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”

Architecture In Uniform talk by Jean-Louis Cohen at NYPL

Architecture in Uniform, published by the Canadian Centre for Architecture and Hazan Editions, 2011.

On February 29, 2012, Professor Jean-Louis Cohen gave a public talk on his new book, Architecture in Uniform: Designing and Building for WWII, at the Mid-Manhattan branch of the New York Public Library.

Cohen began research for Architecture in Uniform—a project that would be some fifteen years in the making—as a way to pay some long overdue attention to architectural production during World War II. In the existing scholarship, most of the focus is placed on the avant-garde 1920s, groundbreaking interwar building, and post-WWII reconstruction. The years 1937 to 1945–during which time the preparation, mobilization, destruction, and reconstruction associated with WWII took place–are noticeably absent from many survey texts of modern architectural history. Cohen’s aim was to investigate and ultimately to close this curious gap in the scholarship, which the author indubitably does. Continue reading “Architecture In Uniform talk by Jean-Louis Cohen at NYPL”

Carroll Dunham: Artist as Medium

When Carroll Dunham loaded his PowerPoint presentation for his Artists at the Institute lecture, “Carroll Dunham Speaks About His Recent Work,” at the IFA on March 22, he requested that the projectionist leave the screen blank before he began his talk. My guess is that he didn’t want to scare away the audience with his first image–either Hers/Dirt/One (2009) or a similar painting–-which is part of his most recent series and features a naked female figure bending over. Sometimes bathing, sometimes just bending over, usually with face obscured and arms spread in a landscape setting, his characters’ genitalia (often depicted in “shockingly pink” colors) are typically the central focus in these paintings.[1] Clearly self-conscious and a little embarrassed about the direction his art has taken, Dunham began his lecture by saying that he “knows very little about it.” His lecture, followed by a provocative Q&A session, was the personal account of an artist who has seemingly let go of artistic agency and has become something of a medium, passively channeling his expression.

Hers/Dirt/One (2009). 51 x 66 inches. Mixed media on canvas.
Courtesy Carroll Dunham website.

This female series is not the first time that Dunham has steadily riffed on a theme for many years during his career. For roughly a decade, from the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s, Dunham’s work mostly centered around a cartoony male figure with a top hat and phallic/pistol-like nose. In describing that series, Dunham curiously verged on speaking in the third person. He said that at a certain point this male character–“a simple, dumb figure”-–entered his work and after a while he couldn’t imagine a painting without it. Following the compulsion to depict this subject matter, he began to “close in” on the character, cropping it in different ways, adding new elements, and even eliminating color, in hopes of eventually ridding his canvases of the invasive figure. Continue reading “Carroll Dunham: Artist as Medium”

March 20 CAC Event: Robert Morris in the Guggenheim’s Panza Collection

A Seminar for IFA Students and Faculty
Tuesday, March 20, 2012, 2:00-4:00 PM

The Contemporary Art Consortium at the Institute of Fine Arts, in collaboration with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s Panza Collection Initiative, invites students and faculty to visit and discuss a private installation of works by artist Robert Morris selected from the Guggenheim’s Panza Collection.

The group will meet on Tuesday, March 20, at 2:00 PM at an installation space located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, in which the PCI has installed one dozen important works by the artist for the consideration of a committee of art historians and conservators who will gather in the space for a two-day meeting the week prior to the student visit.

Panza Collection Initiative members — Jeffrey Weiss, Francesca Esmay, Ted Mann, and Anne Wheeler — will lead a discussion of issues raised by the works. Participants are also encouraged to raise topics of related interest with regard to the work. Because discussion will be based on immediate reference to the works of art themselves, participation is limited to 20.

Ticket/entry details:

Registration open to the IFA community only. Reservation required. To register, please send an e-mail to awheeler[at]guggenheim[dot]org with your name and affiliation.

The event will be held at SurroundArt in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Please allow adequate time for transportation (approximately 25 minutes by car or 45-60 minutes by subway from the IFA). Location details will be provided to confirmed participants.

A Pacific Standard Time Travelogue, Part 2

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.

Las Palmas Dr. in Fullerton on 28 December 2011

Itinerary: 24 exhibitions
Money spent on parking: $37.75
Money spent on tickets: $56.50
Tanks of gas: 2ish
Freeways traveled: the 5, the 57, the 55, the 73, the 133, PCH, the 60, the 10, the 710, the 605, the 110, the 105, the 210, the 91
Exhibition catalogs purchased (so far): 3
Tchotchkes purchased: Eyebolt, Sheila Levrant de Bretteville (1972/1978) from Otis Continue reading “A Pacific Standard Time Travelogue, Part 2”

Peter Halley: Isolation and Connectivity in the Big Apple

Peter Halley’s work is distinctive—once you’ve seen a few Peter Halleys you can easily pick them out.  Buying into this perception to a certain extent, the “paintings” tab of his website has an “overview” option.  If a visitor to his site so desires, he or she can literally scroll through his entire oeuvre to see how Halley has reworked his simple iconography of squares, rectangles, and lines over the course of his career, steadily embracing a neon DayGlo palette.  However, his “Artists at the Institute” lecture at the IFA on February 2nd provided insight into the profoundly thoughtful artist behind the paintings.  Indeed, his highly individual style is a hermetic rumination on subject matter close to his heart: How to cope with the isolation of modern life and find human connection, particularly in New York City.

Peter Halley, The Grave, 1980. Courtesy Peter Halley's website.

Halley began his lecture by discussing his move to New York City in 1980 and a linchpin piece, The Grave, that helps unlock the iconographical implications of his work.  The minimalist painting depicts a stark whitish rectangle resting on a black ground with a sickly yellow background.  The isolation of death comes through clearly.  Looking back at this work from 32 years ago, Halley revealed that the piece’s deadpan style harbors a “touch of emotional depression.”  It is hard not to imagine that the painting bespeaks the profound loneliness of a transplanted artist amidst the bustling, crowded streets of New York.
Continue reading “Peter Halley: Isolation and Connectivity in the Big Apple”