Now Is A Good Time To Join The Met

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

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

Here’s what’s there right now

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

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

Let’s see…

Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer 

-the David Hockney Retrospective

Rodin At The Met

World War I and the Visual Arts

Leonardo to Matisse: Drawings from the Robert Lehman Collection

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

Frederick Remington at The Met

Talking Pictures: Camera-Phone Conversations Between Artists

Cosmic Buddhas in the Himalayas

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

Japanese Bamboo Art: The Abbey Collection

And? Since too much is never enough in NYC-

Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bed

Modernism on the Ganges: Raghubir Singh Photographs

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

Are up at The Met Breuer.

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

And then there was this…

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

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

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

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
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NoteWorthy Shows: March Through May, 2017

Catching up from my March computer meltdown. To recap, AIPAD-The Photography Show, was my NoteWorthy Show for March, “Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work” at the New Museum for April, “Rod Penner” at Ameringer McEnery Yohe for May. Here are some other “NoteWorthy Shows” I saw from March through May (in no particular order). Better late than never…especially where these fine shows are concerned. 

“Elliott Hundley: Dust Over Everything” (@ Andrea Rosen Gallery)- According to Siri there were 41 days between January 1 and February 10, during which Elliott Hundley must have been THE busiest man on the planet creating the 22 works for this show, which opened on February 10. He must not have eaten, slept, or gone to the food store, saving every second of every day to create what are the most intricate works I’ve seen in years, each one of which is dated “2017.”

“the song dissolves,” Paper, oil, pins, fabric, foam and linen over panel, 11 3/8 x 14 3/8 x 2 3/4 inches. Click any image to enlarge.

Side view.

Theatrical…Intimate…Grand…Microscopic…Bombastic…Quotidian…There are as many styles as there are works, and almost as many materials listed having been used on them. Ok. He probably had (some) help creating these. Practically? I get that. But, you can’t see it. Every single detail seems to spring from the same source- a seemingly boundless imagination that shows us a different side of it in each piece.

“Dust Over Everything,” Paper, oil, plastic, fabric, pins, foam and linen over panel. 36 1/4 x 24 1/4 x 6.

And the pins! I feel for whoever has to count them when these works wind up in Museums. “Countless” is how I’d describe them. It must have taken an army of acupuncturists a week to do even one of these works, because they are so extraordinarily well placed I found myself continually looking at the works from a 45 degree angle so I could appreciate them all. They’re such a tour de force as to be, a bit, distracting. I wondered what order they were placed in, which took away valuable moments I should have spent pondering the work as a whole (before getting to the details.) They are a bit like veil on a stage that you have to look through (after you’re done appreciating them) to ponder all that’s under them. But, they are not present in every work here. What’s under them struck me as being a whole life told in episodes, glimpses, memories and relics.

“Gallows Bird,” Oil and paper on linen, 80 1/8 x 96 1/4 x 1 7/8

Suffice it to say there’s, also, a life time’s worth of looking ahead for whoever buys these obsessive works- some of the freshest work I’ve seen in the first 65 days of this year, and among the densest work I’ve ever seen.

“Until the end,” Paper, oil, pins, glass, lotus, plastic, foam and linen over panel, 96 1/2 x 80 1/4 x 8 1/2

Detail of the right side. Mr. Hundley features friends & family in his work, giving them a personal depth he feels comes across to the viewer.

“Seurat’s Circus Sideshow” (@ The Met)- From the first time prehistoric man made a mark on a surface, countless billions of people down through the intervening millennia have drawn. Where is the OTHER one among them who draws, or drew, like Georges Seurat? Seurat only lived 31 years, so he didn’t get the chance to create either a lot of drawings, or a lot of paintings, so this was a very rare chance to see (mostly) his drawings, along with 2 paintings, and works by others, all more or less related to the theme of the circus, with Seurat’s “Circus Sideshow,” from The Met’s collection, as the centerpiece. How fascinating it must have been to watch him make one of these unique Drawings, let alone one of his even more remarkable paintings? So, even the otherworldly presence of Rembrandt’s “Christ Presented to the People” wasn’t enough to distract from focusing on the extremely rare opportunity to see a number of Seurat’s drawings in one place.

Looking down at the entrance for “Seurat’s Circus Sideshow”. Exactly one year ago this Robert Lehman Wing Courtyard was full of scaffolding for the false floor of the “Ghost Cathedral” of the Manus X Machina Fashion Show sat at the level of the upper floor here- a few hundred feet in diameter! Amazing.

“Seurat’s Circus Sideshow” entrance, features the titular work.

“Trombonist,” 1887-88, Conte crayon with white chalk

“At the Gaiete Rochechouart,” 1877-78, Conte crayon with gouache

“Lygia Pape: A Multitude of Forms,” & “Marsden Hartley’s Maine” (@ The Met Breuer)-

Meanwhile, across town, Sheena Wagstaff , The Met’s Modern & Contemporary Art Chairwoman, continues to give us unexpected shows of M&C Art at TMB, this time focusing on the late Brazilian female Artist, Lygia Pape (1927-2004), and American Painter Marsden Hartley (1877-1943)- two Artists who have almost nothing in common, except, perhaps, Ms. Wagstaff as a champion, and that neither has had a substantial show in NYC, for at least anytime in the recent past (as far as I know). I couldn’t escape the feeling that Ms. Pape has a style not all that unlike the great Nasreen Mohamedi, who Ms. Wagstaff chose to be the very first show of M&C Art at TMB. Mr Hartley, however, does not. “The Painter from Maine” has a strong, muscular style that is worlds away from the from the geometric abstraction Ms. Pape’s and Ms. Mohamedi’s works may seem to be at casual view. His in another part of the story of American 20th Century Art, one that is often, unfortuatley, overlooked, perhaps because it’s rare to see more than one of his works at a time. His place in the long line of important Maine Artists that runs from Thomas Cole to Winslow Homer (a key influence on Hartley) through Edward Hopper to the Wyeths and Richard Estes is assured. While the opportunity to see more of these interesting Artists was most welcome, for me, these shows were equally interesting for what “more” they might reveal of Ms. Wagstaff’s direction, which, given the state of flux The Met is in at the moment, I believe in supporting.

Lygia Pape’s vision extended from paintings to sculpture to people, as seen on the screen on the left,”Divisor (Divider), 1968, performed in 1990,, which seems to mimic the effect of the wall sculpture, “Livro dos caminhos (Book of paths),” 1963-76, paint on wood,  on the right.

Lygia Pape, “Tteia, 1, C,” 1976-2004, Gold thread, light and a few staples create a haunting, shimmering vision.

Lygia Pape, “Liver do tempo (Book of time),”1961-63, A tour de force of almost endless creativity & variety in 365 tempera and acrylic on wood pieces in relief.

I particularly admire these 3 early Landscapes by Marsden Hartley done between 1907-09, with their unique, almost “Pointilistic” technique, (26 years after the Seurat’s death), which is much “softer” than his “muscular,” later landscapes, like the next one.

“The Lighthouse,” 1940-41, Oil on masonite

Perhaps the most “muscular” painting since the Mannerists.

“Romare Bearden: Bayou Fever and Related Works” (@ DC Moore Gallery)- Highlighted by 21 collages from 1979 Romare Bearden (1911-88) created for a ballet entitled “Bayou Fever” that he hoped Alvin Ailey would choreograph, they confirm Mr. Bearden’s place as a master of collage who was ahead of his time. While some works have an overt Matissean influence, everything here is uniquely Bearden, an Artist who is not seen nearly often enough and never seems to fail to impress when he is seen. I mentioned him in in my Post on his friend, Stuart Davis, and my Post on Kerry James Marshall, who selected a piece by Bearden for his “KJM Selects” section of his excellent TMB Retrospective.

Installation view. The 21 collages from “Bayou Fever,” 1979, are seen to the right.

2 works from “Bayou Fever”- “Untitled (The Conjur Woman),” left and “Untitled (The Swamp Witch, Blue-Green Lights and Conjur Woman), both Collages from 1979

“Feast,” 1969 21 x 25,” Collage

“Noah Means A New Day,” No date, Collage

“Prevalance of Ritual/Tidings,” 1964, Gelatin silver print

“Rat Bastard Protective Association” (@ Susan Inglett Gallery)- Who? The RBPA was “an inflammatory, close-knit community of Artists and Poets who lived and worked together in a building they dubbed ‘Painterland,'” in San Francisco, to quote the press release. As I wrote about last year, Bruce Conner was, somehow, new to me when I first walked through the black curtain at the entrance of the utterly amazing “Bruce Conner: It’s All True” at MoMA last year but, Susan Inglett had a long history with Bruce Conner, as I learned in speaking with her briefly, earlier this year. So, her (always excellent) gallery’s show of works by “The Rat Bastard Protection Association,” a group of San Fran Artists that included Mr. Coner was something special, and quite rare. In addition to the chance to see amazing work by Bruce Conner I’d never seen before, the show marked my first chance to see work by his Artist wife, Jean Conner, an important Artist in her own right. Add Jay DeFeo, Wallace Berman, Michael McClue to the roster and this was a small show that packed a punch, and pointed out, once again, that the East Coast needs to become much more familiar with this whole group of San Francisco based Artists, who were associated in the Rat Bastard Protection Association from the late 1950’s to early 1960’s. Up from April 27 to June 3, it anticipated the Robert Rauschenberg show now at MoMA and provides a reminder that these Artists were working strikingly similar veins at the same time, 2570 miles, as the crow flies, apart1.

Bruce Conner, “THE EGG,” 1959, Mixed media assemblage in a convex brass frame. Even his extraordinarily wide-ranging MoMA Retrospective didn’t prepare me to see this.

Bruce Conner “MARY, MOTHER OF GOD,” 1960, Charcoal on paper. Almost “conventional,” it shows little sign of the revolutionary drawings to come.

Two collages from 1960 by the overlooked Jean Conner, both titled “(ARE YOU A SPRINGMAID)

Two assemblages by Bruce Conner, “UNTITLED (DO NOT REMOVE),” 1960 and “FLOATING HEAD,” 1958-59

“Alice Neel, Uptown” (@ David Zwirner Gallery)- An increasingly beloved and respected New York Artist (she settled here at age 27, and lived here for over 50 years), her star continues to rise, though it’s taken a long time (she passed in 1984, at age 84). She always leads with her humanity, and it seems to me that that’s something that makes New York proud of her. Though one of her works was the featured/poster image for The Met Breuer’s 2016 blockbuster “Untitled: Thoughts Left Unfinished,” a perfect choice, IMHO, there hasn’t been an Alice Neel show all that recently, as far as I can recall. This one would still prove itself different even if there had been a few. For one thing it focused on work Ms. Neel did while she was living “Uptown,” in East Harlem (aka Spanish Harlem), from 1938 to 1962, and, as the press release says, it focuses on portraits of her family, friends and neighbors. The results are classic Alice Neel. Though not everything here is a major work, the breath of fresh air it provided only hints at how much pent-up longing I think there is to see more of her work.

The time has come!

The show has moved to Victoria Miro, London, where it can be seen through July 29.

Shown in two adjoining David Zwirner locations, this is one of the two entrances.

“Building in Harlem,” 1945, Oil on canvas. Ms. Neel lived in East (Spanish) Harlem from 1938-62.

“Alice Childress,” 1950, Oil on canvas. An actor who became a playwright and novelist when she found “little dramatic material that represented the lives of black women she knew,” per the show’s curator, Hilton Als.

“Two Girls,” 1954, Ink and gouache on paper.

Georgie Acre, a young Puerto Rican boy who often ran errands for Ms. Neel, seen in 4 Drawings and a Painting from 1950-58. In 1974, Mr. Arce was convicted of murder. He’s shown praying in the second Drawing from left.

“Ron Kajiwara,” 1971, Oil on canvas. A son of Japanese immigrants, he was detained in a California internment camp during WW2. He later became a design director for Vogue before dying of AIDS in 1990.

And finally, Kevin Francis Gray (@Pace, West 24th Street)- I can’t recall encountering anyone who’s doing what Mr. Gray is with “figurative” sculpture.

“Reclining Nude 1,” 2016, All works are Carrara Marble

Does he use a secret laser ray? Has he discovered how to melt marble, then work it in it’s molten state? Somehow, he’s able to make Carrara marble attain the properties of clay!

“Salamander,” 2017

Ummmm…Yes, I had to remind myself continually, after tying my hands behind my back so I wouldn’t touch them to appease my wonder… These are MARBLE!

“Reclining Nude 1,” 2016, front, and “The Aristocrat,” 2017

I find it daring, exciting, and revolutionary. Along the way, he blurs the lines between the representational and the abstract, while adding all sorts of new levels of appearance, meaning, and possibilities to “portraiture.”

Detail of “Reclining Nude II,” 2017

While some of his past works, especially his “Twelve Chambers,” 2013, group of 12 life-sized figures vaguely reminded me of Rodin’s “Burghers of Calais“, these recent works appear, to me, to be a breakthrough. Is Kevin Francis Gray the successor to Rodin? He’s only 45. We’ll see where his new developments lead him. Stay tuned…he said, with bated breath.

“Heavenly bodies…”

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “It’s Quiet Uptown,” by Lin-Manuel Miranda, from “Hamilton.”

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  1. My fine feathered friends (aka “The Birdies”) just smirked when I said that, again, and said they stand by their prior comment on the matter, here.

Thomas Campbell Resigns

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

———————————————

The Met
Dear Member,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Thomas P. Campbell
Director and CEO

——————————

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

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

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

Kerry James Marshall: The Revolution Was NOT Televised

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to forever, Kerry James Marshall.

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

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

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.”

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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.

Ai Weiwei’s Mute Witnesses

This is the second of two Posts about Ai Weiwei’s 4 recent concurrent NYC shows. Part One, about “Ai Weiwei: Laundromat,” at Deitch Projects, may be found here. This piece is on the other 3 shows. 

“Ai Weiwei: 2016: Roots and Branches,” Lisson Gallery, Chelsea

If there’s one thing I think NYC needs many more of, it’s trees. Given the extremely high rate of tree deaths here1, it’s always great when new ones show up. Even transiently. Ai Weiwei temporarily added to our tree population in 2 of his 4 shows, as only he could. Though it’s been over for nearly a month as I write this, I continue to think about this show every day, only partially due to the meditative properties of trees.

Click any photo to see it full size. Lisson Gallery, December, 2016, nicely nestled under the High Line.

Walking into the long rectangular space of Lisson Gallery on West 24th Street in Chelsea during “Ai Weiwei: 2016 Roots and Branches,” you’re confronted by a “forest” of 9 massive tree parts (3 measure almost 16 feet each) situated among 4 newly exposed and equally massive columns for the High Line, which runs directly above the gallery’s ceiling. Along the seemingly endless right hand (western) wall, 16 rows of black and white graphic images fill it’s wallpaper. The other 2 walls remains stark white (the 4th wall being the doors). Natural light streams in from both sides of the long ceiling as if there really were a canopy of leaves and branches above the “trees” allowing only some sunlight in.

A “Zen Garden” of the beauty, and horror, man can create. 7 of the 9 sculptures are seen, or partially seen, along with a partial view of the wallpaper, right.

But, these tree parts show no signs of life, the ones that “stand” only do so due to placement. Or, is it dis-placement?

Though their arrangement invites walking around them and viewing them from all sides, a relevatory experience in itself…

9 views of the same piece- “Iron Root,” 2015. Seen larger, below-

it is viewing them from one angle in particular- directly behind, that one gains a unique perspective. Standing behind them (to their east, that is) you see them with the wallpaper behind them. The effect struck me as making them “mute witnesses” to the seemingly endless spectacle unfolding on the wall. The saga unfolding therein is about war and displacement. The displacement of countless thousands of refugees due to the war in Syria.

A view of just about all of the 200 x 25 feet (my estimate) of wallpaper.

The wallpaper is also designed to be looked at every bit as closely as the tree parts are.

A close-up. You’re not alone if you think you’re looking at real tree bark. Then again? I never get out of Manhattan. This is cast iron.

So encouraged, I returned again and again, continually seeing something “else” so often that after 15 visits, I stopped counting. The first thing that’s striking is it’s all in black and white. Looking a bit closer you note the poses, the lack of detail, and even some of the outfits call to mind the Ancient Greek Vases I’ve seen often at The Met, which is fitting since Idomeni, home of the camp in Ai Weiwei’s “Laundromat,” is in Greece.

About a third of the wallpaper. Each row seems to have it’s own theme.

There’s a lot to see. A detail of 12 of 16 rows in this section.

From bottom- 2 rows of the refugees in flight- by boat, by foot, by vehicle, while the third row depicts the reasons why. In the 4th row from the bottom, Ancient Greek soldiers march on the left, while their modern counterparts march to the right of the fighting animals. Directly above them in Row 5, Ai Weiwei’s iconic extended arm and middle finger looms as a repeating circular motif, which will appear again. To the left in Row 5, a backhoe picks up the clothes left by the refugees in the Idomeni Camp that would become the clothes in Ai Weiwei’s show, “Laundromat.”

Looking even closer, I realized that some of the motifs recur, except in the very middle! There, in what musicians call “the golden section,” some fascinating images appear. They include Michelangelo’s “Vatican Pieta,” and a variant of the image of Nour Al Khzam, the 24 year old Syrian woman refugee who Ai Weiwei had a piano brought to the Idomeni Camp for, (as I wrote about, and Posted a photo of, in Part 1)! We see her playing the piano, while others (including Ai Weiwei himself, seen from the back) hold up a plastic sheet to protect her from the rain that day. Yet, in the wallpaper, we don’t see rain. So? Perhaps they are protecting her from everything else that’s going on. Is this Ai Weiwei’s way of speaking about the value of protecting your creativity, no matter what’s going on around you? Or, protecting what’s most important to you? Or, does it speak to overcoming all over this and having a life after, like Ai Weiwei, himself did?

The wallpaper’s “Golden Section,” (the darkened center section) features Nour Al Khzam right smack dab in the middle of the entire 200 foot piece (rows 6 & 12). Also notice Michelangelo’s “Vatican Pieta,” just to the left of center in rows 3, 9 and 15. Elsewhere we see a huge explosion (rows 4, 10, 16) and a baby, perhaps abandoned, under trees (rows 1, 7 and 13).

A singular image. A close-up of the image of 24 year old Nour Al Khzam playing piano as Ai Weiwei (right) and others hold a plastic sheet over her. A photo of the event is here.

I was left to ask my friends, the trees.

If you were careful, you could stand inside the semi-circular “Iron Tree Trunk,” 2015. It felt like a hug.

I felt a terrible pang when this show ended on December 23, and I’ve missed it daily since.

Outside Lisson Gallery on December 26, “Iron Tree Trunk,” 2015, and a piece of the wallpaper still barely visible on the right. My tears are not shown.

Why?

Partially, it’s the beauty of these “trees.” They are contemporary sculpture at it’s finest, in my opinion. I could look at them endlessly. Partially it’s the wallpaper has sucked me in to trying to understand it’s every detail. Real trees spend their entire lives in one place. Something humans can’t imagine doing. Trees have been meditative objects for a thousand years in Zen Buddhism and elsewhere. They are that, here, as well. These “tree parts” were created from parts of dead trees brought down from the mountains of southern China and sold in the markets of Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, where Ai Weiwei found them and brought them to his studio.

Maybe the show reminds me of life in NYC, where the few trees we have stand alone as all the chaos and activity of this insanely busy City happens around them. Perhaps, Ai Weiwei, who lived here for 10 years, intends this. Perhaps not. But this is no story of City life unfolding up there, with each of those 16 bands telling a different part of it simultaneously, perhaps symbolizing that these events were happening to so many people simultaneously, each making their own journey, and each with their own experiences and story. It’s a story that begins with the horrors of war and it’s various instruments (including Ai’s trademark surveillance cameras), followed by the long, treacherous journeys, of (too) many refugees, to lands unknown, their lives in the camps, a story that, unfortunately, continues for who knows how many. Here we come face to face with man- at his best, as when he is creating Art, and at his worst, when he is killing and ruining the lives of countless innocents, who have no one to turn to for help. Taken as a whole, Ai Weiwei has created one of the most unique Zen-like “Gardens” ever seen. One that offers almost as much to ponder as a “real” Zen Garden.

“Ai Weiwei: 2016: Roots and Branches,” Mary Boone Gallery, Chelsea

The new LEGO triple self portrait, “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn,” a LEGO version of his well-known work, “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn,” 1995, is seen in the background. Better view and details below-

Ai “was so much older then, he’s younger than that now.” And, “playing” with toys. Sorry, Bob. Ai Weiwei as seen in his recent LEGO version of his work, “Dropping a Han Dynasty,”1995

Besides “Laundromat” (the only show of the 4 with a different title), Ai Weiwei’s three other NYC shows, “Ai Weiwei 2016: Roots and Branches,” eshewed the use of his most renowned media- the internet, photography and words (seen to devastating effect in “Laundromat”) to focus on two other of his “signature” mediums- natural elements and ancient artifacts along with one newer medium- LEGO portraits, originally inspired by his son, who constantly plays with them. His LEGO works were previously seen in, perhaps, his most political show to date- “Ai Weiwei: @Large,” which took place at none other than the former site of one of the world’s most notorious prisons, Alcatraz. Ironically, Ai Weiwei, himself, was not able to attend that show as he was still living out the rest of his sentence following his 81 days of imprisonment, that saw him unable to travel internationally (because his passport was still held). At Alcratraz, the work, “Trace,” consisted of LEGO portraits of 176 people from around the world who have been imprisoned or exiled because of their beliefs or affiliations,” according to the show’s press release. This time, the LEGO Portraits on view at Mary Boone Gallery, Chelsea (a few hundred feet west of the Lisson Gallery show), were confined to “Self Portraits.” These were juxtaposed with two works in wood- both “sculptural,” and both “puzzles” in their own way, while, again, one wall was lined with gorgeous, fascinating wallpaper, this time in gold.

“Tree” at Mary Boone Gallery, Chelsea

In the main room, facing the LEGO triple self portrait seen above, a “Tree” was, again, the centerpiece This time it’s one, monumental “Tree,” 25 feet tall, that is constructed of actual weathered sections of dead trees that, according to the press release, “may be seen as a comment on the strength of modern China built from many ancient ethnic groups, or a determined attempt to create something new and vital from what is irrevocably lost.” In China, dead trees are venerated as important counterparts to the dead on earth, the realm between heaven and the underworld.2 It stands in front of another monumental wallpaper piece, this one I believe titled “Golden Age,” another graphic tour de force. This work is based on images from AWW’s life- from the ever present surveillance cameras, police chains and handcuffs, to cats- all depicted in a lustrous 3-D gold. For me, it stands for overcoming oppression and turning it’s artifacts into beautiful objects that are, now, just another part of his life, like his beloved cats.

“Golden Age,” detail, and reflection.

Situated on center stage, here, “Tree,” is, seemingly, another work that speaks to modern China being a blend of many ethnic groups, like “Map of China” is, see further down. That the parts making it are dead, as is the whole construction, of course, is something I cannot offer a comment about. I can say that I find it a compelling idea, and object, and one that some of it’s base parts seemed to bear a resemblance to the Iron Roots seen at Lisson.

Also on view here was the amazing “Treasure Box,” a sculptural piece of furniture made of ancient reclaimed huali wood, which is actually an intricate puzzle box of sliding and locking components3

Ancient & Contemporary puzzles. “Treasure Box,” sits in front of “Self-Portrait,” made of LEGO bricks.

This is, surely, an aspect of Weiwei’s work that, while not by any means new, deserves more attention and study. The Mary Boone, Chelsea show struck me as being “about” things not being what they seem. Being “more,” perhaps, and being “other.” There’s still one more show left to see…

“Ai Weiwei: 2016: Roots and Branches,” Mary Boone Gallery, Uptown

40,000 spouts broken from antique Chinese porcelain teapots are surrounded by “Finger” Wallpaper.

The final show, at Mary Boone’s Uptown Gallery may be his comment on all of this.

Detail of the spouts

“Finger” Wallpaper, and detail-

Yes, a variant of this wallpaper, too, is available, here.

As the world has seen these past 6+ years since his “Sunflower Seeds” Show at Tate Modern, London, brought him to international renown in 2010, Ai Weiwei is a man with a strong conscience. He’s not shy to share it with the world, whenever, and wherever he sees things that bother him. While it’s tempting to say that he’s turning his attention away from China after his arrest and 81 day imprisonment in 2011, he said to the Council on Foreign Relations in November

“When I fight human rights in China, I never think that’s human rights in China. I think that’s human rights everywhere. That’s first. And also, when I’m dealing with situation outside of China, I don’t even think that it’s not going to help China, you know? Human rights is the value which I believe is universal, it relate to everybody.”

“Garbage Container,” an elegy to five homeless boys who suffocated in a dumpster while trying to stay warm.

Summing up…

The meditative effect of all four shows was the common takeaway for me, vastly different from the meditative effect of “Mark Rothko: Dark Palette,” a few hundred of feet away from Ai Weiwei’s 2 Chelsea shows. While Rothko’s meditative impact is almost otherworldly, akin to standing in a door way open to…?, Ai Weiwei has us meditate on life, presence and absence, having roots and being rootless, what it is to be human, and what it should be to be human.

Speaking of “being human,” it almost looks like a hand. Or, maybe an extended arm and extended…hmmm…

For me, the shows seemed to flow into each other from south to north, beginning with “Laundromat,” the southern most, in Soho, to Lisson on West 24th, to Mary Boone, Chelsea, further west on 24th, and finally up to Mary Boone uptown. I have no idea if this was the intention, or not.  The Lisson show carries pieces of Laundromat, while the Mary Boone, Chelsea, shares the “tree” motif of Lisson, and Mary Boone uptown shares Ai Weiwei’s trademark extended arm and extended middle finger motif with Mary Boone, Chelsea, though it now is the overriding motif. It’s hard, for me, not to see this as Ai Weiwei extending his middle finger (and that of 39,999 refugees), now, to the “powers that be,” that have created and largely ignored this refugee crisis, while seemingly having little solution for the crisis to come. But? Your results may differ. Everyone is free to take from it what they will, or leave without taking anything from it. In this case, that would be a shame, and might be shortsighted. If it’s not “personal” for you now, it might be one day. There…but by grace, go I.

“Golden Age,” Detail. You, too, can hang (a variant) of this on your wall, here.

Of course, Ai Weiwei is not the only Artist who was a refugee. The 20th Century, for instance, is full of them. Some of them, like Marc Chagall, and the great composer Bela Bartok, created works of nostalgia for their homelands, not documentary works about being exiled. Then, there is Picasso, who created “Guernica,” in 1937, about the tragic bombing of that small Spanish town in his homeland, while he was living in Paris, where he would remain throughout the Nazi occupation that began a few years later, through the end of the Second World War, and after, in continuing exile from Spain. Perhaps the greatest artistic record of exile we have was created by a “young girl,”- Annelies, better known as Anne, Frank, the brilliant young writer who’s life ended at 15 at the hands of the Nazis, but who managed to write for the ages about her exile in her own country before she was discovered, and arrested in her “Diary of a Young Girl,” which has sold 30 million copies to date. While Ai Weiwei depicts, and documents, the Syrian Refugee crisis, he has only, as yet (as far as I know), documented his own exile in words. He’s spoken about it in interviews, and written about it in “Ai Weiwei’s Blog,” (which I will say, again, is the best place to start reading about him, so far). His words are chilling, unforgettable, and impossible for me to get out of my mind when I visited these shows. About the “earthen pit” his family lived in when he was 8 years old he said –

“…when pigs would run overhead, their bottoms would fall through our roof, making us all too familiar with the sight of swine nether regions….on one occasion, because there was no light in our earthen pit, my father was descending into our home and smashed his head on a roof beam. He fell immediately to the earth on his knees with a bleeding forehead. Because of this, we dug out a shovel’s depth of dirt, an equivalent to raising our roof twenty centimeters (about 8 inches).”4

While his mediums keep expanding (LEGO portraits), others, especially his sculpture and “furniture,” continue to evolve in wonderful ways. Yet no matter what he does, or what he creates with, his heart, mind, passion, and humanity- his core values, come through loud and clear. Not being one who’s given to compare creative beings, I still find it hard to think that this decade, that still has 3 years to go, is the decade of any other Artist. This is Ai Weiwei’s decade.

Like son, like father. Ai Weiwei says he was inspired by his son’s passion for LEGO to try them himself.

As this decade has unfolded, I find he reminds me of someone else. Another man from the East, who has lived in exile for a very long time. A man with a deep knowledge of the West, a man of compassion, wisdom and humanity. The Dalai Lama. One has written a book called “The Art of Happiness,” the other has done more than most others to bring compassion to those suffering, through Art. I make no comparison of them. I am simply saying that one brings the other to mind. In any event, there is no doubt that Ai Weiwei has gone from being an exile to being an unknown Artist and Art Student in New York for a decade to now having the eye, and ear, of a good part of the world. In doing so, am I alone in feeling that what he espouses about human rights and freedom sounds a good deal like what passed for “traditional American values” for most of my life?

A detail of the above. LEGO refused a bulk order from Ai Weiwei last year, which resulted in a furor that led to the company reversing themselves.

Artistically, these shows raised another question for me.

Even now, very rarely do I see his work on view in the museums here. Right now, The Met lists zero works of his in their online database of over 700,000 items (about 1/3 of their total holdings)! I do recall seeing 5 works of his displayed during the “Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China” Show there in 2014., including the one I photographed, below. It turns out that all five were lent to The Met. MoMA lists 12 of his works out of their 73,000 items currently online. Of those 12, 7 are photographs with his extended middle finger at various locations, 4 are books, and one is a magazine! I have to say I find it shameful that there is no major work of his in either The Met or MoMA! I would love for either, or both, to tell me why not.

Ai Weiwei at The Met! “Map of China” 2006, a work that speaks to the mosaic of fragments that is China today, made from wood salvaged from destroyed temples, as seen (on loan) in the “Ink Art” in China Show in 2014.

While we see the results of uprooting in both it’s natural and unnatural ways, at Lisson, Ai Weiwei turns uprooting into creative acts in using the felled tree parts as the basis for his sculptures and the travails of the refugees who’s journeys he shows us in “Laundromat” into what he depicts so beautifully on Lisson’s western wall, in trying to give them a voice, and make their experiences known. During my daily visits, I, and many of my fellow visitors, stood looking at, and contemplating, the complex images that seemed to stretch out endlessly before us on that wall. Like the lines of refugees must have looked like in transit. When I was alone in the gallery, I was like the the cast iron trees before me standing as “mute witnesses” to what was going on in front of us on the wallpaper.

Now that this unique show that was equal parts horror show, and equal parts astonishingly beautiful- depicting the best, and worst of what man is capable of, is over, it’s up to all of those who saw it to not remain mute.

Since Ai Weiwei lived in New York for 10 years? In my book, he will always be a New Yorker.

Welcome home, Ai Weiwei. Come back soon.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” by Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Phil Selway, Ed O’Brien and Colin Greeenwood of Radiohead, as performed on “OK Computer.”

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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  1. In my 25 years of living here, I’ve come to believe this is part of the reason for so many tree deaths. Not all of it. Part.
  2. https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/ai-weiwei-6
  3. It can be seen opened in the Royal Academy, London’s Ai Weiwei Exhibition catalog.
  4. “Ai Weiwei’s Blog,” P. 53

NoteWorthy Shows- November, 2016

Things are reaching a fever pitch in the Galleries as the year end approaches, with nary a Black Friday Gallery sale in sight, allowing me to sleep in this year. Still, there was plenty to see and be Thankful for, along with the usual smattering of turkeys, but let’s get right to dessert, shall we? As in October, here’s my list, in no particular order, of what I found NoteWorthy in November. Once again, each one of these deserves a longer, in depth piece that I’m not going to have time to do, but I would be remiss in not mentioning them at all. November, also, marked the end of the world as we know it, so…

The world looks different…Brian Dettmer’s “Western Civilizations 3,” 2016. A “Book Sculpture.” More below.

“Faberge from the Matilda Geddings Gray Foundation Collection” @ The Met- Will the artist in modern history who is a greater craftsman than Carl Faberge please stand up and make yourself known to me? Thank you. While I’m waiting on that, this is the first show of the work of Faberge in New York since 2004. As small as one of the details on his timeless (and priceless) masterpieces, this show in a hallway at The Met is easy to miss (countless thousands do just that as they wait in line for the elevator to the roof, right in front of this very show). Ms Gray began collecting Faberge in 1933, when prices for his work were cheaper than they will ever be again. Money aside, Faberge combines the equally rare gifts of ingenuity, vision, craftsmanship and delight in works that are a century old but have lost none of their grace, beauty or charm. Scheduled to end on November 27, this show has been extended until 2021, giving you plenty of time to see it.

“Imperial Lillies of the Fields Basket,” 1896, Yellow & green gold, silver, nephrite, pearl, rose-cut diamond. This is considered THE most important Faberge piece in the USA. It was presented to the wife of Czar Nicholas at her visit to the Pan-Russian Exposition in 1896. This is only 7 1/2  x 8 1/2 inches!

“Imperial Napoleonic Egg,” 1912, gold, enamel, rose-cut diamond, platinum, ivory, gouache, velvet, silk. One of the infamous “Faberge Eggs,” this was presented by the Czar to his wife for Easter, 1912. Designed to commemorate the 100th Anniv of victory over Napoleon. This is 4 5/8 inches tall! The inside is solid gold, and holds…

a six-panel screen depicting paintings of six regiments she was an honorary colonel in.

Description in next photo. Click any photo in this Blog to see it larger.

“Imperial Caucasus Egg,” for Easter, 1893. This is 3 1/2 inches high!

Easy to miss, this is the whole show!

“Joan Mitchell: Drawing Into Painting” @ Cheim Reade- Yet another good sized show of an Abstract Expressionist, “second generation” this time, and the most renowned female (Lee Krasner may be gaining on her) AbEx painter, right down the street from the blockbuster “Mark Rothko: Dark Passage” Show, it makes the perfect before or after bookend to it. I owned a Joan Mitchell print until a few years ago, so I lived with the energy and lyricism her work is known for. Looking around, her work is in most major museums, though it’s been 12 years since an American museum gave her a show. So, it’s been left to Cheim & Read to fill the gaps, and they’ve mounted Joan Mitchell shows every two years, or so, going back to the late 1990’s. This one does make for fascinating pairing with the Rothko show- they couldn’t be more different, while sharing what the scholars call Abstract Expressionism, I’ve heard some of the Artists, including Philip Guston, say they prefer the term “New York School.”

“UNTITLED,” 1958, oil on canvas

“LA GRANDE VALLEE XVI POUR IVA,” 1983, oil on canvas

“UNTITLED,” 1982. oil on canvas

“Man Ray: Continued and Noticed” @ Francis Naumann- It’s been too long between Man Ray shows. Readers already know my fondness for Man Ray. Francis Naumann Gallery opened 15 years ago with a Man Ray show, so they revisited him for this anniversary show and they did it in style. Man Ray was so prolific, and so prolifically diverse he can be hard to “sum up” in a gallery show, but this one was an out and out winner, a must see, especially for anyone who thinks of Ray as “only” a ground breaking photographer. While featuring a wonderful selection of his photos, portraits and “Ray-o-grams,” it also included his drawing, painting, sculpture, writing, and even no less than 2 Ray designed chess sets.

“Paletteable,” 1969

The great Man (Ray). Self-Portrait, 1948. A card under speaks of his concerns in his early work- “1) a defiance of artistic convention replaced by steadfast commitment to absolute freedom in the arts.” That says it all.

…and seen again. “Autoportrait,” 1917/70, Screen print on plexiglass. Really? Hmmm…

…and again. “Self Portrait,” 1914

Yes, that’s one of the chess sets Man Ray designed to the left of the chair.

“Lampshade,” center, surrounded by an astounding range of creativity.

“Philip Guston: Laughter in the Dark, Drawings from 1971  & 1975” @ Hauser & Wirth- There was no more auspiciously timed show than this one which not only brings us the 73 drawings Philip Guston selected for his “Poor Richard” series but 100 additional drawings that didn’t make the cut and 3 wonderful paintings that are related or have relevance to them. Opening exactly 4 months after Hauser’s last Guston show, it would be very very hard to find work more different than those in seen in “Philip Guston Painter, 1957-67,” which I wrote about here, perhaps the “darkest” of his career, in many ways. Though the show’s title refers to the presence of “laughter” here, make no mistake it is more than tinged with darkness, especially because viewing them now, we know how things turned out for Nixon. These were dark times for the country, and many of these drawings were Guston’s “at the moment” reaction to unfolding events. Even before Watergate, the Nixon Presidency was not without a sizable opposition, for more reasons than the seemingly endless war in Vietnam. Everything about Nixon rubbed many people the wrong way, and provided a brilliant Artist ample fodder for “political satire” of the highest order. Most interestingly, for me, these are works in which Guston turns his focus outwards for, perhaps, the only time in his post 1940’s career. “Poor Richard” was published in 2001 and is still in print. You can see it here.

The 73 drawings that Guston selected for “Poor Richard” are shown, here (and below), together.

Title Page. Guston Depicts Nixon with VP Spiro Agnew (triangular skull), Attorney General John Mitchell (with his pipe) and Advisor Henry Kissenger (as glasses) as the cast of characters

Guston’s series begins with young Richard Nixon.

“Jeff Elrod: This Brutal World” @ Luhring Augustine- Chelsea & Brooklyn Galleries. It pains me not to write a longer piece on this. Jeff Elrod has been at the cusp of reinventing painting by combining digital drawing and computers with the end result of that stage outputted to canvas.where it may, or may not be combined with analog, old fashioned painting (at least those on display here). Dealing with blurriness from my recent eye treatment, my initial reaction was, “Hmmmm…If I close my right eye, my good eye, this is how the world looks to me these days.” But, I was drawn back repeatedly, even compelled to make the (unheard of for me) trip to Brooklyn to see the Bushwick segment of this show. In both locations, the effect was the same- I couldn’t get them out of my mind. They’re like something you see when you’re not really looking, or when you’re not fully awake after dreaming, or about to fall asleep…My initial reaction was “This looks easy to do on a computer. Take a photo, blur the heck out of part of it in Photoshop. Add a layer of a frenzied drawing and output to canvas. Then, I remember people say the same thing about Pollock and Rothko, yet no one else has done them. Some works remind me of passages of Monet, some of Yves Tanguay. But not really. They weren’t created like those were and so they don’t look like anything else. Mr. Elrod’s work commands some fancy prices. Ah well…They’re much too big for my place, anyways. If there’s a “cutting edge” in painting in 2016, Jeff Elrod’s work is the closest I’ve seen to being on it. I’m very much looking forward to seeing where this is going.

“Auto-Focus,” 2016 UV Ink on Canvas 9064 inches. Mystifyingly alluring.

“Rubber-Miro,” 2015 Acrylic and UV Ink on canvas. His uniquely shaped canvases give the work a different feel from most square/rectangular paintings.

“Rake-Adaptable,” 2016 UV Ink on FIscher canvas. The ghost of Robert Motherwell? “Haunting” is a word his work brings to my mind most often.

“Under The Skin,” 2016 UV Ink on canvas, 108 x 84 inches.

“Plume,” 2016 as seen in Bushwick, Brooklyn. 16 1/4 feet long by 9 1/2 feet tall.

After countless visits, I began to “see” “Jeff Elrods” everywhere I went. Like here-

Life Mirrors Art.

Honorable Mention- “Brian Dettmer: Dodo Data Dada” @ P.P.O.W. Mr. Dettmer creates “Book Sculptures,” something new to me. As far as I can tell, he takes a scalpel to a book, or books, and carves away all but what he wants to remain. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

“Funk and Wag,” 2016. As in, the whole encyclopedia.

“Ew Ass,” 2016

PostScript.- And meanwhile, over at Gagosian, Richard Serra’s MASSIVE “Every Which Way,” 2015, all 16 slabs of it was coming down, making way for the next show there…

Richard Serra, “Every Which Way,” 2015 @ Gagosian

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “It’s The End Of The World (As We Know It)” by Michael Stipe, Mike Mills, Peter Buck and Bill Berry of R.E.M. and published by Warner/Chappell Music, Inc and Universal Music Publishing Group, from their 1987 album “Document.”

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

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

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

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

Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NoteWorthy Shows-October, 2016

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

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

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

"Deluge Estimator," 2016, graphite on paper

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

Ethan Murrow (in orange shirt) at his opening.

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

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

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

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

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

And seen at the show's 2nd location.

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

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

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

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

Detail

Detail

"Wall Drawing #370" as seen at The Met

“Wall Drawing #370” as seen at The Met

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

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

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

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

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

dsc_8734pnh

Detail

Miguel- Source Photo

Miguel- Source Photo

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

Installation View

Installation View

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

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

dsc_8790pnh

Side view

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

dsc_9124pnh

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

"Ultimate Yello Brick," drawing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R.I.P- Storme de Laverie. Get home safe, my friend.
*- Soundtrack for this Post is “No One Knows About A Good Thing” by Curtis Mayfield and Daryl Simmons, from Mayfield’s album “New World Order,” and published by Warner- Tamerlane Publishing Corp.

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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Clearing Up My Glaucoma…And, A Major Mystery In Art History

1. The Treatment

“I’ve been through worse.”

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

Whatever “this” is.

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

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

Those are my kind of odds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hmmmm…

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

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

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

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

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

Art is in the beholding.

2. The Fog Lifts

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

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

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

“Michelangelo Laocoon”

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

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

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

img_2318pnh

img_2319pnh

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

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

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

That’s the shortlist.

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

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

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

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

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

Michelangelo. I believe Dr. Catterson is right.

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

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

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

ONward to Round 2!

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

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
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  1. You can see it exactly where I saw it, described by curator Luke Syson, who’s now at The Met, here.