Saturday, May 26, 2012

In the Studio with Mary Jones

Only 10 blocks south of my apartment, I recently went to the 26th Street, ground zero for what would become the West Chelsea art district.  Mary Jones has had a lovely, light-filled atelier in the Greene-Naftali building for years. 

I first saw the paintings of Mary Jones nearly 30 years ago in Los Angeles, when I was a student and she herself was not too far removed from school.  Her work then was an original amalgam of various tendencies within the dialogue of painting in the late 70s and early 80s with elements of P&D,  New Image,  and even Neo-Ex.  But it was all put through her cool, deliberate painting style and the results were some of the best painting around in those days. 

By the end of the 80s she had moved to New York and she had emptied her paintings of representational elements but retained her regularized hard-edged non-painterly facture.  It was not long after that that she started to move into the territory of a much looser gestural abstraction.  She described this change as becoming consumed by the under-painting of her previous canvases. 

The preoccupation with developing new possibilities for gestural abstraction has concerned her since.  Her paintings have been exhibited in New York in many solo and group exhibitions and having seen nearly all of her shows, the paintings I saw a couple of days ago in her studio are among the best paintings she has ever created and a brilliant new direction for her work.

These paintings seem to synthesize all of her concerns for the past decades into her most complete and varied paintings.  They are her most muscular paintings with form and mass dominating where once thin washes of paint predominated.  Her introduction a few years ago of spray paint is now incorporated seamlessly and some of the schematic ghosts from her earliest work have reappeared. 

Despite the fact that these paintings contain more traditional figure/ground relationships, color continues to play an important role.   The newest paintings have large swaths of paint applied with a roller, but not so much rolled as troweled.  Upon seeing one where pink predominated, I asked her if the deKooning show had been an inspiration and indeed it had been she replied.  The paintings look nothing like deKooning’s but the confidence and depth of the paintings recall late deKooning. 
With a few more paintings of this size or larger (the ones I saw were 6’ x 5’ ft) and equal in quality, Mary Jones will surely have one killer show of new paintings.  I can’t wait to see that exhibition.

A new work on paper
A small painting from 2010

Saturday, May 19, 2012

ICFF: New York

The International Contemporary Furniture Fair is an annual affair held every May at the Jacob Javits Center.   I have been attending every year for over a decade and this year's edition was probably the least exciting both in terms of actual designs and in the ambition of the exhibitors.  Many major furniture manufacturers have been dropping out year after year.  
Since there was little of any real interest, the ICFF affords me the opportunity to discuss the state of  domestic design.  Gone are the heady days of the late 90s and early 00s when furniture design was following the lead of the hyper-modernist revival occurring in architecture.
The turn of the century saw the rise of Jasper Morrison, Konstantin Grcic, and the Bouroullec Brothers paralleling the starchitects who were transforming the skylines of world cities.  But while architecture continues in the present, design has in the past 10 years slipped into complacency and nostalgia for the past (grandma chic).   The art world is even worse as it  long ago turned it's back on modernist form and innovation. 
The relationship of modernist art and design has long dovetailed ever since  cubism and its Bauhaus progeny.  The early post-war period saw a symbiosis between Abstract Expressionist organicism and the designs of Charles Eames.  This relationship continued into the 1960s with both Pop and Minimalism inspiring various developments.  But eventually John Pawson and Steven Holl modernist houses were filled with stuff by the likes of Dana Schutz.  This has never made sense to me.  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Obama Does the Right Thing Again

The father of the Gay Rights Movement, Frank Kameny
It is refreshing to have a man of  decent impulses and strong character and intelligence  sitting in the oval office after the previous two presidents.   The last president was an arrogant lightweight  totally overwhelmed by the forces that enveloped him and unable to navigate through the disastrous consequences of his policies.   Every time he took to the microphone he was an embarrassment to himself and his country.  The way he spoke, the way he gestured, the tics in his face made him unbearable and yet you could not hate him the way you could easily hate Dick Cheney (or any of the Cheneys for that matter).  His 8-year tenure was catastrophic and object lesson #1 on how conservative governance is a failure.  The last president was someone to be pitied. 

The president before that was by all accounts a brilliant thinker with serious personal flaws.  His political expedience set the course for DADT and the Defense of Marriage Act which this current president has been undoing.  It is precisely why many of us disqualified his wife from ascending to the presidency.   The truth is that for myself 2008 was as much about keeping him and his wife out as putting Obama in.  If she has any plans for 2016, she better start by clearly stating her support for marriage equality .  She has been a loyal and very effective Secretary of State but the Progressive base still views her with suspicion. 

President Obama got it right yesterday on the issue of same-sex marriage.  Either you believe in equal rights for all Americans or you do not.  I’m happy to see that the administration is done catering to the likes of  hucksters like Rick Warren.

The flak from the right as usual was predictable.  It’s been predictable for hundreds of years in the United States.  Conservatism has always been allied with the most evil forces in American history and life—slavery, segregation, anti-union, anti-women, and anti –gay.  Throw in the worst sects of Christianity and its odious anti-science fundamentalisms and you have a recipe for the worst aspects of our country.   But the arrogance of  Conservatism means never having to ever apologize for always being on the wrong side of history.   

I don’t know how the politics of the President’s decision will play out—the white working class has been doing the bidding of the Koch Brothers and their ilk since Nixon.  These people keep getting poorer, their children keep getting dumber while the Koch Brothers and the one percent get richer.  

Imagine for a moment if the hard core red states somehow were their own country. You would basically have a 2nd world country akin to Eastern Europe.  Is there anything anyone wants from people in the red states?  Oklahoma?  Mississippi? Perhaps that is part of the problem.  Conservatives produce little that anyone anywhere wants (except for Texas oil, but that’s a question of geographic luck). Most if not all that is world class in the United States is produced by/in liberal enclaves.   Higher education? Massachusetts.  High culture? New York City.  High Tech? Silicon Valley.  Film & Television? Los Angeles.  Look at Washington State which even voted Dukakis in 1988 during a Bush I landslide;  that state has given the world Microsoft,  Starbucks, and Costco (yes Costco is now worldwide).  What does red state America offer the world?  Country music? Not anymore, even the golden age  of  the great country music of the 1950s-1970s is a thing of the past. 

The conservative mind is a terrible thing to ponder but like dead football players whose brains are being studied for brain trauma caused by concussions, we need to see why so many of them have gone off the deep end.  How is it that a proposal to raise the top marginal tax rate by 3.5%  on the wealthiest Americans to what it was during Clinton’s term somehow amounts to radical socialist  redistributionist economic policy shows how the conservative mind has become unhinged.  It is a mind filled with petty slights, jealousies, grudges and suspicions.  It is tribal and focused on suspicions of  the other, at the educated while always bowing to the wealthy.

At the root of all this is religion.   Red state America is not the future of the United States and not the future of the world.  It’s religious fundamentalism makes it simpatico with our enemies in the Islamic extremist world.  I’m quite certain however that such superstitions as supreme beings and gods of all stripes will be a relic of  the past by the next turn of the century.   That is part of what the 21st Century project will be about.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Berlin Pt. 2

Gerhard Richter's mammoth Tate and Pompidou retrospective was at at the New National Gallery during my visit.  Richter is  now the twentieth century German artist.  He is Pollock and Warhol all wrapped up into one.  He grew up in the east and left for the west.  He belongs to all of Germany.  He is more accessible than that previous hero of post-war German art Joseph Beuys and lots more fun. 

Mies’ famed temple of glass and light was a bit dank as the rain would not let up on a gloomy Saturday.   But the  art lovers showed up en masse and they were rewarded by examples from all of Richter’s periods including his recent forays into tighter modernist color paintings.   If you think he’s the greatest you weren’t disappointed, if on the other hand you saw his 2002 retrospective at the MoMA and you weren’t particularly moved then it was more instructive to notice the small details. One of which was that in this open plan convention center-like space, the walls are temporary,  but unlike what you would witness in the United States at even a regional museum, the Germans apparently don’t think its important to spackle the seams that run every 4 ft. across the walls.  It’s very distracting but taken with the shot glass sized orange juice  I was handed in the morning at my hotel’s breakfast buffet it made a lot of sense.   Europe sometimes seems like its on war ration status.
Lee Lozano 1967
In the basement of the New National Gallery was a survey of work from the permanent collection done between 1945 and 1970 featuring mostly American and German artists.  Rothko, Louis, Warhol,  Flavin,  Judd, Rauschenberg, Held, were all accounted for but its always interesting to see the less than usual suspects.  A wonderful Bontecu and Lee Lozano for starters as well as a Ronald Bladen filled that niche. One other surprise was a Goerg Karl Pfahler abstract painting from the 1960s. Pfahler died in 2002 and was Germany's Ellsworth Kelly
Georg Karl Pfahler 1964
Bontecu 1962
The next venue was the Martin-Gropius-Bau a lovely old exhibition space now refurbished as a contemporary art museum which was exhibiting “Kunst in Los Angeles 1950-1980" from the Getty as part of the Pacific Standard Time program. The standouts here were Hockney’s iconic A Bigger Splash and Man Showering in Beverly Hills both from the 1960s and both owned by the Tate and two Ed Ruschas including his Pop MasterpieceStandard Oil Gas Station, Amarillo (1963).  It has become clear to me that Ed Ruscha is the best artist produced by the Pop Art movement in the United States.  He was there at its inception and the quality, scope and depth of his thinking about art as well as the oeuvre he has produced over 50 years surpasses Warhol and Lichtenstein. The exhibition also featured the largest stretched canvas painting I have ever seen, a Sam Francis abstraction measuring 29 ft high by 39 ft wide.   

The Hamburger Bahnhof is the closest thing Berlin has to a Dia: Beacon. Housed in a former train station that had not been used since 1906, the museum serves the art of the1960s through today. It has many Dan Flavins both as discrete objects and integrated with the building itself. The museum houses many works by Joseph Beuys. And if one's inclination is to dismiss his work as mostly hysterical melodrama you won't have that opinion dissuaded.  It was great seeing a work by the wonderful underrated British painter Alan Charlton.  Charlton should have the same importance as Ryman but does not and is not someone you will ever see in an American museum. My first published writing on art was a 1991 review of Charlton's work for Arts Magazine, and my first group show in New York, After Reinhardt (1991) featured myself, Charlton, Uglow, Ryman, Ford Beckman, Christian Eckart, Tadaaki Kuwayama and Karin Sander.  I wrote the catalogue essay for that show.  
The major show on view is "Architektonika 2" a wonderful survey of the good, the bad and the ugly in work dealing with the intersection of architecture and sculpture. Very few American institutions have the space to mount such an ambitious long-term installation--it runs from April 2012 until January 2013 and includes work by Absalon, Jürgen Albrecht, Carl Andre, Stan Douglas, Nina Fischer & Maroan el Sani, Peter Fischli / David Weiss, Isa Genzken, Dan Graham, Rachel Khedoori, Sol LeWitt, Gordon Matta-Clark, Bruce Nauman, Roman Ondák, Manfred Pernice, Andrea Pichl, Hermann Pitz, Dieter Roth & Björn Roth, Anri Sala, Albrecht Schäfer, Thomas Schütte, Thomas Struth, James Turell, Jeff Wall and Tobias Zielony are presented. A wonderful Marjetica Potrč  sculpture developed specifically for this exhibition is designed on the principle of the "growing house". Marjetica Potrc recreates one of the hideous little houses that adorn the cityscape in Caracas, complete with satellite dish. 

Andre's sublime wood cedar piece filling up an entire gallery whets the appetite for next year's Beacon retrospective but its the lesser seen artists who again shine. But the true highlights include the Israeli artist Absalon who died of AIDS in 1993 at the age of 2. On view is one of his exquisite Cellues.  These single-person dwellings are not opportunities for instruction on decor or good design but embody the terror of psychic and physical isolation and eventually death.  They are among the greatest works produced anywhere in the past 30 years. There is no "boo hoo" "gotcha" in these like you would get in a Nauman. Absalon was not a hack.  These are tombs.  
  Meanwhile, Juergen Albrecht had 8 tiny Light and Space dioramas installed inside a wall with the viewer able to peep a look through small openings.  

The gallery scene is clustered around the Bahnhof complex and the whole area looks a bit like Bergamont Station in Santa Monica.  Nearby is the flagship gallery for global art gallery Haunch of Venison.  

The pre-20th century museum scene centers around the famous Museuminsel or Museum Island in Central Mitte. The Berliner Dom above is part of the area which contains some landmarks of world civilization. Shinkel's Old Museum is there housing ancient art from Greece and Rome.  But the jewel is the Pergamon Museum built in 1930 and the famed Altar from 2nd Century BC Greece is there.  Topping that however is the Ishtar Gate from 575 BC and the lost city of Babylon.  There is nothing quite like it anywhere in any museum in the world.
A former East German housing complex
An older model subway car
Not to nitpick but we stayed at a boutique hotel that was expensive by Berlin standards but somethings were just a little off including these rub-on vinyl decal letters used to identify rooms.  Some were peeling from the heat given off by the lamp while others weren't even properly placed. Not something you would see in a comparable hotel in the United States.
Next stop, Rome.