William Poundstone
William Poundstone on Art and Chaos

William Poundstone’s Los Angeles County Museum on Fire

Posts Tagged ‘John Currin’

The Broad Buys Currin’s “The Storm”

The Broad Art Foundation continues to acquire in advance of its Grand Avenue museum’s opening, scheduled for 2015. One recent addition is John Currin’s The Storm (2013). Poised between a Bronzino/Veronese allegory and a porn shoot, Currin’s painting presents four figures oblivious to each other. The title invites comparison to Munch’s 1883 painting of women on the verge of a pre-deluge breakdown.

Hammer Unveils Marx Collection

In July 2007 Colorado collectors Susan and Larry Marx promised the cream of their contemporary drawing collection to the UCLA Hammer Museum. The trove is now on view in “Intimate Immensity: The Susan and Larry Marx Collection.” Greatly expanded since the original announcement, the Marx gift surpasses even Marcia Weisman’s revered collection of 83 works on paper, bequeathed to MOCA in 1996.

Susan Marx is a director of the Aspen Art Museum, and Larry is an investment fund manager turned real estate developer. Their promised gift was seen as a way of bridging the Hammer’s multiple personalities: Armand Hammer’s vanity museum; UCLA’s old-school university print room; and the then-new Hammer Contemporary Collection. That 2005 initiative was originally pitched as a collection of works on paper by emerging California artists, created in the past decade.

To that the Marxes pledged a blue-chip survey of mostly East Coast abstraction, 1950s to 1970s. ”Intimate Immensity” begins with a room of magisterial drawings by Gorky, Pollock (left, a 1951 drip drawing), de Kooning, Ad Reinhardt, David Smith, and Mark Tobey. All are satisfying museum pieces, and many are colorful watercolor or oil paintings on paper. There are three de Kooning women(!), two in oil on paper, and each perfect in its way.

I’m not even counting the best de Kooning of all, Asheville #1 (top of post), which is probably of the abstract female persuasion too. It’s a small oil drawing created in 1948, during de Kooning’s teaching stint at Black Mountain College and a few years after the Weisman Art Foundation’s breakout Pink Angels.

All the works on view are promised to the museum, and every artist and work is a smart, relevant choice. (There aren’t many single-collection shows for which you can make those two claims.) The original 70 pieces in the Marx gift are now more than doubled to over 150, including relatively more paintings. The Marxes have gone global and paid more attention to the West Coast—from John McLaughlin to Mark Bradford, both represented with major works. (Above is Bradford’s 2007 collage Smite, set to become the Hammer’s second big Bradford.)

There are multiple works in various media by Philip Guston, Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenberg,  Yayoi Kusama, and Ed Ruscha; good, smallish canvases by Joan MitchellSam Francis and Cy Twombly; a big, fantastic early painting by Eva Hesse. A vertical black-and-white Blinky Palermo from 1966 (left) calls an East Coast-West Coast truce between Ellsworth Kelly and John McLaughlin.

The installation culminates in a giddy, salon-style hang of A-list figurativish sheets that demonstrate just how clever and adventurous the collection is. The salon wall juxtaposes everyone from Carroll Dunham to Sigmar Polke to Charles Ray to Mark Grotjahn. Andy Warhol is represented with a suite of cat drawings in his most prissy early commercial style. For pure and premeditated prissy, it would be difficult to top John Currin’s The Bachelor (1995, before it was a reality show).

Eli Broad, You Complete Me

Jeffrey Deitch tells the Los Angeles Downtown News, “The Broad Foundation’s collection fits in very, very well, and does not really compete with MOCA’s collection. It’s complementary.” It’s no secret that Deitch is dying to have the Broad Collection land catecorner from MOCA Grand Avenue. It’s nevertheless hard to see how MOCA’s wide-ranging collection of international avant-garde art, from c. 1939 to the present, doesn’t “compete” with Broad’s collection of international avant-garde art from c. 1954 onward.
Deitch’s talking point in the Downtown News is that MOCA’s is a historic contemporary collection, “more heavily weighted in earlier works” while Broad’s is a real contemporary collection “anchored by newer contemporary works, from the 1960s onward.” Say what?
The Rothkos aside, MOCA has a history of acquiring emerging artists before the market recognizes them. Broad’s business plan is almost the opposite, favoring marketable blue-chips with upside potential. Case in point: John Currin’s Old Couple (pictured). Currin painted it in 1993, seven years out of Yale art school and a few years before he became an art market phenom. In November 2009 Sothebys auctioned Old Couple for an impressive $842,500. The winning bidder was dealer Larry Gagosian. Old Couple has recently been acquired by the Broad Foundation, to be displayed on Grand Avenue — or wherever the museum ends up.

“Renoir in the 20th Century”

LACMA’s “Renoir in the 20th Century” is founded on a paradox: The modernists we love loved the Renoir we love to hate. That’s the late, post-impressionist Renoir, from about 1890 to his death in 1919. The art trade’s shorthand for this period is “icky Renoir.” Yet Matisse credited the aging Renoir with “the loveliest nudes ever painted.” Picasso appropriated Renoir’s beefy physiques for his classical period. And it wasn’t just artists, who might admire a fellow painter for technical reasons obscure to the rest of us. The smartest avant-garde poets and critics praised Renoir to the skies. To Guillaume Apollinaire, Renoir was simply “the greatest painter of our time.” This from a man who ran with Picasso and Duchamp.
The show’s most astonishing statistic: French steel tycoon Maurice Gangnat owned 180 Renoirs. All dated from after 1905. (Many were sold to Philadelphia collector Alfred Barnes and aren’t in the show.)
But by late 20th century, everybody who counted had discounted late Renoir. Monet’s late style was said to prefigure Pollock and was avidly collected by museums. Meanwhile, late Renoir set curators’ deaccession trigger fingers itching. It was “bad” art overvalued by a vulgarian market. The Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum each sold late Renoirs (the Met’s reject, liquidated to buy a van Gogh, is on view).
In recent years, Renoir’s nudes have acquired a cult following, almost as if he were a newly discovered “outsider” artist. Another point of reference is the post-feminist, post-modern painters of the human body. The proportions and distortions of Renoir’s late nudes have parallels in the art of Lisa Yuskavage (right) and John Currin. Unfortunately, Yuskavage and Currin aren’t in this show, despite the fact that it’s on the second floor of the so-called Broad Contemporary Art Museum. (“BCAM” is becoming more and more like Voltaire’s definition of the Holy Roman Empire: “neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.”)
“Renoir in the 20th Century” hews to the economic constraints of ticketed-blockbuster programming. The street banners say simply “Renoir,” with no indication that this is the artist’s bad self. Many visitors will not know the difference. The show delivers massive quantities of Renoir’s late style, not only the nudes but the portraits, the landscapes, the costume pieces, and the collaborative sculptures. The few comparative works by early modernists don’t add much. There’s just one painting apiece by Picasso and Matisse; two by Bonnard, and several sculptures and drawings by Malliol. If the Picasso boosts Renoir’s reputation, it’s by demonstrating that the Spaniard could be just as boring as Renoir. One of the Bonnards, a Mediterranean landscape, has the opposite effect: It puts to shame a whole wall of Renoir’s mild-mannered landscapes. “Renoir in the 20th Century” ends up demonstrating the “icky” theory as much as challenging it. But the nudes are something else again. In a perfect, non-blockbuster world, the nudes might have been the show.
The most thought-provoking work in the exhibition is the last, The Large Bathers from the Musée d’Orsay (pictured). It’s easy to read it as comic: Plus-size nudes, ruddy and lumpy as hard-drinking Marseilles dockworkers, inhabit a sketchy landscape, a parody of impressionism. Incredibly, Matisse rated it Renoir’s masterpiece. Yet when the family gave to the French national museums, it seems they accepted only for lack of a graceful way of saying no.
The path to The Large Bathers began nearly 30 years earlier, with paintings like Bather Sitting on a Rock (at top, 1892). It’s got an erotic charge not associated with Impressionism. The pouty, pixyish facial expression remained a trademark, even as the bodies grew more Rubenesque, and it applied to Renoir’s rare male nymphettes too. It was clearly a successful formula, comparable to Margaret Keane’s goggle-eyed waifs, another variety of para-modern activity.
The nudes employ multiple perspectives. You see 51 percent of the bather’s body, that with a flattened perspective. It’s like a map peeled off the globe, or Tim Hawkinson’s flayed self-portraits. Cezanne was doing that with apples and ginger jars, but Renoir took the idea into new emotional territory. The zoned-out, pretty faces on borderline grotesque bodies anticipate Leger and even surrealism.
That brings us to the show’s greatest omission, Rene Magritte. During the wartime 1940s, Magritte channeled his depression over Nazi advances into a Renoir period, producing some 50 paintings of sunlit cheeriness. His appropriation was both more literal than any other big-name modern’s, and also more original.
In Favorable Omens (above, 1944), a late-Renoir bird excretes a bouquet of beautiful posies. Magritte used Renoir’s idiom as a vehicle for the irony that some post-moderns are now trying so hard to read into Renoir himself.