What I Actually Saw in New York, part 2; plus bonus quickie reviews

My only other art encounter this week, after this one, was a trip to MoMA with a friend, though we didn’t actually see much. I spent more time in the gift shop, looking at books and at cleverly-designed but completely unnecessary kitchen utensils. We did hang out in Martha Rosler’s garage sale for awhile, perusing used clothes and tchotchkes. The artist was there, sorting items in a partitioned-off “back room,” occasionally coming out to give a price or talk to the MoMA assistants, making sardonic comments (“Are you the artist? “Unfortunately.”) My friend picked up a book designed as a gag-gift for single ladies in the ’70s (“Love is finding a man who doesn’t live with his mother”), and was also eyeing a set of someone’s psychiatry notebooks, already filled in with notes (is that ethical?). Our picture was taken and I’ll keep my eye out for it on the flickr.

In addition to that and our gift shop adventures, we went through a show of avant-garde photography from the collection. Then we were pretty much pooped and went for coffee. I had a bit more time that afternoon and considered going the Met, but I just couldn’t bring myself. I have guilt about not going out to see art as much as possible when I’m in New York, but sometimes I’m just art-ed out. Also, most of the shows I want to see will still be up when I’m home in December (though the holiday crowds may make me regret not taking advantage sooner): in addition to some of the ones listed here, the Picasso Black & White show was highly recommended to me, as were some shows at PS1.

I find in addition to a break from looking at art, I am enjoying a break from looking at screens, and am trying to read as much as possible. I’ve just finished Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan, which was much better than her last novel, Commencement, even though that one was about my alma mater; The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling (on audio), which was about as different from Harry Potter as you can get, though it did still grip me; and Food Rules by Michael Pollan, in a new edition illustrated by Maira Kalman who I absolutely adore. I am currently reading Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese, which I find compelling, though I’m annoyed that it took literally 100 pages to deliver twins: it was a dramatic birth, but the author kept inserting tangents just to keep his captive audience waiting and on edge–kind of manipulative. In my more academic moments, I’m also reading The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture, by a former professor of mine, Kevin Quashie.

I saw Lincoln, which I highly recommend (great acting, and anyone who’s anyone is in it), and which may inspire me to pick up Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book that it is partially based on; the movie made me realize how fascinating that history is–even the non-cinematized version–and how much of it I don’t know, despite my having some great American history teachers. I’m coming to realize I enjoy non-fiction more than I used to or more than I assumed I did, and so perhaps I should read more of it.

And I saw the play Dead Accounts, starring Norbert Leo Butz and Katie Holmes, a sort-of dark comedy. Butz, a Broadway star, was fantastic as always. Holmes’ acting was stilted: I don’t think she’s great to begin with, and she’s clearly not used to making stage-acting seem natural. The play itself had its moments and its… not moments. It had some great comedic dialogue, but the overall message was heavy-handed and black-and-white and simply untrue, juxtaposing Manhattan’s singular obsession with money with all that is good and pure in Cincinnati, Ohio–’cause nothing bad has ever happened there.

Feel free to leave me your book, or art, or movie, or anything recommendations in the comments section! In the words of Eddie Izzard, “I am not a priest, you may talk to me.”

What I Actually Saw in New York, part 1

As I had planned, I did see the Wayne Thiebaud retrospective at Acquavella Gallery. The thing about Thiebaud’s painting is that a few select pieces are just mind-blowing, and a lot of the other works are just ok. A few years ago I interned at the Toledo Museum of Art, right after they had acquired a Thiebaud painting; it was positively stunning. Taking a close look at the silverware reveals tiny strokes of unexpected colors–greens and reds and yellows and blues.

Wayne Thiebaud, Roast Beef Dinner (Trucker’s Supper), 1963, Collection of the Toledo Museum of Art

That painting was enough to make me fall in love with the artist, but few of the works in this show were as rewarding to me. Perhaps the closest was a pastel that depicted pastels–it was highlighted in John Yau’s review for Hyperallergic.

There were four galleries, divided by theme; two of his famous still lives of food, one of landscapes, one of portraits. There is a reason he’s known for his still lives; they’re better than the other categories. His cityscapes usually involve some unexpected skewed perspective: a street that tilts too far, intersecting buildings at strange angles. They’re a bit too obvious, and their garish sunset colors are distracting. Far better then was a charcoal drawing of the same subject–it made the surreal perspective more subtle, the black and white contrast making for a much more appealing composition.

Big Condominium, 2008, oil on canvas

There was a similar issue with the portraits: they were far too intentionally odd, with still poses, neon highlights, unnatural arrangements of cosmetics. Again, the best of these was a more subtle and therefore successful kind of surreal, juxtaposing the true-to-life with the not: titled The Speaker, it featured a a scholarly gentleman at a podium all caught up in his notes, surrounded by an otherwise nearly abstract geometric setting.

Girl with Ice Cream Cone, 1963, oil on canvas

The still lives are generally more successful, but as I said few of them excited me the way the Toledo painting does. I’m a big fan of whimsy: one that really fit this bill was an image of a square box of french fries on a white ground–it resembled a sled on a snowy field. Another love of mine is thick, tactile paint strokes. I was just getting to one of the thickest when the guards kicked us out, and I didn’t get to stare at it as long as I would have liked.

Boston Cremes, 1962, oil on canvas

I tried to go to the Calder bronze show, but even though they claimed to be open til 5:30, the gallery seemed to be closed. It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, after all. Probably going to MoMA tomorrow! Reports to come.

What I Might See in New York, part 3: Gangnam Style

A quick list of what else I might see in New York, following up on this post and this post:

1) Calder Bronzes at L&M Arts

2) Richard Artschwager at the Whitney

3) the Warhol influences show and the photo manipulation before photoshop show at the Metropolitan

And, some dance-worthy art news. The entire art world is going Gangnam Style, in support of Ai Wei Wei and a Gangnam parody video that he made and that was banned in China.

The photos are pretty priceless–from Anish Kapoor to the staff of MoMA:

What I Might See in New York, part 2

Something else I want to see: a retrospective of Wayne Thiebaud‘s work at Acquavella Galleries. 1) who can resist his color, his brushwork, his compositions as sweet at the confections he depicts? 2) It’s a clear example of a relatively recent phenomenon–galleries doing exhibitions like a museum: spanning the artist’s entire career and not just recent work for sale; curated by a major scholar; consisting of loans from major collections all over the country.

Wayne Thiebaud, “Yo Yos,” 1963, oil on canvas

And, just pointed out to me (thank you FW) is this review in Hyperallergic by John Yau. The article probes the ways Thiebaud hasn’t always been taken seriously by the art establishment, and lays out some excellent reasons why he should be. If it wasn’t already, this exhibition has moved to the top of my to-do list.

What I Might See in New York, part 1

Going home (to NYC) for Thanksgiving break. There won’t be a ton of time for art perusing, but I’m sure I’ll find a way. I still need to look into what’s on and then prioritize. Here’s one thing I might go for: a real garage sale at the Museum of Modern Art held by Martha Rosler. Not only would I experience an art event, I might pick up something useful for a good price!

There’s also a few interesting notes about how the installation was set back by Hurricane Sandy. The ways the New York art world has been affected just keep coming up.

More as I look into what’s on

Recent Encounter: “In the Holocene”

This is less full a review, and more quick notes and impressions on an exhibition. One reason not to review fully is that it is an e exhibition that I personally worked on, and so my perspective is skewed. Another is time and energy constraint: you’ve likely noticed the greatly reduced frequency of my posts the last few months. In order to keep this blog sustainable during my busy working life, I need to let go of the idea of fully developed posts.

I was in Boston last weekend, and one of my goals was to see a few exhibitions I’d worked on while I was in grad school there. The first was In the Holocene at the MIT List Visual Arts Center, which I worked on as an intern for over a year. The exhibition tackles the alternative ways that artists have approached scientific principles, including mathematics, different orders of time, biological mimicry, etc.

And after a year of staring at thumbnails in our excel spreadsheet checklist, it was such a pleasure to see the works in the flesh. Since that year was spent so focused on the intellectual and conceptual underpinnings of the show, it was refreshing to see that, in fact, the physical objects included were stunningly beautiful. I was particularly attracted to several sculptures by contemporary female artists, and would have loved to spend a long time just contemplating them:

images are not from the show, and may not be the exact pieces in the show

Carol Bove, Aurora, concrete, bronze, steel and seashells, 2012

Leonor Antunes, Chain of Triangles (from Vernet to Barcelona), 2011, Copper

Thea Djordjadze, Mathèmat, 2006, lacquered steel

Pamela Rosenkranz, Stay True, from the series ‘Firm Being’, 2009

Some works made use of such unique materials that their tactility was quite unlike anything I’d seen before, and these too encouraged prolonged viewing:

Jimmie Durham, Semi-arbitrary patterns, 2004, Stoning, plastic, metal, wood

Laurent Grasso, Studies Into the Past, 2011, oil on oak panel

Rashid Johnson, Electric Universe, black soap, wax, vinyl, wood, book, brass, incense, shea butter, and space rocks

I recall from my work on the show the long struggle over the installation: would all the works we’d chosen even fit? Oh wait, will we actually have enough work to fill the space? Should we choose a dramatic wall color, maybe a dark gray? The installation ended up spare – but by no means sparse – and white, which in fact was the perfect way to let the objects speak, both individually and to each other. I am extremely pleased and proud.

Election-Day Quickie

A quick post with a link to an article in the New York Times about what happens–or doesn’t happen–after a fake artwork is identified.

The rest of this week I will be at the New England Museum Association conference, and hope to blog about any particularly interested sessions or issues that come up.

‘Til then, get out and vote!

Artists I Like: A Salute to General Idea

For a “Curating Contemporary Art” class last year, we were tasked with creating a theoretical exhibition. I chose the Canadian collective General Idea (1969-1994), because, well, I like them, but also because,

though well-recognized through retrospective exhibitions in Canada and Europe, [I thought they] deserved more attention here.

I also noted:

a recent revived interest in art of the eighties, particularly art related to AIDS-activism (including an upcoming show at the [MCA Chicago and] ICA Boston curated by Helen Molesworth).

With that heightened focus, General Idea seems to making a frequent appearance in e-flux and other art announcements, including in that very exhibition I mentioned, This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, in an installation similar to the one I imagined.


Installation by General Idea in “This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s at the MCA Chicago and ICA Boston


My theoretical exhibition, as designed in Google SketchUp

which you can view in more detail and navigate in 3D here, and was based on a previous installation:

General Idea, “Infections,” as installed at the World Wide Video Centre, The Hague, Netherlands, November 1994

Other recent mentions that have come up – an edition that the collective intended to produce in 1980 but did not fully complete, called Liquid Assets:

General Idea, “Liquid Assets,” 1980

and an announcement of a lecture by AA Bronson, the surviving member of the trio, at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, accompanied by a brief interview in their magazine.

AA Bronson