Gerhard Richter’s life’s work is online, a sort-of catalogue raisonne of JPEGs. Much of Ed Ruscha’s work (1958-1992) is too. Whose work would you most like to be able to access in this kind of format? [Update: A commenter points out I should have specified 'living artists.']
Tyler Green Modern Art Notes
Archive for August, 2010
I remember writing a story for Washingtonian magazine in 2008 about the NGA and its (still) desperate need for increased space. At the time, the National Gallery was engaged in a systematic remodeling of its entire complex, starting with the West Building and moving East. At that point the NGA had received $127 million in federal appropriations for the project, but had never issued a single press release acknowledging the scale of the project. Today the federal appropriations — accrued in increments of $16.1 million one year, $17 million the next, and so on — for the renovation of the museum’s John Russell Pope-designed building are up to $161 million — and that doesn’t include an additional $40 million Congress appropriated to the NGA in FY 2010 to repair the damaged facade of the IM Pei-designed East Building (with more expected to follow in FY 2011). There’s been no public acknowledgment of that either. Most museums would beat their chests about that kind of major work. The NGA makes E.F. Hutton look like Kanye West.
That’s why a sentence, tucked at the end of a seemingly benign, standard-issue show description (that the NGA tweeted on Thursday) made my jaw drop. The web page describes a new installation of paintings from the NGA’s collection that is on view in the East Building. Titled “American Painting 1959-2009,” the hang is a modest, quirky hang of work by 29 painters. Six of them are women. The galleries also include top-notch works by African-Americans Barkley Hendricks (whose 1972 Sir Charles, Alias Willie Harris is above) and Bob Thompson (as well as a Sam Gilliam). In acknowledgment of this, the NGA’s show description ended with this sentence:
The emphasis on diversity also means the inclusion of many artists who are women or African American, groups often underrepresented on the Gallery’s walls.
To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that the NGA has admitted what’s been apparent since it re-installed its American galleries just in time for the inauguration of Barack Obama: The National Gallery’s presentation of art from certain periods has been an embarrassment to the institution. “American Painting 1959-2009″ was curated by the NGA’s head of modern and contemporary art, Harry Cooper. I asked the NGA if Cooper was the author of the show description and a spokesperson told me that curators “usually” wrote such texts.
As I noted here in 2009 and have repeated since, the National Gallery is nearly the last museum in America to present American art as the near-exclusive domain of white men. (I hedge because the Metropolitan Museum of Art is still in the process of overhauling its American Wing.) Since the re-installation of the NGA’s American galleries in early 2009, I’ve seen only male artists on the walls and only one work by a non-white artist. (When I walked through the American galleries last week, nearly 200 works were on view. As usual, all were by men. The only artwork by someone who was not white is this fantastic early 19th-century painting by Joshua Johnson. It hangs in the museum’s American naive/folk art gallery.) [Image: Joan Mitchell, Land, 1989.]
This is not the first time that the NGA’s modern and contemporary department has cleared its collective throat at the gallery’s American department. In late 2009 the NGA acquired Byron Kim’s painting installation Synecdoche and promptly installed it in a prominent place in the East Building. In discussing the acquisition here and here, I argued that while Synecdoche is neither a great nor a major work of art, that it engages a major American philosophical debate: the question of multiculturalism in America and thus was an important acquisition for the institution. Writing just after Synecdoche was first installed at the NGA, I said that its purchase by the gallery “can be read as one of the museum’s curatorial departments (modern and contemporary) clearing its throat in the direction of another (American).”
Cooper’s none-too-subtle dig at his own institution — read: its Americanists –can be interpreted at the NGA department most engaged with the present showing one of the ways in which modernists and, er, contemporary-ists can lead within their institutions. Who better to drag a museum into the present — especially when parts of that museum seem to be kicking-and-screaming about it — than the department most engaged with the now? Good on them.
I’ll feature more discussion of the installation itself tomorrow.
What artist(s) would you most like to follow on Twitter? (Answers may include artists on Twitter and artists who aren’t.)
The winner of MAN’s America’s Favorite Art Museum Tourney is the Toledo Museum of Art. Toledo defeated the Clark Art Institute. 75.7%-24.3%. Over 5,000 votes were cast in the final and I’d estimate that over 75,000 votes were cast over the course of the tournament. [Image: Toledo's SANAA-designed Glass Pavilion with its 1912 Green & Wachter building in the background. Info on TMA's seven-building campus is here. Image via Flickr user taihw.]
So, how did Toledo win? I think the breakdown in this post holds true.
Congrats to the TMA and its fans. If you’re a coastal parochial and haven’t visited the TMA (or the other superb art museums and collections in America’s industrial heartland), consider this a nudge.
I think that if I ran an art museum (ha!) that I’d require my conservators and curators to write and publish regularly on the web, probably via blog. This post on the Dallas Museum of Art’s new Uncrated blog is a great example why: Curator Heather MacDonald gives us an inside look at how she and her colleagues are comparing and studying two extremely similar Gauguins.
Also: Indianapolis Museum of Art conservator Richard McCoy has a cool Tumblr. If readers have other favorite conservation-inclusive or conservation-focused blogs, please leave ‘em in the comments!
Several years ago, I published a two-part review of a traveling exhibition titled “Diebenkorn in New Mexico” by arguing that the show’s curators had substantially misunderstood the paintings that Richard Diebenkorn made while living in New Mexico in 1950-52. The curatorial team argued that Diebenkorn’s New Mexico paintings were abstractions from landscape; I think they’re about Diebenkorn abstracting from works by modern masters, especially Pablo Picasso. (Diebenkorn wouldn’t ‘discover’ the painter who would end up being most important to him, Henri Matisse, until the end of 1952. As a result, the paintings Diebenkorn made in New Mexico and earlier are an unusual opportunity to see him pre-Matisse.)
Earlier this week I was flipping through SFMOMA’s website and stumbled across the Diebenkorn above, Untitled (Sausalito #3), from 1948. Two ‘parts’ of the painting were familiar: First, there’s that purple, which Diebenkorn pretty much pitched from his palette after he discovered Matisse in 1952. As I argued in 2008, it’s a color that Diebenkorn found in Picasso. The appropriation of that color is less direct in this 1948 painting than it is in this 1951 painting, but it’s Picasso’s Marie-Therese Walter purple.
The second element of the painting that seemed familiar was its structure. I wrote about this in 2008 too: Diebenkorn wasn’t shy about borrowing structure from Picasso when he was abstracting away from him. It took me a minute, but I think this is the painting Diebenkorn ‘used’ to make Untitled (Sausalito #3): Picasso’s Painter and Model (1928), now at MoMA:
There are two museums left in MAN’s America’s Favorite Art Museum tournament: The Clark Art Institute and the Toledo Museum of Art. I’ll be sharing images of works in their collections via Twitter for the rest of the week. Voting closes Sunday at 5pm. Results will post Monday afternoon. Vote ‘em up:
[This poll is closed.]