Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1000 5th ave, and 82st Ellsworth Kelly: Plant Drawings. Through Sep 3rd.

I know this reproduction sucks. It's not indicative of the work. I assure you it's my fault, not the artist. This is a really good show.

Just in case you're not familiar with Ellsworth Kelly, he's one of the founding members of the minimalist movement, and is considered one of the great non-representational artists alive today (although just barely. He's got to be about 90 years old). He's known for his monochromatic, shaped canvases combined in diptych and triptych form. His work is what you think of when you think of minimalism. His name is that tightly aligned with the movement. One of the things that makes this show interesting is that here is one of the most well known non-representaional artists of our day making representational images. What's also interesting is that these drawings were not made prior to his flat, non-representational work, nor after them. They were made contemporaneously with them. In fact, the show stretches from the late 1940's up to present day. So, what we're seeing is how Kelly sees figurative images non-figuratively.

I have to admit that one problem I have with minimalism is it's sterile, self important aesthetic. It's a movement that can be distant, and utopian in a "get over yourself" kind of a way. I've felt that way with some of Kelly's non-representational paintings in the past, but I don't feel that way about these drawings. Maybe it's the subject matter, or maybe it's the inexact tremor within the hand that creates these drawings, but there's a humility and sincerity to this work that's very attractive. It may also just be a characteristic inherent to the medium of drawing. I don't know.

There's a sketchiness in the work from the 1940's and 50's which gives way to clean contour drawings in the 60's and after. We first start seeing this with his "seaweed" drawings, which are particularly striking. Now, as anyone who's ever taken a life drawing class will tell you, there are no outlines in nature. So, once you start drawing contour's you're engaging in an abstract thought process. Kelly, a master of abstract thinking, uses this in a particularly sophisticated way. The drawings are usually made with a graphite pencil, but the lines feel like they've been made with a lazer, dividing the paper into clean cool forms. He creates a tense dialogue of positive and negative shapes existing on both sides of the outline. This is most impressively seen in his large "Beanstalk" drawing in the last gallery. Kelly occasionally uses color (watercolor), but that's usually just to create silhouettes.

Why leaves, and vines, and flowers? Well, what's most apparent in this work, and it's relationship to his more known non-representational paintings is his appreciation of symmetry in nature, and it's more subtle asymmetry. Obviously there's a great history of visual artists being drawn to the nondiscoursive delicacy and purposefulness in natures humbler forms, but minimalists? Aren't they supposed to be driven by grander, more epic subjects than a floppy banana plant? Not Kelly. What I find most revealing about this small show is how he translates natures humble, intimate abstractions into large scale non-representational paintings. He was, in this way, following in the tradition of the impressionists. I know, you're thinking "Ellsworth Kelly? Impressionism? Yeah, sure Matt". But trust me, I'm right on this. If you make the chronological transition from Monet, to Gauguin, to Vuillard, to Mattise, you can see how Kelly falls into that Modernist sensibility. Believe me, he has much more in common with Monet and Cezanne than with Mondrian or Malevich. Or don't believe me, see it your self. It's up till September. Or, don't see it. Kelly's not for everyone. No skin off my ass. I'm just trying to help here. You can stay home and watch NASCAR, and eat beef jerky for all I care.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Matthew Marks Gallery. 522 West 22nd street. Terry Winters: Cricket Music, Tessellation Figures & Notebook. Through April 14th

Matthew Marks Gallery

Terry Winters first became popular in the 80's and early 90's by creating very elegant, painterly abstractions. I'm making a distinction between the term abstraction and non-representation, because
his paintings, while abstract, contained images of (or at least references to) things outside themselves. Usually he'd find inspiration in plant life, cell structure, and architectural forms like the geodesic dome. With most of this work it was difficult to determine what the images were representations of, but the drawing was always so specific that it was clear that the images had some representational source. I remember somewhere reading that Winters viewed painting as a means of creating hybrids of visual information.

Then, some time in the early 90's Winters changed styles. He did away with the organic colors and forms, and started painting these very graphic lines that would criss cross at tight angles. The lines would form structures, almost like he was making some very primitive architectural blueprint. His colors also became very garish, and deliberately ugly. Clearly he was challenging himself in order to avoid complacency. He was rebelling against the very things he made his name on, the things he was good at. While I admire his courage, and ambition in branching out like he did, I have to say I didn't much care for the paintings. I found them unresolved both aesthetically and conceptually, and I couldn't see where he was going with them.

Well, apparently this is where he was going. I'm told in the Press release that the term "Tessellation Figures" refer to the process of creating a two-dimensional plane through the repetition of a geometric shape. I guess the mathematical concept of knot theory also inspires some of the work. I have no idea what "Cricket Music" is. But, whatever the source, this is a stunning show. It consists of eleven paintings, nine of which are exactly the same size (76"x80"). The other two are slightly larger. The structure of the images are based on the grid, but are broken up into richly layered planes of light. The grids are warped, and overlap thus creating an asymmetry and an ambiguous sense of space. I couldn't help but think that they looked almost like someone had thrown a cinder block into a Rothko, thus shattering his giant silhouetted blocks of color, and turning them into broken shards flying through space. Those shards never completely leave the picture plane though. They look kind of like they're at a state where they haven't yet deciding what form to take once they reconfigure.

In spite of Winters early popularity he's always been seen as kind of a painters painter. I guess that's because he's always stayed true to that painterly non objectivist ideal, and even when the paintings weren't all that successful, he appeared to be very sincere in terms of process. It became very clear to me while I was looking at this work that if it wasn't for the Abstract Expressionist movement this kind of painting couldn't exist, but I was also acutely aware of why that movement was so important. The Abstract Expressionists, with their large scale, painterly, non objective, nonrepresentational canvases created a new and original identity for painting. A painting was no longer a picture, but an arena. An arena where activities, and interactions of color and form occur. What happened inside the framework of the canvas was not an image, but an event. The people who don't understand Abstract Expressionism do so because they never learned to adjust to this radical new way of seeing. They have my sympathy, because they truly do not know what they're missing. Winters is a virtuoso at this kind of painting.

Friday, October 14, 2011

MOMA. 11 West 53rd street William deKooning: A Retrospective, through Jan 9th

William deKooning: A Retrospective, through Jan 9th

I've been kind of busy of late and haven't had time to put up any posts, but I had to write something about this. Let me say ahead of time whatever I say won't be enough. This is a big show (comprising nearly 200 paintings, drawings, and sculpture) covering the seven decade career of a hugely important artist. If you care at all about painting, or more generally art, or even more generally visually interesting experiences then I can not urge you enough to see this show. It's always a good sign when you leave the museum feeling like someone gave you a shot of adrenaline. That's how I felt when I walked out of the MoMA.

There's a quote at the beginning of the exhibition by deKooning that reads something like (I'm paraphrasing) "I'm not interested in making a good painting, but in seeing how far I can take it". This deceptively simple statement really sets the tone for the exhibit. He's considered one of the two or three major figures of the Abstract Expressionist movement, and along with Jackson Pollock, is known for an improvisational "action painting" technique and, all over or non-hierarchtical compositions. The other thing he's known for is reacting against the ideals of non-representation by reintroducing the figure into his work. If this retrospective proves anything it should prove that this second part of his reputation is complete bullshit. He never reintroduce representation, because he never abandoned it in the first place. DeKooning never bought into the pure abstractionist ideals of the time, as the critics then would have you believe. He simply saw nonrepresentational form as a newer exciting vehicle that alongside representational form could expand his vocabulary as an artist. He embraced the contradiction between these kinds of imagery, which is one of the things that made his paintings so good. He never cared about theory, or ideology. Just painting, and damn could he ever paint.

In the first gallery we see the mark made on him by artists like de Chirico, Miró, Picasso, Mattise, and Mondrian in the 1920's and 30's. While their influence stayed with him throughout his career, they too were just tools for his ever evolving artistic repertoire. What's most visible are his amazing gifts as colorist and draftsman in these paintings and drawings . In the next gallery we see him abandon both those talents to create the black and white abstractions of the '40's that earned him his first significant recognition. Then, over the years he slowly reintroduced color back into the work.

A lot is made of his "women" paintings of the early 1950's, where the figure dissolves into the background and then reconfigures. Maybe it's because these most directly utilize traditionally recognizable imagery. One of the things I find most interesting about these works is that he seems to use the figure to describe the paint more so than the other way around. Personally I prefer the more landscape inspired "full arm sweep" action paintings of the late 50"s and early 60's. The speed of the huge house painters brush creates more pictorial dynamism than just about any modernist artwork I can think of. Some of the brushstrokes are larger than the viewers standing in front of them. No one ever made paintings like these before deKooning, and the painters that did it after him didn't do it nearly as well. Nearly 50 years later they're still powerful and exhilarating to look at.

The next couple of galleries show his work from the mid '60's through 1980 where he incorporates the figure into a landscape space. He uses a really slippery wet on wet technique that he also finds a way to utilize in his bronze sculpture. In them, the clay looks like it was so wet and slippery you wonder how he managed to cast it. The nebulous painterliness of these 2 and 3 dimensional works show the influence of artists like Soutine, but I couldn't help thinking of Rubens. That would be if Rubens were a 20th century abstractionist maybe he would have painted like this. I don't know if anyone else will see that, but I did. I know, it's a stretch but... whatever.

Then in the last couple of galleries are the late stripped down work from the mid and late 80's which I''m not too crazy about. I think they were more a product of his declining physical and mental health than any artistic choice. But, I couldn't help but feel that if someone had never heard of deKooning's work, and was walking through this exhibit seeing it for the first time, they must be thinking "Wow! Now what does he do next?" I think this is the result of a kind of enthusiastic artistic openness. When I was in art school I remember a professor talking about open and closed paintings. She said that paintings should always start open, and then slowly start to close down as they develop. Some paintings never close down all the way, because once a painting's closed it's hard to open it up again. DeKoonings work always stayed open. I think that this was so that if he decided he hadn't taken them as far as he could, he had a way to go back in, and take them further. Always wide open, like his mind.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Three Interesting Opportunities - Joanne Mattera

This reposted from Joanne Mattera's fantastic Blog. I thought this might be right for some of the artists we know.

Three Interesting Opportunities by Joanne Mattera

This blog is not usually a clearinghouse for exhibitions and opportunities for artists, but in the past week three interesting situations have presented themselves. Two are in galleries; one is sponsored by a paint company. What unites them is the ingenuity of the sort that artists have always exhibited in getting their work out into the world and, in the case of the two galleries, finding ways to secure funding in a difficult economic time. I'm not endorsing these projects (well, except for the third one, which I'm involved with), but I like that they put the key in a door that might otherwise have been locked. Ceres Gallery in Chelsea . 
Ceres Gallery
Ceres Gallery, a women's co-op gallery on 27th Street in Chelsea, has organized Exposure 2011, which it bills as "10 simultaneous exhibitions each week for five weeks." Yes, there's a fee, but it's low: $250--light years away from the predatory vanity gallery--and the artist retains all the proceeds from sales. Artists will be more involved than in a conventional exhibition (delivering, installing, deinstalling, promotion) but no gallery sitting is required. There does not seem to be a restriction by gender. Read more here. 

Project Gallery Miami in Wynwood

Projects Gallery Miami in Wynwood . Projects Gallery in Philadelphia and Miami, has come up with the "Square Foot" show, a way to financially support its gallery while giving artists a way to get their 'foot' into Miami during fair week in December. There's a $60 fee. The work will be shown at the gallery's exhibition space in Wynwood. Wondering about the fee? "It’s not about living off the backs of artists," write the owners (Helen Meyrick and Frank Hyder) in the gallery blog. "There’s much more work involved in this type of exhibition than a solo or dual exhibition. It’s about working together, as artists often do, to think outside the box and to keep things going no matter how tough the going gets." Read more here

For the eighth incarnation of this biennial, the exhibition will be a book. 
Encaustic Works 2011 is a juried exhibition in book form. Open to artists who work in wax and encaustic, it is the eighth in a series of biennial exhibitions sponsored by R&F Handmade Paints, an artist-owned-and-run company, located in Kingston, New York. This is the first time the biennial will take the form of a bound volume. I'm the juror. Entry to the competition is--wait for it--free! Approximately 18 artists will be selected, each given two two-page spreads. Submission is by digital entry. Read more here; access the call for entries here.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Gallerina Guide to the Fall Openings in Chelsea

This is a very cool and handy guide that Carolina Miranda at WNYC did for the gallery openings in Chelsea.  You can view it on a smart phone or download a PDF.  More information can be accessed at her Gallerina blog here.   Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mexican Revolution & Beyond Exhibition

Installation Photos of Mexican Revolution and Beyond
Mexican Revolution & Beyond
The Casasola Archive: 1900 - 1940

June 24 to July 23, 2011

Here are photos of a show that I curated at Taller Puertorriqueño.  The show closes on Saturday, July 23rd.  

Victor Agustin Casasola photographs chronicle the Mexican revolution from Porfirio Díaz to industrialization and modernism.   This is an amazing collection that should not be missed.  The show will be traveling next to Brownsville, Tx.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Deconstructing by the Deconstructed: Two videos from the hood

Thanks to for pointing me to these brilliant videos deconstructing art through speech and manners. I know the post is on the human figure in art but these two videos really got my attention. It is brilliant and worth watching. Art speak has been lampooned before, but never like this. Take a gander and let me know what you think.