Summer Fridays are in effect here, and I’m also traveling. For some quick-hit thoughts on the Hirshhorn/Bubble situation, please see my Twitter. Link at right.
Tyler Green Modern Art Notes
The Saint Louis Art Museum opens a new David Chipperfield-designed wing on June 29, and one of Friedman’s new works, Untitled (Seascape) (2012) graces the first gallery. The museum acquired the work last year. Friedman, who was born and raised in Saint Louis, returns to the show to tell us about the piece.
Then we’ll have clips featuring Pittman and Neshat. Each is the subject of a career survey at U.S. museums: A retrospective of Neshat’s work is on view at the Detroit Institute of Arts through July 7 and “Lari Pittman: A Decorated Chronology” opens at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis tomorrow and is up through August 11.
The Modern Art Notes Podcast is an independent production of Modern Art Notes Media. The program is edited by Wilson Butterworth. The MAN Podcast is released under this Creative Commons license.
For images of artworks discussed on this week’s show, please click through to the jump.
For the first time, a national organization of arts professionals is putting heat on the Indianapolis Museum of Art as a result of director Charles Venable’s recently announced layoffs.
Here’s how: Today the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works and Heritage Preservation announced that the IMA is the winner of the 2013 Ross Merrill Award for Outstanding Commitment to the Preservation and Care of Collections. The award has been given by AIC and HP since 1999. Previous winners include the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Colonial Williamsburg.
In a press release, AIC and HP explained why IMA was receiving the award:
From its beginnings, the leadership of the IMA recognized the importance of the care of its collections and, over the years, the conservation staff have coordinated activities with other departments within the museum and assisted local collecting institutions with their conservation needs. Its original conservation laboratory was expanded and upgraded over the years, and, within the past five years, the IMA constructed an analytical and research laboratory and hired its first conservation scientist.
Taking a leading role in outreach for museums and collection care, the IMA has also instituted groundbreaking web initiatives featuring curators, conservators, and significant collections. From its award-winning online engagement activities such as ArtBabble, to its goals for institutional transparency on the Dashboard, the IMA exemplifies an institution-wide commitment to preservation.
That’s an eye-catching citation, mostly because the cited initiatives have been the targets of Venable’s cuts.
Furthermore, the timing of AIC/HP’s awarding the Merrill to IMA is somewhat remarkable: AIC’s annual meeting starts next week — and the host of the meeting just happens to be the IMA. To make this all even more awkward, the IMA’s conservation department has been particularly hard hit by Venable’s layoffs. The IMA has announced cuts of 11 percent of staff museum-wide, but Venable has laid off 25 percent of the conservation department’s 12-person staff. (Sources tell MAN that a fourth employee’s future status is uncertain. If that staffer is let go, Venable will have eliminated a third of the award-winning department.)
With all this in mind, I emailed AIC executive director Eryl Wentworth to ask if the AIC was trying to put some heat on Venable. Surprisingly — professional associations rarely take dead aim at institutions, even when those institutions are cutting staff who are members of or within the field of the relevant professional association — Wentworth said yes.
“The nomination was recommended by the Awards Committee and voted for approval by both the AIC and Heritage Preservation boards late last year,” she emailed. “Following news of the cuts, we determined that the presentation of this award to the IMA, along with our support of the conservation staff and their work over many years, is an opportunity to impart to the IMA leadership the significance of the museum’s conservation and collections outreach activities, locally and nationally, and the importance of supporting these efforts in the future.”
Should make Venable’s presumed acceptance of the Merrill Award at the IMA next week all the more interesting, no?
Throughout Shirin Neshat’s video installation Passage, on view at the Detroit Institute of Arts through July 7 as part of the museum’s retrospective of her work, a young girl plays with rocks, arranging them into a circle. It’s not clear what she’s building, but given her focus on order and sequence, it seems as though she’s building some kind of structure, possibly even something utilitarian.
Video of this young girl is interspersed with shots of two other scenes: a group of men carrying an undefined burden, and a group of women who rhythmically chant and dig a hole in the ground. At the end of Passage the three seemingly separate scenes coalesce: The men arrive near the women — here we come to realize it that the women’s labor may be resulting in a kind of primitive grave — and the men, the woman and the child are finally joined in a single shot as the men place what appears to be a shrouded body in the ground and a wide arc of flame races around the landscape.
I thought about Passage and its themes of journey, communal accomplishment, generational succession and even rebirth a few weeks ago at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, which is just a few blocks south of the DIA and its Neshat show. I was visiting just as MOCAD was putting the finishing touches on “Mobile Homestead,” a project created by the late Mike Kelley. The project is sited in a formerly vacant lot behind MOCAD’s Woodward Ave.-facing building. (In this Google Satellite image, the land behind MOCAD is being leveled, probably for “Mobile Homestead.”) Kelley’s project is motivated by the same themes that fill the Neshat, a kind of physical realization of ideas that have interested artists at least since they started making Flight to Egypt paintings. (Speaking of which, the DIA has a nice Murillo take on such.) More on that in a minute.
MOCAD describes “Mobile Homestead” as a “permanent art work” and as “a public sculpture and a private, personal architecture,” which is to say it isn’t quite sure yet what it is. The Museum also describes “Mobile Homestead” as “permanent,” but is it? Well, no, not exactly: Much of the structure can be driven away from MOCAD’s nascent campus — and periodically will be — into Detroit neighborhoods where it will serve as a community space, possibly as a sort of art-cum-bookmobile-style something-or-other-ish.
Is it a public sculpture? Um, it was certainly ordained by an artist, but other than that, no, not really. “Mobile Homestead” is a functional house-like structure, complete with heating and plumbing. Is it a “personal architecture?” Yes, that’s certainly MOCAD’s most accurate description of “Mobile Homestead”: Kelley loosely modeled the thing after his boyhood home in suburban Detroit.
So as it’s not exactly clear yet what “Mobile Homestead” is, perhaps the best way of explaining the thing is to consider what it is for. Except, well… that’s mostly TBD too. MOCAD is putting the offices of its public education and community engagement department into “Mobile Homestead,” and those offices will effectively keep the schedule of the place. The museum hopes local arts groups or knitting circles or revival meetings or who-knows-what-else will use it. The building also has a garage, and the museum hope bands will book it for gigs, or even that Aunt Maude and Uncle Jim will use it to show slides from their Upper Peninsula vacation. To the extent that there is a pre-specified plan for the Kelley, it is to have no pre-specified plan for the Kelley. The idea is simply to open up a structure that will serve as a place where people and community groups that need a place to continue their journeys or to pass knowledge or ritual from one generation to the next may do so. Who knows how it will turn out?
As such it’s a very Mike Kelley idea: “Mobile Homestead” rejects the traditional idea of what an art museum or a kunsthalle is, an idea that’s been in place in the United States since the late 19th century. To understand how radical “Mobile Homestead” is, think about what an art museum typically does: It takes the result of an artist’s labor and presents it, either as part of that institution’s collection or in a contextualizing exhibition. And while MOCAD is billing “Mobile Homestead” in terms that contextualize the Kelley within that exact museo-tradition — note MOCAD’s use of terms like “sculpture” ” and “art work” in describing the Kelley — “Mobile Homestead” is really bricks-and-mortar-siding as subversion, an idea-cum-structure that forces an art museum to place the artist’s ideas and goals ahead of a curator’s (or a director’s or a marketing department’s or anyone else’s). Then because we almost never accept radical ideas when they’re presented in their most seditious form, Kelley has cloaked his rebellion in something Americans are trained to accept, or even aspire to: the blandness of suburban architecture.
Kelley’s camel’s-nose-under-the-Beaux-Arts-pile would be doomed to eventual assimilation, to being subsumed within the art museum or kunsthalle that hosts it, but for one key factor: Money. The Mike Kelley Foundation, which sources tell me will have an asset value in the mid-to-high eight figures when the Kelley estate is settled, is likely to to fund the operation of “Mobile Homestead,” whatever operation that ends up being. (So too is the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.) Kelley’s crazy idea has a chance of long-term success mostly because the art world has effectively supported Kelley’s most radical ideas buy buying his most traditional ones: Art objects.
That said, art museums are catching up with Kelley’s idea — and fast. “Audience engagement” is the new museum buzz-phrase. Institution’s as nimble as the Hammer Museum and as traditional as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art have staffers with the title of “curator” whose job is essentially to take the ideas or projects of activists who call themselves artists and to find a place for them within the time-tested art museum format. For example: At the Hammer, Allison Agsten holds the title “curator of public engagement” and puts on ‘events’ such as Fritz Haeg’s communal project “Domestic Integrities” (above right). The same museum office enables unexpected interventions into the museum’s spaces or products, such as this Kate Pocrass project. These, uh, things, whatever form they may take, are typically less art than they are activities, community projects or activism that fits within the spirit of a contemporary art museum’s progressiveness. (Picture the ultimate super-meta art event: Haeg holding one of his “Domestic Integrities” knitting circles inside Kelley’s “Mobile Homestead.”)
That’s not to say that ideas like Kelley’s or “audience engagement” curators are completely divorced from art. Think back to Neshat’s Passage or to Murillo’s Flight into Egypt. Both are traditional artworks, manifestations of artists’ process and decision-making. To the extent that Kelley’s “Mobile Homestead” or Haeg’s “Domestic Integrities” have a claim to being art, that’s it: They eschew the idea that artworks must be objects. Instead they strip art down to one of its elemental roots, process, and dictate that the processes of others is in itself an artwork (even ‘their’ artwork). Think of them as Richard Serra’s Hand Catching Lead (1968, at left) — only with the hand being yours, and minus the video.
- In the Saint Louis Beacon, Bob Duffy likes the new David Chipperfield-designed galleries and the initial installation at the Saint Louis Art Museum’s new wing (at right), but found elements of the museum’s expansion plan disappointingly unambitious. (So apparently I’m not the only one thinking SLAM would benefit from more ambition.)
- The Plain-Dealer’s Steven Litt reports that Janet Cardiff’s Forty Part Motet (2001) has touched down in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Indoor Garden Court, aka its superb gallery of early 16th-century art.
- Christopher Knight notes that Jeffrey Deitch, who, at last check is still the director of MOCA, seems to think the art market is more important than artists.
- Holland Cotter reviews the International Center of Photography’s triennial and finds the show’s curators embracing artists who eagerly mix media and source material.
- Jen Graves makes me really want to visit the Henry right now — and not. The installation about which she writes sounds creepy, interesting.
- In the LA Times, Karen Wada offers a quick-hit on the Huntington’s website-cum-online-exhibition taken from the 70,000-image Southern California Edison photo archive.
- Ken Johnson has a smart take on Imram Qureshi’s installation on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art — and Johnson offers an interesting twist on the phrase “site-specific.”
- The Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott hopes the Hirshhorn builds its Bubble, but his reasons are somewhat curious: They ignore the Hirshhorn’s mission (art!) and the project’s duplication of an already extant museum space. Then there’s this phrase, which Kennicott casually dropped at the end of a sentence as if it was common or accepted knowledge: “… the remarkable accomplishments of [Richard's] Koshalek’s tenure atop the Hirshhorn.” The what?!
- Finally, expect a Hirshhorn-trustees vote on the Bubble on Thursday. Keep an eye on the Post or the Washington CityPaper for the news (as I’ll be traveling).
- In LA Weekly, Catherine Wagley offers up a mini-profile of star LACMA curator Rita Gonzalez. In the same issue, Erica Zora talks with Laura Owens.
- With a second Civil War-related exhibition about to open at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (this one joins this one), Barbara Pollack takes to ARTnews to consider how artists are still considering the Civil War in their work.
- On this week’s Modern Art Notes Podcast: In a show taped in front of a live audience at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, Marianne Stockebrand discusses her terrific new exhibition of Donald Judd’s 1980s multi-colored objects. Download the show. Subscribe to The MAN Podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher or RSS. See images of art discussed on the program.
This week’s Modern Art Notes Podcast features Marianne Stockebrand, the curator of “Donald Judd: The Multicolored Works” and the former director of the Chinati Foundation. The program was taped before a live audience at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, where “The Multicolored Works” is on view through January 4.
This is the first museum exhibition to focus on Judd’s use of color, and more specifically Judd’s use of color in the 1980s, when he discovered a process that enabled a new kind of sculpture. “The Multicolored Works” includes 23 Judd sculptures as well as works on paper and collages from the collection of the Judd Foundation that reveal Judd’s creative process.
Stockebrand and I discussed:
- How Judd quite suddenly shifted from making works with no more than two colors to making pieces with many colors;
- Why Judd thought artists had to reclaim color from science;
- How Judd came to the colors he used — and how a painting he remembered seeing at the Philadelphia Museum of Art helped him to one of the colors he used; and
- The relationship between Judd’s early paintings and these late sculptures.
The Modern Art Notes Podcast is an independent production of Modern Art Notes Media. The program is edited by Wilson Butterworth. The MAN Podcast is released under this Creative Commons license. Special thanks to Philip Matthews and Shane Simmons for their help with this week’s show.
For images of artworks discussed on this week’s show, please click through to the jump.
The Saint Louis Art Museum opens its new David Chipperfield-designed wing next month. The addition provides the museum with 30 percent more gallery space than it has now, 21 new galleries in all, including new galleries for special exhibitions. (The museum’s former special exhibitions space has been converted into European painting, sculpture and works on paper galleries.)
With the exception of one antiquities gallery that serves as one of the bridges from SLAM’s 1904 Cass Gilbert masterpiece into the Chipperfield, all of the new art spaces have been installed with modern and contemporary art. Construction of the new wing cost $130 million. As part of the campaign for the building, the museum raised $32 million for its endowment, raising its endowment total to $127 million. (The museum’s most significant source of funding is Saint Louis city and county taxpayers, who fund the museum through a regional property tax.)
So how is it? I previewed the building and the installations last week. Some thoughts (with one nota bene: over the years I’ve noticed that links to SLAM’s collection are notably fugitive, so here’s hoping…):
1.) Viewed from almost anywhere in Forest Park, the grand city park in which the museum is sited, the building is decidedly unobtrusive and low-profile. Heck, from many popular parts of the park, such as the Grand Basin or along Lagoon Drive, it’s invisible. The building is almost as unnoticeable when you’re standing right in front of it. That’s the right design decision: The front and rear exterior facades of Gilbert’s original building (below left) are among his best work, and among the most awesome museum facades in America. Nothing Chipperfield could have done could have successfully competed with them. So he didn’t. (Forest Park factoid: It’s 50 percent bigger than New York’s Central Park.)
2.) Visitors may enter the museum the traditional way, through the Gilbert, or in two new ways: Through a just-built parking garage under the Chipperfield addition or through the front door of the Chipperfield. The museum expects the three entrances to receive roughly equal use. Visitors entering the Chipperfield will see a modest, low-slung desk which will provide information and ticketing for special exhibitions. The museum’s opening exhibition is of German contemporary art from the museum’s outstanding collection (SLAM is second only to MoMA in the U.S. in collecting German contemporary). SLAM is a free museum, by opening with an exhibition from its own collection, even the special exhibition galleries will be free. Upon entering the Chipperfield visitors will immediately see art: If they come up a set of stairs from the parking garage, they’ll be greeted by this Georg Baselitz. Visitors entering from the park will be greeted by an El Anatsui on the right and a David Smith and a Richard Diebenkorn on the left.
3.) What visitors will not see is a football-field-sized party-rentals space anywhere in the Chipperfield. SLAM has bucked — and hopefully begun the end of — the trend of museums expanding in part to build massive voids that they may lease out for events. (Spaces for this purpose at the Art Institute of Chicago and at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond damaged those expansions by cleaving the new galleries from the long-time galleries, that is, from the whole of the museum. Cleveland has done it too, but I haven’t seen that one yet.) St. Louis deserves significant credit for prioritizing the experience of art over party-rentals.
4.) The museum’s new galleries are exceptional and vary widely in size. There is no obvious route through them. The architectural detailing is impressive (I’m not sure I found a single spot where the floating walls in the gallery ever touched the ground) and the light is terrific. Forest Park is visible from many places in the galleries, peek-a-boos that recall the way Yoshio Taniguchi let New York into his building for the Museum of Modern Art. The light in the collection galleries is filtered through square concrete vaults, which soften it and which seem to spread it evenly throughout spaces. Sound-dampening material, embedded in the gallery walls, leaves the spaces unusually (and blissfully) quiet.
5.) The high quality of Saint Louis’ collection of modern art is well-known, but because of a lack of significant space for contemporary art, those holdings are less well-known. The new wing will change that. The museum has stuffed all 21 galleries with contemporary art (a couple of galleries feature pre-Vietnam art from Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and the like). [Image: Jackson Pollock, Number 3, 1950, 1950.]
6.) Starting with the first painting in the contemporary collection galleries, this terrific 2006 Julie Mehretu (below), the initial installation is chock full of great art. Listing particularly strong works would require a near-recitation of the entire hang, but my favorite moments included seeing this substantial Richard Long in natural light, arguably the first great large Frank Stella, a wonderful sight-line from a wonderful Sam Francis to this 1994 Christopher Wool, a two-Philip Guston wall that provides a rare opportunity to compare a black-and-white abstraction to a colorful one, And I loved seeing this Jane Fonda painting by the underrated Mel Ramos.
7.) And the Germans! As I noted above, SLAM is opening the Chipperfield with its seven special exhibition galleries hung with highlights from its collection of contemporary German art, from Polke to Beuys to Bechers to von Heyl. The installation includes what might be the two best Richters in America, Betty and the 1989 November, December, January triptych, which may be Richter’s most significant squeegee paintings. (Chicago might have a case to make.) The museum has particularly strong examples of Penck, Baselitz, Kiefer and Lüpertz. [Image: Julie Mehretu, Grey Space (distractor), 2006.]
8.) As in any initial installation, there are a few missteps: Numerous artworks that should be placed on the gallery floor, such as a Larry Bell and this Anne Truitt, are sited on platforms. Seeing a sassy Duane Hanson removed from the gallery floor is to not see a Duane Hanson at all. The museum’s intent is obviously to protect the artworks, but the result neuters the art and defies the artists’ intents. For example, at six feet tall, the Truitt is scaled to the human body. Putting it on a plinth destroys that relationship, and with it much of the power of the work. In another gallery, curators effectively bisected this 1969 Donald Judd by installing it on top of a long floor vent.
9.) One artwork should generate headlines and buzz: SLAM has installed Richard Serra’s fragile masterpiece 1968 untitled cast rubber sculpture. It is an enormously powerful piece, a mixture of power and delicacy in orange. (It is one of the many, many great Serras in St. Louis, America’s best city for Serra.) The rest of the artworks in the gallery — including strong work by Lynda Benglis and Bruce Nauman — are rendered invisible by its gravity. I believe that the piece has only been installed one other time since the early 1970s, in 2003.
9a.) Interesting: A wall-sized Leonardo Drew, installed in the gallery next to the Serra and visible from a sightline that includes the Serra, stands up to it pretty well. [Image: Gerhard Richter, Betty, 1988.]
10.) Part of the success of curators Simon Kelly and Tricia Paik’s initial installation is that it suggests that SLAM under-built. On opening day, the Chipperfield will be stuffed to bursting with SLAM’s collection, and in a few months one-third of these galleries will be given over to special exhibitions. With the exception of a couple of weak Kenneth Nolands (they droop in the presence of marvelous the Ellsworth Kelly, Stella, Morris Louis and Judd with which they share a gallery) and an inert Helen Frankenthaler, there’s no filler here. In a few months, about one-third of this art will move into storage. (And, of course, the museum continues to collect.)
I don’t know if SLAM suffered from a failure of imagination, timidity or from something else. Certainly credit the museum for building within its means and for raising what seems to be enough new endowment (and adding a new revenue generator: the garage) to cover increased operating costs.
But still: While what’s here is very good, it seems a step rather than a culmination. The museum’s fundraising goal was a relatively modest $145 million. It raised $160 million. (Kansas City, a metropolitan area smaller and significantly less wealthy than Saint Louis, raised $370 million in its last capital campaign.) Ironically, the initial installation of the Chipperfield is of such high quality that it argues SLAM should have been significantly more ambitious. Hopefully the new building and the great art within it will motivate the museum in that direction.
I’m traveling today. Back tomorrow.
- Roberta Smith effectively Yelps a Walmart.
- And GalleristNY? If Smith is Yelping an art fair, GalleristNY takes the Tiger Beat approach.
- … which has the sad effect of hiding actual substance, such as Andrew Russeth’s strong profile of Eric Fischl.
- …and if you’d rather read about art, ideas, content and execution, I strongly recommend Holland Cotter on Matthew Barney’s drawings at the Morgan.
- LATer Jori Finkel profiles James Turrell.
- Artinfo’s Ben Davis takes a smart look at Gutai in the geopolitical context of the art movement’s time.
- Also in the LAT, Sharon Mizota looks at Jedediah Caesar’s show at Susanne Vielmetter.
- The Stranger’s Jen Graves on index cards? Yes, and it’s super.
- The Miami Herald doesn’t pull out this headline/cultural reference for just anyone…
- St. Louis city and St. Louis county support its arts institutions with unusually lavish public funding. The latest: $2 million in county funds may be headed to the Laumeier Sculpture Park, reports Kristen Hare in the Beacon. Now if only Richard Serra’s important, under-loved Twain (1974-82) could attract some of that love…
- On this week’s Modern Art Notes Podcast: Eric Fischl discusses his excellent new memoir “Bad Boy,” and Kate Shepherd, whose work is included in “The Artist’s Palette: The Primary Colors on Paper” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, talks primary colors. Download the show. Subscribe to The MAN Podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher or RSS. See images of art discussed on the program.