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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mash Note

I guess it’s pretty clear from my blog how I feel about Gerhard Richter. He is simply the best. There aren’t many who can move deftly between styles. Richter does it with such élan and surety, it’s dazzling. Everything he does is superlative and pulse quickening: the early monochromatic blurred paintings, the abstracts, the pixelated cityscapes and last but not least, his glorious photographic paintings of landscapes, candles and his children. I even love the Baader Meinhof series. That’s why, as far as I’m concerned, he’s the Man.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Eye Music

On Thursday I went to the Pope-Leighy house in Fort Alexandria, Virginia. It’s a Usonian house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1941. I’m working on a piece on it, which will appear here in the future.

But now, as I begin the writing process I’m trying to put my finger on just what makes Wright’s houses (for me, it’s the Prairie and Usonian houses) so appealing. They seem to really nail that emotion of “home.” I was thinking it had something to do with their horizontal orientation, which engenders a sense of serenity, but Wright also uses verticals to play off the horizontals and to add strength as part of his compression and release pas de deux. Is it the materials? Just four in this case: wood, brick, concrete, glass, or maybe it’s the way the light pours in. (At the Pope-Leighy, Wright sandwiched glass between wood cutouts that vaguely resemble a Southwestern Indian motif, a less expensive version of his stained glass. These cast dappled patterns on floor and walls, which Wright called “eye music.”) Or perhaps it’s the way the houses relate to their natural settings. Clearly, it’s all these things and the spirit of harmony, integrity and honesty that they embody.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Mary Keller

After my wallet went missing I took inventory of what I had lost. Of course, there was the wallet itself, a nice black pigskin number with brass hardware by the Florentine leather maker Il Bisonte. True it had seen better days, the credit card sleeves had become stretched and the cards would periodically tumble out littering the floor around my feet.

The credit cards were easily cancelled, but it was a bother nonetheless; the prospect of going to the DMV for a replacement license made my head hurt. I'd had some cash, but it was a nominal amount. There were a number of business cards from contacts I’d encountered and other scraps of paper of sentimental value or bearing information that I knew was gone forever. Among the photos, mostly school shots of freshly scrubbed nephews and nieces, I realized was the only picture I had of my godmother. This was the missing item I mourned.

My mother had met, Mary Keller during World War II when they were both WAVES. Mummy went on to pursue the traditional female role of wife and mother; Mary Keller (I always called her by both names, never just Mary) became a “career girl” in New York City. She worked for Standard Oil which became Esso and eventually Exxon as an executive in the stockholders relations department. It being pre-Woman's Lib, I am sure she was under-appreciated and underpaid as she climbed the corporate ladder. She dressed well, always in lady-like suits or frocks, her auburn hair was coiffed in soft waves and her nails manicured in a tasteful coral--a perfect muse for the Mad Men costume designer. She wore tinted tortoise shell glasses and resembled the fashion designer, Pauline Trigère whose clothes she probably wore. The snapshot in the wallet was an anomaly, showing her at our weekend house in Rhode Island. She is sitting on the deck in Aran sweater and slacks.

Being a child, I didn’t think much about Mary Keller’s life. I was fond of her; she was like an aunt and kind and generous to me. She was a fixture at my birthday dinners and at other times throughout the year. I can see her in our living room drink and cigarette in hand laughing as my father regaled her. But I have thought about it many times since then. In some ways it was a golden time to live in New York. I still get whiffs of the era. It’s present in places like The Four Seasons, Lincoln Center and along Park Avenue in the '50s on an early Sunday morning. Certainly it was tough to be a single woman making your own way in the ‘50s and ‘60s, but the city, which still had a vital middle class, giving it real humanity, was so livable then. I assume she dated, but she never brought an escort with her to our gatherings.

One Saturday I remember going with my parents and Mary Keller to Cartier. We sat at a circular counter in that hushed temple of luxury as Mary Keller tried on a series of gold necklaces, turning this way and that to show them off for our inspection. The necklaces were similar heavy circlets, varying in color and detail. It was thrilling being there with my parents and our wonderful friend in this elegant setting. I felt special to have been included in the outing and very grown up because my opinion was being solicited. I was eight or nine. She finally made her selection, picking one, which had a burnished quality that lightened the gold on the front giving it a matte surface. I believe it cost $500. That doesn’t sound like much now, but it was a princely sum in 1966.

It wasn’t until many years later that I learned the back-story of the necklace. My father had a great friend, a war buddy and godfather to my older brother. At some point, he and Mary Keller met and fell in love, I believe this happened through my parents, although I am quite sure this wasn't their intention in introducing them, as the man was married. Eventually the man left his wife hoping to marry Mary Keller. But not long after, he was diagnosed with cancer. For reasons unknown, perhaps he didn’t want to burden Mary Keller (though knowing her, she would have gladly taken care of him) with his illness, he went back to his wife and died within months. The necklace was his parting gift. 

It seems so very fin de siècle, so Colette, the proper way to end an affair by a man of means. It reminded me of when I worked at Tiffany’s, fresh out of college. During training, we were told about the oh-so-coy, “Mister Bill Special.” This had become part of Tiffany’s policy after a good customer had purchased a very pricey necklace for his mistress; when the wife found the bill, he was forced to buy a second necklace to cover his tracks. The Mr. Bill Special ensured that certain invoices would be sent to the customer’s office, not his home. Unfortunately, I worked in the china and crystal department so never got to experience a Mr. Bill Special first-hand. It was unclear if the purchaser would actually refer to the purchase as a Mr. Bill Special, or if there’d be some other awkward exchange. I have often wondered through the years, if the former, how did the man know what it was called? Was this information passed along at Skull and Bones or the Porcellian Club together with the secret handshake?

Mary Keller wasn’t able to enjoy her beautiful necklace for very long. She too succumbed to cancer within four years. When she died, she left it to my mother who still wears it at age 91. To me, she left 20 shares of the Standard Oil Company which having morphed into Exxon and splitting several times, have developed into a nice little nest egg. While I am conflicted about owning a stake in Big Oil, I feel that I have a voice however small which I make heard through my proxy votes at the annual shareholder’s meeting. Also, Mary Keller worked there all those years and I feel I have to hold on to them in deference to her loyalty. In her will, she stated they were given to me with the “hope that [they] will be used for pleasure and frivolity.”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


For the past few months I’ve been immersed in the Tudors, reading the superb, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, winner of the 2009 Man Booker prize for literature (the gold standard as far as I’m concerned), and watching the oh-so steamy Showtime series, The Tudors. It’s an interesting exercise because they cover much of the same fertile ground of incidents and intrigue that make up the tangled history of Henry VIII.

All in all, The Tudors is a very good production, but I wonder why in the book it is Henry’s sister, Mary who is married to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, whereas in the series it’s Margaret. I also wish the women didn’t all look like Victoria’s Secret models and (picky me) think the costumes, headdresses and jewels sometimes don’t look quite right—a pity since there are so many contemporary portraits out there to draw inspiration from.

In fact, when I was at the National Portrait Gallery in London this spring, I happened on an exhibition on the Tudors with the famous Thomas More family portrait, (referred to in Mantel’s book). There was also a gorgeous full-length Hans Holbein of Katherine Parr. It is so beautifully done, so sumptuous in every detail. I loved noting that at the edge of her brocade overskirt, one can see the wisps of its fur lining peeking out.

Both the series, and to a larger extent, the book, present revisionist portrayals of More and Thomas Cromwell. The book is less kind to More than the series where he just seems misguided, but still a man of principle. Mantel’s More comes across as a merciless religious zealot. In her book it is Cromwell who’s the hero: he’s the humanist, the loving pater familias, the true friend to the king. The series presents him as a brilliant strategist, a loyal subject, tough when he needs to be, but reasonable given the circumstances.

It was Cromwell’s transformation from blacksmith’s son to the Earl of Essex that piqued Mantel's interest, causing her to contemplate a contrarian approach to him. It’s a daring undertaking and she produces a wonderful unorthodox portrait of a well-known historical figure. I’d like to believe it’s true, as I’ve become fond of Mantel’s Cromwell. He’s an astute observer with a wry sense of humor and part of the fun of the book is seeing the machinations and personages of Henry VIII’s court through his eyes.

But two things stand in the way of me totally buying it. They are the Holbein portraits of More (with the gorgeous crimson velvet sleeves) and Cromwell at The Frick Museum in New York. Holbein actually appears in Wolf Hall as a crony of Cromwell’s working at his behest on the decoration of the Queen’s apartments in The Tower in advance of Anne Boylen’s coronation, and at the Cromwells’ house as well. I suspect Mantel did this because she was uneasy about the Frick portraits which depict the two men in a manner very much at odds with her version: Cromwell is thoroughly unappetizing, pig-eyed, pinched and furtive. By contrast, More with his kind, open face seems to epitomize humanity and goodness—an interesting dichotomy given that Holbein was a Protestant and thus on Cromwell’s side, not More’s. The fact that Holbein was a contemporary eyewitness and spent time in the company of each man gives his portrayal of their characters the more weight.

Addendum: Talk about timing, no sooner had I finished the above that I read the very passage where Cromwell views his completed portrait. Mantel wisely addresses the issue head-on (she needs to, to bolster her argument): his family complains that he’s never worn such an unpleasant expression and Cromwell decides that Holbein intentionally made him look “like a murderer” to inspire fear in his adversaries.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Happy Birthday Mr. President

There’s a tempest in a teapot brewing in South Africa over a painting by Yuill Damaso modeled on Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp that depicts Nelson Mandela as the corpse surrounded by various South African political luminaries (Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South African President Jacob Zuma and former presidents F.W. de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki. Performing the autopsy is Nkosi Johnson, an HIV/AIDS child activist who died from the disease in 2001 at the age of 12.

The painting’s artistic merits are questionable (In all fairness I can’t really judge it based on the online image) but it’s too literal for my taste and looks a little awkward: all those well-known visages corralled around the autopsy table. And Mandela’s arm and chest area look clumsily rendered. But the metaphoric message is quite clever. Here you have Johnson (the only one who has “passed on” to the other side) showing the assembled group, who’s on a fact-finding mission to discover what makes Mandela tick, that he’s but a flesh and blood man. Damaso has said his message is clear, these leaders need to stop searching for what makes Mandela a great man and get down to the business of leadership and build the country.

I guess I’m sorry Mandela had to be faced with this on the eve of his 92nd birthday and so soon after the death of his 13 year-old great granddaughter, Zenani. But I also think he's a sophisticate, and if he didn't initially understand what the painting's about, once he grasped its meaning he'd see it was not meant to be disrespectful to him. Of course, at 92 he's uncomfortably close to that autopsy table and therefore it might not sit all that well.

It’s a funny thing about outrage; loud enough and it ends up drawing attention to something that if left alone would pass by unnoticed. (The painting’s on view at a shopping center after all.) With the notoriety, not only has it probably come to Mandela’s attention, but Damaso’s future success is no doubt assured.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Museum Visit

“Later one discovers that reality cannot be captured, that the things we make always represent just themselves.” -- Gerhard Richter

Yesterday, I visited the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' massive new addition. While the building is a handsome Contemporary structure, the area around it (referred to as the “VMFA Campus” yuck) is a bit of a hodge-podge with too much macadam, a random (I know it has historical significance, but it looks odd sitting there all by itself) Victorian Italianate house and a cluttered network of metal ramps and walkways leading from the garage to the museum. I liked the garage (I have a thing for attractive parking decks) with its metal basket weave panels that disguise its true identity.

The museum building is a long, sleek horizontal, unadorned save for an opaque glass rectangle, which turns out to house the clear glass elevators. The interior is very appealing. It’s airy and expansive and yet still manages to feel intimate, unlike the New MoMA, which I find cavernous and cold. There, the artwork is dwarfed and I can’t shake the feeling that when I get off the escalator, I’ll find myself in Neiman Marcus.

The VMFA atrium boasts a seating arrangement of such cool orange chairs I thought at first they were sculptures. Two monumental “dumpling” works by Jun Kaneko had just been installed with a third visible through the window opening out to the sculpture garden. Made of ceramic they have wonderful surfaces, beautiful glazes and an ancient, totemic feel. I particularly liked the one with the indigo polka dots.

The VMFA’s Modern and Contemporary collection is first rate with a stunning Jackson Pollack Number 15, 1948 small enamel on paper, Willie Cole’s Fast Track Home made by scorching the canvas with hot irons is a new one for me. There’s a luscious David Reed, #341, I’m not sure why he’s not where James Nares is in terms of reputation. Reed’s better, more inventive and complex. The beautiful little Vija Celmins galaxy painting is so still and alluring you wanted to contemplate it for hours. The Chicago Imagists are well represented with a dazzling Roger Brown and creepy Ed Paschke, both luminous and arresting. The Gerhard Richter, Abstract Painting (594-1) features slashes of paint that are at once so free and full of control; it’s muscular and lyrical. Contemporary photography's well represented with a terrific Thomas Struth of a church interior that's a contemporary version of a Pieter Saenredam. The collection boasts stellar work from many other masters; these are the ones that jumped out at me.

Just like I always do when I go to the VMFA, I had to visit the extraordinary art nouveau and art deco furniture and decorative arts collection. Neither of those is my style of choice, but the pieces are of such a high order, so inventive and well made I find them irresistible. If you really look at say, the Tiffany lamps, you find yourself drawn to them and discover they aren’t as gaudy and hackneyed as you thought they were. It makes you realize that the very best, does have a special appeal. Anyway, there are wonderful holdings of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Greene Brothers, Ruhlman, Eileen Gray, Josef Hoffman, etc. Beautiful clocks, porcelain, chairs, desks; made with exotic woods, ivory, snakeskin and a personal favorite, shagreen. It’s a side trip into a sumptuous world.

After that I had to go see one of my favorite paintings, a small George Catlin. I love Catlin’s charming (yet unsaccharin) sketch-like paintings of Indians. This one’s a snow scene. A group of Indians is sitting around in a circle listening to another standing Indian. The snow has nearly covered the sitters, forming little white mounds with feathers peeking out the top. The title makes it. It is: A Long Speech.

These three galleries abut the atrium that was constructed in 1985 and boy does it look dated. I never liked it, it reminded me of the Trump Tower lobby with its copious amounts of red marble and brass. A showy monument to excess it’s all about pricey materials, but with zero design integrity. Thank goodness the museum’s taste has evolved and they picked an architect like Rick Mather this time around. His pure design will endure.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Art is where you find it. The McDonald's/dialysis sign has amazed me since I first spotted it several years ago. Does the McDonald's home office know about it? Somehow you'd think they wouldn't be so keen... It's been around for a while in Zion Crossroads, Virginia, just down the road from a giant Walmart distribution center. And now it's even better post-BP oil spill, a trifecta of synchronicity. Polluted bodies, polluted waters, polluted food.

And then there's the Washington D. C. snack truck sign that Megan made me take a picture of -- a great example of pop folk art.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Big Bambú

Doug and Mike Starn on the Roof: Big Bambú:
You Can't, You Don't, and You Won't Stop, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, April 27 – October 31, 2010

Something magical’s taking shape on the roof garden of the Met. Big Bambu, Doug and Mike Starn’s monumental bamboo structure is slowly rising upwards. Forming a giant cresting wave, when it’s completed, it will be composed of 3,200 bamboo poles, 30 miles of nylon climbing rope and measure 100’ x 50’ x 50.”

It’s both site-specific installation and performance piece; the Starns, assisted by 15 rock climbers, are hard at work weekdays constructing it. They chose climbers to help them because they: 1. aren’t afraid of heights, 2. can tie knots, and 3. don’t come with any preconceived ideas about construction. One of the pleasures of Big Bambu is noticing the distinct hands of these amateur builders. Some lash the poles together in expansive grids, while others produce tight, intricate patterns. As the title suggests, you get the sense constructing Big Bambu’s an obsessive rush.

There’re two ways to experience Big Bambu. You can go to the roof garden and just walk underneath it or, and this I strongly recommend, you can take the guided tour (tickets required) which takes you up on the piece. It’s a night and day experience and to get Big Bambu’s full impact, one really must take the tour. Before we went on it, my companion mentioned bamboo’s as strong as steel and despite powerful winds buffeting us, Big Bambu didn’t budge.

It’s quite simply exhilarating being up above it all with splendid views of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline encircling you. There’s something giddily subversive about being in this nest-like structure of vegetative matter atop one of the most formal museums in the world. It’s chaotic and primitive looking, a complete anomaly in the middle of a city of rectilinear concrete. I felt like I was in an alternate universe and boy, was it fun being there!

Big Bambu’s a multi-sense experience. First you see it, then holding the bamboo handrails and feeling the pole ridges underfoot as you traverse the pathways, you touch it and then you hear it thanks to the rustling of the occasional leafed bamboo frond overhead. And, when you step off it, its influence lingers as it takes a minute or two to regain your land legs.

For the Starns, Big Bambus a living thing that’s at once complete and not finished, like a person, a city, or society that is constantly evolving; the wave represents forces and currents that move through, causing change. The piece’s also a meditation on the concept of the interconnectedness of things.

Big Bambu reminded me of Christo and Jeanne Claude’s The Gates in terms of how it functions, shaking you up a little bit and making you rethink the city, the park, the views. And just as The Gates was both about its presence and its subsequent absence, I’ll continue to think of Big Bambu long after it’s gone, like all successful site-specific work, it will have a vibrant afterlife in memory. Construction continues through August; Big Bambu will remain on view through October 31.

Artillery, 4.5 (2010)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Rip Off

I’m sure all you all, like I, thought the A T & T ads featuring yards of orange fabric being unfurled to cover Las Vegas, what looks like the Hoover Dam and St. Louis’s Gateway Arch were irritating as did I. While the connection to Christo and Jeanne Claude is unmistakable—there’s even a fine print (albeit fleeting) disclaimer at the end—added later on the insistence of Christo’s lawyers—stating the artists weren’t affiliated with the ad.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and it may be true. For me, I see in this Christo and Jeanne Claude “tribute” a glimmer of an acceptance of the beauty and piquancy of challenging art. Big ideas are being disseminated. So even though my feathers were initially ruffled at what looked like brazen exploitation, I’m excited by the prospect that Christo and Jeanne Claude’s ideas (even in diluted form) are hitting the mainstream. I just hope that, in addition to the disclaimer At & T was stuck with a royalty pay out, or at least free phone service.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Product Placement

It’s a bummer when the latest bauble from Graff just doesn’t do it for you anymore. Keeping up with the Joneses requires a much bigger investment in this era of billionaires.

Awhile back, I was leafing through an upscale shelter magazine, the cover story was on Crown Prince and Princess Pavlos’s enormous house in London. The cover featured a picture of the princess swathed in couture satin in front of the fireplace in her glamorous drawing room surrounded by her brood of perfect little children. Above the mantelpiece was a painting by Donald Baechler, a large-scale black and white stylized depiction of a bunch of flowers in a vase. Nothing to write home about, if you ask me. Overly simplistic. And I gather that’s what it’s all about. Baechler is probably making some ironic statement on the state of the arts. But more to the point, the work is simple to understand and easily recognizable, so it’s not hard to do the math and figure out how much it costs.

In any event, I forgot about it until a couple of months later when I was reading yet another shelter magazine and another, nearly identical Baechler vase of flowers over a mantle, caught my eye, this time in New York. I proceeded to read the copy (which included a picture of the chatelaine of the house standing in front of it shamelessly clutching a purse that I know costs as much as the down payment on a pretty nice house). The light bulb went on when I read that she and her husband had purchased the brownstone from Crown Prince and Princess Pavlos of Greece. Now, you just know when they were shown the house, they spotted the Pavlos’s painting and decided they had to have one just like it.

Fast forward to this morning, I’m reading an old Vanity Fair on the stationary bike. The article on billionaire Steve Cohen mentions that he has a Jeff Koons Balloon Dog on the grounds of his estate in Greenwich, Connecticut. I know that Peter Brandt not only had a balloon dog but also a Koons topiary Puppy (that costs $75,000 to $100,000 per year to maintain!) at his house, also in Greenwich. (Post-divorce action, they were relocated to his new art center down the road. Now that he and the Missus have reconciled they may be back home.) Whether you love or loathe Jeff Koons (I happen to feel the latter) you will agree that his work is simple, easy to understand and in his case, funny (I’ll give him that). There is a joke there and I like to think it’s on the buyer and Jeff is in on it and laughing all the way to the bank.

I know that there’s nothing really new here. Among the haves, there’s always been a kind of one-upmanship going on, just look at the pyramids, Renaissance patrons and Americans scooping up treasures on the Grand Tour in 19th century Europe. But more than ever, these days if you’re lucky enough as an artist to get into the right collection, your future is assured because those competitive lemmings out there with ready bags of cash will soon be following suit and snapping up your art for their walls.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


This is my second iPhone related post. You might think I’ve shifted gears and have taken to writing about technology, or maybe I have a side gig working for Apple. Full disclosure: I don’t even have an iPhone. I would in a heartbeat, but AT & T’s reception (I don't get a signal in my apartment--pretty key as I've jettisoned the landline) in my neck of the woods is far inferior to Sprint and no way would I be caught dead with their erzatz iPhone version.

In any event, I love, love, love the new Hipstamatic app (the name alone deserves major kudos). It adds acid color and plays with the exposure, turning your ordinary iPhone photos into something haunting and timeless. Another D.I.Y. opportunity.

Friday, July 9, 2010


What was Larry Rivers thinking, filming his adolescent daughters naked or topless describing their developing breasts? The films, shot over the course of several years (every six months for over five years), are part of an archive purchased by NYU. The daughters, who say the films were shot against their wills, want the films; NYU says no.

This is an entirely different situation from Sally Mann who has always maintained she photographed her children when they, themselves had already taken their clothes off, and stopped photographing them before they reached puberty. Even that rather sick puppy, Jock Sturgis (who I’ve always thought of as an edgier version of William Hamilton), skating along that thin line between art photography and child pornography is in a whole different ball game than this.

Rivers’s wife, Clarice, finally put a stop to it, but only after she’d bared her own breasts in the films. Rivers says he made the films despite “the raised eyebrows of society in general and specific friends and even my daughters—they kept sort of complaining. (Italics are mine.) Yuck.

These two now-grown women, one of whom blames the experience for her later bout with anorexia and subsequent therapy are alive and have voices. They have told us the circumstances, they were victimized by the very person who should have been protecting them and they should get the films back. If the Rivers's Foundation director were a woman instead of a man, I believe they would.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cool Blue

It was 102 yesterday in Washington, it felt way hotter thanks to D.C.'s legendary humidity. Certainly, not the best time to visit. White hot, shimmering haze cloaked the city, so it was a relief to enter the Hirshhorn and immerse oneself in the refreshing velvet expanses of IKB (International Klein Blue) that recall the sea and sky of Yves Klein’s native Cote d’Azur. Though he was no slouch in the hype and self-promotion department, his work’s got the goods; it continues to hold up and is as fresh and beguiling as it ever was.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Work of Art: The Next Great Artist

I finally watched an episode of Bravo TV’s “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist.” Okay, okay, I was “chained” to the elliptical machine and there was nothing else on, but to my surprise, I actually found it quite entertaining. Not so sure about the art part, but the drama and intrigue and pretentiousness are delicious.

It’s certainly got a peculiar premise. All artists, no matter their medium, are given the same assignment: make something with junked appliances, create book jacket art, etc. It seems a silly not to mention simplistic way to judge an artist’s particular talent. (I was amazed the artist who drew the lot for Pride and Prejudice had never even read it. Shame on her. ) Update: whilst on the Bravo TV blog looking for an image, I read that another artist misspelled Jane Austen's last name in her piece! How can they be so culturally illiterate and sloppy?

With the exception of Jerry Saltz who is the art critic of New York Magazine, the judges, for the most part, seem like parodies of art world aficionados. (Woody Allen should keep them in mind if he ever does a movie with an art gallery scene in it. They’d be brilliant.) The socialite art consultant Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn is so icy cool you wonder if she’s got a pulse. Her monotone voice grates and what’s with her hair? Clearly the big money goes to vapid host China Chow’s extravagant wardrobe (Sarah Jessica Parker is a producer). She looks out of place and frankly pretty blah in her endless parade of Dallas-style cocktail dresses with hair to match. She’d be better served with a more subdued, chicer wardrobe by say, Jil Sander who happens to know a thing or two about Contemporary Art.

3rd Ward

I like the idea of 3rd Ward, a kickass artist collective in Brooklyn. It’s D.I.Y. and collaboration at it’s best. I like the fact that it’s not just artists who can join; anybody can become a member and take classes, or for higher fees get space for a studio or office. How cool is that? Having worked within an artist’s collective, I can attest to what a creative atmosphere it can be and can only imagine the stimulating environment that is 3rd Ward. There’s a 3rd Ward magazine—it used to be the course catalog, but morphed into something much bigger with features and interviews. 3rd Ward even has a restaurant, in a trailer parked near one of its two locations: take-out only, but they have chairs and tables outside. And maybe the best thing about 3rd Ward? It's in the black, even turning a profit.

Check it out:


Monday, July 5, 2010

Self Snap

As if people weren’t getting narcissistic enough with all the social networking sites and-ahem-blogs out there, now Apple (proving how well it has its finger on society’s pulse) has introduced a new iPhone with a second camera lens that faces the viewer (instead of the view), so you can easily take photographs of yourself. No more struggling with capturing a good self portrait. But what’s most surprising about the phenomenon is the pictures are actually quite interesting. So kudos to all those self-absorbed iPhone photographers out there. Good job!

On a parallel front, en route to the river on July 4th for a much needed float, a friend whipped out her iPhone to show off her new Fatbooth app., a hit in Europe it takes your picture and than adds poundage making the relatively trim look morbidly obese. (Probably in Europe they say it makes them look like Americans.) I’m going to get a copy of mine and paste it on my fridge.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Today, it says that millions of birds are set to fly into the oil mess. I wish more people had seen Edward Burtynsky's work:

Edward Burtynsky: Oil, Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, DC,October 3 – December 13, 2009, Traveling through 2012.

Since his “oil epiphany” over a decade ago experienced while driving a car powered by gasoline and partially constructed with petroleum products on a tarmac road, photographer Edward Burtynsky has been traveling the globe steadily chronicling the soup to nuts of what he calls the “key building block of the last century.” From extraction and refining, to the car culture—and the freeways and mind-numbing suburban landscape it has promoted—to oil’s denouement in the form of tanker salvage, abandoned oil fields and vast dumps filled with automotive detritus, Burtynsky explores it all in his large-format color photographs that are haunting meditations on the real cost of oil.

Regarding these surreal landscapes transformed by man, we realize how totally disconnected we are from what actually happens in oil production. Like Upton Sinclair before him, Burtynsky pulls off the veil, showing us things we weren’t meant to see. These otherworldly landscapes of mind-boggling scale compel us to consider the flip side: nature and our relation to it.

Burtynsky is an artist on a mission, he wants to highlight oil’s collateral damage, but his work is not preachy. He neatly finesses that balancing act between message andmedium, letting his eloquent images do the talking. Burtynsky admits he’s conflicted and says his photographs are metaphors representing the dilemma of our modern existence: we depend on nature to provide the raw materials that support our lifestyle with all its attendant conveniences, yet we’re in an uneasy position because our demands place the planet’s health (and thus our own) in jeopardy. And it’s not just First World denizens and the environment Burtynsky is concerned with, as his series on oil tanker deconstruction attest. Here, young Bangladeshi men scrape crude oil out of rusting hulls, working sometimes neck deep in the ooze. The show’s final image, crude-filled footprints, speaks poignantly to the human toll such employment costs.

The photographs are gorgeous with crystalline focus and color that can be both subtle:Oil Fields #27, Bakersfield, California, USA, 2004 and arcade glitz bright: Breezewood, Pennsylvania, USA, 2008. I happen to be a sucker for work that combines beauty and ugliness. It’s why I love Robert Mapplethorpe, Catherine Opie and, of course, Andreas Gursky, who like Burtynsky uses subject matter not known for its beauty, oversized scale, repetitive pattern and splashy color to comment on our contemporary world. There’s a real frisson in a challenging image that’s rendered so exquisitely. Oil Refineries #22St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, 1999 a dramatically-lit nocturnal shot of pipes and ducts that evokes both Mondrian and Sheeler is a favorite; I love Burtynsky’s dump series where mountains of tires, oil filters, drums and other automobile cast-offs are both beautiful and unsettling images.

Burtynsky’s arresting photographs articulate grave and complex concerns about the oil industry and its fallout, providing the perfect response to the avaricious and simplistic “Drill Here, Drill Now” attitude. After seeing how oil transforms the world into something untenable thanks to Burtynsky, I for one, don’t want drilling anywhere near “here.”

Artillery 4.3 (2010):52

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Kati Heck

I haven't yet figured out how to post articles that have been published but aren't online so I'm putting this one here. If I had the big bucks, here's who I'd collect.

Kati Heck: Gsuffa der eine Pomoment. Mary Boone. January 10-March 1, 2008

Kati Heck’s work, monumental, heroic, enigmatic, funny and always beautifully painted, draws on a Prado-load of old masters. Heck lives in Antwerp, home to Rubens where there must be something in the water. Her gorgeous flesh tones and abundant skin are Rubens 2.0. But just so we don’t get too comfortable with this connection she plays with anatomy in unorthodox ways, adding a cartoon foot here, a Pebbles Flintstone bone there and placing the occasional buttocks jutting out frontally beneath a figure’s trunk.

Heck knows her stuff and we also see Caravaggio, de la Tour, Brueghel, Guston and Salle digested and regurgitated á la Heck. There’s even a Roger van der Weiden background transformed into her take on Northern Renaissance scenery. On this rollercoaster ride through Jansen, Heck’s work flows from realism to cartoon, from audacity to restraint and back again.

In her spare, uncrowded canvases, negative space is not only a background but a player. The lack of visual clutter imparts gravitas to the figures and elevates the work to a heroic level. Heck has it all. She paints like an old master but she uses an inspired contemporary language. Her work is entirely her own and entirely fresh.

Published in Artillery 2.4 (2008): 60.