Arts & Aesthetics

§ The Studio Museum in Harlem: Alma Thomas & Three Artists in Residence

Alma Thomas

The Studio Museum in Harlem on West 125th Street, just down from the Apollo Theater, is a new one for me. (Hey, I’ve only been here 8 months!) But this show was a great place to start. Alma Thomas is a big favorite of mine and I ask her to forgive me for sort of copying her style on some of my paintings. Steal from the best I suppose!

The show covers her career and demonstrates that she was a treasure throughout her working life. I’m going to keep this short so here’s a few of her gems, some early work and also from her more famous period. I recommend going by to see more of the early and late work!

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Tenses – Three Artists in Residence

The Studio also has three really terrific artists in residence for 2016 for an exhibit called Tenses (#AIRtenses online). Jordan Casteel (below left) is an evocative portrait painter who uses striking angles, spacing, and colors and has a true flair for capturing a setting. The catalogue describes her as in the tradition of Romare Bearden and Alice Neel (about the highest praise I can think of) and I can’t disagree. Given the horrific news of the last decade (think Trayvon and Ferguson), there is a political angle here too, but the real focus is on the humanity of the people and their communities.

EJ Hill is a performance artist and his piece, A Monumental Offering of Potential Energy, amazes (middle below). It’s linear perhaps 20′ by 5′ and consists of a platform with a roller coaster made of wood and tubular LED lighting. And oh, EJ lying at one end absolutely still in the soft light. You could miss him if you’re not paying attention. He’s there everyday, never moving.

Last is Jibade-Khalil Huffman who fills a room with video, sculpture, photography, painting and sound. I’m not even going to try to explain it! But go and see it anyway.

Alma and the artists in residence get a big recommendation from me.

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§ The new Bowery Graffiti Wall piece by Logan Hicks

If you’ve looked here before you know I love the public art, graffiti, and streetart in NYC. We have a new must see piece just finished at Bowery & Houston. Seeing it in photos is one thing but in person….well, wow. It’s one of those pieces that is great from far away, great closeup, and great while you’re crossing the street (just pay attention so you don’t get run over).

The piece is based on a group shot that Logan took on May 22nd. You’ve got to go take a look; you won’t regret it!

[Click on any photo for a slideshow]

§ Some more Brooklyn streetart….

Walked around Gowanus and Park Slope on the 10th and took some more photos of streetart, graffiti & miscellaneous interesting stuff. So without further adieu……

 

 

§ Lilkool & Brooklyn Street Art

LilKool's partnerUsually I traum about these posts and as a result they take forevah. Draft after draft after….you get the idea. But I’m writing about street art and street art can happen on a dime. So….

I was walking around Sunday taking pictures of, well, just stuff….a Gowanus Canal bridge, people, the canal and….lots of street art and some graffiti. I came across two guys working on a wall. I liked what I saw so we started chatting. The designer/artist goes by LilKool (also @Lilkool on Instagram) and he’s prolific and talented. I’m sorry I don’t remember his partner’s name. Anyway here’s a few shots of the unfinished work. Hint: there’ll be black lining to the color shapes though I’ll admit to liking the cloud-like look too. Below I’ll also included a couple of LK’s paintings. The art is at the corner of Sackett and Bond in Gowanus. By the way, they really, really need a scissor lift to finish the top half so if you have one…Click below for a screen show.

There was a lot of other interesting and elaborate work in Gowanus, much more than I’ve seen in the Slope. I’m not really drawn to the Dungeons/Dragons look of many of these works but the skill is undeniable. All this work is in a small area bound by 3rd St, Bond, Butler, and 3rd Ave with most on or just off Bond and Nevins on the other (East) side of the canal. Check these out too. I’ll add some artist identifiers when I have a chance. You, though, just need to take a tour of Gowanus!

§ The Whitney’s “Human Interest: Portraits from the Collection”

Thru February 2017

Before we start, let me say that I often find big exhibitions a bit unnerving and overwhelming. They’re like Chinese restaurant buffets – you leave stuffed, bloated and not remembering what you ate. I started a couple of years ago forcing myself to, in effect, avoid sweet & sour pork, beef with garlic sauce, and the General Tso’s Chicken and stick to a few, strategic dishes. No more browsing and instead more focus. My mantra now: choose a few pieces and sit with them for an extended period. I began with this method at the lovely (and free!) NC Museum of Art  with a Wyeth, a Sergeant, and a Jacob Lawrence that I described here. (Not bad choices!)

3pieces

So without further adieu…..

The Whitney‘s Meatpacking District location is still new when it comes to museums. Its architecture is interesting, the outdoor spaces have fabulous views of the city and beyond, and the exhibit spaces are practical if also pretty forgettable, but that leaves the focus on the art. Its location next to the High Line along with the outdoor platform views makes it a great introduction for the visitor to New York City. And its inventory makes it a natural top-end art venue.

View north to High Line
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View south to new World Trade Center

So Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection is basically a must-see simply because of the gems in the collection. Putting my amateur art critic hat on I’d say that the exhibition is very good but not always riveting. Basically I find the schticks they use in the various spaces hit-and-miss. Those spaces that are less thematic are mostly where I found myself spending my time including revisiting a number of pieces. I’m a huge Susan Payton and Alice Neel fan so I focused on the Payton and the two Neel’s. The Barkley Hendricks? Oh yeah. Henry Taylor’s Huey Newton? Ditto. The visually floating men in the board room of Howard Kanovitz New Yorkers1 look like more interesting versions of the characters from the Mad Men.

But there were other pieces that I really looked at. I’ll start with the Joan Semmel piece Touch from 1975. I didn’t know her work. The story of its apparent controversy is quite an eye opener from the perspective of 2016. It’s a erotic view from Semmel herself with her lover pre or post sex. It’s about touch, feeling flesh, and I’m guessing sounds, smells, and the cool feel of sweat drying on her skin. She was trying to create sensual erortic art for women that was explictly political and feminist.

The controversy was less about pushback for eroticism from a female standpoint than about other feminists who attacked Semmel for objectifying women. The story is interesting, but I was stunned by the piece before I knew all that. Basically I found the angle of the bodies gorgeous (and technically beyond my skills!) but it’s so sensual, so rich, that I imagined I could feel the sheets, and hear their breaths slowing. It envelops the viewer and I, at least, felt I real sense of voyeurism as if I was watching through an uncovered window. An amazing immersive experience that is not about objectivitizating but about the transformative joy of human sexual experience.

Joan Semmell Touch from 1975
Joan Semmell Touch from 1975

Next up, Charles Henry Alston and Arshile Gorky…….

Arshile Gorky
Arshile Gorky
Charles Henry Alston
Charles Henry Alston

§ Gowanus Canal Brooklyn Graffiti

This week Karen and I took a fascinating water tour with the Working Harbor Committee led by Captain Margaret Flanagan and Joseph Alexiou, tour guide and author of Gowanus: Brooklyn’s Curious Canal. The Hidden Harbor Tour of Gowanus Bay left from Wall Street Pier 11 and headed over Brooklyn way. We toured through the working port facilities along the shore, went into the Erie Basin (location of the Brooklyn Ikea), then back out to the Red Hook Basin and Gowanus Bay and finally headed into the Gowanus Canal. Map below, right.

Tour map showing graffiti area
Tour map showing graffiti area

Old, abandoned, and decaying warehouses and buildings line the water as you enter the Gowanus Canal. They present quite a canvas for the city’s graffiti artists even if it’s a bit hard to get to (both for the artists and those wanting to see the work). As you’ll see, some of the spots chosen make you scratch your head as to how the artists got there. The photos were taken from port side (left) of the boat and are in order of time taken.

We can argue about the value of these works and graffiti in general. I personally put graffiti, street art, and Public Art (with a capital P&A) in the same genus but different species. Certainly any number of graffiti and street artists end up as “real painters” or public artists and some like Banksy hit the big time. In this case there is no defacing, no harm, no foul. In fact it improves the visual environment. We can have a discussion about this over a beer.

One last thing, the captain was able to talk the drawbridge operator at Hamilton Bridge into letting us through (see the third image in the slideshow). It was very, very cool. Oh and I appreciate the chutzpah of the family in the canoes. Their sanity though……

NOTE: The day was very cloudy and it was getting late. I tried to manipulate and lighten the the images some but also wanted to present the art in a realistic way.

Click on any photo for a slideshow.

§ Martin Creed’s Understanding

Martin Creed's UnderstandingI basically crashed the party for Public Art Fund‘s unveiling of the latest public art installment in Brooklyn Bridge Park at Pier 6 (map to the right). This one is by the wonderful English artist and polymath Martin Creed. I’m not going tell you the meaning, what-for, or philosophy of Understanding. PAF has done that here and they’re a helluva lot more qualified. But I did get to hear Martin tell about it in a somewhat humorous way. Artsy.net has a page that goes in-depth into Martin and his art.

Anywhoo, what I never did hear was whether the great Nick Lowe song (What’s so Funny ’bout) Peace, Love and Understanding had anything to do with it. He mentioned that he wanted to do three pieces but there was only enough money for one. That’s what happens when it’s a 48 ft-long and 25 ft-tall red neon sculpture!

I had a fun old time at the dedication and met some really interesting people including Seth Cohen from the Public Art Fund who introduced himself while I was just standing and looking around and perhaps looking a bit lost.

I’ve been fiddling with iMovie so I created a music video of the event using Nick Lowe’s wonderful “What’s so Funny ’bout) Peace, Love & Understanding.” It’s on Youtube or click below.

§ Nasreen Mohamedi at the Met Breuer thru June 5, 2016

Nasreen Mohamedi

When I posted on the Met Breuer Thoughts Left Visible: Unfinished exhibit I noted that I’d post something on the Nasreen exhibit located upstairs from Unfinished. Weelllll, it took some time. Sue me, I’m looking for a work gig and that takes precedence over me pontificating on something that I may or may not be qualified to speak on.

Unfinished left most reviewers ambivalent and some downright disappointed. I came down on the side of “Yeah, it’s got plenty of flaws but the home runs are, well, real home runs!” I liked it despite its problems just as I like my Houston Astros who are showing some big holes too. Nasreen, on the other hand, got much deserved rave reviews. You’ve got six weeks to see it.

Nasreen Mohamedi
Nasreen Mohamedi (water ink on paper untitled)

Nasreen Mohamedi (1937-1990), according to the Met’s description, is “One of the most significant artists to emerge in post-Independence India” and “created a body of work that demonstrates a singular and sustained engagement with abstraction.” I’d never heard of her. Definitely my bad. Really bad as this show demonstrates that her work is decidedly terrific and moving.

The show reflects the many avenues that she took: evocative photographs, fascinating abstract line geometry, rich collage, and washes like you see to the right.

The geometric pieces get the biggest play. While I appreciate them, I really was more moved by the washes which I found really beautiful and compelling.

On the other hand, the photographs show a wonderful and close affinity to the geometric work. It, at least to me, seems quite playful and the curators’ work helped to suggest the relationship. See the two line drawings and the photographs below.

For some more learned commentary see:

Wall Street Journal
Wallpaper online mag
Boston Globe
BlouinArtInfo

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§ More on the Bronx Museum Martin Wong exhibit

I’m becoming more fascinated by the art of Martin Wong. I wrote about it previously here. The Bronx Museum of Art has an excellent summary page of their exhibit with links to a long list of glowing reviews by people much more qualified to comment than me. To me his work in this exhibit reflects a total immersion of a person into a place, specifically “a sort of queer Chinese-Latino fireman cowboy graffitist” working in Loisaida (Lower East Side) as AIDS decimated the community. He was a painter, an important photographer of street graffiti art images, and a collector of community ephemera.

It’s disappointing that the exhibit did not travel. In addition to the Bronx Museum, the New Museum and El Museo del Barrio have some of his works in New York City (probably others as well).

The Blouin ArtInfo article has a good slideshow of images but here are a few more of mine:

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§ Thoughts Left Visible: Unfinished & Baseball Opening Day is Nearly Here!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Breuer is open

30 Lafayette Ave, Brooklyn

Recap: Whitney moves to Chelsea, Met buys Whitney Breuer building, remodels & creates modern & contemporary art venue, opens with a somewhat unusual show plus a dynamic exhibition of a lesser known but brilliant Egyptian artist. An unschooled writer compares the Unfinished show to baseball and spring training.

Elizabeth Peyton Napoleon
Elizabeth Peyton’s Napoleon as modern rock star

I start here with the Unfinished exhibit and add something on the terrific Nasreen Mohamedi in a later post. So, Unfinished has gotten universally meh reviews. I’ve linked to some of the reviews at the end here, but basically for the critics it is a swing and a miss. Some say “a wild, swinging strikeout”, others call it “a weak dribbler to first” while some admit that, while not pretty, “a broken bat single is still a hit.” Heads up: I’m glass more than half full and I highly recommend a visit. The bad misses are more than made up for by wonderful and very fun doubles off the wall followed by a homer or two.


September Update: The recent NYT End of the Show article is fun, with non-experts giving their thoughts on specific pieces. A number of the comments were quite perceptive. So here are some more of my equally non-expert thoughts.

I went back to Unfinished two more times and it is a show, like a good September baseball game, where new discoveries are everywhere. There is a one room with a number of JMW Turner landscapes that astound. The Cezanne dazzles. The Ferdinand Holder is powerful: The End of Show article commenter William Meyerhofer said ““There was something about coming out as a gay man in the ’80s and seeing so many of my friends dying that reminds me of this.” Yes.

And last, for those who complain, the Twombly is impressive. The individual panels don’t make an impression but the panels as a whole, with the paint dripping down the frames, do. It is an experience to walk by the piece, seeing it from various angles. One man’s opinion: this is good.

Maybe I’ll go by today or tomorrow before it closes. Depends on whether there’s a good baseball game on.

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Okay, back to your regularly scheduled review…..


I loved it while still understanding the complaints. The curators stretch the concept, meander, throw some wild pitches, and generally play a bit sloppy. Mixed metaphors and rookie mistakes abound (sounds like this review). Still, it’s mostly an ungainly rookie who’ll make it in a couple of years. Think Nuke LaLoosh tied to the bed listening to Annie read Walt Whitman and then reaching the bigs later and winning a Cy or two.

I mean how can you hate seeing the amazing Alice Neel portrait you see top left? It’s a great and melancholy story but James Hunter Black Draftee is a brilliant piece and really a perfect encapsulation of the conceit of the show. It basically answers the question “Is unfinished really a bad thing?” with a resounding “No!” Who decides anyway? In this case the US government, the draft, serendipity, and Alice did. Grand slam to right!

Without going into too much detail and analysis let’s look at a few and see if they make a visit seem worth it:
Rembrandt unfinished

 

 

 

The Rembrandt to the right reflects a beautiful casualness. Perfection is not the goal but emotion might be. The luminous knife and stunning facial richness makes this piece for me. Is it unfinished? Hard to tell. Triple off the wall for van Rijn!

 

 

 

Freud Self-Portrait Reflection, Fragment

 

 

 

 

How about this rad Lucien Freud? Double down the line scores two!

 

 

 

Kerry James Marshall

 

 

 

Kerry James Marshall rips a solid single up the middle.

 

 

 

White Painting

 

 

 

Rauschenberg’s creatively titled White Painting? Strikeout on a 3-2 pitch in the dirt with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. Admittedly the shadow of the woman walking by and ignoring it does help.

Anyway, go see Unfinished with an open mind and a bag of Cracker Jacks.

Other artists featured: Pollock, Twombly, Marden, Mondrian, Newman, Johns, Lewitt, de Kooning, Picasso, Degas, Cezanne, Renoir, Van Gogh, Warhol, Titian, Turner, Bourgeois, Manet, Monet, Giacometti.

Other, more erudite and less obsessed with spring training reviews.

NYT, first Roberta Smith and then Holland Cotter:
Boston Globe
Frieze

and Hyperallergic:

The Met Breuer Traces the Unfinished to the Deliberately Incomplete in Western Art

§ Lexington Glassworks & Arts-Driven Economic Development in Asheville

Asheville is a gorgeous small city in the mountains of North Carolina. It’s known for ThomLexingtonStudioGlass - 1 (2)as Wolfe, great weather, wonderful outdoor options, good beer and food, and more and more as the western NC center for arts and fine crafts.

The downtown area is full of galleries including Blue Spiral, one of the best in North Carolina, as well as top restaurants, an excellent art museum, and terrific shopping. Though Asheville is not a SmART Initiative, the community is using the arts-driven economic development strategies that are hallmark of the initiative.

One of the characteristics of successful art and cultural communities is that the private sector, at some point, fully buys into the process; that all of the galleries, restaurants, clubs, etc. help each other by building critical mass that floats all boats.

Downtown Asheville has a terrific example, Lexington Glassworks. LG is the product of two young
entrepreneurial artists/craftsmen. They chose to renovate an old building on Lexington, a street in downtown that was still quite sleepy as compared to Patton and Biltmore avenues and College and Market streets.

They believe that Lexington Ave is destined to join the party that is downtown Asheville, but they also believe it will take more than just another gallery selling glass. So instead they embed the glassmaking process into the gallery itself as you can see above right.

Lexington Glassworks is the creation of two friends, Geoff Koslow and Billy Guilford, who met at Alfred University in upstate New York. They both later took classes at the Penland School of Crafts and ultimately settled in Asheville. They do good work.LexingtonStudioGlass - 1 (3)LexingtonStudioGlass - 1 (1)

But I’m more interested here in their strategy in developing the Glassworks. They feel that a studio that involves visitors is key to their success.

They’ll talk to you as much as you want. They can focus on the pure artistic angle but also discuss more commercial or design oriented questions. But they also let you watch them make their glass while describing the processes. The Laurel of Asheville has a terrific article on them and their business.

I’ll end with a short video I made of Billy making a piece. It’s from an iPhone and my video editing skills are not great, but you’ll get a feel for how they bring the customer into the process. Just click here or on the image of Geoff below.

LexingtonStudioGlass - 1

§ Martin Wong exhibit at the Bronx Museum of Art closing March 13th

(The show is sadly closed now). But if you are in NYC and have some time I highly recommend a visit to the Bronx Museum of Art (free!) to see the Martin Wong exhibit before it closes on March 13th. Most of the work was painted by Martin in the Lower East Side of Manhattan from the late 70s through the early 90s. He died of AIDS in San Francisco in 1999 under the care of his family.

The show shows work throughout his career and does an excellent job of placing him in the context of the place that was the Lower East Side in the 80s and 90s. His love for the place, its art (he was a big documentarian of the neighborhood graffiti) and its people is very apparent. Plus the show is beautifully curated — it’s a pleasure to see pieces from various distances and different angles, and that blue on the walls with the blonde wood floors is just a “Wow!”

Sometimes I find it hard to put my finger on why artwork affects me viscerally. This does and I’ll just leave it at that.

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