Tag Archives: Barbara Chase-Riboud

MoMA’s re-do and inaugural shows

Notable among an increased number of special exhibitions and displays at the Museum of Modern Art, re-opened to the public today (after a renovation and major collection re-organization):

Betye Saar: The Legends of Black Girls Window, through January 4, 2020

Taking a Thread for a Walk, through Spring 2020

Sur Moderno: Journeys of Abstraction: The Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Gift, through March 24, 2020

member: Pope. L, 1978-2001, through February 1, 2001

Two interior design changes noted that I like: the mini-chic-modernist living room seating spaces now on each floor, especially the one featuring Hiroshi Sugimoto’s blurred photographs of an earlier incarnation of the sculpture garden viewed below out the windows; and the black strips of wall, sans art, on the elevator landing corridors to rest the eyes between galleries.  Thank goodness for the continued enshrinement of the original building’s Bauhaus stairway, which relieves what has become an elegant but corporate-like art headquarters with large-scale partitioned warrens.

Standing out in the inaugural re-installations of the permanent collection, which the museum has publicized will change more frequently than in the past (great): the full scope of MoMA’s Migration series panel paintings by Jacob Lawrence, which have, by now, infiltrated so many spheres of American arts and culture; a window-lit Brancusi spread; the juxtaposition of heavy-handed abstract sculpture by Melvin Edwards, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Lynda Benglis, and Jackie Windsor; a small section on early experimental photography and film integrated into the turn-of-the-century painting and sculpture galleries; an ode to the quirky art of Manhattanite Florine Stetheimer (1871-1944) with a room of her own; a giant female nude (1978) by Joan Semmel, indicating the popularity of figurative painting at the time often ignored by high-profile venues focusing on “cutting edge” developments, especially in relation to feminist content — also helping to redress the MoMA’s infamous renown for “hot mamas” painted by modernist men (elucidated in a now classic study by art historian Carol Duncan, 1989).  I didn’t like the placement of a gorgeous, vermilion and cobalt abstraction by Alma Thomas at the edge of a Matisse room, where it is inevitably mitigated; or the implied juxtaposition (on different walls) of Faith Ringgold’s “race riot” (from her seminal “American People” series, late 1960s) with Picasso’s ubiquitous Demoiselles. I can see where each has an intensity perhaps overshadowing peer works, and curatorial sensitivity in suggesting a powerful painterly aggression equally shared, but I think it encourages ultimately superficial comparison especially with the rest of the large room also filled with Picasso.

Special exhibition highlights: the quietly engaging Betye Saar show, which explores the early print-making of this indefatigable nonagenarian and her break into assemblage, exemplified by MoMa’s Black Girl’s Window (1969).  Overall etching-based (not exclusively and with broad technical variation), her blending of alternately scratchy and sinuous contours with washy, earth-toned, passages and layered grounds are absorbing formally and fairy-tale-like in their representational mix of pensive and dreamy females in webbed forests or isolated interiors flecked intermittently with floating symbols to evoke innocence, wonder, terror, and intellectual, sensual, and spiritual curiosity.  Others that elide into the mixed materials works retrieve the diagrammatic subject of pseudo-scientific phrenology to deconstruct the roots of entrenched racists and sexist psychosis.  The featured “window” and others suggest both inward soul-gazing and exterior cosmological views of the world, mashing mystery, politics, veiled personal emotion, and much more into make-shift pictorial fenestration.  

Then the engaging, “Thread” show, which features the similarly visionary aesthetics–in a non-objective overall framework–of the remarkable Anni Albers (1899-1994), with a large selection of her on-the-board and canvas abstractions, weavings, and commercially-produced textile designs; as well as work by direct and indirect progeny and kindred spirits, including a thickly braided-rope “phantom” by Mrinalini Mukherjee (d. 2015), introduced to many with her recent retrospective at the Guggenheim and a thick rainbow-bow colored yarn waterfall by contemporary artists, Sheila Hicks.

“Sur Moderno” adds lots of South American artists to MoMA’s seminal “story” of geometric abstraction long confined to Europe; and as such enriches its purview by endless subtle variation–in this display, augmented by furniture and other related design work. I did not like the confining of Mondrian’s brilliant late painting, Broadway Boogie Woogie to a lost corner of the show in perhaps an admirable attempt to dethrone his preeminence in this sphere somewhat.

Finally, a performance retrospective for wild-and-crazy Pope L. X-rated in parts, unremittingly absurdist and confrontational, the artist’s career has been committed to calling out injustice satirically and back-handedly, especially racism, in works that demands some investment in unraveling.  One broader issue that comes to the fore here: a new-ish trend in turning performance props and residue into ostensible sculpture.  Most compelling in this presentation: make-shift structures that can remind of David Hammons’ inventive, folks-y architectural constructions, here complete with instructions and other trappings that reference (perhaps), more esoteric conceptual modes without the pointed, people-centered missives of this art preacher-provocateur. 

MoMA, Fifth floor

Woman Across Generations, Modes, Mediums in Chelsea

“Kara Walker: Sikkema Jenkins and Co. is Compelled to present…” at Sikkema Jenkins (530 W. 22nd St.) through Oct. 14.

“Aurel Schmidt: I Rot before I Ripen” at PPOW (535 W. 22nd St. 3rd Fl.) through Oct. 7.

“Barbara Chase-Riboud:  Malcolm X: Complete” at Michael Rosenfeld (100 11th Ave. @19th St.) through Nov. 4.

“Mary Corse” at Lehman Maupin (536 W. 22nd St.) through Oct. 7.

“Suzan Frecon” at David Zwirner (525 W. 19th St.) through Oct. 21.

“Maya Lin: Ebb and Flow” at Pace (537 W. 24th St.) through Oct. 7.

“Janet Fish: Poppies and Pinwheels” at DC Moore (535 W. 22, 2nd Fl.) through Sept. 30.

The one with the most pre and post-opening press so far lives up to the billing – Kara Walker (Sikkema Jenkins).  These biting, heart-wrenching, sprawling, churning, Americanist, Freudian, large-scale drawings and drawing-like paintings push everything she has done over the past two decades to newly excruciating heights.   Beyond a challenge, they dare viewers into her racially-charged, amalgamated visions of depraved eroticism and emotional and physical violence through which the powerful have subjugated and bankrupted others historically; and ensnare with fluid linear elegance and mash-up iconography in which all manner of images across time and place are re-mixed and spewed.  Staying her decades-long artistic course, a reinvigorated investment in her hard-core thematics of race and linked monochromatic artistic roots are palpable.  She also continues with her extensive, only partly parodic exhibition (as well as art) titles–read this one in full at the gallery and consider it when musing on the work.  However, a shorter phrase wielded by precedent upstart Robert Colescott in his own pre-emptive defense of devil’s advocate race-baiting in his art would be  apt: “Self-censorship is a cop-out.”  No question, Walker remains one of the most gutsy, defiantly provocative artists out there.

Aurel Schmidt (PPOW) also specializes in colossal, curvy, psyche-scape drawings–in her case, post-pubescent, priapic fantasies conveyed through stoner-Eden settings inundated with butterflies, daisies, snakes, and vulva-centered spiderwebs.   Her sensibility blends faux-naivite with a dash of harajuku and a druggie- decadent twinkle.  Hello Kitty-ish kitties may be a bit rabid; and a few exquisitely drawn rodents (one on a skate board) just above floor level tug back to urban earth the flighty fancies envisioned above.  Trigger warning: the “high times” sexual undercurrent explodes (yes) in a back room installation-homage to the erect member of her bf—including several graphic close-ups.  Good for her (the careful attention to detail seems to express).  But the critter-and-flora-packed, delicately rendered mirages are the wow factor.

The sculptural sentinels, or steles (as they have been aptly, described) of Barbara Chase-Riboud (Michael Rosenfeld) are majestic, yet at a human scale that addresses the viewer as an autonomous entity.  The past decade (mainly) of work here is a collective tour de force of her renowned signature mode developed over nearly fifty years: thick folded slabs of cast steel and aluminum combined with densely draped, ropey textile elements.  The results of this gendered yin-yang formulation suggest soulful effigies akin to ka statuary of ancient Egypt. The metal sections and knotty, braided skeins visually meld through the monochromatic (mainly) schemes—deepest blacks, rich golds, and one blood red show stopper, furthering this effect of “beings.”  The works featured ostensibly complete a series begun in 1969 dedicated to Malcolm X—not at all a secondary aspect of the hovering content, though conferred after her initial foray into this formalist vein.

Mary Corso has also continued on an abstract trajectory from early on—namely, “light and space” exploration in painting formats (with others starting out in southern California c. 1970).  Again, I don’t hesitate to use the term “majestic” in summarizing the flickering Minimalist planes she creates with micro-plastic bits blended into tarry black pigment and juxtaposed with silky, silvery acrylic in broad, flat bands.  The very mechanics of seeing activates her surfaces, further impacted by viewer movement.  Recent work by Leo Villareal and Veja Celmins came to mind while staring into Corso’s spatial “galaxies”—achieved with streamlined methods and means.

Likewise, the recent work of Suzan Frecon (David Zwirner) conveys long-term, discriminating devotion to abstract painting–hers employing a very subtle palette of earth tones and lightly, carefully biomorphicized geometry.  She is most concerned with proportional relationships in terms of intuitive perception.  However, landscapes are implicated (not to say “depicted”), as much by tonal mood as by mounds and horizontal passages.  With a conceptual turn of intention and phrase, one could say the same of Maya Lin’s new sculptural installations (Pace), which translate rivers of the world from maps to glass marble arrangements and silver-pour creations crawling up the walls and pooling along the floor (along with a few other inspired material variations).  Since her spectacular public debut decades ago (The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, design c. 1981), virtually nothing Lin has produced has not been well worth experiencing and engaging.

An anomaly in the art age of millennial Chelsea is the gorgeous,  painted still life oeuvre of Janet Fish (DC Moore)–again an artist who has stuck with her early art impulses and affections.  The selections here, spanning over thirty years, highlight Fish’s studious yet exuberant fascination and facility with reflections, contours, textures, and color in the observed real world.  All manner and types of natural and artificial  objects are reigned into loose, often spilled-over set-ups that Fish maintains as she paints, working exclusively from life.   Collectible ceramics, kitsh tchokes, arm-to-table bounty, Chinese take-out, crispy potato chips, lush floral arrangements, poppy-pocked field flowers, and multiplying are glisten in jam-packed, vigorous compositions that fold in swiftly stroked patterned fabrics.  It’s a palpable pleasure to revel in these prosaic reveries grounded in domestic life.