Tyler Green
Art-focused Journalism by Tyler Green

Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

Remembrance of Things Past

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I’m from upstate. Albany. (Richard Prince, you may as well have produced those dim-witted, reverse-tourism images of upstate from a perch in NYC.)
albany_empire_plaza_03_xlarge.jpgAlbany has no art. This is not quite a true statement, but it was true enough for a kid growing up there in the 1980s. The only cultural remnant I consciously carried with me from my childhood was the Egg, that unlikely marvel of concrete sculptural architecture that doubles as a performing arts center. (There, I witnessed Mummenschanz.) No museums, no galleries. No art.
Wrong. The art wasn’t in a museum. It was underground.
albany_empire_plaza_02_large.jpegIt had gone underground in me, too. I made this discovery during a wintertime trip back home. I was in Albany only for a few hours, and I wanted to see the Egg. It was freezing out, so I went underneath the Empire State Plaza, that nearly 100-acre complex of civic architecture. I thought I’d stop into the state history museum for nostalgic reasons.
Here’s what I found in the first gallery of the museum, devoted to New York City history: Photographs of skyscrapers, an early orange taxicab, and an orange Donald Judd stack.
I nearly fell over. Upstate New Yorkers who had no real art museum of their own had a Donald Judd just sitting there, a civic object, an anthropological thing, a part of their history, something that belonged to them. Specific objects indeed. I wish I had snapped a photograph of the scene.
A lone Judd? No. What I discovered below ground, on the concourse level connected to the museum, was the entire, 92-piece Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza Art Collection.
I should say rediscovered.
Every work of art I came across on the underground concourse came back to me when I saw it. They’re all memories I had simply forgotten to access for all that time. In art, you can go home again.
finch7-30-07-5s.jpgThe collection, Rockefeller’s pride and joy, is a gift–paintings, sculptures, and tapestries by artists including Motherwell, Kelly, Kline, Warhol, Guston, Gabo, Noguchi, Oldenburg, Calder, Mitchell, Pollock, Nevelson, Rothko, Segal, Smith, Noland, and Bontecou.
Here’s Warhol’s portrait of Rockefeller, hung in the lower-level lobby of the Corning Tower at the plaza, where there’s an astonishing mini-exhibition of collection highlights. Here’s the checklist of what’s in the hallway behind the escalators on the right side, in order of appearance: Clyfford Still, 1964, 1964; Morris Louis, Aleph Series IV, 1960; Helen Frankenthaler, Capri, 1967; Joan Mitchell, La Seine, 1967; Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1967; Andy Warhol, Portrait of Nelson Rockefeller, 1967; Franz Kline, Charcoal Black and Tan, 1959; and Jackson Pollock, Number 12, 1952, 1952. Across the escalator bank: Philip Guston’s great Smoker, 1963.
Another gift: The FREE 215-page full-color glossy catalogs available for the taking at the visitor’s office on the concourse, complete with fold-out plates for the enormous works, like a 30-foot Noland from 1968, a 55-foot Alvin D. Loving Jr. from 1973, and a 90-foot Al Held from 1969-’70. According to the catalog, the Rockefeller collection is “the greatest collection of modern American art in any single public site that is not a museum.” (Anyone care to take umbrage?)
100479.jpgImages of the works in the collection are ridiculously difficult to come by through official channels. (The curatorial office tells me it takes a month or more to get permission to publish any of them.) I wish I had a better image than this one of a work notably missing from the catalog: Pollock’s garish and odd Number 12, 1952. The painting was damaged by a fire in the governor’s mansion, and not restored until the late ’90s. (Is it even restored? Its surface is quite marred still.) I also wish I had an image of Conrad Marca-Relli’s black-and-white canvas collage of 1958, Black Rock.
This remarkable untitled construction from 1966 by Lee Bontecou–displayed at the Whitney Annual that year–is taken from Anaba, which had a nice post about the collection this spring. There are more cell-phone images there.
bontecau.jpg
–Jen Graves
jgraves@thestranger.com

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