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)

 

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

Buildings and Blocks: The Bechers, LeWitt, and Andre at Paula Cooper

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.

Works by Bernd and Hilla Becher, Carl Andre, and Sol Lewitt installed at the Paula Cooper Gallery (4/17/18).

 

 

Body Language through the Ages at The Met

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.

Fred Wilson, Guarded View, 1991 (mannequins/museum guard uniforms; collection Whitney Museum of American Art.; as installed at the entrance to “Black Male,” 1994; image: https://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/magazines/from-the-archive-linda-nochlin-on-black-male/#slideshow_17646.1).

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.

Duane Hanson, “Housepainter II,” c. 1988     (cast resin/pigment/clother; image: https://artssummary.com/2018/03/23/like-life-sculpture-color-and-the-body-1300-now-at-the-met-breuer-march-21-july-22-2018/).

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.

Yinka Shonibare, Ballerina, 1995. (manniquin/fabric/ mixed media). Installed at the Met Breuer, 2018.

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.

Tip Toland, The Whistlers, 2005 (mixed media).

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.

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".