This year the Albright-Knox Art Gallery acquired a major Robert Irwin: Niagara (2011). The piece is on view now in the exhibition “DECADE: Contemporary Collecting 2002-2012.”
Tyler Green Modern Art Notes
Archive for the ‘Acquisitions’ Category
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has acquired a major untitled Margaret Kilgallen painting from 2000 (above), the museum’s first significant work by the San Francisco-based artist. SFMOMA already owned a small painting, Low (1998). The lack of a major Kilgallen had long been a notable gap in the museum’s collection.
Kilgallen was arguably the best of a group of artists who coalesced in the city’s Mission district in the 1990s. Her work is characterized by her interest in street art — she was married to the artist Barry McGee, known early in his career by the graffiti tag “Twist” — but is also richly informed by Western literature, art history and her own academic background. (Kilgallen earned an MFA at Stanford.)
Kilgallen died in 2001 from breast cancer after forgoing chemotherapy so that she could bring a child, daughter Asha, to term. At her death, Kilgallen was just 33. She was featured on the first season of art21 and in a 2005 retrospective organized by Eungie Joo and Clara Kim for REDCAT. SFMOMA curator Janet Bishop led the acquisition, which came from Kilgallen’s estate via San Francisco’s Ratio 3 gallery. The museum also conserved it before placing it on view. (McGee recently told me that for years the canvas had been rolled up in his studio and that paint was flaking on the edges of the canvas.)
While Kilgallen was born in Washington, DC and grew up in suburban Kensington, Maryland, she went West to attend Colorado College and Stanford. Her work, especially the new SFMOMA piece, is packed with references to the land and to the art history of her adopted home. It features a Dorothea Lange-esque couple presented in a deadpan manner, as if they were both aware of and weary of a camera in front of them. They wear the humble, almost traditional clothing of migrants recently arrived in California, the sort of people about whom Woody Guthrie sang and John Steinbeck wrote. The color of their clothes and skin, ruddy reds and washed-out yellow-greens, echo the other colors in the painting, further flattening their appearance.
The female half of the couple stares out to the right, initiating the narrative that holds together the 11-by-26 foot canvas. In the woman’s line of sight is a group of abstract squares that suggest both a softening of California hard-edge painting and a simple home sitting on the (pale green) landscape. Beyond the squares is an solitary tree which has grown to a majestic height. Just below the couple, a seedling in a line of shadowed, curvilinear shapes — read hills — suggests that the seemingly forlorn couple might make it.
The tree is particularly terrific and is as rooted in American art history as the couple is in our photographic and literary history. Similarly awestruck representations of imposing trees are a staple of American art of the West, especially in the work of Carleton Watkins and Georgia O’Keeffe. Ed Ruscha has also investigated this trope, first in his 1962 artist’s book “A Few Palm Trees,” and more recently in paintings such as Joshua Tree (1986), Yes Tree (1986) and Joshua Tree (1991). [Above, right: O'Keeffe, The Lawrence Tree, 1929. Collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford.]
Kilgallen’s lack of painterly depth is also all-American. It seems to come less from turn-of-the-20th-century Paris and more from her interest in typography, the flatness inherent in letter-box printing and from painters such as Arthur Dove and William Baziotes, who often laid simple shapes on washed-out colors. In Kilgallens, the colors seem to come from the landscape of the West, the dried grasses, the bleached, washed-out earth and the gentle colors of adobe and other building materials that accept the sun’s light while trying to reject its heat. (That rolling series of curves at the bottom of the new painting suggest both vernacular buildings of the West that date back to the Spanish colonial era, Baziotes’s worm-like-shapes and the hills between California’s coastal mountain ranges and the San Joaquin valley. It’s a great example of Kilgallen’s ability to pack numerous references into a single passage.)
Despite all Kilgallen’s flatness, the narrative of the painting communicates optimism: The couple at left may seem tired and withdrawn, but the narrative circle of the seedling and the tree offer hope. The couple seems on the cusp, just as Kilgallen herself was before her death.
Related: In the SF Chronicle, Kimberly Chun looked at a recent Ratio 3 show of Kilgallen’s work.
The Albright-Knox Art Gallery has acquired Thomas Nozkowski’s Untitled (8-117) (2009). The painting, which is little bit wider than two-feet-square, was included in Nozkowski’s 2010 show at Pace and is on view now at the A-K.
It’s a super little Nozkowski, a painting that seems to blink color at a viewer from across a gallery, beckoning you to come closer. At least some of the painting blinks: The ‘background’ or the painting seems to emit pulses of light, but the yellow bulb in the center-foreground seems to glow steadily. I have found that when I write about Nozkowski’s art, I use the phrase “seems to” a lot.
Upon arriving at the painting, I discovered that for all that bouncing-light vibration, the surface of the painting is flat and nearly anti-painterly, as if it was a matte Georgia O’Keeffe or a mid-19th-century French painting made smooth for the Salon. The effect here is that the canvas didn’t emerge from an artist’s studio, but that it has always existed. (Last year Nozkowski told the Brooklyn Rail’s John Yau that he achieves this flatness by way of a mysterious Japanese tool that he uses to scrape the surface of his paintings.)
Some of that permanence stems from the remarkably broad range of art historical sources Nozkowski mines. The Albright’s new painting conjures up a surfeit of slippery memories of paintings past, reference points that are as hard to pin down as Nozkowski’s abstractions themselves. In Untitled (8-117) I see: Pierre Bonnard’s light passing through a tree or through the back of a chair, a crinkled, wavy Yayoi Kusama dot painting, a classic modernist grid folding in on itself, something Philip Taaffe saw under a microscope and blew up, only to reduced back down again by Nozkowski, and the experience de Hooch gives us of light arriving at viewer only after it has passed through a couple of rooms and doorways.
And it’s not just the bent background grid (in which Nozkowski has been intensely interested in recent years) that seems fleetingly familiar. The shape in the foreground seems right out of mid-15th century Florentine portraiture, such as this painting at the Metropolitan (which has occasionally been attributed to Uccello, and on which Martin Puryear has riffed). And is that straight red line in the middle of the light-bulb glow half of a zip?
As with so many Nozkowskis, it’s hard to be sure. Many of the things I think I see are probably there, but I bet I’m also finding things that aren’t. Regardless, it seems like everything Nozkowski has committed to canvas is exactly where it should be, even if I don’t know what it is. That’s awesome: With Nozkowski, a good, slow look-’n'-solve is part of the fun.
A day after Harry and Mary Margaret Anderson gave Stanford the biggest single outright art gift made outright to an institution in several years, questions remained about how exactly the whole story would play out. Among them:
- What did the Andersons give to Stanford? No one involved offered a checklist yesterday. Instead, a public relations firm apparently hired by the university distributed a list of 19 works, or 16 percent of the gift. [Including the painting at right: Joan Mitchell, Before, Again IV, 1985.] That could have played a role in the oddly light coverage the news attracted. (Also, Stanford and its PR firm gave the story first to the San Francisco Chronicle, thus guaranteeing it’s-been-done-ism at other outlets.)
- Stanford said it would build a building for the Anderson collection — the Anderson Gallery — and that the work would be on view there by late 2014. That’s fast. So where’s the building going? (Stanford: near the Cantor Center for the Visual Arts, the under-construction Bing Concert Hall and the planned McMurtry Building for Art and Art History, which is a little unspecific.) Who will be the architect? Who knows. Among the architects Stanford has recently commissioned are Norman Foster, Robert A.M. Stern and, for the McMurtry Building, Diller Scofidio + Renfro.
- In a related story, suddenly the two most interesting new-museum building projects are at universities: Steven Holl’s ICA for Virginia Commonwealth University and the Anderson Gallery. (Also in the ballpark but already underway: Denver’s Clyfford Still Museum.) As projects like the Hirshhorn’s proposed bubble struggle to attract dollars, do universities have an advantage when it comes to fundraising for significant projects during a period of slow national economic recovery?
- What kind of museum will the Anderson Gallery be? Will it show 121 works and that’s it? Will it be a more traditional museum with a permanent collection installation and an exhibition series? Who will run it?
- What will happen to Stanford’s Cantor Center? Many major universities have major museums or significant kunsthalles. See Harvard, Yale, UCLA, Ohio State, Oberlin, Princeton, UC Berkeley and so on. The Cantor Center has a nice collection of late 20th-century mostly California art, but it’s not even a regional university museum power. Director Thomas K. Seligman announced his retirement earlier this year. Especially considering that the Cantor’s collection strength overlaps with the Anderson collection, will Stanford reconsider what the Cantor is or should be? Does it make sense to have two ‘competing’ art museums next to each other?
Chinese authorities seem to be trying to force the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego to return to China artwork by Ai Weiwei that MCASD recently added to its collection, MCASD officials have told MAN. The works at issue are two sculptures from Ai’s Marble Chair series (2010, at right).
“The Chinese have contacted us through the shipping company that delivered the chairs and has demanded their return,” MCASD director Hugh Davies told me. “We’re in a bit of a dilemma trying to work around that. Needless to say, until compelled by the authorities to return the chairs, we have no intention of doing so. The situation is complicated because we don’t want to get Ai in trouble. He’s accused of economic crimes.”
The Guardian and other news outlets reported on May 20 that the Chinese have charged Ai with tax evasion and other financial crimes. MCASD officials say they aren’t sure if the demand for the return of the art is originating with Chinese government officials or if the Chinese shipping company, for reasons that are unclear, is acting on its own.
The story dates back to November, 2010 when MCASD started working with Ai’s studio on the acquisition. Ai’s studio shipped the work to the United States in March for presentation to the relevant MCASD collection committee, which formally voted on May 11 to acquire the work. The Ais are currently on view in MCASD’s “Prospect 2011,” a recent-acquisitions exhibition at the museum’s downtown, Jacobs Building location. MCASD’s recent 24-hour protest of the Chinese government’s detention of Ai was given its form — a sit-in — in part by the acquisition of the chairs.
According to MCASD, the Chinese are basing their demand on the export license that the museum acquired so that the works could be sent from China to California. MCASD, which has extensive experience in acquiring work from non-U.S. artists, says that it found the entire process to be business-as-usual up until it was told to return the work.
“We worked with the customs broker that handles most of our international shipping on this,” MCASD deputy director and chief financial officer Charles E. Castle said. “They have an office in China and they worked with Ai’s shipper to get the sculptures to us. The shippers made the decision that what made most sense was to export them with a ‘temporary with right to purchase’ export license on the theory that the works were going to be exhibited at the museum — which they were — and that they would then be shown to the museum’s collection committee for approval, which they were.”
Castle said that there are a range of potential export licenses that museums use, but given that the planned acquisition of the two Marble Chairs was the reason they were to be shipped to the US, MCASD’s selection of its export license seemed fairly clear. Castle said that typically the way temporary, with-right-to-purchase licenses work is that the work is released from the country-of-origin with no customs duty paid, and that the receiving party has a six-month option to make a purchase decision and to then pay the duty (or to return the work with no duty paid). MCASD received the artwork in March and voted to acquire it in May, even though under the terms of its export license it did not have to make that decision until September. [Image: Christine Forester and Megan Nesbit participate in MCASD's protest for Ai.]
“[After our committee's approval of the acquisition,] we asked our customs broker to notify the shipping agent that we would like to exercise our option and that we’ll keep the works here and pay for them,” Castle said. “The shipping company returned to our broker and said, ‘No, the option is not going to be honored,’ and that the works need to be returned within the six-month option.”
Castle said that the museum is unsure exactly who is telling the museum to return the art: The Chinese government or the shipping company, which Castle declined to name. “I can sit here in my office in La Jolla and assume that’s [it's the government demanding the return of the work], but the only contact we’ve had is the shipping company and our customs broker,” Castle said, adding that it’s not clear why a shipping company would insist on the return of art. “I assume the shipping company is being told [to retrieve the work] by the Chinese customs authorities,” he said.
MCASD’s situation is complicated by China’s ongoing imprisonment of Ai. The museum had worked out the expected purchase of the works from Ai between last November and March, with the understanding that the relevant committee would formally approve the acquisition in May. The museum expected a routine procedure, by which it would pay for the works after the museum’s collections committee approved the acquisition. However, since China imprisoned Ai and several colleagues in April, MCASD has been unable to find out where to wire the funds for the acquisition and its emails and phone calls to Ai’s studio have gone unanswered.
MAN has contacted major American museums in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and New York, and has been unable to find another American museum with an Ai acquisition in a comparable state of limbo. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art announced the acquisition of an Ai in April, but it acquired the work from a New York gallery. A museum spokesperson told MAN that the work had been in the U.S. for three years and that the museum had received no communications of any sort from China. Two U.S. galleries with which Ai has a relationship, New York’s Friedman Benda and San Francisco’s Haines both told MAN that they were unaware of any current situations comparable to what MCASD is experiencing.
Castle said it was unclear what the museum’s next step would be. “We’re trying to figure out what our rights and responsibilities are,” he said. “Our investigation has begun and is ongoing. We’re getting the best advice we can get, trying to make the most informed judgments that are best for everyone.”
Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego curator Robin Clark and photographer Philipp Scholz Rittermann sat for one hour at the MCASD to protest the Chinese government’s detention of Ai Weiwei, yesterday. They participated in the museum’s “Sit for Solidarity,” a 24-hour sit-in that both protests China’s treatment of Ai and raises awareness about it.
The “Sit,” which continues through 11am today (PDT), also references Ai’s sculpture series Marble Chair. MCASD recently acquired two chairs from that series. They’re on view now.
I don’t know of an American art museum that has held a more public protest for Ai. MCASD’s response to Chinese authoritarianism contrasts with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ approach, which I discussed with VMFA director Alex Nyerges yesterday. MCASD director Hugh Davies will come on MAN on Monday to discuss how and why his museum chose to protest Ai’s detention.
The above image is stolen from MCASD’s Facebook page, which you may want to “like.”
In what is likely the strongest institutional response to Smithsonian secretary G. Wayne Clough’s censorship of the National Portrait Gallery’s “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” the Museum of Modern Art has acquired David Wojnarowicz’s video “A Fire in My Belly” (1986-87). MoMA has acquired both the original 13-minute version and a 7-minute excerpt prepared by the artist. The work goes on view at the museum today.
Clough kicked off a firestorm by removing “A Fire in My Belly” from “Hide/Seek” late last year. His decision has been nearly unanimously criticized by art museums and by associations of art museums and curators. Clough has yet to publicly explain his actions, but is expected to finally take questions from the press next week, in Los Angeles.
Kosuth was not amused. In “Art after Philosophy, his 1969 essay on conceptual art, Kosuth wrote that “[a]lthough the amusing pop paintings of John Baldessari allude to this sort of work by being ‘conceptual’ cartoons of actual conceptual art, they are not really relevant to this discussion.”
As LACMA curator Leslie Jones writes in “Pure Beauty,” the catalogue to the Baldesssari retrospective that she recently co-curated, Baldessari responded to Kosuth with Baldessari Sings LeWitt (1972), a 12 minute, 58-second video in which Baldessari sings each of Sol LeWitt’s 35 conceptual statements to a different pop tune. The Walker Art Center has recently acquired the work. Baldessari Sings LeWitt is also in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which acquired it in 2010.
The video features Baldessari sitting in front of a cinder-block wall with a fistful of papers and a microphone off to his right. “I’d like to sing for you some of the sentences that Sol LeWitt has written on conceptual art,” Baldessari begins. “I feel this is a tribute to him in that I think that these sentences have been hidden too long in the pages of exhibition catalogues and that perhaps by my singing them for you, it will bring these sentences to a much larger public.”
Of course, in 1972 Baldessari was little-known — and much less known thatn Sol LeWitt. Baldessari adjusts his glasses and begins. “Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach,” Baldessari sings. He pauses. “Number two. Rational judgements… repeat rational judgements.”
I’m sure someone has teased out what songs Baldessari is singing in Baldessari Sings LeWitt, but I haven’t been able to find it. (Readers?)
“It is probably the poetry of freedom translate into art that has made this video… a hit with the YouTube generation,” writes Parkett editor and Kunsthaus Zurich curator Bice Curiger later in the same catalogue.
I think that means it’s OK for me to link to this four-minute YouTube excerpt from the video. It’s still funny.
Related: The Walker has much Baldessari in its collection. The video is available through Electronic Arts Intermix. Curious about what it costs to show or archive? It’s right here. ArtSlant plugged the work here, complete with a list of LeWitt’s 35 sentences.
Buffalo is a sports town. The National Hockey League’s Buffalo Sabres routinely sell out. The NHL draws some of its biggest TV ratings in metro Buffalo. Every year, no matter how bad the team or how cold the weather, fans of the National Football League’s Bills fill Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Buffalo’s passion for sports makes it an especially appropriate place for art by Paul Pfeiffer, the Los Angeles-based artist who came to prominence in the early 2000s by making video installations featuring clips of sporting events with key elements removed. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery has recently acquired three Pfeiffers: The Long Count (Thrilla in Manila) (2001), Caryatid (Red, Yellow, Blue) (2008) and Caryatid (2003). They are on view at the A-K through March 6, 2011 in a one-room installation the museum has titled: “Paul Pfeiffer: In the Zone.”
These are the three best works Pfeiffer has made. Each pointedly demonstrates that spectators look at art too — and that looking at art can be every bit as engrossing and looking at sports. That makes them perfect for installation in an art museum that wants to win over its community. (More on that tomorrow.)
The Long Count features footage of the 1975 Ali-Frazier fight, minus Ali and Frazier, whom Pfeiffer has digitally removed from each frame. In their place Pfeiffer leaves digital traces of their presence, ghost-like outlines moving between the viewer and the spectators behind the fighters. As a result, we find ourselves looking not at an iconic event, but looking through it to the fans. Pfeiffer has turned the fight into a panopticon and the act of looking at art into a spectator sport, in which the fans are looking back at the fans. The device makes us aware that the entire sport of boxing is a kind of panopticon: Throughout boxing history men from the lower classes have been temporarily confined in a squared circle for the entertainment of the more affluent, fans who can watch but whom the fighters, intent on each other, scarcely notice. It seems like Pfeiffer’s trick shouldn’t invite repeated investigations, but it does.
Caryatid (Red, Yellow, Blue) is even more fun. It consists of three television screens showing soccer players doing what soccer players do: Dramatically writhing on the ground, typically in an effort to draw a foul call against an opponent. Why do futbol fans love watching this silliness?, I asked myself, only to realize that I too was watching it — and loving it. Further, each player’s uniform has been digitally reduced and altered into nothing but red, yellow or blue, allowing Pfeiffer to join a half-century of artists winking at artists about how hard it is for artists to mix the primary colors into an artwork. (Think Ellsworth Kelly and Robert Irwin.)
But the best of the three – and not just because I’m a rabid hockey fan — is Caryatid, a 2003 video installation that prominently features the on-ice celebration an NHL team enjoys after it has won the Stanley Cup, the oldest, greatest and most beautiful trophy in professional sports. More specifically, Caryatid features each player on the winning team performing a decades-old ritual known as “skating the Cup”: The player takes the Cup, holds it aloft, and skates a lap around the rink before handing the Cup off to the next jubilant bloke. It is a moving celebration, a scene of unsurpassed group joy. (Each year it tears me up. The exception was when Pittsburgh won the Cup a few years ago, after which I felt nauseous for days.)
Pfeiffer has digitally altered the ritual by deleting the players (and anyone else who might be on the ice) from each frame so that all the viewer sees is the Cup dancing, magically hovering above the ice and in front of the fans in the arena. The ecstasy each player feels still comes through. Pfeiffer’s video touchingly reveals the extent of pure joy: Apparently when we’re giddy with happiness we emote right through our fingertips.
Caryatid’s digital video loop is presented in a chromed box that holds a nine-inch color television and DVD player and the player is encased in a plexiglass case on a pedestal. The plexi case – which is part of the art object, presents a barrier between us and the object. It is a reminder that the Stanley Cup, which hockey players are trained to refuse to so much as touch until they’ve earned the privilege on the ice, is not easily possessed. The plexi box also presents a metaphor for the experience most art viewers have with the work of art. Albright visitors will never feel the same joy the ghosted players display in their handling of the Cup. Well, the vast majority of people who see Caryatid will never win or possess it either. Art is a different kind of trophy. Both the possession of art and the possession of the Cup are declarations of victory.
All of which makes the Albright’s installation of its trophy a little puzzling. The Pfeiffers, especially Caryatid, are acquisitions that the museum should aggressively use to bring its sports-mad audience to contemporary art. The work deserves to be in the central gallery of the Albright’s original Beaux Arts building, a brightly-lit gallery that is one of America’s best spaces for art. A trophy should be displayed in a suitable place, and this one isn’t.
The Albright isn’t just installing the Pfeiffers badly, it has missed an opportunity to use them to share the excitement and impact of contemporary art with a sports-mad region. The Pfeiffers are installed in a dark, off-to-the-side room in a near-hidden corner of the museum’s Gordon Bunshaft-designed addition. Meanwhile, in the museum’s best real estate, is an exhibition we’ll discuss tomorrow…
The Hirshhorn has acquired Dan Flavin’s 1974 untitled (to Helga and Carlo, with respect and affection) [at left]. The work, which is unique, was included in David Zwirner Gallery’s 2009 Flavin exhibition. It’s made of blue fluorescent light modular units, each with two four-foot vertical fixtures and three four-foot horizontal fixtures and may be installed up to 60 feet long. It is one of several so-called ‘barrier’ works that Flavin created in 1974. Among the others Flavin created that year were pink and yellow versions.
Michael Govan, a co-curator of Flavin’s 2004 retrospective, argued in both that exhibition’s catalogue and in Dan Flavin: The Complete Lights (which substantially available on Google Books) that Flavin’s barriers are particularly important to the history of contemporary art: “By the sheer amount of light [Flavin's first 'barrier'] produced and the aggressive manner in which it overtook (or “abused” in the artist’s words) the room that defined its dimensions, Flavin’s barrier might be considered one of the first examples of what today is known ubiquitously as ‘installation art’ — or what Flavin referred to as ’situational.’”
Govan reports that Flavin first explored the idea in a drawing made as a proposal for a “barrier” in Manhattan’s Kornblee Gallery in 1966. That drawing shows two low gates of light filling a gallery space and crossing each other off-center, toward the back right-hand corner of the room as the viewer enters the space. Flavin did not realize that work and instead debuted a barrier later that year at the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. That work, which also filled an entire gallery, was titled greens crossing greens (to Piet Mondrian who lacked green) [below, now in the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum] and consisted of two ‘light fences.’ From the very beginning, these Flavin ‘barriers’ were of variable length.
The Hirshhorn’s new Flavin is more closely related to a fence-like barrier that Flavin created in 1969, when he made untitled (to Heiner Friedrich), for a traveling retrospective that that opened at the National Gallery of Canada in September of that year. The largest of Flavin’s barriers is aparently untitled (to you Heiner, with admiration and affection), a 36-meter-long piece Flavin made in 1973 for the Cologne Kunsthalle. It was prominently installed in the National Gallery of Art’s East Building on the occasion of the 2004 Dia/NGA retrospective. The piece was so bright that the NGA reported that planes landing at nearby National Airport could see its green glow.
The Hirshhorn now has two Flavins in its collection. It also owns “monument” for V. Tatlin (1967).
Throughout today I’ll be tweeting other new Hirshhorn acquisitions. Follow me here.