Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Chelsea Roundup: Abstraction Reigns

The last few weeks in Chelsea saw some really good painting exhibitions particularly of a non-representational bent. Ad Reinhardt's exhibition at Zwirner put the gallery on the same plane as Gagosian's museum-like extravaganzas. But most of the good stuff was located at galleries that are anything but trendy and are showing very good work.
William Bradley had a good show at Galerie Richard while below Stephen Westfall at Lennon, Weinberg had one of the most sensational exhibitions of his career.


Stephen Haller had a wonderful exhibition of Johnnie Winona Ross' paintings.
While the real estate boom in Chelsea and New York in general continues. This is right on 21st street.


Elsewhere the behemoths by Serra are beginning to grow tiresome and it was nice to close off my day with some very good paintings at Nancy Hoffman by Purdy Eaton.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

MoMA to Flavin: Drop Dead, Again


A few weeks ago, I used this forum to extol the marvelous  Judd installation by Robert Mnuichin and his Mnuichin gallery on the Upper East Side.  That is a gallery that although dealing in strictly dead or near dead artists knows how to present works of art. This past Wednesday, however, I was once at the temple of Modernism in Midtown Manhattan, MoMA and once again saw how not to treat art.

Above is an image from the MoMA website of their 1969 Donald Flavin corner piece. Below are photos from my visit to MoMA on Wednesday of the same Flavin work. Apologies for the limitations of the IPhone 4 in terms of color, but if you look closely at the images below, you will notice a huge hole on the left side in the drywall. 

 I have seen Flavin installations all over the world--Frankfurt, Rio, Houston to name a few--and I have never seen the drywall exposed. I have never seen a cord esposed. Yet look below and you will see a cord sticking out of the bottom of the wall on the right side of the sculpture. Isn't there a Flavin Foundation to raise holy hell? Doesn't the MoMA owe it to the artists whose work is in there care to protect it and exhibit it the way the artist intended it?
This kind of shabby schlocky installation is really beneath the MoMA. Isn't there someone there to look after these things? In the meantime, the bottom floor has thousands of square feet of recent acquisitions; all with the pallor of 1975 written on them. Almost all the work a dreary black, white and grey. Ughhhhhhhh. The MoMA needs a housecleaning,  but then how could they when this museum NEVER closes. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Judd at Mnuchin

The Mnuchin Gallery on East 78th Street has an exhibition of Donald Judd "Stacks" that runs until December 7.  There are 10 sculptures in all,  some better than others but any single one of them is a commanding presence. But the most interesting aspect of this exhibition is the space itself and the installation. At a time when the de rigueur  look of the commerical art gallery has been an industrial space with concrete floors and fluoresent lighting (the Chelsea chop shop makeover) there is something majestic about modernist art in a grand 19th Century townhouse.
In this show, each stack is given lots of space and the contrast between the warm, immaculate dark wood floors and Judd's shiny metal sculptures is invigorating. They know how to handle art at Mnuchin. They also know how to make even the announcement card special--the ones for this show were the thickest  exhibition cards you will ever see. They probably cost a dollar each to print.  Equally noteworthy is the catalogue which features essays from a few past associates of Judd along with excellent archival photos of the stacks. 
With all of this precision and care it was funny to see the 80 year-old gallery owner Robert Mnuchin conducting business from the sidewalk handing his staff notes through the ground floor window into the gallery offices. 







Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lou Reed 1942-2013

The banner headline came first on Huff Post and then his legion of followers started weighing in on social media, finally the New York Times sent out its breaking news message  for its phone followers. (Monday's print edition had a front-page obit).  Something big happened. One of the giants of American culture of the past 50 years, Lou Reed died. If all we had was Lou's solo work he would be in among the first rank of rock artists. But then there's the Velvet Underground. They were a gamechanger.  Anything great since the mid 70s in Rock bore their distinct imprimatur--from Joy Division to Sonic Youth to Galexie 500 to Radiohead.  Besides the music, I don't think you could say this about anyone else in his generation; Lou Reed was never not cool.  Ever. One other thing about the Velvets and Lou's solo work that always struck me was how personal the music was. It was always to an audience of one.  Lou never wrote an anthem.

One of Lou's most devoted fans is the art critic Charlie Finch whose old WBAI radio program featured the Velvet's "We're Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together" as the show's theme song.  Charlie penned a lovely tribute to Lou and I asked him if I could post it. Here it is: 

THE THIN REED OF LIFE  Goodbye Lou/ Rock and Roll Heart/ You gave all us New York bohemians our start/ Vicious walkers on the dirty boulevard/ Softhearted inside, but always acting hard/ You taught us, Lou, to thrive and survive/ That our worst impulses were what made us ALIVE/ Now you are gone/ But you always were "gone"/ Sensitive to the blur that is living/ The necessity of creatively giving/ Even when you're hated and hurting inside/  Always up for another stiff glide/ I always waited for you, my man/ My back to the wall, I never ran/ "Ocean" was playing when my brother Will died/ And "Heroin" in my wild, stoned rides/ I teased David Bowie that he stole all from you/ An Upper East Side Wasp devoted to a Long Island Jew/ I finally met you through Chicago Fat Tony/ For creatively, Lou, you were my one and only/ So give Andy and Candy a kiss in the sky/ Through all tomorrow's parties/ I'll still be your guy GOODBYE LOU REED, CF


Well said Mr. Finch.  Thank you Lou. Thank you for being fearless.  You made history and changed the world. Ask Havel.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Things Unravel


I have not written in this space in over 5 months.  But I was finally moved by events these past few weeks which though not related seem to be signaling the same thing-things seem on the brink of some kind of boiling point or unraveling.  From the two incidents in Washington of random violence (including yesterday's bizarre car rampage) to the right-wing's extreme attempts to sabotage the country for ideological gain, to the ultra-security measures seen everywhere anyone steps in New York City.  And oh yes, the death of Mr. Walter White of Albuquerque last Sunday evening.  

There is a heaviness everwhere and an apprehension.  October has never been hotter. It may get hotter still.  


Friday, May 3, 2013

George Jones is Dead

George Jones died last week in Nashville.  His astonishing career lasted over 60 years. He died universally acclaimed as the greatest singer in the history of Country music and his recorded output and influence rivals Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.  Many of us were first introduced to George Jones through Elvis Costello's Almost Blue which gave him the cool imprimatur that his more obvious contemporaries already had--Haggard, Cash and Willie and Waylon.  But the range of his singinging and the feeling his imbued every lyric stand alone in pop music.  There will never be another like him again.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

NY Art Fair Roundup

Patrick Tschudi at Galleria Lucia de La Puente   Lima, Peru
Kehinde Wiley
Craig Kaufman
Jules Olitski at Hackett Mill
Simon Linke at Mireille Mosler
Morris Louis at ADA
Kiki Smith ADA Show
Wayne Thiebaud ADA Show
Patrick Wilson at Suzanne Vielmetter
This year's Armory Show at Piers 92 and 94 was once again divided among Modern and Contemporary.  There was more good stuff in the Modern section but this year both piers seemed less crowded and hectic than in year's past.  I saw some great pieces by Craig Kaufman, Tadaaki Kuwayama, and the recently deceased Jules Olitski.  The Olitski was a big, beautiful spray painting from 1965 at  San Francisco's  Hackett Mill gallery booth.  The gallery had a lot of museum quality work from the Bay Area school and is planning a fall exhibition of Olitski's Spray paintings.  These paintings represent a high point for late Modernism--and along with Louis' Unfurleds and Stripes and Noland's Circle Paintings and Chevrons--Olitski's Spray Paintings prove that Greenberg was not all wrong about his own Post-Pollock/Newman canon.  The Spray Paintings are among the most original abstract paintings ever painted.  The fact that they are ravishing has always been held against them.

The Olitski was selling for $280,000 which is chump change in today's art world of hedge fund robber barons. A comparable Louis at the ADA  was selling for $950,000 thus illustrating Olitski's fallen stock in the art world.  I'm pretty certain that the vicissitudes of fashion will fall favorably on Olistki's reputation and he will command millions for the Spray Paintings in the next 10 years.

It was wonderful to see Simon Linke's brilliant paintings of  Artforum ads from the 1980s.  These have always intrigued me for both the subject matter and how they are painted.  There were more recent small ones that private dealer Mosher was featuring in her booth. 

A Peruvian artist named Patrick Tschudi had some interesting animations of contemporary life and stills from same in the Gallery Lucia De La Puente from Lima.  These representations featured a world inhabited solely by black people and were fascinating to look at.  Patrick Wilson's abstract paintings from California were selling out at Suzanne Vielmetter's booth.  I first saw his work several years ago on a trip to California and he is doing some wonderful things with surface. They are a study in virtuosity.  The formats recall classic and contemporary abstraction from Diebenkorn to Halley but they way they are painted are quite unique. They seem manufactured in an auto body shop but instead of high gloss they have a magical matte finish.  They are good paintings and far better than almost anything else I saw all weekend, but I'm not yet convinced they are major works.

For the first time in years, I ventured to the American Art Dealers (ADA) Show at the 67th Street Armory.  Now I remember why I stopped going.  Nothing too inspiring besides spotting a spry 80 year-old Yoko Ono.  Mary Corse, Wayne Theibaud looked great but Kiki Smith's awful and embarrassing dog and butterfly wall bronzes at Pace made more than one dealer wince.  Everyone hated them.  With these works, Kiki Smith sets a new low for HORRIBLE and WRETCHED art.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall

East Village, Tomkins Square Park, Dec. 2012
Westside, facing 42nd St., April 2012
Los Cabos, Baja Sur Mexico 2012
Riverside Park, 119th St. NYC Nov. 2012
ALL PHOTOS BY MAX ESTENGER


Saturday, March 2, 2013

In the Studio With Craig Watson




The last we saw of the art of Craig Watson was way back in 2001 with his solo exhibition, Craig Wats,  at Momenta in Williamsburg.  That show featured his enigmatic unspecific objects most prominently his large European Work Bench.  Watson's work requires the kind of viewer which seems in short supply these days--cognizant of history and unseduced by the banalities of the spectacle. 

I remember visiting his studio years ago when it was on Metropolitan Avenue in the heart of the then burgeoning Williamsburg scene.  He lived there for over a decade until his landlord, a prominent New York abstract painter, decided that he wanted an even more obscene profit on his building (one of several he owned in the area).  Watson picked up and moved east--not East Williamsburg or Bushwick but  settled instead in the quiet corner of Ridgewood, Queens--a slice of Eastern Europe right off the M train.

His studio looked much like his previous one--another basement enterprise--and it was filled with some fascinating new work.  The first work that stood out were his hanging sculptures that recalled modernist skyscrapers and a kind of dystopic pall around them.  They are made up of metal (both painted and unpainted), wire and some colored blobby forms meant to recall public sculpture.  This work holds much promise not only for the way it is made and  looks but also because embedded in it is much of the current discourse around the unsustainability of current systems of capital.  The fact that these sculptures are hanging make them even more poignant.   

Also on view was his Double Happiness a new sculpture made of carved wood and painted black that resembles a kind of generic gas pump.  It features a decorative lattice evoking Chinese architectural motifs and here again the formal is subtly expanded to comment on bigger, larger concerns.  

Another work that struck me was a lovely hanging lamp that is made from galvanized electrical boxes that have been painted a luscious powder coated white. This work will be available in an edition directly from the artist's studio in the near future.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Alan Uglow at David Zwirner




It has been over two years since the death of Alan Uglow and as I predicted here
http://maxestenger.blogspot.com/2011/01/death-of-rebel-alan-uglow-dead-at-69.html at that time, the New York art world would soon descend on his posthumous ouevre. When I heard that David Zwirner would be handling his work I knew that Alan would be in good hands considering the excellent shows held at Zwirner for the estate of  Fred Sandback and John McCracken.  

The first show is curated by long-time Uglow champion Robert Nickas who also wrote the catalogue essay. With museum exhibitions in Europe in the past several years  and now this show and an upcoming show at the List Center at MIT curated by Joao Ribas of his Standards and Portraits series, there is a lot of understandable interest in Uglow's work. The Zwirner show contains a little bit of everything mostly from the 2000s and serves as an introduction to younger viewers and reintroduction to others. There are some beautiful works in the show, but it is in no way  indicative of how great a painter Uglow was. The next venue in New York will undoubtedly be a major institution. The New Museum which is a few blocks from Uglow's long-time loft on the Bowery is one possibility as well as the Whitney and MoMA and even perhaps the Dia though they never collected his work.  A complete survey will reveal how crucial Uglow was for the past 4 decades in maintaining the highest level for painting.