Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rauschenberg's Friends

Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, 1967,
acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen,
14 x 10 1/4 in. (35.6 x 26 cm),
© Andy Warhol. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.
Photography by Robert McKeever.
Collection of the Robert Rauschenberg Revocable Trust

You go to someone’s home, observe what’s around, meet their friends and, from this input, gain a better understanding of the person. Similarly, for more insight into an artist and what he or she does, look at what he or she collects.

The exhibition, The Private Collection of Robert Rauschenberg at the Gagosian Gallery offers this opportunity. Curated by Ealen Wingate, the director of Gagosian’s 24th Street gallery, the show provides visual evidence of Robert Rauschenberg’s extensive interests and intimacies. It makes obvious the collection's inclusive quality which links it to the artist's own work - silk screens and Combines which may include anything and everything.

Installation view of The Private Collection of Robert Rauschenberg
© Gagosian Gallery.
Photography by Robert McKeever.
Collection of the Robert Rauschenberg Revocable Trust

From left to right:

Jean Tinquely, Untitiled, 1962,
brick, metal, feather, tape and motor,
21 x 10 1/2 x 8 in. (53.3 x 26.7 x 20.3 cm)

Unknown, Mali (Bamana), Power Object (Boli)
wood, clay, organic substances such as earth, sacrificial blood,
bark, honey, chewed kola nut, millet and beet,
15 x 20 x 6 1/2 in. (38.1 x 50.8 x 16.5 cm)

Unknown Amazon, Tribal Costumes, 20th Century,
beaten bark, string, balsa wood,
73 x 25 in. (185.4 x 63.5 cm)

Some 145 works which the artist acquired through gifts, exchanges, or purchases are on view. There are paintings, drawings, sculptures, sketches, letters, notes, photographs, musical notations, tribal artifacts, and other items held on to for private reasons. The installation, which takes over three of the gallery's floors, entices visitors with interesting juxtapositions and surprises. Since archival material is scarce, determining how and when pieces were obtained is difficult.

Installation view of The Private Collection of Robert Rauschenberg
© Gagosian Gallery.
Photography by Robert McKeever.
Collection of the Robert Rauschenberg Revocable Trust

From left to right:

Andy Warhol, Gem, 1979,
acrylic, silkscreen ink, and diamond dust on linen,
54 x 86 in. (137.2 x 218.4 cm)

John Chamberlain, Untitled, c. 1965,
painted and chroium plated steel,
43 x 35 1/2 x 26 in. (109.2 x 90.2 x 66 cm)

James Rosenquist, Spaghetti, 1965,
oil on linen,
30 x 30 in. (76.2 x 76.2 cm)

There are works by Rauschenberg’s close friends Cy Twombly and Jasper Johns as well as other contemporaries like Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Frank Stella, Öyvind Fahlström, James Rosenquist, and John Chamberlain. Women artists include Elaine Sturtevant, Susan Weil and Niki de Saint Phalle. Among a younger generation are Brice Marsden, Damian Hirst, Ed Ruscha and Al Taylor. Photographers represented include Hans Namuth, Robert Mapplethorpe, Mathew Brady, and Eadweard Muybridge. Materials by choreographers and composers such as Philip Glass, John Cage, Merce Cunningham and Trish Brown are also here. In addition, there are modern masters like Henri Matisse, Kurt Schwitters, Marcel Duchamp, René Magritte and Francis Picabia. The variety attests to Rauschenberg's gregarious and generous nature. 

Many items were made for Rauschenberg and inscribed - For Bob, Marcel (Marcel Duchamp), For Bob, B. Marsden (Brice Marden), Flowers for Bob, Cy (Cy Twombly), Token for Bob, Trish Brown, For Bob, Al Tayor, Pour Robert, Tinguely (Jean Tinguely) and more. Merce Cunningham’s 1993 pen on paper, Choreography Instructions, has on its reverse a letter which describes the dance and ends with the wish: “I hope you will help us do this.”

Installation view of The Private Collection of Robert Rauschenberg
© Gagosian Gallery.
Photography by Robert McKeever.
Collection of the Robert Rauschenberg Revocable Trust

Clockwise from top left to right:

Andy Warhol, Eggs, 1982,
Acrylic and silkscreen enamel on canvas,
8 x 8 in. (20.3 x 20.3 cm)

Elaine Sturtevant, Untitled, 1967,
silkscreen on canvas,
40 x 32 3/8 in. (101.6 x 82.2 cm)

Jean Tinquely, Saint Phalle, 1961,
wood stool, wire and pigments,
28 1/2 x 14 x 16 1/2 in. (72.4 x 35.6 41.9 cm)

The show presents something for everyone. Two photographs of stores are sumptuous in detailing. Themes of sales and foreign lands, various objects, shapes, textures, layers of space and the mechanically made would surely have intrigued Rauschenberg. Eugene Atget’s Shop, Halles Market, 1925, is all reflections and ambiguous layers of planes. Hung below is Kusakabe Kimbei’s The Silk Store, c. 1890. Although black and white, Kimbei’s image of overlapping textile patterns appears colorful.

Duchamp’s pencil drawing, Peasant’s Leg, 1904-05, is adjacent to Magritte’s 1963 Study for the Well of Truth, a pastel depicting a trouser leg. Seen together, they illicit concepts of rural and urban, formal and informal as well as what constitutes suburb draftsmanship.

Twombly’s 1970 and 1982 “Flowers for Bob” were birthday pictures made for Rauschenberg. The graphite and crayon earlier work could pass for a Matisse or Bonnard design.

Cy Twombly, Untitled, 1953,
oil based house paint on canvas,
52 1/8 x 52 1/8 in. (132.4 x 132.4 cm),
© Cy Twombly. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.
Photography by Robert McKeever.
Collection of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

Not often seen are two early career pieces. One is by Hirst, Expanded from Small Red Wheel, a 1985 assemblage-like construction; the other is by Twombly, a suggestive black and white canvas, Untitled, 1953. The latter reminiscent of Jean Dubuffet’s late 1940s and early 1950s paintings,

Although some important works by Johns had been sold in the 1980s to support the artist’s international project ROCI - Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange - significant things remain such as the encaustic Map of 1960 and 1958 papier-mâché Flashlight II.

The exhibit has many things that simply delight. Marden’s elegance is nicely exemplified by Study for Lot, 1968 and Untitled Drawing, 1965. Ruscha’s 1980 Romeo, With Contraceptive Ghost is alluring. Warhol’s portraits of the artist are touching. Alexander Calder’s 1925 Study of a Chicken amuses. Fahlström’s Unititled Cutout, c. 1973, provokes thought.

On the fourth floor, opposite the building’s two main elevators, is a blown-up, mural-size photograph of Rauschenberg in his studio. The image is filled with works from the artist’s collection. You can clearly recognize Marcel Duchamp’s Bottle Rack (aka Bottle dryer) and two of Tinquely’s constructions, Radio No. 1 and Saint Phalle.   The photo is a record of how Rauschenberg lived with these artworks on a daily basis.  
Many exhibition pieces are for sale to benefit the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. Established by the artist in 1990, the Foundation engages in philanthropic activities supporting artists, arts education, environmental and humanitarian endeavors.

A catalogue of selected works from the collection is in progress.

The Private Collection of Robert Rauschenberg
November 3, 2011 - December 23, 2011
980 Madison Avenue, Manhattan, New York
Tuesday - Saturday 10:00 am - 6:00 pm

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Perceiving the Master in Braque

Georges Braque (1882-1963), Still Life with Guitar I (Red Tablecloth), 1936,
oil on canvas, 38 1/4 x 51 in. (97.2 x 129.5 cm),
Gift of R.H. Norton, 47.46
The Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

You won’t find a more revelatory exhibition than Acquavella Galleries' Georges Braque: Pioneer of Modernism. Forty-one paintings and papiers collés on loan from over seventeen American and European museums, foundations and private collections illuminate Braque’s achievements and the Cubist art movement he originated with Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). This beautifully installed show spans Braque’s career from Fauvism through Analytic and Synthetic Cubism, to his mid-twentieth-century still lifes and studio canvases. It includes works never before on public view. Quite simply, this is the greatest U. S. Braque exhibit since the Guggenheim’s 1988 retrospective and, before that, the 1949 show at the Museum of Modern Art. *

Georges Braque (1882-1963) , Landscape at L’Estaque, 1906,
oil canvas, 23 5/8 x 31 7/8 in. (60 x 81 cm),
Merzbacher Kunststiftung, Küsnacht, Switzerland
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

The Acquavella exhibit begins with five vibrant Fauvist paintings (1906-1907) whose colors are intensified by the muted earth tones of six Cubist canvases (1907-1914) nearby. They are all astoundingly pristine, as if painted yesterday. No reflective glass impairs the spectator's vision - a treat true for over a dozen other works on view.

Georges Braque (1882-1963), Houses at L’Estaque, 1907,
0il canvas, 21 1/2 x 18 1/8 in. (54.5 x 46 cm),
Private International Collection

By 1907, Braque had absorbed the lessons of Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) whose Paris posthumous retrospective took place that September. Houses at L’Estaque, 1907, could not be more Cézanne-like. Its hillside of cascading earth-toned geometric shapes speaks profoundly of the elder artist’s influence. Paintings in browns and grays follow. Their flattened perspective, fragmented forms and multiple vantage points mark the evolution of Analytic Cubism.

When objects shattered into fragments appeared in my painting about 1909; this for me was a way of getting closest to the object....Fragmentation helped me to establish space and movement in space.
Georges Braque (undated)**

Georges Braque (1882-1963), Harbor, 1909,
oil on canvas, 16 x 19 in. (40.5 x 48 cm),
National Gallery of Art, Washington
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Of particular note are two 1909 harbor scenes where only a few elements - a hulk, mast or lighthouse - allude to the subject. Midline in the smaller, more abstract harbor canvas is a vertical mast. A bold compositional risk, the upright both splits the painting in two and anchors the composition.

"I felt dissatisfied with traditional perspective. Merely a mechanical process, this perspective never conveys things in full. It starts from one viewpoint and never gets away from it."
George Braque (1954)**

Georges Braque (1882-1963), Céret, Rooftops, 1911,
0il canvas, 34 3/4 x 25 1/2 in. (88.5 x 65 cm),
Private Collection

As Analytic Cubism matured, objects became so thoroughly examined and broken down that they ceased to be identifiable. Two paintings from private collections, Still Life with Metronome of 1909-10 and the 1911 Céret, Rooftops, are outstanding examples. Their fractured imagery attracts close scrutiny. Looking is akin to examining a multi-faceted gem.

To avoid a projection towards infinity I am interposing overlaid planes a short way off. To make it understood that things are in front of each other instead of being scattered in space..”
Georges Braque (1961)**

Georges Braque (1882-1963), Glass, Bottle and Newspaper, 1912,
charcoal and faux-bois wallpaper on paper,
18 7/8 x 24 3/8 in. (48 x 62 cm),
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, Switzerland

Braque invented papier collé, a technique of pasting paper on paper. This form of collage is characteristic of Synthetic Cubism, the movement's second phase. For this viewer, Braque’s papiers collés are some of the most poetic works ever created. Using cut outs from newspapers, wallpapers, or cardboards, he formed pictures of layered flat planes, each stratum differentiated by forms, shapes, signs, and materials. They are simple yet complex, like haiku poems. Glass, Bottle and Newspaper, 1912, and Bottle and Musical Instruments, 1918, are among the highlights here.

...I began to concentrate on still-life’s [sic], because in the still-life you have a tactile, I might almost say a manual space....This answered to the hankering I have always had to touch things and not merely see them. It was this space that particularly attracted me....In tactile space you measure the distance separating you from the object, whereas in visual space you measure the distance separating things from each other. This is what led me, long ago, from landscape to still-life.
Georges Braque (1954)**

In his later paintings, Braque leaves landscapes behind and brings back some Fauvist color. Once again, objects are recognizable. Motifs from his earlier Cubist pieces remain, such as stringed instruments or a musical scores. These are cerebral works, although a palpable quality gives them a certain sensuality.

Georges Braque (1882-1963), The Billiard Table, 1944-52,
oil with sand and charcoal on canvas
71 2/4 x 38 1/2 in. (181 x 97.8 cm),
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Jacques & Natasha Gelman Collection, 1998 (1999.363.9)
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

The show culminates with late 1930s through mid-1950s paintings of studio interiors, billiard tables, and still lifes. These large works of recurring subjects and themes masterly merge great complexity with complete control.  

Georges Braque (1882-1963), Gueridon, 1935,
0il and sand on canvas, 71 x 29 in. (180.34 x 73.66 cm),
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Purchase with the aid of funds from W.W. Crocker
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Table-top arrangements proliferate. Gueridon, 1935, The Yellow Tablecloth, 1935, Still Life with Guitar (Red Tablecloth), 1936, and The Mauve Tablecloth, 1936, entice with their similarities and differences. In these works, a table laden with objects is seen in a room with wainscoting and decorative patterned walls. In both the Mauve and Yellow Tablecloth canvases, an anthropomorphic half-shadowed bottle with a curlicue top occupies center position on a table’s uppermost area. The bottle seems to be looking at us through the picture plane.

Georges Braque (1882-1963), The Mauve Tablecloth, 1936,
oil canvas, 33 1/2 x 51 1/2 in. (85 x 131 cm),
Private Collection

The exhibition makes clear Braque’s remarkable accomplishments, as well as his impact on what was to come. Flat planes with their accumulation of the depicted and the real connect to the work of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, especially the latter’s Combines. In addition, the use of material from mass culture points the way to Pop Art.

The Austrian critic and art historian Dieter Buchhart curated the show and contributed essays to the accompanying catalogue, along with the scholars Isabelle Monod-Fontaine and Richard Shiff.

Although the exhibit takes place in a commercial gallery whose business is selling art, no work is for sale. The show is free and open to the public. Acquavella Galleries deserves much praise for making it happen.

Let's hope it won't be decades before we see more of this modern master.

*The Museum of Modern Art’s 1949 retrospective was done in collaboration with the Cleveland Museum of Art where it was also seen. At that time, it was the largest Braque exhibition ever held in the United States.
**Source of artist statements: Famous artist, great painters quotes + biography, Braque.

Georges Braque: Pioneer of Modernism
October 12, 2011 - November 30, 2011
18 East 79th Street, Manhattan, New York
Monday - Saturday, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm

Saturday, October 29, 2011

MoMA Revitalized: A New Narrative of Modern Art

Louise Bourgeois (American, born France. 1911-2011), Sleeping Figure,
1950, painted balsa wood,
6 ft. 2 1/2 in. x 11 ft. 5/8 x 11 3/4 in. (189.2 x 29.5 x 29.7 cm), 
Katharine Cornell Fund. 
© 2011 Louise Bourgeois Trust

There is change at the Museum of Modern Art. The installation of the Museum’s peerless permanent collection of modern and contemporary art has been reassessed, bringing back the excitement of discovering the new.

After the closing this past April of the abstract expressionist show, the fourth-floor Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries, usually devoted to the Museum’s collection, were empty. For the first time since her 2008 appointment as chief curator of painting and sculpture, Ann Timken had the chance to completely reinstall the 1940s through contemporary art. The choices she and her five member curatorial team made as well as the modifications to the 1880s to 1940s array on the fifth floor express a break from the past. An open and flexible approach to the history of modernism replaces a dogmatic methodology with the belief that there are many ways to look at the history of modern art as well as the Museum’s collection. Painting, sculpture and objects in other mediums are mixed and those on exhibit alternate regularly. Attention is given to overlooked artists, artworks too long in storage, works by women and international artists. Contemporary art has more space and there is a commitment to increase collecting in this area.

The twelve galleries on the fourth floor, Painting and Sculpture II, have been transformed the most. They are the subject of this post.

Wilfredo Lam (Cuban, 1902-1982), The Jungle, 1943,
gouache on paper mounted on canvas, 94 1/4 x 90 1/2 in. (239.4 x 229.9 cm),
Inter-American Fund.
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

A glance through the entrance into the first fourth-floor gallery (Gallery 15) reveals a difference. A sculpture by a woman leads off. Perhaps, the expected start would have been an iconic painting by some celebrated male painter like Jackson Pollock or Jasper Johns. Instead, Louise Bourgeois’s totemic, phallic-like Sleeping Figure greets visitors. To the right is Wilfredo Lam’s masterpiece, The Jungle. Alongside this hangs the wood and rope sculpture Totem for All Religions by Frederick Kiesler which neighbors André Masson’s canvas, The Kill. These Surrealist works play off each other, enhancing visual experience by illuminating shared characteristics. A woman, a Cuban, an American born in Romania, and a French artist begin the visitor’s visual journey. Dorothea Tanning’s work is also in this gallery making the impact of the female contingent even stronger.

A short digression: the issue of women artists at MoMA has been remarked upon in the past. In the November 18, 2007 New York Magazine article, “Where Are All the Women? On MoMA’s identity politics.”, the art critic Jerry Saltz laments that out of 137 artists presented in the permanent galleries, only 11 were women. I recently counted 24 women artist who had works on view and several were represented by more than one object.

Jackson Pollock, (American, 1912-1956), One: Number 31, 1950, 
oil and enamel paint on canvas,

8 ft. 10 in. x 17 ft. 5 5/8 in. (269.5 x 530.8 cm),
The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection Fund (by exchange)

© 2011 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Barnett Newman (American, 1905-1970), Vir Heroicus Sublimis,
1950-51, oil on canvas,
7 ft. 11 3/8 in. x 17 ft. 9 1/4 in. (242.2 x 541.7 cm),

The Museum of Modern Art, New York. 
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ben Heller

© 2011 Barnett Newman Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Proceeding sequentially (Gallery 16), brings into sight two large canvases by Barnett Newman which flank a Jackson Pollack. On the room’s other side, a Francis Bacon is set close to a Giacometti portrait. Two sculptures by the latter are also on display. The pairings highlight associations and distinctions. I especially delighted in the comparison between Pollack’s expansive, rhythmic One: Number 31, 1950 and Newman’s calm yet vibrant Vir Heroicus Sublimis.

Jasper Johns (American, born 1930), Flag, 1954-55 (dated on reverse 1954),
encaustic, oil, and collage on fabric mounted on plywood, three panels,
42 1/4 x 60 5/8 in. (107.3 x 153.8 cm),
The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Gift of Philip Johnson in honor of Alfred H. Barr, Jr.
© 2011 Jasper Johns / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Robert Rauschenberg (American, 1925-2008), Rebus, 1955,

oil, synthetic polymer paint, pencil, crayon, pastel, cut-and-pasted printed and painted papers, and fabric on canvas mounted and stapled to fabric, three panels,
8 ft. x 10 ft. 11 1/8 in. (243.8 x 333.1 cm),
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. 
Partial and promised gift of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder and purchase

© Robert Rauschenberg/ Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

A room filled with the famous is nearby (Gallery 17). There is Jasper John’s Target and Flag; Robert Rauschenberg’s Bed, Rebus and Untitled (Ashville Citizen); and, Cy Twombly’s Tiznit and Academy. The installation is spacious providing an atmosphere for unhurried contemplation.

Daniel Spoerri (Swiss, born Romania 1930), Kichka's Breakfast I,
1960, wood chair hung on wall with board across seat, coffeepot, tumbler, china, eggcups, eggshells, cigarette butts, spoons, tin cans, and other materials,

14 3/8 x 27 3/8 x 25 3/4 in. (36.6 x 69.5 x 65.4 cm),
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Philip Johnson Fund
© 2011 Daniel Spoerri / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ProLitteris, Switzerland

Lee Bontecou (American, born 1931), Untitled, 1961,

welded steel, canvas, black fabric, copper wire, and soot,
6 ft. 8 1/4 in. x 7 ft. 5 in. x 34 3/4 in. (203.6 x 226 x 88 cm),
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Kay Sage Tanguy Fund

© 2011 Lee Bontecou

Art made of found, non-traditional materials called assemblage is close by (Gallery 18). Here are two- and three-dimensional pieces by Lee Bontecou, Niki de Saint Phalle, Jacques de la Villegié , Daniel Spoerri, Lucio Fontana, Alberto Burri, Natsuyuki Nakanishi, Mathias Goeritz, Jean Tinguely, Arman, John Chamberlain, and Christo (Christo Jaacheff). The familiar mix with the unfamiliar in this international group - only Bontecou and Chamberlain are Americans. Placements bring out connections that may not have been obvious. Set across from each other on opposite walls, the drawn and pierced ovals of Fontana’s Spatial Concept canvas seem to echo Bontecou’s rounded opening.

Lucio Fontana (Italian, born Argentina. 1899-1968), Spatial Concept,
1957, ink and pencil on paper on canvas,
55 x 78 7/8 in. (139.7 x 200.4 cm). Gift of Morton G. Neumann.
© 2011 Fondation Lucio Fontana

On my previous MoMA visits in the last few weeks, the Saint Phalle was not on view but a Yayoi Kusama paper work was. The present Villegié had replaced another work by the artist. Exchanges are nice surprises for the frequent visitor.

Richard Hamilton, (British,1922-2011), Pin-Up, 1961,
oil, cellulose, and collage on panel,
53 3/4 x 37 3/4 x 3 in. (136.5 x 95.8 x 7.6 cm) including frame,
Enid A. Haupt Fund and an anonymous fund. © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS),
 New York / DACS, London

A first-rate presentation of 1960s Pop Art (Gallery 19) follows. Star attractions include works by Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Tom Wesselmann, George Segal, James Rosenquist, and Alex Katz. The installation also has pieces by Richard Hamilton, Michelangelo Pistoletto and Marisol. Hamilton’s 1961 Pin-Up combines different methods. The sex symbol’s bra is an applied photograph and her breasts are both drawn and in concrete relief. At her left knee is a Princess rotary telephone which was the “it” status phone for women in the early 1960s. Designed for use in the bedroom, the phone came in several colors and had a dial that lit up in the dark. Hamilton’s Pin-Up wears nylon hose. Pantyhose, as we know them in the United States, did not become extensively available and worn until the mid-1960s when miniskirts became fashionable. Hose have long been considered more attractive than pantyhose, making sex more accessible. I asked a few twenty year olds if they could identify the phone. Two queried did not recognize it as a telephone; the others that did had never heard of the Princess type. I never got into the hose versus pantyhose interpretation. Meanings, signs and symbols get forgotten over time.

Marisol (Marisol Escobar), (Venezuelan, born France 1930), Love,
1962, plaster and glass (Coca-Cola bottle),
6 1/4 x 4 1/8 x 8 1/8 in. (15.8 x 10.5 x 20.6 cm),
Gift of Claire and Tom Wesselmann. © 2011 Marisol

Although eliciting more humor than eroticism, Marisol’s Love exemplifies an outgoing sexual frankness that this writer finds more apparent in work by women artists. This sculpture was a gift from the artist Tom Wesselmann and his wife Claire. Wesselmann’s 1961 painting, Great American Nude 2, appears high on a near wall. On the other side of the room is James Rosenquist’s Marilyn Monroe I. Rosenquist incorporates an upside down section from the Coca-Cola trademark script linking its iconography to Marisol's sculpture across the gallery space.

De Wain Valentine, (American, born 1936), Triple Disk Red Metal Flake - Black Edge, 1966,
fiberglass reinforced polyester,
62 x 65 x 85 in. (157.5 x 165.1 x 215.9 cm),
Gift of Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis

The simplified forms of Minimalism are met with in the adjoining gallery (Gallery 20). Pieces by Dan Flavin, Donald Judd and the less known Jo Baer, Craig Kauffman and De Wain Valentine clear the mind by their exclusion of pictorial illusionism. Their variety attest to the possibilities even within the movement’s reductive constraints. The red mirror-like surface of Valentine’s 1966 fiberglass, Triple Disk Red Metal Flake - Black Edge, is illustrative. Approached from any side, the three disks have a anthropomorphic quality - touching, dancing, playing. The Valentine came into the collection last year, a gift from Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis.

Conceptional art of the late 1960s and early 1970s comes next (Gallery 21). These works move into the immaterial realm of thoughts, language, movement and sound. Sol LeWitt, Robert Smithson, Lawrence Weiner, Robert Barry and Hanne Darboven are here. Visitors most likely will recognize some but not all. Many of these works come from the collection of Seth Siegelaub and were acquired by MoMA this past spring. Siegelaub, curator, dealer and publisher, along with the Conceptional artists he supported questioned the display, ownership, distribution, and selling of art along with the participatory role of art viewers.

Hannah Wilke, (American, 1940-1993), Untitled, 1963-66,
pastel and charcoal on paper, 19 1/2 x 24 in. (49.5 x 61 cm),
The Judith Rothschild Foundation Contemporary Drawings Collection Gift. © 2011 Marsie, Emanuelle, Damon and Andrew Scharlatt - Hannah Wilke Collection and Archive,
 Los Angeles

The art of Hannah Wilke, a sculptor, painter, photographer, video and performance/installation artist is presented in a small side gallery (Gallery 22). Wilke tackled issues of feminism especially female sexuality using her own body to examine women’s physical experience. Her pieces on view includes a 1974 video, Gestures, drawings, photographs and sculpture. Although critically praised, Wilke’s controversial art has not been widely exhibited in museums. MoMa’s commitment is a notable beginning.

A light-filled stairway space (Gallery 26) hosts the diverse works of Agnes Martin, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Indiana and Jack Youngerman. In the 1950s, these artists lived and worked on Coenties Slip, a street in lower Manhattan where rents were cheap. The gallery, off the Conceptional art area, is easy to miss but should be visited.

Frank Stella (American, born 1936), The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II,
1959, enamel on canvas,
7 ft. 6 3/4 in. x 11 ft. 3/4 in. (230.5 x 337.2 cm),
Larry Aldrich Foundation Fund. © 2011 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS),  New York

Retracing some steps leads to objects primarily from the late 1960s (Gallery 23). This was a period when artists turned away from Minimalism, concentrating on the process of art, creating with unusual materials such as latex, resin and wax. This space is packed with nine sculptures and one painting. Five works are by women and five by men. The two sculptures by Lynda Benglis, the one by Louise Bourgeois and the two by Eva Hesse appear organic, soft-edged, sexually evocative. The men’s pieces, by Richard Serra, Bruce Nauman, Frank Stella, Joseph Beuys, and Giovanni Anselmo tend to be hard edged, more mindful than sensual. The large 1959 Stella canvas, The Marriage of Reason and Squalor II, is installed alone on the gallery’s end wall. Belonging to the minimalist aesthetic, its repeated concentric inverted U-shapes, devoid any sense of depth, contrasts with the surrounding heterogeneous mixture of three-dimensional forms.

Bruce Nauman, (American, born 1941), Untitled,
1965, fiberglass, polyester resin, and light,
8 ft. 4 in. x 20 ft. x 21 in. (254 x 50.3 x 53.3 cm),
Gift of Joseph Helman. © 2011 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

This gallery's sculptures bring to mind notions of maleness and femaleness. Bruce Nauman’s 1965 wall piece could be the male response to Lee Bontecou’s 1961 work in the “assemblage” gallery. The masculine Nauman, more height than breadth, is a closed, vertical protuberant. The softer, feminine Bontecou is rounded and open. One appears to discourage contact; the other reaches out and invites.

Fully-realized Conceptional art is displayed in the neighboring space (Gallery 24). Daniel Buren, Dan Graham On Kawara, Vito Acconci, Niele Toroni and Marcel Broodthaers are represented by pictures, objects and documents. Broodthaers dominates with 22 pieces. Engaging and perplexing, this artist reminds us that there are no easy answers while he examines the interrelationship among art world players - the artist, museum and art market. Everything on view was acquired this year from the Herman and Nicole Daled Collection. The Daleds amassed an extraordinary collection of 1960s and 1970s art. Herman Daled had a fitting appellation for these pieces. He called them “objects of knowledge”.

The last gallery before exiting (Gallery 25) showcases the painter and sculptor Richard Artschwager. His work relates to Pop art, Minimalism and the found object. Focusing on perception and using a variety of mediums, his creations seem an appropriate end to the fourth floor’s exploration.

The Alfred H Barr Painting and Sculpture Galleries II, Fourth Floor
11 West 53 Street, Manhattan, New York
Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
(Open until 8:30 p.m. the first Thursday of every month, September–June)
Closed Tuesdays
Closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day

Friday, September 9, 2011

Connecting to The Yale Center for British Art

Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640, Flemish), Peace Embracing Plenty, between 1633 and 1634, oil on panel,
24 3/4 x 18 1/2 in. (62.9 x 47 cm),
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Photograph: Yale Center for British Art

The Yale Center for British Art celebrates the launch of their new online catalogue in an exhibition entitled Connections. Considered the most comprehensive collection of British Art outside of the United Kingdom, the Center’s holdings include some 2,000 paintings, 200 sculptures, 20,000 drawings and watercolors, and 31,000 prints, 35,000 rare books and manuscripts, an Archive and Reference Library. The entire collection will eventually be accessible through its impressive website, http://britishart.yale.edu. Presently entries for painting, sculpture and the Reference Library are complete; other areas are partially finished. Initial records cover essential information. Digital images in the public domain are included. Details concerning an object’s provenance, exhibition history, bibliography and conservation will be added as the site expands and evolves making possible unparalleled opportunities for online research. It’s free and available to everyone.

Connections stimulates the mind and pleases the eyes. Viewers get a sense of being in a tangible cyberspace where ”clicks” lead to a variety of paths. The exhibit demonstrates physically the extent and diversity of the Center’s collections by exploring different approaches to the meaning of relationships. Ten themed sections look at individual artists, periods, mediums, artists’ movements, genres, styles, history and places. Displays express interdisciplinary ties by juxtaposing paintings, drawings, watercolors, sculptures, books and prints. Topics such as Sporting Art, the Academy and the Human Body, Egypt, British Modernism in the 1930s, Samuel Palmer and the Ancients, and Hogarth and History bring to light fascinating linkages.

Thomas Forster (ca. 1677-after 1712, British), Banqueting House, Whitehall, undated, pen and brown ink, graphite, gray wash, heightened with white on medium, slightly textured, beige wove paper, sheet: 10 3/8 x 14 in. (26.4 x 35.6 cm),
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Photograph: Yale Center for British Art

The segment devoted to British Art in the 1630s is one of my favorites. Here drawings, paintings, books and prints focus on the work, artists and history associated with the Banqueting House at Whitehall. This edifice was part of the royal palace complex designed in 1622 by Indigo Jones for the Stuart monarch James I. It was the first building in England using classical vocabulary and ushered in the modern Italian Renaissance style of architecture.

Attributed to Inigo Jones (1573-1652, British), A Plumed Saddle-Horse, ca. 1640,
pen and brown ink on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper,
sheet: 5 5/8 x 5 in. (14.3 x 12.7 cm),
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Photograph: Yale Center for British Art
Inigo Jones (1573-1652, British), Design for a Temporary Arch Ornamented with Putti and Allegorical Figures of Music and War, ca. 1622,
pen and brown ink and brown wash; verso: graphite on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper, sheet: 9 1/2 x 6 3/4 inches (24.1 x 17.1 cm),
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Photograph: Yale Center for British Art

Royal ceremonies, receptions and entertainments called masques that combined theatre, music, dancing, elaborate scenery and costumes took place at the Banqueting House. Stage sets and other elements for these festivities were often devised by prominent architects like Jones.

James I was succeeded by his son Charles I who commissioned the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens to paint the Banqueting House’s ceiling glorifying his father and the Stuart reign.

Simon Gribelin (1662-1733, French, active in Britain), after Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640, Flemish), From the Painting of the Ceiling in the Banqueting House at White-Hall in the Year 1720, ca. 1720, line engraving on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper,
3 sheets pasted together,
sheet (cropped inside plate): 37 3/4 x 18 1/2 in. (95.9 x 47 cm),
image: 36 3/8 x 18 1/8 in. (92.4 x 46 cm),
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Photograph: Yale Center for British Art

The king wanted Rubens to stay and work for him but the painter went back home to Antwerp. He left his pupil Anthony van Dyck to satisfy the monarch’s plans. Van Dyck thereafter became principal court painter. In 1649, Banqueting House was also the scene of Charles I’s execution. The king probably walked through one of the hall’s windows onto a platform erected on the building’s north end for his beheading. The building is the only structure remaining of the old palace.

Historical events, artworks, architecture, artists, architects, printmakers, spectacles, societal events, patronage and the role and status of artists are some of the subjects considered in this area. The artifacts on display pack a wallop of mental activity.

Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795, British) and Thomas Bentley (1731-1780, British) after George Stubbs (1724-1806, British), Horse Frightened by a Lion (Episode A),
modelled 1780, solid blue jasper with white relief, shallow oval,
frame: 14 5/8 x 14 1/4 in. (37.1 x 36.2 cm),
image (oval): 10 x 16 in. (25.4 x 40.6 cm),
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Photograph: Yale Center for British Art

The section on George Stubbs also enthralls making apparent the scope of this artist’s achievements. There is much of merit to take in but of special note is a Wedgwood relief, enamel paintings and rarely exhibited human figure and animal drawings.

George Stubbs (1724-1806, British), A Comparative Anatomical Exposition of the Structure of the Human Body with that of a Tiger and a Common Fowl: Human Figure, Lateral View, Undissected (Finished Study for Table VIII),
between 1795 and 1806, graphite on moderately thick, slightly textured, cream wove paper,
sheet: 21 1/4 x 16 in. (54 x 40.6 cm),
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Photograph: Yale Center for British Art

George Stubbs (1724-1806, British), A Comparative Anatomical Exposition of the Structure of the Human Body with that of a Tiger and a Common Fowl: Tiger, Lateral View, with Skin and Tissue Removed (Finished Study for Table IX),
between 1795 and 1806, graphite on moderately thick, slightly textured, cream wove paper, 
sheet: 16 x 21 1/4 in. (40.6 x 54 cm),
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Photograph: Yale Center for British Art

George Stubbs (1724-1806, British), A Comparative Anatomical Exposition of the Structure of the Human Body with that of a Tiger and a Common Fowl: Fowl, Lateral View with Most Feathers Removed (Finished Study for Table X), between 1795 and 1806, graphite on moderately thick, slightly textured, cream wove paper, with a strip of same wove paper joined to bottom edge,
sheet: 22 1/4 x 16 in. (56.5 x 40.6 cm),
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Photograph: Yale Center for British Art

In the gallery devoted to Thomas Gainsborough, the artist came alive as I read the letter he wrote to his friend William Jackson, composer, essayist and organist of Exeter Cathedral (letter, 1773 Jan. 29, Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection). In his clear script, the artist precisely discloses his methodology for making chalk drawings look like oil paintings. His words make evident the two men’s close friendship. Also on view is a beautiful portrait of a young women. She has been called the "Mona Lisa of British Art" because of her smile and expression.

Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788, British), Portrait of a Woman, ca. 1750,
oil on canvas, 29 7/8 x 26 1/4 inches (75.9 x 66.7 cm)
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Photograph: Yale Center for British Art

The last two rooms introduces visitors to the Seven & Five Society, an early twentieth-century art group whose artist members sought to combine modernity with Britishness. As the Society evolved, the group’s intention became experimental and abstract. Among the members were Henry Moore, John Piper, Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. Examples of their work are installed admirably for easy comparison.

Although the show may lack what is considered great masterpieces, it offers much that educates and delights. For those who can not make it to New Haven, go to the Center’s “user friendly” website and experiment with their online catalogue. There are many options to begin searches, various ways to narrow and refine results, mix filters or widen inquires. The database is a work in progress. Advance capabilities lie ahead

May 20, 2011–September 11, 2011
1080 Chapel Street
New Haven, Connecticut
Tuesday – Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm
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Closed Mondays and holidays

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Amazing Popularity of Alexander McQueen

Alexander McQueen (British, 1969–2010), Dress, Voss, spring/summer 2001,
Razor-clam shells stripped and varnished
Courtesy of Alexander McQueen
Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute exhibition, “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty”, was the eighth most popular exhibit in the Met’s 141-year-old history and the Costume Institute’s most attended. Its closing date was extended twice, special fee viewing hours were established on Mondays when the museum is usually closed and, for the first time, the Met remained open until midnight on the show’s last two days.

Alexander McQueen (British, 1969–2010), House of Givenchy Haute Couture
Ensemble, Eclect Dissect, autumn/winter 1997–98,

Dress of black leather; collar of red pheasant feathers and resin vulture skulls; gloves of black leather
Courtesy of Givenchy Haute Couture

Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce

From the public opening on May 4 to its closing on August 7, some 661,509 visitors swarmed the show. There were long lines with many waiting more than 5 hours to see the display - more reminiscent of a rock concert than a museum visit. I would venture that a good percentage of visitors had never heard of the designer until the April royal wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton. Kate’s wedding gown and shoes were designed by the creative director of Alexander McQueen, Sarah Burton and her team. Ms. Burton had worked side by side with the designer for 14 years. Possibly, Alexander McQueen’s suicide last year at the age of 40 aroused the curiosity of some attendees. He hanged himself in the wardrobe of his tony Mayfair apartment after taking a significant amount of drugs and slashing his wrists.  Regardless, the people came in unexpected numbers and the museum made money surely needed. One estimate is that the Met made a minimum of $14.6 million in revenue (see Jenna Sauers, How Much Did The Met Make Off The Alexander McQueen Show, Jezebel, August 9, 2011).

The fashion conscious obviously knew about the designer. McQueen had married the rigors of classic tailoring with the playfulness of couture dressing using unconventional material. His couture expressed a blend of contrary concepts such light and dark, nature and technology, life and death, beautiful and grotesque. He won the coveted British Designer of the Year award four times; was named the Council of Fashion Designers’ International Designer of the Year in 2003; and, was honored as a BCE, Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Alexander McQueen (British, 1969–2010), Dress, No. 13, spring/summer 1999,

White cotton muslin spray-painted black and yellow with underskirt of white synthetic tulle

Courtesy of Alexander McQueen

Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce

McQueen’s catwalk presentations were frequently off-putting yet mesmerizing. Comparable to theatre or performance art, his shows were compelling. McQueen had said (Harper’s Bazaar, US, April 2007), “I find beauty in the grotesque, like most artists.  I have to force people to look at things.”  He did.

In one presentation, two commercial robots firing black and yellow paint at a model’s voluminous white dress as she spun slowly in circles on a turntable attempting to protect herself from the robots’ shots in apparent fright (spring/summer 1999). In another, mussed up, distraught-looking models, many with breasts and bottoms exposed, teetered down the runway in torn garments (autumn/winter 1995-1996). One show had a model’s elbows and knees constrained by manacles crippling her catwalk (spring/summer 1997). Once he ended a presentation with a model surrounded by a ring of fire (fall/winter 1998).  At an earlier show, he had his models thoroughly soaked in a shower of golden rain (spring/summer 1998). 

Alexander McQueen (British, 1969–2010), Runway Show,
Untitled, spring/summer 1998
Photo source tumblr
Video source YouTube

Go to  http://blog.metmuseum.org/alexandermcqueen/video/  for highlights from some of McQueen's 1997-2010 runway shows.

The “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” exhibit captured McQueen’s sense of the theatrical. Andrew Bolton, a curator of the Met’s Costume Institute, worked with Sam Gainsbury and Joseph Bennett, production designers for Alexander McQueen’s fashion shows, to curate the extravaganza. They installed 100 garments and 70 accessories in a variety of settings using dramatic lighting, holographic, film and video visuals, music and sounds. Most of the garments were from the Alexander McQueen Archive in London but some were privately lent. The show was organized around the theme of McQueen’s romantic mind. Wall surfaces were differentiated to reflect an aspect of his romanticism. For example, the “Romantic Gothic” gallery, which referred to the designer’s focus on Victorian gothic, was lined with aged mirrors.

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” Gallery View, Romantic Nationalism, 
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011
Photo: The Photograph Studio, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The space for “Romantic Nationalism”, McQueen’s take on his Scottish and British heritage, used marquetry as a background.

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” Gallery View, Romantic Exoticism,
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011
Photo: The Photograph Studio, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The “Romantic Exoticism” space, which held clothes influenced by other cultures, evoked a music box with rotating mannequins in bright mirrored vitrines.  “Romantic Primitivism” gallery, which related to McQueen’s take on the noble savage, used rusty metal enclosures and inspired thoughts of a sunken ship. Enhancing this effect was an overhead film projection of a young model sinking into deep water, her limbs entangled in seaweed-like chiffon. “Romantic Naturalism” room, containing designs derived from nature’s forms and materials, was covered in wall paper based on a blow-up of a McQueen drawing.

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” Gallery View, Cabinet of Curiosities,
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011
Photo: The Photograph Studio, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the “Cabinet of Curiosities” gallery, meant to emulate 18th and 19th-century collector cabinets filled with a variety of objects, an assortment of wall mounts housed accessories - shoes, headdresses and jewelry. Monitors placed up high presented an on-going loop of past McQueen runway shows. The holographic projection of the model Kate Moss (fall/winter 1996) was seen in a smaller room.

Kate Moss Hologram, from “Alexander McQueen:  Savage Beauty”, 
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011
Video source YouTube

Nearby was a variation of the gown Moss wore, a gorgeous garment made up of hundreds of layers of raw-edged silk organza.  People struggled to see the hologram but no one took notice of the actual gown. The final room of the exhibition, covered in acrylic tiles like a clinical lab, held some of the designer’s last creations.

Alexander McQueen (British, 1969–2010),
“Jellyfish” Ensemble, Plato’s Atlantis, spring/summer 2010,
Dress, leggings, and “Armadillo” boots embroidered with iridescent enamel paillettes

Courtesy of Alexander McQueen

Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce

I commend Bolton and his team for their inventive display. This was museum experience as spectacular entertainment with the feel of a funhouse or carnival. Although it had much appeal as the attendance figures affirm, an important learning opportunity was missed. There was no probing under the surface of the show. I would have liked to see McQueen’s designs put in a social, cultural or art historical contact with expertise from a costume or textile specialist. This viewer wanted to know more and, in many instances, found it difficult to even find or read the show’s descriptive labels.

I am perfectly aware of the need to rethink the traditional museum exhibition (see ArtWithHillary, The Spectacular Design of The Red and White Quilt Show, April 15, 2011) but this must be accomplished without a loss of meaning and critical thought.

I have similar issues with the museum’s exhibition catalogue. The book juxtaposes McQueen quotes printed in large type with fashion photographs. To find details or references about the clothing, citations and notes, readers must turn to the end pages. This is not an easy task due to the book’s heft, proportions as well as font pattern, typeface size and ink color. Although the catalogue includes a preface by Andrew Bolton explicating the exhibition’s premise and execution, an introductory biographic essay by Susannah Frankel, fashion editor for The Independent and an interview with Sarah Burton by the fashion writer Tim Blanks, it is basically a picture book . This was no scholarly tome.

The fashion photographer Sølve Sundsbø, known for his digital altered prints, was responsible for the imagery. Live models were made to look like inanimate mannequins by painting their skin white, articulating their joints with string, and removing their heads from the final shot. Many photographs had imaginative cropping but this reader could not help but wish for a more straight forward presentation.

Eyebrows have been raised about the cozy relationships between donors and exhibits since the Guggenheim Museum held a Giorgio Armani show in 2000 after a major contribution by the designer. Alexander McQueen supplied the major funding for the Met’s exhibition. Keeping this in mind, such endeavors are still worthwhile if done with good judgement. Since fashion has been recognized as art which warrants major museums’ attention, criteria on par with other curatorial undertakings should be applied. Put dress in the context of history, culture and other disciplines. Look inside, outside and beyond the clothes. Treat fashion as any other artistic masterwork. Meanwhile, the definitive Alexander McQueen exhibit and study has yet to be done.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Friday, August 5, 2011, 
Photo by Ramsay de Give for The Wall Street Journal