I’m taking the rest of the week off. Back on Monday with some thoughts on self-portraits and on Aaron Douglas at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Tyler Green Modern Art Notes
Archive for May, 2008
Over the weekend the most recent Archives of American Art Journal arrived in the mail. It’s full of interesting write-ups from critics and academicians who have used the Archives’ resources to tell some stories about American art in the 1960s.
Of special interest given the discussion of Robert Rauschenberg here last week is Jonathan Katz’s essay on Johns’ Watchman (scroll right for image), Rauschenberg and how their relationship impacted their work. Titia Hulst’s write-up about the early days of the Leo Castelli Gallery is full of smart tidbits that remind me that much of the current discussion of the art market is not-so new.
(Speaking of Rauschenberg, you can read a 1965 interview with him here.)
The Journal is available by membership/subscription here. Single issues are $15.
- The MFA Boston appears to have quite the flimsy case in a new Holocaust-era claims suit, says the Boston Globe’s Geoff Edgers. Further raising eyebrows: The story is full of quotes from historians and museum professionals, but the MFA stays silent, referring the Globe to legal filings and prepared statements. When a museum is resorting to prepared statements, you know things are not all good.
- Elmgreen and Dragset, the same wild and crazy kids who brought you Prada Marfa, unveil their Berlin Holocaust memorial. Ed Winkleman on some of the fascinating details behind the unveiling.
- Is Spanish painting the new impressionism? Attendance figures from Boston suggest maybe.
- The Walker Art Center wants you to have a political yard sign that you want to have, complete with contest and everything. Project page here. The sign above was created by Andy Pressman.
In the last year there have been probably 100 Chelsea shows of 35-year-old-ish artists with so-so CVs. So why has the New York Times decided that one Alison Elizabeth Taylor is worthy of a long profile? (Note that I’m re-creating the NYT’s HTML coding, ha ha.) I mean, there’s nothing wrong with Taylor or her work (which appears to be the lovechild of Fred Tomaselli and Stephen Balkenhol), but why her and not 100 other artists?! The Carol Kino-penned story never makes that clear. If the paper of record is going to declare one artist whose history is indistinguishable from scores of others worthy of this kind of attention, it should explain why.
I think Jones’ points are pretty much spot on. I’d add that Goya had a particular skill for walking a fine line: He was a court painter, but privately, on his own time, he eviscerated the court (and everything else in Spanish life). There’s something in that ability to get along with power while satirizing it that seems especially clever and timeless.
Goya is also the subject of one of the best artist biographies I’ve read, Robert Hughes’ Goya. If I were ever to teach a class on artist biographies, that’d be Book No. 1. (Also worth a look: Janis Tomlinson’s Phaidon monograph on the artist.)
Related: Just as up as an El Coloso authenticity flap flared up, it disappeared. The Prado still lists it as a Goya here. Also, alas: the Guardian is also shamefully allowing the disgraced, discredited Lee Siegel to try to rehabilitate himself. Siegel is one of the saddest, most dishonest commentators in America. Why are publications still giving him a platform?
- Favorite line of the week from a Washington Post story headlined, “Ducklings Die in Pool Drain at American Indian Museum: “‘Nobody wants to see any sort of wildlife killed,’ spokeswoman [NMAI] Leonda
Levchuk said. The incident was especially painful for the museum
because it occurred at a busy hour and in an area full of visitors, she
said. ‘We hate to see when visitors actually witness [ducks] kind of being
- The Huntington Library has the best Renaissance painting in Los Angeles? So says Christopher Knight as he reviews the Huntington’s re-opening.
- Say Wha? Award to Calvin Tomkins’ for a confusing New Yorker profile of Paul Chan. It was muddy from the start: How can Paul Chan be “one of the more closely watched artists
of his generation,” and then, two paragraphs later, be someone whose “name
still draws a blank among some art-world professionals?” (It’s not online.)
- Roberta Smith of NGA show of work from the Afghanistan National Museum is timely, heartbreaking and thought-provoking. (So of course the NYT buried it inside the Friday arts section.)
- The KC Star’s Alice Thorson reviews this show of Nelson-Atkins contemporary acquisitions. Thorson buries her lede in her last paragraph: That the museum’s purchases are too tame.
- The second major new Barbara Kruger in Southern California this year is too designy, says Robert Pincus in the SDU-T. (Kruger is new to the famed Stuart Collection at UCSD.)
- Sebastian Smee is leaving Australia to be the Boston Globe’s new art critic.
- Art:21 has posted an elegy to Robert Rauschenberg.
- Last week I knocked the Village Voice for reviewing MFA shows, and this week the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The Stranger have done it too. (And The Stranger reviewed BFA shows!)
Continued from yesterday…
One of the great joys of visiting an art museum is the freedom to study, to look at the art as intensely as you like. The best museums do all they can to encourage quiet, prolonged contemplation: They light artworks just so. They put it on the wall at just the right height, or they place sculpture away from the wall so that you can walk around it. With any luck they provide a bench so that you can soak up any painting you like. The privilege of looking at what you want for as long as you want is such a basic part of museum-going that none of us think much about it.
But as soon as I discovered that Sarah Oppenheimer’s 610-3356 went through a Mattress Factory floor, I realized how it dramatically changes the relationship
between the viewer and an artwork, between the museum and the visitor,
and even between the museum and it’s neighborhood. Here I was, standing in a museum gallery looking at an artwork, and the artwork didn’t just accept my gaze the way a painting or a sculpture might, but it re-directed it. Furthermore, it re-directed it outside the museum, into the backyard of a museum neighbor. Oppenheimer had transformed the private, privileged museum-goer’s gaze into an intrusion, a violation of someone else’s space.
Ever since at least Michael Asher, artists have enjoyed playing with the concept of what a museum is, and how it creates and communicates histories. Oppenheimer’s work, both 610-3356 in Pittsburgh and (from what I can see on the web) her Horizontal Roll at the St. Louis Art Museum go a step further: They don’t just invite us to look and then think, they decide how we look, and thus play a much more active role in determining how we think about what we’re seeing. As I noted earlier this week, there’s a mini-resurgence of artists who are interested in institutional critique; Oppenheimer goes further than any of them. She isn’t just critiquing the institution, she’s changing the way we look, the way institutions relate to their audiences, their neighbors and their communities.
- This is six weeks old and I just noticed it now: An AEG King Tut show will touch down at the Atlanta Civic Center in November, remaining on view until May, 2009. The show will be hosted by the Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum. Only on MAN: AEG has been in negotiations with the Brooklyn Museum to bring the show to NYC. (As of this posting, the museum had not responded to an email.) In 2004 ‘Tut’ organizers approached the Metropolitan Museum of Art regarding the exhibition that debuted at LACMA, but the Met passed. UPDATE, 5/22/08: A Brooklyn Museum spokesperson says that the museum will not be taking the Atlanta Tut show.
- Time to laugh and cry: A sculptor whose work is juuust right in chocolate.
- National preservationists come out against the Fishers’ Contemporary Art Museum of the Presidio, says Marisa Lagos in the SF Chron.
- Witnesses tell Congress that the National Mall is a “disgrace.”
- Laura Lark steals the show (ahem) by reviewing this exhibition at TCU’s new Fort Worth Contemporary Arts. (I saw the first show there, and judging from what I saw and what I read in Lark’s write-up, this is a space to watch.)
- I’m addicted.
The day before the Carnegie International opened, I pulled into the Mattress Factory to see Inner and Outer Space, an exhibition curated by Dara Meyers-Kingsley. (The Mattress Factory is a semi-kunsthalle located in a former industrial building on Pittsburgh’s North Side. It’s best known for its exhibition program and for its James Turrells.)
When I arrived at the museum, an attendant told me to take the elevator to an upper floor because the show started there. I obeyed. Upon exiting the elevator, I saw that the door to the gallery holding the ‘first’ artwork was closed. After a nod from another attendant, I opened the door and looked around. I saw nothing at eye level, which reminded me how conditioned art-lovers are to walk into a gallery and to quickly glance at each wall, looking for objects hung at about shoulder level. All I saw was a couple of large, bright windows. It was a nice sunny day and the trees outside were just beginning to turn a sickly spring green.
I knew there had to be something in the gallery, so I looked away from the view and discovered the work of art: a piece of molded plywood that had either been embedded into the floor, or that was lying on top of it. It was a well-machined bit of beige loveliness, nice but not extraordinary.
After I took my second step into the room my stomach fell into my shoes. The plywood whatchamacallit — the view above is equivalent to what I saw from just inside the door — magically transformed itself. It wasn’t a solid mass at all. The molded plywood wasn’t resting on the floor; it was a cut through it. The cut was so total that it went clear through the entire floor and directed my gaze outside the museum and into the backyard of one of the Mattress Factory’s neighbors. Just about the time I realized I’d been duped, my stomach returned to place. Even after I’d revealed Sarah Oppenheimer’s 610-3356 to myself, it left me staggered.
Related: The Mattress Factory’s blog has a nice post on Oppenheimer’s piece. Both photos are from the MF’s Flickr stream. The St. Louis Art Museum currently has an Oppenheimer on view as part of its ‘Currents’ series. David Bonetti reviewed the show and the St. Louis PBS station, KETC, featured it here.