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    All That Glitters: Julian Schnabel On His UK Exhibition

    LONDON — Although Julian Schnabel’s art has attracted its fair share of controversy, there is no doubt that his reputation as an egoist precedes him.

    In the text accompanying his latest London show at the Dairy Arts Centre, “Every Angel Has a Dark Side,” the gallery’s founder Nicolai Frahm describes him as “the wunderkind of the 1980s art scene.” Yet both Schnabel and his work are still thought by many to epitomize the worst superficiality, greed, and excesses of that decade.

    Since his last UK solo show in a public art space, 15 years ago, Schnabel has won a Cannes award and an Oscar nomination as a film director for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” He also directed “Miral,” which was criticized by the Israeli government and Zionist groups for portraying Israel negatively. In response, Schnabel retreated on the film’s position: “I love the State of Israel. My film is about preserving it, not hurting it.”

    Now, “Every Angel Has a Dark Side” feels like a desperate attempt to establish Schnabel as a “serious artist” — something that the exhibition ends up constantly telling, but never successfully showing.

    The show centers on a series of caricaturish self-portraits; in the earliest one, from 2004, the artist is shown in heroic stance, shirt unbuttoned, clutching a large housepainter’s brush and staring at a canvas thoughtfully. The work’s surface has been coated in a resin gloss, which has the unfortunate effect of causing glare from the gallery lights.

    Still willing to give the paintings the benefit of the doubt, I spoke to Schnabel to see if he could tell me a bit more about them and why he felt now was a good time to exhibit. His response: “No. What else.” He then offered some tips on journalism: “Just look at them and make it all up as you go along.” This did little to dispel his reputation.

    Fortunately, this hostility eventually subsided and he explained: “Nicolai [Frahm] has been looking at trying to do this show for a couple of years. I have quite a few shows on at the moment — in New York with Larry Gagosian, and at Dallas Contemporary Art Museum — so the timing made sense. With these paintings, you will find different techniques and ways of dealing with materials, but the essence of what they are is the same.”

    Speaking on his film career, Schnabel said, “Actually everything I am as a filmmaker comes out of being a painter. There’s a part of my brain that’s a storyteller, and I like to write. It’s one way of dealing with myself.”

    “I never made movies or paintings to make money — I never saw either of them as a career. It’s a practice,” he added.

    In two of the paintings, both called “Untitled (Bez),” 2011, Schnabel worked on top of an image of the Hindu god Shiva. Over the deity he painted abstract shapes and “BEZ” in large lettering, a reference to Mark “Bez” Berry, a member of the ’80s rock band The Happy Mondays who was known for his crazy dancing.

    There is the potential to make a controversial connection between the destructive dance of Shiva and the stage moves of Bez, but when asked for the meaning behind this image Schnabel simply said: “I was in a yoga class and there was a poster on the wall of Shiva. I thought it would be a good background for a painting.”

    The lack of consideration that has gone into this casual cultural appropriation unfortunately reflects a theme that is common throughout the show: the works have not been thought through. There is no real investment in the paintings and they hold little aesthetic appeal — the only real draw of the show, it seems, is the star power of Julian Schnabel himself.  

    But perhaps public opinion is of no consequence to the artist. Concluding our interview, Schnabel said: “Having your autonomy and the freedom to do whatever you want the way you want to do it is everything. There should be no compromise.”

    “If you’re good, you’re good; if you’re bad, you’re lousy. But at the end of the day, I’m interested in painting, and it seems like there are a lot of people who are interested in looking at paintings. So, it’s OK.”

    Julian Schnabel: Every Angel Has a Dark Side,” The Dairy Arts Centre, London, April 25-July 27. 

    Julian Schnabel, 'Untitled (Self Portrait)' 2004

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    The communications revolution changed everything, including art: a statement that was just as true in 1514 as it is 500 years later. What transformed the world back then was printing, and some of the results are on view in “Renaissance Impressions: Chiaroscuro Woodcuts From the Collections of Georg Baselitz and the Albertina, Vienna” (Royal Academy, London until June 8). They are as beautiful as they are unfamiliar.

    On display are prints that look like brush drawings and even paintings. These are some of the earliest multiples in European art, available — astonishingly — in a choice of what interior decorators call “colorways.” A collector in the 1520s could buy “Diogenes” (c. 1527) by Parmigianino and Ugo da Carpi, for example, in a variety of modes: with the shadows in olive-green and blue, two shades of green or light and dark brown. 

    They all look terrific (though I’d go for the first), because this is a masterpiece of mannerist art. The figure of the ancient Greek philosopher is at once fantastic, inventive and comic. He is seated, almost naked, with books laid out in front of him. As he turns, his hair, beard and cloak billow in the air. Behind him stands a huge plucked cockerel, fixing the viewer with one beady eye. The bird is the punchline of the piece; Diogenes was said to have been responding to Plato’s definition of human beings as “featherless bipeds” by producing a plucked chicken and announcing “Here is a man!” 

    “Diogenes” was a collaboration between a great painter, Parmigianino, and a master technician, da Carpi. The first produced the design, the second transferred it onto four woodblocks, that – when precisely superimposed in the final image – produced the effect not just of line, but also of differing tones. One block was for black lines, others for lighter and darker shadows.

    The result was novel in several ways. It was a way of reproducing an image that could be cheaper than an original drawing or painting. More people could own a copy, and the image could be distributed widely, five centuries before Google Images. Some of the works in this show are so close to brush-drawings that it’s hard to believe that’s not what you are looking at. A number are reproductions of famous works by artists such as Raphael; there is even one showing a sculpture by Giovanni Bologna from three points of view: effectively a 3D image.

    Chiaroscuro woodblocks were a brilliant innovation, so it’s not surprising that da Carpi tried to patent it; nor to discover that, like many people who want to take out a patent, he was not the actual inventor. Chiaroscuro prints were first made in Germany around 1507, but the technique quickly spread to Italy; another point this exhibition makes is how fast artistic ideas could travel in the Renaissance. Later in the 16th century, Northern artists like Hendrick Goltzius borrowed the process back, copying the Italian style and producing some splendid works on view at the end of the show. 

    The process of playing around with new media and swapping ideas across frontiers seems very modern. Perhaps that’s one reason why these prints appeal so much to the contemporary painter Baselitz, who has been collecting them since the ’60s and owns many of the works on display.

    Review: Renaissance Woodcuts at the Royal Academy
    Ugo da Carpi's "The Miraculous Draught of Fishes" c. 1523-27

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    Top 5 Films at Tribeca Film Festival

    The curtains have closed on the Tribeca Film Festival — another year, another slate of films that can be whittled down to just a handful of good ones. There were a couple of films that were not great but I loved for purely personal reasons — “The Garden Was Eden,” about my favorite basketball team, the New York Knicks, and “Regarding Susan Sontag” — but, for the most part, the best films I saw at the festival immediately jumped out from the pack. Here is my list of five, with the added bonus of the worst film I saw at the festival, just to ruffle some feathers.

    “Land Ho!”

    The best film of the festival for me was undoubtedly Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens’s “Land Ho!” Ex-brothers-in-law Colin and Mitch, both divorced and feeling the perils of late-adulthood, decide to go on a relaxing vacation in Iceland. Colin is the calm one, coming off another failed relationship and seeking the tranquility of the trip; Mitch the aging playboy with the lacquered voice, hoping for a wild week on the town to challenge the doors of life closing on him. A buddy comedy emerges between these two personalities, and the film wears its influences on its sleeve — Scottish rock band Big Country’s 1983 hit “In a Big Country” is a prominent feature on the soundtrack, and the rest of the score seems directly influenced by the song. A quiet and affecting film, and one that you’ll be hearing a lot more about in the coming months.

    “Night Moves”

    I said pretty much everything I wanted to say when I reviewed the film last week, but would like to add that Reichardt is one of the most exciting American narrative filmmakers working today and I would like to propose that next year we take all the money that would go into the terrible films screening at Tribeca and just give it to her and let her make whatever she wants. It will be worth it.

    “Ballet 422”

    We reviewed the film last week, praising its observational qualities; it’s study of a vision, not a person. The more I think about the film, the more I realize how beautifully executed it was, its focus not on the big dramatic moments that go into making art but the quiet, contemplative moments in between. This film is about more than ballet, and is essential viewing for any artist.

    “Journey to the West”

    Tsai Ming Liang’s long-take interpretation of the classical Chinese story by Wu Cheng’en features the actor Denis Lavant and Lee Kang-sheng (reprising his role as the monk from 2012’s “Walker”), forging a simple a delicate path through the city of Marseille. The film, which is based on Lee Kang-sheng’s walking performances at Taipei’s National Theatre, brilliantly absorbs the viewer in its hypnotic rhythms.   

    “Film is a Film is a Film”

    Full disclosure up front: the director, Eva von Schweintz, is a friend and former roommate. Biased as I may be, “Film is a Film is a Film” was still one of the best things I saw at the festival, and definitely the best short work on the screen. The film is a meditation on the move from film to digital, using a combination of found and original footage that includes an actual burial for celluloid and a Western staring actual film projectors as characters — the filmmaker is a projectionist by trade — and a document of a disappearing medium.  

    Worst Film of the Festival: “Palo Alto”

    This has not been a very good month for James Franco. First, he is accused of hitting on young girls on Instagram. Then, via the same social media platform, he called the New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley a “little bitch” after he gave the Franco-starring “Of Mice and Men” on Broadway a bad review. Add to this his new show at Pace Gallery, which New York Times critic Roberta Smith said “comes across as uncomprehending cynicism,” adding that the actor “remains embarrassingly clueless when it comes to art.” We feel bad piling on the guy, but his new film, “Palo Alto” — directed by Gia Coppola and based on Franco’s book of short stories of the same name — is laughably absurd, its portrait of teen life thoroughly thickheaded.

    Earl Lynn Nelson and Paul Eenhoorn in Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz "Land Ho!"

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    Gap Sets Up Shop at Frieze, "Jeopardy!" Spotlights Rockwell, and More

    — Gap Sets Up Shop at Frieze: Retailer Gap will set up a store at this year’s Frieze New York that will sell 11 artist-designed T-shirts by Alex Katz, Yoko Ono, Richard Phillips, and others that were created with art and fashion publisher Visionaire. “The pop-up structure at Frieze New York, designed by Leong Leong, will provide relaxed seating overlooking the river, a complimentary coffee bar, and a non-traditional retail space highlighting their recent project with Visionaire and contemporary artists,” said Amanda Sharp, co-founder of Frieze. [Art Daily]

    — Norman Rockwell to be “Jeopardy!” Category: The Norman Rockwell Museum, which celebrates its 45th anniversary this year, will be featured as a category on “Jeopardy!” on April 30. The category, titled “The Art of Norman Rockwell,” will feature clues filmed inside the museum’s galleries last December, with additional segments filmed at the museum by the “Clue Crew” airing in the following months. The museum is located in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and houses 998 original paintings and drawings by the artist. [Masslive]

    — Getty CEO Pushes Tech: James Cuno, the president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, is pushing the use of technology in museums. He believes the use of mapping techniques, network analysis, and visualizations could lead to art historical discoveries. “The history of art as practiced in museums and the academy is sluggish in its embrace of the new technology,” he said. “We aren’t conducting art historical research differently. We aren’t working collaboratively and experimentally." [WSJ]

    — Louvre Abu Dhabi Unveils Collection: The Louvre Abu Dhabi will unveil part of its permanent collection in an exhibition titled “Birth of a Museum,” organized at The Louvre in Paris to open in May. [Art Daily]

    — Egyptian Statue Sale Proceeds to be Split: Following a threat by Arts Council England to revoke accreditation from the Northampton Museum after its decision to sell an important Egyptian statue, the borough council has agreed to split proceeds from the sale; 55 percent will be allotted to the council and 45 percent to Lord Northampton. [TAN]

    — China Expands to 4,000 Museums: China is well on its way to completing a five-year plan to increase museums nationwide, surpassing its goal two years before the deadline by reaching a total of 4,000 museums by the end of 2013. [CNN]

    — The MFA Boston has returned 14 historic objects to the United Society of Shakers at Sabbathday Lake. [Sun Journal]

    — China’s foremost wax artist talks about the difficulties of making wax statues of North Korean leaders. [The Guardian]

    — Arch Daily asks, “What If MoMA Had Expanded Underground (And Saved The American Folk Art Museum)?” [Arch Daily]

    ALSO ON ARTINFO

    Remembering Index Magazine With Peter Halley

    Review: Renaissance Woodcuts at the Royal Academy

    All That Glitters: Julian Schnabel On His UK Exhibition

    VIDEO: Sculpture Meets Photography at Musée Rodin's Mapplethorpe-Rodin

    LA Modernism Show and Sale Opening Night

    Check our blog IN THE AIR for breaking news throughout the day.

    People walk by artist Paul McCarthy's giant red inflatable dog at last year's Fr

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  • 04/29/14--13:40: New York
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  • 04/29/14--13:41: New York
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  • 04/29/14--13:42: New York
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    WHAT: “Kiyochika: Master of the Night”
    WHEN: March 29-July 27
    WHERE: The Smithsonian, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

    WHY THIS SHOW MATTERS: Kobayashi Kiyochika, a self-trained Japanese printmaker in the ukiyo-e style, stands out as one of the foremost artists to capture Tokyo’s early modernization towards the end of the 19th century. Kiyochika’s prints of his hometown, presented at The Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery in an exhibition titled “Kiyochika: Master of the Night,” record not only the city’s transformation, but also the artist’s adoption of new artistic styles. Blending classic ukiyo-e techniques with stylizations and palettes borrowed from Western photographs, copperplate engraving, and oil painting, Kiyochika depicts a Tokyo in transition.

    The city, which was formerly known as Edo, was renamed Tokyo in 1868, officially marking the end of the Edo period, celebrated for its strong economic and artistic growth. Industrial modernism then hit the city with full force, especially after it was rebuilt following devastating fires in 1881. Kiyochika’s 93 woodblock prints begin in 1874 and follow Tokyo’s development after the fires.

    Traces of the Tokugawa shogunate’s isolationist foreign policies during the Edo period can be seen in “Suspension Bridge on Castle Grounds.” The masterful depiction of the newly constructed bridge shows pedestrians donning both Western garb and traditional Japanese styles, evidence that the new Tokyo was opening its doors to Western visitors and technologies. Set against an atypically muted palette of reds, Kiyochika’s groundbreaking use of perspective stands out from the characteristically flat compositions of classic ukiyo-e prints.

    An important feature of Kiyochika’s prints is the awkward integration of Western architectural designs — industrial technologies like gas lamps and steam engines — with the faceless silhouettes of residents continuing the traditions of an older way of life. The images combine to form a melancholy reverie that showcases Tokyo’s stark transformation from the perspective of a man caught between to two eras. 

    Click on the slideshow to see images from the exhibition.

    Shows That Matter: Kiyochika's Prints Show Tokyo in Transition
    "View of Takanawa Ushimachi under a Shrouded Moon" (1879) by Kobayashi Kiyochika

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  • 04/29/14--13:55: Chicago
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    Sometimes we are so obsessed by blockbuster art shows that permanent museum collections get overlooked. The masterpiece count is very high in the new “Sir Paul and Lady Ruddock Gallery of Sutton Hoo and Europe AD 300-1100” in Room 41 at the British Museum. In fact, it’s much higher than in the Vikings exhibition elsewhere in the museum, into which crowds are currently surging.

    The period covered in this beautifully-lit and arranged display is enormous, and slightly mysterious: the European era in which the Roman Empire slowly ebbed and the culture of the Middle Ages emerged. Despite the efforts of generations of scholars, much about those centuries — especially in Northern Europe — remains shadowy.

    That’s true of the fabulous array of objects from the 6th and 7th centuries discovered on the east coast of England in the late 1930s: the treasures of Sutton Hoo. These extraordinary artefacts are understandably front and center in this exhibition.

    Among the most celebrated items from the ship burial at Sutton Hoo is an ornate helmet with metallic nose, moustache, and garnet-embellished eyebrows. Clearly, this is more of a ceremonial mask — or portable artwork — than a piece of military equipment. Indeed, it is a British equivalent to the mummy case of Tutankhamen: it gives a face to an entire era.

    Visually, the Sutton Hoo hoard gives a sense of a lifestyle both warlike and luxurious — then the mists of uncertainty descend. We do not know the name of the ruler who wore that helmet, nor anything about him except that he lived in the late 6th or early 7th century, and was evidently rich. His possessions came from Scandinavia to the north, the Frankish kingdoms of what was to become France across the sea, and the shrinking Roman Imperium of the Mediterranean.

    It was an era of porous boundaries. The Sutton Hoo ship burial contained splendid silver bowls from the Eastern Mediterranean, decorated with crosses. The owner probably wasn’t a Christian, however, but just liked elegant imported tableware.

    A superbly ferocious wooden ship’s figurehead found in the mud of the River Scheldt is another example of how easy it is to misread works from what used to be called the “Dark Ages.” This is carved in the form of a vicious serpent with gaping mouth, glaring eyes, and jagged teeth.

    In fact, it looks so much the way a Viking sculpture ought to look that it used to be assumed that was exactly what it was (in Kenneth Clark’s television series “Civilization,” it symbolized of the barbarian threat to classical society). But carbon dating shows it actually dates from the time of the “civilized” Roman Empire.

    The figurehead may have been carved by Germans or Gauls living under the rule of Rome, or perhaps the Romans had a taste for fierce dragons themselves. No one really knows. This was a time of cultural blurring in which many of the nations of modern Europe began to coalesce (Anglo-Saxon England is one example). And, as often, the fusion was artistically fertile. Since many of the objects on display in Room 41 are small in size, it’s hard to move a foot or two without encountering something fantastic. 

    British Museum Displays Mysterious Treasures of the Sutton Hoo Burial Ship
    A Sutton Hoo helmet on view at The Sir Paul and Lady Ruddock Gallery

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