Noteworthy Shows, December, 2016 (Updated)

“William Eggleston- The Democratic Forest” @ David Zwirner. It’s impossible for us to “see” Eggleston’s work now the way the way it was seen in 1976 when it was presented in the first major Museum one-man show of color photography ever at MoMA in the 69 images shown in “Photographs by William Eggleston” (which you can relive, here, in glorious black & white). In that “black & white world,’ it was received as “shocking,” and widely panned (famously by The Times). If anything, today, there are “too many cameras and not enough food,” as Sting sang, and too many pictures in the world, so, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised to read a number of comments on Eggleston’s books, shows and works where commenters say they don’t see what’s special about it, or, that, as has often been said about Jackson Pollock, they could do it. Hmmm…Many, many have tried, and are still trying. What’s lost in translation in seeing Eggleston in 2016 is how many photographers have “gone to school” on his work, over the past 40 years, learned from it, and yes, copied it 1, so that much of what he is famous for is now omnipresent. Yet, it’s barely 40 years since his breakthrough at MoMA.

Depth of Field. “Untitled,” 1983-86, as each work here is so named and dated. Leica can’t buy advertising like this, and the rest of what is on the walls of this show. Note the endless mirror Self Portraits, that mimic all the bottles, jars and cans.

Countless professionals and amateurs shoot “the everyday,” the seemingly mundane now. Who’s to say what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s “Art?”

The road less traveled…It doesn’t exist in Manhattan.

As always? Time will. In the meantime, what about the work of Wililam Eggleston in 2016?

On the left, a classic shot of the so-called “mundane.” On the right, possibly a color Homage to Robert Frank’s “The Americans,” an early influence.

Now 77, “the father of color photography,” as he is called2, has been making photographs since his college days, closing in on 60 years ago. That’s enough passage of time for some things to be known. For one thing, his work still seems to be gaining in popularity. For another, it still garners a lot of respect from both his fellow Photographers, and Museums, judging how widely they hold and show his work. “William Eggleston Portraits” at the National Portrait Gallery, London this fall, drew raves. Millions of dollars are being spent on his work at auction. He, and his Eggleston Artistic Trust3, left the Gagosian Gallery this past June and signed with the equally prestigeious David Zwirner Gallery for representation, (this being their first show), and this century has already seen a steady stream of stunning books and huge box sets by Steidl, which have the look and feel of monuments, that sell out and some then command a thousand dollars a copy, and more, on the aftermarket.

Famous for his very vivid colors, I found the shot on the left, with it’s pastel colors, equally effective.

In October, The New York Times featured him as one of their six “Greats,” along with superstar (my term) Artist, Kerry James Marshall, and Michelle Obama. William Eggleston is big time. Ok. So, back at David Zwirner on West 20th Street, how’s the show?

The shot on the left (who’s  location is unknown to me) makes me yearn to see shots of his taken in NYC.

30-odd years after these works were created they retain a surprising freshness and resonance that’s not easy to explain. I’m not sure it’s entirely the famous(ly) bright colors that are solely responsible for this, either. They’re undoubtedly a hook, but there’s far more going on, and there are works that don’t feature “knock your eyeballs out” colors that are equally compelling. Following in the tradition of Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank, he has taken their ideas someplace else. Someplace subtle, or very subtle, mundane, often easily overlooked. A place decidedly “American” (in these works), that American viewers instinctively recognize, and one that must look like Mars to the foreign eye. Heck, in a few more years, it’s going to look like Mars to ANY eyes. Yes, so many others have tread this ground since Eggleston’s work became widely seen. They shoot similar subjects, using the same camera. But, in the hands of a visionary master of the medium, the results are truly unique. Seeing 40 works together reinforces all of this, and reveals intimacies about his approach and style. Seen in isolation this sense is harder to glean. His work has a feeling of spontaneity that is, also, often copied, perhaps, increasingly. Watching him at work in documentaries, we see this spontaneity is not contrived. Frankly? I marvel at it. What is going on in his mind as he approaches his spot? As he composes and frames? Untold millions walk around with cameras, raise them and take a photo. None are these. How is this possible? Also an Artist (his book “Paris” featured his Art alongside his photos), as well as a musician, it should be no surprise that he has one hell of an eye for composition (which can be seen in even his earliest black and white work), and which I feel is under-appreciated given how rarely I hear anyone mention it. It may be as big a part of his impact as color. His is, also, a painter’s eye, which also sets him apart as a photographer. Perhaps it is this that gives him his eye for the “secret life” of what most overlook in the world. All of these things work together to make a composition of random “things” a personal statement, even without people present in most of his photographs, and they seemingly come together in the instant the exposure takes. With a master technician of photography who’s also an Artist behind the shutter, I think his results are going to intrigue viewers for a very long time no matter how many try to copy and imitate him.

A wall of the smaller, 20 3/4 x 28 3/4 inch, prints for comparison. The work in the center is also in the Whitney, though smaller.

Eggleston said he has over a million and a half images in his archives. They ALL can’t be classics, can they? According to the Press Release, the show includes 40 works, “the majority of which have not been exhibited previously.” The “Democratic” in the show’s title speaks to the camera’s ability to “render equally what is in front of the lens.” What is rendered in these 40 works includes very few people (Only one, seen in the first photo, top, is centered around a person besides the photographer, who appears in two others by my count). Each work here bears the same title and dating- “Untitled,” 1983-86. Very democratic, indeed. Not mentioned is that these works are recent prints in a larger size, somewhat controversially, (about 65 x 45 inches, though a few are 20 x 28) Digital Pigment Prints, instead of the  Dye Transfer Prints that Eggleston is renowned for, which his works in the collections of MoMA, The Met, and many other places are. For me, the larger size (the original sizes were of the order of 16 x 20 inches), seem to reach for a “painterly” impression. This struck me as soon as I walked in, not surprising, perhaps, since I have looked at mostly painting in my life. Some succeeded larger, some didn’t. Interestingly, I found images I’ve long struggled with to be among those I am still struggling with larger.

One I’ve struggled with.

This one continues to haunt me with it’s unique blend of a photograph that “borrows” much from painting, then takes it somewhere else.

Another thing that most impresses me…no…blows my mind, is that Eggleston does it taking only a single shot. While he would, no doubt, prefer his work remind me more often of Degas (who, among many other things, was a photographer, as well as a master print maker and immortal Painter), I found myself thinking of him as being somewhere between Edward Hopper/Charles Sheeler and Ed Ruscha/Richard Estes. To study the individual photos in this show closer, check out the exhibition’s catalog. I’ve mostly opted to show the very interesting combinations in which they were hung, which I assume Mr. Eggleston, himself (who was in NYC for the opening, also making rare appearances at The Strand and at Aperture), was involved with, since those won’t be widely documented.

“Well I hope you’re happy with what you’ve made
(Puzzling evidence)
In the land of the free and the home of the brave
(Puzzling evidence)”*

William Eggleston’s worldwide reputation as an important American Artist of our times increases seemingly daily. While his Artistic Trust, which his sons are involved in, seems to have it’s own ideas about the future of his work, it seems assured that his work is going to be seen far and wide for a very long time. With that 1.5 million photos he guesstimated are in his archives, he must have taken some in NYC, as he memorably did of Paris, right? Maybe those will be in a future show called “The Democratic City.”

“Francis Picabia” @ MoMA- (Note- March 3, 2017. I went back to see this show, again, before it ends March 19, and so I update my Post on it, in hopes of doing it more justice.) Picabia first got me into Abstract Art as a teenager with this work-

Let’s Get Lost. Picabia’s masterpiece “I See Again in Memory My Dear Udnie,” 1914. Worth the price of admission by itself.

I bought the postcard of it, which I still have. It sucked me into it- almost literally, it’s grip on my mind, and my eyes, was so intense. It’s a work that looks like you could walk inside and climb around in and explore it’s unprecedented landscape. But, it was it’s title that hooked me…”I See Again in Memory My Dear Udnie.” When I finally climbed back out of it and got around to pondering the name of the work…Well? I’m still pondering it. Most of the other Abstractionists (Pollock, Rothko, Duchamp, even Kandinsky) didn’t usually title their works. This proved a vital “way in” for me. From this, and Picabia’s other works of this period, I discovered Pollock, Kandinsky, Miro, then the Surrealists, Dada, and the Abstract Expressionists. Seeing it, again, in this very well done retrospective brought all of that back to me. I was, initially, startled because I’d forgotten how large it is- over 8 feet high by 6 and a half feet wide. Talk about making a statement. It’s presence, and impact, is still every bit as strong. For me, at least, it’s a central work in his oeuvre. His early abstractions are, still, breathtaking, unique and just gorgeous.

Front row seat to genius. “Ecclesiastic,” left and “Udnie, Young American Girl,” both 1913, right. The now immortal “Udnie” was a dancer named Stacia Napierkowska, who’s on-ship performances Picabia was taken with on his voyage to NYC for the famous 1913 Armory show, a triumph for him. Meanwhile Stacia/”Udnie” was arrested by the NYPD for “indecent” performances. (Here in the NY Times.).

While Cubism was all the rage at the time (c.1914), I think it’s a shame that other Artists didn’t follow Picablia down this road. Then again? Where else was there left to take it? Perhaps this is why, Picabia, himself, turned his back on this style and adapted others. The man is one of the ultimate chameleons of his time.

It’s not “Cubism,” or “Futurism,” or “Geometric Abstraction.” So? What do you call “The Spring,” 1912? How about beautiful?

This is a long overdue show, and a big one. It surprised me with Picabia’s endless evolution throughout his career, much of which, post-1925 seems to be a bit in the shadows compared to his early, seemingly endless inventions.

Down in front. “The Animal Trainer,” 1923, (inscribed “1937”). Fear not- I’ve been assured by MoMA that no Owls were harmed in the making of this Retrospective. Actually? I’m not sure just who is being trained in this work.

It points out that there remains much to see and study in the long career of this defiantly original, prolific and continually surprising individualist. I found myself a bit lost by what came after 1925, but he called me back with his somewhat surprising evolutions during WW2.

Moving on. “The Lovers (After The Rain),” 1925. Picabia painted over an earlier, abstract work in creating this. I’d love to see an x-ray and see what he chose to paint over.

Good luck trying to stick Francis Picabia in a style hole. He didn’t stand still, as we see here in “The Wandering Jew,” interestingly, from 1941. A period that features quite a few nudes.

In the end, Picabia is, like “I See Again in Memory…” one of those Artists who’s work demands, and rewards, repeated viewing. His formidable technique, and endlessly creative & inventive mind gave us an Artist who wasn’t content to stay with one style for very long. When you have that kind of talent? Why would you want to? He was, as he famously said, “a monster.” A monster talent.

“Portrait of the Artist,” 1934, a collaboration with Bruno Eggert. A bit of Christian Schad, perhaps? Schad was 40 in 1934, though pretty obscure.

“Paths To The Absolute: Kandinsky, Malevich, Mondrian, Newman, Pollock, Rothko and Still” @ Di Donna Galleries- A small wonder. All of those big names in one gallery show. Beautifully hung, in fascinating combinations that created wonderful inner dialogues, and one that offered a nice different perspective on Rothko from that going on in the “big” show, concurrently, at Pace, Chelsea. A show I almost missed and long will be grateful I did not.

Pollock and Malevich. I don’t believe I’ve ever see them together! Why not?

Franz Kline, Malevich, Barnett Newman and Mondrian. And, that bench!

As good as that show was, one Artist was not included…

“Richard Pousette-Dart: The Centennial” @Pace Gallery, East 57th Street, and “Altered States: The Etchings of Richard Pousette-Dart” @Del Deo & Barzune. This past June 8th would have been the 100th Birthday of Richard Pousette-Dart (RP-D for short), who died in 1992 at 76. An Artist who, I feel, has not yet been fully appreciated. June 8, 2016 would slip quietly by, but it turned out his 100th had not been forgotten. Pace Gallery 57th Street, opened a Centennial Show on September 6, (with RP-D’s wife and well known son, the musician, Jon Pousette-Dart in attendance). A symposium was held at the Whitney a few weeks later, a restored public work was unveiled downtown, and a revelatory show of his etchings at Del Deo & Barzune in the Flatiron District opened on October 6.

RP-D: The Centennial @ Pace, Uptown

Phew…My fears he’d be forgotten were assuaged. RP-D has become something of a “cause” for me. The more I see of his work, the more I’m baffled that he’s not (often) spoken of with his long time compatriots Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, et al. I just don’t get it. For my money (and I have none personally invested), he’s every bit as good, and important, as any of them.

Altered States: The Etchings of RP-D @ Del Deo & Barzune

The show at Pace Uptown was nicely concise, giving a taste of the range of his stylistic development, which, for me, were a feast for the eyes. There is something wonderful about his work that allows it to work just as well in a small space (as the etchings prove), or in a large gallery at The Met’s newly rehung M&C Galleries. It’s so easy to get endlessly lost in either close study of his work, or at a distance. His compositions are among the most complex of the AbEx Artists, and his attention to detail borders on the staggering. You wonder how he ever finished one work, let alone as many as he did.

“White Silence,” 1974, 14 feet long, above. Hurry up and grab a seat before I sit there until they close.

Detail. “…it’s full of stars.”

Astoundingly, RP-D was, also, one of Ai Weiwei’s teachers at The Art Student’s League (on West 57th Street, down the street from where Pace is now) from 1983-86. I have yet to hear, or read, him (AWW) speak about the experience.

Installation view- Pace Gallery

Visiting the wonderful satellite show, with the prefect name, “Altered States: The Etchings of Richard Pousette-Dart” at Del De & Barzune in the Flatiron, the impression (sorry) is amended (as it always seems to be when one sees a work by RP-D he previously hadn’t seen), enhanced and refined. Here, his attention to detail is in just as full effect, and the results are even more (and even more sadly) unknown. The work on view is uniformly marvelous. They give the same effect as his larger painted masterpieces- ponder them from afar, or get lost in them up close. These are works you will look at for an entire lifetime and still see something new in them.  Long live Richard Pousette-Dart.

Just in time for RP-D, 100- “Symphony No. 1, The Transcendental,” 1942-42, now on view in the newly rehung Modern Galleries at The Met, 5th Avenue.

And, finally…a show I planned to write more about but haven’t, and just can’t let get away- “Rembrandt’s First Masterpiece” @ The Morgan Library. Worth the price of admission to see the figure of Judas in the 1629 painting, “Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver,” The Master did at age 23(!), the work that sealed his status as a “Master,” and which I haven’t as yet found an antecedent for in the prior history of Painting4

While you were waiting for a slight opening in the throng surrounding it, you were blessed with the rest of this one, large, room being chocked full of some of the greatest impressions of Rembrandt’s prints to be seen in this hemisphere.!

 

One half of the show.

I could think of worse ways of spending my time “waiting.” Like doing anything else, short of making love. So overwhelming were they that you were 3/4 of the way home before you realized you saw “only” one painting.

Murderer’s Row. If I could only have one work of Art for the rest of time? I’d take a Rembrandt painted “Self-Portrait.” So, I was floored to walk into this show and see no less than FIVE Rembrandt “Self Portrait” etchings.

And then? The seas parted and lo and behold? THERE IS WAS! QUICK! SHOOT!!!

“Judas Returning The 30 Pieces of Silver,” Rembrandt, 1629. Private collection. (i.e. Someone has this hanging on their wall. I felt a twinge typing that.)

Where was I? Oh yeah…”only” one painting here…That was immediately followed by the realization that with Rembrandt? The medium is not the message- The message is the message. it matters not which medium he chooses to work in. He created timeless Art in many mediums, Painting, drawing and prints, here. From what is called his “First Masterpiece,” (I didn’t say that)5, he lets it be known that he is someone that is, and will be, unprecedented in Art History, and earned the admiration of the diplomat, poet and great Art connoisseur Constantijn Huygens, who’s original diary, containing Huygens’ now immortal words about Rembrandt and “Judas,” which put the young Artist on the map, is here as well. Remarkable! Of “Judas,” Huygens writes in THIS very book(!)-

The Legend of Rembrandt begins here.

his Autobiography, written between 1629-31-

“Compare this with all Italy, indeed, with everything beautiful and admirable that has been preserved from the earliest antiquity. The singular gesture of the despairing Judas-leaving aside the many fascinating figures in this one painting-that one furious Judas, howling, praying for mercy, but devoid of hope, all traces of hope erased from his countenance, his appearance frightening, his hair torn, his garment rent, his limbs twisted, his hands clenched bloodlessly tight, fallen prostrate on his knees on a blind impulse, his whole body contorted in wretched hideousness. Such I place against all the elegance that has been produced throughout the ages.”

One of the most auspicious, calling cards in Art History…even 388 years later.

This “such” retains every bit of it’s power to awe onlookers nearly 400 years later as it did Mr. Huygens shortly after he created it, to the extent that it’s possible to see so much of what’s come after in this one figure, right up to Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon.

I give this show my award for the exhibition that went the furthest beyond above and beyond delivering on the advertised expectations. Any show that elicits an “Oh My God,” from it’s doorway as I first entered and it dawned on me what awaited and how undersold this show was has to be, at least, NoteWorthy, and at most, unforgettable.

As the new year begins? To any show with designs on winning that award this year, I say  “Bring It On!”

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “Puzzling Evidence” by David Byrne and recorded by Talking Heads on “True Stories,” which was accompanied by a movie and a book of the same name. The book contained photographs by William Eggleston, among others.

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. Continuing the continuum. Eggleston learned from Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank, among others.
  2. because of the MoMA show, but let’s not forget the many other great photographers who also shot at least some color before it was accepted, like Robert Capa, Saul Leiter, Fred Herzog, et al.
  3. holders of all of his copyrights, including the works shown here
  4. “Agony” seems to be something avoided in Painting. To this time, Christ on the Cross was depicted “transcending” the physical agony, and Paintings of the so-called “Agony In The Garden,” invariably show Christ lost in meditation, prayer and deep, though possibly, pained, thought. If you know of an ancestor or influencer, please let me know.
  5. His early work is pretty darn stellar in my book. I’ve long had a love of this one in Boston, from 1628, one year before “Judas”, that is only 9 inches by 12 inches. Don’t be fooled by it’s apparently “simplicity.” Much is going on.

The Rothko Chapel, Chelsea

“I became a painter because I wanted to raise painting to the level of poignancy of music and poetry.” Mark Rothko.

I could sit there for a month. One of the infamous "Seagrams Murals," 1959. Rarely seen.

“Seagrams Murals, Section 6,” 1959. One of the infamous murals for the 4 Seasons Restaurant, but never installed there.

Lines to get in are nothing new in New York, or in Chelsea, home to some of the most “happening” nightclubs in the City. But a line to get in at 2 or 3pm in the afternoon is rare anywhere in NYC. Even rarer are lines to get into an Art Gallery at that hour- unless it’s late in the run of a “must-see” show. But, the line filled the lobby and extended out the door at the extraordinary “Mark Rothko: Dark Palette” show which only opened the day before at Pace on West 25th Street. Five years in the making, and focused on exploring one aspect of his work, don’t bother asking for the price list, it’s also unusual for a gallery show because none of the work is for sale. Darn! What will I do now with that spare 90 million dollars?? Maybe I’ll open some grocery supermarkets with reasonable prices most neighborhoods in Manhattan desperately need.

3pm November 5. The crowd in the lobby waits.

3pm November 5. The crowd waiting to get in fills the lobby. Buckle up! It’s only going to get more crowded.

When it comes to writing about the work of Mark Rothko, I have to say up front that it’s very hard for me to be unbiased. Mark Rothko’s Art changed my life. In 1999 I saw his Retrospective at the Old Whitney (now TMB) the final weekend it was there. It was one of the unforgettable experiences I’ve ever had at an Art show, and it was perfect timing, given the roadblock I had hit with record companies in trying to get my records released unaltered, I then decided to turn (back) to Art History, my first love. Thank you, Mark Rothko.

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Let’s get lost. This is how I prefer to see Rothko. Each work can be seen on it’s own. Getting close to feel engulfed by the work is good, too.

There have been Rothko shows in NYC since 1. But, none of them have yet matched the feeling I got from the 1999 show- aided in no small part by the way the works were hung, the way the show moved through his career. I’ve longed for that feeling ever since. At long last, here it is. The “dark” works have a unique mystery among Rothko’s work, and are a terrific choice for a theme. While some see them as “depressing,” (including a lady mentioned in the show’s introduction card who rejected one that Rothko had painted for her for that reason), I find them to be among his most powerful, subtle, even, yes, poignant pieces. While it’s always great to encounter a Rothko in a Museum, they’re usually hung among the work of others, which I find a bit distracting, For me, Rothko needs to be seen and experienced in a “vacuum,” or with only Rothkos nearby. Few institutions have that many Rothkos, and given their popularity, it is very hard for them to part with them and disappoint their visitors, even for a couple of months.

Worshipping at the altar?

Worshipping at the altar?

Luckily, two of the very few people who do have some, the offspring of Mr. Rothko, Dr. Kate Rothko Prizel and Dr. Christopher Rothko, have gone above and beyond to support this show. A number of the works on view come from their collections- by my count, no less than 4 from Kate’s and 2 from Christopher’s, in addition to “Seagrams Mural, Section 6” which they jointly own. That’s 7 of the 21 works on view- one third. (Christopher Rothko, by the way, is the author of one of the very best books on his father there is- “Mark Rothko: From the Inside Out.“). To help facilitate the loans of 3 pieces from major Museums, the Rothko “kids” loaned the institutions works from their own collections so the institutions would still have Rothkos to show their visitors, and enable them to part with the works requested for this show. Remarkable. Dad would no doubt be proud. With 21 “dark” works, the majority of which are out and out masterpieces in my estimation, including some stunning works on paper mounted on canvas, the results are as close as there has been to a truly “must see” show in Chelsea in years.

Someone else...

Someone else…

That said, it was only a year and a half ago that another show in this same space left me transfixed and provided many hours spent in sheer meditative bliss- by Richard Pousette-Dart. This one is very similar in it’s effect, as we explore the history of Rothko’s use of dark colors in his “sectional” works. I can’t categorize what these works say to me because it’s different each time I see them. Sometimes it’s spiritual. Sometimes poetic. Sometimes I feel like I’m standing on a foreign landscape looking at distant horizons. But, it’s that experience they give, the pure joy of looking, seeing and letting them in that transfixes me.

"Black in Deep Red," 1957. The day will come where these works will be as famous as Monet's are now, in my opinion.

“Black in Deep Red,” 1957. The day will come when Rothko’s work will be as ubiquitous as Monet’s are now, in my opinion.

This has been a year full of big New York School Abstract Expressionist Shows. First, there was the biggest “name” in AbEx, Jackson Pollock, at MoMA, then concurrent shows of his wife, Lee Krasner, and long time friend, Philip Guston. A very nice smaller show of New York School Artists is going on at Allan Stone Projects that includes two marvelous Joseph Cornell Boxes (Ok, he’s not an AbEx Artist, but his work is wonderfully abstract, and he was a New Yorker), alongside works by Abstract Expressionists2 de Koonjng, Arshile Gorky and Clifford Still. There’s also a nice Joan Mitchell show that’s about the same size as the Rothko show going on very nearby it, AND there’s the Centennial show of Richard Pousette-Dart, for my money the most under appreciated of the lot, going on right now at Pace uptown!

"Untitled," 1955 the earliest work here has never been displayed in the country before.

“Untitled,” 1955, the earliest work here, has never been displayed in the country before.

Phew…

I didn't bring flowers, so this will suffice as my "bouquet."

I didn’t bring flowers, so this Post will have to suffice as my “bouquet.”

For me, though, this show will be the high point. Short of going to the “real” Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas or the Seagrams Room at the Tate, London, this is the only, and best, chance you’ll get to get that feeling…until the next big Rothko show. Unlike most of my Art Show Posts, this show only opened this past Friday, November 4, so you have until January 7, 2017 to experience it.

"Untitled," 1968, one of a few acrylic on paper, mounted on panel pieces here, seen from an angle.

“Untitled,” 1968, one of a few wonderful acrylic on paper, mounted on panel pieces here, has fascinating sides.

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After that? You’re stuck being like me- Praying for the next one.

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*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Rothko Chapel” by Morton Feldman.

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  1. “Mark Rothko: The Watercolors” in 2014, shining light on his seldom seen work in the medium, and “Mark Rothko: A Painter’s Progress, The Year 1949” in 2004, focused and fascinating, both excellent, and both at Pace, East 57th Street.
  2. according to a list The Met has published

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.

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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