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.
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).
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.
At The Met (main building), through July 29, 2018:
Visitors to Versailles 1682 – 1789
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.
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.
Bernd and Hilla Becher: In Dialogue with Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt, at Paula Cooper, 534 W. 21st St., through May 5, 2018.
The Bechers (German; he, d. 2007; she, d. 2015) worked together as one compositional and conceptual photographic eye for nearly fifty years. Picking up on the artistic objectivity of August Sander before WWII in his encyclopedic images of human subjects, they turned to architecture, mainly industrial. Each geometric-based structure is seen/shot from several viewpoints and arranged in flattened grids—a kind of reverse Cubist pictorial methodology. As segmented presentations they bear close relation to the serial arrangements of Minimalism, furthered by a purposeful monochrome sans shadows that sustains focus on each subject-as-such. Like Minimalist sculpture as well, they speak to the twentieth-century constructed environment for posterity, albeit through taxonomic-like, full-bodied representations.
Whereas, those now considered seminal Minimalists spoke through structural “excerpts”—a la LeWitt, (American, d. 2007) who then expanded them in 2D and 3D formats through formulaic repetitions increasingly for decades. It helps to know about this aspect of his oeuvre to appreciate the elemental works here, but also to take reciprocal cues from the backdrop of Bechers, as was the curatorial plan. Thus, LeWitt’s anti-volumetric, somewhat quizzical and idiosyncratic objects (to adapt Donald Judd’s enduring discourse, “Specific Objects,” 1965) also imply DNA-like building blocks.
Andre (b. 1935), a cohort of LeWitt in New York-based Minimalism’s 1970s heyday, is represented here by thick, square floor structures of rough-hewn wood beams—hollow boxes or frames, post-millennial in date but stubbornly consistent with the bulk (literally and figuratively) of his oeuvre. Imposing in their deliberate simplicity, they are more bounded presences than LeWitt’s linear “links.” For the less informed, this juxtaposition is effective in conveying the potential diversity within Minimalist aesthetics, analogical and extending to the Becher material. For a priori fans like myself, the stripped, ironic elegance associated with all parties involved will be reaffirmed. Make sure to take in the gallery’s expansive, bare-bones beam and I-bar ceiling to experience the full implications of the display.
Life Like: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300 to Now); The Met Breuer, through July 22, 2018.
Flashback to the Breuer building as the Whitney Museum, 1994: ushered into the great “Black Male” show by Fred Wilson’s Guarded View (1991)—then a revolutionary, highly controversial installation of headless dark mannequin-museum guards, now widely renowned.
Same sentinel post here: Duane Hanson’s resin-cast “replicant” of a black male housepainter (c. 1984), in this cross-chronological, interdisciplinary exhibit by the new Met tenants. Brings a little extra along, in more ways than one, for those who will not outlive deja vu moments linked to the Whitney-Met exchange.
The ahistorical juxtapositions throughout are generally accessible as well as provocative. Among the best examples: the pairing of Degas’s famously awkward, tutu-clad Little Dancer (c. 1881) and Yinka Shinobare’s headless Girl Ballerina (1995), which borrows the Degas pose but re-dresses the figure with African-print fabric and a pistol clutched behind her back.
Beyond the intended fine art spectrum, the show hedges the visual culture bet convincingly (as suggested above), mixing in anatomical models, death masks, effigies incorporating organic material, and other functional (so to speak) items, sometimes ambiguously, sometimes unequivocally.
The postwar work is twisted in intriguing directions simultaneously in sub-thematic groupings (about a half-a-dozen, overlapping). In a section linking commentary on race to this discourse, a variety of postmodern monochrome nudes play directly off Renaissance marble examples that imitate antique prototypes–before the re-discovery that most were once vividly painted. Fred Wilson is present here in this context with a diptych-like piece comprised of cast replicas of black-Egyptian and white-Greek goddess statues (The Mete of the Muse, 2004-2007). However, most of the Renaissance-era work included is sensationally polychromed, wood-carved Christian stuff–which, in its day, possibly provoked the kind of visceral sensations that Goshka Macuga’s animatronic automaton (2016), or at least, Tip Tolland’s super-trompe l’oeil women in The Whistlers (2005), both featured, do now.
Yes, the medical supply eyes, hair, prosthetic limbs, blood (some real), real bones, and mortuary elements gets creepy . Precisely, that’s one point–the spatial confrontation with our status as physical specimens. We are drawn to and faced with reflective bodies who play on both our egoistic desire for permanence and our self-conscious, inevitable disintegration.
The postwar material gathered is just a fraction of what is out there in this vein, which means that this effort is timely if not overdue. (Off the top of my head, surprised no Chapman Brothers, like their 3-D “Goya” and “disasters of yoga” series). But it’s a still a diverse, eclectic selection of mainly interesting work. Beyond those already mentioned: John Andrea’s illusionistic artist-as-Pygmalion tableaux nicely complements Hanson’s painter; Alison Saar (who also had an effecting body sculpture in “Black Male”) is represented here by Strange Fruit (1995), a choppy figure suspended upside down, as terrifyingly blunt as it sounds; a potato-phallus-sprouting female mannequin (mid-1960s) by Yayoi Kusama, which conveys the fiercely feminist and self-consciously fruity mien for which she is now cultishly admired (I’m in); Jeff Koons’s life-size porcelain Michael Jackson with his pet monkey (Bubbles, 1988), a high-point in Koons’s kitsch-driven career; Isa Genzken’s bricolaged post-punker mannequin; Charles Ray’s Freudian play with figurative scale. Indeed, Freud’s “uncanny” pervades large swaths of the whole curatorial exercise. If the installation is a bit chaotic and imbalanced (echoing the formal truth of most real bodies, inside and out), the work featured adds up to a lot, and points clearly to a strong reaction to abstraction in postwar sculpture, continuing.
Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables; through June 10, 2018, at the Whitney Museum
This smartly installed Grant Wood show is as illuminating as his mid-West-baroque corncob chandelier in the entrance gallery that highlights his generally underplayed substantial early design training and career. Unexpected are inventive yard art-meets-Dada table-top-scale sculptures, alongside subdued classically-derived painted allegorical adornments. There are two examples (models) of stained glass projects in situ, one of which depicts a sweetly sanctified male youth that fast forwards to similar window treatments by Kehinde Wiley. Yes, sexual undertones are there throughout, and in accompanying scholarship.
Grant’s disciplined Arts & Crafts-influenced foundation underlay a strong compositional and surface facility in his “fine art” paintings. His bold and deliberate figurative style cedes to warmly rounded gestalt-like geometries from a distance. Upon closer viewing many reveal an obsessively repetitive and layered, near-pointillist technique. Speaking of pointillism, Wood also offers a challenge in his drawings to the coup de chiaroscuro of Seurat’s charcoals, with similar dense and gradated hatchings and rich opaque silhouettes.
Following the sens de la visite, I practically sensed beneath my feet the velvety-verdant patches of field and earth upon which Wood set his mainly sprawling yet intimate homages to farm life, real and mythologized, while engaging his emblematic adaptions of the locals, inflected, variously, with nuanced satire and lofty stoicism. The famed, featured American Gothic (1930) is not one of the most intriguing works in painterly terms, although its nuanced iconic hold is as strong as ever. In a few late paintings the pristine impasto opens up, a la rich Fauvist contouring, harking back also to some early Impressionist work done in Europe, examples included.
Most copious here are all manner of studies for Wood’s expansive murals, which impress in scope and refinements. Committed Regionalist we know–as per the canonized “story of American art” –yes, unabashedly, and above all–one whose perceptive, perhaps partly repressed humor and social commentary is veiled in confident technique and representational inventiveness.
Thomas Cole’s Journey: Atlantic Crossings; through May 13 at The Met (Fifth Avenue building).
Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil; through June 3 at the Museum of Modern Art.
The organization of and examples in The Met’s Thomas Cole exhibition effectively create a transporting experience for viewers that follows the artist’s journeys between England, the United States, and Italy in the early 19th century. Cole (1801-1848) was the product of an era in which continental aesthetics and art history were becoming consciously intertwined with artistic goals specific to the painting medium, especially; close imitation of both nature and the idealized form of “the ancients” was di rigueur. Cole breathed air into the former—that is, within meticulously detailed and composed, glazed and polished landscape scenes and scenarios. Whether portraying a precise locale or synthesizing and staffing various settings into monumental narratives and allegories, his pictures convey credibly atmospheric, weather-y conditions. This propulsion he shared with peers like Turner and Constable, who are included, among others, for comparative contexts, not least to convey a splurge of individualistic technical flourish apparent beyond overlaps in nascent Romantic sensibilities associated with outliers from The Academy.
Themes broached in Cole’s oeuvre turn on colonial savage versus civilized significations and sublimes, and prescient ecological concerns in tandem with the accelerating Industrial Revolution; but, above all, the cyclical drama of nature, in full light of the encroaching Anthropocene, climactic in his renowned, metaphoric, Course of the Empire series, which is highlighted in a make-shift niche that allows easy cross-referencing between the stages of civilization depicted.
Brazilian artist Tarsila do Amaral (1886-1973) also created parallel worlds in paint that are nonetheless locally grounded in desert and jungle topographies of her homeland. At the Modern, viewers are plopped into marshmallow-mound landscapes punctuated by stylized flora and fauna, bright suns, and sometimes bulbous humanoid bodies. Stand-outs depict un-nameable creatures scuttling along flat bubbles and bands color, encroached upon by out-sized indeterminate foliage and melting cacti. Part European-modern—Post-Impressionist, Surrealist, abstractionist—and part indigenous, in form, symbolism, and inspirations. Put another way, Gauguin, Matisse, Tanguy, and Magical Realism milled to morphic and coloristic essences while conveying a real connection to earthy surrounds.
Derrick Adams: Sanctuary, through August 12, 2018; at the Museum of Arts and Design, 2 Columbus Circle (59th St.)
Adams’s art practice has been grounded from the start on shifting, interdisciplinary mediums and methods; thus, it makes so much aesthetic sense (first of all) to see his recent collage-type production in the context of an installation at MAD. The nominally functional associations with this venue are manifest in Adams’s theme and commemoration: safety and comfort on the road for African American travelers in Jim Crow America, as published in The Negro Motorist Greenbook (1936-67). Adams’s titular terminology–sanctuary–may recall for some the decade-long traveling exhibition documented in the volume, Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, (Twin Palms Publishers, 2000), to which Adams’s project offers supplement and antidote.
The gallery is bifurcated by a raised, yellow-lined “highway” reminiscent of an enlarged toy car track set, dotted with Dada vehicles comprised of sport caps of the era on wheels. At several “intersections,” doors open onto a back wall of sharp-edged, cubistic collage-paintings, suggesting various types of establishments and topography through building-valise-parking lot hybrids embellished with key objects. This group is rhythmically unified by brick patterns that have appeared throughout Adams’s oeuvre and may symbolize security and strength. Elsewhere, slices of the road continue up pedestals topped with architectural models that repeat the door motif in miniature and are partly cast from milk cartons to evoke self-sufficient “beacons.” Another wall is papered with blown-up, marked-up pages from The Green Book; which engages viewers in a search for recognized names and locales. A playroom/craft shop sensibility hovers (also seen in much of Adams’s earlier work), which, leavens the historical phenomenon at hand, while the clean, carefully constructed geometry and clever signifying throughout betray refined formal and conceptual preoccupation.