Opulence in 2013? Welcome to TEFAF

Three hours after boarding a train near Amsterdam, I stepped into the medieval town of Maastricht, which perks up around this time every year since The European Fine Art Foundation, or TEFAF, began in 1988. I joined the throngs of collectors, dealers, students, and art lovers in the wings. And then the doors opened to the world’s most lavish art fair, featuring exquisite fine art, antiques, jewelry and other treasures from more than 260 dealers.

TEFAF is as well known for putting on a spectacle as it is for its rigorous vetting process. To ensure that collectors can buy with highest confidence, a committee of 175 experts in various categories painstakingly examines each work for authenticity, condition, and quality. They employ XRF technology, and TEFAF was the first fair to incorporate The Art Loss Register. Furthermore, the fair is by invitation only: a gallery must have a fine pedigree in order to participate. Official categories include paintings, antiques, modern works, manuscripts, classical antiquities, haute joaillerie, design, and paper-based works. I was surprised at the diversity I encountered within these areas: modern sculpture, Uruguayan equestrian gear, Renaissance leather wall panels, Chinese porcelain, Iznik tiles, seventeenth-century metalwork, Japanese prints, Australian aboriginal art, and contemporary ceramics.

Though the fair’s calling card is Old Master paintings, the exhibition design boasted a modern flair, with sharp edges, sweeping high walls, a color palette of black, white, and gray, and a large-scale contemporary work adorning the entrance (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Entrance hall of TEFAF 2013 featuring Joanna Vasconcelos’ piece, Mary Poppins. Photograph by Harry Heuts.
Figure 1. Entrance hall of TEFAF 2013 featuring Joanna Vasconcelos’ piece, Mary Poppins. Photograph by Harry Heuts.

Continue reading “Opulence in 2013? Welcome to TEFAF”

Now Dig This! and the Ken Johnson Controversy: A Case For Pluralism in 20th Century Art History

Installation view of Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980 at MoMA PS1, © MoMA PS1. Photo by Matthew Septimus.
Installation view of Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980 at MoMA PS1. Photo by Matthew Septimus.

Ken Johnson’s controversial review of Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980, currently on view at MoMA PS1 through March 11, has become nothing less than an art world scandal, sparking a deluge of denouncements from readers, an open-letter and petition against the New York Times backed by prominent artists, critics and art historians, and even an attempted rebuttal on the art critic’s Facebook page, with continued debate in the comments section. Some of Johnson’s most problematic assertions focus on questions of originality and “quality,” each clearly sited in the historical standards of high Modernism. “Black artists did not invent assemblage,” he protests. “In its modern form it was developed by white artists like Picasso, Kurt Schwitters, Marcel Duchamp, David Smith and Robert Rauschenberg.” Later, the critic attacks the use of socially-engaged themes during a period in which art was supposed to be purged of realism and representation: “The art of black solidarity gets less traction because the postmodern art world is, at least ostensibly, allergic to overt assertions of any kind of solidarity.”[1]

These accusations would be relevant if Johnson’s concerns were shared by the exhibition’s curator, Columbia Professor Kellie Jones, but Now Dig This! is not intended to de-throne Duchamp and Rauschenberg. Jones presents Now Dig This! as an art historical survey of the African-American cultural scene in 1960s-1980s Los Angeles; she frames the exhibition as an arrangement of episodes rather than a singular narrative. Each gallery focuses on a different theme, style, or institutional network, thus allowing the viewer multiple points of entry into a wide body of artistic and historical material. Johnson’s attachment to the master narrative of Modernism is the first (and perhaps most innocuous) interpretive error of his review, revealing the degree to which this evolutionary historical model remains deeply ingrained in our thinking. Continue reading “Now Dig This! and the Ken Johnson Controversy: A Case For Pluralism in 20th Century Art History”

Moved by the Grandeur of Ancient Ruins,[1] the Artist Takes Notes – thoughts on three current, un-visitable London exhibitions [2]

Robert Rauschenberg, Cy + Relics, Rome, 1952. Gelatin silver print. Photo copyright the Rauschenberg Foundation.

“[…] he mistook the curtains of the window of his room for a canvas, and he kept describing what he was painting: the colors, shapes, and shades.”[3]

On broad empty surfaces, marks begin to show—indicative of fragility, a sense of loss? Or expectation? Thought-full? Thought-less? Mannerisms coincide. A type of gestural painting that emerges out of contradictions. Too much, I felt, too much pathos. Yet architectonic enough to let that pathos live, consume, burn out. “The Fire that Consumes All before It” he wrote in a 1978 painting. The type of art that requires more of the viewer, becoming manifest only after the first impatient encounter is past.

In museums I often grow impatient. It happened with Twombly every single time, while secretly I was flirting with those scratches and scribbles and grays, seduced by the casual violence of raw color stacked atop the fibers, the mad mess that verged on spilling onto the clean white gallery walls. That whole magnificent period in the ‘50s during which his life and career intersected with those of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns intrigued me. Likewise, his subsequent move to Italy: rare expat, never to return from a strange form of self-imposed exile. Continue reading “Moved by the Grandeur of Ancient Ruins,[1] the Artist Takes Notes – thoughts on three current, un-visitable London exhibitions [2]”

A Pacific Standard Time Travelogue, Part 3

Editor’s Note: This review was written in March 2012. It has been reprinted here in its original form.

For someone interested in Los Angeles art, Pacific Standard Time (PST), the Getty Initiative that connects over 60 Southern California cultural institutions and museums in an 11-month exploration and celebration of postwar Los Angeles culture, feels like a limited-time offer for an all-you-can-eat buffet. I have been visiting my parents’ home less and less over the past few years, feigning adulthood, but the advent of PST has rekindled my interest in visiting the old ancestral stomping grounds. This school year (2011-2012), I am capitalizing on my family connections and making three trips to Southern California—over Thanksgiving break, winter break, and in February for the CAA conference—to take in as much of PST as possible. Here, I’ll report on my pilgrimage in a series of three posts.

Santa Barbara on 26 February 2012

Itinerary: 2 exhibitions, 4 CAA panels
Money spent on parking: $8
Money spent on public transit: $33
Money spent on tickets: $5
Tanks of gas: 1.5
Freeways traveled: the 134, the 101, the 210, the 57, the 5, the 60, the 10
Exhibition catalogs purchased: 1
Tchotchkes purchased: 0 Continue reading “A Pacific Standard Time Travelogue, Part 3”

Situation Aesthetics: the Chance Encounter of Two Sound and Light Eliminators on the Art Historian’s Table

Robert Smithson, The Eliminator, 1964

To my eye, the one often reproduced photograph of Robert Smithson’s The Eliminator (1964) makes it a rather awkward and curious object, its title unnecessarily macabre. If only Smithson had been a contemporary of André Breton’s, I could have easily imagined the piece in one of the impromptu Surrealist shows. Much of that mystique is gone, now that I’ve finally seen it in person (it’s up at the New Museum in Ghosts in the Machine until September 30th), and I can certainly blame the black-and-white illustration for its unflattering shortcomings. Continue reading “Situation Aesthetics: the Chance Encounter of Two Sound and Light Eliminators on the Art Historian’s Table”

Locality and Multiplicity at Documenta 13

View of Kassel’s Orangerie and Karlsaue Park through Rahmenbau by Haus-Rucker-Co (1977)

Nowhere does art feel more global than at the biennials and exhibitions that happen at such regular intervals that their devotees can confidently book their hotel tickets up to five years in advance. Certainly this is true at Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany—a place with no particular history of strong artistic production in its own right, albeit a site with a very significant role in history itself. Yet in this global arena (this year’s Documenta includes physical or conceptual sites in Kassel, Kabul, Alexandria/Cairo, and Banff in Canada), a theme amongst the disparate works is a sense of place, a groundedness within the local—within the issues of the artist’s particular time and place—and one that is often framed within the larger historical scope of war. Though one theme among many (the exhibition included nearly 200 artists), this investigation of specific, localized moments in cultural and political history strikes a particular chord in Kassel, a tiny city smack in the center of Germany that was badly damaged by Allied bombs during World War II. The exceptional quality of the art on view and the panoply of locations from which they came make the associations, possible through the works’ juxtaposition, all the more striking and layered. Continue reading “Locality and Multiplicity at Documenta 13”

Robert Morris in the Guggenheim’s Panza Collection

The large-scale Robert Morris sculptures grouped in a bright room at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the members of the Panza Collection Initiative (PCI) told us, were there for one reason. Derelict, fragile, or compromised in some way, they were gathered as part of the PCI’s ambitious project to preserve and conserve the Guggenheim’s large holdings of Minimalist, Post-Minimalist, and Conceptual works, many acquired by the Guggenheim in 1991 and 1992 from Italian collector Giuseppe Panza di Biumo. What are the questions we face in considering the collection, preservation, and display of works borne out of the innovative artistic practices of the 1960s?

When we think of Morris’s large-form sculptures, it is easy enough to conjure them in the mind’s eye: L-beams, boxes, frames, and hovering platforms, especially as pictured in the well-known photographs of the Green Gallery and Dwan Gallery shows from the mid-1960s. But to say specifically what these works are made of is more difficult. Plywood, fiberglass, aluminum? Yet in looking at two iterations of Morris’s Untitled (Warped Bench), the difference in material is palpable: the later one (2004), made of painted plywood, has a crispness of edge lacking in its earlier (1965) fiberglass counterpart, a difference resulting from the exactness of facture possible with each material.

Exhibition at the Dwan Gallery, Los Angeles, April 1966.
Image courtesy Catherine Grenier, Robert Morris, exhibition catalog (Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1995): 227.

In front of Warped Bench, and only minutes into the discussion led by Jeffrey Weiss, Ted Mann, and Anne Wheeler, it was already becoming clear just how complicated the PCI’s task is, given the tangled web of historical and technical considerations relevant to Morris’s work. Continue reading “Robert Morris in the Guggenheim’s Panza Collection”

IFA at CAA: Stay Tuned

A number of IFA students and professors will be presenting at the upcoming 2012 CAA conference in Los Angeles, February 22 to 25 at the LA Convention Center.

If you’re planning to attend the conference, you can support your colleagues and classmates at the following panels!

Happenings: Transnational, Transdisciplinary
Wednesday, February 22, 9:30 AM–12:00 PM
Concourse Meeting Room 403B, Level 2, Los Angeles Convention Center
Guerrilla Tactics and International Happenings: An Expanded View of Brazilian Art of the Late 1960s and Early 1970s
Anna Katherine Brodbeck, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

The Interconnected Tenth Century
Wednesday, February 22, 9:30 AM–12:00 PM
Concourse Meeting Room 404A, Level 2, Los Angeles Convention Center
China among Equals: Recontextualizing the China-Abbasid Trade Connection in the Long Tenth Century
Hsueh-man Shen, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

Internationalizing the Field: A Discussion of Global Networks for Art Historians
Wednesday, February 22, 12:30 PM–2:00 PM
West Hall Meeting Room 501ABC, Level 2, Los Angeles Convention Center
Townhouse Gallery “Archive Map” Project
Clare Davies, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

From Camp to Visual Culture: Accounting for “Bad” Art since the 1960s
Wednesday, February 22, 2:30 PM–5:00 PM
Concourse Meeting Room 404A, Level 2, Los Angeles Convention Center
Good Ideas Done Bad: Neil Jenney’s Bad Paintings
Matthew Levy, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

Theorizing the Body
Thursday, February 23, 9:30 AM–12:00 PM
Concourse Meeting Room 403B, Level 2, Los Angeles Convention Center
Body of Work: Stylization and Ambiguity in the Benin Plaque Corpus
Kathryn Wysocki Gunsch, New York University

Towards a Rock and Roll History of Contemporary Art
Thursday, February 23, 2:30 PM–5:00 PM
Concourse Meeting Room 409AB, Level 2, Los Angeles Convention Center
Chairs: Matthew Jesse Jackson, University of Chicago; Robert Slifkin, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University
The Sense of an Ending: Spiral Jetty and the Stones at Altamont
William Smith, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

New Research in the Early Modern Hispanic World
Saturday, February 25, 9:30 AM–12:00 PM
West Hall Meeting Room 511BC, Level 2, Los Angeles Convention Center
Old Meets New: Classicizing Visions in Diego de Valadés’s “Rhetorica Christiana”
Laura Leaper, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University
Soldier Ecclesiasticus: Images of the Archangel Michael in New Spain
Niria Leyva-Gutiérrez, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

New Scholars Session
Saturday, February 25, 12:30 PM–2:00 PM
West Hall Meeting Room 501ABC, Level 2, Los Angeles Convention Center
The Garden Landscape and the French Interior
Lauren Cannady, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

(Re)Writing the Local in Latin American Art
Saturday, February 25, 2:30 PM–5:00 PM
West Hall Meeting Room 501ABC, Level 2, Los Angeles Convention Center
“Un Espacio Abierto”: Metaphors of Space and Community in
Mexico City’s “Temístocles 44”

Emily Sessions, New York University

Manuscripts without Moorings, Objects and Their Origins: Stylistic Analysis or Stylistic Attribution?
Saturday, February 25, 2:30 PM–5:00 PM
West Hall Meeting Room 501ABC, Level 2, Los Angeles Convention Center
Medieval Spanish Painting at the Crossroads: Stylistic Pluralism in the “Liber Feudorum Maior” of Barcelona
Shannon Wearing, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

Situating Expanded Cinema in Postwar Art Practice
Saturday, February 25, 2:30 PM–5:00 PM
Concourse Meeting Room 409AB, Level 2, Los Angeles Convention Center
“We Must Build Our Theaters in the Air”: Jaime Davidovich
and Public-Access Cable Television

Sarah Johnson Montross, New York University

Recap: 2012 IFA In-House Symposium

From left to right: Robert Brennan, Marci Kwon, and Lauren Jacobi at the 2012 IFA In-House Symposium,
January 27th, 2012. Photograph by Nita Roberts.

On Friday January 27th students and faculty filled the lecture hall for the in-house portion of the Institute of Fine Arts—Frick Symposium on the History of Art. A very dapper Alex Coyle, who coordinated the symposium along with Iman R. Abdulfattah, introduced the event as “an opportunity for IFA students to present their original research to the community.” PhD students Robert Brennan, Lauren Jacobi, and Marci Kwon delivered thirty-minute papers that summarized three very impressive—yet very different —scholarly projects. Though several professors were in attendance, I was pleasantly surprised at the strong student turnout. One rarely sees such a degree of IFA camaraderie outside the (cell phone-)friendly confines of the marble room. In this spirit I would like to share my thoughts on each of my fellow students’ presentations as well as the subsequent commentary. Continue reading “Recap: 2012 IFA In-House Symposium”

Paris, Politics, and Soto: A Conversation with Estrellita B. Brodsky

Estrellita B. Brodsky is experiencing what for many art historians is a dream come true: less than three years after receiving her PhD from the Institute of Fine Arts, she has succeeded in curating an exhibition based on her dissertation research on Latin American artists working in post-war Paris. Now on view at the Grey Art Gallery on NYU’s downtown campus through March 31, 2012, her exhibition, Soto: Paris and Beyond 1950-1970, focuses on the early Paris years of the Venezuelan maestro, Jesús Rafael Soto, a key member of the post-war international avant-garde who is today best recognized for his optically-challenging, immersive, and kinetic art. Just a week after the show’s opening, Brodsky kindly agreed to meet with me at the Grey to discuss her research, curatorial experience, and of course, Soto.

Our conversation began in the center of the Grey’s main gallery, surrounded by examples of each of the various phases explored by Soto between 1950, the year of his initial departure to Paris, and 1970, a culminating moment in his career following his first Paris retrospective at the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris and the realization of his famous Penetrables.[1] With a Cézannesque-Cubist rendering of a Venezuelan landscape behind us and an optically challenging Plexiglas piece to our right, I asked Brodsky to start at the beginning: why did she choose to study the work of Latin American artists in post-war Paris?

Jesús Soto. Sin título (Paisaje) {Untitled (Landscape)}, 1949. Oil on canvas. 21 5⁄8 x 18 7⁄8 in. (55 x 48 cm). Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.
Jesús Soto. Sans titre (Structure cinétique à éléments géométriques) {Untitled (Kinetic Structure with Geometric Elements)}, c. 1955–56. Paint on wood and Plexiglas. 24 x 24 x 9 3/4 in. (61 x 61 x 25 cm). Private collection © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.



Explaining that her interest in Venezuelan art is rooted in her personal history (her father arrived in the country in the 1920s, and Brodsky was a first-hand witness to the country’s booming arts scene in the 1960s), she also admitted to a certain selfishness in picking her topic. Continue reading “Paris, Politics, and Soto: A Conversation with Estrellita B. Brodsky”