“Donald Judd, Roy Lichtenstein, Kenneth Noland: A Dialogue” at Castelli Gallery

Art, Art in Review, Art Observed

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The Entablatures represent my response to Minimalism and the art of Donald Judd and Kenneth Noland. It’s my way of saying that the Greeks did repeated motifs very early on, and I am showing, in a humorous way, that Minimalism has a long history … It was essentially a way of making a Minimalist painting that has a Classical reference. – Roy Lichtenstein

Sometimes a show strikes a perfect balance between surprise and expectation, even more so when the works selected coincide so effortlessly that the artists seem presented anew. Castelli Gallery’s show, Donald Judd, Roy Lichtenstein, Kenneth Noland: A Dialogue, does exactly that.  Taking inspiration from a quote by Roy Lichtenstein on his Entablature paintings, the show examined each artist’s work at the intersections of the architectural and the purely aesthetic, the functional and the pictorial.

An “entablature” is an architectural element, found on classical building facades and frequently utilized in early twentieth-century American Beaux-Arts and Greco-Roman revival styles.  During the 1970’s, these designs became a point of fascination for Roy Lichtenstein, the subject of frequent wanderings through New York City to photograph these flourishes of detail on iconic buildings.  He was particularly inspired by the rectangular bands of moldings located above columns on urban structures, particularly in their representation of imperial power and, in a humorous way, the establishment entrenched in this minimal nomenclature.

Yet, in his signature practice of absorbing contradictions, Lichtenstein looked beyond the associations of the Neo-Classical ornamentation to create this series. For the artist, these wide horizontal paintings were a direct response to Minimalism, and the work of Judd and Noland.  Placing his works alongside Judd’s commanding wall reliefs and Noland’s transcendent color fields, Lichtenstein’s mixture of the two styles offered a clever contextualization, and a sly way to show that Minimalism, with its clean, repeating forms, “has a long history” rooted in Classical architecture.

Serving as a departure from his signature spotted, comic-inspired pop art from the early 1960s, the Entablatures accentuate Lichtenstein’s conceptual consistency. Like the Ben-Day dots of comic strips, they are reductive images that function in the symbolic realm.  Isolated from the associated context of its larger structure, each bas-relief becomes a mechanical reformulation of traditional landscape painting.

In a logical progression, the Entablatures develop Lichtenstein’s trademark style towards investigations of postmodernism as a form of repetition, appropriation, and parody.  The paintings explore the possibilities of new mediums, blurring the line between fine art and popular culture.  Most importantly, though, the Entablatures address the theoretical disparity between abstraction and serial pattern rampant in the twentieth century, with an unexpected allusion to his minimalist peers that this exhibition makes explicit.

The Minimalists’ main premise was that their ideas were a natural progression within the modernist genealogy, from which Lichtenstein regarded his own work. To Judd, the underlying element of his work was its relationship to the viewer and to the space it inhabits – from the confines of a gallery to the stretching deserts of Marfa, TX.  To Noland, paintings should transcend the viewer in a purely visual way, with striking compositions of abstract form suspended in pure saturated color and spatial tension.

The Entablatures see Lichtenstein taking a stab at both visions through his own brand of anonymous serialism.  The horizontal movement of repeated forms suggests an uninterrupted continuation of pattern, an ornamentation that extends to near infinitude beyond the pigment itself.  Furthermore, the composition alludes to the conventional divisions of landscape (ground and horizon lines), and lampoons the iconography of the industrial environment through a distinctly anti-human rendering.

Lichtenstein’s reduction of repetitive geometries recalls the additive sense of infinitude that emanates from a Judd relief, or a Noland color field, and similarly, sits stylistically between these washes of color and hard, sculptural lines.  A characteristic of Judd’s practice was his serial production of particular forms, with changes made only in materials or colors. He produced a number of horizontal “progressions” in different variations, including Untitled (1987), a tangerine-colored wall relief in the show composed of a series of rounded “bull-nose” fronts.

Similarly, Noland’s Half Way (1964) uses four nested chevrons draw the eye to the vertex on its square canvas.  This arrangement of lines and muted, warm colors automatically pulls the gaze to the left side of the canvas commanding the viewer to reprioritize their perception, a new, unstable yet unified form.  If Judd’s goal is to occupy the physical space it inhabits, then Noland’s is to engage the psychic space that is undeniably present when viewing his works.

In his case for minimalism, and the Classical nature of its serialism, Lichtenstein expands the Entablatures outwards from his trademark style of two-dimensional Pop Art.  He incorporates new, complex techniques of screen-printed and lithographed areas, variously colored metal foils, each embossed with architectural motifs, resulting in a play on the illusion of real architectural ornamentation, flat abstract pattern, graphic representations, and actual raised reliefs. The viewer is free to play with the vibrancy of the canvases and the resulting imaginations that ensue.

The exhibition implies a theoretical progression between the three artists, wherein theEntablatures serve as a commentary between the two acclaimed minimalists. Lichtenstein underscores serialism in Greco-Roman architecture through Pop Art techniques. The mutual factor of serialism is clearly stressed in Judd’s writings and sculpture, and gives the same sense of additive space, an infinite progression, that Judd’s reliefs deliver.  Similarly, Judd’s engagement with serialism places three-dimensional objects in space.  When studying them one is sure to experience a visually complex work, in which colors protract, surfaces reflect, and shadows cross upon the wall.

LeWitt Collection at the Drawing Center

Art in Review, Museum

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The Drawing Center in New York is currently presenting selections from the collection of Sol LeWitt, offering a glimpse into the creative inspirations of one of the Post-War era’s central figures.  Showcasing an array of memorabilia and art including Japanese woodblock prints, hand-colored tourist photographs, and letters from his contemporaries, the show traces a lifetime of intellectual exchange and exploration by the pioneer of minimalist and conceptual practice.

Considering The Drawing Center’s focus, the LeWitt Collection affords a germane depth of material, and a true feat for curators Claire Gilman and Béatrice Gross, who ultimately extracted some 120 works from LeWitt’s labyrinthine holdings. Over 60 artists including Mel Bochner, Robert and Sylvia Mangold, Hanne Darboven, Lawrence Weiner, and Jan Dibbets are on view – a group of likeminded progenitors who comprise only a fraction of LeWitt’s creative orbit.

Beyond the sheer magnitude of his treasures, the show presents LeWitt as a “natural-born collector”, as Gross describes, a point that remains central to his artistic evolution.  The oldest works delineate LeWitt’s penchant for reductivism, pursuing the “primacy of the idea” in making art.  Two lithograph plates from an 18th Century encyclopedia show a series of basic geometric shapes placed adjacent to a Georges Vantongerloo study on ‘Volume Relations’. Together, they present the rudimentary elements to the LeWitt’s later conceptual systems.

Correlations within logical systems are a common thread in the otherwise sporadic nature of the LeWitt collection.  Ruth Vollmer’s geometric anomalies and Jackie Ferrera’s Masonite pyramids, for example, appear as slatted foretastes to LeWitt’s Münster pyramid (1970), a work that teetered between construction and deconstruction.  An interplay of influence emerges like a question posed with each tableau: Did LeWitt gravitate towards these works as a reflection of his creative force, or as a propellant to those conceptually-inclined of the ‘60s and ‘70s? Conversely, was LeWitt merely a spectator of sorts, acting on the discovery of these works as the inspiration for his own linear realizations?  Throughout, these concepts intermingle, leaving an indication of LeWitt’s inspirations overlapping with his treasured artifacts: to collect was to create.

Perhaps in a salute of admiration, or as a relic of his inspiration, LeWitt also collected scores by Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, and John Cage, composers equally compelled by a profound rejection of complexity, and whose work finds an echo of determinism in LeWitt’s wall drawings, becoming, each time finding their point of vitality in the response to and re-enervation of the artist’s instructions.  He saw an affinity between his practice and theirs, using repetition and variation within a self-imposed system.  He likened his Wall Drawings to musical scores, as they consist solely of written instructions and diagrams for others to execute, and are realized anew each time they are played, open to varying forms and reverberations just as a score is dependent upon musician reading notes.

For an artist whose work was virtually absent of color until the mid-80s, LeWitt’s collection features a considerable number of colorful works, often using the same sense of objectivity that defined his own approach, a momentary variation within established systems.  Pat Steir and Robert Mangoldexemplify this distinction, using color in a restrained aestheticism to accentuate curvilinear, abstract forms. Steir’s Drawing Lesson (1978), repeats a sequence of squares in alternating hues, while Mangold interprets the “frame” in his Four Color Frame Painting (1985), where his characteristic economy of color, gesture, and shape outline an oval of white. These considerations resonate in LeWitt’s Blue over Color with Color Edges (1992), where dark layers of gouache feel more investigative of formal issues than an expressive detail.

LeWitt’s works are also memorials. Eva Hesse’s post-Minimalist, biomorphic forms and sculptures were reinstated, after the tragedy of her death, through LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #46 of 1970.  They are, true to title, “not straight, not touching, uniformly dispersed with density covering the entire surface of the wall.” Hesse’s parallels to LeWitt, and other contemporaries, make this a logical progression. Her numerical processes dematerialized visual work into a reproducible idea, a watershed tenant of late ‘60s conceptualism. He carries forth the ideas of his contemporaries into his own work.

The constructive and cognitive process in LeWitt’s work was a precursor to a sweeping conceptual analogue. The materialist and thematization processes of Hesse, Bruce Nauman, and Mel Bochner, all featured in the show, stem from his modes of thought.  LeWitt’s interest in serial logic, however, marks a divergence with those whose examinations would use objects to illustrate concepts themselves, often using the most basic and quotidian of materials, particularly in Sylvia Plimack Mangold’s ruler paintings.

Plimack Mangold’s 1976 “Falcon Ruler” watercolor is tellingly placed next to Bochner’s Measurement Series (1968-69), in which he draws a line at eye-level, used to measure a sheet of graph paper. These works suggest that measurement is an empty signifier, a wink at Wittgenstein that challenges the line between seeing and knowing?  Rulers and measurements, tools for spatial demarcation, juxtapose representational codes and expose a purely serial logic. This suggests the act of seeing has no other meaning than what is measured, what is known to be fact. As in LeWitt’s plans, diagrams, and instructions, the notion of human choice is deferred, and subjectivity becomes arbitrary, wavering in surplus. In displaying an ordered series of objects as standards of a personal but highly logical system of variations, LeWitt demonstrates that reality can manifest itself in a theoretically infinite number of ways.

Then there are the artist’s epistolary tokens, postcards that LeWitt sent or received invite the viewer to linger and appreciate his contemporaries’ predilection for visual puzzles. They are “written” in formations and grids, rows, directions, and serial salutations, each a spiral of numbers, dates, and letters that go beyond standard notation. Highlights include four identical postcards from On Kawara sent in sequential dates (October 19-22, 1973) from his I Got Up (1968-79) series, while a postcard from Alighiero Boetti consists of letters that spell “Order and Disorder,” scrambled in a square formation (1984). There are also the many hand-embellished cards signed “Sol,” a signature that is redundant next to the signature grids and shapes drawn onto them. An understanding of how large, yet equally intimate, the LeWitt Collection really is becomes palpable through these letters.

The piece that holds the most seminal value to those who know LeWitt’s work is his Wall Drawing (Scribble) (2007), placed anachronistically at the start of the show. Irrespective of its stunning quality (it resembles a beam of light in the darkness), the drawing is impressive for the number of artists it represents, those working to realize the piece’s somewhat loose instructions.  The minimalist tenet to his works, a note of subtraction, is toppled by the many hands underlying the work.  His works are echoes and harbingers of even the faintest straits of thought and ideation around him. This work embodies the most compelling aspect of the show, his collection, and his art: its function and position within a community of ideas.

– Quincy Childs

NEW YORK – BERNARD FRIZE: “DAWN COMES UP SO YOUNG” AT GALERIE PERROTIN THROUGH JUNE 18TH, 2016

Art, Art in Review, Art Observed

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The work of Bernard Frize is something of a painterly exercise in contradictions, playing with sensations of an endless void against dualities of hindrance and motion, creating complex dialogues over the surface of the canvas.  Lustrous veils of color plunge to the edge of the frame, highlighting its periphery in a vibrant glow. Voluminous swirls and blends of color challenge the often opaque surfaces with deeper dimensions, hints of infinite planes of white or black beneath its surface, that offer his pieces a sense of weight and depth far beyond their material capacities.

Frize’s work is currently the subject of an exhibition at Galerie Perrotin, the first New York show with the gallery for the artist, furthering the esteem that Frize has already earned from the European art world.  Making the most of this platform, his newest sixteen paintings recall earlier works of his from the 1990’s, four of which are on display here.  Ubos, Udon, Upir, andUitr resemble seismographs, or ancient Chinese landscapes “[that] open up to a kind of illusionist aberration, and then quickly fall apart,according to the artist.  Akin to poetic figurations in material and technique, Frize’s new work sees the artist mixing synthetic resin with fluid acrylics, tilting the canvas slightly so that the colors run down the surface in thick stripes, allowing chance to make its mark on each piece.

Yet the similarities between the new and old paintings stop there. The new compositions are vastly different in their ability to distill an experience that is purely visual. Any hint of figuration is absent, pushing an ineffable, visual impact that is felt rather than explored.  Frize acknowledged this situation presciently through this particular sense of paradox in 1993 (around the time he made the four works) telling Artforum: “the figurative pieces I’ve done are even more ambiguous than the abstract ones.”  The early works function like a mirage, Frize suggested,just as [they] are not unconnected to the place from where they are seen, nor the place they dematerialize.”

The new works, on the other hand, provide keys to an underlying deliberation in the paintings, in which the extemporaneous use of color and free-wheeling orchestrations distinguish themselves by each decisive adjustment of design.  Radiant flushes of color swarm and coalesce in an ecstatic flurry, radiating out from the surface in their deep hues and shades, occupying a pictorial realm that floats between abstract and representational imagery, as if viewing their subjects through a rippling, twisting medium.

Yet while the fluid, amorphous forms may seem to be made ad libitum, Frize is still an exacting artist, and each paintings’ trajectory unfurls as his paint pours across its surface, reflecting the subtle manipulations of the canvas.  In this way, Frize employs highly refined techniques in conjunction with a limited element of chance, rendering the picture as a transparent record of the process used to create it.  They are executed quickly, some in under ten minutes, yet their complex patterns and movements almost require more time to view and understand, continuing his paradoxical relation to his work.

Even his approach to color is perplexing.  Whereas his style recalls Color Field painters like Morris Louis or Helen Frakenthaler, for whom color was the very subject of their paintings, Frize has described colors as “immaterial,” claiming not to consider aesthetic decisions over factors like speed, experimentation, or chance. Asked if he envisions a color scheme before he paints, Frize answered, “I don’t compose. It’s chance that decides.” The only time he chooses color is to systematize: “I change colors when I change lines… it’s automatic.” A dance between material and composition, his paint is alive in a rupturing of the line between chance and order.

Through a choice selection of works, the exhibition traces the evolution of Frieze’s iconoclastic style, using a small collection of works to reflect his paintings as statements of radical, instantaneous transformation, of “emerging and collapsing,” through the power of hidden processes.  It is a striking prospect, and one that pervades the work on view.

Frize’s show closes June 18th.

— Quincy Childs

Ulay and Jaša Perform in Redhook

Art in Review, Performance Art

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A site-specific installation and performance series by Slovenian artist Jaša and German artist Ulay Cutting Through the Clouds of Myth/Watermark is shrouded in mystery. Curated by Mitra Khorasheh and presented by WE.ARE Institute at Kustera Projects Red Hook, the “founding father of performance art”  engages in a one-time only performance with Jaša, paving the way for this promising talent to make his mark.

Ulay and Jaša are on radically different playing fields in the realm of performance art. Ulay has made a name for himself through years of subversive performance, exploring the limits of body and soul, and in recent years, by spreading awareness about environmental issues, chiefly that of water. In contrast, as if a skipping stone over the abyss of Ulay’s career, Jaša is only beginning to make his splash. He has rippled through Eastern Europe as one of Slovenia’s most critically acclaimed artists, marking his signature gravitas in experiential performance at the 2015 Venice Biennial for his country’s pavilion. His art is one that fuses poetic sensationalism with a politicized presence.

The artists came together over mutual struggles; through a single conversation, they found solace in their quest for a patrilineal connection, visceral communication, and the communal experience of performance art. In Cutting Through The Clouds of Myth / Watermark, their differences dissipate into an artistic simpatico that resonated, even if mistily, through the crowd. Through a cloud of silence, anticipation, and orchestrated uncertainty (on behalf of Khorasheh’s understated press coordination), the audience was able to absorb precisely that which Ulay and Jaša, in that moment, wanted to give.

Ulay arrived in a pristine limo to a coiling crowd of murmurs. He had one act: Weaving through a line of people holding umbrellas, he entered the glass facade of the gallery space and, facing the crowd with an inward gaze, etched the words “SOME CAN’T OTHERS DON’T.”

He retraced these letters, almost meditating their meaning and process of conception, like tracing a pool of water to create a ripple of resonance in the onlookers. This act ran a course of twenty minutes. As Ulay distinguished, this was not a collaboration, it was a cooperation; he entered Jasa’s performance space and imbued his intentions with improvisation.

Once completed, Ulay departed momentarily in a hushed  exit. The limo seemed excessive yet perfectly austere, in a humorous way that Ulay intended. It placed him on a pedestal from the outset that he ultimately subverted, diminishing the vehicle’s pontifical image to something parvenu, in communicating to the audience. His statement was beneath it all, a labile contribution to the greater nebulous of Jaša’s installation.

Khorasheh relays that his performance concerns aging and inability. Its brevity the result of  age — how time sets physical limits on an artist’s capacity to endure durational performances. After all, Ulay is remembered for the graphic extremities his performances entailed. This invokes yet another duality between the two artists, “the young and emerging versus the old and established.” What’s more, scratching the window belied Ulay’s view on art itself, that without a message art is “Aesthetics without Ethics are Cosmetics.” He is what he terms an “artivist”, an activist-artist who literally scratches the surface of a deeper message.

Naturally, then, Jaša’s performances concerned more the roots of physical process and repetition. His continuity is reflective of his linear perception of time. “As a man stepped into a crowded room…” The artist’s voice pierces the ambient sounds coming from the overhead speakers. This marks the commencement of the first performance.

Manic actions and cacophonous laughter shatter the pregnant ambiance within the space while a light goes on and off in tandem with overlapping words. “I have a father.” Jaša’s electronic and classical music interrupt the poetically vague narration. “Do we talk? Rarely.” The performance is live, tangential, and volatile. So much so that no two audience members will have the same experience. Jaša’s grating voice unveils new words each day as performing elements accumulate and break away. “Maybe we should just fight and get it over with.” Like a caretaker he moves around the space writing things on the floor, washing them away, and changing a bucket that fills with dripping water.

The words and actions seem arbitrary but charged are with the same intimate tension. What the audience is really witnessing is an inner, private network of thoughts. A sense of intrusion is omnipresent. Yet the collective response of the audience is what drives Jaša, making the spectator an active participant in the evolving thought process.

Always relevant and always moving, Jaša mirrors Ulay; the artists invoke the present in their work and crystallize the often escapable, oscillating meaning of contemporarian thought. In their joint performance, this ability to penetrate the attention of the audience, to bring everyone together in a single moment, is clear cut and crystalline.  The artists strike the same chord and bound their identities in a moment of coexistence, a complicit clarity that cuts through a lifetime of cloudy identity between them.

– Quincy Childs

Fausto Melotti at Hauser Wirth, New York

Art in Review, Uncategorized

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A central figure in the history of twentieth-century art, Fausto Melotti’s body of work is revered throughout Europe, with critical successes, major exhibitions, and awards all conferred on his ambitious and stylistically diverse oeuvre.  Yet the artist’s catalog has long eluded American viewers, a point that Hauser and Wirth is seeking to change as it takes over representation of his work worldwide.  First presented at the gallery’s ADAA Art Show booth, Melotti’s work is on view at the gallery’s 69th Street exhibition space, exploring a practice that spanned sculpture, painting, ceramic, low reliefs, and works on paper, evoking the artist’s craftsmanship and inclinations towards “weightlessness,” and exploring his desire for geometric balances beyond mere figuration.

The Italian sculptor, installation artist, and poet, admired for his unique contribution to the development of mid-century European, and especially Italian, Modernism, defies categorization in a single medium.  Long embracing experimentations with plaster, ceramics, and metal, Melotti’s delicate handling of resources, most present in his sculptures, reflects the elegance of his thought.  An avid writer, Melotti often explored concepts of sculpture through text as “a matter of drawing in space with wire, mesh and thin sheets of metal,” where “space became a sculptural material just as basic as solid matter.”  He writes further, in 1935: “Greek architecture, Piero della Francesca’s painting, Bach’s music, rationalist architecture — these are all ‘exact’ arts.” His interests mostly aspired to the same musical principles: rhythm, harmony, and ‘counterpoint’.

The artist’s daughter Marta Melotti described the pianist-turned-artist’s ritualistic involvement of music in his work, which would not begin without first flooding his workspace with music that would play throughout. “He even composed!” she exclaimed at the press preview.  Exercising the finesse of a bricoleur, these inclinations lent his work a wealth of stylistic variations that, in addition to ceramic and metal staples, introduced painted fabric, flower petals, wire mesh, mirrored surfaces, and even lengthy strips of cassette tape. Each artwork resonates with an innate rhythm: lines of brass and gold, geometrical compositions of poured plaster and iron, and wisps of metal motifs embrace abstract art, poetry, and music in turn.  These orchestrations of form incorporate imaginative thought and more sturdy technical principles into a single vision, one where musical structures and geometries harmonize with reflections on the cosmos, Greek myth, or the “metaphorical lightness” of visual poetry.

During a speech made at the Rembrandt Prize, Milan, in 1973, Melotti reflected on this interest in “musical abstraction” of the figurative arts – “Slowly music has ensnared me, disciplining me with its laws, distractions and digressions in a balanced discourse,” he explained. Such musical undercurrents are evident in the harmonies and liaisons of his sculptures, which are titled after musical terms, such as Contrappunto XIII (Counterpoint XIII), Dissonanze armoniose (Harmonic Dissonances) and Tema e variazioni I (Theme and Variation I). This intangible component of visualized sound is key to Melotti’s craft, represented further in his gently suspended metal works, each grounded in metaphysical roots of order, rhythm, and proportions.

In pre-war Milan, Melotti worked among an artistic milieu, active as a contemporary with Gruppo 7, a circle of Rationalist architects including Gino Pollini, and a group of abstract artists associated with Galleria del Milione. During these years, his indelible abstractions marked his interest in music and architectonic forms. Melotti sprang from the industrial innovations of Italy with a sense of lightness that separated his art from the proto-fascist visions inherent to the somber classicism of the “Novecento” movement. His abstraction was vital to this process, likening it to geometry and independent from language.

Following the atrocities of World War II, Melotti’s work returned to the human figure as a means to fill a void in humanity. He felt compelled to “represent figures of desperation” through intimately scaled terracotta devils and ceramic sculptures.  The artist sought to dramatically expel the “collective existential demons” through the cathartic elements of Greek dramaturgy and inimitable symbolism, expressed in his proscenium-like miniature theaters, which he called teatrini.

One ceramic teatrino known as Le mani (The Hands) (1949) presents a scene in two acts: a pair of hands are suspended over a red mound, and the brass outline of a face on two rods recalls the sculptural facades of Joan Miró. The images are sparse but transcendent as if designed to coexist in both bare material realms and within the pictorial spaces of Melloti’s art.  Furtive, yet enigmatically romantic, Le mani engages the viewer in a poetic tension.   The narrative is arcane, perhaps absent entirely, but the mood is compelling beyond a rational scale – equally fictive and spiritual.

These teatrini, along with each of Melotti’s works, have been described as “memories of the soul,” rendering a universe in which allegory takes a seminal place in expression, where figures from myth and nature reside in ephemeral moments of becoming.  In a serial minimalism that anticipates the works of Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt, Melotti’s ethereal craft belies a complexity of subliminal weight.  His work has similarly been linked to the cage-like Surrealist constructions of Alberto Giacometti and the early scultura astratta series of Lucio Fontana, as each piece indicates a tensional, spatial mass within them. Beyond this, his work fuses various strains of 20th-century Italian art: the Futurist excitement for modernity, the metaphysical revelations of the Surrealists, and the material novelty of Arte Povera.

Melotti’s structures are remarkable for their fastened gravity in suspension. As curator Douglas Fogle opens in the show’s catalog, Melotti’s is “a story of weightlessness… a very human, metaphorical weightlessness generated by the almost immeasurable poetic vibrations emanating from the most sensitive manifestations of literary and sculptural form.” Beyond their lissome frames, his sculptures possess a spirit of buoyancy that friend and contemporary Italo Calvino so revered. As the author describes in his review of a Melotti exhibition in 1981, his lithe works in gold dissolve the “full-void”— a burden of weight “so heavy that it crushes the world.” This sense well summarizes the artists work, confronting a universal burden with creations that are “light and quick and subtle,” triumphing the void of life and the weight of existence with an effortless suspension of matter.

– Quincy Childs

 

Met Rooftop Commission: Cornelia Parker’s “PsychoBarn”

Art in Review, Installation

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Looming over the Metropolitan Museum, a red barn jolts the fabric of the Manhattan cityscape like a curious iconoclast. It is a vision from our subconscious, an iconic vernacular, a thing of dreams – nightmares, more likely. Hollywood connoisseurs will instantly wonder by what sorcery the Bates’ residence could appear in the least likely of places. Others will believe they are hallucinating, that the apparition on the roof is a portent of gloom, or that their oneiric order has taken over, plunging them into an inexplicable reality. And some will simply assume, most likely, that this is yet another peculiar and useless form of conceptual art – a work for which there is no apparent reason but nevertheless, makes one feel something. Therein lies the “use” of such a structure.

The grim edifice is 30 feet high, crimson red and of a Second Empire style, fit with a faux mansard roof and an oculus window that peers ominously down at those who gaze. It is, as artist Cornelia Parker titles it, a transitional object, or something ordinary that becomes “compelling and extraordinary” through a code of visual and verbal allusions. Pediatrician and psychoanalyst David Winnicott first used the term in 1951, referring to the stage in a child’s development when he or she begins to feel separate in mind and body from the mother. The child is able to negotiate this traumatic truth by clinging onto a second, transitional object, such as a familiar toy or blanket. Parker first cited this phenomenon in her Transitional Objects I and II (2008), which she made shortly after the death of her parents. These works assume the role of an empty shelter – like children, we use objects to support ourselves in difficult times and use the material world “as an absorber and carrier of emotional and cultural repositories.”

The ghostly replica of Hitchcock’s Psycho farmhouse, indicated by the sub-titularPsychoBarn, triggers cultural metaphors and personal associations. It flickers between the physical reality of a barn and the cinematic fiction of the house, made doubly strange by its sheer “unreality” of placement. Sharing the home of Leytonstone, London with Alfred Hitchcock, an iconic British import to American cinema, there was no doubt in Parker’s mind of the personal and shared connotations this project would manifest. Extending the psychoanalytic idea of a transitional object, the house embodies a host of psychological complexities concerning the film’s mother figure, the murderous Mrs. Norma Bates. The notion of safe, nurturing domesticity is subverted to the horrors that went on in the film, rendering the symbol of a Dutch red barn antagonistic to original subtexts. The intended effect is a visual juxtaposition she describes as both comforting and malign, “an object that oscillates between two poles.”

Beyond the infamous horror-house, Transitional Object: PsychoBarn fits into Edward Hopper vernacular, notably his painting House on the Railroad (1925). Hopper’s style corresponds with a central tenant in Parker’s œuvre: the power of visual art to trigger a complex emotional response. Both artists share the notion that an artwork, with a carefully constructed composition and lack of narrative, can possess a universal quality that transcends any particular locale. Where a style of architecture exemplifies a particular historical period, it embodies a timeless common depth of feeling. PsychoBarn, in this regard, becomes a carrier of cultural meaning.

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Artist Cornelia Parker at the press preview.

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The image of a red farmhouse that inspired Parker preceded Hopper’s visual trademark. She too was inspired by the old Americana, as she wished to bring “the rural idyll to New York.” PyschoBarn is the architectural emblem of the New World: a Dutch red barn. (It is no coincidence that this barn dapples the skyline of a city once known as New Amsterdam.) Like architectural poppies, red barns dot the American countryside with flashes of scarlet, originally symbols of hope to our ingenious colonial forebears. “Early European settlers brought the red barn… [It has] evolved on American soil to become a symbol of everything that is wholesome and good,” explains Parker, who went to the source for this project. She assembled the structure with materials from a dilapidated red barn in upstate New York.

Referencing the history of the symbol, Parker reflects how the project continues the cycle of construction. By reusing its wooden slats, shabby window frames, and corrugated metal roof tiles, she constructed the façade of one symbolic building out of the material of another. Coalescing a subversive range of inferences, simultaneously recalling tranquil home life, rural nostalgia, and vindictive horror whilst pulling from the authenticity of the countryside to the artifice of a film set, the installation expresses Parker’s ability to transform clichés to beguile both eye and mind. By placing the red barn on the top of the Metropolitan Museum, the symbolic value of the work expresses the tension between the rural and the urban, and becomes a familiar truism in and of itself. PsychoBarn adds to the multilayered associations of not only its own vernacular but the place it inhabits: the iconic New York skyline. Together, these two pieces coincide in an illogical union, and the image of each extends the personal narratives and associations of all who visit.Transitional Object: PsychoBarn will be on display through October 31st.

“A Strange New Beauty”: Edgar Degas at the MoMA

Art in Review, Museum

“Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty,” at the Museum of Modern Art, presents a little-known aspect of this protean master: his unsung, strikingly innovative monotypes. As they occupy a strange, almost phantasmal territory between painting and printmaking, Degas’ monotypes show a marvel of economy where welters of dark smudges and smears somehow cohere into graceful portraits. 

The exhibition assembles about 120 monotypes and 60 related prints, drawings, pastels, and paintings, each its own flash into the richly theatrical scenes of Degas’ Paris. Despite the various media, his works have one common thread: they are each multilayered and reworked, palpable examinations into the process of creation. This essentia reveals Degas, by definition, as a true modernist painter of the 19th Century. (A groundbreaking title to give to a recognized founder of the Impressionist movement.)

‘Getting into Bed’ (‘Le Coucher’) c. 1880-85, Monotype on paper.

Look closely at the detail cropping and you can see his fingerprints! This is evidence of a tension at the heart of the monotype process: while a monotype is made by transferring a drawing on a metal plate by mechanical means – establishing a distance between creation and result – the visible fingerprints are a reminder of the artist’s hand, the role of touch in the work’s making.

With their often severe visual style and casual use of graphic nudity, they seem to lack the ‘quasi-religious and chaste’ quality that, for Pierre-Auguste Renoir, set Degas’ prostitutes apart from those of other contemporary artists; indeed Degas’ brother René allegedly destroyed another seventy monotypes upon the artist’s death as he found the content obscene. Beyond their graphic character, however, the monotypes contain many of Degas’ artistic trademarks, opening them to interpretation both as erotic fantasies and as studies in tonal contrast whose controversial content is incidental to their stylistic ingenuity. In the monotypes, subject matter and qualities of execution refuse to align: privilege the other and they look very much like artistic expression.” They were truly, as Degas’ close friend and contemporary poet Stephane Mallarmé described them, “a strange new beauty.”

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Degas uses pastel sparingly here. Affording the metal base its full artistic merit as a source of contrast, he delicately illuminates the dancer from below. Black striations of wiped ink render the tulle skirt and paper in the bouquet starkly gestural.The bright footlights above the orchestra accentuate her dainty features and movement as she takes her final bow. This moment, frozen on his monotype, is an instantaneous snippet with an enduring quality, owing to the patience of Degas’ intense meditation. It would seem that, at the very least, Degas gave a scribbling ovation that night.


His works are at once familiar, even oneiric in atmosphere. The pure spontaneity of the ‘eau-forte mobile’ printing was to Degas redolent of drawing, as it proposed the process as the product. Degas created these tirelessly, and clearly with a painterly finesse rather than the mechanical hand of a printmaker. From a scratched canvas to denote a chignon to the zaftig silhouettes and colorful soirées he dappled in pastel, we see the inimitable, bawdy, theatrical, and ultimately timeless beauty of late-19th Century Paris through his eyes.

Through July 24th.

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‘Les Fleurs du Mal’ at Nahmad Contemporary

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‘Les Fleurs du Mal’ at Nahmad Contemporary, New York, reveals the common threads between the 19th Century Symbolist Gustave Moreau and art today. Evinced by modern masters, the show goes through the evolution of Modernism and contextualizes the present with works by contemporary artists who inspire and expand its path today.


An avid writer, Moreau often wrote rapturously on the process of painting: “The artist becomes sublime: he forgets nature in its physical and vulgar manifestations and gives himself up to the manifestation of dream and the immaterial.”

 

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Michael Heizer for the Whitney Museum’s ‘Open Plan’ Installment

Art in Review, Installation, Museum, Uncategorized

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A seasoned land artist since the 1960s, Michael Heizer finds, excavates, and creates large-scale forms in nature. The Whitney Museum has brought his cavernous, 100-foot wide ‘Munich Depression’ (1969) to the gallery space by way of Heizer’s photographs. As one gazes at the 360-degree panorama, Hezeir’s description of the experience, how the horizon dissipated and the depression seemed endless, becomes palpable: “There is no beginning. There is no edge… It was evanescant.” Finally, in photographing the land, Heizer’s photograph becomes an independent work that underlines the discrepancy between real space and its photographic reproduction. Through April 10th.

Art Basel Hong Kong and its clout in the Art Market

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Between 239 galleries, nightly satellite events, and VIP lounges, Art Basel has made the city of Hong Kong one of Asia’s largest playgrounds in contemporary art. Having established itself as the absolute highlight for art in Asia, the city is not just a punctual phenomenon. The market is a growing magnet for collectors from Asia and beyond; over the years, global players from the West have certainly caught on. With names like Gagosian, White Cube, Sundaram Tagore and Lehmann Maupin opening large outposts in the city, the energy of Art Basel Hong Kong is exceptionally multilayered.

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Owing to the fair’s rigorous selection process, and internationally acclaimed array of galleries, the work is by very definition world-class. According to the Almine Rech booth, the fair has progressed on this trend. The level of presentation in this year’s fair was of a “higher quality with more interesting art,” which shows a growing precision of taste and knowledge of art in Asia. The contemporary market there is becoming more professional and structured, an evolution represented in the fair.

One gallerist had a very insightful take on this cultural metamorphosis. Pascal de Sarthe, who owns one of the leading galleries in Asia, De Sarthe Gallery, discovered talent ahead of the market. He relocated to Hong Kong in 2010 after bringing global attention to the works of the Chinese painters in Paris, such as Zao Wou-ki, Chu Teh Chun T’ang Haywen, and Chen Zhen.  His gallery, now based in Hong Kong and Beijing, represents a new generation of Chinese contemporary artists, including Lin Jingjing, Ma Sibo, Wang Guofeng, Wang Xin and Zhou Wendou.
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“Opening of a Closed Center,” Chen Zhen Del Sarthe Gallery. Photo: Quincy ChildsAs Pascal has studied and pioneered the Asian art market firsthand, his perspective on the fair’s progress over its four years was particularly invaluable.  He echoed the same tune as many attendees: the market is maturing quickly, a pace reflected in the speed of sales. “It is competitive,” he said. “People are contemplative, they want to think things through, but often times they come back [to our booth] the next morning and the work is already sold.” Moreover, Pascal elucidated an apparent trend in Chinese buyers’ interest in modern masters. “They instantly gravitate to our works by the likes of Míro and Calder.” Shown at his booth, he points to them. “They respond to works with art historical value and are very fast learners, with business relationships founded on knowledge and trust.”

As Pascal has studied and pioneered the Asian art market firsthand, his perspective on the fair’s progress over its four years was particularly invaluable.  He echoed the same tune as many attendees: the market is maturing quickly, a pace reflected in the speed of sales. “It is competitive,” he said. “People are contemplative, they want to think things through, but often times they come back [to our booth] the next morning and the work is already sold.” Moreover, Pascal elucidated an apparent trend in Chinese buyers’ interest in modern masters. “They instantly gravitate to our works by the likes of Míro and Calder.” Shown at his booth, he points to them. “They respond to works with art historical value and are very fast learners, with business relationships founded on knowledge and trust.”

He drew an interesting comparison to the contemporary Beijing art scene and the watershed New York School. “Hong Kong is the market place for Asian art and Beijing is the place for creation. I liken what is happening there to New York in the 1950’s.” A reveting time to be had, it would seem, to see such a rapid evolution unfold. It is as if these upcoming artists are rewriting art history and “subverting the supremacy of the Western art market.”

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Other gallerists I spoke to were not veterans in the Asian art scene per se, but having been either to Hong Kong art fairs in past years or this season marking their Asian debut, each gallery remarked on the same things: the contemplative pace and conversant interest of collectors and fairgoers alike. Director of Greene Naftali Gallery, Vera Alemani,  found the pace to be different than at other fairs. Based in New York, the gallery is habituated to a local collector base known for fast decision-making. “Here,” she evinced, gesturing to people meticulously filming the installation pieces at all angles and discussing, “people want to understand and learn about the works to make a knowledgeable decision. It’s natural; and it’s refreshing for us to see their curiosity and desire to learn.”

Galleries responded to the general pace of the fair in divergent ways. As director Andrew Silewicz of Sprüth Magers relayed, the interest was rather “inscrutable,” perhaps due to language and cultural barriers. Others saw this foreign element as an “opportunity,” so said ARNDT gallery (Singapore). They regaled it as a chance for those in greater Asia to “experience and learn about contemporary art from all over the world.” Director Kurt Mueller at David Kordansky Gallery (Los Angeles) also found the general response to his booth striking. “I am impressed with how the people respond to Western abstract art they have not heard of,” he said. “The Mary Weatherford piece, for example, was immediately popular to everyone, a response that was exciting to see.” And finally, Simon Devolder of Xavier Hufkensgallery reiterated what most other galleries expressed. He found the energy to be “exciting and emerging” with a collector base of a “genuine curiosity” and “commitment to understand” each work.

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“Basin Theology – EXOCANNIBALISM,” Sterling Ruby, Sprüth Magers Gallery. Photo: Quincy Childs

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