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- 05/09/14--09:40: _Refined and Revital...
- 05/09/14--09:46: _BLOUIN Lifestyle Pi...
- 05/09/14--09:48: _Slideshow: See Imag...
- 05/09/14--11:33: _VIDEO: Judd Tully's...
- 05/09/14--11:37: _Slideshow: Highligh...
- 05/09/14--12:03: _Boston
- 05/09/14--12:04: _New Museum Celebrat...
- 05/09/14--12:43: _NADA Offers Relief ...
- 05/09/14--15:16: _See Images From Fri...
- 05/10/14--04:43: _Important Norwegian...
- 05/11/14--04:59: _Auction Preview: "I...
- 05/11/14--16:14: _Victoria Beckham's ...
- 05/12/14--06:55: _Lynyrd Skynyrd Drum...
- 05/12/14--07:02: _Slideshow: Ursula v...
- 05/12/14--07:53: _ An Obsessive's Gui...
- 05/12/14--08:36: _Dan Colen's "Help!"...
- 05/12/14--09:03: _Slideshow: Ragnar K...
- 05/12/14--12:14: _Auction Preview: Ch...
- 05/12/14--13:26: _Maternal Impulses: ...
- 05/12/14--13:34: _MoMA PS1 Celebrates...
- 05/09/14--09:40: Refined and Revitalized, Pulse Gets a Jumpstart
- 05/09/14--09:46: BLOUIN Lifestyle Pick: Shopping at Damien Hirst's Other Criteria
- 05/09/14--09:48: Slideshow: See Images From Frieze Week 2014
- 05/09/14--11:33: VIDEO: Judd Tully's First Impressions of Frieze NY 2014
- 05/09/14--11:37: Slideshow: Highlights from NADA 2014
- 05/09/14--12:03: Boston
- 05/09/14--12:43: NADA Offers Relief From Frieze's Market Madness
- 05/09/14--15:16: See Images From Frieze Week 2014
- 05/10/14--04:43: Important Norwegian Design Hits New York
- 05/11/14--04:59: Auction Preview: "If I Live I’ll See You Tuesday" at Christie's
- 05/11/14--16:14: Victoria Beckham's Pre-Fall 2014 Collection
- 05/12/14--12:14: Auction Preview: Christie's Postwar & Contemporary Art Sale
- 05/12/14--13:26: Maternal Impulses: Ragnar Kjartansson and Sophie Calle in New York
It’s not often that you leave an art fair in a better mood than when you arrived, but that’s how I felt after visiting Pulse New York Thursday morning. The official start of Frieze Week was marked by a particularly cold and rainy day, which seems to be the case every single year. But entering the Metropolitan Pavilion sopping wet, I was greeted by Tamara Gayer’s “All the World’s Affair,” 2014, a series of geometric images that explore the concept of contemporary art fairs, pasted directly on the front doors. The choice of the artwork seems like a gesture of self-awareness by the organizers, coming at a crucial point in the fair’s history as it undergoes an overhaul on the eve of its 10th anniversary. Pulse was abuzz as early as 10 a.m., with frenzied, mimosa-fueled conversations taking place between the preview’s early collectors and gallerists — it already felt a world away from the Pulse I saw last year, with a refreshing anticipatory energy that seemed to be shared by everyone.
Winkleman Gallery’s Curatorial Research Lab, which displayed the vibrant, tech-inspired psychedelic work of Shane Hope, was perfectly positioned across from GUSFORD I’s exhibition of Hassan Hajj’s neon-hued, patterned photo portraits. The two galleries, in combination with Andy Yoder’s Pulse Project “Early One Morning,” 2014, a giant globe made of matchsticks, doused the entrance of the fair with a huge explosion of color.
Other highlights included Jessica Lichtenstein’s “Spring, Four Seasons Series,” 2014, at Gallery Nine 5, a series of four rounded c-prints on acrylic that depict bucolic landscapes rendered behind what, on first glance, appears to be a serene digital haze, but up close are actually layered images of the same female figure. Laurent Lamarche’s microbiology-inspired sculptures and photograms, shown by Montreal gallery Art Mûr, are made from recycled plastics and displayed on glass tables laid out like the contents of a science laboratory. Simon Vega was hands-down the artist of the fair — his Pulse Project, “The Whitney Museum of Central American Art, A Post Apocalyptic Dream,” 2014, shown by MARTE Contemporaneo from El Salvador, reimagines the museum as if it were meant to house art from the third world. De Buck Gallery also exhibited a series of Vega’s drawings.
Zadok Gallery from Miami was the greatest surprise find at the fair. The work of the two artists it brought — Pavel Acosta and Peter Sarkisian — straddled the line between sculpture and something else that hasn’t quite found a category yet. Acosta’s painstakingly detailed appropriations of famous paintings that hang at the Met, made from dry wall scrapings, were juxtaposed with Sarkisian’s 3-D printed robot sculptures, illuminated by digitally mapped video sequences and tucked into a dark, intimate corner.
The show doesn’t lack for historically important works either, something atypical for a fair that usually keeps a strict roster of contemporary exhibitors. Photographs by established artists like self portraitist Tseng Kwong Chi can be found at East Hampton gallery Eric Firestone’s booth, along with panoramic shots of graffitied New York City subway cars from the 1980s — printed appropriately on metallic paper — by Henry Chalfant.
What worked this year? The integration of the booths was seamless, ridding the fair of the usual hierarchy associated with separate solo booths and project sections. Visitors were able to view the work with little bias, allowing for some great surprises along the way. Each booth was custom tailored to the gallery and the work. Overall, the fair was tightly curated, and the consensus from gallerists was that fair director Helen Toomer’s guiding hand was just about everywhere, adding a cohesiveness that most fairs lack. The floor plan strategically moved people in one direction, forcing visitors to see the whole fair. Given the small size of the event, the quality of the works on display, and the customized layout of each booth, there wasn’t much room for aimless wandering.
What didn’t work? The Pulse Pause section was a witty way to brand the lounge area, but seating was sparse. Space is obviously limited at most New York fair venues, and Pulse has been reeled in to mostly positive results, but I wouldn’t have minded a bit more elbowroom. The Pulse Perspectives roundtable was tucked in between booths, also without much seating. To maximize engagement with the visitors without disrupting the flow of traffic, it would have made sense to position this program in the open area at the front of the fair, where visitors could sit and listen without crowding the aisles.
It will be interesting to see what Pulse is able to accomplish without such spatial constraints in Miami, at its new location on the beach. If this Frieze Week’s edition is any indication of what Toomer can achieve with her all-in curator’s approach, then visitors in Miami should have high expectations. Pulse is what an art fair can and should be: a chance to see some of the best work out there, and an opportunity to discover artists and galleries you can’t believe you haven’t already heard of. It also never loses sight, nor tries to hide, what it truly is: a commercial vehicle for galleries and artists to sell work. We’ve said in the past that “the art at Pulse tends more to the beautiful than the challenging.” That’s not necessarily the case this year, but there sure is a lot of aesthetically pleasing work on view, and in the business of art, is that a bad thing?
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The third edition of the British import Frieze Art Fair opened to VIP ranked guests on Thursday in its grandly scaled bespoke tent on Randall’s Island. Timed to coincide with the influx of global collectors heading to New York for the big contemporary art auctions, Frieze has fashioned an effective platform that draws a pleasing mix of contemporary art and cultural tourism.
Among celebrities ranging from Leonardo DiCaprio to Uma Thurman and ranking collectors such as Don Rubell and Herbert and Lenore Shorr, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg drew surprised stares as he sauntered into Cheim & Read’s stand. Moments later, he chose “Jicarilla,” a glazed ceramic sculpture from 2013 by Lynda Benglis and priced in the $65-85,000 range.
“Yes, Mayor Bloomberg bought a Benglis,” said founding partner Howard Read, “and we put on a beautiful show of her ceramics at the gallery in January and blah, nothing happened. You put them in a goddam tent on Randall’s Island and people fight over them.”
Read wasn’t kidding — three other collectors wanted Benglis’s “Comanche,” also from 2013 and scaled at 21- by 15- by 15-inches. It sold in the same price range to an important New York collector, according to Read.
Nearby, Paris/Salzburg dealer Thaddaeus Ropac had good things to say about the fair. “All of the Europeans are here,” he said. “It has the right mix of American and European collectors.” Ropac admitted that he had pre-sold a new bronze edition of Georg Baselitz’s “Zero Ende,” an impressively scaled, black and organic shaped 1,000 kg bronze that went to an American collector for $1.8 million. The gallery also sold a striking and large-scale Robert Longo drawing, “Untitled (Falcon),” from 2013, in charcoal on mounted paper and measuring 70- by 80-inches for $350,000 and a mirror-like Not Vital sculpture, “Head (Li Gao),” to a Salzburg collector for $260,000. The 2013 piece, from an edition of three, plus one artist proof, is made out of stainless steel with PVD coating and stands at 69-inches high.
There were clusters of other early sales as collectors armed with checkbooks prowled the generously proportioned light filled tent with striking views of the park-like, riverfront setting. At New York’s Salon 94, Sylvie Fleury’s Pop Art-esque works were well received as the bubble gum colored “Skin Crime 3 (Givenchy 318),” from 1997, in enamel paint on a compressed Fiat 128, sold in excess of $100,000 to an American collector as did “Blade,” from 2012, in Inox and Alcuban. The 83-inch high mirror finished objet looked just like the old style Gilette razor blades of former close shave times. It was priced in excess of $50,000.
The gallery also sold freshly minted paintings, including a 70- by 80-inch multi-figured, fantasy resort scene, “Fortune Island,” by Jules de Balincourt in the $100-150,000 range. It also went to an American collector. A large-scale, boldly colored abstraction by Jayson Musson in flashe on canvas, “Recently Discovered Constellation,” from 2014, sold for $30,000, as did other similarly priced works by Musson that are currently on view in his “Exhibit of Abstract Art” at Salon 94 Bowery through June 21. It is his second solo with Salon 94.
At Cologne’s Galerie Gisela Capitain, a beautiful and minimal, multi-panel work by Gunther Forg, “Untitled,” from 1986, executed in acrylic on lead panels sold in the region of £250-300,000 to a European collector, according to gallery founder Gisela Capitain. Capitain said an American museum had placed a reserve on a major Zoe Leonard work, “1961,” consisting of vintage suitcases, one piece for each year of her life and ongoing, priced in the $300,000 range. The hard-bodied, “Mad Men”-styled suitcases, in varying and faded shades of blues and greens, were parked upright at the gallery entrance like so many Carl Andre bricks.
In one of the fair’s most impressive installations, New York’s Gladstone Gallery mounted a retrospective-like hanging of 211 works on paper by Carroll Dunham dated between 1979 to 2013. The sweeping vista of Dunham’s subject matter, from nudes and bathers to crusty gunslingers and trees, provided a satisfying refuge from the infinite distractions of an art fair. Dunham curated the selection and the works ranged in price, for the most part, between $5,000 and $10,000.
“He handpicked these,” said Abby Margulies, working the floor at Gladstone, “and they show the spectrum of his practice. We’ve sold a decent amount and people seem excited to see the range of his work.”
Some of the distractions that typically come up at art fairs were captured in Eric Fischl’s painting, “Art Fair: Booth #1 Play/Care,” from 2013, at London’s Victoria Miro, where Fischl will debut later this year with a solo show. The painting, priced in the mid-six figures, is based on fragments of photos he shot at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2012, and forms the basis of his new series.
At the other end of the Miro stand, partially cloistered from view, was a Yayoi Kusama“Infinity Nets” (G Ban)” painting in acrylic on canvas from 2014. Two of the Kusama paintings had sold in the first few hours of the fair in the mid-six figure range, according to gallery partner Glenn Scott Wright. The gallery was also debuting a new bronze edition Kusama “Pumpkin (S),” from an edition of eight, priced at $950,000.
Wright was working his cell phone, arranging for various collectors to press the button on the five medium-scaled bronzes the gallery had on offer. Miro also sold an untitled abstract painting in gouache, acrylic, and alkyd on canvas from 2014 by the Spanish artist Secundino Hernandez, who has recently joined the gallery, in the region of $40-50,000.
London’s Pilar Corrias Gallery had one of the most ambitious single works in the fair with Charles Avery’s wildly populated and funny art history scene, “Untitled (View of the MoAO from the direction of the Place de la Revolution with Hammons, Hepworth, Koons, Unknown Easter Island Artist).” It sold for $145,000 to a European collector. Avery’s last show at the gallery in November sold out.
One of the better known non-art buyer’s roaming Frieze on Thursday was Tom Finkelpearl, the former director of the Queens Museum and the newly named Commissioner of Cultural Affairs of New York City, appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“I feel there’s this overall ecosystem of the arts,” said Finkelpearl, “and it’s all important. I’m here because I’m glad Frieze is here. This is good for the city.”
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Frieze New York runs through Monday, May 12.
Here’s an indisputable fact: Art fairs, at heart, are about selling art. And that doesn’t have to be a disgusting thing, at all — artists themselves need to make money. How else are they going to pay off those MFA debts, plus the $500 per month rent for the corner of that Bushwick studio? That said, there are many ways to sell things — different styles, venues, and attitudes, whether you’re hawking used cars or process-driven abstraction — and something about NADA is far less nauseating than the flashier, more brightly lit bonanza over on Randall’s Island. Before getting to the highlights, let me offer some advice: Without indulging in guilt or flirting with FOMO, you can most certainly skip Frieze this weekend in favor of this pluckier fair. The only thing you’ll truly miss is a ferry ride and the overheard inanities of the mega-rich. (My personal favorites from yesterday’s Frieze VIP opening: A woman loudly asking her husband what the name was of that building he used to own in Miami; and a prospective painting buyer explaining that he just likes looking at Paul Cowan’s all-blue abstractions, which are incredibly boring, and smell like lazy money.)
Overall, there’s very little crap at NADA. (I’m happy to donate that as an official slogan, if the fair is interested.) A few highlights: Marlon Wobst’s dreamlike oil paintings at Berlin’s Schwarz Contemporary are terrific. San Juan’s Roberto Paradise has a jam-packed booth with plenty of great stuff: Jose Lerma’s airborne garbage bag sculptures that double as portraits of Puerto Rican politicians and eventually crumple and fall to the earth; Austin Eddy’s large-scale black-and-white paintings, which are funky, weird, and romantic; Chemi Rosado Seijo’s abstract work, which involves the artist leaving primed, blank canvases out in nature for months on end, and letting the elements leave their mark; and a wall full of found, tourist-y paintings of Haitian landscapes bought by Jose Luis Vargas and then augmented with acerbic text and collage.
Brooklyn’s Interstate Projects crams a gallery retrospective of sorts into a closet-sized space, featuring a cut-Plexi sculpture by Body by Body, tiny Sculpey sculptures by Jeff Baij, and a textile painting by Erika Ceruzzi that converts her abstract doodles into embroidered patterns.
The Apartment, based in Vancouver, wins the award for the most cohesive and stylish presentation. They’ve paired minimalist works by Matthew Higgs (geometric shapes, lots of books) with furniture created by RO/LU. The shelves, chairs, and couches intentionally borrow elements from various artists, like Yves Klein and Carol Bove. Elegant little ceramic pieces by 70-something year old Canadian artist Wayne Ngan are arranged throughout. The Hole, from New York, should also win points for inventiveness, transforming its booth’s exterior so that it resembles a crummy, graffiti-addled bodega selling works by Jaimie Warren, Katherine Bernhardt, and others.
Galerie Christophe Galliard of Paris has a few multimedia works by Berlin-based Fabien Knecht. For one project involving photographs, video, and a painting, he breaks the window of Marcel Duchamp’s former house. (It sounds obnoxious, but give it a chance.) For another, he films himself walking around downtown Manhattan in a suit covered in dust and debris from a town in Iraq that was recently the site of a horrific suicide bombing; the very Beuysian suit hangs next to the video monitor. On a more lighthearted tip, Freight + Volume gives over its entire booth to Ezra Johnson, including a series of enamel and porcelain sculptures — a colorful crowd of dancing, flexible forms. Boston’s Samson has a series of acrylic-and-ink-on-aluminum mesh works by Summer Wheat, all from 2014. And Regina Rex of Queens, New York has glass-and-foam-centric sculptures by Dave Hardy, including some exciting (and relatively affordable) small-scale pieces. They’re smart updates on minimalism tailored to D.I.Y. hardware store tastes, perhaps representative of the overall spirit of this fair, which values creativity and discovery along with the unavoidable facts of commerce.
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Frieze Week 2014 is in full swing, but if you’d rather avoid the crowds and chaos this weekend, ARTINFO has you covered. We’ve compiled an exhaustive slideshow of images from various fairs taking place in New York right now.
Click on the slideshow to see images from Frieze Week 2014.
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The 2011 Phillips sale “Important Nordic Design” showcased works by Danish, Swedish, and Finnish mid-century icons — Finn Juhl, Bruno Mathsson, and Alvar Aalto among them — but was curiously bereft of any Norwegians. “I think the biggest reason is actually our oil," says Arvild Bruun, who runs a hybrid coffee shop and mid-century showroom in Oslo called Fuglen (Norwegian for “bird") with its co-founders, furniture dealer Peppe Trulsen and 2007 Norwegian barista champion Einar Holthe. Although Norway won international gold medals for its designs in the 1950s and '60s, on a level with Hans Wegner and Charles and Ray Eames, over time, the country's designers faded from the historical narrative. “When we found the oil [in the '50s and '60s], we kind of shifted all of our priorities to extracting it," Bruun says. "The Danes continued to tell about their design heritage."
Fuglen is not only reviving this story but bringing it to New York this month in not one, but three exhibitions. In addition to a booth at this weekend's Collective Design Fair and a show of protypes by young Norwegian designers that Fuglen will co-curate at the behemoth International Contemporary Furniture Fair starting May 17, the dealers are showing “Norwegian Icons: Important Norwegian Design,” from May 23 through June 1 at Soho's Openhouse Gallery. Featuring a cross-section of wares produced by midcentury Norwegian craftsmen and a handful of Edvard Munch works (thanks to collaborator Blomqvist gallery), the show was first mounted in Oslo in January 2013, then again in Tokyo that June, as a response to Phillips’ oversight. Fuglen’s main goal was to educate, to bridge the “gap in knowledge about the Norwegian branch of the Scandinavian mid-century,” says Holthe.
In order to do that, the trio sought out craft objects from barns and attics across the Norwegian countryside. The separation of rural villages by forests and mountains resulted in a vast diversity of small-scale production in the last century: a wide variety of ceramics, leather goods, and beautifully sculpted wood furniture. As for prices, “We're still miles behind the Arne Jacobsens or other Danish icons," according to Holthe. "Compared to where we want to go, we're still cheap" (Jacobsen's 1962 Oxford Chair was estimated at $33,000-$40,000 at the Phillips sale; Fuglen recently sold a Torbjørn Afdal armchair for $500) — although that looks likely to change in the near future.
Inspired by Richard Prince’s 1990 monochrome painting If I Die, Christie’s chose the title “If I Live, I’ll See You Tuesday” for its May 12 evening sale, which champions artists whose fame crystalized in the 1980s and the generation that learned from them.
“It’s a risky mission,” says Loic Gouzer, an international specialist at Christie’s who also organized the $33 million “11th Hour” charity sale last May at Rockefeller Center. “These evening sales have become so big, a classic from the 1980s almost has no room to be in them anymore, and we had very little space for very contemporary art.”
Among the five Prince offerings that form the backbone of the sale, the artist’s still-controversial Spiritual America, 1983, a 24-by-20-inch Ektacolor photograph of a prepubescent Brooke Shields in a come hither nude pose, stands out at $3.5 million to $4.5 million. At least five of today’s top contemporary art collectors own a version of Spiritual America, a kind of touchstone image for the edgy 1980s. The aforementioned 96-by-75-inch If I Die is estimated at $3.5 million to $5.5 million.
After reaching a sizzling high of £4.2 million ($8.4 million) for Overseas Nurse, 2002, at Sotheby’s London in July 2008, the Prince market took a sharp dive. It is only now looking brighter, given the recent settlement of the five-year-old copyright case involving the French photographer Patrick Cariou’s charges that Prince illegally used Cariou’s photographs of Rastafarians for a series of paintings. That impression of revitalization is reinforced by the offering of Nurse of Greenmeadow, 2002, at $7 million to $9 million.
Among the offerings from budding blue-chip artists—apparently selected as examples of the most desirable names of the moment—is Wade Guyton’s Untitled (Fire, Red/Black U), 2005, done in Epson UltraChrome ink-jet on linen. Featuring flames licking the bottom of the black composition with floating letter Us above the conflagration, it is pegged in the region of $3 million. Another version sold last November at Christie’s New York for a record $2,405,000. Gouzer wryly observes, “The guy who’s going to buy the Guyton is not going to buy the Diebenkorn,” a reference to an upcoming offering at Sotheby’s two nights later.
Works by other artists whose secondary markets have soared in recent seasons include Dan Colen’s emblematic candle painting, Untitled (Boo Fuck’n Hoo), 2005, at $2 million to $3 million, more than double the $1,085,000 artist record set last May—and Mark Grotjahn’s richly surfaced, 88 and 3/8-inch-high face painting abstraction, Untitled (In and Out of the Darkness Face 43.01), 2011, at a steeply estimated $3.5 million to $4.5 million.
The one-off sale will also include “older” work, such as Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Made in Japan I, 1982, a skeletal head set against a jet-black background, executed on paper laid down on canvas; its estimate is $7 million to $9 million. There is also a fantastic and rare-to-market wall relief, David Hammons’s detritus-sourced Untitled, 1978, comprising found bamboo, phonograph record fragments, colored string, and hair, and estimated at $3 million to $4 million.
If it appears that Christie’s is taking a big gamble in offering a stand-alone tranche of pushily estimated works, rest assured: At least 65 percent of the offerings will carry third-party guarantees.
— Lynyrd Skynyrd Drummer Paints Michelangelo: Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Michael Cartellone has an exhibition of paintings inspired by Michelangeo’s “David” at two Wentworth Galleries locations in the D.C. area. In a recent Washington Post profile, the drummer describes his passion for painting and his musical career as “two halves of a whole.” The “David” paintings reimagine the iconic statue in the styles of van Gogh, Picasso, Lichtenstein, and Warhol. “One of the things I had intended to do with this project is to choose four styles that I was not familiar with,” said Cartellone, “and in essence, to deconstruct myself as a painter and put myself in a position where I was going to walk into a very unknown learning curve.” [WashPo]
— DIA Bailout May Be Illegal: According to David Skeel, a bankruptcy law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Detroit’s proposed plan to save DIA’s art and the city’s pensions is illegal. Skeel argues that the plan violates a tenet of bankruptcy law “that creditors must get more in bankruptcy than they would outside of bankruptcy.” “Because the art would be used to pay only one group of creditors — the pension recipients — the excluded creditors may be worse off in bankruptcy than if Detroit had never filed,” he writes. [WP]
— How Will de Blasio Handle the Arts? Mayor Bill de Blasio’s long-term approach to arts funding might look very different from that of the Bloomberg administration. It seems New York’s new mayor is more focused on “community outreach, supporting culture in the outer boroughs and encouraging artists to remain in New York.” “Under Bloomberg, well-established institutions tended to be favored,” said arts consultant Adrian Ellis. Now, “those smaller organizations further from Manhattan may see an increase in their funding and their priority”. [TAN]
— Van Gogh Discovered in Safety Deposit Box: A painting by Vincent van Gogh that went missing nearly 40 years ago was discovered by Spanish tax inspectors during an operation to seize contents from 542 safety deposit boxes from tax offenders. [Globe and Mail]
— Randy Kennedy’s Night at “Al’s Grand Hotel”: “All the signifiers that constitute a hotel of a certain vintage were there... matchbooks and glass ashtrays on the tables (which couldn’t be put to use, sadly, because no one had cigarettes and, besides, you can’t smoke at an art fair.)” — Randy Kennedy reviews a night spent at “Al’s Grand Hotel” at Frieze New York. [NYT]
— Bed-Stuy’s African Art Museum: Curator Vira Lynn Jones runs an African art museum with close to 4,000 objects out of a first-floor apartment in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. [DNAinfo]
— 21C has announced plans to build yet another combination museum/hotel, this time in Nashville. [Tennessean]
— Jesús Rafael Soto’s “Houston Penetrable” at the city’s Museum of Fine Arts is a crowd-pleasing giant indoor playground. [Houston]
— The Art Newspaper asks, is 90 the new 20 in the art world? [TAN]
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Like most fans of “Mad Men,” we tend to be obsessive about the show — no detail is too small to analyze. Series creator Matthew Weiner feeds into this obsession by loading every episode with a long list of reference points — from literature, television shows, music, and more. Each week, we’ll provide a quick and handy guide to the previous episode’s cultural references, from the obvious to the elusive. This week, we have nods to Greek mythology, a possible reference to Charles Manson, and a few songs that speak to Don’s new situation.
A big part of this episode was Ginsberg flipping out. The hum of the new super-computer, which took over the creative workspace in the office, is driving him crazy — literally. And if this was not clear, the end of the episode sees him dragged out of the office on a stretcher, yelling at his coworkers. But at the beginning, he just thinks he knows something that everybody around him can’t or won’t see. “What am I, Cassandra!” he yells at Peggy when she tells him it’s just a computer, nothing more or less. The reference is to the prophet of Greek mythology, the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, who is cursed with never being believed. So, what is happening here? Has Ginsberg just lost his mind, or is “Mad Men” becoming one long metaphor for the dehumanizing aspects of modern technology? Based on this episode, I’m willing to bet Matthew Weiner bangs out these scripts on a typewriter.
With everything that happens between Don and Megan, not to mention Ginsberg losing his mind, it’s easy to forget the third subplot of the episode between Betty and Henry. Who knew Betty was such a closet conservative and supporter of the war in Vietnam? While their argument later highlighted Betty’s dissatisfaction with her current situation and Henry’s flip-flopping attitude toward politics and his wife, there was also a strange reference. At point during their argument, Henry calls her Emily Post, the writer famous for books on social etiquette. This was a dig at Betty, who is typically so concerned with her presentation. But it also backfires, because it speaks to what Henry wants in a companion — someone who will smile, look good, and not speak out of turn. When Bobby Draper mentions a possible divorce, he’s saying what the audience is thinking.
This is a possible reference, but considering everything that has been mentioned in previous episodes, along with all the theories passed around about Sharon Tate’s story being superimposed onto the narrative of “Mad Men,” it’s one worth talking about. Stephanie, Don’s “niece,” returns to the show. When we last saw her, she was young, blond, and drenched in California sun, her easy-going happiness offering a path for Don to follow (and which, of course, he didn’t). Now things have changed. She is grungy and pregnant. She lives in Oakland but somehow ended up in Los Angeles, calling Don from a payphone outside the famous Capital Records building. She needs money, and Don sends her to Megan’s home. It’s there that she lays out her story — the child-to-be is the product of a relationship with a musician who’s now in prison for selling pot. But he has no clue she’s pregnant — if he found out, she says, he would probably murder somebody so he could stay inside. Aside from the fact that Stephanie seems a little unfocused, even weird, a little digging reveals that Manson was a struggling musician (he famously almost worked with the Beach Boys) and went to jail for petty crimes before his group, dubbed The Family, committed the murders that “Mad Men” has been alluding to for a while now. Maybe this reference was a tip of the hat to fans, letting us know that Megan got away safe. Or maybe it’s one more reference, a hint of dark things to come.
Blood, Sweat & Tears — “You Made Me So Very Happy”
Don comes out to Los Angeles to visit and Megan and finds out she is having a party for her acting class. Of course, Don is not happy. When is Don ever really happy, especially at parties? He sulks in the background, staring out at the California skyline, drinking something on the rocks and refusing joints from stoned girls stunned by his Rock Hudson-looks. Thankfully, the party looks lame anyway. Especially when somebody puts on “You Make Me So Very Happy,” the corny anthem of 1969 from Blood, Sweat & Tears. Released that year, song reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and would go on to be a dance floor staple at the cheesiest weddings you’ve ever been to.
Waylon Jennings — “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line”
Released in 1968 as the second single from Jennings’s album “Only the Greatest” (the first being the great “Walk on Out of my Mind”), the song is one of the outlaw musician’s most famous hits. Its lyrics also spell out Don’s newfound confidence and plan of attack: “Everybody knows you’ve been steppin’ on my toes and I’m gettin’ pretty tired of it. You keep a steppin’ out of line and messin’ with my mind, if you had any sense you’d quit.” Don may be at the bottom, but he’s fighting his way back to the top.
Christie’s Postwar & Contemporary Art sale, on May 13, is headlined by major offerings from storied Chicago collectors Edwin and Lindy Bergman and led by Alexander Calder’s playful mobile “Poisson volant,” 1957. A big catch at 24- by 40- by 100-inches, it is estimated at $8 million to $12 million. So far, 10 Calder works have sold for more than $5 million, and this is a superb and rare example. The Bergman family, which endowed the Art Institute of Chicago with a Joseph Cornell Gallery, is also selling a group of Cornell boxes, including “Untitled (Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall),” 1946, tagged at $5 million to $7 million.
Christie’s is also offering a range of high-value trophy works, including Jackson Pollock’s calligraphic painting in black enamel “Number 5 (Elegant Lady),” 1951, put up by the German E.ON corporate art collection for $15 million to $20 million. On loan to the Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf since 2001, the picture made its American debut at the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York in 1956. Jackson gave her Oldsmobile convertible to the artist in exchange for two paintings, including “Number 5.” He died violently in that car two years later.
Christie’s is also offering Basquiat’s swashbuckling nude warrior, “Untitled,” 1981, consigned from the Washington D.C.-area Reiner family collection, with an estimate in the region of $20 million to $30 million. The mural-size, orange-and-red-hued work was acquired by Anita Reiner in 1982 from Annina Nosei, the artist’s primary-market dealer.
Eight abstract works will be offered from the estate of Omaha collector and philanthropist Phillip Schrager, including a juicy Willem de Kooning, “Untitled xxxi,” 1977, estimated at $8 million to $12 million. A larger version from the same series, “Untitled viii,” made a record $32,085,000 at Christie’s last November, and “Untitled xxix,” 1977, sold for $8,080,000 at the house in November 2006. On the Pop art front, Andy Warhol’s seminal and personally inscribed “White Marilyn,” 1962, from the collection of dealer Eleanor Ward, who gave the artist his first solo show, is pegged at $12 million to $18 million.
Christie’s is also offering what may be the priciest lot of the season, a 1984 Francis Bacon triptych, “Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards,” of the artist’s last companion and heir, which carries an estimate in the region of $80 million. It last sold in February 2001 for $4.5 million at Christie’s London.
A version of this article appears in the May 2014 issue of Art+Auction magazine.
“I saw this movie when I was 12 or 13 — it’s deeply Freudian shit,” said Ragnar Kjartansson. It was a dreary Friday afternoon during Frieze Week, and we were walking north from MoMA, discussing “MorðsagaI,” the 1977 Icelandic film featuring the artist’s parents that is the centerpiece of his just-opened installation at the New Museum. The work features a looped projection of a scene in which Kjartansson’s mother — playing a “desperate housewife,” in his words — is lustfully entangled on the kitchen floor with Kjartansson’s father, a visiting plumber. The artist characterizes the film overall as an “erotic thriller,” with a plot akin to Pedro Almodovar’s “Volver.” “My mother lives with a horrible husband. She kills him, and takes the corpse to a lava field,” he explained. “When they were making the film my mother was pregnant, and in the scenes when she’s dragging the corpse, she’s wearing a dress to hide me. I’ve got a cameo.”
For the New Museum installation, a group of 10 local musicians hanging out in a domestic set perform an ongoing, all-day rendition of a song composed of dialogue from the film’s sex scene, with “Take me here by the dishwasher!” being the melodic refrain. It’s an addition to Kjartansson’s ever-growing oeuvre of endurance-based performances — last year at MoMA P.S.1 he conscripted the National to play the same song for six hours — a sort of oddball outgrowth of the Marina Abramovic method, except with less ego, more heart, and a healthy sense of humor.
Kjartansson’s parents are both still alive, though they divorced when the artist was in his early teens. They attended the opening of the New Museum exhibition, and also introduced a screening of “MorðsagaI” on Friday evening. “They saw [the installation], but they got so self-aware,” he said. “I think they’re sort of: Ehhh, a giant screening of us, having sex in the ’70s!” (For the record, the film clip in question is woozily dreamlike, and nothing close to actual pornography.)
It’s not the first time that Kjartansson has enlisted his parents in his art practice. One of the first pieces he made — which is included in the New Museum show — involves him standing next to his mother, facing a video camera, while she repeatedly spits in his face. The artist’s mother, being an actress herself, wasn’t taken aback when he asked her to take part in the project. (“Yeah yeah honey, no problem,” Kjartansson remembered her saying. “How is it, are you spitting on me, or am I spitting on you?”) While he’d set out to make what he calls a “hardcore, in-your-face ’90s art piece,” the resulting film was, he said, “not shocking, but cute.” At certain points mother and son break into laughter. Kjartansson’s art teacher at the time, Aernout Mik, blasted him for the piece’s artificiality. “He said it was fake, and I was so bummed for two days, but then I realized: that’s what is interesting about it,” he recalled. “It opened this door for me, of working with pretending. Total honesty and total pretense.”
It’s a hybrid quality that Kjartansson finds in his contemporary Sophie Calle, who, coincidentally, also recently opened an exhibition in New York that involves her mother. (The two are acquaintances, and saw each other’s shows last week. “I suddenly realized how Sophia Calle-ian my work was,” Kjartansson said. “Some artists create sparks which give other artists freedom to express themselves in new ways.”) Calle’s exhibition, “Rachel, Monique,” is hosted in a side chapel of the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest on Fifth Avenue. It also involves a film projection, though the difference couldn’t be more stark: Calle’s is a roughly 11-minute clip of her dying mother’s final moments. Photographic works are arrayed throughout the chapel, including an image of Calle’s mother’s grave, and her body lying in a coffin, covered with items dear to her, presented by friends.
“I’m more used to doing works about absence than presence,” Calle said. “My mother was part of my work — she was one of the ‘Sleepers,’ and she’s in ‘The Detective.’ But she wanted to be the only subject, and she had to die for that.” This particular video work, which initially screened at the Venice Biennale in 2007, was instigated by a suggestion from curator Rob Storr, she said: “When I filmed her it was not to make a project — it was the fear that she would have something to tell me, and of not being there. I didn’t do it in order to make a work, that came out after, but maybe I planned it unconsciously.” The exhibition is a continuation of sorts from one held at Paula Cooper Gallery in late 2013 — in that show, Calle purposefully withheld the works that explicitly featured her mother’s dying breath, her coffin, and her grave. There’s no religious implication in the exhibition’s siting within the church — a text written by the artist at the entrance to the chapel acts as a disclaimer: “My mother was not a Christian,” it reads, “but she could never resist an invitation to the Upper East Side.” Calle simply wanted a place with poetry, she said.
Almost all of Calle’s family and friends understood the artist’s inclination with the project. “I do it for her, with her,” Calle said. “It’s my way to go through her death, to mourn her.” Only one person took serious issue with the piece’s intentions; he wrote Calle a letter, accusing her of “using” her mother’s death. She didn’t respond directly, but afterward attached a piece of faux-poop to the missive, and hung it on her bathroom wall. (“I still read the letter,” she said. “Everyone else sees it, too.”)
In many ways, it’s easy to see both Kjartansson’s and Calle’s exhibitions as attempts to connect — with the living, and the dead — through a productively uneasy mix of the personal and the performative. Calle said that she was surprised, when her mother gave her 16 years’ worth of diaries before her death, at what she read in their pages. “I found difficult things about me,” she explained. “She was sometimes angry, but not too much. She was more sad than I expected her to be.” (By the church’s altar, speakers play an audio recording of the actress Kim Cattrell reading translated excerpts from those diaries.) Kjartansson characterizes his own relationship with his mother as highly nuanced. “She was raised as an orphan and became an actress,” he said. “Sometimes it’s like I still don’t know who she is. She’s like Bob Dylan.” Kjartansson ventured that much of his work is actually about “maintaining relationships with my friends and family,” from “The Visitors” — a video installation that he made with ex-band members and loved ones in upstate New York — to “The Raging Pornographic Sea,” a series of drawings of the ocean that Kjartansson made in conjunction with his father in Iceland.
After I met with Calle at the church, she signed my copy of the book accompanying “Rachel, Monique.” I brought it home and decided to shelve it next to another prized, signed monograph: “Pretend You’re Actually Alive,” by Leigh Ledare, a series of photographs, many of which are highly sexualized portraits of his mother, who was also an aspiring actress. Freudian shit, indeed. And proof that even now there’s something uncomfortable and enlightening to be plumbed from those most basic and universal commonalities: the women who birthed us; how they lived; how they died. That’s some heavy work, and it’s no wonder that, as Kjartansson noted, it often involves a mix of fact and fiction — the hard truths approached by obfuscation, obliquely, maybe the only way possible.