Category Archives: Artists

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 fluidly 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 http://jodybcutler.com/selected-reviews-articles-published/). 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 (eventually) 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 is 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

By now you’ve undoubtedly heard all about Kingelez (1948-2015), the Congolese sculptor of imaginary skyscrapers and cities out of cardboard, pasted papers, and all manner of miniaturist flotsam and jetsam.  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.

No one could fail to “like” these cardboard wedding cake-terraced models, dotted with painted details and calligraphic signage,  for  what Kingelez had faith (literally) would someday become real architecture.   In fact, he began his art journey 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 (for better or worse) 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 the 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, hospital and health-related entities are also given much attention.

Besides being the first retrospective for Kingelez, MoMA’s exhibition includes a superb virtual reality component that places viewers, via special glasses, within one of his more complicated extrêmes maquettes (his term) and allows, with shifting focus for bounding around the buildings.  There are no interiors though, nor even the suggestion of such.  It’s all surface–but what  surface, with its dazzling Surrealist reflection of pipe 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)

 

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Breezy Sojourn in Hawaii

Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai’i

May 19 – October 28, 2018, at the New York Botanical Gardens 

In 1939, on the advice of the seminal N.W. Ayer advertising agency, the Hawaiian Pineapple Co. (aka Dole) commissioned Georgia O’Keeffe to create two paintings for a print campaign and funded a sojourn to Hawaii for the purpose.  The yield was this display of twenty mainly small-scale works in the Art Library building at the NYBG—a few gems, a few tentative essais.

There is an unaffected, vaporous quality in O’Keeffe’s personal painting style overall that is convincingly autonomous and highly sensitive to the breathed air of places and moments that is captured in a few works here—close-up views of flowers for which she is best known, and two mountain waterfall scenes through clouds that, squinting, can morph into the v-shaped centers she repeated intermittently in her flora (a kind of inversion of Cezanne’s obsessive triangular Mont Ste. Victoire).  An image of a twisted white bird-of-paradise betrays uncharacteristic modelling, suggesting the visual scrutiny she professed, even if she simplified drastically.  But the show didn’t quite convey a major, “transformative experience” (press blurb) in her extraordinary oeuvre, considering she spent two months she there and that some of what’s on view was finished at home in New York; and the pineapple painting used for one ad was done entirely in her studio .

Still, this is an important and interesting show in more ways than one, including the commissioned circumstance —actually, the ad strategy of a fine arts angle was relatively new for the time and O’Keeffe had previous experience this sort of thing, as well as work as a graphic designer—adding to her proto-feminist acumen and exploits (I know, she would have winced … ).  At the same time, in this large and spectacular environment of the NYBG,  it was somewhat  dwarfed and might have been supplemented with more art by  O’Keeffe and/or others, in lieu of huge photographic blow-ups and the extent of the didactic material and information on the history of flora in Hawaii and O’Keeffe’s trip on walls and in vitrines.

The tie-in exhibit of Hawaiian plants, ceding with the extensive tropical collection in main Haupt Conservatory, is truly dazzling–not to be missed.

Georgia O’Keeffe, White Bird of Paradise, 1939 (Georgia O’Keeffe Museum; viewed at NYBG, 9/10/18).

California Minimalist Mary Corse stays the Course at Whitney

Mary Corse: A Survey in Light, at the Whitney Museum of American Art, through November 25, 2018

Traveling to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (the organizing institution), July 28 – November 20, 2019

Mary Corse (b. 1945) has had some substantive recognition among cognoscenti for her measured Minimalist oeuvre, which sometimes has incorporated neon and fluorescent light; however, she has generally been overshadowed by coverage of her West Coast male peers similarly occupied from the mid-1960s.  Perhaps foremost, this show redresses the still lacking female voices of post-Ab Ex abstraction.  Corse was very much in the thick of its optical and spatial concerns and had her own take on white as a reflective hue, explored in geometric arrangements early on.  She soon bolstered different types of white paint, painting grounds, and real illumination with a “glass microsphere” material, crystalized to sandy granules, which added shifting sheen to the monochrome surface.  If you focus on the light per se, the picture plane becomes quietly dizzying.  Corse has continued with apparently strict delimits playing out myriad proportionally-sectored possibilities.  A major revelation came in the mid-1970s with the addition of less finely ground black microspheres, which have the effect of shimmering sequins and add, unwittingly or not, add a metaphoric universe to her studio-laboratory aesthetic.  Unfortunately, only one of those is included here. New Yorkers were treated to a roomful of related, more recent and expansive works at Lehman Maupin Gallery last fall (2017)—more thrilling, overall, than this show, which is, however, deserved and important.  Two diptych-type sculptures from 1965, each consisting of elongated wood and Plexiglas triangular white columns that appear to change shape when viewed from different angles, are as confident in their Minimalist mien as Robert Morris’s famous “3 L’s” of the same year that came to define it (now in the Whitney’s permanent collection).

 

Red Light in Amsterdam: Giorgio Andreotta Calò

Giorgio Andreotta Calò: Anastasis

May 24 – September 23, 2018, at the Oude Kerk, Amsterdam

Increasingly in recent decades historical sites have initiated exhibitions of contemporary art to expand outreach as well as contexts for their relevance and perpetuity.  Since 2013, Amsterdam’s  Old Church, consecrated in the early fourteenth century and located in De Wallen, aka the Red Light district, has been one such venue. This summer’s contemporary fare is a light installation by Giorgio Andreotta Calò, who gained wide international exposure in the Italian Pavilion of the 57th Venice Biennale (2017) with a space-disorienting Gesamtkunstwerk incorporating a filmic plane of reflective water.  Here, transparent red filmic matter is overlaid on the church’s giant windows to bathe the awkward, additive interior uniformly in slightly hazy red light.

Upon entering, the effect is squint-inducing and hints at strategically placed stained glass or pre-modern lamplight before taking over as art.  It doesn’t take too long to acclimate, or rather, acquiesce, to this seared visuality as one roams and peruses building’s structure and antique elements; while at the same time, it renders details difficult to keep in focus.  This perceptual stop-gap harkens to darkroom red light that arrests photographic development, analogical to the iconoclasm that transformed this and other Catholic churches in the region, largely via image destruction, to Protestant institutions.

Most obviously, Calò’s tinted, or tainted, alteration conjures the fraught relationship between this ostensible house of god with its sin city setting, and their shared dialectics of hellfire and passion, loneliness and love.  Capped by the multi-faceted title, Anastasis, which reins in the scriptural episodes, Christ Harrowing Hell and the Resurrection, and the advocated censure of icons in early Byzantium, Calò has coaxed the most out of his deceptively simple art gesture, and turned the natural light enlisted explicitly in some earlier Christian architecture (see Cistercian) into a steamy spiritual veil.

Giorgio Andreotta Calò installation, Oude Kerk, Amsterdam (2018)

Fluff and Flowers: Summer at The Met

At The Met (main building), through July 29, 2018:

Visitors to Versailles 1682 – 1789 

and

Public Parks, Private Gardens – Paris to Provence

Complementary seasonal shows at The Met, beginning with an artistic tour of 18th-century Versailles.   An excellent mixed-media installation on the sensory experience of visitors to the  extravagant complex developed by the Bourbons.  Do the audio guide, which is not just speechifying, but includes dramatized period anecdotes and recreated probable ambient sounds (nature, music).  An integrated arrangement of carriages, couture, furniture, personal objects, wallpaper, and landscape, architectural, and portrait prints and paintings gives a great overview of varied continental styles of the era, as well as precisely who visited and how—sometimes in costume ruses aimed at avoiding scrutiny for those rich and famous rulers and diplomats who came mainly to party.   Other than to specialized cognoscenti, few artist names will stand out.  Mostly, as you will see, late French Baroque was the result of an ongoing collaborative design machine of similarly well-trained, interchangeable  artists and craftsmen in the shadow of Louis XIV’s maestro, Charles Le Brun,  along with porcelain and tapestry factories.

An abundance of images and objects here are self-referential–related to the ongoing design enrichment of the grounds and palace, including panoramas documenting operatic-scale pomp and ceremony, and amusing zoomorphic, allegorical garden sculptures.  One charming and telling naturalistic painting to note depicts laborers clearing brush, by Hubert Robert, who also stands out with a proto-Impressionist scene of fireworks at night.

Moving into 1800, gardening petered down to the bourgeoisie as a civic and personal craze, as Public Parks, Private Gardens delineates, also through a multi-media presentation that includes botanical illustrations, photographs, diagrams, popular prints, glassware, ceramics, and period gardening accoutrements, as well as painting.  Not unexpectedly, Impressionism reigns. It’s hard to believe that such lovely flowery fluff was once considered art-radical.  Repros inevitably dull the continued fresh-air ambiance and semblance of synaesthetics in the fragrant foliage depicted in work by the original practitioners gathered here, along with bold heritors like Van Gogh and (finally here) Matisse.

Mary Cassatt, Lilacs in a Window (1880-83); in the Public Parks/Private Gardens exhibition, summer 2018 (image from The Met’s Collection database)

 

 

Damien Hirst as (Outer) Space Painter

Damien Hirst: Colour Space Paintings, Gagosian Gallery, 24th Street; through June 30, 2018

At this stage of the game for Hirst, when hype has become both draw and a distraction vis-a-vis his art activity, he has been attempting to re-presented himself as a seemingly un-ironic, authentic (for lack of better term) abstract painter.  I’ll say, unexpectedly, that consolidated foray into pointillist non-objectivity on display here rises to the company of postwar predecessors like Richard Pousette–Dart, Larry Poons, Veja Celmins, and, especially, Yayoi Kusama, in terms of visceral optical power–specifically Kusama’s simultaneous vision of the endless universe and the buzz behind our eyes.

Hirst himself has linked the featured works, mainly from 2016-2017, to his long-standing interest in pseudo-scientific content via images of cells under a microscope.  He first produced “spot” paintings in the 1980s in the context of post-Minimalism, which segued, reciprocally, into candy-colored tablets of big pharma.  The circle forms were typically arranged in grids or bounded patterns, sometimes shifting within the compositional structure through color arrangement.  In the best works here, the spots, in a staggering diversity of tinted hues, are densely applied in all-over fields with an uncanny stroke that seems mechanical in regularity and hand-hewn with occasional delicately trailed paint threads.  Depending on light or dark grounds, they can  intimate staring into the daylight sun or night star gazing, rendering the exhibition title a double-entendre.

As a bonus, if seeming non-sequitur, a sliced shark piece from his break-through days (1990s) as art infant terrible is installed in an anteroom before the street-front gallery window. Perhaps a reminder of the shark-infested blue-chip art sea in which he swims, but also, of the preeminent theme of death that has haunted his oeuvre.  In that sense, to borrow a metaphor from Kusama on her own practice, the new paintings can suggest the obliterative nature of infinity.

Damian Hirst, installation of paintings at Gagosian 24th St. (May 2018)

 

Damien Hirst, sculptural installation, c. mid-1990s, at Gagosian 24th St., May 2018