So much for sporadic posting this week. Travel eats time. See you Monday.
Tyler Green Modern Art Notes
Archive for December, 2005
Julius Shulman’s photographs of modernist California architecture are His photographs show him as a true believer, an evangelist for modernism. In his photographs modernism is beautiful, functional, and futuristic.
The most ardent believers are those with the passion of the converted. Julius Shulman did not grow up in modern America. In the years before and during World War I, Julius Shulman (b. 1910) grew up on a farm in rural Connecticut. The Shulmans pumped water from a hand pump on the kitchen sink, made do with outdoor commodes and used Sears Roebuck catalogs for toilet paper.
In 1920, Julius’ parents decided that they wanted their 10-year old son and his two siblings to grow up not on a farm, but in America’s new land of promise: California. They boarded a train in New York and moved to Los Angeles. It didn’t take Shulman long to understand the promise of California: He enrolled in the first class at the new UCLA campus, and by 1936 he was photographing the works of the greatest West Coast modernist architects.
(pictures that were just as much about hoOne of the shows I’ve been most looking forward to this year is Julius Shulman at the Getty. I’ll have more on the show later (I thought that maybe I should see it first, ya know?). First:
One of the reasons Shulman interests me is his biography and how it fits wonderfully into the story of America’s westward migration. Today, a bit on Shulman:
Related: A Julius Shulman oral history in the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.
MAN will be back on Dec. 27, but posting will be erratic through Jan. 2.
The first buncha posts I did on art in Miami focused on artists who were new to me. In this post I’ll quick-focus on some artists with whom I was previously familiar.
David Schnell at Eigen + Art, Frank Nitsche at Hetzler, everywhere else: Want to know what a ‘knowing shrug’ looks like? Walk up to a David Schnell or a Neo Rauch and say, “Another good German painter.” The person you’re with will nod and give you… a knowing shrug. Yes, it’s quite good. Yes, yes, Leipzig, got it. Uh-huh. Next?
Schenll and Nitsche are two of the best of the current German crop. Schnell’s work mixes abstraction, representation and, seemingly, structural references. (Hmmmm, kind of reminds me of Richard Diebenkorn, with whom Schnell shares a palette…) Nitsche is dedicated to abstraction, making tight, energetic paintings whether he’s working small or large.
Katrin Sigurdardottir at Anhava/Bjergaard: I first saw Sigurdardottir’s work at the excellent Surface Charge show at Virginia Commonwealth U. Her work plays with our expectations of space and structure. At VCU deconstructed a wall into a twisting tale of drywall-and-timber. At ABMB she reduced large cities into carry-on-sized suitcases, a twist that was both fun and a little bit eerie.
Kate Shepherd at Lelong: You’d think shiny, fetish-finish-style minimalism was played out. Apparently not.
Random sight-ems: Jason Middlebrook’s paintings at Sara Meltzer felt hurricane-y; Luisa Lambri’s windows at Luhring’s (indoor, in the artificially lit middle-of-it-all) booth were sly and witty, Dmitri Kozyrev’s paintings at Cirrus reminding me of landing at MIA, jumping into a car, and driving toward the ocean.
Just for the sake of convenience, here are links to MAN’s MoMA/Pixar coverage:
I wanted to start the day by leaving Around the blogosphere (click for cool links!) at the top of the page and then by wrapping up MAN’s Miami coverage, but the good ol’ Getty Trust can’t keep itself out of the news.
As MAN first reported yesterday, the Council on Foundations, the foundation industry’s association, has put the Getty on probation for 60 days. The COF intends the move as a slap upside the travertine, the institutional equivalent of: ‘Don’t blame the foundation community for the Getty’s problems. We can’t rein them in either and we don’t want their problems to reflect poorly on the rest of the natoin’s foundations.’ (Especially on Capitol Hill, where Senate Finance Committee chairman Charles Grassley is known to prefer the Getty saga to Robin Leach-hosted television shows. Kind of.) The COF wants the Getty to participate in COF’s investigation of the Getty’s practices.
The Getty’s reply is inadvertently comic: So many people are investigating us we can’t keep up. Recap: Here’s who is investigating the Getty in various ways:
- The Los Angeles Times;
- The California Attorney General;
- The Council on Foundations;
- Italy. The country.
- Greece. Also a country.
- The Getty’s own board — which must be wishing they’d been a little more observant all along because this is beyond embarrassing at this point – with an assist from ‘outside’ attorney Ronald L. Olson; and
- The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Los Angeles lodge. (OK, I made that one up. Probably.)
About the only body with jurisdiction that isn’t already investigating the Getty is… the Senate Finance Committee. If COF further disciplines the Getty, the door for a Senate investigation opens wide.
MAN prediction: Sometime in the next 10 days the LA Times editorial board will call for Munitz’ ouster. Will that be all or will they call for board chair John Biggs’ removal too?
Pet peeve: Will the LA Times please stop calling the Getty “the world’s richest art institution?” The phrase is perfectly correct. But the Getty is more than that: It’s the third-largest foundation in America, an industry titan. The mess at the Getty is of interest to me personally because it’s an arts organization, but L’Affaire Getty an important national story because it’s behind only the Gates Foundation and the Ford Foundation in assets.
How beneficial is it for small non-profit arts organizations to have an endowment fund? Thanks to a $5 million challenge grant from the Lannan Foundation, Len Riggio and Dia, the Chinati Foundation has the opportunity for a 1-for-1 endowment match. If Chinati raises $5 million by Oct. 1, it will find itself with a $10 million endowment.
Based on Chinati’s FY 2003 operating expenses — just under $1 million — that endowment could fund 65 percent of Chinati’s operations in FY 2007. Maybe more.
Jerry Saltz checks in this week with his second major broadside against much current art writing:
Art is a way of thinking, a way of knowing yourself. Opinions are tools for listening in on your thinking and expanding consciousness. Many writers treat the juiciest part of criticism, judgment, as if it were tainted or beneath them. The most interesting critics make their opinions known. Yet in most reviews there’s no way to know what the writer thinks, or you have to scour the second-to-last paragraph for one negative adjective to detect a hint of disinclination. This is no-risk non-criticism.
Saltz took on GawkerForum back in April: “[T]he gushy New York items read like the Us magazine of art criticism, regularly reporting the flings and bling of an insular group of art worlders who regularly mingle with and applaud one another.” He’s right: Is there any difference between the GawkerForum passages Saltz quoted in April and the ones I quoted after Miami?
However Saltz names no names or pubs. (Well, Jerry…!) So I will. The art magazines (and not just the one I rip here a lot) excel in presenting masturbatory, get-me-into-the-party prose and calling them reviews. There is no writer in any art magazine who I can’t wait to read each month. LTB’s new Artinfo presents lots of copy, Q&A, and summaries of reported stories and reviews, but no critical writing. Neither does any of the LTB magazines. (Are you listening James Truman?)
In the general interest press, it’s easy to attach Saltz’ criticisms to Michael Kimmelman and Holland Cotter. Kimmelman’s hagiographies-as-reviews read like he’s carefully made sure his essays say exactly what artists want them to say. Cotter often pulls together interesting threads but rarely reaches judgment. (See last week’s Hans Haacke review.) In the San Francisco Chronicle Kenneth Baker has the title “art critic” but mostly writes short features and newsy notebooks — nary an opinion to be found. Neither of the major Texas papers runs art criticism of any sort. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Gaile Robinson review of Kiefer (“Kiefer is considered an excellent painter.“) was an embarrassment. I could keep going.
Sadly, the prevailing mentalitly in the art world is perfectly reflected in most art writing: It’s us-against-them, we hedonistic urban libs against the sheltered exurban cretins who don’t like art — or who like the wrong art. We must band together and support each other. We must explain what we do to a doubting world.
For most writers, their art writing is motivated by the going-along-to-get-along aesthetic of constant approval, a desire to be invited to the hip parties, a belief that being a part of the scene is more important than writing about the art that makes the scene. Much art writing reads like the author is mostly hoping to be invited to contribute to the Whitney Biennial catalogue, so it’s best if s/he not write too aggressively. Wouldn’t want to offend a curator, an artist, a dealer who could blackball the writer.
This kind of writing is most obvious at GawkerForum, but it’s not just there. That’s how Charlie Finch writes for Artnet, that’s what Artinfo and The Art Newspaper published every day in Miami. (“Dealer Mary Boone… may not have a booth in the fair, but was spotted on the terrace of the ultra-swanky Delano Hotel, dressed to kill in a daffodil yellow dress and clutching a shiny red cell phone that matched her bright red heels.”) If the art press can’t write smartly, maybe we should be surprised when anyone does.
So where is the liveliest art writing? For years — decades — it has been Peter Schjeldahl, but of late he’s been writing like a critic closing accounts just before retirement, a critic making final pronouncements and final revisions to his assessments of artists. (His Winslow Homer review from August is a perfect example.) Christopher Knight and Roberta Smith are as sharp as ever (even if Smith took a called strike three on Pixar).
Alt-weeklies such as the Village Voice often feature art writing willing to take risks. For example, I wish Doug Harvey was in LA Weekly every week. And bloggers are among the sharpest observers out there: Todd Gibson, Ed Winkleman, and Jeff Jahn are more direct than most print critics, which is why they sometimes make big institutions skittish. We need more writers pushing more people — artists, curators, dealers, collectors, PR types — to better engage us, not just to invite us to better parties.
From the Council on Foundations: “The Council on Foundations has placed the J. Paul Getty Trust on probation for 60 days, pending the receipt of additional information relating to the serious charges of misconduct leveled against the foundation in public news stories.”