Blue-Chip Blow-up Beasts

Big Dogs (Jeff Koons), a Fat Rat (Bruce High Quality Foundation), and a Trash Bag Teddy Bear (Gimhongsok)

The Koons retrospective (Whitney Museum):  as commentary floods in, one point approaching something of consensus: he wins the mirror-ball of summer-sculpture-NYC (i.e., the pop-media prize), with his bloated, shiny-coated, kitsch-ified Brancusis.  (That’s post-Kara Walker’s Domino sugar mama, winner of all 2014.)  On Koons’s concurrent colossal dino-toy-like topiary at Rockefeller Center’s plaza, however, I would say: could have left this chapter one and done, with the first, brilliant (yes) flowering Puppy (conceived 1992) in the same spot in 2000.

Jeff Koons, c. 1993; from the MMA website (roof exh., 2012)

Jeff Koons, c. 1993 (cast/polished metal); from an exhibition page (2012) of the Metropolitan Museum of Art website (currently on view at the Whitney).

Installed in the Lever House courtyard (just off Park Ave., NW corner Park/53rd) is The New Colossus (2012) by the sometimes-Banksy-like team, BHQF, a cast bronze replica of the giant rubber-and-roped “union rats” commonly erected at worker strikes and protests in the U.S.  Ostensibly, the piece anchored a larger recent show about “art and labor” inside the building’s gallery.  However,  it also stands alone as a commodity, very expensive to produce (if not up there w/ the creatures of Koons), subsumed into the acclaimed modernist edifice (designed by G. Bunshaft / Skidmore, Owings & Merrill) and its corporate collection.  Basic Frankfurt School points of socio-economic and aesthetic reference are easily applied and cast (pun intended) sharply in this case.

Bruce High Quality Foundation (collaborative), "The New Colossus," 2012; Lever House courtyard (photo: 8/2/14)
Bruce High Quality Foundation (collaborative), “The New Colossus,” 2012; Lever House courtyard (photo: 8/2/14)

However, the idea that antagonism between workers/owners has reified (i.e., been cast in proverbial stone), which may signal that a tipping point for modern Capitalism may be at hand, is (perhaps; interestingly) also suggested.

Equally to the point (in situ in midtown): rat images / image triggers (like the word, RAT) have a special meaning for NYers, who are united in trying not to acknowledge the alarming statistical ratios of rat population to our own, barely separated by cracked concrete and plasterboard (of which we are intermittently reminded by news flashes).  So this giant rodent near the building’s chic restaurant and terrace sitting area is also charged in this connection.

The grandiosity of it (starting with the ton, give or take, of precious metal employed) brings up the postmodern-ish problem of the cast found object – the replica, the simulacrum, on and on (and back to Duchamp and Picasso).  At this point, with work of this ilk, we are basically talking about how “good” (engaging) the concept of the cast holds up in particular instances, and how conceptually layered (or not) the resultant new object.

Precisely, in  an intrinsically similar vein but different situational context: a giant bronze cast of a teddy bear made from stuffed trash bags by Seoul-based artist, Gimhongso  (Bearlike Construction, presented by Art in the Parks, NYC).   Placed in the modest triangular Tribeca Park just below Canal St. where W. Broadway picks up again,  the trompe-l’oeil / double-take figure from a (short) distance suggests a garbage “snowman” built by some kids in the night from the ubiquitous from trash bags left on the curbs across the street, and commands second looks.   It’s also a great down-market riff on Koons’s immaculate over-blown playthings.

Gimhongsok, "Bearlike Construction," Tribeca Park; bronze

Gimhongsok, “Bearlike Construction,” Tribeca Park; bronze

View 2
View 2

Flashback: “rats in the gallery” a decade ago by German artist, Katerina Fritsch

Katerina Fritsch, 1993; Wikipedia
(“Rat King,” 1993; cast/plastic, painted; Wikipedia)

Frick Museum Expansion

Re: Proposed smaller garden, bigger museum (store; plus cafe) at the Frick: *NYT beat me to it (“The Case against a Mammouth Expansion,” M. Kimmelman, 7/30/14). The aspirations of grandiosity, while loosing sight of spheres, specialties, missions, best practices, (etc.) are now endemic to the field. MoMA’s garden is dwarfed by the addition that ruined the historical integrity of the institution and its core collection to give precedence to “spectacular,” outsized contemporary art. In the end it will also (as ALWAYS) mean raising public admissions (already at $20).* The Guggenheim (under Krens) started it in a big way (although the colossal failure in Soho didn’t get the detailed, aggressive panning it was really due). The Barnes could have turned the tide with a brilliant updated gem beyond the metropolis (like so many great small museums throughout Europe).
*It’s like the Met Opera financial “crisis” – and the “bewilderment” of opera board/administrators about attendance problems … in lieu of working with a production budget that allows reasonable ($) access to the majority public.


Charles Gaines, SMH and MoMA

Obsessive, artistic madman (I mean that in the most revered art-sense of the term) Gaines has a show stopper in the current MoMA show,  “Sites of Reason: Recent Acquisitions”: a multimedia installation including sound, video with text, and visually appealing, large-scale, hand-drawn sheet-music with lyrics.  Gaines devised a system to create  four related “scores” that equated and translated words of four political manifestos into corresponding musical notes (a la Sol Lewitt and an acknowledged influence, Hanne Darvoben, as well as Dadaist sound-meister John Cage).    At the Studio Museum in Harlem, “Gridwork” traces the genesis of Gaines’s self-perpetuating stylistic modus operandi  in dizzying, puzzle-like compositions from the mid-1970s-mid-1980s that recall the “counting” art of Roman Opalka as much as the Zen-focused detail of Buddhist mandalas, another acknowledged influence.  The few with color also anticipate the pixilated “bit” mosaics of the pending (at the time) digital age.

Sugar Hill Show

Sugar city this summer, with Kara Walker’s mountainous mama at Domino;* including two pieces in the Sugar Hill (nabe) show, “If You Build It,” a group exhibition at a new apt. (main architect, David Adjaye) at 155th / St. Nich. Ave., organized by   (One is illustrated below; the other is a diorama-like, mini-metropolis of the sweet stuff by Irish duo, Brendan Jamison and Mark Revel, all over the web).

I picked up a signed multiple ($10!) by the esteemed Nari Ward – a “canned smile” — created in conjunction with a street project / “happening” documented in a video on view in the show – love it!

nari_wardLots of very interesting work.  Loved the timely, poignant “monument” to immigrant journeys by Scherezade  Garcia (below).

Through 8/10/14.

Detail of installation dealing w/ baseball and the Dominican Republic (cast glass bat over sugar).
Freddy Rodriguez,  Detail of installation dealing w/ baseball and the Dominican Republic (cast glass bat over sugar).
Radcliffe Bailey
One of Radcliffe Bailey’s “shipwrecks” from the Diaspora-focused Atlanta-based artist.
Scherezade Garcia
Scherezade Garcia (painted rubber tubes; airport/travel stickers)

*Kara Walker, A Subtlety, installed May 10 – July 6, 2014; organized by Creative Time.


Jeff Koons / Yayoi Kusama?

Re: Jeff Koons at the Whitney Museum:  Has anyone mentioned Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden of mirrored balls on a lawn at the 1966 Venice Bienale (to which she had not been invited)?*  For $2 each, she hawked them–“on sale: your narcissism”–until chased out by officials.  (The piece has since been revisited and installed in various contexts by the amazing octogenarian, Kusama.)   Narcissism is the great common denominator, as Koons’s not at all uninteresting bloated Brancusis remind us–and just as he predicts–Koons_1 (2)over and over.

[Left: Snapping myself at the  Whitney.]

*Images of the original Kusama in situ are copyrighted, though still in wide circulation on the web (google).

Snapshot reactions/recommendations on contemporary and occasionally other art recently on view around town. See you in the galleries, Jody B. Cutler-Bittner (art historian/educator). Search artists, galleries, museums, key words below, and "enter".