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”

The many authoritative faces of Walid Raad: Thoughts from the lecture hall at the IFA

Dr. Fadl Fakhouri, "Already Been in a Lake of Fire_Notebook Volume 38," 1999. Digital color print.
1 of 9 plates, 30 x 42 cm each. Via The Atlas Group: http://www.atlasgroup.org/

My internal conversation with the work of Walid Raad began as I paged my way through a monograph of his work, entitled Scratching on Things I Could Disavow: Some Essays from The Atlas Group Project (Cologne: Walther König, 2008), before the artist’s recent lecture at the Institute of Fine Arts on February 23, 2012. A Lebanese-born artist and associate professor at The Cooper Union, Raad is perhaps best known for his work under the guise of The Atlas Group, a fictional collective founded to examine the political, social, and psychological effects of Lebanon’s Civil War through archival documentation.

This archival documentation takes on a variety of forms, ranging from photographs of Raad’s personal collection of bullets, found during his teenage years in Beirut, to reproductions of documents attributed to (fictional) figures like Dr. Fadl Faukhouri, a leading historian of the Civil War until his death in 1993. The assembled contributions of Dr. Faukhouri and others seem to treat the war somewhat objectively by focusing on minute details and empirical data. In actuality, however, they suggest both the extreme psychological effects of the war upon the Lebanese people and the concomitant difficulty of portraying this people’s experience of war. For example, notebooks in The Atlas Group archive that belonged to Dr. Faukhouri show that the historian would obsessively walk the streets of Beirut in search of intact versions of models of cars recently destroyed by car bombs. He would then photograph his finds, to document the frequency with which certain makes and models were used in these bombings.

The aforementioned monograph, Scratching on Things I Could Disavow, published on the occasion of the exhibition The Atlas Group (1989-2004): A Project by Walid Raad at Culturgest in Lisbon, contains reproductions of articles, interviews, and documents that relate to Raad’s work and to the archive formed by The Atlas Group. Following Raad’s practice of exhibiting photographs of documents and objects, rather than the documents and objects themselves, the book comprises a series of overhead scans of papers, magazines, and articles. Each is related to Raad’s oeuvre in some way, although his role in their authorship is not always immediately clear. Even when he explicitly states that the Group is an imaginary foundation, as he does often in exhibitions and lectures, he notes that his audience sometimes fails to grasp the “imaginary nature” of the Group and its documents.[1] For Raad, “this confirms to me the weighty associations with authority and authenticity of certain modes of address (the lecture, the conference) and display (the white walls of a museum or gallery, vinyl text, the picture frame), modes that I choose to lean on and play with at the same time.”[2] I would add to this list of confusingly authoritative documents the monograph he has published.

Raad’s remark sets the stage for my comments on his recent lecture at the IFA, “Scratching on Things I Could Disavow.” Continue reading “The many authoritative faces of Walid Raad: Thoughts from the lecture hall at the IFA”

2012 Varnedoe Lecture 1: “Setting the Stage: From Postcolonial Utopia to Postcolonial Realism”

Okwui Enwezor gave his first talk of the Kirk Varnedoe Lecture Series on Tuesday, February 21, called “Setting the Stage: From Postcolonial Utopia to Postcolonial Realism.” His series is titled “Episodes in Contemporary African Art,” which foreshadows a methodology centered not on grand narratives but on case studies that can enliven our understanding of an emerging field behind which Enwezor himself has been the driving force.

Today, we are all well aware that contemporary art has become a “global” phenomenon; from Chelsea to Venice we confront cutting-edge works by non-Western artists. William Kentridge, El Anatsui, Yinka Shonibare MBE, and Ghada Amer have all held significant retrospectives in recent years, in addition to countless others featured in group exhibitions. However, the “globalization” of contemporary art didn’t happen overnight, and as art historians we still lack a comprehensive understanding of the transition from “traditional” to “contemporary” in many parts of the world, especially Africa. Hence, Enwezor’s inaugural lecture, aptly titled “Setting the Stage,” offered a timeline against which the emergence of contemporary African art can be set.

William Kentridge, Drawing from Stereoscope, 1998–99. Charcoal, pastel, and colored pencil on paper (47 1/4 x 63 inches). Image courtesy Museum of Modern Art, NY.
Yinka Shonibare, MBE, How to Blow up Two Heads at Once (Ladies), 2006. Two mannequins, two guns, wax printed cotton textile, shoes, leather riding boots, plinth (93 1/2 X 63 X 48 inches). Image courtesy James Cohan Gallery.

Enwezor premised his talk around an inversion of the dictum that begins E.H. Gombrich’s The Story of Art—“There is no art as such, there are only artists”—proposing that when it comes to Western reception of African art, the reverse is often assumed; namely, that there are no African artists as such, only African art. African art has often been associated with ritual and collective production, in opposition to Western art history’s preoccupation with artistic genius, the “Master,” and individual oeuvres.
Continue reading “2012 Varnedoe Lecture 1: “Setting the Stage: From Postcolonial Utopia to Postcolonial Realism””

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”

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

Professor Stanley Abe: “The Modern Moment of Chinese Sculpture” at the IFA

Buddha, Probably Amitabha (Amituo), Tang dynasty (618–907), early 7th century China, hollow dry lacquer with pigment and gilding, 38 x 27 x 22 1/2 inches (96.5 x 68.6 x 57.1 cm).
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

On January 31, 2012, Professor Stanley Abe gave a lecture entitled “The Modern Moment of Chinese Sculpture” as part of the Silberberg Lecture Series at the Institute of Fine Arts. Abe is an associate professor of art history at Duke University and has written extensively on Chinese Buddhist art, contemporary Chinese art, Asian American art, and the construction of art historical knowledge. His current research is on the movement of sculpture out of China in the early twentieth century, and his lecture on Wednesday drew on this project. Abe began his lecture by citing the introduction of the oft-quoted Art in China (1997) by Sinologist Craig Clunas: “’Chinese art’ is a quite recent invention, not much more than a hundred years old.” He pressed on, “The creation of ‘Chinese art’ in the nineteenth century allowed statements to be made about, and values to be ascribed to, a range of types of object.” This statement succinctly sums up what Abe’s lecture took to be its main argument, namely, that Chinese sculpture became a category of art in the latter half of the 19th century. Abe’s lecture traced the invention and development of Chinese sculpture as a class of art that sprung from the Modernist project of historicizing the past and recoding structures of knowledge surrounding Chinese art. Continue reading “Professor Stanley Abe: “The Modern Moment of Chinese Sculpture” at the IFA”

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”