us with the illusion of 3 dimensions, like a Painting does.

“Float,” 2015, left, “Becalmed,” 2017,  right, both Oil on canvas, 72 x 54 inches and 54 x 72 inches ,

In the main gallery, are two works that might seem descendants of late Monet- both depict scenes taking place on bodies of water with trees nearby. In both, we are left to ponder, and admire, the surface, what’s on top of it, and what’s being reflected on it- all handled masterfully.

“Float,” 2015, Oil on canvas, 54 x 72 inches.

The one above, “Float,” 2015, is over the top, literally and figuratively. It continues the line of her early landscapes, which were painted outdoors. In 2013, she said, “Any Painting that you see is outdoors is a really slow Painting. Because I have to wait for the sun. I have to wait for the weather…2” “I got very interested in things that look spatial, but are not spatial,” she said in 2014. As you look at “Float,” it’s a bit like looking down the rabbit hole. I almost wondered if I was underneath the water looking up at the surface and the foliage above it, but the yellow leaves would seem to indicate we’re looking down on it. The floats and the leaves floating on the water provide a fulcrum between the two worlds- outer and inner. Again, she has created a scene of extraordinary depth on a simple, flat canvas, a bit like the feeling I got from “Cherry Pie.”

Don’t fall in. It’s only an inch or so “deep” and there’s a concrete wall behind it.

Then, “…I started dreaming Paintings, and thinking about Paintings differently. It was the beginning of a whole thing, giving myself permission to do it in a new way. that is really what stops everyone in the world: because of an idea of who you are you’re afraid to break your rules3.” So, more recently, she’s moved to scenes that are “smaller” closer, or more intimate, like those seen in most of this show. She says that after being inspired by her dreams, she then sets up the scene in her studio.

Half the show is devoted to Catherine Murphy’s amazing Drawings, all of which are these indoor scenes. And, I mean amazing. Like this one-

 

“Studio Floor,” 2015, Graphite on paper, 28 3/4 x 31 3/16 inches.

Again, the mastery of rendering surfaces is just stunning- the shading of each wire mezmerizes. Then, there’s the beautiful wooden floor- all Drawn in graphite. Once again, the feeling of depth is present. We can’t tell how high the pile of wire is from that floor. Is it one insanely long cable, or more? If it’s more, despite the yards of spare cable lying around, those two ends are never going to reach each other. It’s a very daring piece. If you want to test your technique, and your eye? Take a shot at Drawing something like this.

Catherine Murphy, long seen as a champion of figurative/representational Art, surprisingly said she’s “a compulsive Abstract Expressionist.” While I think she may have been referring to the technique of applying paint, I filed that in the back of my mind, though yes, there are passages here and there in this show that do qualify. Perhaps, none more so than “Studio Wall,” 2014, Graphite on paper. Without it’s title or the name of the Artist, one might think it’s by Cy Twombly. The more I looked at it the more I couldn’t believe it’s ONLY graphite on paper.

“Studio Wall,” 2014, Graphite, yes, Graphite on paper, 32 3/8 x 34 3/8 inches.

Standing in front of it for the longest time, it looked for all the world to have been Painted. So, I asked Catherine Murphy through the gallery how the background was done. She said, “I just keep adding graphite until the tone is correct.  There is not much actual “white” (although the wall I was drawing from was painted white).  What “white” there is, is the paper.” The fact that there is so little white of the paper left is what amazes me. The shading is so brilliantly done that no matter how close you get to it, the background looks like Paint.

Since she said that her dreams inspire many of her works these days, I asked her if she dreams in color, or black & white, as the resulting works are in both. She replied, “In the dreams the color suggests itself, but I could be dreaming color for all I know. Some things have to be in color and some things have to be in black and white.  But one way or another they are both about color.” Her Drawings are unique, whole works unto themselves that have nothing to do with her Paintings. They stand alongside her Paintings as “different but equal,” so to speak. Well? Except for this one-

“Painting Drawing Painting,” 2017, Oil on canvas, 51 x 72 inches.

In “Painting Drawing Painting,” 2017, she seems to be playing with that, though, blurring the boundaries between the two medium. Again, making us question what we’re seeing- What’s “Drawn?” What’s Painted?” Being oil on canvas, it’s all Painted, but much of it “looks” Drawn. It’s also fascinating that she’s left part of it, apparently, unfinished, while another part, along the right white border, appears to have been erased or removed, something she doesn’t do in her “real” Paintings.  My takeaway was that in this work, she’s giving Drawing the same “status” as Painting, which is traditionally the more valued medium, which also serves to reinforce their importance in her oeuvre as equals.

“Stacked,” 2017, Oil on canvas, 60 x 60 inches.

“Stacked,” 2017, one of the three newest Painting on view (“Painting Drawing Painting” being another, “Becalmed,” seen further on, the third), creates the optical illusion that the stacks of books are suspended in mid-air. When I saw this, I wondered if Catherine Murphy had seen my apartment in her dreams. Then, alas, mine haven’t levitated. Yet.

“Floribunda,” 2015, Oil on canvas, 66 1/16 x 41 1/8 inches.

“I’m avoiding the comfort of realism. The pillow you know. The bottle you know. The landscape you know…I want to confront,” she said in 2013. The masterful, knock-out, “Floribunda,” 2015, is a classic example of that. It also speaks to what we see. What, exactly, are the broken dishes lying on, or seen against? The two patterns of whatever it is and the dishes are so similar it takes effort to see where one ends and the other begins as the eye moves across the canvas. It’s almost M.C. Escher-esque. Yes, they, positively confront each other. A detail that caught me in this, among so many others, is the “marrow” of the broken yellowish cup in the lower left corner.

Catherine Murphy has always followed her own star, regardless of what the rest of the Art world was doing or favoring. Marketing ploys, like “photorealism,” have proved to be an albatross around the necks, and careers, of any number of Artists, which has only served to delay (hopefully not permanently) the proper assessment of their work and accomplishment. Modern & Contemporary Realistic, Representational and Figurative Art has been slowly coming back, mostly in the galleries, and in museums elsewhere, but not the NYC museums, beyond, Kerry James Marshall in late 2016, early 2017.

Looking at their websites, Catherine Murphy is in, at least, 3 of NYC’s “Big Five” Museums (as I called them recently). The Met’s site shows 2 Paintings (acquired in 1986 and 1991), The Whitney’s shows 1 Painting (acquired in 1973), and 2 Drawings (acquired in 1993), and MoMA’s shows 2 Drawings, (acquired in 1987 and 2004). It’s a start, but one that hasn’t been followed up on in 14 years, plus. Of those three, only MoMA lists Catherine Murphy’s work as having appeared in an exhibition, both times in group shows, once when she was selected by Artist Vic Muniz, the show’s curator.

“Studio Floor,” 2015, left, “Chairback,” 2016, Graphite on paper, center, “Studio Wall,” 2014, right.

Yes, many have put her in the category of “Realism,” “Representational” and “Figurative” Art, I know, but Catherine Murphy’s work seems to me to stand aside of all of those categories because there are bits and pieces of any number of influences, periods, and styles going on in her work. Interestingly, she said in 2013 that there isn’t a style of Art she doesn’t like, because there is always someone doing something good in it. Elsewhere she has shown a familiarity with contemporary Photographers Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson (both of whom meticulously set up their shots, as Catherine Murphy sets up the scenes she Paints). I have a feeling along with not being afraid “to break your own rules,” as she said, it’s that range that helps her stand apart.

While shows like the Whitney Biennial and the New Museum “Triennial” are major events in the Art world that draw big crowds and gain instant recognition for a number of their younger participants, it seems to me that the time has come for such a show that features established Artists that have, as yet, not received their due in a major Museum show. The point is not to “shame” the Museums, but to give these Artists some of the exposure, attention and recognition, I for one, feel is long overdue.

Casting around for recommendations to be included in such a show (not to mention a Retrospective of her own), you need to look no further than Catherine Murphy.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Time Passes Slowly,” by Bob Dylan from “New Morning.” Catherine Murphy has said that her Paintings are about the passing of time. In lieu of the album version I would like to include, Mr Dylan may be seen and heard performing an early version of it, with George Harrison, here.

My thanks to Catherine Murphy, and Alexander Whitehead of Peter Freeman, Inc.

The Archive of previous Posts related to Painting & Drawing may be found here.

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. Catherine Murphy was the Senior Critic in Painting & Printmaking at Yale’s School of Art for 22 years, followed by being the Tepper Family Endowed Chair in Visual Arts at Rutgers Mason Gross School of the Arts, where she was followed by Kara Walker.
  2. Here.
  3. Here.

Michelangelo, Rodin, Joseph Cornell & David Hockney: Good Neighbors

In all my years of going to The Met (TM), I can’t ever recall FOUR major or important shows going on at the same time LITERALLY within feet of each other.

Until this moment in one section of The Met’s 2nd Floor.

My cup overfloweth. Part of the southwestern section of The Met’s second floor, Friday evening. To the far left, make a right at the grey wall and you’ve entered the Joseph Cornell & Juan Gris show. David Hockney, straight ahead, Michelangelo, to the right. To the far right, that lady has just emerged from the Rodin show, which starts about 10 feet behind her. Click any image for full size.

While the once in a lifetime “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer” is on pace to top 650,000 visitors1, “Rodin At The Met,” “David Hockney” (a retrospective), and the newly opened “Birds of a Feather: Joseph Cornell’s Homage to Juan Gris,” are drawing crowds, too.

At the back of the line in the gallery now occupied by the Joseph Cornell/Juan Gris show on December 29th. That whole, long hallway, seen above, still to go- after I make it to the hallway.

Over the holidays, the line to get in to see the Michelangelo or Hockney shows extended all the way down that long hall in the first Photo, and then all the the way through the gallery where the Cornell/Juan Gris show is now.

I know where they’re going. With one week left to go, it’s too late to beat the crowds. So, um, take a moment and get dressed, first.  The spiffy poster for  “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer” seen in the gift shop.

650,000 would put it in the range of the number of visitors who’ve seen The Met’s more popular fashion shows, like “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty,” and might even place it in their all-time top 10 most visited shows (3 of which I’ve seen). I’ve now made 10 visits to the Michelangelo show, which closes on Feb. 12th, half as many to Hockney, which will be up two weeks longer (to Feb. 25th). Rodin closed today, Feb 4th, as did the excellent “Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bed,” at The Met Breuer. Phew…

Hi, neighbor.

Each show is so dense, with so much to see in every work that what may be missed is the interesting connections between them. You have two of the greatest Sculptors, ever, born 365 years apart, here separated by mere yards. Then, there are two world renown Arists, who both happen to be, or were, gay, born almost 500 years apart separated by a few more yards. I’ll leave those assessments for someone else. I’m more interested in what this adds to the picture of Michelangelo we have at the moment, and the treasure trove of work that’s never been shown here.

At this point, I will be writing about “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer,” which took me 6 trips to see in it’s entirety (12 galleries & 17 sections). Since I’m famous, or at least notorious, for writing about shows after they’ve ended, I’m Posting this as fair warning.

Back in December, I told you this was a great time to join The Met!

You’ve got a week left to see something you’ll never see again.

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “I’ll Miss You” by Ween. Because I will.

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. which I extrapolated from The Met’s January 22nd press release, which says they reached 500,000 visitors- 7,000 a day, with 22 days remaining.

Art In China Since 1989: O Brave New World

Talk about “digging a hole to China.” This one’s right through the Guggenheim’s ground floor! Wang Gongxin, “Sky of Beijing,” 2017, Color video installation with sound.

“MIRANDA:
O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!
PROSPERO:
‘Tis new to thee.”
(Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act 5, Scene 1)

The International world of Chinese Art is a dichotomy, it seems to me. On the one hand you have record prices being paid for Chinese Art all over the planet (particularly in the tightly controlled domestic Chinese market1), to the point that China is now the largest, or second largest, Art market in the world, depending on who you read (as of the latest figures, 12/31/2016). Meanwhile, a large part of the Western world is sitting back with absolutely no idea what is going on, who these Artists, not-named Ai Weiwei, are, and what all the fuss is about. Some of this market explosion may be due to a slumping Chinese stock market, some due to limited investment options in China, and some is good ol’ interest in Art. (Of course, prices being paid for any Art, or anything, are no indication of quality or “importance.” Regarding buying Art, my thoughts are here.)

Chen Zhen, “Precipitous Parturation,” 1999, Rubber bicycle inner tubes, fragments of bicycles, toy cars, aluminum, silicone and paint. Though living in Paris, Chen returned to his native Shanghai in 1999, one year before he passed away, where he saw signs that read “By the year 2000, 100 million people will have their own cars.” In response, he created this huge snaking dragon, largely from bike parts, especially the countless rubber bike tires that form it’s body. It’s pregnant belly is opening to reveal a load of toy cars. One older mode of transportation giving birth to the next.

That crack in the iceberg of the lack of broad Western exposure you heard on October 6th was not another artifact of global warming. It was the opening of the Guggenheim Museum’s monumental, and already historically important, show “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World,” the long-overdue comprehensive NYC Museum introduction to what’s been going on in the Art of China since that apocryphal year of 1989. It’s the biggest show of Contemporary Chinese Art yet in the U.S.A.

Detail of the “bursting belly” full of tiny toy cars. I can’t help but recall that both Marcel Duchamp and Robert Rauschenberg featured bicycles in their works. They are the two Western Artists I was reminded of the most in this show- whether or not they were influences on the Artists.

“Apocryphal” may be putting it mildly to characterize 1989…Empires fell (the communist’s in Eastern Europe). New ones were born (the first commercial internet service & the first written proposal for the world wide web), and other empires trembled- 1989 was the year of a protest involving 1 million Chinese calling for “government reforms and accountability2” that lasted 6 weeks and 6 days centered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, (which means “Gate of Heavenly Peace,” named after the Tiananmen to it’s north, separating the Square from the “Forbidden City”). The protests (Plural. They took place in many cities in China) culminated in the  “Tiananmen Square Massace” (or “June Fourth Incident,” locally), in which 10,000 people are said to have been killed, with many more injured.

“It crystallized the spirit of the revolt,” Stuart Franklin, says on the verso of this 2015 Print issued by Magnum of his 1989 Photo, “Protestor in Tiananmen Square,” which he signed on the front. “It was a movement for freedom of expression, for basic rights, and against the outrage of official corruption,” he added. From my collection.

The iconic “Tank Man” Photo was taken by Magnum’s Stuart Franklin on June 5th. A tragic end to the decade of the relaxed “Reform-era,” begun in 1978, 2 years after the death of Mao Zedong. Marked by the “lifting China’s long-closed borders on the world and allowing for socialism’s planned economy to adapt to limited free-market principles3,” it served to stimulate both experimental and avant-garde Artists as well as students to question the status quo and seek other possibilities. Smack dab in the middle of this period, Robert Rauschenberg arrived in China in 1982, his experience inspired him to return and mount the “ROCI CHINA” show (for Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Initiative), in the country’s most prestigious venue, Beijing’s National Art Gallery, in 1985, which more than 300,000 people visited in the three weeks between November 15th and December 5th!

Robert Rauschenberg, Poster for “ROCI CHINA,” 1985, Offset lithograph, featuring Photos Rauschenberg took in China, as seen at “Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends,” at MoMA, 2017 (apologies for the glare). The show moved to Lhasa, Tibet after Beijing.

The exhibition “confounded and inspired viewers, whose exposure to Western Art had been limited to reproductions within catalogs, and whose understanding of art had largely been confined to academic Painting, Sculpture, and Printmaking4.” For me, at least, it’s hard to not see that there may be at least some influence of that show here. At the very least, Robert Rauschenberg (Duchamp, etc.) may have inspired Artists with a broader range of possibilities, as he has countless other Artists in the West. At the same time, however, many Chinese Artists were rejecting the “New Wave,” and all outside influences, focusing on finding their own answers and their own way forward. After June 4th in Tiananmen Square, radical economic reform came in, experimental Art was no longer “sanctioned,” all backed by strong suppression of any mention of what had happened on June 4th in the press, media, online, or in history books, that continues to this day, as do the international sanctions that the rest of the world responded with.

The scene outside the National Art Gallery during “China/Avant Garde,” with it’s famous “No U-Turn” Sign. From this moment on, there would be “no turning back.”

Four months before that horrible end, another event took place that has had lasting impact-inside and outside of China. The “China/Avant-Garde” Art Show opening on February 5th, 1989, which is seen to be the “official” start of Contemporary Chinese Art in some quarters, and marks the beginning of the period covered by this show. “China/Avant-Garde” was “official,” in more ways than one. First, it was officially sanctioned, as hard as it may be for most Westerners to believe, as the “China Modern Art Exhibition,” on one condition- that there would be no performance Art, and second, it was held in the National Art Gallery, Beijing, where Rauschenberg’s show had been 4 years before.

The “Official sanction” didn’t last long. Two hours after it opened, Artist Xiao Lu fired a gun at her own work, “Dialogue,” and the police shut the show down for breaking the ban on performance Art. It opened and closed a few times (once for a bomb scare, which might have been a “performance”), before running it’s scheduled allotted length of time. By then it had made history- Artistically, culturally, historically, and influentially. While many Artists wound up leaving the country after the climate changed, a good deal of that experimental creative spirit and energy remains. Regardless of where the Artists may be now, the range of creativity on view at the Guggenheim was unceasing, eye-opening, and a good deal of it was operating on multiple levels simultaneously.

Xiao Lu fires a pistol at her work “Dialogue,” Custom-made telephone booth, Photograph, red telephone, glass, mirror, on February 5, 1989, 2 hours after “China/Avant-Garde” opened causing the immediate shutting down of the show. Photo from xiaoluart.com

With so many Artist options and so much time to cover (27 years), any number of alternate shows could’ve been mounted, but I think that what made it into Frank Loyd Wright’s rotunda and the two adjoining galleries, was, on the whole, exceedingly well chosen, with the caveats that, yes, that with 71 Artists included there should’ve been more than nine female artists included- a little under 8%, and, it felt to me that there was a plethora of video and installation Art, at the expense of other mediums, like Painting and Photography.

Lead curator Alexandra Munroe sums up the “post-Reform” environment- “Historical turbulence has given rise to an intelligentsia with a profound sense of skepticism towards governing ideologies and a predisposition to pragmatism in the absence of enduring meaning.” This extended to Artists working post-1989. “They produced works that questioned systems of truth and ideological formations…Eschewing Western humanist avant-garde ideals…experimental Artists approached ‘contemporary art’ as a new ‘other’ space outside the Western and Chinese Art words5.”

Ai Weiwei, “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn,” 1995, 3 Gelatin silver prints and “Han Dynasty Urn with Coca-Cola Logo,” 1993, left, Paint on earthenware.

For me, a classic example of this is Ai Weiwei’s “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn,” 3 Gelatin silver prints, from 1995, is a prime example of letting go (sorry) of the past, it’s influence, and the “baggage” the past brings with it for Artists to “live up to,” or to continue what has been done before.

Many are undoubtedly familiar with those Ai Weiwei works. Not being able to include everything else on view in this piece, I’m going to focus on what stood out to me in Painting, Drawing & Photography, along with a few other works in other mediums I just have to include. The works are not listed in any particular order.

Huang Yong Ping, “The History of Chinese Painting And A Concise History of Modern Painting Washed in a Washing Machine for Two Minutes,” 1987, reconstructed in 1993, Ink on wooden crate, paper pulp and glass. The original was a work displayed at “China/Avant-Garde,” in 1989.

Huang Yong Ping, “The History of Chinese Painting And A Concise History of Modern Painting Washed in a Washing Machine for Two Minutes,” 1997, Ink on wooden crate, paper pulp and glass, begins this show with a strong statement that the past is over. History, as written in these two Chinese Art History Books, needed to be cleansed. The result is illegible, and so stands as a metaphor. Here is an Artist struggling with the question of how to become “modern” without becoming Western. Will studying Art History lead to something truly new, or will it just be recycling what’s been done? On one hand, the pulp though having been washed, is dirty. But, the slate has, also, been wiped clean since the books are now illegible. As Joe Strummer said, “The future is unwritten.” After this work, (which was shown in the 1989 “China/Avant-Garde” show), it was. As such it stands as an ideal starting point for this show. Let’s see what was “written” after.

Wang Xingwei, “New Beijing,” 2001, Oil on canvas. In this work Wang Zingwei reimagines a well known Associated Press news photo by Liu Heung Shing, “Beijing- Rushing students to hospital,” 1989, taken on June 4th during the Tiananmen Square tragedy, where heroic bicyclists were shown rushing off with some of the wounded/injured, or deceased. Everything is as it is in the Photo, except Wang Xingwei has substituted 2 Emperor Penguins- animals not native to China, and therefore devoid of the political import Painting 2 wounded (or dead?) students would have had, while those helping are pulling together in ways that Chairman Mao espoused.

Wang Guangyi, “Mao Zedong, Red Grid No. 2,” 1988, Oil on canvas. Daring, and shocking, even 12 years after the death of Mao, given the omnipresence and power of his image in China. Unlike Andy Warhol’s “Mao as celebrity” series on the early 1970’s, Wang Guangyi has placed the former Chairman in a grid. It almost looks like he’s behind bars. It looks like it was done by (or influenced by) Chuck Close. The grid being one way Artists, including Close, have traditionally transferred images from one medium to another, but here it feels like there’s a different kind of transferring going on. Wang Guangyi painted this in 1988, 12 years after the subject’s passing, when it’s “meaning” is something else, something less fearful, something almost as neutral as the color he’s painted in, where it looks more like an old black and white Photo, and as such, it’s an image now locked in the past.

Liu Zheng, “The Chinese,” 1994-2002, 120 Gelatin silver prints. Among the Photography on display, these examples from the series of 120 stood out. Having worked on the state-run “Worker’s Daily” newspaper, his images go beyond the social realism they favored into a realm that isn’t quite “Street Photography,” and is significantly different from Robert Frank or Diane Arbus’ work, though the title is reminiscent of Frank’s “The Americans,” 1958. The rawness of the image is matched by the Photographer’s approach, which varies in each memorable shot.

Zhang Xiaogang, “New Year’s Eve, 1990,” Oil on canvas with collage of cloth and playing cards. After being hospitalized due to a bout with alchoholism, Zhang emerged from a dark period in his life in 1985 and joined the New Wave movement. This work has a haunting isolation to it. All we can really see are the figure’s left hand and his head/face. It’s as if he’s disembodied. In front of him lie 2 playing cards an unlit candle and a knife. Has the candle gone out? Is the knife for protection or self harm? This work was Painted after Tiananmen Square and refers to the beginning of the New Year. A black cloth hangs over the subject’s head, like a black cloud, with a red lining, possibly referring to additional raining of blood. The eyes stare straight out from the canvas, but not at the viewer. His glance doesn’t seem to make it out of his eyes.

Zhao Bandi, “Young Zhang,” 1992, Oil on canvas. One of the more popular Paintings in the show, judging by how many selfies I’ve seen taken in front of it online. It’s effect goes beyond it’s unorthodox off center hanging. Zhao shows us a young worker, living in a cramped space with few belongings beyond his embroidered comforter and a TV. Rising from sleep, he puts on his glasses and grabs a cigarette and stretches as he begins his day in his life in post-Reform China, where the economy is now booming, though the fruits of that may be slow to reach all levels of the workers.  This work was painted with a model in the Artist’s small room, on his bed. The title “Young Zhang” could really be “Young Everyman,” with Zhang being one of the most popular surnames in China.

Lin Yilin, “Safely Maneuvering Across Linhe Road,” 1995, Still from Performance video, CITIC Plaza, June 3, 1995

Lin Yilin, “Safely Maneuvering Across Linhe Road,” 1995, Color video with sound 36 minutes 45 seconds. Living in Manhattan, where pedestrian safety is an ever-increasing concern, there was no way I could leave this work out.

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Here, the Artist constructs a wall of cinder blocks on a road, then moves it block by block, column by column, across all 4 lanes until he reaches the other side, safely.  At the show, all 36 minutes of it were looped. While I immediately related to the issue of trying to cross any street safely, Katherine Grube, who spoke with the Artist, said “Mr. Lin’s objective was to create a ‘movable wall,’ animated by his own efforts that would interrupt the steady flow of traffic…and call attention to the unnatural, inhuman pace of urbanization and the human dislocations necessary to, and inseparable from such monumental environmental change6.”

Ai Weiwei, “June, 1994,” Gelatin silver print

Ai Weiwei, “June, 1994,” Gelatin silver print- A while back in these pages I called Ai Weiwei the “Artist of the Decade,” even though there were three years left to run in it. I still feel good about my choice. He was named the #1 “Most Influential Photographer in the World,” among 50 selected in 2013, and by now he is, or will soon be, the most Photographed Artist in Art history. Still, it’s now obvious that he’s not the only important Chinese Artist of the past, let’s call it 3 decades. While his works, “Fairytale,” 2007, and “Citizen’s Investigation,” 2009-10, both “multi-media,” for lack of a better term, were also included, I picked this one because Ai Weiwei was in New York in June, 1989, when Tiananmen Square happened. He took this in Tiananmen Square on the 5th anniversary. It features his future wife, Lu Qing, center, while two soldiers walk casually behind her, another woman has her back to her right behind her, and, at the moment Ai shot this, a pensioner driving a powered cart, with his or her crutches visible, drives into the frame. Mao overlooks the whole scene. in the distance. What I haven’t seen mentioned, either on the wall card, or in the show’s catalog is that beginning the next year, 1995, Ai Weiwei began his famous “Study of Perspective” Photograph series, that lasted until 2003, where he flipped off important monuments around the world, including Tiananmen Square. Perhaps, learning from his experience with “June, 1994,” he opted to create a similar “affront” to “power” through means that required less “production,” and therefore, allowed him more control over the final result. Yes, it can be said he, therefore, stripped it down, even further than here, to it’s bare essentials.

Liu Dan’s “Splendour of Heaven and Earth,” 1994-95, Ink on paper. 196 by 75 inches. Photo- Liu Dan, Guggenheim Museum.

Liu Dan, “Splendour of Heaven and Earth,” 1994-95, Ink on paper. Besides Ai Weiwei, Liu Dan is the other Contemporary Chinese Artist that has captivated me since I discovered him at The Met’s “Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China” show in 2013. A close look at the incredible detail in his (often) huge works, reveals the man is a magician. I have since tracked down every book of his work I can find. Each of his larger works have the look and feel of being part of a giant scroll, with no “beginning” and no “end.” They seem to be influenced by ancient Chinese landscape Painting and the study of “Gongshi,” or “scholar’s rocks,” which have the abstract qualities of fantastic 20th Century sculpture. Still, I have absolutely no idea how he creates such incredible Paintings/Drawings, this one is almost 16 1/2 FEET long! Now living in the USA, he is gradually receiving the attention he richly deserves (witness “Ink Unbound: Paintings by Liu Dan,” where he reimagines classics of Western Art, which closes on January 29th at the Minneapolis Institute of Art). It might be too late for latecomers, though. His work already fetches large sums at auction, making it hard for it to find it’s way into public collections.

Liu Xiaodong, Two works from “Battlefield Realism: The Eighteen Arhats,” 2004, Oil on canvas.

Lio Xiaodong, “Battlefield Realism: The Eighteen Arhats,” 2004, Oil on canvas, 18 panels. Liu Xiaodong created a series of 9 diptychs of portraits of soldiers stationed on islands that are contested by China and Taiwan, Painting one soldier in each army in a pair. After Painting each portrait, he asked the subject to Paint their name, age and birthplace on the work. The result makes it hard for outsiders to know which army each soldier represents, and brings home the fact that though the soldier on the left, above, is 20, they all look very young, and the series quickly becomes a powerful meditation on…well, that’s up to you. For me, the two sides look indistinguishable. I can’t tell which side is which. About all that’s obvious is that these are young people with their whole lives ahead of them…unless war cuts them short.

Gu Dexin, 2009-05-02, 2009, Mounted on the top of the surrounding walls, Paint on 72 wood panels, Yang Jiechang, Lifelines I, 1999, On center pillar (and below), Ink and acrylic on paper mounted on canvas, as seen at the Guggenheim.

Gu Dexin, “2009-05-02,” 2009, Paint on wood, (Originally consisting of ) 74 panels, concrete and red lacquer, color video installation. Its’ fitting the show ends with Gu Dexin’s work, “2009-05-02,” At the Guggenheim, it consisted of a frieze surrounding the space who’s panels contain 11 sentences, unbroken, unpunctuated and repeated, which read, “We have killed people we have killed men we have killed women we have killed old people we have killed children we have eaten people we have eaten hearts we have eaten human brains we have beaten people we have beaten people blind we have beaten open people’s faces.” These sentences are said to evoke the revolutionary writer Lu Xun’s “A Madman’s Diary,” from 1918. The work bears the same title as the show at which it debuted, as seen below, where it consisted of three components- a video of white clouds in a blue sky looped on video screens mounted over the gallery’s windows, above the 74 Painted panels. At the center of the gallery’s floor was a concrete plinth bearing a single sentence: “We Can Ascend To Heaven.” The show was up during the 20th Anniversary of the June 4th Incident in Tiananmen Square.

Gu Dexin, “2009-05-02,” installed at it’s premiere, Galleria Continua, Beijing, May, 2002, with the concrete plinth with red lacquer, below, and the video screens, above, from the show’s catalog.

During the run of the “2009-05-02” show, “Gu Dexin declared that ‘2009-05-02’ would be his last Artwork. He then proceeded to retreat entirely from Art and the Art world, which he understands as having become complicit in a political, cultural, and moral system which he refuses to accept. This refusal, more than any single object or image, may be his most enduring work of Art…He is, in singular ways, the conscience of his generation7.”

Yang Jiechang, “Lifelines 1,” 1999, Ink and acrylic on paper mounted on canvas. 236 x 91 inches.

At the Guggenheim, Gu Dexin’s “2009-05-02” panels were installed surrounding Yang Jiechang’s “Lifelines 1,” 1999, in the final gallery at the top of the 6th floor. Of “Lifelines 1,” which Yang Jiechang created for the 10th Anniversary of Tinananmen Square, Alexandra Munroe says, “”It recalls the pathways volunteers made in Tiananmen Square during the demonstrations to ferry hunger-striking students to the hospital8.”

I’ve never been to China so I have to see this show through Western eyes. Overall, I find Chinese Contemporary Art to be one of the most interesting and fresh realms of Contemporary Art anywhere9. I’m not sure exactly why, but it seemed to me that even the most “avant-garde” works were not as obtuse as much of what I see around NYC, and most of what I’ve seen in my lifetime. While I’m not big on Art that meeds to be “explained,” given the differences in language and culture, I took a different approach here in an effort to “meet the work halfway.” Almost every time I did, I found the work not only made sense, I became aware of different levels the Artist was working on. Of course, it should be said that though Shakespeare’s “Tis new to thee” applied to me, with the two noted exceptions, most of these Artists have been long established both in China and Internationally. As I said, however, it would have been possible to mount any number of alternate shows given the universe of Artists to choose from. As a result, the only possible way to look at this show is that it represents “the tip of the iceberg” of Contemporary Chinese Art.

Therefore, trying to sum up this show is as pointless as trying to  sum up China itself. The strength of the show lies in the diversity of its vision, that so many unique, strong voices are at work creating impressive, and interesting, work right now is what counts. At those times when I wonder where the next big breakthrough will come from I see I need to cast a much wider net. It’s out there. And it’s probably going on right now out of the gaze of most of us.

“It’s new to thee,” indeed.

If this work can come out of/be born of repression? There may be more hope for the world than I feared.

“Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World” is my NoteWorthy show for December. 

My previous Posts on Ai Weiwei, covering his NYC shows in Brooklyn in 2014 and four Manhattan shows in 2016 may be found here.
My look at Cai Dongdong’s recent show at Klein Sun Gallery may be found here

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “Brave New World” by Iron Maiden, released in 2000 on the album of the same name, which was inspired by Aldous Huxley’s novel.

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. diplomat.com “China’s Art Market Is Booming…”
  2. time.com Tiananmen Protester Wang Dan
  3. “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World,” Exhibition catalog, p. 23. The show’s exceptional catalog is one of the best I’ve seen, for any show, in many years. It’s much more than a guide to this show. It also includes extensive documentation on the history of Contemporary Art in China, including an in-depth look at all previous larger shows of Chinese Contemporary Art, internationally, biographies of Chinese Artists & Artist Groups, and a guide to reference texts on the subject by year, all of which will make it a standard reference on the subject in the USA for the foreseeable future.
  4. UCCA, “Rauschenberg in China,” 2016
  5. Exhibition Catalog P.25
  6. Exhibition catalog, P. 157
  7. Alexandra Munroe, Philip Tinari, Exhibition catalog for this show, P. 286.
  8. Exhibition catalog, P.35
  9. While keeping an eye on Africa.

Charles White & Leonardo da Vinci…at MoMA!

“I am a traveler of both time and space
To be where I have been
And sit with elders of the gentle race
This world has seldom seen
Who talk of days for which they sit and wait
When all will be revealed”*

In all the years I’ve been going to MoMA, which pre-dates the 1980 Picasso Retrospective, this is one of the most unusual shows I’ve seen there. “Charles White-Leonardo da Vinci. Curated by David Hammons” consisted of two works. Well? Four works if you count the two Vedic astrological charts included. Two works of Art…both masterpieces, separated by more than four and a half centuries.

The Exhibition Brochure folds out into this cosmic poster. Click any Photo for full size.

Here each was separated by only tens of feet, installed facing each other across the gallery.

Installation view…of the whole show. Leonardo da Vinci, “Drapery of a kneeling figure,” c.1491-4, Brush and black ink with white heightening on pale blue prepared paper, left, Charles White’s “Black Pope (Sandwich Board Man),” 1973, right. Vedic astrological charts for both Artists center.

They were brought together by one man- the curator of this show, Artist David Hammons, who also commissioned Vedic astrological charts for both Artists, seeking connections that extend beyond what’s on the walls. What’s on the walls are Charles White’s “Black Pope (Sandwich Board Man),” 1973, Oil wash on board, from MoMA’s Permanent Collection, right, and Leonardo da Vinci’s “Drapery of a kneeling figure,” c.1491-4, Brush and black ink with white heightening on pale blue prepared paper, here on loan from Queen Elizabeth’s collection. It’s a study for the kneeling angel in his “The Virgin of the Rocks,” in the National Gallery, London, that I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience with in February, 2012.

Charles White, “Black Pope (Sandwich Board Man),” 1973, Oil wash on board.

Wait. Leonardo da Vinci in The Museum of Modern Art? That, alone, made this something to see. It’s only the 3rd time a da Vinci has been shown at MoMA.

Leonardo da Vinci, “Drapery of a kneeling figure,” c.1491-4, Brush and black ink with white heightening on pale blue prepared paper

Closer. Who was the genius that decided to mark THIS with the “E R” tag on the lower right corner? Seriously? Isn’t the notation on the accompanying card that it’s in Queen Elizabeth’s collection sufficient?

But, don’t sleep on Charles White. His is a name that’s increasingly being brought up by Artists, acknowledging his influence, and/or his direct instruction. I have a feeling that as time goes on, his Art, too, will be increasingly part of the conversation. “Black Pope,” 1973 is considered one of his masterpieces. It’s haunting presence and mysterious message- his left hand giving the “Peace Sign,” the sandwich board reads, simply, “NOW,” as the figure moves under the word “Chicago,” emblazoned on the lower half of a skeleton, wonderfully executed, is a work that immediately impresses as “important.” The first thought turns to the war in Vietnam, which would not end for another 2 years, in 1975. Somehow, I don’t think it’s that simple. As it continues to haunt me, it also serves to make me want to see much more of his work.

The mercurial and elusive David Hammons was one of Charles White’s students. Though he chose a different stylistic path from his teacher’s realism (like, infamously, selling snowballs one winter’s day), he retained the latter’s activist stance, and has steadfastly held on to his “outsider” position. As a result, it’s somewhat surprising to see his name as the curator for this museum show. Another reason this was a must see show. Mr. Hammons has come up with a fascinating idea. In trying to understand his concept and intentions, I looked at MoMA’s recently published book on Charles White’s “Black Pope,” written by Esther Adler, Assistant Curator of Drawings and Prints at MoMA. In it, David Hammons, who sought Charles White out in 1968 as a teacher, is only quoted once. He says that “He (Charles White) is the only Artist I really related to1.”

Then, there’s this, in the exhibition’s brochure-

Inside of the exhibition brochure. Written by David Hammons..? No one is credited.

Beyond that, the wall tag reads, in part, “Hammons…asks us to consider commonalities between these two artists.” Ok. Let’s see…

On the surface the two Artists couldn’t seem to be more different.

Born 460, or so, years apart. Half a world apart. Leonardo was illegitimate (“a social disadvantage that was nearly impossible to overcome…2”  at the time). Charles White was a black man, born the son of a steel worker who was a Creek Indian- not exactly “favored” social standing. One fantasized about manned flight and his Drawings of it are still studied today. The other, born in 1918, grew up in the early days of real manned flight, and died in 1979, 10 years after man first set foot on the moon. One spoke Italian and wrote backwards, the other’s major concern was “to be accepted as a spokesman for my people3.” But, there are similarities that become more apparent as you look, and, yes, even more.

The first thing that becomes obvious, at least to me, is that they are both Masters. Fear not, Charles White holds his own, a remarkable achievement for any Artist.  The second is that they are not at all at odds with each other, nor do they look jarring alongside each other, at least to my eyes. Obviously, they both valued the craft and Art of Drawing. Going further, they were both born in the first half of April. Leonardo on April 15, 1452, Charles White on April 2, 1918. Hence the idea of commissioning Vedic Astrologer Chakrapani Ullal to create charts for each.

Ahhh…It was all written in the stars. The first page of da Vinci’s Vedic astrology chart, left, and Charles White’s right. If only I could read them. I do note that “Ke” is in the upper right quadrant of both.

“Talk and song from tongues of lilting grace
Whose sounds caress my ear
But not a word I heard could I relate
The story was quite clear”*

Both Artists “taught” Drawing- Leonardo’s dedication to the technique of Art has been exceeded by few, if any Artists before or after him. He “taught” drawing, directly, to his apprentices and ever since his death, his voluminous Notebooks have been excerpted into a number of texts on technique, that, along with his few Paintings and many Drawings have served to inform and inspire countless Artists down through the centuries. As Leonardo is a “tree” from which countless Artists have become branches, Charles White now has his own tree. He taught directly, in person, with numerous students over the years, at Dillard University, then most notably later in his life at Otis Art Institute, from 1965-79. It was while he was at Otis Art Institute , that David Hammons sought him out to study with in 1968. Kerry James Marshall closely studied Charles White’s work from a distance during his formative years, finally deciding in 7th grade that he would take his class and study under him. “In high school, Marshall sneaked into Otis and sat at the back of Charles White’s evening art class, hoping to remain unnoticed. “I didn’t have any business being in there in the first place, and then there was a naked person in there, so that was even more of a factor, you know,’ Marshall recalls, laughing. White noticed the youngster and approached him, saying, ‘You can’t see nothing from back here.’ He moved Marshall to the front and taught him how to draw a head in profile. He could come back anytime, White said4.” Marshall, fresh off his monumental, traveling retrospective is, at the moment, the most prominent member of Charles White’s influence tree, and he has continually spoken of his debt to Charles White.

Looking further, both Artist’s work is “representational,” though Charles White does touch on realms considered abstract. Still, standing in front of the Leonardo, and looking towards the very next gallery, filled with Surrealism, I wondered what he would think of this, which was in it’s direct sightline-

Yves Tanguy, “Mama, Papa Is Wounded!,” 1927, Oil on canvas

Interestingly, in Charles White’s “Black Pope (Sandwich Board Man),” 1973, we see the figure from, apparently, right above his knees (though the skeleton of a lower body looms above him5). In Leonardo’s Drawing, we see the figure’s lower body. Between the two works of Art, we’d have one whole human body (half female, half male). Looking at it another way, it’s as if Leonardo’s is providing the foundation-figuratively and literally. Both have a fair amount of beautiful drawn “drapery,” or clothing, the folds and nuances of shading is something that Artists have long prided themselves on mastering- Leonardo, a supreme Master of it, gives us a classic example of one such exercise here.

Leonardo’s work is a study for the Virgin of the Rocks, a work that seems to focus on Saint John the Baptist, a prophet. Charles White’s “Black Pope,” also appears to be something of a prophet, but “saying,” or “foretelling” exactly what, is not clear. Both works are surrounded in mystery as to exactly what is happening.

“Oh, father of the four winds, fill my sails
Across the sea of years
With no provision but an open face
Along the straits of fear.”*

Perhaps, Mr. Hammons has some personal insight from Charles White about Leonardo and his influence on him, but that is not shared here. Leonardo is one of the most respected and revered Artists in Western Art History. Is Mr. Hammons putting him, alone, in the same room with Charles White his way of saying that Charles White, “the only Artist he related to,” is comparable for him to how Leonardo is held by the larger, and largely white, Art world?

I think Kerry James Marshall may have summed it up best- “When I looked at his (Charles White’s) work it seemed as good as something anyone else ever made, and better than a lot of things other people made, but how come he’s invisible to Art history?” 6

Getting back to “Black Pope,” the Artwork, MoMA’s new book on the piece does an excellent job of tracking down some of Charles White’s possible visual references. Though they located newsphotos that appear to be closer to Charles White’s composition, I was, also, struck that among them is the fold out cover for Isaac Hayes album “Black Moses,” released by Stax Enterprise Records, 1971.

Isaac Hayes “Black Moses,” Foldout Lp Cover, Stax Enterprise Records, 1971.

Charles White’s influence is already well-established through his illustrious and important students. Art history may, also, be slowly beginning to catch up. It turns out that this show is something of  an “appetizer” for MoMA’s “Charles White: A Retrospective” which opens next year. It’s an overdue show that could go a long ways in finally solidifying Charles White’s place as an important Artist.

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “Kashmir” by John Bonham, Jimmy Page & Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, and which was recorded on “Physical Graffiti,” 1975, 2 years after Charles White created “Black Pope.” A great performance of it is here.

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. This “Charles White-Leonardo” show, upcoming at the time, is mentioned in a footnote.
  2. https://www.press.umich.edu/17155/illegitimacy_in_renaissance_florence
  3. charles white-imagesofdignity.org
  4. Sam Worley, Chicago Mag, 3/29.2016
  5. Remarkably reminiscent of Robert Rauschenberg’s X Ray in his 196 7work, “Booster,” created at Gemini G.E.L., where Charles White was also working at the time.
  6. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/kerry-james-marshall-interview-putting-black-artists-into-the-textbooks-9801055.html

Art In Manhattan, 2017- And Then There Were Five

It was a year of discovery. A year where I discovered some great Artists I previously hadn’t known, finally caught up with some I knew about but hadn’t gotten to see much of their work, and got lost exploring some remarkable Retrospectives- for Raymond Pettibon and Robert Rauschenberg, both accompanied by memorable satellite shows. Most of these are represented in my monthly NoteWorthy Show selections throughout the year. But? There was more! So, I’m going to take this moment to pause and look back at the revelations of 2017, look at some memorable shows I didn’t write about at the time, and finally, highlight a pair of men who, I feel, had an exceptional 2017 in Manhattan Art.

No doubt about it- the biggest discovery this year was a long overdue deep dive into the world of Contemporary Photography. From seeing well over 100 Photography shows, to spending five long days at “AIPAD: The Photography Show” (with well over 120 galleries from all over the world showing work), to going through hundreds of PhotoBooks, and meeting many Photographers, legendary, famous, or not quite yet, along with the staffs of two of the world’s leading Photography organizations- Aperture and Magnum, both celebrating major anniversaries this year. Rarely did a week pass when Photography wasn’t in the the picture. Of course, in a world were there are now more cameras than people it’s impossible to get to see everyone who’s doing great work. As happens each year, NO matter WHAT I do to prevent it, this year too, there were shows I didn’t find out about until they closed. UGGGH!!!! Along the way, there were quite a few revelations, and a good many other things solidified…at least for the moment.

First, the revelations. In Photography, particularly by those younger than 50 (I say 50 because I seem to know/have heard of many of those over) and unknown to me, Gregory Halpern was the biggest revelation I had this year. His book “Zzyzx” won the prestigious Aperture Best Book Award for 2016, but I didn’t know that when I discovered his work at Aperture’s booth at AIPAD. I had never heard of him.

Gregory Halpern, “Untitled,” 2016, from his “Buffalo” series. Click any Photo for full size.

The work, “Untitled,” was a Photograph Aperture had run in the Spring, 2017 issues of it’s excellent quarterly magazine, in a pictorial by Mr. Halpern, titled “Buffalo.” I didn’t know that then, either. I simply saw the work, and then couldn’t get it out of my mind. It now hangs a few feet away. Out of everything I saw at AIPAD, particularly by those younger than 50 and unknown to me, this work grabbed me and didn’t let go. I went home that night with one thought on my mind- “WHO is Gregory Halpern?” After researching him most of the night, (including finding his incredibly honest and insightful answer to one very important question), serendipitously, I got to meet him the next day, and spoke to him about his book. It turned out to be a classic case where some things are better left unexamined. Gregory was so forthcoming in his answers about specific images I came too close for comfort to losing some of their mystery.

Gregory Halpern standing next “Untitled,” at Aperture’s Booth at AIPAD, March 31st.

In addition to being, in my eyes, one of the most talented Photographers of his generation, he is, also, one of it’s best writers. He’s the co-author of one of the most popular and respected Photography Manuals of 2017, “The Photographer’s Playbook,” and his occasionally published articles always enlighten and leave me wanting more. A Harvard grad, he’s now a professor in the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology for some very lucky students. As if all of that isn’t enough, his wife, Ahndraya Parlato is, also, one of the revelations of the year as a Photographer. Her Photographs “glow”- in one way or another. Her most recent book, “A Spectacle and Nothing Strange,” is ethereal…mesmerizing…magical.

Leaving aside age or era, the work of Fred Herzog was, also, unknown to me. Early pioneers of color Photography have taken decades coming to the attention they deserve, such was the disdain color held among the Photographic cognoscenti for color Photography. With the publication of “Fred Herzog: Modern Color,” in February, 2017, an Artist who was fairly well-known, and appreciated, in his native Canada finally began becoming wider known in the USA. His work was memorably shown by Equinox Gallery of Vancouver at AIPAD this spring, where, I felt, it stood out.

Fred Herzog, “Main Barber,” 1968, seen at Equinox Gallery’s AIPAD booth.

Fred Herzog considers Saul Leiter THE master of early color Photography, and even with a giant like William Eggleston to consider (who’s 1976 MoMA show, “Photographs by William Eggleston,” which can be “visited” here, is widely credited with making color Photography “acceptable” in the world of “Fine Art”), it’s hard to argue with him. No Photographer new to me, regardless of age or period, had a bigger impact on me this year than Saul Leiter.

Saul Leiter, “Through Boards,” Circa 1957. This image appears (cropped) on the cover of the now classic book, “Saul Leiter: Early Color,” 2006, which launched the “Saul Leiter Renaissance.” It’s, perhaps, my very favorite Photobook. Sadly, now out of print, it would take real diligence to find a very good copy for less than $100. But, there are many worse uses of time. Photo by the Saul Leiter Foundation.

It took until 2006 for Saul Leiter to be recognized- FIFTY EIGHT years after he started taking color photographs. As with William Eggleston, Mr. Leiter was, also, a devoted Painter. I can see it in both of their work, and I believe it’s part of the reason their work speaks to me, perhaps, more than the work of any other Photographer of any period. It was his friend, no less than the great Artist Richard Pousette-Dart (who’s also an under appreciated Photographer), to encouraged him to pursue Photography.

“Walk with Soames,” 1958, This was 20 YEARS before William Eggleston’s ground breaking MoMA show “legitimized” color Photography in the Art world! Photo by Howard Greenberg Gallery.

Mr. Leiter saw and used color in his Photography in ways no one else has, achieving effects that today’s finest digital manipulators can only dream of. Saul Leiter didn’t need Photoshop to get his results. As very good as his Black & White work is, like Turner or Van Gogh, Saul Leiter was a true Poet of color, perhaps the greatest Master of Color in Photography, though it’s, of course, impossible and pointless to qualitatively compare.

“T,” Circa 1950(!).Photo by the Saul Leiter Foundation. Daring. Gorgeous.

A number of established Photographers had terrific shows in NYC in 2017 that I didn’t get to write about here. Among them are Mark Steinmetz, Mike Mandel, Raghubir Singh (though marked by controversy), Richard Avedon, Herman Leonard, Michael Kenna, and Edward Burtynsky. But, I’m going to address one I simply can’t let pass, because I continue to think about it.

Richard Misrach’s Photo, “Effigy #3, near Jacumba, California,” 2009, Pigment print mounted to Dibond, right rear, with Guillermo Galindo’s Musical Instrumet/Sculpure “Effigy,” 2014, center2014. Barely visible are two strings between the forearms. The grey rectangle on the lower left side of the pedestal is where a speaker is mounted.

“Richard Misrach: Border Cantos,” (at Pace, 510 West 25th Street), was an utterly remarkable and serendipitous collaboration between renowned Photographer Richard Misrach & Composer/Sculptor Guillermo Galindo on the subject of our southern border, those protecting it, and those trying to cross it. To accompany Mr. Misrach’s large, atmospheric Photographs, Mr. Galindo created a whole orchestra of Musical Instruments out of objects found along the border, and proceeded to compose and record a 4 hour score that was looped in the show’s back room to meditative effect, ingeniously installed so that the music being played was coming from speakers mounted inside the display of the specific instruments that were playing at any given moment. (The Artists have an excellent website for this show where you can, also, hear these remarkable instruments.)

Instruments, like this. Guillermo Galindo, “Tortillafono/Wall Vibraphone,” 2014, Metal. The discarded metal cap of an electrical box from the failed SBInet (Secure Border Initiative) surveillance program was turned into a mallet and string instrument sits in front of Richard Misrach’s “Artifacts fround from California to Texas between 2013 and 2015,” 2013-5, 86 x 57 inches, Pigment prints mounted to Dibond. Photos of items found along the border.

And this- Guillermo Galindo, “Teclata,” His description- “On this keyboard, empty cans, bottles, and a plastic cup act as piano strings. The surface of the instrument is decorated with Border Patrol ammunition boxes.”

The surround sound effect was like sitting in the middle of a small chamber music group. The instruments, themselves, were beautiful as sculpture, and the music, which sounded to me like a cross between Harry Partch (who, also, made his own instruments) and John Cage, on instruments that looked like Rauschenbergs, had me asking if it had been released on CD. Why not?

Richard Misrach, “Playas de Tijuana #1, San Diego,” 2013, Pigment print mounted to Dibond, 42 x 160 inches.

Mr. Misrach, who has spent forty years working in the American Desert on his renown “Desert Cantos” project, showed a remarkable selection of images taken since 2004, but more intensely since 2009 (the collaboration with Mr. Galindo dates back to 2012), that told the story in slices. The effect of the music, the images and the sculptures (musical and non) was hypnotic, and ultimately meditative on the situation, the people protecting the border, and the refugees, while at the same time, even for those directly untouched by this story, the show spoke to a larger sense of walls, borders and refugees, and resilience. The Artists found, or created, beauty in this situation, reflecting the very perseverance that is at the essence of survival.

Richard Misrach, “Wall, east of Nogales, Arizona,” 2014, 68 x 84 inches, Pigment print mounted to Dibond

On the Painting & Drawing front, the most important Painting/Drawing gallery show I haven’t addressed was Kara Walker (at Sikkema Jenkins and Co.). Before it opened the buildup was downright intense. First, these posters began appearing, which certainly raised eyebrows until you notice (along the lower left side) that the text was written by the Artist. The show was also featured in a cover article in one of the last print issues of the Village Voice. I can’t remember the last time an Art show made the Voice’s cover, but this was the last time one did.

 Kara Walker sounds a bit weary in the poster, and particularly in the “Artist’s Statement” that appears on the show’s page on the Sikkema website.

“Dredging the Quagmire (Bottomless Pit),” 2017 Oil stick and Sumi ink on paper collaged on linen, 18 feet long, seen in the show’s first room. A “bottomless quagmire” is what the history of and current state of race and gender relations does feel like at this moment in time.

In the lower right side, this almost submerged head seemed to echo Ms. Walker’s weariness in her Artist’s Statement. “But frankly I am tired, tired of standing up, being counted, tired of ‘having a voice’ or worse ‘being a role model.'”

After all the anticipation and buildup, at the packed opening, Ms. Walker, herself, was only to be seen for a little while, at least while I was there.

Kara Walker at the opening, September 7, 2017, with part of  “U.S.A. Idioms,” 2017, Sumi ink and collage on paper, almost 15 by 12 feet, in the background.

While she continues to create her signature Silhouettes, showing a gorgeous 2017 work titled “Slaughter of the Innocents (They Might be Guilty of Something),” that’s almost 18 1/2 feet long, the bulk of the show consists on her ink and collage works, that have increasingly come to the forefront of her shows as time has gone on, most recently in her Cleveland Museum show, “The Ecstasy of St. Kara,” 2016, and at MoMA’s “Unfinished Conversations: New Work from the Collection,” which closed on July 30, 2017, where her “40 Acres of Mules,” a Charcoal Drawing on 3 sheets totaling almost 18 feet long that was acquired by the Museum the year before, was on view in what was something of a one-work preview for her Sikkema show.

“Slaughter of the Innocents (They Might be Guilty of Something),” 2017, Cut paper on canvas. For me, one thing Ms. Walker’s Silhouettes all seem to ask is “Why do you see, what you see?”

Whereas it’s hard for me to imagine the care, patience and deliberation it must take for Ms. Walker to create one of her silhouettes, her Drawing & Collages look like they are done in bursts of raw energy and passion. At times the images approach the quality of a caricature of an event. No matter the differences in creation, when you see her Silhouettes and Drawings side by side they’re unmistakably by the same Artist.

While the Silhouettes, mostly, seem to leave quite a bit to the imagination, including the race of each character, her Drawings & Collages do not, especially when it comes to violence. Nothing is held back, hinted at or hidden. In the Drawings and collages, she has taken away the curtain inherent in Silhouettes in depicting racism and gender crimes. We see the faces, skin color, eyes, and what each one is involved in doing.  You can choose to look away, but otherwise, it’s pretty hard to “miss” what’s going on. The results are shocking, though they have precedent going back to Goya’s “Los Caprichos,” and “The Disasters of War,” and Daumier through Warhol, as well as in the work of Photojournalists and “Conflict Photographers” from all over the world. In Kara Walker’s work, though, the time is centered between 1788, when slavery was legalized in the US, through post Civil War “Reconstruction.”  Where the Silhouettes present a shadow of the figure, and the actions, the Drawings shine direct light. In fact, there are almost no shadows in her drawings- there’s no where for the perpetrators to hide.

“The Pool Party of Sardanapalus (after Delacroix, Kienholz,” 2017, Sumi ink and collage on paper, Almost 12 feet long.

Eugene Delacroix, “The Death of Sardanapalus,” 1844, Oil on canvas, Louvre, Paris. Kara Walker is, also, an astute student of Art History. In her work, Sardanapalus lies horizontally near the upper left corner, apparently, taking no interest in the orgy of death going on, as he does, lying arm on elbow on a huge red bed in Delacroix’. Her Ed Kienholz reference is a bit harder to track down, but it might be this one.

In “Christ’s Entry into Journalism,” 2017, the ground is, also, gone. The figures hang in the space of the paper, though some sense of perspective remains- as you get closer to the top of the sheet, they get smaller.

“Christ’s Entry into Journalism,” 2017, Sumi ink and collage on paper, 140 x 196 inches.

In this work, Ms. Walker’s figures cut across time, with some appearing to be contemporary. To the right of center, a figure “rocks the mic.” In the lower center is a figure that appears to be a modern riot trooper, in a helmet with face shield and body armor. He appears to have clubs in each hand. Right next to his left hand is what appears to be a black head, in a hoodie, on a platter, being carried by a woman, who looks away, while others nearby watch, some with shock on their face, some pointing to the scene. Just behind them, an extended arm holds and American flag, while above them a figure gives a Nazi salute with one hand while holding a Rebel flag with the other. Up top, a lynched figure hangs from a tree branch while women on either side of him perform acrobatics, with Klansmen standing next to them. In front of that naked black women are attacked by a group of men, while, again, others see what is going on. In the center of the work, the decapitated hoodied head looks straight across at a Civil War soldier pointing a gun at him, across time. Is this 1863? Or 2016?

“Storm Ryder (You Must Hate Black People as Much as You Hate Yourself),” 2017, Oil stick and Sumi ink on paper collaged on linen.

The primacy of Drawing in her work was reinforced with the recent release of one of Ms Walker’s Sketchbooks from 1999, when the Artist was 29, as a book appropriately titled, “MCMXCIX.” It contains Drawings that, in style and subject, visitors to the Sikkema show will immediatley recognize. Interestingly, as Raymond Pettibon does in his shows (the latest concluding on June 24th, shortly before Ms. Walker’s opened), she prefers her larger works be tacked to the walls.

“Future Looks Bright,” 2017, Oil stick and Sumi ink on paper collaged on linen.

Kara Walker may be growing tired of being a “role model,” of being “a featured member of my racial group and/or my gender niche,” (as she says in her Artist’s Statement referenced above). Of course, I can’t imagine being Kara Walker, but I can understand that it gets to be “too much.” I’m not sure, however, what her other choice is. I mean, I’m sure she COULD do something else if she REALLY wanted to. After seeing all the work and passion she put into this show? I guess I’m just not convinced that she really DOES want to do something else. Yet.

Finally…Looking back on 2017… Last year I wrote that I felt Sheena Wagstaff had the best year in NYC Art. She’s had a very good 2017, too. But, this year, I think that The New Museum’s Massimiliano Gioni & Gary Carrion-Murayari. had special years, highlighted by the truly exemplary, and revolutionary, “Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work” retrospective, which they then remounted simultaneously in Maastricht and Moscow. I feel it was “revolutionary” because totaling an unheard of 800 works, including brand new works created by the Artist for this show (some on the very walls of the New Museum), they gave an exhaustive look at Pettibon’s career, yet the show never slowed, never failed to keep and even raise interest. It even included work Pettibon did as a small child that he has now ammended in his own, unique style. Word has recently come that Gary Carrion-Murayari, who kindly answered my questions on the Pettibon Moscow show he co-curated, has also been named as a co-curator for the New Museum’s 2018 Triennial, so he could be ready to have another “big” year. Stay tuned!

The end result is that Massimiliano Gioni, Gary Carrion-Murayari, and the New Museum have served to put the “Big Four”1 Manhattan Museums on notice that, on their 40th anniversary, we are going to have to get used to saying the “Big Five.”

———————————–
A Special “Thank You!” to all the Artists who gave me their time and shared their thoughts with me in 2017, and to David White & Gina Guy of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and Gary Carrion-Murayari and Paul Jackson of the New Museum.
“Thank you!” to the Hattan Group and Kitty for research assistance, and to The Strand Bookstore for being open until 10:30pm seven nights a week. R.I.P. Owner, Fred Bass this week.

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “Heroic Elegy, Op. 36,” (1918), by Ernest Farrar, in honor of the 100th Anniversary of WW1, which was featured in another memorable show, “World War 1 & The Visual Arts” at The Met this year, as a way of honoring it, and all the Artists, and Musicians, lost during it. Shortly after “Heroic Elegy’s” premiere, Second Lieutenant Farrar was ordered to the Western Front. Two days after he arrived there, he was killed at the Battle of Epehy. He was 33. I first heard it while I was driving in Florida on September 11, 2002. The classical station there played it in honor of the first anniversary of 9/11. So taken with it was I that I pulled over and listened to it with my eyes closed, then immediately set about researching it’s composer. Though he wrote other fine works, “Heroic Elegy,” is special. It’s lightning in an 8 minute bottle. As beautiful as it is, there’s a quality, a confidence, in it that seems to promise so much more to come that he, tragically, never got the chance to give us, like the other Artists & Musicians lost far too early in this most senseless of wars.

On The Fence, #17, The Good Riddance” Edition.

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
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  1. With all due respect to The Frick Collection, who the powers that be that came up with “the Big Four” left out.

Ellen Harvey’s Global Beautification Project

A few weeks back, I walked across West 22nd Street after visiting Gary Hume’s show, “Mum” at Matthew Marks, lost in the whirlwind of emotions, past and present, it elicited, barely cognizant of the traffic, weather, or time. Luckily, Thanksgiving week in NYC tends to be on the quiet side. As I crossed the street, bright lights, like those seen in a carnival, beckoned from inside the front window of Danese/Corey Gallery. Reaching the sidewalk, I could see the lights made a sign that was attached to the frame of a wooden shack. They read “ARCADIA.”

The view from the sidewalk outside Danese/Corey. Click any Photo for full size.

Hmmm…”Arcadia.” A word that evokes simple pleasures. In need of some cheer, I stepped inside. While I can’t say I found “cheer,” I found Art.

Installation view from inside the “shack.” An extraordinarily imaginative vision, stunningly well realized.

The show was “Ellen Harvey: Nostalgia.” Inside the wooden framed shack, the carnival-like atmosphere of the sign outside quickly faded into darkness, pierced with lines of white light. Looking closer, the lines turned out to be etched on mirrors lit from the back. The light they emitted was reflected back by more back lit mirrors on the opposite side of the shack, as was the viewer, which made the design they held frustratingly hard to see. It was like “seeing” through a haze, a bit like walking around Times Square (I hear). Taken by the beauty I knew was there, I wandered around the space, enthralled and puzzled. Scenes of buildings, waves, and sky lined both sides culminating in a large panel showing the moon over the sea. Making my way to the gallery’s desk, I found that the work, titled “Arcade/Arcadia,” 2011, contains 34 hand engraved mirrors mounted on light boxes to form a 360 degree panorama of the town of Margate, England as seen from the beach. Hmmm…

Intentionally hard to see the amazing engraving on the mirrors.

Then same mirror, without anything in front of it. From the show’s catalog.

Unable to get the work out of my mind while I was looking at other shows, I went back to Danese/Corey later and bought the monograph, “ Ellen Harvey: The Museum of Failure1,” which has the backstory and images of the mirrors without reflections, (which, while defeating the point of the installation, allows appreciation of her amazing technique). I learned that the project was commissioned by the Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate, England for it’s opening in 2011. The shed is a remimagining of JMW Turner’s London gallery (in 3/4 size) and the mirrors are arranged in the way Turner displayed his work- “salon” style, as seen in George Jones  “Interior of Turner’s Gallery: the Artist showing his Works,” 1852. Along with another Painting George Jones did of it after Turner died, they are the only records we have of what JMW Turner’s gallery looked like.

George Jones “Interior of Turner’s Gallery: the Artist showing his Works,” 1952, Oil on canvas, Ashmolean Museum. Hmmm…George Jones believed in capitalizing “Artist,” like I do.

Turner loved Margate and lauded it’s natural beauty. So inspired, he is believed to have created around 100 Paintings of it, possibly including this one, given that he began using Margate as a second home around 1830.

JMW Turner, “Margate(?), Seen From the Sea,” c.1835-40, on loan from the National Gallery, London and seen in The Met Breuer’s “Unfinished” show in 2016, which I wrote about, here. Possibly one, of hundreds, of works he did depicting Margate.

In addition to finding inspiration, he, infamously, “shacked up” with his landlady there. The town eventually became a tourist mecca which led to it’s (over?) commercialization. When it fell on hard times, the amusement park, called “Dreamland,” (who’s sign Ms. Harvey pays homage to in her “Arcadia” sign, using the same font), closed and became a blight on the natural beauty which led so many to want to come there in the first place. In the piece, Ellen Harvey depicts a more recent view of Margate as seen from the beach, in apparent complete desolation.

The work is like an onion in it’s many layers. There’s the Turner layer, the Margate/nature layer, the Dreamland/commercialization layer, the mirror layer (with it’s funhouse effect, seen earlier), and the layer of light being distorted, which could be a reference to the light that Turner loved, and what’s become of it, with the addition of so many electric lights and buildings blocking sunlight. There’s, also, the layer of the styles of the two Artists, Ellen Harvey and JMW Turner, in dialogue. With the large shadow of no less than Turner looming, this is, certainly, a daring undertaking. Ms. Harvey’s mirrors contain many passages of sky and sea, crescendoing in the large center rear panel, that can’t help but remind today’s viewer of the English Master, though in decidedly her own style. Though “Dreamland” has recently reopened, the metaphor, and the warning, in the work is powerful, and both specific and universal. Experiencing it was a highlight among all the Art I’ve seen in 2017.

The rest of the show impressed me just as much. Adjacent to “Arcade/Arcadia,” was a Painting that depicted what looked to be a rough surface that seemed like it should be in relief, but was, in fact, flat. Hmmm…Is this the same Artist who just gave us all those meticulously engraved lines on those 34 mirrors2? It was closer in style to the Photographs of Aaron Siskind than the style I’d just seen. When I saw the title, I got it. “Crack/Craquelure.” Craquelure is a term referring to the cracking patterns seen in many old Paintings. “Nostalgia,” in another sense.

‘Crack/Craquelure,” 2017, Oil on wood panel.

There are other instances of “nostalgia” for the craft of Art in the show, like “Picture(esque),” 2017, Antique “Claude Glass,” float glass mirror, hook and plywood. A “Claude Glass,” (or “Black Mirror”) is an 18th & 19th century device, which Ms. Harvey is fond of.

“Picture(sque),” 2017. The “Black Mirror” was, also used for magic, particularly for seeing the future. Ellen Harvey’s work often contains images of ruins & destruction…images of a dark future.

They have been used by landscape Artists aiming for that special quality achieved by the great landscape Painter, Claude Lorrain (c.1604-1682), who it’s named after.

Claude Lorrain, “Pastoral Landscape: The Roman Campagna,” 1639, seen at The Met. A classic example of the much admired, and copied, “dark” landscape, which inspired the “Claude Glass.”

Beyond the other themes present in this diverse show, there is the theme of mirrors. Since Robert Rauschenberg, I can’t think of another Artist who uses mirrors as frequently to such wonderful effect. Hand-engraved, without engraving, or with “Black Glass,” above. I asked the Artist about her use of mirrors, and specifically when it started. She replied, “I’ve always loved mirrors — but the first mirror piece I really made was in 2005 for the Pennsylvania Academy — aptly titled “Mirror” because I wanted to show the space and comment on their collection of paintings…and then I got hooked. Before that, I was all about Polaroids.” She’s referring to her monumental installation where she reinvisioned the entrance hall of the landmarked Furness and Hewitt Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art Building, Philadelphia, as a ruin, using video and four 9 by 12 foot hand-engraved mirrors. Ruins are part of the “dark future” Ellen Harvey believes we are destined for. Rogier van der Weyden’s “The Last Judgement” was the first painting she fell in love with. “That red-hot sword is coming for us all,” she said3, referring to what looms above Christ’s left hand. If it’s coming, I hope it gets here before I have to file my “new” taxes.

Further on, “Nostalgia” takes on more of a traditional meaning in “Ghost of Penn Station,” 2017, Oil on wood panel, where we see the tragically lost Architectural masterpiece, rendered in oil, as if seen through a haze or in a dream. Whereas Ms. Harvey has created a number of works showing existing buildings (even creating an “Alien’s Guide to the (future) Ruins of Washington DC“) in ruins, this is a rare case where a building that was ruined is shown before, in all it’s glory. In the rear gallery, “New Forest (The I.R.S. Office Reforested),” 2013, Gesso, oil, acrylic, and varnish on wood,  about 13 1/2 feet long, shows a part of the I.R.S. offices (speaking of taxes) in a deserted state with the area in the process of being reclaimed by nature. Interestingly, the I.R.S. bought a sister work on the same subject, titled “Reforestation,” that, also, depicts their new offices in ruins, being reclaimed by nature, rendered in mirrors which, now installed, reflect those very offices! Fact is stranger than Art. When I asked Ms. Harvey about this, she replied to the effect that they have a, surprisingly, good sense of humor.

“New Forest (The I.R.S. Office Reforested),” 2013, Black gesso, oil, acrylic, varnish on 20 wooden panels. Overall- 13 1/3 feet long by 7 3/4 feet high. There is a social/political/economic conscience, or awareness that runs through Ellen Harvey’s work that I find most tastefully handled.

Finally, there is another, spectacular, engraved mirror work, the fascinating “On the Impossibility of Capturing a Sunset,” 2017, 16 Hand-engraved plexiglass mirrors, 16 Lumisheets, plywood. Ms. Harvey lets the wires for the light boxes dangle down in front…Yes. In front of the work,  another way of adding an obstacle to the “pure” appreciation of her image. They fall to a jumble of power strips on the floor, where they look as intricate as the engraving above them. Perhaps they’re a metaphor for the huge effort it took to get this close to the “impossible” task she refers to. (In earlier engraved mirror works (like “Destroyed Landscape (Cloudy Moon),” 2012, she scratched over the finished engraving, graffiti-like, making it almost impossible to see the underlying composition.)

“On the Impossibility of Capturing a Sunset,” 2017, 16 Hand-engraved plexiglass mirrors, 16 Lumisheets, plywood.

Close-up.

As I considered “Nostalgia,” over multiple visits, this work became something of a touchstone for me as I learned (and still learn) about her work. In it, her gorgeous technical achievement becomes subservient (in a way) to her “larger point.” Across her career, it seems to me that that “larger point” is her vision. About this, she said-

“What is it that all these viewers might want in this situation? That’s really where all of this work comes from. It comes from my desire to take particular situations, either physical or social, and say, ‘What is it that people want from Art in this situation?  What can Art do here?’ And of course the answers are often completely ridiculous. When you think about it what people dream of, it’s like falling in love with someone, it’s all projection. It’s a sort of mad fantasy that’s very hard to understand.” 4

“495 West 37th Street at Ninth Avenue, Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, From The New York Beautification Project,” February, 2001, Oil on Wood(?) Wall. Close-up, right. Photos from ellenharvey.info, which has it’s backstory.

This “What can Art do here?” approach can be seen all the way back in 1999, in her remarkable “New York Beautification Project.” In it, the Artist hand painted 40 five by seven inch oval oil paintings on top of existing graffiti, over the course of 2 years! During the project, she was mugged once, and had encounters with the NYPD. While her remarkable Paintings were influenced by classic (and classical) landscape Paintings (WHAT could be MORE out of place in the world of NYC graffiti?), what floors me is the map of the locations she created them.

Map of locations of the Paintings in Ellen Harvey’s “New York Beautificalion Project,” 1999-2001. From ellenharvey.info

She almost circled the entire City! Ok, she did this without permission, or renumeration, as the works were affixed to non-movable locations, to the displeasure of gallerists, which might make you wonder…”WHY???” I chalk it up as an early sign of the scale of, the dedication to, and persistence of her vision. It was a taste of things to come.

Her “What is it that people want from Art in this situation?” reached, perhaps, it’s ultimate expression when only a short time later she got a chance to do public art “for real.” Actually? Two chances. The NYC MTA commissioned her to create the Art for TWO NYC Subway stations. She is one of the very few (perhaps, the only one?) to have been commissioned to do more than one. In 2005, she created “Look Up, Not Down,” in 2,000 square feet of the Queens Plaza Subway Station. This MTA video provides a look at it, and the backstory, and also includes rare glimpses of the NY Beautification Project’s Paintings, which are now long lost.

Then, in 2009, she was commissioned to do the Art for the (new) Yankee Stadium Metro North Station. Typically, she took a Yankees ad logo, “The Home of the Stars,” and flipped it in a way everyone could relate to- Yankee fan, or not.

Someone once said that mosaics are the most durable medium. There are gorgeous examples in The Met from 200 AD. So, it seems fairly likely that her work in the subway (at least) will last for at least the next 100, if not 1,000 years. I’ve lauded the MTA on their choices of Artists to create Art for the Subway before. Here is another case where I think they made an excellent choice. Both of these works are related to the sky and stars theme that continues in “Nostalgia.” Well? I’m not sure even Ellen Harvey is going to find a bigger stage than the stars.

Regarding her statement about giving the viewers what they want, I remain to be convinced that many, if anyone else, sees the world as Ellen Harvey does. It seems to me that she takes spaces (or materials) and reimagines them in ways visitors might enjoy, but, perhaps, don’t quite expect, and I doubt anticipated. Her work seems to cut across and through periods, schools, styles- abstract or realistic, to speak to people, and so, it “gives the people what they want.” That’s a pretty rare gift. Christo & Jeanne Claude come to mind as Artists who are/were capable of similar things. Her projects often require her to bring an extremely wide range of talents to bear, in an equally wide range of mediums and scale, to create her visions, though like Rauschenberg, she has said she considers herself a Painter. A Painter, who loves Painting dearly, though she has real doubts about it’s ongoing relevance given many of it’s original functions having been replaced by other mediums. For my part, it seems Painting was in trouble in the 90’s, but I’ve seen any number of very good (and relevant) Painting shows recently, especially this past year. Since Painting is, still, my favorite medium, I remain hopeful.

Looking through the 300 plus pages of “Museum of Failure” it’s very hard not to be amazed at the daring of her work, it’s diversity, as well as the consistent quality of it. In two instances she has taken on Painting reproductions of the bulk of the collections of two museums(!)- the Whitney and the nudes in the Bass Museum, Miami, and rendered them exceedingly well- regardless of the style or period. Yet Painting is just one of the many mediums she works, and excels, in.

With “Nostalgia,” one of the best shows of the fall season, you might think that Ellen Harvey would be satisfied. But, no. On December 13, ANOTHER show, including new work, “Ellen Harvey: Ornaments and Other Refrigerator Magnets,” opened at the Children’s Museum of Art downtown.

The CMA show continues her exploration of ornamentation (a subject near and dear to my heart), which, gets it’s own section on her website, showing work going back to at least 2002. It’s a show that, hopefully, will inspire and instill a love of ornament in a young audience that will grow up to bring it back to a world that sorely needs it. In it, another of her themes, seen in her 2014 installation, “The Unloved,” at the Groeninge Museum, Bruges, Belgium, comes to the fore- the forgotten/overlooked/yes, unloved, in Art. These days? Not much is more unloved than ornamentation in Architecture.

“Those days are recalled on the gallery wall
And she’s waiting for passion or humour to strike

[Chorus]
What shall we do, what shall we do with all this useless beauty?
All this useless beauty”*

Appropriately, and prominently, placed around the show were various editions of Austrian Architect Adolf Loos’ essay collection, “Ornament & Crime,” as if saying “Ornament is NOT a crime!”

Adolf Loos’ “Ornament and Crime,”a collection of essays, including the title piece, a lecture given in 1908, appropriately displayed on a lovely, ornate pedestal.

Featured is her 2015 “Metal Paintings for Dr. Barnes,” in which she painted every piece of metal work installed at the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, on 826 wood panels with magnets inset then mounted on steel panels so they could be endlessly rearranged, unlike those in the Barnes.

“Metal Paintings for Dr. Barnes,” 2005, Oil on 826 wood panels with inset magnets, steel panels, overall, 25 by 15 feet, left, and “Mass Produced,” 2017, Metal hardware, screws, plywood, and plastic frame.

More recently, much of her work with ornaments has been inspired by her visits to the  American Wood Column Company, in Brooklyn, founded in 1916, and their collection of over 6,000 antique molds. On view was a 48 part visual catalog of samples of their work, which Ms. Harvey had photographed by accomplished Photographer Etienne Frossard, who has been working with her since 2012, in a new work titled “Mr. Lupo’s Collection,” in honor (in a sense) of this man and his company’s devotion to currently unloved work that may be on the verge of being lost.

“Mr. Lupo’s Collection,” 2017, 48 Framed Photographs, individually photographed by Etienne Frossard. (Apologies for the glare in my photo of them.)

Ornaments made by American Wood Column Company were featured in a large, new work that brings them right into the 21st Century. Not being satisfied with creating Art in two Subway stations, here, “Ornaments for the Subway,” 2017, goes further. It attempts to beautify that universal blight of all Subway stations- the ads. The card says, “It used to be that public spaces were covered with architectural ornaments rather than advertising….Here the Artist imagines taking back the public space from which they have been removed.” Bravo.

“Ornaments for the Subway,” 2017, Pressed glue ornaments made by the American Wood Column Co., plywood panels with inset magnets, subway posters and 20 steel panels.

Detail.

I spoke with Ellen Harvey at the opening, and she turned out to be exceedingly gracious, generously walking this complete stranger around her new show, pointing out all kinds of subtle detail that would take me many visits to discover. Here again, some of the themes I’ve seen in her other works are on display- a critique of Art, museums, and the rich, her passion for giving the viewers what they want, more use of mirrors (as mirrors this time!) and yes, “nostalgia,” is a theme, here, too. This work with mirrors includes people I know I’ve seen somewhere before.

“All That Glitters,” 2017. Card and detail below.

Detail of the lower right corner of the right side shows Mr. Putin, right, and Mr. Trump, above to the left of center, who’s wife appears elsewhere.

I titled this piece “Ellen Harvey’s Global Beautification Project,” because looking through her projects to date, they’ve taken place around the world, from California, to Miami to Philadelphia to Ghent, Bruges, Margate, Vienna, Warsaw, and of course, NYC, including the 2008 Whitney Biennial and the two Subway Stations. Together, they make part of a map of the world that will soon start to look like a global version of the map of her New York Beautification Project.

Before I left CMA, I came across “Walk In,” 2005, Oil on plywood and gilded frame, a booth to allow visitors to pose in glamorous surroundings, as if walking into a painting.

“Walk In,” 2005, 005, a work designed to be a background and frame in one for a do it yourself portrait.

Inspired by her work, and her approach, it was at that point that I decided to be a visionary, myself. “Hmmm….What does this picture need? What would the people like to see here?,” I asked myself.

The very gracious Artist graciously poses for yours truly in her “Walk In,” 2005.

And so, “My Portrait of Ellen Harvey” ends…with one.

“Ellen Harvey: Nostalgia” is my NoteWorthy show for November. 

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “All This Useless Beauty,” by Elvis Costello from the 1996 album of the same title, publisher not known to me. It’s rendered here.

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

  1. A new edition, which features “Arcade/Arcadia” on it’s cover, is the most complete book on her work and is recommended. Ellen Harvey’s website, ellenharvey.info is, also, a goto resource.
  2. The first question I asked Ellen Harvey was about engraving those mirrors- “What happens when you make a mistake?” “It happens often. I press on,” she said!
  3. “Ellen Harvey: Museum of Failure,” P. 299.
  4.  https://youtu.be/juIqarKNAGY

Chris Ware-“The World’s Smartest Cartoonist”

Chris Ware stands in front of the original Art for the covers of his new book, “Monograph,” at the opening for the show of the same title at Adam Baumgold Gallery on November 10, 2017. Click any Photo for full size.

Chris Ware has been universally respected among his fellow Cartoonists & Graphic Novelists for quite some time. At this point, it’s becoming relevant to consider his place among ALL his peers, including the all-time legends. Now, he has made that a much easier thing to assess with the release of his new book, “Monograph,” a gorgeous, and, (typically) meticulously well-done, Rizzoli mid-career autobiography and retrospective in one. But before anyone else can begin to assess his accomplishment through it, no less than Art Speigelman, one of those enduring masters of Cartons & Graphic Novels in that pantheon of legends, calls him “the World’s Smartest Cartoonist,” in his Introduction to it. After he, his wife, Francoise Mouly, the Art Editor of the New Yorker & an Independent Publisher, and Ira Glass have their say up top, the rest of it is so well done, I don’t think there’s a better case to be made for his accomplishment. Take that, future biographers/monographers! For the rest of us, no matter how closely you’ve followed Chris Ware, you’ll find known favorites alongside much that is previously unknown, including a surprising amount of detail about Mr. Ware’s life along the way.

“Good cartoon drawing is good design.” Charles M. Schulz, the creator of “Peanuts,” in 1997. The published covers from the Drawings, above, for  “Monograph,” 2017. Front cover, right side, and back cover, left. Their “meaning?” Perhaps, that there’s a lot going on in that head…Inside (between the covers).

Speaking of what might be going on in that head, along the way, “Monograph’s” 280 pages also provides the best evidence that Chris Ware is a bit of a throw-back in his tastes in Art, Cartooning, Music & Architecture, a side that co-exists with, and informs, the visionary that is given to flights of fantasy, usually involving the past or the future, often without notice. They all coalesce in Art that, at times, could be mistaken at a distance for an Architect’s plans, as seen above.

An echo? Speaking of Architects, Frank Lloyd Wright, “Madison Civic Center (Monona Terrace)” Night View, 1955, Ink on paper presentation drawing. When I first saw “Monograph,” this drawing by Wright, recently on view at MoMA, came to mind. Chris Ware lives near the early Frank Lloyd Wright houses in the Chicago suburbs.

By now, none of this is news to anyone who has seen his work over what is already 30…Can it be? Yes, it is…30 years! What’s lesser known is that, personally, he’s also an enigma. I’m only 15 years in myself, yet, what I still have trouble getting used to is that along with all the things Chris Ware is, he is, on top of it all, endlessly self-effacing.

I don’t think it’s an act.

Take a look at his expressions and body language during his first national television appearance, November 13th, on one of the last episodes of Charlie Rose, which is, also, a good introduction to him. Note the 5:07 mark, for instance-

For the past 15 years he’s been telling me off and on that his original Art, which now sells for upwards of many thousands of dollars per in galleries, “is easily disposable.” First, he said it in 2002, after “Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth” came out. Just this past week, he said it again. Standing in the middle of the opening of his newest show at Adam Baumgold’s East 66th Street gallery. I had commented on the fact that he is his best and most astute collector, and asked if he was planning to open a museum. He replied by talking about disposing of it.

From left to right- Art for “Hold Still,” an iconic 2005 New Yorker cover, Art for the Acme Novelty Lunchbox, a page of Rusty Brown, subject of his next book, a very early “Jimmy Corrigan” page from Acme #1, two Self-Portraits, and a page that appeared in the New York Times Book Review in October, 2015, far right. Mr. Ware’s Original is titled “Why I O Comics.” I heard he wasn’t pleased that the Times published this with the heading “Why I Love Comics.” All of this Art is, or was, part of the collection of Chris Ware.

All I could do was shake my head and nervously smile when he said it, again, because he can’t be serious. CAN HE? Taking no chances, I did the only responsible thing I could. I told him to call me first. Then, I looked for “answers” in the show, and in “Monograph,” itself.

The museums will, also, come calling one of these days. I have no doubt of that. In my opinion, they should have, already. I’m referring to his work being in the permanent collection of MoMA, The Met and The Whitney, and the other big museums around the world. To be fair, the Whitney Museum did include Chris Ware in their 2002 Biennial, when he was the first cartoonist ever invited, and was given an entire gallery where about 48 works, by my count, were on view. They even commissioned him to create the poster for the show. He has, also, been included in important shows at other museums, at NYC’s Jewish Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, both in 2006, and elsewhere.

During this latest encounter, we stood in the midst of the opening for his newest show with Mr. Baumgold, for “Monograph.” The rooms were filled with original Drawings by Mr. Ware going back to the late 1980’s, when he was 20 or 21 years old, works that even his most avid readers have not seen, or probably even knew about.

“The Sunville Daily,” 1987, Ink and red pencil on paper. By Chris Ware at about age 20. Looking very closely, you’ll find elements of his later work, but, overall, this is shockingly different from everything that came after.

The fact that he’s kept a good number of his earliest work that those long time readers have never seen, proves that he attaches at least some value to them, himself, and I have a hard time believing it’s only sentimental. Chris Ware has a professor’s level knowledge of the history of cartooning (as seen here), as well as an acute awareness of it’s current state, witness the expert (yes, expert) contributions he’s made to books on George Herriman and Daniel Clowes, as well as the astute quotes bearing his name that appear on many new and notable graphic novels, including being front and center on the front cover of, perhaps, the most auspicious debut of 2017, Emil Ferris’ “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters,” which I wrote about here. Of course that eye is applied first, foremost, and probably, most critically, to his own work.

Athletically challenged. “Gym Class,” 1987, Ink and red pencil on paper, depicts some of the dread, and possibly, the bullying, he dealt with in school. One of the earliest works in “Monograph,” elements of his now “classic” graphic style appear, and are already confidently rendered. A key point in Chris Ware finding his direction. (That’s a reflection from across the gallery above the center character’s head. Sorry.)

Mr. Ware came to fame with the release of his first full length book, the graphic novel, “Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid Alive,” in 2000. It won the Guardian First Book Award in 2001, an award that considers not only graphic novels, but ALL books released during the year. The glowing reviews served to highlight the fact that there had, literally, been nothing like it to that point. The graphic novel had seen it’s first big breakthrough in underground and non-superhero comics, perhaps, since Art Spiegleman’s “Maus,” the Pulizer Prize winner in 1992. Seven years in the making, it’s possible to watch his style solidify over it’s 380 unnumbered pages. Almost as soon as it was released, Chris Ware’s name had been made. When I first saw it, I knew from the one of a kind dust jacket that opened out into an amazingly intricate double sided poster that here was a truly unique book. 16 years later? A well worn copy is still near to hand. It’s a book that doesn’t reveal all it’s secrets in one reading. Every time I pick it up I still find new things, new threads, I’d previously missed. I’m not alone. “Jimmy Corrigan” has given rise to a continuing stream of critical examination, theorizing, analysis and speculation.

The original cover Drawing for the front of the remarkable folded book jacket/double sided poster for “Jimmy Corrigan” as seen in “Monograph.”

“Reading him, I always have the feeling that the pages aren’t big enough for everything he’s trying to squeeze into those orderly rectangular panels.” Ira Glass, “Monograph” Preface.

A flat of the whole, double sided cover, in color. The Drawing reproduced above is the left half of this image. Little discussed (perhaps because it’s the back of the cover/poster), the right half contains the story of Jimmy’s ancestors, including his African-American ancestors (one seen being sold as a slave), which were unknown to him. Some see commentary on the “imperialistic” nature of American colonization and the idealism of the “American dream” in the story of Jimmy’s ancestors as well.

“Jimmy Corrigan” turned out to be semi-autobiographical. In it, Jimmy gets a letter and phone call out of the blue from the father he’s never met suggesting they meet over Thanksgiving. Before going, he tries to imagine him and what impact knowing him would have on his life. When he finally meets him, he discovers he’s nothing like he imagined him to be. He also meets his dad’s adopted African-American daugther, Amy, who Jimmy had no knowledge of.

Some time after it was published we learned that Chris Ware, himself, never knew his father growing up, until finally meeting him, once, mid-way through writing “Jimmy Corrigan.” Sadly, the elder Mr. Ware passed away shortly before the book was finished, without ever having seen his son’s close-to- home masterpiece. Later, Chris Ware said that “I didn’t spend that much time with him. I added it all up once…I knew my father for just about five hours1.” That’s about as long as it takes to read it, something that is on my mind when I re-read it now, which I prefer to do in a single sitting to really feel that length of time pass. Through the mastery of his creativity, and the unique ways the characters are depicted, the work becomes more than a story, “more,” even, than Art. It’s also a record of the moment to moment thoughts, hopes and dreams of 4 generations of the Corrigans, and their reactions to events as their lives unfold before our eyes, across time. Reactions that most often include little, even no, inter-action. Almost every character in it is, mostly, cut off from every one else. In that sense, it’s also a classic of isolation, a meditation on it’s eternal nature (across generations)- Every character in Jimmy Corrigan suffers from extreme isolation and loneliness. Unlike the hard-core lonely, who have given up on the human race, every character longs for it to end. At least in Chris Ware’s work, life always happens in spectacular rendering, in color that speaks it’s own language, and with gorgeous, ever-surprising design.

Back at the show, increasingly sought after, only one “Jimmy Corrigan” original page, (from the Acme Novelty Library #1, which predates the book), was on display, but it was a good one, that succinctly sums up what I said about the book, itself.

“Jimmy Corrigan, Calling Mom,” Acme #1, 1993, Ink and blue pencil on paper. This page, from the first year he drew Jimmy  didn’t make it into the final “Jimmy Corrigan” book, though it captures much of the poignancy of it.

While Chris Ware is well-known as an admirer of the great George Herriman and his “Krazy Kat” strip, having done the cover art for the 13 volume reissue of what many, including he, consider the greatest comic strip of all time, his influence lives on in Mr. Ware’s own ground-breaking graphic design, which builds on “Krazy Kat’s” Sunday full pages, that Mr. Herriman treated freely, like a blank canvas, when it came to laying out his stories. Over the past 30 years, it’s been taken to the point that it has become one of his trademarks. Along with George Herriman, Charles Schulz and his “Peanuts” cartoon strip that ran for 50 years are another major influence on Chris Ware. “Charles Schulz is the only writer I’ve continually read through childhood and into college2.” Charlie Brown, who Mr. Ware calls “the first sympathetic cartoon character3,” is the predecessor of Jimmy Corrigan. Interestingly, the final Peanuts strip ran on February 13, 2000. After serializing the story in the early 1990’s, the first edition of the completed and collected “Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth” was published on September 12, 2000.

Learning at the elbow of the master. Chris Ware included this self-portrait in his “Tribute” to Peanuts after their final strip in 2000,  ending by paraphrasing Mr. Schulz final panel- “How could I ever forget them?” The complete strip is reproduced in “Monograph.”

In the years before and after Jimmy Corrigan, Mr. Ware developed a whole slew of characters, that appear sporadically, only some of them “human.” They range from “Quimby the Mouse,” and “Branford the Bee” to “Rusty Brown,” and “Rocket Sam.” But, in the end? It seems to me whatever lifeforms they are doesn’t matter a bit. It only serves to make them seem “uncannily human” to the reader.

“Quimbies the Mouse,” 1990, Ink and red pencil on paper. Later, he would lose the “siamese” aspect and it would just be “Quimby the Mouse.”

These appeared in the (shorter) installments of the “Acme Novelty Library,” released sporadically over the years. Mr. Ware’s full length books take him so long to create we’re lucky to get one per decade. There must be something in the water in the Chicago burbs because “Monograph” is second for this decade. And? At the show, he was speaking about ANOTHER book, to be released in 2018, “Rusty Brown, Part 1.” And though Zadie Smith commented “There’s no writer alive I love more than Chris. Ware. The only problem is it takes him ten years to draw these things and then I read them in a day and have to wait another ten years for the next one4.” it may take even Mr. Ware’s most devoted reader more than a day to work their way through “Monograph’s” 280 pages that are jam-packed with almost as many details as this image of the Milky Way.

“Monograph’s” surprises include this six page story including the red pencil underdrawing on paper he was using at the time. “I Guess, (from RAW Volume 2, No. 3, 1991),” 1990, Ink on mylar, red pencil on paper.

Over the years, Mr Ware has created books that range in size from miniatures to the gigantic, even one with a multitude of sizes (14) in one (the award winning “Building Stories,” 2012). Now? He has outdone himself. Weighing in at over 9 pounds and measuring 18 by 13 inches, it’s fitting that this mid-career Autobiographical Retrospective is large enough to mirror his achievement. In this case, “Monograph” needs to be this big. Trying to read the detail in something like the folded book jacket for “Jimmy Corrigan,” above, would be neigh impossible in a smaller size.

Speaking of gigantic. “Sparky’s Sparky Is Best Comics and Stories (I Am a Sickness That Infects my Friends.),” 1991, Ink, red pencil on paper, 50 inches tall(!) by 30 wide.

As for what else “Monograph” contains, Mr. Ware’s work has appeared on 23 New Yorker Magazine covers, almost every one of which eschews his “intricate” graphic design (the most recent one, in September, 2017, I wrote about, here), while also holding the distinction of being the very first “cartoonist” to have his work serialized in the New York Times.

The devil is in the details. Chris Ware is, also, endlessly fascinated with stand alone characters, especially hand-made mechanical examples. “Quimby the Mouse,” was incarnated as a wooden toy a while back. Unfortunately, the manufacturer painted every one of his eyes wrong. So? Mr. Ware grabbed the 14 of them in the vitrine and correctly hand painted each eye. Shown with the original Art for their box cover.

After “Jimmy” he continued to release regular installments of his “Acme Novelty Library,” along with smaller books, including “Lint,” two volumes of excerpts from his sketchbooks, a “Quimby the Mouse” collection, forays into mechanical figures, products and toys, book covers for others and the “Ragtime Ephemeralist,” an “infrequently appearing” volume devoted to you guessed it- ephemera, and scholarly articles, related to Ragtime, edited, designed and published by Chris Ware. The latest issue, from 1995, totals 256 pages! In 2011, he even broke out of the medium of print, for the first time, digitally publishing “Touch Sensitive” an interactive story from “Building Stories” that is still available for free download on iOS, here. In 2015, he debuted an actual internet-only work, serializing “The Last Saturday” online, here, on The Guardian’s website. Though he wasn’t a fan of technology early on, as the digital forays “Touch Sensitive” and  “The Last Saturday” show, Chris Ware is a man with one foot in the past who is, surprisingly, open to selectively dipping a toe in the future, though he is an avowed lover of the print medium.

3 Views of a Secret. A rare Chris Ware Painting, bottom, the Drawing for it’s appearance on an Acme cover, and a version of the same piece, as a New Yorker cover mock up, all featuring Jimmy Corrigan- with, and without, Super-man.

The next milestone was “Building Stories,” which had been partially serialized in the New York Times, released in 2012 in a large box containing 14 publications of varying size and bindings. The order which the reader read it was up to them, thereby creating countless ways it’s tales could be told. Five years later, almost to the month, now comes “Monograph.” It’s huge size is, no doubt, daunting to many. After seeing his original Art, I realized that “Monograph” mirrors the size of the illustration board Mr. Ware favors to draw his Art on. So, the book will provide an experience as close as is possible to seeing the actual original Art in person. As the ultimate Chris Ware (Auto)biography, it’s chocked full of historical Photos of Mr. Ware, his family, friends and associates, while it’s running commentary sheds new light on the path he and his Art has taken, an invaluable resource to those studying his Artistic development.

As we chatted this time, he drew two small self portraits in my copies of the Acme Novelty Datebook (his Sketchbooks), Vol 1 & 2. He seemed pleased to see them when I produced them for his signature, sketchbooks being near and dear to my heart (I made my own for many years). He mentioned that there would be a Volume 3! Later, I looked at the Drawings he did. Wow.

Sketch by Chris Ware in my copy of the Acme Novelty Date Book, Volume 1.

A bit reminiscent of this, which was on view in a corner across the room- “Acme #4 (Sparky’s Best Comics and Stories)” Cover, 1994, Ink and blue pencil on paper. What was I saying about all his characters acting “human?”

“The accolades he got he felt weren’t his, for some reason. He didn’t feel they were…deserved. And I think he didn’t feel particularly connected to the world.
He was appreciative and very, very loving about all of the good things that came his way but I think he was always mildly surprised.” Whoopi Goldberg on Charles Schulz 5

As with Charles Schulz, the creator of the most famous comic strip in history, I don’t know what lies at the heart of Mr. Ware’s self-effacement, but  I hope it won’t take another 30 years for him to accept the compliments his work receives. If he continues producing the kind of work he has over the past 30 years, then, he might not have any choice but to get used to people saying nice things about his work.

Back from the show, with this question on my mind, I began to re-read Jimmy Corrigan for the umpteenth time, this time in it’s paperback incarnation (which has a few significant differences from the hardcover), I happened upon this beauty on the lower right back cover.

A-ha! Chris Ware dumpster diving to SAVE copies of his work that have been discarded! “Jimmy Corrigan,” Paperback edition, back cover detail.

I get it! I FINALLY found the answer to his self-affacement. He WANTS me to throw out his work so he can save it and re-sell it!

They’re right. He IS smart! ; )

**********************************************************************
Collector’s Note- This is something I’ve yet to see anyone point out. While I suspect that many/most of Chris Ware’s fans already have “Monograph,” for those that don’t, I’ve discovered something that you might want to keep in mind.

There are TWO editions of “Monograph.”

When I discovered it, I called the publisher, Rizzoli, and even they didn’t know what the differences were! So, I took it on myself to find out. The “regular edition,” ISBN 978-0847860883, is the one most commonly available. However, there’s also the “Bookplate Edition,” ISBN 978-0847858125, which I’ve almost always seen selling for the same list price ($60.00) as the “regular” edition. However, it contains 2 major differences. First, it comes with a small double-sided “errata” sheet that is SIGNED by Chris Ware. Second, the “errata” sheet comes tucked inside of a folded reproduction of the original Drawing for his quite rare 2002 Whitney Biennial Poster, “The Whitney Prevaricator.”

Top of the inside of the inserted Reproduction of the Drawing for the Whitney Biennial Poster. If you collect Chris Ware, I recommend you get the “Bookplate Edition,” which is signed TWICE by Mr. Ware, and includes this.

On the top of the verso of this sheet is text noting that this is the “Fine Art Edition,(referred to as the “Bookplate Edition” in the trade) of “Monograph,” which Chris Ware has ALSO signed, and numbered out of an edition of 550. Buyer? Be Ware. (Sorry.)

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “In The Future When All’s Well,” by Morrissey from “Ringleaders of the Tormentors.” Another Artist who’s work is deemed “depressing” by some.

On the Fence, #16, The Smartest Birdies…on this Fence…on April 1st…at 3pm” Edition.

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. http://edition.cnn.com/2000/books/news/10/03/chris.ware.qanda/index.html
  2. https://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6329/chris-ware-the-art-of-comics-no-2-chris-ware
  3. http://classic.tcj.com/alternative/interview-with-chris-ware-part-1-of-2/
  4. Quoted on a sticker on the shrink-wrap for “Monograph.”
  5. in “The Complete Peanuts, Volume 5 1959-1960, p.xi.

Now Is A Good Time To Join The Met- UPDATED 1/4/18

This is an update to my recent Post “Now Is A Good Time To Join The Met,” published on December 10, 2017.

Incomparable. That’s one way to describe Michelangelo. The buzz for “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer ” is that it’s “once in a life-time.” I’ve been anticipating it all year. With 133 of his Drawings(!). 3 Sculptures(!). His earliest Painting (The Met’s experts say it’s his. I’ve saw it in 2009 and it’s hard to argue with them)…That sounds about right. Here’s the sign at the entrance, fronting part of the scaffolding TM built to mimic Michelangelo’s own for the section on the Sistine Chapel. Click any Photo for full size.

Well? Anytime is a good time to join the country’s greatest Art museum. They can use the support. I’ve been a member of The Met since 2002, during which time I’ve gone over 1,400 times. It still truly feels like Home to me. Today, I renewed and a perusal of the shows up right now made me feel that it may be the most amazing lineup I can recall at one time.

Here’s what’s there right now

The Met’s Current Exhibition page on December 8, 2017.

“He’s making a list
He’s checking it twice…*”

Let’s see…

Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer 

-the David Hockney Retrospective

Rodin At The Met

World War I and the Visual Arts

Leonardo to Matisse: Drawings from the Robert Lehman Collection

EACH one is a big show at 1000 Fifth Avenue. Depending on your stamina, seeing all of any one of those would make for a good visit to The Museum in itself. And? These smaller shows are also there-

Frederick Remington at The Met

Talking Pictures: Camera-Phone Conversations Between Artists

Cosmic Buddhas in the Himalayas

Company School Painting in India (ca. 1770-1850)

Japanese Bamboo Art: The Abbey Collection

And? Since too much is never enough in NYC-

Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bed

Modernism on the Ganges: Raghubir Singh Photographs

Delirious: Art at the Limits of Reason, 1950-1980

Are up at The Met Breuer.

Yes. Santa came early for NYC Art lovers. Suffice it to say that I, also, bought a new pair of shoes cause I expect to be wearing my current pair out soon.

And then there was this…

All I wanted for Christmas. My name up in lights on a wall in The Met! Actually, before I feel special, they do this for all new and renewing members. Pay attention. Your “immortality” lasts for 3 seconds.

Ahhhh…It’s good to be Home for the Holidays…

UPDATE– January 4, 2018. The world’s greatest Museum announced an “updated” admissions plan this morning. The gist of it is-

  • The “pay as you wish” policy will continue for all New York State residents.
  • This will be expanded to cover students from New Jersey & Connecticut.
  • Mandatory $25.(general)/$17. (seniors)/$12 (students) admission fee will be required henceforth for all of those from elsewhere/non-students from NJ & Ct.
  • All full-priced tickets will be honored for three consecutive days.
  • The “updated” policy will be implemented on March 1, 2018

This morning, Daniel Weiss, President of The Met, said-

“…The Met is a profoundly different place from that envisioned by its founders. Decades ago The Met made a decision to expand its operations and outreach and to become the Museum that we know today: a cherished institution that is both the top tourist destination in New York City and a world-renowned center of scholarship and learning.

Maintaining this level of excellence, and continuing to serve the New York region at the same high level, requires that The Met take stock and decide, once again, what kind of Museum we want to be for future generations. The world has changed dramatically in the almost 50 years since our admissions policy was last reviewed, and the way we budget and plan for the future needs to change as well.

What is clear is that our current pay-as-you-wish policy is no longer sufficient to meet the Museum’s daily operational demands. Paid admissions represent only 14 percent of our overall revenue, one of the lowest percentages among our New York City peers. Moreover, in the past 13 years the number of visitors who pay the full suggested admission has declined by 73 percent. We are now the only major museum in the world that relies exclusively on a pure pay-as-you-wish system or that does not receive the majority of its funding from the government.”

His full statement on the matter is here.

Personally? I’m for this. TM has an estimated 10 million dollar deficit. It’s the fifth consecutive year they’ve been in the red, with an 8.2 million shortfall in 2015-16. This at a time where they are the #1 most attended Art museum in the world.

The Met’s Grand Hall, December 28th. I can’t recall ever seeing TM as crowded as it was this weekend. There were waiting lines to see Michelangelo & David Hockney.

What happens when the Art boom fades, or slows? Yes, it’s easy for me to say I support this since I could get in paying what I wish. I could have for the past few years. I’ve been a Met Member since 2002, and I will continue to be a member. Why? I believe, for any number of reasons I’ve outlined on NighthawkNYC over the past two years, like here, they are the best Museum in the world. And? They need my support. And your’s, too. Remember that if you are one of those effected by the new policy.

Or? You could just join. As I said, this is as good a moment as any.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” writer & publisher unknown to me. Ok. I’ve been naughty. Coal for me. I’m used to it…

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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Gary Hume and The Long Goodbye

“Is it all in that pretty little head of yours?
What goes on in that place in the dark?
Well I used to know a girl and I would have
sworn that her name was Veronica”*

Too many people can relate to this.

Like cancer, almost everyone knows someone who’s suffering, or has suffered, from dementia or alzheimer’s disease. Gary Hume does. So do I. I mention it because that might make me, perhaps, not the most impartial viewer of Mr. Hume’s new show, “Mum,” at Matthew Marks Gallery. Mr. Hume’s “Mum,” Jill Henshaw, has dementia. The 14 works on view relate to his Mum, as seen by the Artist as a child, and as an adult. Mr. Hume said in a New York Times interview, “I just wanted to paint a picture of my mum, and I wanted to do it to honor her.”

Knowing the subject before I walked in, the show still blindsided me with it’s understated power. Though there is only 1 portrait of his Mum on display, the other works leaving it to the viewer to connect them with her, the real strength of the show comes in it’s sum effect.

It had me close to tears.

“Three Leaves,” 2016-17, Enamel paint on paper. Falling as part of the cycle of their life. Falling like tears. Or, they could be floating away on a river of rippled paper…Click any photo for full size.

Mr. Hume is part of the “Young British Artists” group that sprang out of the Freeze “Sensation” show in 1988, though he’s not as flamboyant as some of it’s other members who were his classmates, studying for their B.A.’s in Fine Art, at Goldsmiths College, London, at the time. Now 55, his choice of subject has led to Mr. Hume’s work taking something of a radical turn, resulting in his most personal show yet. While Artist’s mothers are certainly not an unusual subject in Art, dementia is, in my experience. In Art, perhaps it’s most been discussed by those wondering if they can “see” Willem de Kooning’s dementia in his work.

“Georgie,”(Mr. Hume’s wife), left, and “Mum on the Couch,” right, both 2017, Enamel paint on aluminum, and a perfect place for a bench.

An initial visit to the show gives the impression that Mr. Hume’s Paintings share the quiet dignity of Ellsworth Kelly’s final Paintings that recently hung on these same walls. They also possibly share a similar technique with Mr. Kelly’s Plant Drawings that hung next door at the same time, both Artists being fond of rendering a plant in outline. (I wrote about both Ellsworth Kelly shows here.) But their apparently simple compositions and minimal palette are deceiving.

Mr. Hume has developed new techniques that he has mastered to the point that he can use them with wonderful subtlety. Raised lines of paint lie on the flat surface, and act like the lines in a Drawing, delineating and detailing shapes. Elsewhere these lines are smudged, possibly with a finger, into the shape of a mouth, or an eye. They are executed in the same color as the shape they appear on, making details hard to see clearly, requiring the viewer to stand close to the work to see them. This remarkable effect adds to the “there/not thereness” of the image. Paintings on paper became crinkled and wavy as the enamel house paint Mr. Hume uses (in colors pre-mixed in a hardware store) dries creating marvelous textures and effects. Other works on aluminum have very flat background surfaces, and reflect light making it even harder to see the detail. Using these techniques, and others, Mr. Hume does a remarkable job of making us feel both presence and absence in the same image. They are, also, a meditation on the nature of memories.

Even standing in front of the bench, the detail is hard to see.

Close-up of “Georgie,” reveals one of the “drawing” techniques Mr. Hume uses to add still nebulous “details” to these works.

The middle room of the show features Paintings of his Mum, and his wife, Georgie, surrounded by Paintings of plants, flowers and gardens, including this one.

Abstraction of another sort. “Grandma Looks at the Garden,” 2017, Enamel paint on aluminum

“Well she used to have a carefree mind of her
own and a delicate look in her eye
These days I’m afraid she’s not even sure if her
name is Veronica”*

The third and final room seemed to be focused on life continuing. It includes a painting of yellow rain against an orange background that struck me as, possibily, a sunshower.

“Rain,” 2017, Enamel paint on paper. A seemingly “simple” idea that in the context of this show takes it entirely elsewhere.

Contrastingly, next to it, is possibly a garden seen at night, where only the outlines of the plants are visible. Together, they emphasize loss, and memory, being something felt day and night, triggered by almost anything, and manifesting themselves in every situation and time.

“No Light,” 2016, Enamel paint on aluminum. Difficult to see clearly, like many memories are…

On an adjacent wall, a bird looks skyward, it’s beak closed, without a song.

“The Diver,” 2016-17, Enamel paint on paper.

And, finally in this room, one of two Paintings of berries, “Ripe,” below, bursting with life. (Whiter to, from here?)

“Ripe,” 2015, Enamel paint on paper. Bursting with so much life, the paper can barely contain it.

Meanwhile, the flowers in the show are mostly muted. After all, flowers are, often, symbols of beauty, and loss. Seen at both weddings and funerals.

“Mourning,” 2016, Enamel paint on aluminum

In her article about these works in the New York Times, Barbara Pollack said that Mr. Hume “recoils at any interpretation that reduces the work to merely being a response to his visits with his mother. He prefers to think about the relationship to subject matter as a process of ‘permissions.’…” The thing about Paintings, or Art, is that once it’s been created and put on public display, every person who sees it will have their own “interpretation” of it. I doubt these (especially my own) line up with the Artist’s very often.

Perhaps nowhere here is this better summed up than in “Blind,” a 2016 Painting in the first room. Pale flowers are shown against a white background. A nut seems to be falling towards the lower right corner. Every time I see it, it speaks of something else, but it, also, speaks to loss/impending loss of a mother, with the seed, the harbinger of new life, symbolizing the offspring…himself.

“Blind,” 2016, Enamel paint on aluminum, seen in the show’s first room.

These “ridges” appear in a number of works (like the other flower Paintings above), and are interesting to contrast with the more often than the “softer technique he uses in “Georgie,””Mum on the Couch,” and “Rain.” I haven’t found out as yet how he creates them, but they are stunning and add much to the mystery, and beauty, of these works. The Artist has been trying to replicate them in his prints.

As I said, I may well not be impartial when looking at these works. Ironically, my Mom’s dementia first became apparent one Thanksgiving day. Ironically, this show happens to be up from November 4 to December 22. I was drawn back to it 3 times Thanksgiving week. Now, stepping back from myself, and thinking about the beauty and the power of “Mum,” and seeing other works that Mr. Hume has created recently in the show’s catalog, it seems to me that Gary Hume has made a breakthrough both stylistically, and in portraiture.

“Mum in Bed,” 2017, Enamel paint on aluminum, not on view in the show, from the show’s catalog.

“Do you suppose, that waiting hands on eyes,
Veronica has gone to hide?”*

Mr. Hume’s work has greatly evolved in the almost 30 years since the “Sensation” show brought him and the YBA’s to wide attention. For years known as the “quiet one” in that group, it’s hard for me not to feel he’s only now hitting his stride. Though I doubt that many will agree with me at the moment, Gary Hume may yet turn out to be the Artist the YBA’s are remembered for. While each work on view is uniquely beautiful on it’s own, it’s as a group where each plays a part in telling a larger story, a story of life, love and impending loss (“the long goodbye,” as it’s called), ironically, in slivers that are almost there…like memories.

Human memories may have a finite lifespan, even under the healthiest of conditions. It’s in translating them to other forms where they have their back chance to live on…indefinitely.

Gary Hume, “Mum,” is my NoteWorthy show for November. 
*- Soundtrack for this Post is “Veronica,” by D.P.A. MacManus (aka Elvis Costello) and Paul McCartney,  from “Spike,” published by Universal Music Publishing Group.

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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Exclusive! A Visit to Raymond Pettibon’s Moscow Show

A retrospective of 400 works by controversial American Artist Raymond Pettibon in Moscow, Russia, of all places, in this tempestuous year of 2017?

This I gotta see.

But, since the MTA doesn’t go to Russia, I missed it. Still, the idea of this Artist in this place at this time, what this show could include, and the reaction of local viewers left me scrambling to find out as much as I could. I even ran ads on craigslist in Moscow seeking reactions from show goers. To this point, I’ve found almost nothing about it in the media, save for this one article in the Russian press, in which writer Igor Gulin says, according to translation, that Pettibon is an Artist “who for a long time left the punk aesthetics of his youth, but did not lose a drop of rage.” Finally, my International Art Researcher friends over at the Hattan Group agreed to go and cover the show for me. So, thanks to their kindness, and efforts, I am able to present an exclusive look at what shaped up to be one of the most intriguing shows of the year, through their eyes and Photos.

A ticket for the show. Let’s go in! All Photos courtesy of the Hattan Group. Click any for full size.

Midway through the run of the most recent NYC Pettibon show, “Th’ Explosiyv Shoyrt T” at David Zwirner, which I wrote about here, came word that a retrospective in Moscow called “The Cloud of Misreading” (on the website), or “The Cloyd o’ Misreadyng,” on Pettibon’s hand-painted mural, below, was due to open on June 7 in Moscow’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, and would include 400 pieces. Founded in 2008, by Dasha Zhukova and Roman Abramovich, Moscow’s Garage Museum is a fairly new, and rising, star on the global Modern Art scene. That it’s gotten off to a fast start can be seen in NYC, where as I write the show, “Proof: Francisco Goya, Sergei Eisenstein, Robert Longo,” that originated at the Garage in Fall, 2016, is now at the Brooklyn Museum. And, as if Moscow wasn’t enough Raymond Pettibon, the New Museum’s blockbuster retrospective, “A Pen of All Work,”  which I wrote about here, traveled to the Bonnefantenmuseum, in the Netherlands, where it opened on June 1, with 700 pieces. Phew…Raymond Pettibon and the curators are clocking some serious frequent flier miles. We’ll hear from one of them later.

The show’s entrance features one of Raymond Pettibon’s famous hand-painted murals. I hope the Russians are up on their “Pettibon English.”

Given all that’s gone on in the past year the timing of this show is most auspicious. Especially since Raymond Pettibon has never been an Artist to mince words, pull punches, or look at the USA (or anything or anyone else for that matter) through rose colored glasses.

Pettibon’s large, hand-painted mural, seen here and in the following three details, features that most alien of sports to Russia- Surfing.

Pettibon’s murals are painted over at the end of the show they were created for. This one lasted until August 13.

Before it opened, I wondered if some of his “stronger” works, or topics, would be omitted. Certain of Pettibon’s long standing subjects, say, Surfing or Charles Manson (Note- I wrote this piece before word came down today, November 20th, that Manson died earlier today. I also note that Pettibon has been unusually silent on his Twitter page for the past week, so, he’s had no comment on it as yet.), would seem to have little resonance in Russia to this outsider. After the show opened, I was able to “visit” it online through the exhibition brochure, which includes color photos of all 400 works on view, and which can be downloaded here.

The center vitrine contains Pettibon’s early Zines, Record Covers and excerpts from his archives. On the wall to the right are works pertaining to drugs, death/murder, and the hippie sub-culture.

Pettibon’s world famous 4 Bar “Black Flag” logo, seen in the vitrine, speaks a universal language. Of it Igor Gulin says, “In 1977, he painted a logo for his older brother Greg’s Black Flag group. Four black bricks are a constructivist version of an anarchic flag, in which the rage of protest does not flare up, but crumbles. There is no integrity, vigorous unity, but there is a strained friction of the elements, frightening the rhythm between them.  In this seemingly elementary thing, one can see the prototype of Pettibon’s future work.”

The show was curated by Gary Carrion-Murayari, of the New Museum, NYC, & Massimiliano Gioni, Artistic Director of the New Museum, NYC, the team that curated the New Museum’s unforgettable 800 work “Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work,” here, earlier this year. They are rapidly becoming major players in the larger Art World, in addition to raising the standing of the New Museum here in town.

This room features works highlighting abstraction in nature. A wall of Pettibon’s classic Wave works, right, joins other works depicting marble, crystal, rocks. Notice that most of the works on these 3 walls, including the huge Wave piece, right (which may be worth upwards of a million dollars), are not framed, but simply tacked the walls. In the back room, straight ahead, are works pertaining to recent “US foreign policy.” As for Surfing in Russia? Here’s where the surf’s up.

Gumby and Vavoom, two of Pettibon’s alter egos are featured on the wall to the right. To the left are works depicting trains and locomotives.

Works pertaining to Christianity, left, with the other half of the train and locomotives wall, right.

On the back wall are works that include images of fighting, on the right works that include nudes. One visitor commented that the show contained “a lot of sex.”

Mr. Carrion-Murayari introduces Pettibon and the show this way– After becoming an underground legend, beginning with his work in early days of the L.A. Punk scene, he says, “The stark imagery and darkly humorous captions of these works made Pettibon an underground legend long before he came to the attention of the larger art world. By the early 1990s, Pettibon’s vision gradually expanded to encompass the breadth and complexity of American history and culture. The tenor of his work shifted from strident to poetic, with a gradual softening of his graphic style and expansion of his subject matter. In the past thirty years, he has created iconic series of drawings on subjects as varied as surfing, baseball, cartoons, natural history, love, war, and his own artistic aspirations and failings. The title of this exhibition evokes the creative use of language that has evolved in Pettibon’s work over the course of his career.”

“No Title (Nobody Reads Dostoyevsky…),” 1986, Pen and ink on paper. Stalin also appeared in Pettibon’s David Zwirner show, where it looked like it had been used for target practice due to the paint splatters left on the wall from when Pettibon had worked in the gallery space.

Looking at the selection of works, I became fascinated by just which works were chosen and what they might reveal about any “message” in the show. I went through the show’s brochure and created a list of subjects and which works fell into them.What did this exercise tell me? Pettibon in Moscow is full-force Pettibon. No topic was “taboo.” All of the Artist’s, by now, well-known subjects are represented in depth.

Even more fascinated, I asked Mr. Carrion-Murayari what went into selecting the works for this show. He replied-

“In terms of the selection of the works, it was of course impossible to represent more than a small percentage of Raymond’s total oeuvre and even impossible to show all the variety of series or recurring images that he has produced over the years. We focused on three general areas of thought within his work: work on politics, work on the dark side of America and American culture; and work on creativity and the artistic or writerly temperament. We tried to represent some of his most iconic series and also demonstrate the way certain ideas and images pop up again and evolve over the duration of his career. We looked at thousands of drawings just to get to the final 800 or so that we included in the show, but even so, there were a number of early drawings that had appeared in books or zines that we searched for over the course of many months and were never able to track down. It’s entirely possible to imagine a dozen alternative Pettibon shows that would be equally as rich and surprising.”

“No Title (Will you give…),” 2007. Pen and ink on paper.

I then asked him what role Raymond Pettibon played in the selection of works for this show, if any. Mr. Carrion-Murayari said-

“Raymond wasn’t so involved in the selection of the specific works for the show. He pretty much left it to us, as he has done for many of the museum shows he’s done over the years. For the show at the New Museum, he was most focused on creating a number of new drawings specially for the exhibition and then of course on making the fantastic site-specific wall drawings at the New Museum, the Bonnefantenmuseum, and the Garage.”

“No Title (This one reminded…),” 2008, Pen, ink and gouache on paper.

Not to mention that, as I noted in my piece on the Zwirner show, Pettibon was, also, holed up in David Zwirner’s 519 West 19th Street space for the first part of this year creating the works for “Th’ Explosiyv Shoyrt T,” which opened barely 2 weeks after the New Museum show closed. So far in 2017, Raymond Pettibon has had THREE museum shows, that featured 1,900 works, AND a gallery show of a further 100 NEW works, making an even 2 grand. Phew. And on the 7th day…

Here are some of the other works on view at the Garage-

“No Title (I’d rather starve…),” 1987, Pen and ink on paper.

“No Title (We can’t start…),” 2012, Pen and ink on paper.

“No Title (I wanted moreover…),” 1999, left, and “No Title,” 2004, Both pen and ink on paper. Believe it or not, baseball appears to be gaining popularity in Russia.

“No Title (Duly facing myself…),” 2000, Pen and ink on paper

“No Title (It taught, it…),” 2003, Pen and ink on paper.

A closer look at a wall with works pertaining to US “foreign policy,” includes some of the following-

“No Title (The U.S. has…),” 2015, Ink and acrylic on paper.

“No Title (Till the map…),” 2008, Pen, ink and gouache on paper.

“No Title (CCCP, Sputnik, Cosmos…),” 1990, Acrylic on canvas. A rare Pettibon Painting.

“No Title (Advances in medical…),” 2007, Collage, pen and ink on paper.

“No Title (It is normal…).” 2001, Pen and ink on paper.

No Title (To Jill St. John…),” 1985, Pen and ink on paper.

This has been a year that would be extraordinary for any Artist. For the first 10 months of 2017 it was possible to see one, or three, major Raymond Pettibon shows somewhere in the world at any given moment. Since these shows are planned long in advance that they are happening (coincidentally ) at a time of such tumult in the country and in the world makes for one of the most auspicious run of shows in memory.

No matter the location, a highlight in each of these shows for many viewers are Raymond Pettibon’s Wave and Surfer works, which seem to lie at the center of his output these past 40 years. 4 of the 5 highest auction prices (1 million dollars, plus) for a Pettibon work depict one or both, for whatever that’s worth. Yet, they are a very small part of his huge output (numbering over 20,000 works as of earlier this year).

“No Title (Is some one…),” 2013, Pen and ink on paper…and tacked to the wall. Is doing so a remnant of “punk” attitude and street beginnings?

He could sit back and do them indefinitely and, no doubt, sell every single one he does. But, he doesn’t. In the last show of his new work, at David Zwirner, there was only 1 large Wave Drawing out of 100 works. In fact, the biggest one he’s done recently was the one for the wall painting for the Garage’s show, up top, which was painted over when the show came down. It’s far bigger than any of the 4 that sold for a million dollars or so at auction, yet it was done to only be on view for a short time.

It’s now gone…like the waves it depicts- a phenomena of nature, beautiful while it lasted. Like the mural (or the show), you had to be there to see it, and get it’s full effect. If you weren’t? You missed it.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Surfin’ USA” by Chuck Berry & Brian Wilson, and recorded by the Beach Boys.

My thanks to Gary Carrion-Murayari and Paul Jackson of the New Museum.
My thanks and gratitude to the Hattan Group for getting to the Garage show and allowing me to publish their photos.

On The Fence, #15 , The Cloyd Woyd.”

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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