Are you hungry for some meaty text on art?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New York

I had two writing assignments in New York. One was to interview an art personage for a profile and the second (not actually in New York, but New Canaan) was a profile of Philip Johnson’s Glass House, which actually consists of a campus, if you will, of The Glass house and 13 other structures. I picked Jack Tilton for my profile. He's been at the forefront of the Contemporary Art market for over 30 years and is an old family friend. I met with him as soon as I got off the train, so my art week started off with a bang.

I got up early the next morning to head over to the Metropolitan Museum to get in the Big Bambú line when it started to form at 8:00 am fortifying myself with Dean & Delucca coffee and bran muffin. I had another bonding experience with the woman in line behind me as I waited for Tim to join me. By the time the museum opened and we got our BB tickets we only had to wait another 30 minutes before going up. While nothing can compare to that first visit it was still exhilarating being up on Big Bambú. It’s much bigger than it was and were able to go quite high up (150+' from street level). There were three of the band of climbers already working on its dismantlement; they gave off that boarder (surfer/snowboarder/skater) vibe. I loved seeing all the “improvements” they’d made: a bona fide recliner made out of woven ropes, hollow bamboo stalk cup holders, coolers and a monster all-weather boom box were lashed into the bamboo at points. It had a party on. frat house/surf shack air about it and you realized how much fun they must have had creating the piece. My only regret is that I dint go into the park and look at it from the ground (you can’t see it from the front of the museum.

From the Met we made our way to the Abstract Expressionist show at MoMA. I found it disappointing for several reasons. First, it was packed, always distracting. It also seemed choppy perhaps because it’s displayed on three floors off to the side in what seemed like second tier galleries. It didn’t flow well; when you finished one floor you had to go out into the crowded hallway to the escalator and then wend your way back into the galleries down below—a jarring and confusing experience. There was only one small Helen Frankenthaler, but two large Lee Krasners, no Morris Louis, nor Kenneth Noland, which I thought was peculiar.

Day three I went to the Drawing Center to see the incomparable Gerhard Richter’s drawings at one of the last Soho art bastions, The Drawing Center. (See separate post). Afterwards, I went uptown to the Asia Society to see the Yoshitomo Nara exhibition lured there by the giant sculpture in the Park Avenue median, hough I’m not a huge Japanese anime fan. I tried to like them and was intrigued by the Japanese concept of "creepy-cute" that Nara seems to explore ad nauseum, but I came away thinking they were really just too decorative and superficial for my taste.

Next stop was the Museum of the City of New York to see their show: Notable & Notorious: 20th Century Women of Style. I’m a sucker for costume shows. This was a modest effort as compared to those Diana Vreeland extravaganzas of yore, but fun nonetheless. My favorite moment occurred when I was next to a group of women in front of a Tina Chow dress and overheard one say to the others in a thick “New Yawk” accent: "She used to come into Hermès...she was nothing to look at.

The next morning I went to the “Why Design Now?” show at the Cooper Hewitt Museum. It's a must-see show. I was totally blown away by the inventiveness and the problem solving accomplished (in most cases) with such simplicity and panache. The show reveals a parallel universe to the one occupied by Climate Change naysayers David Koch and the tea party where actually innovative (and hello, David) money-making solutions are put forth. From the beautiful and efficient water-powered H2Otel in Amsterdam, to a bionic arm, to an incubator made from recycled car parts to a biodegradable casket, there are so many interesting and creative products and one feels excited and inspired about the human imagination. They even made LED lights look good! It made me hopeful on the one hand about mankind and also kind of depressed thinking that we in the U.S. will be left behind in the dust while others lead the charge forward.

I wound up my New York art whirl with a visit to the Jan Gossart aka Mabuse exhibition at the Met. Influenced by classicism, he painted scenes from mythology, lots of Madonnas and childs and many portraits. His understanding of anatomy is very good: there’s a sexy painting of Hercules and Deianira their legs entwined in what the New York Times called “a pretzel of desire.” He paints with self-assurance and produces well-founded compositions in rich palettes. But I found his faces in the mythology and religious paintings, in particular, unappealing—Hercules looks like a simpleton—the weakest link in his oeuvre although he does better with the portraits, perhaps because he was dealing with flesh and blood subjects. I loved the portrait of what possibly was Dorothea of Denmark.

Monday, October 25, 2010

"The lines which do not exist"

When I told a friend I was planning to go to the Gerhard Richter show at the Drawing Center he said he thought of Richter as a painter and wasn’t particularly interested in his drawings. I was a little taken aback, wondering to myself given Richter’s brilliance how could you not be interested in anything he did?

True, the drawings don’t have the star power of his paintings but they are gems nonetheless and so interesting in what they reveal about Richter, the artist. First off, you can see he takes the business of drawing seriously. Though for the most part, they’re studies and exercises, they are fully realized and complete. Richter gives himself free rein to experiment with different subjects (landscape, mechanical, schematic, abstract and autographic) and techniques, flexing his artistic muscles through arpeggios of line and form. As he explores representation and perception, he draws tenuous hair-like squiggles, great Lichtenstein angry hatches, delicate snail trails that meander across a page. He rubs and then erases graphite or charcoal to create depth, modeling and highlights, and in one seascape, masterfully creates with his eraser the greasy aureoles of stars on a hazy night.

7.1991, 1991 a China ink brush on paper abstract work that looks like something was glued on and then pulled off leaving remnants behind is a favorite. Also, R.O., 22.1.1984, 1984 (above), a 5” x 7” dynamo of highly saturated red watercolor and slashing pencil that demands attention from across the room.

The works seem like such trifles and yet have such presence. There’s a self- confidence about them, perhaps because Richter clearly respects the artistic effort and the result. You know this because he signed and dated every one. Some might argue that even back in the 80s he was aware of his legacy and was being savvy. I suspect he signed them as an indication that the work was completed; he’d taken it as far as he wanted it to go and was satisfied.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Headin' Home

I am looking forward to my trip to New York next week. On the agenda is a return visit to Big Bambú to see it finished (hope I can get a ticket to go back up on it and I'd like to see it at night as it's lit), the Gerhard Richter show (natch) at the Drawing Center and the Abstract Expressionists at MoMA.

I also hope to make it out to New Canaan to see Philip Johnson's Glass House for which I have been asked to write a story. Right now, I'm trying to line up an interviewee--a Contemporary Art maven--for another story for Artillery. But I will be posting here my impressions of Richter and AE which don't have a buyer.

If I get my act together I may weigh in on Nazi art and Maurizio Cattalan both in the news this past week....

Friday, October 15, 2010

And again...

My magnificent obsession strikes again. Blue Bands by Robert Stuart, a 14" x 11" gem. It will be mine in December.


I made a pilgrimage to Fallingwater on Tuesday. It’s a five-hour drive from Charlottesville that is if you don’t make any wrong turns (which unfortunately we did thanks to my defective navigating) so it is an undertaking to go. In my book, it’s up there with Monticello as required viewing.

It was my fourth visit. I first went as a young girl of 16. I had accompanied my parents on a white water rafting expedition to the Youghiogheny River. But it was spring and the water was high and the river was closed. So here we were in the backcountry of western Pennsylvania casting about for how to fill our weekend when we discovered that Fallingwater was just down the road from the unfortunately named, Ohiopyle.

My first impression was of walking on woodland paths lined with tall rhododendrons and mountain laurel. It was a gray day and as I came around the bend I spotted the house. I remember being totally bowled over because it wasn’t the white that photographs had led me to believe, but a glowing peach—a perfect foil to the lush foliage surrounding it. The “Cherokee red” of the window trim (which I had thought was black) was another unexpected delight. The colors gave the house such vitality and transformed it from iconic old chestnut to fresh, dazzling magnet.

Entering the living room with its riverine slate floor, nearly wrap-around windows and rich autumnal colors, I felt immediately as if I’d come home. With the exception of the replacement dining chairs (looking at them you realize why Wright was such a dictator when it came to the interior design of his houses) and one or two tchotchkes, I loved everything in the house and the rich pastiche of diverse ethnic fabrics, artwork, objects that seem to be a common thread among Wright’s clients (following his lead, no doubt). But perhaps the most magical quality of the house was the constant background noise of rushing water.

On this latest trip I am again in awe. Fallingwater teaches you so much about architecture, nature and sheer gutsiness. It’s such an audacious design, a complex confection of intersecting planes that hangs against the hillside. Visually, it’s so different from the landscape that surrounds it and at the same time so in sync with it. Like some bright exotic bird in a rainforest.

One of my favorite views is not the famous one shot from below which makes Falingwater appear monumental, but from the bank across a narrow chasm from the house. You can almost reach out and touch the terrace wall and certainly could call to a person standing there and, on certain months when the water is low, carry on a conversation. From here you get a real sense of Fallingwater’s intimacy. Though it’s larger than life in so many ways, its scale is human. For all its elegance and superlative design it is in essence, cosy. The low ceilings, narrow halls, small bedrooms and liberal use of warm, rich materials enhance this coziness. I think about what bliss it must have been to live in such a house, to have it to yourself, wandering about the empty rooms, walking down the steps to dip one’s toes in the stream, sleeping with the windows thrown open to the air and the sound of the falls…

It is rare when something manmade enhances a beautiful natural setting. But Fallingwater does. As I gazed at it from a distance, I tried to imagine the landscape without it and I was faced with an appealing but otherwise unremarkable scene of water spilling over rocks: with Fallingwater perched over it, it’s launched into the realm of the sublime.