Met Rooftop Commission: Cornelia Parker’s “PsychoBarn”


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.

Artist Cornelia Parker at the press preview.


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

“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

‘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

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

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.


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.

“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.”


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.

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




Review of Art Basel in Hong Kong for Art Observed

Read the original here.

The opening hours of Art Basel Hong Kong have come and gone at the Hong Kong Convention Center this week, as the Asian art world descending on South China’s bustling metropolis for the first hours of high-profile sales. The fair saw strong international attendance during the VIP Vernissage, with Brooklyn Museum Director Anne Pasternak, Tracey Emin, Cai Guo Qiang, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Julia Peyton-Jones all spotted walking the aisles of the fair during its opening day, as were Mariko Mori, Hernan Bas, and Owen Wilson.

The pace was noticeably more cautious in the opening hours Tuesday, with the slowdown in the Asian market encouraging a more considered decision-making process for buyers, yet a marked pick-up in bidding for works defined the closing hours of the preview. “Asia isn’t China,” director Adeline Ooi said of the fair, indicating that while China’s economic slump had made some impact on the fair’s proceedings, the sheer depth of attendees from across the continent nevertheless continued Art Basel’s strong record in Hong Kong.

A particular interest in emerging Asian artists was also noticeable during the event, which gelled quite well with the concentration of Asian galleries growing ever more pronounced.  “The paintings seem to be the most popular here,” says Michael Werner’s Birte Kleemann, “and there is a notable local taste depending on the client. Japanese buyers tend to like other works than clients from China, Korea Thailand, etc. It’s an enjoyable learning experience all around, as we learn a lot from showing here as well.”

Hauser and Wirth had made good on its initial offerings, including a gnarled Louise Bourgeoisspider.  “We’ve noticed a change of focus this year toward quality masterpieces, which shows an increasing interest in the importance of the artist within art history, and a deep understanding to contextualize works in the art canon,” said Neil Wenman of Hauser & Wirth. “Sales have been more considered and we have had a great response to our curated presentation that has enabled us to engage with a different type of collector.”

David Zwirner also saw a strong booth, featuring a prominent selection of works by Michael Borremans.  The gallerysold five of them at prices from $250,000 to $1.6 million.  Dominique Lévywas also showing a strong booth, with works by Rudolf Stingel and Park Seo Bo. At Blum & Poe, the gallery sold a Julian Schnabel piece for $350,000, while Lehmann Maupin sold a selection of Do Ho Suh works in the range of $25,000 to $70,000, as well as one work priced at upwards of $150,000.

At Lisson Gallery, new work by Anish Kapoor was challenging viewers with its visceral simulations, joined by a Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg sculpture that sold for a price of €60,000, while Galerie Perrotin was playing to the home crowd, showing new works by Takashi Murakami at its booth.Skarstedt also had a strong sale for a George Condo at $400,000 later in the week.  “Asian collectors are very well informed about the art market and are eager to know the full history of the works we are showing,” Cardi Gallery’s Nathalie Brambilla said.  The gallery was presenting a series of works by Cy Twombly and Alighiero Boetti.

The fair closes on Saturday, March 26th.

Bertrand Lavier’s Walt Disney Series at Xavier Hufkens

Installation of Walt Disney Series, Bertrand Lavier. Photo: Xavier Hufkens
In his new show Walt Disney Series at Xavier Hufkens gallery in Brussels, Bertrand Lavier explores the fetish value of an artwork and the corresponding boundaries of appropriation. He engages the viewer in critical investigations through the fictional context of a Walt Disney comic from 1977, in which Mickey and Minnie Mouse visit a modern art gallery. Lavier noticed the paintings and sculptures on the comic strip resembled a familiar modernist style. The biomorphic abstraction sculptures, for example, distinctly recalled the work of Jean Arp and Henry Moore, a hazy correspondence of copying he found intriguing.

Lavier began to explore the process of mimicking by painting these large-scale, zoomed-in croppings of the artworks. The results are colorful, abstract snippets of both the artist’s imagination and the appropriated versions of fictional annexation. Within the show are eight punchy, 3-dimensional paintings, where the cartoons assume a magisterial painterly status. The cartoons are no longer Ben-Day dot picture stories, rather, repurposed in the gallery space, they become Lavier’s own works of contemporary art; through them he addresses notions of ownership, copying, transcription and innovation.

Lavier conducts a sweeping dialogue within the canvas. He salutes to Lichtenstein with an open frivolity, deriving his techniques from commercial printing to suggest consumerism and pop culture. Yet Lavier resounds his spontaneity through campy impasto and pithy, vibrant strokes. Through his mortared corners and heavy daubs of paint, his paintings reach into the realms of Abstract Expressionism. Motivated by a desire to record the action of painting itself, even an imitation can possess an element of ingenuity.
Installation of Walt Disney Series, Bertrand Lavier. Photo: Xavier Hufkens
Lavier delves further into illusion to ignite a question of perception, posed by a salient simplicity in abstract, sketched forms. Choosing to stress certain shapes in a minimalist manner, he foregoes mere reproduction and belies the complexity of his technique. Each canvas features numerous materials and methods, such as photography, laser-jet, and silk-screen printing—some also feature the very frame of the comic strip, as if a wink to Lavier’s sources. Thus in toying with his caricatural key and spontaneous abstract touches, he re-materializes the borrowed images and presents them as autonomous objects within a real gallery space.

Lavier views all of his art as a continuum of progress. He refers to every body of work as a chantier, or ‘building block.’ In this light, Walt Disney Productions is one of larger corpora—sequential bodies of works that evolve the scope of contemporary art. Therefore, his oeuvre functions as a creative tonic, a mechanism through which to deal with the ever-changing questions about the nature of art and the way it is both valued and displayed.

Another chantier in the show features three-dimensional objects covered in a thick layer of paint identical in color to the object itself. The cabinet, Camoudo, is a typical example of this process. Lavier copies even the brass details and wooden grain texture. Save for the heavily lathered paint, Lavier’s objects look exactly like the original—a ploy to engage the viewer in his own artistic searching for the boundaries between simulacra.
“Camoudo,” Bertrand Lavier. Photo: Xavier Hufkens
Lavier designates these works as renditions sur le motif, as in ‘the painting of objects’ or ‘what the eye actually sees’. He takes this 19th century artistic term to a literal extreme only to ironize it. By weighing such equivocal words and concepts, he upends their value and invites the viewer to join in his enquiry—in the case of this Camoudo, to explore the true nature of the cabinet as both an ordinary object and an artwork.

In recreating an equivalent viewing experience to that of Mickey and Minnie, he implies the manifold links between fact and fiction (wherein reality spurs from an ectype) and the fetishized representation of modern art in consumerist society. Through all of his chantiers, Lavier poses our understanding of artworks as constructs that we perceive and accept based on the fluctuating impressions of the time.


 Installation of Walt Disney Series, Bertrand Lavier. Photo: Xavier Hufkens
“Walt Disney Productions 1947-2015 No. 1,” Bertrand Lavier. Photo: Xavier Hufkens
Bertrand Lavier’s Walt Disney Series is on view at Xavier Hufkens Gallery through Feburary 20, 2016.