“Joan Mitchell: I Carry My Landscapes around with Me”

At David Zwirner, 537 W. 20th St., through July 12, 2019.

Abstract Expressionist  painting (and this is that) is not about reflecting visual reality but making visual reality. And the making of the making, funneled through vision.  That doesn’t mean the results necessarily or not refer to nothing beyond themselves nor that this aspect is incompatible with intuitive, gestural, self-referential or other aspects associated with its aesthetic terrain as historicized.  For example, reading Mark Rothko’s horizontally segmented compositions as landscapes or Clyfford Still’s stalactite forms geological, whatever the artists’ non-objective intentions.  Mitchell skews closer to the edge of nature (as per the artist quote and exhibition title above), encasing atmospheric experience in the picture plane with an economy of drippy, weave-y brushwork and a joie de la coleur that evoke Fauvism—the Matisse reference per se also on point—rather than topographic environment.  Part of that may be absorbed from the prolonged close proximity (literally and figuratively) to the landscapes of Monet, whose own abstract-leaning work hovers between encroaching blindness and close-up vision.  Yet the large-scale multi-panel format (as in Monet’s late work) itself echoes or mirrors spatial expanse despite its ontological flatness.

Anyway, each example in this survey, spanning four decades, is energetically gorgeous–a profusion of signature weedy, ribbon-y brushstrokes with spots of blank canvas spraying light from behind.   The painted strands gather densely in places and in others fray into surface maps and  pathways, while color runs the gamut across seasons and terrain in associative juxtapositions, inadvertently and not.   In some cases, Mitchell got away with very little—a very high complement.  Minnesota (1980), a breezy brilliant discourse on yellow and shadow in the glare of the white backdrop, is a fave from now on.  Elsewhere, she invites us to wallow deeper into layered representation as well as the metaphoric free range of the studio. 

Detail/installation shot: Joan Mitchell, Riviere, 1990 (at David Zwirner, 537 W. 20th St., NYC (6/22/19).

Claudia Schreuders: In the bedroom

at Jack Shainman, 513 W. 20th St. (Chelsea), through June 22.

Sorry this is over by the time I got to it, but, too good to forego comments—do look for Schreuders at any opportunity:   

Recent examples of her characteristic (by now) stunted, polychrome wood figures were featured, along with related studies and a series of portrait heads on paper (lithos; ink drawings).  As per the show’s title (above), I read them (collectively) as stand-ins for somewhat ambiguous exposés, if not explorations, of Eros among prosaic-looking heteros, tangentially reminiscent of Charles Ray’s fiberglass familial figures of the 1990s. Her hand-carved-and-painted technique casts a Pinocchio vibe into her emptied Freudian “vessels.” But these slightly pasty-white boy-men and girl-women  are static and solemn in bearing and hue—in this sense, votive-like; but then, dedicated to what sort of being, idea or aspiration?  Only slightly Surrealist (some more than others), they point more so the mundane, rote nature of a range of sexual activities and passing musings about them than subconscious simmering vis-a-vis lack, need or fantasy.  

Now add some basics of the backstory: Schreuders’ acknowledged autobiographical subjects; her upbringing in Apartheid-era South Africa; her attendance at the Michaelis School of Fine Art (Cape Town), where Jane Alexander has had an influential pedagogical presence for decades, as her inter-species sculptural  creatures have, in the context of the atrocities of Apartheid (and otherwise), for the international art world.  All the more engaging. 

A group of washy, simplified portraits on paper were pointedly down-lifting (as my viewing companion put it)—the visages effectively, viscerally, conveying vulnerability and woundedness, reminiscent of those of Marlene Dumas, another precursor.

Claudette Schreuders, 2018.

Beauty in the beast: Whitney Biennial 2019

So, another edition of the show the art world loves to hate, The Whitney Biennial—somewhat subdued in this realm of shock and subversion aka rarified avant-garde culture—progressively trying to not be that. And yet, it is what it is—art … thank goodness—”what everything else is not,” to paraphrase artist-sage, Ad Reinhardt. In the end, love wins … for better and worse, as its very existence has furthered the cause and spread of contemporary art in America since its inception as a founding component of Whitney’s activities (its first incarnation [as an “annual”] took place in 1932 a year after the museum opened).     

Over the course of this nearing centenary span negative criticisms have been directed increasingly towards the curators charged with the coveted but impossible task of amassing the most interesting “new art” produced or, in some cases, first “noted” in the past c. two-year span–by artists working primarily in the United States at least through the period in which they were created. (Both chronology and de facto eligibility–vis-a-vis the museum’s mission of “American” art have been rightly more fluid in the transnational age). A few repeated charges have been clique-ishness (among curators, institutions, dealers, artists), heavy-handed thematics and forced relationships and trends, and the reverse–a lack of installation strategy and direction that might leave a little too much work for most viewers. I’d say here that’s twisted into a positive, bolstered by ample space in which to consider individual works/artists. The overall tone hovers carefully between post-identity PC and pointed politics, and also indulges, intermittently throughout, in a kind of crafted visual pleasure not prevalent on the scene in recent decades.  My impulsive and partly preordained (because I already like the artist/s) “hot spot” run-through starts at the beginning–in the ground floor gallery, given over entirely to Diane Simpson, who continues to create art in her mid-80s. Here her highly developed body-Bauhaus aesthetic hits high points in both drawings and contoured constructions inspired by sartorial designs and architectonic abstraction. Elegant-without-trying, deliberately and expertly plied geometry with anatomical armatures in mind.

Upstairs (including two main floors; niches elsewhere and two outdoor terraces) a number of other women are working directly with bodies in sculpture, including Simone Leigh, whose several majestic female-vessel works here (ceramic; bronze) are gorgeous (yes, she’s one artist I’m always looking out for). They can evoke supreme, feminist minkisi whose power, however, is invested in serenity and timelessness rather than fear and aggression (as in traditional Kongo culture). Another more amorphous, bulbous piece, with its clay-braided seams, recalls Yoruba “house for the head” shrine coverings and even head sculptures themselves from ancient Ife (more so in the context of her oeuvre broadly). Wangechi Mutu (another favorite a priori) is also represented by spirit-suggestive, more malleable female figures well known from her collage and video oeuvre; here, imbued with an atavistic sensibility in their sinewy, muddy appearance of simulated and real organic materials. A pending or perhaps present dystopian humanity is embodied in a parade-like installation of a gender-bending (some bent over) grotesques by Nicole Eisenman. They seem to have risen out of the muck (environmental and metaphorical) depicted in her paintings, wherein band-of-fool scenarios include evidence of psycho-sexual trauma. Wholly incongruent in sensibility, both Mutu (in one piece) and Eisenman incorporate a kinetic element (that doesn’t add much, imo, to their otherwise impactful works). Eisenman‘s freaks refer at least partly to American society specifically with details like NY Giants socks and a one sartorial (at least) cowboy in the mix; but the US matrix is most indulged by Kota Ezawa‘s “social realist” watercolors and animations documenting Colin Kapernick’s sports protest revolution.  There’s quite a bit of figurative painting throughout, stylistically ranging from “bad painting” popularized in the 1980s to very good, nuts and bolts oils of nothing much, such as those of Keegan Monaghan that engage with tinges of object nostalgia and overlooked viewpoints.  

A large wall installation of calligraphic metal “signs” in a taxonomic-like arrangement (with cryptic key) by Maia Ruth Lee may recall, for those weaned on European modernism like me, the wrought iron “folk” hardware collected by Albert Barnes and integrated with his precious the French (mainly) painting and African sculpture collected by Albert Barnes. (Barnes may have been on to something after all with his universalist formal reductionism, despite his blind spot when it came to content.)  Even more so with the Barnes-commissioned mural, now in the collection, by Ellen Harvey (not in the Biennial, but a great candidate, imo) comprised of separate, movable depictions of each of Barnes’s related objects (Metal Painting, 2015). For Lee the paradigm is language—one built on components with accrued associations if not meaning through their past lives as functional object parts, reshaped and shuffled into 3-D “texts.”  Other compelling bricolage approaches include Joe Minter‘s free-standing sculptures of similarly rusted and rustic fragments resonant with notions of past labors, and Robert Bittenbender‘s haywire wall assemblages of hi-tech, bling-y detritus. Some artists are still addressing directly legacies of modernism–, as concept, restriction, barrier, foil, especially here John Edmonds in a loose photographic series that tackles evolving (or not) attitudes towards and outgrowths of European “primitivism” inhered primarily in African art. 

I am sure there are many very “good” videos within the numerous dark, murmuring partitioned areas for this purpose; however, (I’ve mentioned before) I have a hard time giving them the time they require within such large extravaganzas—nothing I am compelled to share on a first run-through–as I am the above.

Simone Leigh, “Stick” ( 2018; bronze); background: paintings by Keegan Monaghan.
Keegan Monaghan, “Blue Door” (oil; 2019).
Wangechi Mutu, “Sentinel I” (background) and “Sentinel II” (2018; mixed media).
Maia Ruth Lee, “Labyrinth” (detail; 2019; steel and laminated key)

Textured pictures in Chelsea


Paul Anthony Smith, through May 11 at Jack Shainman, 513 West 20th Street and 524 West 24th Street

Christina Forrer, through April 20 at Luring Augustine,  531 W. 24th St.

*The Whole Picture: Zipora Fried, Arturo Herrera, Thomas Pihl, Erin Shirreff, through April 6 at Sikkema Jenkins, 530 West 22nd Street.

*Never got to a post on the recent, intriguing abstract quartet at Sikkema Jenkins that closed last weekend, but still want to mention, re texture, Thomas Pihl‘s evenly sheathed, encaustic-like minimalist paintings (recently at Sikkema Jenkins). Close-up viewing of his waxy, glowing fields broach Rothko territory, in terms of inner light.   The revealed intensive layering only at the paintings’ edges, in fact iterated the context of a continuum as much as very personal abstract expression.

Still plenty of time to catch the latest by Paul Anthony Smith spread prolifically across both Shainman spaces. Smith‘s “picotages”– mounted textured photographs–debuted in New York five-some years ago with images of Jamaican street scenes and portrait subjects donning African masks, each “pricked” with a sharp potter’s tool in sections to create a simultaneously furry and sparkling, surface rippling.  This “scarring” induced, likewise a duality between a kind of psychological uncanny and spirituality veiled over the depicted realities.  Now Smith’s scale, subjects, and signature technique have expanded boldly, piqued in a series of (Caribbean) carnival scenes with complexly patterned, pricked grill-work superimposed and dazzling. And a third-level screening of sometimes spray-painted, sometimes speckled chain link fencing in another loose series has equally tiered levels of associative content. 

At the opposite end of the aesthetic spectrum:  Christina Forrer‘s Freudian-cartoon tapestries at Luhring Augustine, which, from a distance look very much look like blobby, post-millennial figurative paintings. Upon approach woven textures pixilate a rotating constellation of girls, boys, and anthropomorphic others with goopy, stretchy tongues, gum bubbles, and Gumby-body parts emitting from their mouths. Absurdist, abject, amusing, honest.

Paul Anthony Smith (textured photograph, detail); taken at Jack Shainman Gallery (NYC), April 5, 2019.

Smith and Forrer share a near obsessive commitment to their materials and methods, which itself generates at least part of their respective results and communicates; and both convey, overall, a humanistic (for lack of better term) motivation and intention.

Christina Forrer, woven textile work; taken at Luring Augustin (NYC), April 5, 2019.

Playing house with Derrick Adams


“Derrick Adams: Interior Life”; through April 20, 2019

at Luxembourg & Dayan (64 E. 77th St.,NYC)

Working with curatorial impresario Francesco Bonami,  Derrick Adams has grafted a fantasy modernist home onto the walls of this multi-tiered fancy townhouse gallery.   His vision is pristine and showroom-like, each flattened tableau (bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, etc.), mixing geometric motifs that glide between wallpaper, textile, furniture, and flooring with simulated shiny surfaces–the artist’s (collective) ideal interior (a double-entendre, as in the exhibition title). At the same time, the schema as a whole is credible and relatable, aided by quirky and familiar details and appointments, such as honeycomb tiling or candy-colored alphabet magnets on a refrigerator–as well as the individuality appended through framed cubistic collage portraits, in upright profile, included as part of the decor and reflecting (in context) the inhabitants, directly or indirectly. (These works on paper are part of a loose series completed over several years inspired by passers-by near his studio). It’s all further set into motion by the intermittent appearance of small images of African sculpture—in a mirror, a sink, on countertops, in corners—that read as trickster-like spirits—perhaps apotropaic.   They are differentiated from the tangible African “art” displayed in some of the spaces.

For over two decades, Adams has maintained, above all, a fluidity between topical subjects, broad themes, very mixed mediums, personal expression (typically muted), and art references—here a nod to Sol Lewitt’s foray into fresco-like environments seems apparent. The strong graphic style, anchored by repetitions of varied masonry patterning throughout, can be traced back to a provocative 2009 show in which he revisited his youth and the vicissitudes of his native Baltimore, largely through the semiotic lens of its architecture–colonial, neoclassical, colonial, postwar housing projects (see link ). His emerging design aesthetic was highlighted in his installation at the Museum of Arts and Design last year (see link) that mashed up playroom-plywood ingenuity, his now characteristic cubistic stoicism, and conceptual poignancy on the theme of “The Green Book” (turns out, especially presciently for American society at large). 

In short, the current show wows with boldy colored and pressed, Op-arti-ish patterning, brought to life by the stately patchwork portraits and (perhaps) ancestors that hold down the fort.

Derrick Adams installation (detail), Luxembourg & Dayan (NYC; 2/26/19)
Derrick Adams installation (detail) at Luxembourg & Dayan (NYC; 2/26/19).

SPIRITIST SENSATION HILMA AF KLINT AT GUGGENHEIM

“Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future”; at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, through April 23, 2019.

Everyone with any interest in the history and mystery of art (or maybe just everyone), must know about the Swedish turn-of-the-century artist, Hilma (1862-1944), who, very much on her own with conscious intention created abstract art per se before, it seems, its widely dubbed pioneer, Wassily Kandinsky.  Does it matter who got there first (even if that could be securely delineated)?  Probably, to Kandinsky and other guy-heroes who shaped Modernism partly as a competitive bro-manship.  Probably not to Hilma.  Along the lines of Kandinsky, but much more so, she was wrapped up in a syncretistic spiritual calling.  The specifics are murky and were apparently malleable throughout her life, a blend of Christian,  Eastern and occultist beliefs and practices that included communing with the dead and spirit “masters” who initially inspired her (according to her) to paint autonomously without studies.  She did have early academic training and proficiency in botanical illustration and Impressionist (more or less) landscape by then, seen in examples on view.   The abstraction appears somewhat suddenly, full force, in colossal paintings jointly titled,The Ten Largest (c. 1906-1915).  In these, plant and amoebic life are suggested in the biomorphic shapes and squiggles floating against flat, sectioned planes, occasionally punctuated with idiosyncratic, alpha-numeric  markings.  The distinctive palette features mauves, ochres, and ceruleans with a dusty cast partly due to the tempera-like paint medium on paper that she preferred even for large work, but is carried over also in  matte oils. 

These “largest” are exhibited in the museum’s High Gallery off the main ramp (as shown above; view from above)—virtually the only space in this museum that could well accommodate them (a criticism of Wright’s ramp design when the museum opened in 1959,  by which time most abstract painting had become substantially larger than the Kandinskys at the nucleus of the collection).  Yet,  Wright’s winding “snail” could not be more apropos for the bulk of the show, given that Hilma imagined several dozen of her works in a grand spiral “temple.”  

So the show is brilliant for its melding of transporting, otherworldly art and environ, as well as the rich cache of a little known oeuvre.  While it is not surprising that any prolific pre-war woman artist has not had more exposure, in this case, Hilma hid, or at least did not show publicly, most of her abstract work, prognostic about its probable tentative reception, and perhaps discouraged by a  negative response from a towering male figure in her Spiritist/Theosophic circle (Rudolf Steiner).  She did find kindred souls in a small sisterhood of like-minded women artists, also not surprising among woman artists in history who pursued art careers against social odds.

Later, her explorations became a bit more Bauhaus-formal, though prismatic “ray”paintings with pyramidal and planetary forms and sporadic cryptic scribbling can evoke, variously, Freemasonry-type symbolism, early 20th-century Orphism, and Malevich’s Surprematism.  Figuration is also reintegrated after a point, perhaps in an effort to be more accessible, though all remains mostly enigmatic.  It gets somewhat esoteric and precious, not to mention opaque as far as content, in scrutinizing large spreads of of small color and shape studies based on gender coding and other symbolic correlation.  But not less fascinating.


 


Wedding-Cake Wonderland: Bodys Isek Kingelez at MoMA

“Bodys Isek Kingelez: City Dreams,”

Museum of Modern Art, May 26, 2018 – January 1, 2019.

“A city set on a hill cannot be hid.” (Matthew 5:14)

By now you’ve undoubtedly heard about Bodys Isek Kingelez (1948-2015), the Congolese sculptor of imaginary skyscrapers and cities out of cardboard, pasted papers, and all manner of shiny and colorful, miniaturist flotsam and jetsam.  Antoni Gaudi meets historical Futurism meets the Jetsons.  Meets Hindu gopuram meets Miami Art Deco.  Meets, crucially,  the uncompleted modernization of Kinshasa in the early, hopeful reign of OG Mobutu Sese Seko, when Kingelez arrived there from a small village and settled in for the rest of his life.  Very “global modern”–MoMA is the perfect venue.  More so if you recall the debut (more or less) of African art at MoMA in the infamous 1984 exhibition, “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, in which African art was presented (without mention of the artists) as static and conceptually limited, and which this oeuvre deconstructs inherently and completely.   

No one could fail to “like” these wedding cake-terraced constructions, dotted with painted details and calligraphic signage.  For Kingelez, they were models for  what–he had faith (literally)–would someday be realized as architecture.   His art journey began after a professed spiritual (Catholic-inflected) vision and attendant desire to address and contribute to new urban environments that would meet all the needs of its inhabitants. Global art world acclaim came with his inclusion in the landmark Paris exhibition, Magiciens de la Terre (1989),  and related support of mega-collector of Jean Pigozzi, after which his material inventory and the physical space of his works expanded.  Overall, however, his vision and approach remained pretty much consistent; likewise, the child-like pleasure of perusing his wonderlands.  Creations range from charming World’s Fair-type national pavilions (e.g.,  Palais de Hirochima; Belle Hollandaise) to kaleidoscope-Coney Island re-dos of corporate and government complexes set amidst painted  parks, thoroughfares and recreational sectors that feature sports arenas named after himself.  More solemn and sterile but equally utopian, Kingelez also gave much attention to hospital and health-related entities, partially drawing on colonial-style facilities in the Congolese capital. 

Besides an extensive retrospective display (the first for Kingelez), MoMA’s exhibition includes a superb virtual reality component that places viewers, via special glasses and video monitors, within one of his more complicated extrêmes maquettes (his term) and allows for bounding around the buildings by shifting focus, .  There are no interiors though, nor even the suggestion of such.  It’s all surface–but what  dazzling and dizzying surface.  Too bad the artist did not live to see this incarnation, so very close to his city dreams. 

Bodys Isek Kingelez, Ville Fantome, 1996 (at MoMA, 2018)
Bodys Isek Kingelez, Kimbembele Ihunga, 1994 (at MoMA, 2018)

Steven Salzman’s Funhouse Formalism

“Steven Salzman: Luminous Paintings”; at Bernarducci Gallery, 525 West 25th Street, through October 27, 2018.

Is there any joy in art-Mudville (aka Chelsea) anymore, or is it all ego-heavy political didacticism , endless appropriation,  and novel media meant to over- or underwhelm rather than engage viewers at eve-level (literally and figuratively speaking)?

Salzman’s paintings are a reminder that good old (ironically) abstraction still can deliver art magic when done well–i.e., when it manages to  funnel the gaze to perceptual foundations, tuning out everything else.  Recycling and splicing components of Futurism, Op Art, and Minimalism, Salzman spins his own Neo-Geo with razor-sharp compositional showmanship to render vision as physical experience. Typically comprised of shapes and lines precisely delineated and bounded and then stretched and pulled in varied directions, these compositions can induce squinting, blinking, and even weight-shifting to maintain equilibrium while panning their seamless shifting surfaces.   An interest in gradated, shimmering palettes—either a pearly spectrum or riotous, saturated hues—adds to the pleasure of pattern-seeking in the vertiginous rays, horizontalizing strips, and occasional wavy ripples and Barnett Newman-ish zips that Salzman seems to formulate by a combo of intuition and algorithm.  His closest art peer is probably Odili Donald Odita, and in that comparison Salzman is suddenly intimate, delivering a more tempered, slightly veiled razzle dazzle.  Anyone up for some satisfying art-for-art’s-sake will much appreciate Salzman’s nearly breathing fun-house formalism.

Steven Salzman, Beam-Drop (2015, 84×60 in.; image: bernarduccigallery.com)

 

Adrian Piper at MoMA / More on “Life-like” at Met Breuer

[Double-Dipping …*smile*]

Adrian Piper: A Synthesis of Institutions, March 31 – July 22, 2018, at The Museum of Modern Art

http://www.newartexaminer.net/power-at-the-moma/

Life Like:  Sculpture, Color, and the Body, March 21 – July 22, 2018, at The Met Breuer (Take Two – Take One [click])

http://www.newartexaminer.net/life-at-the-met/

(Ref: New Art Examiner, 32/6 (July/August 2018)

 

Snapshot reactions (contemporary art & other) by Jody B. Cutler-Bittner (art historian/educator). Search artists, galleries, museums, etc., below (and "enter").