Friday, July 18, 2014

If you think you have seen enough Picassos...

you are wrong.

Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), Science and Charity, 1897,
oil on canvas, 77.6 x 98.2 in. (197 x 249.5 cm),
Museu Picasso, Barcelona
Photo:  WikiArt

Just when you think you have seen enough Picassos, the painter astounds.  Such was the case for this viewer on a recent trip to Barcelona.  

I assessed no need to return to the city's Museu Picasso since I had been there two or three times in the past.  However, the museum's lovely buildings enticed.  Five smartly connected grand townhouses built between the 13th and 15th centuries offer a spacious, relaxed venue to look at art.  I thought, just a few hours.  Two afternoons later, amazed by the artist's fecundity and youthful brilliance, I want to go back.  

The collection is made up of over 4,000 works - paintings, drawings, prints and ceramics. Renown for its comprehensive holdings from the Picasso's early (1890 - 1897) and training period (1897 - 1901), the museum also includes significant works from the artist's Blue Period (1901 - 1904), his 1917 residency in Barcelona, and the complete 1957 Las Meninas painting series.

Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), Portrait of Aunt Pepa,
June - July 1896, oil on canvas, 
22.6 x 19.9 in. (57.5 x 50.5 cm),
Museu Picasso, Barcelona

The pieces on view, installed chronologically with few exceptions, clearly show how Picasso's genius manifested at an exceptionally early age. The artist is said to have sketched before he could talk.  At seven he took lessons from his father, an academic painter and instructor.  By nine, he was making masterly works.

Paintings and drawings from the artist's teens are executed with a virtuosity that belie the artist's age.  Panels of small oil landscapes capture the light and essence of the countryside. Portraits are preternatural in their psychological penetration.

Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), Portrait of Aunt Pepa seated in an armchair,
 1895, graphite pencil on paper
4.7 x 3.2 in. (12 x 8.1 cm),
Museu Picasso, Barcelona

The image of  his paternal Aunt Pepa is a case in point.  Created when Picasso was fifteen, the portrait pulsates with life and imparts a powerful sense of the sitter's personality.  A year before, at age fourteen, the artist sketched his aunt seated in an armchair.  The drawing, from an 36-page album of sketches, like the subsequent painting, distinctly evokes the aunt's character.  

Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), First Communion, 1896,
oil on canvas, 65.4 x 46.5 in. (166 x 118 cm),
Museu Picasso, Barcelona
Photo:  WikiArt

First Communion and Science and Charity mark a turning point in Picasso's career.  Impressive in their narrative content, these works exhibit extraordinary technical skill and a sophisticated handling of composition and color.  The spectator is drawn into the scenes by compositional diagonals. Viewers become attendees at that which is taking place.  Colors have depth and richness.  In First Communion, the white of the communicant's dress  is filled with pale hues of blue, gold and pink.  Browns, blues, pinks, yellows and whites activate the walls of Science and Charity. The paintings are formidable achievements for an artist of any age; astounding for a teen of 15 and 16 years.  They brought the artist much acclaim.

Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), Las MeninasAugust 17, 1957,
oil on canvas, 76 in × 100 in. (194 × 260  cm),
Museu Picasso, Barcelona
Photo:  Wikipedia 

Although successful in the then popular realistic style, Picasso quickly abandoned it.  He wanted to pursue painting that was not done before. Again and again, he would abandon his achievements and seek something else, a new way of seeing.  This pursuit is particularly evident in the three galleries devoted to works from the artist's Las Meninas series.  Here are placed side by side studies completed in the same day and those done one day after the next.  

From August to December 1957, Picasso undertook a thorough analysis of Las Meninas, the seminal painting by the seventeenth-century artist Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez.*  

In 5 months, Picasso produced 58 works: 44 deal directly with the Velázquez's masterpiece; 9 involve representations of pigeons which the artist saw from his studio's window; 3 are landscapes; 1 is a portrait of his wife Jacqueline; and 1 is a painting predominated by a piano and its player (The Piano).

Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), Las Meninas, September 4, 1957,
oil on canvas, 18.1 x 14.8 in. (46 x 37.5 cm),
Museu Picasso, Barcelona
Photo:  WikiArt

Paintings in the series are hung in such a way Picasso's exploration of Velázquez's work becomes palpable.  On this writer's visit, an oil completed on September 18 was paired with one completed on September 19.  A painting from October 2 was next to one from October 3.  Beside each other were four paintings from October 24.  Six from November 17 formed a group on another wall.  Confronted with the artist's outpouring of creativity, viewing becomes an intoxicating experience.

Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), Las Meninas, November 15, 1957,
oil on canvas, 51.2 x 37.8 in. (130 x 96 cm),
The Museu Picasso also highlights an aspect of Picasso traditionally overlooked.  This is the artist's long-term friendship with Jaume Sabartés (1881 - 1968).  The museum's very existence may be attributed to this man.

Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), Blue portrait of Jaume Sabartés, 1901,
oil on canvas, 18.1 x 15.0 in. (46 x 38 cm),
Museu Picasso, Barcelona
Photo: Museu Picasso Web site 

Sabartés was an artist and writer of prose and poetry.  He met Picasso in 1899 and became part of the painter's artistic circle in Barcelona and later Paris.  Always an enthusiastic supporter of Picasso's work, he wrote about the artist's life and art. 

In 1935, he became Picasso's personal Secretary. Twenty-five years later, Sabartés initiated the founding of a museum devoted to Picasso. In 1963 the museum opened.  At the time, its holdings were primarily made up of Sabartés's personal Picasso collection.  In fact, the museum at first was named, the Sabartés Collection. 

From the year they met, throughout his life, Picasso drew, sketched and painted his friend.  A number of these portraits may be seen at the museum.  They attest to the closeness of the two men and reveal a Picasso who delights in the intimacy of a lasting, close relationship.

Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), Portrait of Jaume Sabartés and the actress Esther Williams, 
23 May 1957, colored grease pencils on magazine printed paper
14.0 x 10.4 in. (35.6 x 26.5 cm),

My experience of revisiting the Museu Picasso made me remember a viewing truth: when the opportunity presents itself to see works by a great artist, don't miss it.  

*See image below for reference.
Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez ( 1599-1660), 
Las Meninas1656, oil on canvas, 
125.2 × 108.7 in. (318 × 276  cm)
Photo:  Wikipedia

Monday, June 16, 2014

Catching the Shows You Want To See

Chaim Soutine (1893 - 1943), Plucked Goose, 1932 - 1933, 
oil on panel, 19 1/4 x 16 1/2 in.  (51.8 x 58.4 cm)
Private Collection. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.
Photo:  Paul Kasmin Gallery Web site

I almost missed the sixteen Chaim Soutine paintings at the Paul Kasmin Gallery in the exhibition "Life in Death: Still Lifes and Select Masterworks of Chaim Soutine." The show opened April 24 and ended June 14, 2014.  For whatever reasons, I was unaware of it until I read Karen Rosenberg's review in the Friday, June 5th printed edition of the New York Times.  

As often happens, I got around to reading Friday's paper on Sunday. This left me only five days to see the exhibit.  Commitments galore necessitated a run to the gallery mid-afternoon on Saturday, the show's closing day.  It was barely enough time to absorb Soutine's jam-packed, riveting artworks.  

The paintings were all from private collections.   With the exception of one or two, they were top-notch - painter's paintings.  It would have been a loss not to have seen them. 

Since New York is filled with hundreds of art galleries, museums and, it seems, a continuous lineup of art fairs, the question arises how not to miss exhibitions that are important, interesting and meaningful to the viewer. Thus this blog post which is one art enthusiast's method for solving the problem.  Keep in mind, the remedy may fail as evidenced by the first paragraph. 

The approach is three-pronged.  First, regularly scan the arts section of periodicals in your normal purview.  An image, article or review may entice further exploration.  Make note of the show's location as well as opening and closing dates.  

Second, sign-up for online museum communications.  Museums send e-correspondences which anyone may subscribe to and they are free. These e-mails or e-newsletters supply updates on current and future exhibits in addition to lectures, talks, and a variety of programs and events.  

In general, subscribing is simple to carry out.  Having said this, the design or nomenclature of some Web sites can confuse.  In such cases, searching menus will lead to success.  The following offers a "how to" for some prominent and not so prominent but worthy institutions.  

Main Entrance of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 
Photo:  Wikipedia Web site © CC BY-SA 3.0

Start with the museums's home page.  Look for any link that may indicate a connection such as the words "e-mail updates" or "e-newsletter." The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) make it simple.  Clearly indicated on the top left hand corner of their respective home pages, is an area to sign up for e-mails (Metropolitan Museum) or e-news (MoMA).  You can also join MoMA's e-news by a hyperlink at the bottom of the home page entitled "E-News" in small gray print.  

The New Museum, New York
Photo:  Lucia P. 
Yelp Web site 

To subscribe to the New Museum's newsletter, on the bottom of the museum's home page click on "Follow-Us."  Once on the "Follow-Us" page, click on "SIGN UP NOW" and fill out the subscription form.  

As for the The Frick Collection,  place the cursor on the main menu's "Interact."  From the drop down menu that appears, click on "E-News."  Complete the "E-News" sign-up fields and you are done. 

For subscriptions to The Whitney Museum of American Art, place the cursor on the museum's home page main menu's "ABOUT."  Scroll down the drop down menu to "SUBSCRIBE" and click.  Key in your e-mail address and click on the rectangular box with the words "SIGN ME UP!"

Photo:  New York Magazine Web site 
Courtesy of the Museum of Biblical Art

Linkage to some lesser known museums may broaden your art horizons. The excellent Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA) is a case in point.  The main menu of this museum's home page is on the left hand side.  A click on "MOBIA FRIENDS" will lead to the "MOBIA Friends" page.  Here enter your e-mail address in the box provided then click on the small square box under your address. Complete the registration form and click on "Sign Up."  Subscribing also will get you a discount at the museum's shop and invites to special talks.  

Photo:  Hélène Binet 

The Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) may be unfamiliar but deserves attention.  This museum focuses on handmade objects in a variety of mediums.  Imaginative shows make viewers reconsider the artistry of so called crafts.  The link to join MAD's mailings is located at the bottom right of the home page.  Click on the "join our e-mail list" in small red letters.  Look close.  The link can easily be missed.  

Art gallery mailings are a third way to keep well-informed.  Almost every gallery has a guest book which visitors can sign, leave their comments and request to be placed on the mailing list.  Requests can also be made with the gallery's receptionist in person or by phone as well as by e-mail.  See the gallery's Web site for e-mail contact information.  

The limit to subscriptions is left to the reader.  Unsubscribe is always an option.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sense and Sensuousness

Houdon and Clodion 

Installation view  of 
Enlightenment and Beauty: 
Sculptures by Houdon and Clodion
 in the Frick Collection's Portico Gallery
with back view of 
Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828),
Young Lise in the Guise of Innocence, 1775, 
marble, 18 1/8 in. (46 cm),
Private Collection,
The Frick Collection, New York 
Photo: Michael Bodycomb

Twelve eighteenth-century sculptures are presently on view in the Frick Collection's Portico Gallery.  Half are in marble; the other half are terracottas.  Six are by Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828) and six are by Claude Michel called Clodion (1738-1814).    These illuminating works make up the aptly entitled exhibition, Enlightenment and Beauty: Sculptures by Houdon and Clodion

Installation view  of 
Enlightenment and Beauty: 
Sculptures by Houdon and Clodion
 in the Frick Collection's Portico Gallery
The Frick Collection, New York 
Photo: Michael Bodycomb

The Portico Gallery was inaugurated in 2011.  Created out of an open air loggia original to the mansion, the gallery was designed specifically to showcase decorative arts and sculpture. The space has a south-western orientation. Large glass panels on its south side let in abundant natural light.  Although plentiful light may be a problem for paintings, it is less so for sculpture and ceramics.  In the case of sculptures, diurnal light changes call attention to different aspects of works - certain features may be overlooked under different conditions. This is particularly true for the current exhibition - the third to take place in the Portico space.  Intense light discloses the transparency of thinly carved marble; shadiness brings out a sculpture's spatial quality and finely carved details.  Low light shows up surface patterns that brightness may obscure. Repeat visits reward viewers.

The show's year-long residency necessitates modifications. Notable pieces will rotate since private lenders did not want their artworks away for so long.  At present, only four sculptures in the Portico Gallery belong to the Frick; eight are on loan*.  This is a rare opportunity to study works by two sculptors intimately and side by side.

Houdon and Clodion were contemporaries who were students together in Paris and Rome. In Paris, both studied at the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture.  Clodion won the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1759; Houdon was so honored in 1761.  The prize was the result of an annual competition established by the French Royal Academy in the seventeenth century. Winners were given scholarships to a three-year program at the École des Élèves Protégés, an elite art school within the French Academy which was established to prepare Prix de Rome awardees for their three years of study at the French Academy in Rome. Houdon's and Clodion's attendance at the Paris art school overlapped as did their residencies in Rome where they had adjacent studios. Schooled in Greek and Roman culture and art with exposure to extensive collections of antiquities, the artists's education diverged on some salient points.

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828), Madame His
1775, marble,
 31 1/2 x 17 x 12 1/2 in. (80 x 43.2 x 31.8 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Victor Thaw, 2007
Photo: Michael Bodycomb

Houdon emphasized the direct studies of actual bodies - cadavers - developing a keen sense of lifelike realism.

Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738–1814),
The Cupid Seller (La marchande d’amours)
c. 1765–70, terracotta,
8 3/4 x 10 7/8 in. (22.2 x 27.6 cm)
Anonymous loan
Photo: Michael Bodycomb

Clodion looked to and was influenced by the Baroque master artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) and early Florentine sculptors such as Donatello (1386-1466) and Desiderio da Settignano (c. 1429-1464).

The artists were part of the Enlightenment Age and, as such, were surrounded by the zeitgeist of reason, individualism and progress through scientific methods. Although they both have been described as neoclassical or neo-baroque with Clodion also labeled as rococo, their work differed markedly.  To generalize (with much needed modifications), Houdon's art appeals prominentlly to reason, "sense" while sensuousness predominates Clodion's creations.  Viewing Houdon's art prompts the question, "How did he do it?"  Clodion's sculptures elicit the desire to touch and ask, "What is it about?"

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828), The Comtesse du Cayla
1777, marble, 21 1/4 in. (54 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York 
Photo: Michael Bodycomb

Houdon became renown for his portrait sculptures.  His technical proficiency rendered likenesses with astounding veracity.   Look at his Countess of Cayla with her mussed hair flying out behind her and sideward gaze. Although only a bust portrait, Houdon creates a sense of motion as if the Countess has just turned her head while moving quickly forward.

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828) Armand-Thomas Hue, Marquis de Miromesnil
1777, marble, 25 1/2 in. (64.8 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York, purchased 1935 
Photo: Michael Bodycomb

Even the artist's more subdued works convey a feeling of life - breath. Armand-Thomas Hue, Marquis de Miromesnil appears as a dignified magistrate defined by his facial characteristics as well as his costume of office.  The carving is spectacular - marble turns into cloth.  Note the well-formed wig, the outer robe's heaviness, the texture of the cossack with its delicate rounded buttons, and the taut sash along with its half hidden, multi-looped, large bow.

Looking up and down the Portico Gallery,  the Houdon's handling of hair and ribbon-like materials amazes.

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828), 
back view of Armand-Thomas Hue, Marquis de Miromesnil
1777, marble, 25 1/2 in. (64.8 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York, purchased 1935 
Photo:  The Frick Collection Web site 

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828), 
back view of Madame His
1775, marble,
 31 1/2 x 17 x 12 1/2 in. (80 x 43.2 x 31.8 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Victor Thaw, 2007
Photo: The Frick Collection Web site

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828),
Young Lise in the Guise of Innocence, 1775, 
marble, 18 1/8 in. (46 cm),
Private Collection,
The Frick Collection, New York 
Photo: The Frick Collection Web site

While Houdon's verisimilitude inspires awe, Clodion's carvings seduce.

Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738–1814), Zephyrus and Flora
1799, terracotta, 20 3/4 in. (52.7 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York
Photo: Michael Bodycomb

Specializing in small-scale, highly finished terra-cotta statuettes and reliefs, Clodion imbued his compositions with a liveliness and more than a touch of eroticism.  He excelled in the narrative, translating the antique into his own modern vision.

Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738–1814),
The Cupid Seller (La marchande d’amours)
c. 1765–70, marble,
10 7/8 x 11 3/4 in. (27.6 x 29.8 cm)
Private Collection
Photo:  The Frick Collection Web site

His The Cupid Seller (La marchande d’amours) relief, seen here in terra-cotta and marble, was based on a print of an ancient wall painting unearthed in the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum in the late 1750s.  The scene depicts a love or cupid vendor holding up a cupid for sale to a buyer accompanied by her attendant.  A cupid standing near the prospective buyer and another caged one indicate the different types of love available.  It is a playful, amusing scene which Clodion renders with composed gravity.  These are earlier works by Clodion. The terra-cotta was most likely done first. The composition then repeated at the request of a client in the more expensive marble.  They illustrate Clodion's proficiency in both mediums.

Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738–1814), side view of Zephyrus and Flora
1799, terracotta, 20 3/4 in. (52.7 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York
Photo: The Frick Collection Web site

The sculptor's interpretation of the Zephyrus and Flora myth represents the god of the west wind taking hold of the goddess of flowers with his right arm while crowning her with a wreath of roses with his left.  

Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738–1814), detail of Zephyrus and Flora
1799, terracotta, 20 3/4 in. (52.7 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York
Photo: Epoch Times Web site

Body to body, lips almost touching, the two lovers look into each others eyes. Three putti enhance the scene.  One winged child pushes Flora's left leg closer to Zephyrus as if hurrying their union.  Another holds up a basket of flowers which a third reaches into it with one hand while dropping flowers near the goddess with the other.  

The artist's free-standing works with their swirling or circular configuration invite viewing in the round.

Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738–1814) Three Graces
early 1770s, terra-cotta, 
20 1/2 in. (52.1 cm)
Private collection
Photo: Michael Bodycomb

Although Clodion's Three Graces was intended to provide a basin support, the piece needs no function.  The goddesses are sensual beauties.  They hold hands around a central column. Their graceful bodies unhidden by clinging cloth.  Each is distinguished by subtle changes in dress, hairstyle and pose.   Positions and decorative drapery impart a gentle rhythm, enlivening the architectonic pillar-like composition.  It is a sculpture that charms as do others in this beautiful show.**  Go see for yourself.  

*Jean-Antoine Houdon's Young Lise in the Guise of Innocence from a private collection is due to leave the show in June.  Confession: this viewer took a flashlight to Lise's thinly carved back bow.  When the flash was on, the marble became translucent.
**The Dance of Time:  Three Nymphs Supporting a Clock, 1788, terra-cotta, gilt brass, and glass, by Clodion and Jean-Baptiste Lepaute (1727-1802) and Jean-Antoine Houdon's small, tinted plaster of Diana, before 1793 are on view in the Frick Collection's Fragonard Room. These works beg to be looked at from every angle.  Alas, the Clodion rests on the room's eighteenth-century white marble chimneypiece.  Although set before a mirror, the back of the piece cannot be seen clearly.  The rear view of Houdon's Diana is also blocked. The goddess is placed on an eighteenth-century commode against the room's south wall.   Fortunately, the two pieces will be installed in the Portico Gallery during the run of the show: The Dance of Time: Three Nymphs Supporting a Clock, July through April 2015 and Diana, October through April 2015.  

Enlightenment and Beauty: 
Sculptures by Houdon and Clodion
April 1, 2014 to April 5, 2015

1 East 70th Street, Manhattan, New York
Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Sundays, 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Closed Mondays and holidays
Collection Limited Hours: 
Open 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. 
Lincoln's Birthday (Wednesday, February 12) 
Election Day (Tuesday, November 4) 
Veterans’ Day (Tuesday, November 11)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

No More Uptown! 

The 2014 Whitney Biennial 

Whitney Biennial 2014 Poster, Entranceway, 
Whitney Museum of American Art 
945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street, Manhattan
Photo: Hillary Ganton

The Whitney Museum of American Art's 2014 Biennial is here.  This vast, diverse and jam-packed Biennial is the final one to take place at the museum's Madison Avenue and 75th Street building. The Bauhaus-trained architect Marcel Breuer completed the Brutalist-style  edifice in 1966.  Initially ridiculed, the building is now generally admired and liked.  Next year, the Whitney Museum moves downtown to the Meatpacking District where a new building designed by Renzo Piano will triple its current space.  Thus, this is the last chance to see the Whitney's signature show in the iconic Breuer building.

Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street, Manhattan
Photo: Hillary Ganton

The Biennial purports to survey the contemporary American art scene. Every two years, art world denizens are chosen to curate the exhibit. This year three non-New York curators were appointed:  Anthony Elms, Philadelphia, Stuart Comer, London (at time of appointment but now in New York) and Michele Grabner, Chicago.  Each took charge of a Whitney floor.  Elms's picks are on the second floor, Comer's on the third and Grabner's on the fourth.  Choices, nevertheless, spilled over into other locations creating some confusion should the viewer want to follow one curator’s mindset.  On a positive note, the resulting mix makes for some interesting juxtapositions of some 103 represented artists.

Installation view of  2014 Whitney Biennial fourth floor, 
ceramic sculptures by Ruby Stirling in the foreground,
Whitney Museum of American Art 
Photo:  Kathleen MacQueen, Shifting Connections Web site

Installation, performance, conceptual, collective, residency, video, film and sound works dominate the more traditional sculpture, painting or photography modes of expression.  Poetry, literature, music and dance are also included.  No artistic medium appears to be left out and materials employed are as varied as the forms.  

Installation view of Sheila Hicks, Pillar of Inquiry/Supple Column,
2013–14, acrylic, linen, cotton, bamboo, and silk,
Whitney Biennial, fourth floor gallery
Photo:  Rozalia Jovanovic., artnet news Web site

Artists multitask.  Gone are the adherence to one, two or three disciplines.  These artists write, edit, sculpt, paint, perform, compose, collaborate, collect, curate and more.  Such is the case for the artist A.L. Steiner whose art involves performance, video, photography, collectives, collaborations and activism for art and political causes.  

Installation view of A.L. Steiner, “Cost-benefit analysis”, 2014, 
pigmented inkjet prints, photocopies, and paint;
“More Real Than Reality Itself”, 2014, 
multichannel video installation, color, sound, (54 min.),
2014 Whitney Biennial, third floor gallery,
Whitney Museum of American Art
Photo:  Jillian Steinhauer, Hyperallergic Web site

Curation, as an art form, is particularly common in the current scene and, often results in curatorial layering.  At the Whitney Elisabeth Sussman and Jay Sanders, Whitney Museum curators, advised this year’s appointed triumvirate.  Elms, Comer and Grabner, in turn, selected some artists to “curate” their own shows resulting in exhibits within an exhibit. 

Installation view of mixed media works by Richard Greene,
curated by Catherine Opie and Richard Greene,
 2014 Whitney Biennial, third floor gallery, 
Whitney Museum of American Art,
Photo:  ARTFCITY Web site

Tony Greene, His Puerile Gestures, 1989, 
mixed media, 25 1/2 × 29 3/4 in. (64.8 × 75.6 cm),
Collection of Ray Morales from the estate of Norm MacNeil, 
Copyright Ray Morales. Courtesy Ray Morales,
Whitney Museum of American Art,
Photo: Whitney Museum of American Art Web site

In one small third floor gallery, artists Richard Hawkins and Catherine Opie, selected by Comer, have organized a show of works by the mixed media artist Tony Greene.  Hawkins and Opie went to school with Greene who died of AIDS-related complications in 1990.  Greene's  paintings, usually in oil on photographs mounted to wood, are rich and attention-deserving.  An image of Greene's studio taken by Opie is the only non-Greene piece in the "Greene" gallery.  It adds to the installation's sense of melancholy.      

Gaylen Gerber, a Grabner choice, stretched a painted gray, 40-foot-long canvas on a Whitney wall making it indistinguishable from the actual wall.  On this, Gerber hung works by other artists.  When the Biennial opened, two Trevor Shimizu paintings were displayed.  A few weeks later, they were replaced with artworks by David Hammons and Sherrie Levine.  Gerber effectively curates his "backdrops" engendering quiet mediations on the interaction of art with its context.  

Installation view, Public Collectors, Malachi Ritscher
2014 Whitney Biennial, second floor gallery,
Whitney Museum of American Art
Photo:  Jillian Steinhauer, Hyperallergic Web site

Public Collectors, an Elms selection, is a Chicagoan collaborative devoted to preserving cultural artifacts.  Their Biennial contribution is an installation of objects relating to the life of Malachi Ritscher.  Ritscher, an audiophile, musician and engineer, recorded thousands of non-commercial concerts from Chicago's music scene.  Much experimental music performances that took place would be lost if not for these recordings.  Visitors may hear some of these recordings at a gallery listening station.  Ritscher was also a political activist who committed suicide in 2006 in protest to the Iraq war.  

Charlemagne Palestine,  hauntteddd!! n huntteddd!! n daunttlesss!! n shuntteddd!!,
2013, 12-channel sound installation,
Whitney Museum of American Art  stairwell
Photo:  Jillian Steinhauer, Hyperallergic Web site

Audio pieces, not restricted to earphones, makes for a rather noisy Biennial.   These works reverberate through the museum's public spaces.  In the museum's lobby, a composition by  the composer and artist Sergei Tcherepnin emanates from the Breuer designed ceiling lights.  Tones and silences alternate and change according to the time of day.  The composer, musician, performer and visual artist Charlemagne Palestine fills the entire museum stairwell with his sounds. The ritualistic audio piece travels with visitors as they pass stairwell landing speakers which were covered by the artist with fabric and stuffed animals. The museum's elevator is not silent either.  Jeff Gibson's video plays on a monitor inside the elevator cab's wall.  His humorous critique of consumerism is accompanied by the banal tunes of Muzak.  It makes for an entertaining ride.  

Radamés “Juni” Figueroa, Breaking the Ice
2014, mixed media construction, 
Whitney Museum of American Art  Sculpture Court, 
Photo:  Hillary Ganton

If all the busyness is too much, visitors may rest in Radamés “Juni” Figueroa’s amusing makeshift beach hut in the museum's sculpture court.  It is even heated for tropical verisimilitude.  

A curious aspect of this year's exhibit is the prominence of many older (60 plus years) and deceased artists.  This group makes up approximately 25 percent of all the selected participants.  Gerber is in his sixties.   Hammons was born in 1943 and Levine in 1947. Palestine was born in 1947 too.  Ritscher and Greene are deceased along with artists not already cited: photographer Sarah Charlesworth (1947 - 2013), painter, draftswoman and installation artist Susan Howe (1937 - 2013), and performance artist, musician, opera impresario, producer, director and writer Robert Ashley (1930 - 2014).

 Installation View of  various notebooks and materials by David Foster Wallace,
2014 Whitney Biennial, second floor gallery,
Whitney Museum of American Art
Photo:  Hrag Vartanian, Hyperallergenic Web site

The writer David Foster Wallace (1962 - 2008) is also among those no longer with us.  His late notebooks are showcased on the fourth floor. They are open to pages with notations from the last novel he worked on before committing suicide.  These  are archival material  from the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas at Austin.  The University acquired them at the end of 2009.  Perhaps these historical documents are better suited for public display at the Center's library or museum.  

Louise Fishman, Ristretto, 2013, oil on linen, 
70 × 60 in. (177.8 × 152.4 cm),
Private Collection; courtesy Cheim & Read, New York
Photo:  Brian Buckley,  Whitney Museum of American Art Web site

More "senior" artists include Jimmie Durham (born 1940) represented by a splendid wooden mixed media sculpture from 1989, no recent work of his is shown; ceramist John Mason (born 1927) shows his remarkable technically complex sculptures; ink and watercolorist Etel Adnan (born 1925) displays her delightful accordion paper books mixing text and paint; sculptor, painter and weaver Shelia Hicks (born 1934) presents a massive column of colorful  fibrous cords as well as four more successful small easel-size works using paper and various textile threads;  painter Louise Fishman (born 1939) has her evocative, blue-green Venice-inspired oils on exhibit and painter Dona Nelson (born 1947) has on view her two-sided intensively colored canvases employing both paint and embroidery that simultaneously stimulate the sense of touch and sight.  

Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst, still from She Gone Rogue, 2012, 
HD video, color, sound, 23 minutes
Courtesy the artists
Photo:  Whitney Museum of American Art Web site

Although many of these older and deceased artists are exhibition-worthy, it is as if the curators did not have time to uncover and explore the work of younger artists who may be just under the art world's radar screen. 

Having said that, there is still plenty of art by those under sixty.  Of this group, Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst should be praised for their beautiful film and photographs addressing polymorphic gender, identity and transformative themes.  Their work is a highlight of the show.  Also of merit is Zoe Leonard's camera obscura installation with its serene manifestation of perception evolving over time.  

This big Biennial may not be the best ever but it is stimulating and fun. Take it in.  

As for the fate of the Whitney Breuer building, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has agreed to take it over in 2015.  The Met plans to use the space for the exhibition of modern and contemporary art and educative programs.  The multiyear, renewable agreement between the Whitney and the Met includes the possibility of  collaborations on collections, publications and other educational undertakings.  Lots of good things to look forward to.  

MAR 7–MAY 25, 2014

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