Tag Archives: Andy Warhol

Read My Paintings: Deborah Kass at Paul Kasmin

Deborah Kass: No Kidding“; Paul Kasmin 27th Street; through January 23.

We ask a lot of our artists. When break-out works are assimilated and canonized relatively quickly, they become reductive stand-ins for long careers and impossible standards for sustained “sensationality”–indeed a seminal linchpin of the discipline of art history–for better and worse (on case-by-case bases). So it is with Kass, who took on the attendant (overwhelmingly) male lineage and ideal (the “masterpiece” or central subject/style) in her extensive “Warhol Project” (c. 1992-2000), through which she outed and infiltrated its ranks as well. Piggy-backing on Andy’s art-stylistic and personal fame, works from her Jewish Jackies series (c. 1992)–profile head shots of Barbra Streisand in his bright silkscreen technique–have become ubiquitous in exhibitions and publications related to postmodern identity art and revisionist art history broadly and specifically. Like her laugh-out-loud¬† non-ironic, pictorial punning, timing was everything.¬† From there, she rolled out a decade of deceptively simplistic Warhol appropriations that packed similar punch, with subjects from Sandy Kofax to Linda Nochlin, and, finally, herself directly. (One series, America’s Most Wanted, 1998-99, which switched up the criminal mugshots of Andy’s infamous version with those of art writers and curators in an aggressively amusing mediation on artist angst and art-world machinations, was recently exhibited at Sargent’s Daughters, L.E.S. / see post).

Anyway, Kass is indelibly linked to those first Barbras, as well as Warhol.¬† Very good for her.¬† In fact, she has maintained her distinctly humorous-to-a-point art voice in a progressively nuanced kind of art-borrowing that plays pointedly to art insiders.¬† Trading on the over-familiarity of modern masters in that milieu, she concocted a mix of abstraction and conceptualism that mimicked and reorganized stylistic signifiers like Pollock drips, Johns stencil-scrapes, Stella stripes, while also riffing on esoteric “word art”–picking up there also on immediate feminist predecessors Kruger and Holzer, as well a number of peers.¬† (Kass has acknowledged Stella as a fundamental though indirect influence, perhaps gleaned best collectively in the formally rigorous spirit of recent work such as here.)

At first, Kass’s bold-print superimposed texts were drawn from pop songs and pop sayings loaded with interpretive possibilities–unlike the best-known (male) “first generation,” which sought to deter the colloquial content of language in favor of strictly semiotic concerns.¬† A hit that solidly bridged Kass’s earlier identity work was a pair of Ruscha word painting take offs, Oy and Yo, (2009-10), since realized as a double-sided public sculpture at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge (installed through August 2016).

In the current show the “slogan” element of the paintings are toned down and perceptual concerns keyed up.¬† One group, in the back gallery, features mashed up abstract backdrops (as above) sharing two displaced song titles; these consolidate the kind of visual thinking that has preoccupied Kass for the past decade. In several examples, bits of taping and under-drawing are left amid slick-surfaced “finished” areas revealing her techniques and perhaps addressing tropes of intuitive/autonomous form associated with modernist painting.

In the main gallery large-scale Minimalist panels (a la Ellsworth Kelly [R.I.P., yesterday]; Brice Marden) cede to various linguistic embellishments; for example, added neon signage (like Joseph Kosuth and Bruce Nauman) in a group dealing with “black” and “blue” that shifts around the optical coordinates; and type-face-like, very low relief messaging that emerges subtly in raking light. (Detour: there’s some accidental cross-over in aesthetic structure–as dual art-laden and prosaic “signs”–if not at all sensibility, between some this work and the monochrome, ash Braille phrase paintings by Zhang Huan on view at Pace 25th St. last month/post.)

Kass obviously admires as much as milks and amalgamates her sources to bolster the deconstructive aims that are now characteristic of her art personality–forged in the early Barbras.

Most Wanted Insiders, and Outsiders on Lower East Side

“Deborah Kass: America’s Most Wanted, 1998-1999″ at Sargent’s Daughters (East Broadway), through June 28.

“RE(A)D” at Nathalie Karg (Grand St.), through July 3.

“Margaret Loy Pula and Lily Kelly Napangardi” and “Emil Alzamora” at Marc Straus (Grand St.), through June 12.

“Not a Painting” and “Holton Rower: Psquirmour” [sic] at The Hole (Bowery), through July 26.

Contemporary art-time really flies – can’t believe it’s been two decades since Kass began her ten-year-long “Warhol Project,” in which she mimicked the Pope of Pop’s duplicative, attention-grabbing tabloid-to-silkscreen-to-canvas method to express her personal and professional identities (artist, feminist, Jewish, lesbian). Integral to this art journey was calling out art-world patriarchies all along the way, with lots of winks at Warhol’s somewhat closeted art-gayness (although out there in life, there was little critical discussion of gender and sexuality in relation to his art before his death while, since then, this direction has proliferated).

It started with the “Barbra” paintings–two series in which Kass replaced Warhol’s shiksa celebrities with images of Streisand–one featuring a schnozz-enhancing profile, the other, in drag in the lead role of her 1984 film, Yentl.¬† From there, the “guerrilla” Warhols rolled off the press, including the series on view here, based on his notorious “Most Wanted Men” images, thirteen mugshots appropriated from an NYC police blotter, transferred onto the exterior of the New York pavilion of the 1964 World’s Fair.¬† While Pop art was assimilated relatively quickly by commoners as well as mainstream cognoscenti (one famous exception: C. Greenberg), this prosaic reality romp was out of bounds whether or not the gay in-joke just below the surface was intuited by the fair officials who promptly had it covered up; Warhol used the screens for a later series on canvas.¬† Kass’s “suspects” are those “wanted” by emerging artists: scholarly and commercial art movers and shakers like Thelma Golden, Robert Storr, Donna DaSalvo, Lisa Dennison.¬† While Kass’s concept is the overpowering thing, the canvases have an engaging optical and physical presence first hand, coming in and out of focus as they shift between grainy, grisaille photo blow-ups and Lichtenstein-pointillist,¬† near abstract, black and white print-paintings. They look strong and committed to their collective statement/s in this cement-chic space at the edge of the LES scene.

Up (north) the street a piece,¬† fortuitously: a direct riff on Duchamp’s seminal art poster, “Wanted: $2000 Reward” (first created 1923) that also haunts Warhol’s–and Kass’s–respective series, by oldster Angeleno outlaw (and early Warhol appropriator), Richard Pettibone, in the group show, “Re(a)d.” His re-do, in which his own image replaces that of Duchamp’s, retains the original’s red-lettered headline and list of aliases.¬† The merging of red color and text is not as preciously random here as it may first appear; foremost, it refers to a series of shows curated by Bob Nickas in NYC in the mid-1980s.¬† (Interestingly, the “red” show last summer was a revisitation of Alexander Iolas’s 1947 show, ‚ÄúBloodframes,‚ÄĚ at Paul Kasmin; see post, 8/11/14.) But even if it it were,¬† it’s fun, with serious work looking relevant across several generations (iffy elevator and steep stairways in this gallery’s new space notwithstanding).¬† From Scott Reeder’s adolescent-graffiti-writer canvases to an studio apartment-sized jewel of an Ed Ruscha, the inter-generational roster is inspired, and the semiotically-charged sensibilities floating around quite individualistic.¬† A favorite: Kay Rosen’s Overbite–you’ll see.¬† It also appears to be a smart art-world display in terms of mixing up constituencies and, most likely, primary and resale merch.

Scott Reeder paintings at Nathalie Karg (6/10/15)
Scott Reeder paintings at Nathalie Karg (6/10/15)

For true art world outsider art, see the indigenous Australian “dream painters,” Pula and Napangardi, at Straus.¬† Their respective all-over, dotty and spider-web-delicate, earth-toned abstractions need to be engaged up close and personal.¬† While (near obligatory) comparisons are made in the gallery hand-out of resemblances to mainstream Minimalism, I could not help thinking of kooky ( in the most endearingly sense of the term) Yayoi Kusama while gazing into the infinite (outer) space evoked by these artists.¬† Upstairs, Peruvian sculptor Alzamora re-treads the modernist track with human-scale figurative sculptures variously stretched and bundled,¬† nude-like and strangely wrapped, evoking Henry Moore and (a bit) Antony Gormley.¬† It’s good old-fashioned carving (gypsum; finished to look like stone) and modeling (presumably, for the several bronzes).

Back in the East Village (and a reminder of its gallery heyday), The Hole summer group turns painting inside out by hanging on its walls everything that’s “not a painting”– although stuff hanging on a wall in a gallery inevitably refers to painting.¬† So, fantastical “phony baloney”–literally, rubbery-cast, over-sized, mimetic slices of pimento-and-olive-infused lunch meat–by Martha Friedman; a chain-link fence “canvas” by Evan Roberts; buoyant, bright plays on Frank Stella’s heavy-metal wall constructions by Adam Parker Smith; and funkily “bedazzled” mandalas by Evie Falci (re the term, check the current AT&T t.v. ad, or Michael’s Hobby store).¬† Back gallery bonus: definitely (rich) painting by Holton Rower–one series, all-over squirmy, poured pigments based on the wood grains of their grounds; another, the “worms” congealing into Surrealist biomorphs, popping off the sanded, raw wood.¬† Jackson Pollock, Morris Louis, Lynda Benglis, Morris Louis, a dash of Peter Schuyff, in a post-millennial blender.


Serving Andy’s Soups, Yoko’s “Apple” and “Grapefruit,” at MoMA









“Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960‚Äď1971,” through September 7.


The oddly empty, yet addictive allure of Warhol‘s art is mind-boggling. Boring until it’s mesmerizing (not unlike Minimalism). Students cannot get enough of Warhol, the images, as well as the myth.¬† Even if they think they don’t get it. Even if they are skeptical. Whether or not they are interested at all in “art” broadly or specifically. Supermarket to Studio 54 to the Louvre. Same take. Same procedure. Same surface. Pure “spectacle” ‚Äst reproductions of reproductions‚ÄĒno substance. Labels, photos, the front page of a newspaper. Yet despite its built-in, flattened reproducibility, so many of Warhol‘s big, bold screen prints, such as the suite of mostly neon-tinged Marilyns (on paper; 1967) in the current MoMA show, stake a clear claim in a long, essentially modernist lineage of “art.” (Today I thought of Picasso’s Dora Maars before this repeated yet stuttering, puzzled and psychedeli-cized image of the sexy star‚ÄĒwhich I hadn’t, precisely, in the past;¬† Warhols keep on giving that way.) Meanwhile, the seminal gold Marilyn canvas (1962; moved from the collection galleries into this focused show) looks more and more like a Byzantine icon over time, its aura palpable.

The central installation is the entire original series of 32 Campbell’s soup cans (1962), among the last of Warhol’s hand-painted (traced; stenciled) works, displayed like the commodities they are, on a shallow shelving, as in their debut at Ferus Gallery (L.A.)–just a moment away from the forthcoming “brillo boxes” (1964) that would that come closest to such an art-product union. As it is, the soup cans remain more so disembodied icons, like the Marilyns.¬† Still provocative in the machine-mimicking technique and vision of fast-food cultural nourishment for the democratized surplus society of postwar USA.

While Andy was creating a campy, subterranean superstar milieu around his art “factory,” Yoko was even more avant-garde (for lack of better term) with the Fluxus crowd, where she furthered its concept-driven, anti-product ideals not only through her own work but by hosting events for others in her downtown loft.¬† Subsequently, the creatively energetic octogenarian has remained foremost–through thick and thin in terms of her maligned public persona (late 1970s-80s) and the tragic death of long-time lover and husband, Lennon–a New Yorker. It feels right‚ÄĒan adopted hometown show for this¬† idiosyncratic, artistically generous-spirited, bohemian survivor.

With that in mind, her well-known piece, Apple (1966), placed near the start of the exhibition, reads as a kind of vanitas: a real apple, left to disintegrate gradually, is placed on a plexiglas pedestal adorned with a metal plaque that bears its tautological title–an imprint of the artist’s having “thought” this that will remain.¬† The clear base gives a floating effect to the plaque and the apple,¬† a green variety that evokes its frequent appearance in Magritte’s inscrutable paintings; likewise, the play between word and object.

Yoko‘s aesthetic is linked to Surrealism in other ways as well.¬† Bag Piece (1964) has visitors don a dark sack to appear as a “bundle” crawling in a corner, evoking Man Ray’s famous object, Enigma (1920).¬† There are also hired performers to keep it live for several hours each day.

"Bag Piece" by Yoko Ono; MoMA (5/22/15)
Yoko Ono, “Bag Piece” (1964) at MoMA (5/22/15)





Christo also comes to mind, even more so in a performance in which musicians are progressively wrapped in gauze as they are playing until the sound becomes mute, represented by photo documentation in the show. There is also the Half a Room installation (1967), which recalls Yayoi Kusama’s foray into domestic absurdity around the same time.

Yoko Ono, "Half-a-Room" (1967); at MoMA, 5/22/15
Yoko Ono, “Half-a-Room” (1967); at MoMA, 5/22/15

An absurdist element underpins the extensive, intermittent series of haiku-like “instructions” and “scores” for actions and performances that make up most of the show, the earliest of which were first presented in a book Yoko titled, Grapefruit (c. 1964), for the hybrid origins of the fruit.¬† So: “dance in pitch dark”; light matches, touch the sky; scream; imagine weather; interact with others‚ÄĒsometimes realizable in real time, sometimes not, sometimes seemingly somewhere in between. This aesthetic mix of prose and poetry, whimsy and obscurity, auteur and collaborator, has been the mainstay of her art. And some of the texts have been incarnated for the exhibition, e.g., “stepped on” or “dripped upon” or ink-obliterated canvases–also, at points, reflecting a Zen-ish approach. Buddhist precepts also lie within the scope of her most famous performance,¬† Cut Piece, (first performed 1964), represented here in a 1965 filmed version, in which audience members are invited to the stage to cut off pieces of the artist’s attire. The work has only become more resonant as it has been absorbed into waves of local and global feminist art and discourse through the decades.

While conceptual art, especially ephemeral-type text, is purposefully anti-visual in any conventional sense, the marketplace and museum have found ways to subsume it into their linked folds, not least with slick framing of salvaged, expansive notations¬† that suggest an “administrative” style.¬† So there’s that to consider here. There have also been criticisms of some of this work as “light-weight,” in terms of conceptual exercises (is it any thought in her head at any moment?).¬† Yet, the lightness (I agree) is also refreshing compared to more heavy-handed (whether through scale, medium, or philosophical implication) examples of the genre, and in that sense, accessible without thinking so hard that it’s not enjoyable to peruse.

At opposite ends of the ’60s spectrum in so many ways, Andy and Yoko share a blank-screen sensibility with their visual and verbal texts (respectively) that rely heavily on the viewer’s participatory imagination to become art.