Rod Penner’s Neighborhood

“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?”*

In 1927, the Painter & Photographer Charles Steeler spent six weeks Photographing the 2,000 acre Ford Rouge plant in Detroit on assignment for an ad agency1. So taken by what he had seen there, over the next 9 years, he produced a series of Paintings of the plant based on the Photos he took. While both his Photos and his Paintings are now seen as classics, that’s perhaps the closest an Artist has come to creating a series of Paintings of a small neighborhood as seen at the same time. Now, the Artist Rod Penner tells me he has completed one such series. “Mr. Penner’s Neighborhood” (with apologies to Fred “Mr.” Rogers) of choice for his series of 2015-17 Paintings is San Saba, Texas, a town of about 3,000, an hour north of Austin, as seen in the source material he collected in various mediums (plural- they consist of more than Photographs he told me), during a trip he took there early one winter Saturday morning. To date, they had numbered 10 Paintings, 9 of which were shown at “Rod Penner,” at Ameringer McEnery Yohe Gallery, NYC in May2, (which I wrote about here and here. My follow-up “Q & A” with Rod Penner is here.)

“San Saba Butane,” 2015, Acrylic on canvas, 10 x 15 inches. Photo courtesy Rod Penner and Ameringer McEnery & Yohe. The first work in Rod Penner’s “San Saba Series,” and was not in the AMY show. Comparing this to the smaller work with the same title, I wrote about here, is endlessly fascinating. Click any to enlarge.

The tenth, (actually, the first to be completed in 2015), above, gives us a view of “San Saba Butane” seen from the side, which contrasts with the smaller painting of the same title that captivated me at the show where San Saba Butane is seen from the front. This perspective makes it part of a neighborhood, and not seem to be an island. A neighborhood where the other buildings seem to be in better condition, and most likely still in use. Here, it still looks like a relic, just a relic that is part of a large community, something we don’t often think of relics being. Interestingly for me, the lone car is stopped at a light, the only time this occurs in the San Saba series, as if symbolizing time standing still here.

The new 11th, and final, painting in his series is, interestingly, entitled “Welcome to San Saba.” I quickly moved past the irony of ending a series with a work that would seem to indicate it was the first work in the series to look at this photo of it.

The 11th and final work in Rod Penner’s San Saba Series, “Welcome to San Saba,” 2017, Acrylic on canvas, 10 x 15 inches. Photo by Rod Penner. Courtesy of the Artist and Ameringer McEnery Yohe.

Ah…G & R Grocery (cut off on the right), The Station (dead ahead, left of center)…some familiar sights from their own works in the show…the familiar damp streets… Yet? Much was new to me.  Take the mural on the yellowish wall seen facing us to the right of center, for instance. During the run of the show, I looked long and hard at the miniature version of that mural alongside the G & R in it’s 5 x 7 1/2 inch painting at Ameringer, below, where it is seen at a sharp angle, trying, in vain, to see what it depicted.

Flashback. “G & R Grocery,” 2016, 5 x 7 1/2 inches, as seen in the Ameringer show in May.

Seeing it now, face on, is “another part of the puzzle.” It’s a picture in a picture that adds a surreal element to this work, especially because we can’t really see all of the storefronts along the side of “Welcome to San Saba,” and so it seems to ask the question “Is THIS San Saba? Or, is what’s in the mural San Saba?” Well, I hear that hunting is second only to pecans as a business in San Saba, so? They both are. Maybe that’s why the deer in the mural has that “in the headlights” look, which mimics the distant car with it’s headlights on coming down the street. While we’re busy pondering all of that, one thing’s for sure, besides that car, there’s not a heck of a lot going on.

The perspective giving us this view strikes me as brilliantly subtle. We’re not exactly in the street, or on the curb. We’re not looking exactly straight down the sidewalk, or really, right down the street. Only the mural is seen whole, balanced by the facade of “The Station,” across the street in the distance. The pavement is masterfully done, as usual. It’s astounding, really. Right down to the varying degrees of wetness, and that horizontal crack breaking things up. While we’re admiring Mr. Penner’s technique, other visual pleasures include what can be seen of the facades of the stores seen in perspective, the peeling paint on the mural wall, and of course, the “Penneresque” skies, as I call them, this one different from some of the rest because it’s lacks any hint of the sun breaking through, or being covered up, as in the larger SS Butane. The bare tree on the left marvelously balances the piece, and is, like everything else, wonderfully done.

Flashback #2. “View of San Saba,” 2017, 5 x 7 1/2 inches. Looking down the same street as “Welcome to San Saba,” which takes place halfway up the road on the right, as seen at Ameringer in May.

Finally, there are the many festive lights, including those that run along the top of all the buildings, reinforcing that it’s the holiday season, which adds more poignancy for the viewer. The lack of people and cars, except for the distant one approaching makes this feel more haunting to me than “View of San Saba,” above, possibly because we’re not in the middle of the street now, and we’re right among the buildings. Odd for that time of year, there’s almost no activity, no one is shopping, doing errands, etc., save for the headlights of the car approaching in the distance.

It’s more than a terrific Painting. It’s a worthy end to a compelling, unique series.

As importantly, the more I looked at it, the more I realized it was effecting some of my thoughts about the rest of the series, and making me see “more” in them. As I mentioned last time, this series presents different views of much of the same small neighborhood in each succeeding work, with each angle presenting new information, and giving a new perspective. A subtly engrossing concept that adds another layer to the already meditative nature of his work, which takes us from pondering individual scenes to assessing the larger community, seen in the first, and last two works in the series. Assessing them, I’m reminded that I paid so little mention to the “Holiday” aspects I just mentioned that, also, recur in some of these works- “Yard Inflatables,” and “The Station,” as seen at Ameringer, (a pic of “The Station” I Posted previously). This combined with the universal absence of people, the often darkening skies lends a sense of isolation, even lonelieness that feels (to me, at least) akin to that in Hopper. But, that is the real joy of looking, and seeing what they say to you. Your results may differ.

It’s the holidays in the neighborhood. Rod Penner, “Yard Inflatables,” 2016, 6 x 6 inches, seen at Ameringer.

“Yard Inflatables” is, also, a charming example of Mr. Penner’s subtle humor. Something that also appears, in somewhat subtler form, in “Welcome to San Saba,” possibly in the title, itself. Mr. Penner, who describes himself as “an avid hunter, big on wildlife management and conservation,” also had to tell  me (because I’d never have guessed) the mural is a bit of a jab at some of his  some of his anti-hunting friends, and sent this photo of the actual mural along. I’m sure most residents disagree, but I like his version of it much better.

“Welcome to San Saba” Mural. Photo by, and courtesy of, Rod Penner. Interestingly different perspective than seen in the Painting.

The photo of the mural also puts yet another nail in the coffin of what’s called “photorealism,” something that has less and less to do with Mr. Penner’s work the more I see of it. Just compare it to the mural in the painting. So, if Rod Penner is not a “photorealist,” what is he? He’s an Artist. It’s becoming apparent to me that he is directly in the line of “American Realists”3 that goes all the way back to Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), and extends up through George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879), the Hudson River School (including Thomas Cole 1801-1848 and Sanford Gifford 1823-1880),  Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), Reginald Marsh (1898-1954), Edward Hopper (1882-1967), and yes, Charles Sheeler (1883-1965) (Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood are among others included by many). Not a bad “neighborhood” to be in. Speaking of those “neighbors,” I find myself wishing the whole series had gone to a museum, like the Whitney, where it would look wonderful along side their Hoppers and Sheelers, while showing that tradition is alive and well in 2017.

Rod Penner’s “San Saba Series,” strikes me as walking that line between intimacy and distance. Standing in front of someone’s house, especially at Christmas, has an intimacy to it that it probably wouldn’t have seen at any other time of the year. The owners are “letting us in” a little bit into who they are through their decorations. So is the town with it’s “public” holiday decorations, seen in the streets of “The Station” and “Welcome to San Saba.” Yet, there is an undeniable distance and an almost foreboding sense of isolation that’s reinforced by the ever-present, slightly ominous “Penneresque” skies. Works like the smaller “San Saba Butane” are not at all welcoming. Even if you were to venture inside the crumbling building, you wouldn’t really “be” anywhere. “View of San Saba,” above, the next to last work Mr. Penner completed, is also not welcoming. We may be risking our lives standing in the middle of that street for long with our backs turned. In “Welcome to San Saba, some lights are on, but nobody’s out. It’s a bit reminiscent of those old western movies when the bad guys come to town and everyone’s hunkered down indoors.

As the 9 Paintings at Ameringer McEnery Yohe sold, I now feel lucky to have been able to see that many of them in one place, since their “interaction” adds so much, as I’ve tried to show, and since who knows when that might happen again. Walking through these 11 Paintings, in my mind now, “Mr. Penner’s Neighborhood” still fascinates me and still makes me look deeper. I guess I’ve become a neighbor.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” by Fred M. (“Mr.”) Rogers.

On The Fence, #9, The Sitting Ducks” Edition

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  1. Some may be seen here.
  2. The show’s site is here.
  3. With all due respect to great Realists the world over.

NightOwls Among Us #2- Todd Hido

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

“Oof” The NighthawkNYC NightOwl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NYC Art Shows 2016- Sheena Wagstaff Rules The Waves

This year past, Manhattan Art was largely dominated by two themes. There was a seemingly continual string of shows by many of the bigger names in Abstract Expressionism (i.e. AbEx), one after the other, and I wrote about every one of them, beginning with Jackson Pollock @MoMA, Lee Krasner, Philip Guston (two- here and here), Richard Pousette-Dart, Joan Mitchell and Mark Rothko, along with a few excellent satellite compilation shows, each in a different venue, which, apparently is continuing into 2017 with Jackson Pollock set to open at the Guggenheim, completing the circle, for now. It was also a year of Women Artists getting important shows. Patti Smith, Nasreen Mohamedi, Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman, Marilyn Minter1, June Leaf, Carmen Herrera, Nan Goldin, Mary Bauermeister, Carrie Mae Weems, Latoya Ruby Frazier, Krasner and Mitchell were only some of the highlights. Still? Artists weren’t the only women making a big impact on the NYC Art Scene in 2016. In fact, for my money, the biggest impact of all was made by another woman, The Met’s Chairwoman of Modern & Contemporary (M&C) Art, Sheena Wagstaff.

As far as I’m concerned, no other single person had the impact on NYC Art, all year long, that Ms. Wagstaff and her department did.

Sheena Wagstaff was named Chairwoman of TM’s M&C Department on January 20, 2012. Four years later, her 2016 began with putting finishing touches on TM’s new “branch Museum,” The Met Breuer (TMB), the first “branch” The Met has opened since The Cloisters in 1926! No pressure there. As it was about to open, ostensibly as the showcase for The Met’s “new” M&C Art iniatative, The Times’ Roberta Smith put the situation perfectly into perspective, speaking about the task Ms. Wagstaff faced/faces-

“But the Met is huge and old, with a history of treating contemporary art as an afterthought. Getting it to change is like turning around an ocean liner.” Roberta Smith, NYT, March 3, 2016.

It sailed into it’s mid- March opening with 2 shows- “Unifnished: Thoughts Left Visible,” a veritable Museum in itself covering 2 full floors (the third and fourth), and, easy to overlook, tucked away on the second floor, “Nasreen Mohamedi,” the first American Retrospective of the Indian woman artist who passed away in 1990, aged 53. Wait…Who? Yeah. Me, too.

Met Breuer, Opening Lineup, March 8, 2016. 11 months on? The 5th Floor is now gallery space, the 1st Floor Gallery is now the Gift Shop. Those 2 shows? They live on, indelibly. Notice that for all of Art History that’s represented in “Unfinished,” the signature image chosen is by Alice Neel, a woman, of “James Hunter Black Draftee”

Vijay Iyer (piano, left) performs with his trio. Met Breuer, Member’s Opening Day, March 8, 2016.

The first members of the public get to see “Unfinished” on March 8, 2016. That tiny drawing on the far opposite wall is by Michelangelo.

After over 15 visits later, to my eyes, “Nasreen Mohamedi” was nothing less than 1) an epiphany. Here was an Artist who was a Major figure in Art in the 20th Century who’s name exists in not one Art History survey that I know of.

I now haunt these galleries, in my memory.

2) Therefore, it was easily one of the best shows of the year, and 3) the more I think about it, for many reasons, it was one of the best shows I’ve seen in years.

Most Memorable Art Work of the Year. Nasreen Mohamedi “Untitled,” circa 1970. When I first saw it, I thought it was a piece of fabric. Nope. This is a DRAWING.

Detail (about 10″ x 6″). Two amazing things about this- 1- The superhuman focus & manual skill on display. 2- The disease that would kill her would take these incomparable motor skills first, and shortly.

The subtlety, uniqueness and micro/macro impact of Nasreen Mohamedi’s drawings is seemingly without precedent. They speak to the “grand design” of the universe, while also giving the feeling that they are somehow familiar, though they are not.

 

Some call this work “The Seven Planes of Existence.” All her works were left untitled and undated, only 5 here were signed. Many were given to friends as gifts. She created most while dealing with an illness that would kill her family members, then rob her of her skills, and eventually kill her, as well.

Also an accomplished photographer, I find her photos every bit as wondrous as her work in other mediums. Each “Untitled,” ca. 1970

Closeup of the photo on the right. What exactly are we looking at?

I spent an hour sitting right next to Sheena Wagstaff at a “Nasreen Mohamedi Symposium,” at The Met 5th Avenue in June. After it was over, I had the chance to speak to her. All I could say to her was “Thank you,” for Nasreen Mohamedi, which gave me the chance to discover her. Then, I told her she had made “the perfect choice” to begin M&C Art at TMB.

Sheena Wagstaff, right, Met curator Brinda Kumar, center, and an Artist who’s name I didn’t get, left, at the Nasreen Mohamedi Symposium, June 3 at The Met. Ms. Wagstaff then sat down immediately to my right.

Six month later, I stand by those words.

Think about how much guts it took to make that call. How daring it was. TMB famously costs The Met 15 million dollars a year to operate. The Met, reportedly, ran a deficiet in 2016, costing jobs.  To say “a lot” was, and is, riding on the success of TMB would be an understatement. Not to mention TM’s world leading prestige. “Nasreen Mohamedi” was followed by “diane arbus: in the beginning.” Perhaps it would have been “safer” to have run Diane Arbus first. Maybe. Probably. I’m glad it was Sheena Wagstaff’s call (along with the rest of TM’s powers that be), and they chose Nasreen Mohamedi.

A page from one of her diaries. She blotted out much of what she had written. I wonder why. They left these patterns, reminiscent of her drawings.

The show was, apparently, a labor of love for Ms. Wagstaff. Hidden away in the very last gallery, in an iPad on the tables where visitors could peruse the now out of print and rare catalog, were some of the few extant photos from Ms. Mohamedi’s life. One of the last photos was a photo of Nasreen Mohamedi’s unmarked grave. I marvelled that someone had found it and photographed it. I looked for the credit to see who the photographer was. Sheena Wagstaff.

“Nasreen Mohamedi” was more than a terrific show. It was a statement. What was as easy to miss as the show itself was, as visitors made a bee line to see the copious treasures upstairs, it was more. It was the “answer” to the question about where Ms. Wagstaff was likely to steer The Met’s “new M&C initiative” going forward. As such, it was a shot over the bow of the future.

The future of M&C Art at The Met, and The Met Breuer, appears to be international, and inclusive. I expect more of the unexpected, more of the unknown and under-known. Bring it on. MoMA is running on all cylinders, putting on shows that are spectacular. It’s good for them, the Whitney, The Guggenhim, et al, to have some competition in M&C Art from The Met, and for us.

While “Nasreen Mohamedi” was blowing my mind on the 2nd floor, upstairs on 3 & 4, “Unfinished” was blowing everyone’s who saw it. Right off the elevator on 3, you make a right and in a small gallery you’re confronted by Leonardo da Vinci AND Michelangelo (all too rarely seen together in this hemisphere), AND Jan Van Eyck, and a few other works I can’t even remember because my mind was already overloaded. Oh yeah, some guy named Durer did one. This was TM “showing off,” as I read Ms. Wagstaff say in an interview. Boy, did they. The rest of the show had a roster that would make 90% of all other whole Museums in the USA jealous.

For a New York Minute, Michelangelo, left, and two Leonardos were on display in “Unfinished,” as the show opened. The triumvirate was soon broken up, no doubt due to the fragility of the works.

So? Ok. This was a “fail safe” show. Ms. Wagstaff was by no means finished.

Rembrandt & Velazquez- the two greatest Painters who ever lived, according to many, very rarely seen side by side.

After Nasreen closed, “diane arbus: in the beginning” came in on 2, with an installation unique in art & photography shows in my experience. Every piece got it’s own wall. Yup. You read that right. Over 100 pieces. Over 100 walls. Amazing. No beginning. No ending. The point being that it was all her beginning.

A rare shot of Tatsuo Miyajima’s “Arrow of Time,” on view in TMB’s first floor gallery. The only show to take place there before it became the gift shop.

After “Unfinished,” the year at TMB ended with another blockbuster success- “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry.” This is the kind of show that makes you wonder WHY it took so long for Mr. Marshall to be so recognized. He’s been creating at a very high level for a long time. It was only 3 years ago that he was showing at the always excellent Jack Shainman Gallery in Chelsea. But? Not everyone was sleeping on KJM. Walking through this show it’s a sad feeling for a New Yorker to read the tags and see great work after great work that belongs to Chicago or Los Angeles. Not even MoMA has stepped up to a large degree with Kerry James Marshall. TM FINALLY got a major work of his last year.

The beginning of “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry.” In many ways, this was the show of the year.

Now? It’s probably too late.

This, unfortunately, highlights one area where much work remains to be done. The Met’s collection is sorely lacking the work of M&C Masters. As I recently pointed out, as far as I know, they own no work by Ai Weiwei. no work by Nasreen Mohamedi, and only one work (albeit a very, very good one) by Kerry James Marshall (and this was only acquired in 2015), to name but 3 cases. Frankly? I find this shameful. TM recently elected three new trustees, two of which are M&C specialists, so hope springs eternal for a little more wind to be added to those sails.

New York had until January 29 to enjoy seeing a lot of KJM in one place. (My piece is coming soon.) Now? It’s going to be a long wait. Los Angeles? You get your chance beginning March 12.

So? By my scorecard, that’s 4 shows in 9 months that will be remembered and talked about for a very long time, including no less than TWO that were major breakthroughs for the Artists- Nasreen Mohamedi and Kerry James Marshall2, putting both in the pantheon of the Artists who belong in our greatest Museums.

But? Ms. Wagstaff, who struck me as having so much energy, downtown NYC could have used her during the Hurricane Sandy Blackout, still wasn’t finished. Over at 1000 Fifth Avenue…(remember The Met’s Main Building?), she and her staff have also rehung TM’s M&C Galleries there, and done an amazing job.

While at sea, mind the lighthouse! Edward Hopper’s iconic “The Lighthouse at Two Lights,” 1929, receives pride of place in TM’s newly rehung M&C Galleries. Which reminds me- Sheena Wagstaff edited the Tate’s 2004 Edward Hopper Show catalog.

Works have come out of storage that haven’t been seen there in…?, and some, thankfully, have gone there in their stead. The arrangements are new, too. Themes take the place of chronological arrangements in many rooms, while the AbEx Galleries still remain largely together, but subtly ammended. We get to see, what I consider to be, a major work by Philip Guston that I never knew TM owned! Other works are given new prominence, notably Edward Hopper’s famous “The Lighthouse at Two Lights,” and Richard Pousette- Dart’s “Symphony No. 1- The Transcendental,” (photo, here, further down the page.)

In this one gallery, I was shocked to discover works by Pousette-Dart (“Path of the Hero,” 1950, right) and Philip Guston (left, and below) that I didn’t even know The Met owned because they haven’t shown them!

Philip Guston, “Performers,” 1947. WHERE has this been? With one foot in his past, and one in his future, for my money, this is one of the most important periods of Guston’s career, and very few works from it exist, after he destroyed most. A major Guston.

The result is a veritable breath, no, wind of fresh air throughout. More wind for the sails of that S.S. Met Roberta Smith wrote about.

Sheena Wagstaff had a great year, in my book. Here’s to her. May the wind be at her back. That sound you heard in January was my giving a major sigh of relief at the news that we didn’t lose her when the Tate Museums chose a new Director (Ms. Wagstaff was Chief Curator at Tate Modern before she joined The Met).

P H E W…

Elsewhere, in the big City…

Other Museums and Galleries, of course, put on shows that linger in the memory, and I would be remiss in not including them. In addition to Nasreen Mohamedi’s, another Retrospective tried to make the case for it’s Artist’s place in the canon on 20th Century Art History, and wildly succeeded, in my opinion- “Bruce Conner: It’s All True” @ MoMA  Though he spent some time early in his career in NYC3, he, and his work, were rarely seen here after, and as a result, seeing this broad & in-depth look at his accomplishment over a mind-bending number of mediums was nothing less than a bombshell in it’s impact on myself, and I suspect many other New Yorkers. The depth, the staggering detail in the work (most famously in his films, but we see here it was carried over in most of his other work in other genres.), the mediums he probably invented, (like the music video), techniques he created or mastered, and on and on. This show was a capstone on a great year for shows at MoMA. “Picasso Sculpture,” “Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty,” were must see/won’t soon forget in their own right. Bravo, MoMA. Now? About that building and the new one on the way…

Picasso, “Owl,” seen in “Picasso Sculpture.” One sure way to make this list? Include an Owl in your show. ; – )

In the galleries, what lingers with me were Ai Weiwei’s return to NYC at long last with 4 concurrent shows, “Mark Rothko: Dark Passage,” “Patti Smith: 18 Stations,“Philip Guston: Laughter in the Dark,” “Stuart Davis: In Full Swing,” at the Whitney, and “William Eggleston: The Democratic Forest” (mostly for the chance to study his work at length, which only made me want to look again). And, I always enjoy the chance to be captivated by someone I previously didn’t know, like the amazing Sydney Cash at Heller Gallery, or the up and coming Robert Currie at Bryce Walkowitz- both of who share a fascinating ability to make you see things that aren’t really there.

Sydney Cash’s “Split Selfie,” 2016, oversees two of his other works that no photo can “capture,” at Heller Gallery. See them better here. When you watch, remember all that’s happening is the viewer moves slightly side to side.

And finally, personally, the chance to meet Patti Smith and Sheena Wagstaff, or run into Chuck Close, were things that remain rich, as much for the opportunity to speak with them as for what I learned from each encounter.

All of these experiences reminds me that in the final analysis? Art is personal. For every one of us.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Andy Warhol” by David Bowie (who we lost this year, and who is Ms. Wagstaff’s fellow countryman, and an Art collector), from his classic album “Hunky Dory.”

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

  1. in 3 shows- 2 in Manhattan, 1 at the Brooklyn Museum, as part of their “Reimagining Feminism” Series
  2. It must be noted that “KJM: Mastry” is a show organized by The Museum of Contemporary Art, L.A. the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and The Met.
  3. when legend has it he was denied entrance to MoMA for the opening of a show that included one of his works.

Unfinished. Auspicious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cy Twombly Gallery closes the show seen in panorama.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Tumors Personified," 1971, by ALina Szapocznikow.

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

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

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

Haunting, and then some.

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

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

Stay tuned.

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

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
Click the white box on the upper right, for the archives, to search, or to subscribe.
This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

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

The New Whitney Museum- The Roofdeck of American Art

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“American Tune”
“We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
and sing an American tune”*

Looking west on the 6th Floor Roof deck, Spring, 2016.

Looking west on the 6th Floor Roof deck, Spring, 2016.

Part 1- The New Whitney Museum…And I

We actually go way back…

All the way back to June, 1987 when I had a letter published in the New York Times in opposition to the proposed expansion plans of the Guggenheim & Whitney Museums, after it was announced that both Museums wanted to modify & expand their existing buildings. I was outraged. How could you change these two singular masterworks without ruining them? I closed saying that “branch museums were the obvious answer” to modifying these Artworks of Architecture, in the Guggenheim’s case, Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece was, perhaps, the greatest work of Art it owns. I went to the Community Board Meetings, but wasn’t directly involved beyond this letter. Mine was apparently chosen over the head of the opposition committee’s letter, much to his displeasure, I heard.

My letter in the NY Times Op-Ed page opposing the Whitney & Guggenheim Expansions, June, 1987

My letter in the NY Times Op-Ed page opposing the Whitney & Guggenheim Expansions, June, 1987

Almost 30 years later (wow…really?), how did “we” do?

Well, BOTH Museums took my “advice” and opened branch museums. The Whitney had a few around town, one across from Grand Central, another in Soho, while the Guggenheim opened what is, perhaps, the greatest Museum building since Wright’s enduring 5th Avenue masterpiece…by Frank Gehry in Bilbao, Spain of all places. It’s a “place” now, a true destination for culture vultures. They showed a model of another Gehry masterpiece they wanted to build downtown in the East River at the Guggenheim Gehry Retrospective in 2000. I bought a poster of it but, after 9/11, it was never mentioned again. ? They went ahead and remodeled Wright’s masterpiece, anyway, which I will never accept, AND continue to open branch Museums around the world as we speak. The Whitney, on the other hand, did not renovate Breuer’s unique original. Instead, we got something I never saw coming- They moved out and built an entirely new Museum.

Wow!

So? On my scorecard? I am one and a half out of 2.

The New Whitney opened in May, 2015 in the Meatpacking District, right at the southern end of the High Line. I’ve made frequent trips there so far studying the building from every angle I could, at night, and yes, even in day light. (Oh, the sacrifices I will make in the pursuit of Art.) The inaugural, and as I’ve said very good, show, in the new Renzo Piano building, “American Is Hard To See,” came and went. I also wrote about both the Frank Stella Retrospective and a show by filmmaker Laura Poitras that came and went, too, along with quite a few smaller shows. So, a few months after the 1 year Anniversary, I think I’ve finally had enough time and experience with the new place, over 45 visits, to have some thoughts coalesce. As always, I have not read any reviews of either the building or the shows mentioned.

Part 2- Renzo Piano’s Whitney Museum Building

U.S.S. Indianapolis. US Navy Photo

The U.S.S. Indianapolis, Why is this picture here? (U.S. Navy Photo.)

It’s only a year or so old, but I don’t think many will fall in love with the exterior of the building. I must say that in all my trips there so far, I have yet to see anyone else take a picture of it. Maybe (more) time will tell. In this City where location isn’t everything, it’s the ONLY thing, the new Whitney sits on a rather unique lot. How many places in Manhattan can you think of that have BOTH a River view AND a Park view? Situated directly across the West Side Highway from the Hudson River, to the west, and the southern end of the High Line to the immediate east, the Museum hit on a very rare Daily Double. Unfortunately for long time Whitney architect Piano, who came on board during the Museum’s “expansion” days, this lot has 4 sides. To the north, the rest of the block is occupied by one of the few remaining Meat Packing businesses that actually pack meat in what really was The Meatpacking District.1 Yes, trucks of raw meat park within inches of the Museum’s north wall every weekday.

Yes, meat is still packed in the "Meatpacking District." Whitney's north side seen from West Street.

Yes, meat is still packed in the “Meatpacking District.” Whitney’s north side seen from West Street.

And, seen from the High Line.

And, seen from the High Line.

The two story meat complex provides a nearly unobstructed view of most of the north face of the Museum, from West Street or the High Line. I wonder what people who don’t know it’s the Museum think it is. I wonder how many of them will look at it and say, “Ah. A Museum.” My guess is not many. Maybe it’s an office building with not enough windows and a couple of long smoke stacks? A prison? It’s pretty non-descrip, making the stair cases that protrude from the rear of the building seem, well, odd. For myself, and probably countless others approaching the New Whit from the north, this is the first view they’ll get of it. The one defining feature of this side of the building is the exterior staircases. A cascade of them.

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Outdoor stairs as seen on the 7th Floor

To the south, across Gansevoort Street is a large, renovated apartment building, that also has Hudson River views on it’s western side. To put it mildly, this is a classic “high rent” district. Facing Gansevoort Street, the Museum presents visitors with an almost unbroken face of grey steel. Upon closer inspection, it also includes the Museum’s almost hidden entrance, which, until a sign was added recently, was only marked “Whitney Museum” on a glass window. Still, I can’t help wonder how the residents of that building across Gansevoort feel about paying those very high rents to look out their windows and see-

This, is their view.

This, is their view.

In fact, seen from the south, the building is so large that none of my cameras were able to get the whole thing in a shot from Gansevoort, including using an iPhone in Panorama mode. I had to go out into West Street to get one, which I don’t advise doing due to traffic coming randomly from 3 directions, not to mention my back being literally on the flimsy chain link fence bordering the West Side Highway with cars & trucks zipping around the bend at 60mph. Not a smart place to be standing with a camera. But this points out something interesting- there is no place where one can easily stand to get a good shot of the Museum- except, possibly, from a substantial distance. In fact, most of the shots of the building on the Whitney www site were taken from the rooftops of adjacent buildings. Maybe this is why no one takes pictures of it. Or? Maybe they don’t like it. ?

The closest I've come do death this year. The West Side Highway is inches behind me.

NOT to die for. I risked my life getting this shot. Southwest corner.

As we move to the western facade, with the large windows seen above (which reminds me of Zaha Hadid’s Library in Vienna), the upper one juts out at an angle seen from the north that vaguely reminds of the Breuer building’s Madison Avenue upper window.

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But more problematically, is a large Department of Sanitation complex smack dab right in front of it! “Holy Refuse Pile, Artman!” Garbage trucks coming and going all day and evening are not exactly what gives a “Riv View” it’s cache. (Feel free to insert your own wry joke about contemporary art here. I’ll wait…)

View of the Department of Sanitation from the 7th Floor stairs, 2015.

Riv View. Looking out at the Department of Sanitation from the 7th Floor stairs, 2015.

Mr. Piano has done his best to “minimize” the damage from the “offending” Department of Sanitation, and eternally busy West Side Highway, by opting to minimize the exposure of the western facade leaving a very narrow patio where, typically, only a few chairs usually are to be seen. It sits a few scant feet from the West Side Highway, after all, so it’s hard to imagine many people wanting to sit there for long. 3 trees have been planted along the curb in hope that one day they will provide some camouflage.

View from in front of the western facade, July, 2015, Being a tree in NYC is one helluva hard job.

View from in front of the western facade, July, 2016, Being a tree in NYC is one helluva hard job.

Regardless of the difficulties in seeing the building close up, it can be seen, for many blocks, both, to the north and south along the West Side Highway, and from across the Hudson River in New Jersey. Thanks(?) to the High Line there has been a boon in building in the area, with some very big name Starchitects (including, as I’ve written, the late Zaha Hadid’s only NYC Building going up at 520 West 28th Street, among many others) having new or recent projects in the area- some successful, some eyesores already. No less than Frank Gehry, the greatest architect of his time, in my book, himself, has a fairly new building about 6 blocks to the north of the New Whitney along the Highway, the gorgeous IAC Headquarters at 18th Street.

Like a sailboat on the Hudson, Frank Gehry's IAC Building is a gorgeous vision.

Like a sailboat on the Hudson it faces, Frank Gehry’s IAC Building is a shining example of the visionary architecture NYC needs more of, IMHO.

But, say what you want about this new Museum (don’t worry…I will), one thing that must be said is that the building isn’t obsessed with competing with it’s spectacular neighbor. Well? Not that spectacular neighbor, anyway. If anything, it sure feels to me like it’s competing with it’s OTHER “spectacular neighbor”- the High Line.

Southern terminus of the High Line, circa 2009. The new Whitney now occupies the space directly behind the left side.

Southern terminus of the High Line, circa 2010, early in the construction of the new Whitney directly behind on the left side. And today, and tonite…

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That brings us to the east side of the building, the side that abuts the High Line. Renzo Piano also designed the High Line Maintenance & Operations Building,

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High Line Maintenance & Operations Building on the lot’s northeast corner.

which looks like it’s part of the Whitney, occupying the north eastern corner of the lot. Next to that are a rectangular bank of windows of the 5th Floor Galleries. The lowest rectangle is cleverly cantilevered over the lower floors in a way that vaguely reminds of Wright’s Fallingwater. Above it are more rectangular rows of windows on the other gallery floors, which are accompanied by roof decks and outdoor stairs between floors.

Eastern face with 1st floor restaurant seen from the High Line.

Cantilevered lower eastern face with 1st floor restaurant seen from the High Line.

And, these are what raise my suspicion about purpose. So much outdoor space, and outdoor stairs in a place with the climate of Manhattan could be seen as highly questionable design. They are going to be unusable a good part of the year, so why do them? Aesthetically, to my eyes, the stairs look uncannily similar to the High Line’s access stairs. I wondered- Is this a case of “art snobbery” by an expensive to build, expensive to enter Museum trying to “upstage” a free & public park- a poorly thought out game of oneupmanship? An attempt to “blend in” with the High Line? Or?

Whitney Museum Stairs. Imitation is sincere flattery.

Whitney Museum Eastern Facade Exterior Stairs close up

High Line Stairs at West 20th Street

High Line Stairs at West 20th Street

Other questions festered. Back along the south face. I spent a long time trying to think of what the shape of this building reminded me of. Hmmmm…Then one day, it hit me- From the south it looks like one of the US Navy’s newest ships- the USS Independence. From this side, it looks like it’s ready to go out to sea, well, out to the Hudson River. This feeling is hard to shake when you are looking at the few windows that look a bit like portholes, the “military—like” grey coloring, and the slightly sloping (i.e. “stealthy”) look of the upper floors. Add the rear decks and stairs to the Independence and the effect is so similar, it’s down right eerie.

Ok, flip the cantilever to the rear, and...? Eerily uncanny, no?

U.S.S. Indianapolis, again, with my highlighting. Ok, flip the cantilever to the rear, and…? Eerily uncanny, no?

Photo from Renzo Piano Building Workshop website.

Photo from Renzo Piano Building Workshop website. Note that all of the “neighbors” have been removed, except for the High Line.

Part 3- The Roofdeck of American Art

Bring sunscreen.

Want a tan with your art? 6th Floor deck, Spring, 2016.

Yes, that is what I’m calling the New Whitney- “The Roofdeck of American Art.” I think the decks are what people will remember most about the building. I only hope it’s not what they remember most about their visit. That will be up to the Museum’s curators and staff. But? As I will get to, I think other forces are at work, too.

With 4 roof decks, I bet some will come only to enjoy the view and get some sun. The Museum turns the face the vast majority of visitors will experience most to it’s “rear,” to it’s east side facing the High Line. Doing so gives Mr. Piano a very convenient out of his Sanitation Department dilemma, “Riv View” notwithstanding, and allows a wonderful panorama of Manhattan, from Chelsea Piers to the north, the Empire State in the center and the Statue of Liberty, distantly, to the south. The decks allow space for dining (8th floor), sculpture (5th floor and the others), seating, and that 21st Century phenomenon- selfie sticks.

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8th Floor Deck.

It’s very nice. You’ll like it. Bring sunscreen.

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I promise that top ramp won’t be bent when you visit the 7th Floor Deck.

Part 4- Inside. “Hey look! They have art here…too!”

Inside, the first floor is the lobby, the most unsuccessful part of the entire interior- it’s an open space. The message here is “keep moving.” It’s about as unwelcoming a space as Moma’s lobby. (Actually, ALL of Moma, which for me stands for what it feels like- the “Mall of Modern Art,” feels unwelcoming!)

Welcome? No one will ever mistake the lobby for the Great Hall at The Met. Front door is opposite, where the black mat is.

Welcome? No one will ever mistake the lobby for the Great Hall at The Met. Front door is to the right of the nearest exposed column. Engineering made visible abounds. The free 1st floor gallery is to the immediate right, outside of the rope fence, which denotes you are in the Museum.

Once inside, here’s the routine I’ve settled upon, which probably sounds confusing- After entering as quickly as possible to minimize the time spent in the “lobby,” a short trip downstairs (don’t take the elevators- the wait is too long) brings you to the coatroom and the rest rooms (there are others restrooms on 3, 5, 7 and 8). The feeling here is 180 degrees from the lobby. This is completely designed. It makes you wonder what the hell happened upstairs. Take the stairs back to 1 and walk out past the rope line (keep your admission ticket handy) and visit the first floor gallery, which is free all the time. (Or, yes, you could visit the 1st floor gallery before paying to get in. I prefer to get my admission ticket first, which means I have to show it twice.) After that, show your ticket and get back in the Museum proper then take an elevator to the whatever floor you wish to see first- 3 (where the theater is for concerts, dance performances, etc), 5,6,7 or 8 (where the galleries are). Bear in mind there is no 2nd or 4th floor- they didn’t pay enough money to get those. No, at 422 million dollars, they did, but those floors are reserved for Museum staff and functions, so they’ve disappeared from the public elevator buttons.

5th Floor seen during the Frank Stella Retrospective, Feb, 2016. The smaller walls can be moved to provide countless configuration possibilities.

5th Floor seen during the Frank Stella Retrospective, Feb, 2016. The smaller walls can be moved to provide countless configuration possibilities.

00Inside, the building is very sharp, clean and neat with natural wood floors and new, white walls all around. As the rectangular shape belies, form mostly follows function, and 4 of the floors are given over to large, rectangular galleries. The open space allows for movable walls can be easily repositioned to allow an extremely wide range of configurations. Each floor is very well lit, (something that is continually a problem at The Met). With 3 sets of stair cases, there are plenty of stairs . None go all the way from 1-8, however. On the western wall, as seen below, stairs go from the 3rd floor to the 8th. To the east of the elevators, stairs run from 5 to the 1st floor. And, there are the exterior stairs on 6,7 and 8. The stairs are good to familiarize yourself with, since there is almost always a wait, the elevators are best used for going from 1 to 8 or from 5 to 1. The entire building, inside and out, is wheelchair accessible.

Western stairs, Spring, 2016. They seem to be dismantling the Sanitation complex. The Whit might be hoping a tower doesn’t go up in it’s stead.

Renzo Piano strikes me as a Master Engineer more than as a brilliant Architect. I got that feeling when I first saw the Pompidou Centre in Paris, with it’s engineering on the outside, and again with his New York Times Building (which he inherited from Gehry). Yes, he has done some beautiful buildings, but I repeatedly get the feeling of Piano, the Engineer, when I look at his work, and that shouldn’t be the primary feeling I’m left with. There is quite a bit of engineering being shown off, here too, much of it on the first floor, some in the exposed gallery ceilings, and some on the roof decks.

The 8th floor gallery lets in ambient sky light.

The 8th floor gallery lets in ambient sky light.

Now for the “nitty gritty.”

Given the luxury of having over a year to assess it, I’ve begun to wonder about the adequacy of the 50,000 square feet of indoor exhibition space, as nice as it is. “America Is Hard To See,” fit the whole Museum well, and showed it off to fine effect. Then, while the Frank Stella Retrospective was excellent, it only included 5 of his prints, and only 1 of his “Moby Dick” works. Was this because of hard decisions due to a prolific, 50+ year career, or due to a lack of space on the 5th floor? Currently, the otherwise excellent “Stuart Davis: In Full Swing” show feels unmistakably truncated. It shares the 5th floor with the “Danny Lyon: Message To The Future” show, (which may be overambitious). By comparison, The Met’s Stuart Davis show in 1991-92 had almost twice as many works, including over 30 that dated before the earliest work in the Whit’s show, like some from his “Van Gogh” period. While these have been going on indoors, I’ve been underwhelmed by what’s been installed thus far on the outdoor 5th Floor exhibition space. As time goes on, I’m starting to feel the 5th Floor may turn out to be a design mistake. Part of it is cut off to allow an entrance and exit corridor for the outdoor space, which is generally in shadow, and results in leaving a small indoor gallery on the other side of the outdoor gallery access corridor, which feels lost, and most importantly cuts down the size of the congruent 5th floor space. The other floors with outdoor decks run right up to the door leading outside with no corridor, etc.

The 5th Floor is cut to allow this exit corridor to the Roof Deck Gallery, leaving a small gallery to the left that feels lost.

The eastern end of the 5th Floor gallery is cut to allow this exit corridor to the Roof Deck, which leaves the small gallery to the left that feels lost.

The Whitney says there is 13,000 square feet of outdoor space, over 25% of the amount of indoor space. I’m left to ask the age old question…”Did they create enough INDOOR space to display Art?,” the prime purpose of a Museum. Time will tell, BUT? If they didn’t? This will be a disaster reminiscent of Moma’s inexcusably horrible current/new building, where they somehow managed to create a massive multistory hole right in the middle of some of THE most expensive real estate on Earth, then claim they “need more space,” 10 years later!

You can’t make this stuff up!!!

5th Floor Deck.

5th Floor Deck with installation. Yes, the colored seats are the Art work.

If the Whit needs more indoor space, well, the roof decks seem easy to enclose, and voila, 13,000 square feet more gallery space.

Or? PLEASE don’t tell me they’d have to expand this new building north, or up. I’m done writing letters. Besides, as much as I admire and respect Mrs. Gertrude V. Whitney and the collection built on hers, I have no attachment to this building.

And that brings me to this- Through it all, one thought stayed on my mind more than any other. I wonder what she would have thought of the place…

Part 5 – Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney

“And I dreamed I was flying
And high up above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying”*

Portrait of Gertrude V. Whitney, 1917 by Robert Henri. Study for a Head for the Titanic Memorial by Mrs. Gertrude V. Whitney, in the background from "America Is Hard To See," 2015

Portrait of Gertrude V. Whitney, 1917 by Robert Henri. Study for a Head for the Titanic Memorial by Mrs. Gertrude V. Whitney, in the right background from “America Is Hard To See,” 2015

The founder of the Whitney Museum, as was beautifully demonstrated, remembered and honored in the first floor free to enter at all times gallery, where “America Is Hard To See” began was, also, a very accomplished sculptor2, in addition to being the greatest champion of American Art, perhaps ever. Immediately upon entering the first floor gallery, the first thing you saw was, fittingly, the wonderful portrait of her by Robert Henri that was perfectly placed facing the door, which also enabled it to be seen from outside the building, the only artwork that was. I wish it had been left right there. It wasn’t. As I write this, it’s upstairs as part of the “Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection” show. One of my pet peeves in Museum re-designs is how often they fail to answer this, seemingly basic, question- “Where are we going to put such and such major masterpiece?” Moma failed this miserably- How many times have they moved Monet’s “Waterlillies”, or Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, in a vain attempt to find the right spot for each? This is unforgivable. While the Whitney has found a great spot for Calder’s Circus,

Calder's ingenious "Circus." When you go, be sure to see the accompanying video!

Home… at last. Calder’s ingenious “Circus.” When you go, be sure to see the accompanying video.

which was lost in the Breuer Building’s mezzanine, I’m left to wonder about Mrs. Whitney’s Portrait. Will it become their Waterlillies?

One of the very greatest figures in American Art History looks out on her domain, Portrait by Robert Henri, 1917. 1st Floor Gallery, seen from outside the building during "America is Hard to See," 2015. After? They should have left it right there.

One of the greatest figures in American Art History looks out on her domain. 1st Floor Gallery, during “America is Hard to See,” 2015. After? They should have left it right there.

Beyond her portrait’s place in the Museum, I wonder what she’d think of it. It’s still “her” Museum. They even, recently, put the name “Whitney Museum of American Art” on the southern facade. The new place is located a stone’s throw from the site of the first Whitney Museum that she opened in 1931 at 8 West 8th Street, and equally close to where Edward Hopper lived and worked on Washington Square. Edward & Josephine Hopper left their artistic estate to the Whitney, in honor of their long relationship with Mrs. Whitney. When the new Museum opened, there was a selection of Edward Hopper drawings from 1925 that he did at the Whitney Studio Club, which preceded the founding of the Museum, in the first floor gallery, adjacent to Henri’s Portrait of Mrs. Whitney, seen above. As time goes on, I think this gift will be seen as one of the greatest Art gifts of the 20th Century, even though it didn’t consist of many of Edward’s paintings. That’s when I try and forget the fact that the Whitney, tragically and unforgivably, discarded almost all of Josephine Hopper’s work that was included with it!

While we’ll never know what Mrs. Whitney would think of the new home of her collection, I know what I think.

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Oneupsmanship? “Hey you down there on the High Line- You think you’re high up? Ha!”

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I’ve spent a year wondering- Why put 13,000 square feet of outdoor space in a building in a place with a climate like NYC?

5th Floor roof deck with a Frank Stella Sculpture & reflection, Feb, 2016

5th Floor roof deck with a Frank Stella Sculpture & reflection, in the snow, Feb, 2016

Part 6- 5,000,000 Reasons

As I said, real estate in NYC is all about location. That applies to the Art world, too. The Met & The Guggenheim are in, or near, Central Park, and there is now talk of The Met creating a Central Park entrance as part of their Contemporary Art Galleries reconstruction3. Moma has the heart of midtown, and now the Whitney has the High Line. In my opinion, the location was selected, and the New Whitney is designed, to be a destination for High Line visitors- It’s roof decks are meant to beckon High Liners with an even better view since they are higher. That’s one explanation for the stair designs looking similar- imitation that’s designed to make High Liners feel the Museum is part of the High Line. And so? Location also pays off by providing a potential mass audience delivered right to your door. How much is that worth to a Museum? Given that the High Line currently draws over 5,000,000 visitors a year, it’s hard not to see this as a conscious decision designed to attract visitors for an even better view, and oh yeah, some Art. Once inside? I’ve already come to feel that the gallery size is limiting. As the collection grows (do Museum collections ever shrink?), I am left to wonder how quickly they’re going to wish they had some of that 13,000 square feet that’s sitting outside, inside.

But? If I’m correct about their motivation, the outdoors stairs & decks exist to beckon people from the High Line, which, is open year round, come rain, snow, or shine.

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“We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
and sing an American tune
But it’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed”*

Overall? I’m displeased by the outward appearance of the new Whitney. Over a  year of trying to warm to it, of giving it yet another chance to speak to me later, I still find it downright strange. As an Art Museum, the inside is nice, with the above caveats. As far as the Art is concerned? I’m glad to have the Whitney’s pre-eminient collection of American Art back, and “America Is Hard To See” was a wonderful “Welcome Back” celebration of it’s return after the move Downtown. The Whitney is, also, to be congratulated for the guts they’e displayed in the choices of their early shows- giving Laura Poitras her first Museum show, featuring the great Cecil Taylor for a week, and having the retrospectives of modern master Frank Stella and the vastly underrated Stuart Davis (who Mrs. Whitney, herself, believed in and financially supported early on), among others, all have made the first year of the New Whitney Museum’s exhibitions quite memorable, and yes, very Artistically successful.

Yet? How long will the waters stay calm for the U.S.S. New Whitney Museum? The big question of long term success and long term viability remain to be answered.

Epilogue – The Whitney’s 422 Million Dollar Gamble

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The Whitney’s move downtown isn’t about moving nearer the “New” Art neighborhood of Chelsea or the “Older” Art neighborhood of Soho. It strikes me as being a a case of seeing an opportunity and taking it. They found a lot at one of the 2 ends of the High Line and saw their opportunity to move to a potential audience- the 5,000,000 current visitors to the High Line, and they took it. I believe that’s why their stairs look like the High Line’s, as I said.

For the Whitney, this is a $430,000,000.00 (the cost of the new building) gamble that the High Line is not a flash in the pan and it’s popularity is here to stay. If the High Line fails? Well? The City was about to tear it down anyway before it was turned into a Park.

But, if the High Line does fail (which seems unlikely at the moment), or visitors come in substantially lower numbers (much more likely), the Whitney may find themselves stranded, with an out of the way Museum that is not easily accessible by either bus or subway in a neighborhood that has a history of being “the wild west,” home to meat packing, prostitution, cutting edge music, and sex clubs (Madonna’s notorious book “Sex” was photographed almost 25 years ago at one 3 blocks away) not all that long ago, that has been remade with extra glitz and top of the market rents. And what about that neighborhood? What if the new glitz doesn’t stick? What if it all turns out to be wishful thinking on the part of landlords looking to make a killing after years of squalor? Walking around the past few months, the area seems to be having a bit of trouble supporting many of it’s ritzy new tenants at these prices. And? This is over a year after the Whitney added even more oomph to the now completed High Line being here.

Empty storefronts on Gansevoort, one block east of the Whitney, August, 2016

Empty storefronts on Gansevoort fill 3/4 of the block, one block east of the Whitney, August, 2016

Is the “Meatpacking District” a fad destination that is about to fade? If so, what effect will this have on the new Whitney? Can it survive in a “not so fab” neighborhood?

La Perla joins Alexander McQueen & Stella McCartney as former tenants of the Meatpacking District

Is the buzz over? La Perla joins Alexander McQueen & Stella McCartney as former tenants of the Meatpacking District who have moved elsewhere.

While collectors and investors throw unheard of sums at Contemporary Art these days (which strike me as “bets” given the largely unproven nature of the Art itself), here is a case of one of NYC’s “Big 4 Museums” placing an even bigger bet on a Park, that while it certainly is Contemporary Urban Art, hasn’t even been fully opened for TWO YEARS yet,. The Whitney placed their bet when the High Line was in it’s first of 3 phases. Phase 3, the final part, of the now completed High Line opened on September 20, 2014. This is not to mention that they bought in at the top of the market in a real estate market that (like the Art market) hasn’t seen a correction in over 25 years. Both will see corrections one of these days.

But when? This, is the 422 million dollar question.

“Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest”*

Around the corner on Washington Street, 4 now empty storefronts, one of which was the famous Hogs & Heifers Saloon (corner). August, 2016

Around the corner on Washington Street, 4 now empty storefronts in a row, one of which was the notorious Hogs & Heifers Saloon (where the white sign hangs). August, 2016

Well? If all of this goes south? They still stand a very good chance of being able to move back uptown in 8 years when The Met’s lease of the Breuer, their former home, is up. Given The Met’s own problems, it seems highly unlikely they’ll be extending that lease.

If the Whitney then wants to renovate it? It’ll be someone else’s problem.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “American Tune” by Paul Simon. Published by Universal Music Publishing Group.

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  1. In fact, the new Whit, itself, sits where one was.
  2. When will they have a show of HER work?
  3. Speaking of his vision in January, Met Director Thomas Campbell told the LA Times that “We are looking at an entrance, at terraces, at the roof garden.” Sounds like he’s visited the New Whitney.

Richard Estes’ Dayhawks At The “Corner Cafe”

Appearing at the very end of the excellent “Richard Estes: Painting New York City” show at the Museum of Art & Design (aka MAD Museum), which I mentioned in my Post about 2015 Art Shows, the first-ever Estes show in an NYC  Museum, was a work depicting one of those all too common places to be found all over New York, and indeed much of the world, making it easy to overlook, or to look through, or to see-but-not-really-see. Mr. Estes titled it “Corner Cafe.” It’s dated “2014-15.” Given that the Artist was born on May 14, 1932, that means that he was 82 or 83 years old depending on when he actually finished it. Situated as the show’s conclusion, “Corner Cafe” could be a make or break work for the entire show.

How VERY Daring.

Richard Estes, "Corner Cafe," 2014-15. Oil on Canvas. I only hope I can still get out of bed when I'm 83.

Richard Estes, “Corner Cafe,” 2014-15. Oil on Canvas. I only hope I can still get out of bed when I’m 83.

To end a show that covers over 40 years of work with a piece created at 83 is certainly making a statement. Especially a show that is, among other things, a showcase of his amazing craft & technique and how it has evolved over time. In fact, his craft is such that this was the first ever solo show by a painter at the Museum of Art & Design, who specialize in “craft.” A very close look reveals he has signed and dated it right under the very small Statue of Liberty near the lower right corner. An appropriate conclusion for a show entitled “Painting New York City.”

To my eyes, it’s every bit as good as anything he’s ever done- In this show or not. Technically, it’s flawless. Mr. Estes remains at the peak of his considerable powers in his 80’s. Remarkable! Compositionally it’s subtly fascinating,

In spite of the fact that the show was a first chance for me to see paintings by Mr. Estes that I’ve loved for 30 years and never seen in person before, since I first saw “Corner Cafe” at the show’s opening in March, 2015, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.

 

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Here’s what the “Real” Corner Cafe looked like in December, 2015. Mr. Estes hasn’t eaten here1, so why did he choose to paint it?

I’ve actually made a number of trips to the corner of West 94th Street and Broadway to ponder the “real” Cafe in situ, both to experience it for myself (I did not go in), to see if it screams out “PAINT ME!” and to see what, exactly Mr. Estes has altered, even though no less than 3 of his reference photographs hung very close by in the show, and are reproduced further below. These photos should serve once and for all to clear up many of the myths and fallacies about Mr. Estes work. Like-

He DOES NOT project photographs onto his canvas and then draw or paint them.2

He DOES NOT paint his reference photographs verbatim.

He DOES NOT, apparently, even rely on a single photograph when he feels it doesn’t contain all he wants.

One of 3 Estes Reference Photos in the MAD show shows 2 people at the counter, who you can barely see, and no woman in red on the left.

One of 3 Estes Reference Photos in the MAD show shows 2 people at the counter, who you can barely see, and no woman in red on the left.

This brings up my biggest pet peeve about the perception of Richard Estes work. That he is ENDLESSLY called a “Photorealist” or “Hyperrealist.” “Photorealism” is a term popularized by art dealer Louis Meisel as a means of selling the work of a group of his artists, and then perpetuated in a series of now 4 books, each including Estes work. I’ve never heard what Mr. Estes, himself, feels about this term. As I’ve said, I believe that labelling artists by a one word term that is supposed to enable viewers or readers to pigeonhole them and their work for easy consumption is something that must end. Artists are unique beings. If their work looks like that of someone else (like Picasso’s Cubism did Braque’s Cubism), it’s by their choice, but it’s not necessarily indicative of the sum of their Artistic being. In Picasso’s case he went on to another style as soon as his last one was “named.” In the end? He is simply, “Picasso.” Artists, like Chuck Close, also included by Mr. Meisel, have made no secret of not wanting to be considered a “Photorealist,”3 and for the most part, haven’t been since. This wanting to put Artists in a box is something that only serves to provide a “crutch” that may serve to make viewers feel they already “know” what a given Artist does and so they don’t need to actually look at their work for themselves. I feel it’s better to forget what anyone (besides the Artist) calls it, and just look at the work.

As I began to do that with “Corner Cafe,” I was quickly faced with two overriding questions-

Why This Scene?

What is this “about?”

While the endless details Mr. Estes has so incredibly faithfully recorded are delicious to enjoy on their own- the reflections in the metal framing, the sample meals in the window, the latticework of the furniture, the surrounding buildings, the inside of the cafe and on and on. As wonderful as it is to enjoy these details (as it is in almost any of his work), as time has gone on, I’ve found myself considering it as a whole. Visiting the actual site a few times, something most viewers may not be able to do, one thing strikes me- Mr. Estes has chosen to leave out what is, perhaps, the most noticeable thing about the real Corner Cafe- it’s sign. Why? Many (most?) other Artists painting this site would no doubt include it. But, whatever his reason is, it puts the focus of his painting elsewhere. I think he did it because he didn’t want viewers to be distracted by it.

Over and over again, in thinking about the feeling I get from “Corner Cafe,” I was inescapably drawn back to something very familiar. And familiar to anyone reading this Blog. Look up above.

That’s right. I’m reminded of Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks.” Well, the “real” one.

There are two people visible through the large front window (and parts of others inside on the left), and a woman in a red jacket disappearing stage left around the corner onto 94th Street. There’s a woman who appears to be a customer. A counter man, an employee of the cafe and between them sits a white bag, it’s handles pointing up. Interestingly, these two appear quite a bit brighter than in the reference photo, especially the female customer, who has gone from being completely in the shadows to being completely sunlit. They’re not looking at each other, though their mouths may both be open. Perhaps they’re speaking to each other. The woman is looking slightly to her right, whereas in the photo she looks almost straight ahead. The woman in red appears in a different reference photo than the one with two people inside.

So much for Richard Estes “Photorealist.” Making even that one change (which, as I’ve said, isn’t the only one he’s made), changes the whole thing. For me, it brings it all into focus.

Mr. Estes is an Artist. He is NOT a machine, or reproducer, or copyist. He makes conscious decisions about what he includes in his work. No camera or machine can do that.

Mr. Estes has said that he consciously chose to omit people early on in his career to avoid the narrative element that comes with them. That is, no doubt, why most of his work feature people who are,  at best, “incidental.” Sometimes, however, my attention has been drawn to these “bystanders,” and I find it hard to believe that that is not intentional. (The black customer in line in “Lunch Specials” who gives us a look over his shoulder, for example, as if seeing what is going on when most others (ourselves?) do not. And, there are the guys on the payphone outside. A metaphor for talking to people who are not there, while those who are there stand in line not talking to each other? He’s right. It’s hard not to read into them when people are present.)

3 of Estes' rarely seen Reference Photos at MAD. The bottom one is reproduced above.

3 of Estes’ rarely seen Reference Photos at MAD. The bottom one is reproduced above.

What we’re seeing here is one of the countless, brief encounters we all have every day, encounters that are the hallmark of the modern world. A world that is clad is shiny surfaces, with neon signs and images and examples of what is to be found inside. (Things that have changed since the 1941 world of “Nighthawks,” which is almost distraction free, somewhere, possibly imaginary, possibly real, in the Flatiron or the West Village neighborhoods.) Tables and chairs fill the right foreground, in case you want to bring what’s inside out, but no one has. Yes, it’s winter, given the snow seen on the left, but it’s a sunny day.

Like the woman in red disappearing4, these two will, most likely, probably end their encounter very soon, and move on with the rest of their days.

Am I making too much out of these changes? Maybe, maybe not. I’m responding to what I see. To quote Frank Stella in his recent Whitney Museum Retrospective, “What you see is what you see.” These are conscious choices the Artist made for a reason. That reason is, of course, to match his vision. Perhaps his idea starts with the two people inside, perhaps they are ancillary, and he chose to give them more light as part of the overall whole composition. Perhaps. Perhaps not.

I’m not saying that Mr. Estes was thinking of  “Nighthawks” when he painted “Corner Cafe.” I’m saying that I was reminded of it as I’ve looked at it. There is the same isolation. The same counter person-customer interaction. The same other random person included. And both feature cafes that are located on a corner.

Interestingly, one detail Mr. Estes has omitted might seem to reinforce that “Nighthawks” connection- on top of the awning is a sort of logo that has the words “corner” and “cafe” at right angles to each other (which does appear, smaller, on the divider in front between the Brooklyn Bidge and NYC Skyline. My guess is the one over the awning was too large to not be “read,” or it would appear as a meaningless distorted mess given the angle of the scene), not all that much different from the somewhat sharper angles of “Nighthawks” cafe. Unlike the Hopper, the door is obvious and central. Are we being invited inside? It’s hard to say. There’s a tall, evergreen like plant (since replaced) “guarding” the front door, with an ATM machine looming right inside. It almost looks like the way into a different business. But, we known better. The overhead awning tells us it’s all the same place.

Inside, given too much choice, perhaps the customer is having trouble deciding on something else. Her eyes (which in the reference photo that she appears in- the only one of the 3- I almost thought she was wearing sunglasses), appear to be looking down at the items on the counter.

Mr. Estes has omitted the large “Corner Cafe” sign, with it’s preceding coffee cup, above the awning, which serves to focus our attention on the windows. We can barely see the bottom of the cup over the “2518” sign. Puzzlingly, he has added what appears to be a drop shadow for this sign above the rest of the awning, but it is not there in real life.

?

Scrunched into the phone booth, below, to take it all in on August 21, 2015. With the umbrellas open, it's not nearly as interesting.

Scrunched into the phone booth, below, to take it all in on August 21, 2015. With the umbrellas open, it’s not nearly as interesting.

Almost everything else is! The level of detail makes my head spin. You can get easily lost in it. When people talk about “pure painting,” THIS is what I think they mean. Yet, every single detail has meaning and purpose here. They are all the means to an end.

The chairs are different now. They have square backs and don’t have that marvelous lattice work he masterfully shows. The signs in front of them are different, too. Gone are the NYC sights, two of which, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Lower Manhattan skyline, happen to be subjects of large, earlier Estes.

It just screams "Paint Me," right? It took a bit of work to find a place to stand to even shoot it, August 21, 2015.

It just screams “Paint Me,” right? It took a bit of work to find a place to stand to even shoot it, August 21, 2015.

Also interesting, the apparent spot where Mr. Estes likely stood to capture this view of the cafe is a bit hard to get to. Now, there are 3 large circular recycling cans on the spot. I had to stand on the curb to shoot it. There is also a somewhat large telephone booth (remember them?) immediately to the right. So, even getting the photos he wanted may not have been exactly easy. There is no “famous” building here, though there are some of the metal reflections Mr. Estes is renown for depicting along with glass that allows us to see in while also reflecting what lies outside. The outdoor seating is closer to the front wall and neatly squared thanks to an additional divider on the left, and he’s cropped the lower part of the image to the very base of the outdoor divider.

The sun is high enough in the sky to the south to pass through all the intervening buildings along Broadway. There is only the woman exiting to be seen, along with the two large evergreen plants as outdoor signs of life.

Perhaps that is the point.

Unless you are “stuck” there, like the employee or the two potted plants, everyone is destined to come and go, like those who presumably once sat outdoors have already done, the woman in red is doing, and the female customer appears about to do.

Life, itself, is an endless series of comings and goings, too, with encounters of varying lengths in between.

Until it ends.

“Stop the rush and relax,” reads the sign below.

(This is the first in a series of posts I plan to do on the Art of Richard Estes.)

Soundtrack for this post is “Hello/Goodbye” by The Beatles and written by Lennon & McCartney, from their album “Magical Mystery Tour.”

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

  1. As was stated on the description card for the painting.
  2. As I heard him say in the interview he gave at the MAD opening.
  3. Chuck Close-“The reason I never liked the word “realist” or “new realist” or “photorealist” was I was always as interested in the artificial as I was the real.  I’m as interested in the distribution of color on a flat surface as I am in the image it ends up making.  So it’s that tension as it works back and forth between marks on a flat surface and the image that it’s making that has always interested me.”
  4. She may be there to distract the eye with her blonde hair and red coat, or to emphasize the “corner” element of the title, or as a means of visually breaking up the reflection to her right with the street scene to the left

Art Shows, 2015 – Who Keeps Your Flame?

“But when you’re gone,
Who remembers your name?
Who keeps your flame?”*

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January, 2015. Goya @The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Neither snow, nor 5 hours on a train kept the Nighthawk from the Front Door of Great Art. Click any image for full size.

Since I don’t believe in comparing creative work or creative people, AND I believe that “awards” for “Best” whatever among the Arts (and Sports) are absurd 1, I thought I’d do a “List In No Particular Order” of 2015 Art Shows I saw (some opened in 2014) that may or may not have closed for good, but still continue to open doors in my mind, and that’s more important than any award I could bestow.

“Oh can I show you what I’m proudest of?”*

“Goya: Order and Disorder” (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA. No photos permitted.) AND “Goya:Los Caprichos” (National Arts Club, Gramercy Park, NYC)- Two concurrent, excellent shows, 250 miles apart, one huge, the other “small” showing two views of  Goya- one all encompassing, filling the whole lower level of the MFA, one narrowly focused on a rare, complete set of his landmark 80 print, “Los Caprichos,”(once owned by Robert Henri, who reappears below) combined to show the enduring power, importance, relevance and eternal influence of the Spanish Master. Many saw the former, far fewer saw the latter, tucked away in a dining? lecture? room on the second floor of the NAC (Behind hundreds of chairs on one of my visits!). An artist of nightmares, both surreal and all-too-real, the likes of which perhaps only Bosch can equal, who can then turn around and paint with the utmost lyricism, Goya was all about what it is to be human. Take your pick- portraits, historical pieces, landscapes, the otherworldly or the underworldly, children, tapestries, or his graphic works that hold their own with dare-I-say-Rembrandt, he’ll blow your mind.

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Goya/MFA on the show’s elevator entrance, overlooking Dale Chihuly’s Tree.

Remember My Name. Goya’s Self Portrait casts his all-seeing eye on us 215 years later.

“The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” from “The Caprichos.” So? Stay up!

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Neither blizzard, nor the furniture(!), kept the Nighthawk from seeing all of Goya’s incredible “Los Caprichos” at the National Arts Club, but I think they tried to.

“Richard Pousette-Dart” (Pace 510 West 25th, Chelsea)- I walked in and was completely captivated by “abstract” Art the way I haven’t been since the Mark Rothko Show at the “Old” Whitney in 1998, which was one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen. (That’s not comparing.) Don’t be fooled by the apparent geometric simplicity, there is an astounding subtlety to these works that at once feel microscopically considered, often freely rendered, yet globally cohesive. Pousette-Dart had a number of styles, and this show represented one, geometric style, from the 1970’s in both large oils and smaller drawings. For any of those who think that Abstract Expressionism is “easy” to do, go ahead and try creating one of these, the largest is almost 8 foot square, and then see if it has the “Presence” of Dart’s. The amount of work that went into each piece belies their seemingly “simple” composition, is matched by an extraordinary primacy of order, and second only to their transcendent impact. Here, we see Richard Pousette-Dart as the great, “under known” abstract artist. While Pollock & Rothko have grown larger in stature, Pousette -Dart’s name deserves to be right there with theirs. There is only one word to describe this show’s effect- Magical.

Then? There’s never a chair around when you want one. Pousette-Dart @Pace- “Presence, Circle of Night,” 1975-6, center, “Black Circle Time”, 1980, left and “White Circle Time,” 1980, 90″ square each.

“Imploding Black,” 1975, six feet square. Transcendent,

Detail.

“Cerchio di Dante,” 1986, six foot square

Detail of the left side.

“Let me tell you what I wish I’d known
When I was young and dreamed of glory
You have no control
Who lives
Who dies
Who tells your story?”*

“Richard Estes: Painting New York City” (Museum of Art & Design, NYC)- My favorite contemporary artist, and one of the greatest living realists, FINALLY gets an NYC Museum show, and it was worth the wait. A virtual time capsule of NYC from the mid 1960’s to 2015’s astounding “Corner Cafe,” showing the 83 year old Master is still at the height of his considerable power. Oh…Do NOT call him a “photorealist” in my presence! Estes shows us the world we live in as we do not see it, (more on this soon) and so follows in the footsteps of Edward Hopper and Charles Sheeler in advancing American realism while, perhaps, being the first to include the abstraction that is also a part of the real world. A misunderstood painter, in my eyes, who is only just beginning to be really seen, finally.

“Horn & Hardart Automat” 1967. Not since Hopper has a work spoken to me of life in the City like this does.

“Columbus Circle, Maine Monument” 1989. 500 years ago, or 100, they came by ship. Now? They come by bus. Frozen in time, side by side.

“Times Square”, 2004. Nothing captures the experience of the place better than this, though Robert Rauschenberg is capable of giving me a similar feeling (See below).

“I try to make sense of your thousands of pages of writings
You really do write like you’re running out of time.”*

“Picasso: Sculpture” (MoMA)- If he had never done anything besides paint, Picasso would be considered among the all time Masters. But, noooooooooooo… Picasso was, perhaps, the most unique genius in (known) art history in that his genius was among the most restless. He almost never stopped creating, and he never stopped seeking new outlets for his creative vision. Consider- PICASSO HAD NO TRAINING AS A SCULPTOR! NONE. Yet, that didn’t stop him from becoming, perhaps, THE most revolutionary sculptor up to his time. There is so much great work to see in this show, I don’t even know where to start talking about it. “Picasso: Sculpture” shows us the naked face of endlessly creative genius the like the world has never seen. I’ll sum it up by saying virtually all of it is wonderfully selected, though some of the Cubist works here don’t stand up to his paintings, in my opinion, and wonder- When will we see his like, again? The “other” takeaway, for me, is- Oh…MoMA. I miss you. About as much as I miss your “old” building.

Standing “Figure” in Wire, 1928. Unprecedented. Astounding.

“Sylvette,” 1954. “I see you slightly folded…in steel, my dear.” Picasso must have said.

“America Is Hard To See” (Whitney Museum)- I’m saving my thoughts on the “New Whitney” Building, but the opening show in the new place was a wonderful “Welcome Back” to one of the first 3 of NYC”s Big Four Museums and a reminder of it’s world class (and first anywhere) collection of American Art. My personal highlight? The first floor gallery featuring a selection of Hopper Drawings done at the Whitney Studio which predated the Museum, and the absolutely mesmerizing portrait of Museum founder, the indomitable Mrs. Gertrude V. Whitney (also an overlooked sculptor) that looked out at Gansevoort Street, and for my money? SHOULD HAVE BEEN LEFT RIGHT THERE- PERMANENTLY! It wasn’t.

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Frozen in time. Mrs Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney looks out on the new home of the collection she started.

Mrs. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney by Robert Henri, 1917, with her “Study for the Head of her Titanic Memorial” from 1922, right. Yes. She was a sculptor, too.

Before the First Whitney Museum opened in 1931, there was the Whitney Studio Club, where artists came to draw from the model. See that guy to the left of center rear with the light shining on his bald head? That’s Edward Hopper, a regular. That’s why his estate was left to The Whitney. Litho by Mabel Dwight, 1931.

America is hard to change. Excellent, rarely seen, works by Grant Wood, “Study for Breaking the Prairie” 1939,…

…And Kara Walker, “A Means To An End,” 1995, struck me as serendipitous.

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America: Seen everywhere. Inside- Rothko’s “Four Darks in Red, 1958, Pollock’s “Number 27,” 1950, Chamberlain “Jim,” 1962 & Guston’s “Dial,” 1956…

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…And, Outside- sculpture from one of the countless roof decks.

“And I’m still not trough I ask myself,
what would you do if you had more time
The Lord, in his kindness
He gives me what you always wanted
He gives me more time.”*

I end this section honoring two endlessly creative American “painters,” featured in very very good shows. Like Richard Estes, these two artists also put that “more” time of a long life to superb use. Yes, despite evidence to the contrary, they both consider themselves to be painters. To me, the “lessons” of their lives, how they were able to survive following their star in this country for so long, may prove to be as important as their considerable artistic legacies.

Robert Rauschenberg- Anagrams, Arcadian Retreats, Anagrams:A Pun” (Pace 534 West 25th, Chelsea)- Presaging Photoshop, the late, great Mr. Rauchenberg continues to speak to our times though he, unfortunately, left us almost 7 years ago. Light years ahead of his times, throughout his life, “Anagrams…,” a show of Mr. Rauschenberg’s final development, shows that once again, his work will look “contemporary” for years to come, and more amazingly, I think it will be as relevant as what anyone else is doing at the moment! As I just said, he represents something of an American miracle- an artist who was able to spend virtually his entire life creating EXACTLY what he wanted to, answering to no one but himself. That sure must seem miraculous to today’s American artists. Interestingly, like Mr. Estes, the works here are based on Mr. Rauschenberg’s own photography, to very different results. Unlike Mr. Estes, Mr. Rauschenberg’s are directly transferred to the piece, though with such skill and subtlety they have the effect of melting into the others they’re surrounded by. A surprisingly fresh, visually rich, often beautiful show who’s spell will call me a few more times before it ends on January 16. And then, I will miss it, but it will have changed the way I see the world, like Richard Estes has.

Rauschenberg @ PACE. I just loved this show.

“Frank Stella” (Whitney)- An art mover’s nightmare of a show, the Artist’s helpful hand notated directional markings seen on some of the pieces notwithstanding, it must have been hard for Mr Stella, himself, to narrow his 50-some year career down to one floor at the New Whitney, handsomely displayed in the still-new space. With only one Moby Dick piece in sight, the take away for me is that here is a Triumphant overview of another rare American artist who continues to explore and evolve, fickle times and the “harpoons” of even more fickle critics & collectors be damned. Mr. Stella has devoted his career to the eternal pursuit of finding new possibilities, “new spacial complexities” 2, for the Art Form of painting. Some of these sure look like sculpture, but I’ll bow to what he says on one of the show’s signs- “Q- You still call these paintings? A- Yes. They are, in fact, paintings.” Remarkably, as he closes in on 80 this May 12, Mr. Stella continues to “start over,” as Richard Meier says on the audio guide, eternally following his muse, breaking painting out of 2 dimensions, to lord-only-knows-where-next. In this show’s case? The Journey IS The Destination. Mr. Stella strikes me as a master conceptualist with an endless font of making the unlikely, and especially the unthought-of, real. Forget this show’s afterthought of a catalog, for me, his value, “message” and influence lie in the sheer physical experience of his work- they simply must be seen, and often, walked around like sculpture to be fully appreciated. Who else “paints” like this? If you go, and you should, check out the great quotes from Mr. Stella on the wall signage- “What you see is what you see.” And then some. What I saw was a show to fire your creativity, and inspire you to see new possibilities in anything, if there ever was one. You still have a few days left to see it before it closes after February 7. Then, the art movers get to pack it up and move it out. I would pay to watch that.

50+ years of “starting over.”

“Toto, We’re Not On Canvas, Anymore.” Stella Busts Painting Out.

“Um..A Little Higher On The Right?”

And lest I forget…

 

 

Cubism (The Met No photos permitted.)- TM is on a mission to shore up it’s Modern & Contemporary Art holdings, as we will soon see at The Met, Breuer, but this show featuring works of a promised gift goes a very long way to solidifying TM’s Cubists holdings, and then some. So many strong works by the Masters of Cubism, Picasso, Braque, the underrated Juan Gris, and Leger abound, they made me wonder where TM is going to install them all when they finally get them!

Madame Cezanne (TM No photos permitted.)- Portraits are not the first thing most think of when they think of Cezanne. Many think of his groundbreaking landscapes and genius with color, but this show of his, no doubt long-suffering wife, says as much about this under known muse as it does about Cezanne. The hours she spent posing for him reminds me of “The Man in The Blue Shirt,” by Martin Gayford about sitting for Lucian Freud. The show is a striking look at another side of this master of impressionism, and gives us rare opportunities to see 4 versions of a painting reunited, and Cezanne’s actual sketchbooks. A rare treat for the lover of Impressionism, portraiture and great Art.

China Through The Looking Glass” (TM)- Except for Picasso: Sculpture and Goya’s Los Caprichos, the above shows are painting shows, my true love, but CTTLG is in a category all it’s own. ANY show that can get TM to stay open till Midnight has to make the Nighthawk’s list. After setting the bar high with “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty,” TM’s Costume Institute topped themselves with a spectacle that the 800,000 who saw it will remember almost as long, and which will prove quite a challenge for 2016’s “manus x machina,” or MxM, as I’m calling it to equal, let alone top. I predicted 1 Million will attend it, so GO EARLY (or don’t say I didn’t warn you) & Stay tuned!

“Francis Bacon- Late Paintings” – (Gagosian No photos permitted.) – with one work, a triptych selling for 142 million, I can’t fathom how much 28 are worth, but here was a chance to see that many in one show, focused on the seemingly contemplative, other-worldly “late” Bacon,

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especially after seeing the following (Rembrandt show) on the same day, which brought to mind subtle, fascinating convergences- self-portraits, multiple views, or states, for Rembrandt, diptychs & triptychs for Bacon, among them.

“Rembrandt’s Changing Impressions” (Columbia U.)- In lieu of the “big one” I missed (see below), this was a closer-to-home chance to see 50 or so prints by the Master and a rare chance to see various “states” (versions) of works side by side. A bit light on the most well known of Rembrandt’s etchings, but very worth 4 visits none the less.

Not a triptych. Rembrandt creates 3 masterpieces from one composition.

Chuck Close Recent Paintings” (Pace 534, Chelsea)- I met Mr. Close, briefly, but in spite of the fact that he is one of the greatest portraitists of the 2nd half of the 20th Century+, I know he won’t remember my face. He has Prosopagnosia. He’s ALSO paralyzed and in a wheel chair. I never cease to be absolutely astounded at what he achieves and what new ground he breaks. Already a Master before his brain aneurysm, which would have stopped 99.5% of anyone not named Chuck Close, he’s gone on to create ever new works that continue his life long exploration of his famous “grid technique.” These works add even new elements- new palettes, a new approach to focus and depth of field, and more.

Linda & Mary McCartney “(Gagosian Books)- If they had taken down all the title cards, removed the iconic shots among Linda’s, and you walked in without knowing which work was by who- Linda McCartney, or her and Paul’s daughter, Mary, you’d never know. That’s how amazingly symbiotic the eyes of the two photographers are. They see as one. Walking out, and I say this with nothing but respect, it really felt like Linda had never passed away. That her work continues. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

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The daughter reflects well on her famous mother.

 

George Caleb Bingham” (TM)- The year’s “sleeper” pick. I don’t know if he ever met Mark Twain, but if Mr. T. ever wanted an artist to illustrate “Huck” or “Tom Sawyer?” G.C.B. would get my vote. His work captured what it was to live on the River the way only Twain, himself, has, and makes a contribution to laying the ground work towards defining a truly “American” style of painting, and by the Mid-Nineteenth Century? It was about time! TM’s show reveals him to be something of a predecessor for that other great American 19th C. portraitist, Thomas Eakins, but with a style and a power of his own that still holds up.

“Araki” (Anton Kern, NYC)- He lost his wife…he gets prostate cancer…he says he no longer has sex…Nothing stops the indefatigable, legendary Araki. Don’t let the “casual” taping of the photos to the wall fool you- I found this show striking, poignant, meditative and moving. The images flowed one to the next, sometimes in harmony, sometimes in dissonance, but all of them speak with that sense that only Araki has. Some will say he’s a misogynist. I’m not a woman but I disagree. I see beauty and poetry in his shots of women. Reading some of the press materials on hand, I was struck by his comment that he had sex with most of his models. I couldn’t help wonder- Does that include Bjork? Live long, and much health, Araki.

 

Also lingering in my mind, tormenting me with what I missed, are the ones that got away-

“Late Rembrandt” (Rikjsmuseum, Amsterdam)- I agonized about going. For months. Like I agonize about Frank Gehry at LACMA right now! (Hello, Sponsorship?)

Bjork” (Moma)- Sold out when I went. Bad reviews be damned, I love Bjork.

Overall, it was a good, but not great year. Still, these 17 shows had real staying power and lasting influence. I’m grateful that in NYC, we still have so much to see. As I said a few posts back, I live in mortal fear of missing a great show- Like all those I missed this year because I never knew about them, and still don’t.

As I look back on 2015, the Idea of great Art is what lingers in the mind, inspires, even instructs. The experience, talent and creativity of a great Artist speaks to the highest & best of mankind, in ways the rest of us can, perhaps, relate to, learn from, and even aspire to. As Mr. Pousette-Dart cosmically said-

 

In these times of so much senseless hatred, violence and the worst of human kind on display, we need this more than ever.

*Soundtrack for this post is “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells  Your Story?” from the 2015 album I listened to the most, “Hamilton– Original Broadway Cast Recording,” by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

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

  1. Remember- Charlie Chaplin, Hitchcock, Fellini, Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman or Stanley Kubrick, among others, never won an Oscar for Best Director! I rest my case.
  2. as is said on the audio tour, #508

Welcome to the Night

“I’ll rise when the sun goes down
Cover every game in town
A world of my own
I’ll make it my home sweet home” *

That’s not all that far off from describing my life as those few who actually know me can attest. “Call me if you’re up during normal hours,” one said to me recently. He’s still waiting for that call. Another calls me by a pet name based on the sound Owls, my Official Bird of the Night, make in Russia. Everyone knows not to make appointments for me in the morning (i.e.“the middle of the night”), or first thing in the afternoon..

How did this happen?

I’ve been this way as far back as I can remember. My folks made me work in the family business weekends and summers when I was a kid, so the only way I could get time to myself was by staying up late. I was one of those kids who used to read leaning over the bed on the side away from the door after light’s out with a flashlight and a book or magazine on the floor. And, I had a radio under my pillow which led me one especially lonely night to discover the late, GREAT Jean Shepherd, but more on him later. On that radio I also heard RFK’s assassination, live. I had seen Lee Harvey Oswald get shot, live too, years earlier, the first murder ever broadcast live.

After High School, and some classes at the Manhattan School of Music, I went on the road with a band for 5 years. Not exactly conducive to a change of schedule. Let’s suffice it to say I gave into peer pressure and my virginity, sobriety and innocence ended soon thereafter while my late lifestyle was perfect for this occupation- our typical gig started around 10pm and ended at 4am, sometimes 5 or 6 nights a week.

“I take one last drag
As I approach the stand
I cried when I wrote this song
Sue me if I play too long
This brother is free
I’ll be what I want to be” *

During my time as a musician, I was lucky enough to play all kinds of music from garage rock to acoustic jazz to classical (with an orchestra) and as a result, I developed an ear for an insanely wide range of music. I also worked with some great musicians including Billy Hart, T. Lavitz, jazz great Thomas Chapin, Twisted Sister, Steppenwolf, Spirit, Mark Ledford, Lonnie Plaxico and met many others including Jaco Pastorius,. Joe Zawinul, Vladimir Horowitz, Alfred Schnittke, Carlos Alomar, Tony Levin, Dave Fields, the guys in Letterman’s  & The SNL Band and much of the Steely Dan touring band among many others. Recording my band led to doing concert sound for an RCA Records band, then to an actual job as production manager for what Musician Mag called “one of the biggest music production houses in the country,” then to being an independent record producer, an artist manager, and 4 years as a writer for Jazziz Magazine. After I got fed up with the state of the record business in 1998, I decided to see if I could trust my eye as much as I had been trusting my ear and rededicate myself to my first passion, Art History, which I had been into before discovering music. Along the way, I did more than my share of patronizing every bar, club, dive and den, Museum, gallery and show within crawling distance.

“Sharing the things we know and love
With those of my kind
Libations…
Sensations…
That stagger the mind.” *

As a result, I think I’ve heard more music and seen more art than most people encounter in two lifetimes. That’s not bragging- that’s only a comment on my feeling that some people need to listen to more, and more wide ranging music, and see more, and more kinds of art. My library currently consists of 20,000 cd’s and 5,000 Lps. I’ve also made 1,200 visits to The Metropolitan Museum of Art since August 1, 2002. And yes, along the way, I’ve developed some ideas and opinions that, buckle your seatbelt, I’m going to share here.

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Click on this, or any image in this Blog to see the full size image.

I’ve long identified with Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks at the Diner,” which I’ve seen in person both at it’s home at the Art Institute of Chicago and here in NYC at the “old” Whitney Museum during the “Hopper’s Drawings” show. I’ve always identified with the guy in the front who’s sitting by himself. The guy no one ever mentions in discussing this work which is now seminal to our culture and to the art, film, music and literature that has come after. It’s hard to believe it was painted in 1942. It feels so now. But, I digress, again.

I am that guy.KennPBp
That guy, with his back to us, sitting by himself, is someone I’ve spent much (too much?) of my life being. He’s sort of the observer- not blatantly looking at what’s going on, but aware of it, and doing his own thing, there for his own reasons. Like everywhere he goes. He sort of fits in, and sorta doesn’t. He’s a Denizen…a Nighthawk.

“That shape is my shade
There, where I used to stand
It seems like only yesterday
I gazed through the glass
At ramblers
Wild gamblers
That’s all in the past.” *

When I go out, it’s almost always solo. The good side of that is that no one gets to veto my choice of venue. No one has a say. I go where I want, when I want. While I have gone elsewhere (anywhere outside of NYC is elsewhere to me), I haven’t gone there often (One time I was invited to go somewhere, I was called a “Fresh Air Kid.” Remember them? It fit.). After all, it was always my life’s dream to live in Manhattan. And it took a long time for that to finally happen. Living here, there have been times when I’ve decided to go out somewhere at 1230am, even at 2am. How many places can you do that?

For the last 23 years, it’s been my world, my “home sweet home,” * as Steely Dan said in Deacon Blues*, the soundtrack of this post. I’ve lived most of that time in my world at night.

Now? I’m inviting YOU to come along with me. Pull up that open barstool, since there’s now plenty of them to choose from as  you can see from this blog’s banner (adopted from you know what, with my apologies. and undying admiration), and let’s see what the night brings.

As a great man once said, “The future is unwritten.” That leaves the present and the past to write about. One thing I’ve learned along the way- the journey is usually the destination.

“You call me a fool
You say it’s a crazy scheme
This one’s for real
I already bought the dream
So useless to ask me why
Throw a kiss and say goodbye
I’ll make it this time
I’m ready to cross that fine line.” *

*- from “Deacon Blues” Words & Music by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. Published by Universal Music Publishing Group. From the classic Lp “Aja,” by Steely Dan.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
Click the white box on the upper right, for the archives, to search, or to subscribe.
This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com