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- 06/26/14--10:29: _New York
- 06/26/14--10:34: _Public Art Fund and...
- 06/26/14--10:47: _If it Ain't Broke: ...
- 06/27/14--04:15: _VIDEO: Jeff Koons O...
- 06/27/14--04:59: _Hauser & Wirth Has ...
- 06/27/14--07:19: _Sarah Sze Brings Bi...
- 06/27/14--09:23: _Castello Recreates ...
- 06/27/14--09:47: _BLOUIN Lifestyle Pi...
- 06/27/14--09:49: _Highlights from Gle...
- 06/27/14--11:56: _Q&A With Jonathan H...
- 06/27/14--12:06: _Slideshow: Highligh...
- 06/27/14--13:55: _Gavlak Gallery's 2n...
- 06/28/14--04:26: _MAD Man: Glenn Adam...
- 06/28/14--11:16: _New York
- 06/30/14--16:36: _Sotheby's Has a Str...
- 07/01/14--04:59: _Katie Torn’s “Virtu...
- 07/01/14--06:48: _Slideshow: Christie...
- 07/01/14--07:09: _IMA Nabs Giant Lich...
- 07/01/14--08:45: _"Life Itself": A Ba...
- 07/01/14--09:44: _"Death Becomes Her"...
- 06/26/14--10:29: New York
- 06/26/14--10:34: Public Art Fund and Gagosian Gallery Unveil Jeff Koons' Split-Rocker
- 06/27/14--04:15: VIDEO: Jeff Koons On His Gleeful Retrospective at The Whitney
- 06/27/14--04:59: Hauser & Wirth Has Your Multi-Generational Photography Weekend
- 06/27/14--09:23: Castello Recreates Still Life Paintings with Cheese
- 06/27/14--09:47: BLOUIN Lifestyle Pick: Chanel and Louis Vuitton at Artcurial
- 06/27/14--09:49: Highlights from Glenn Adamson's First Craft Biennial at MAD
- 06/27/14--12:06: Slideshow: Highlights from Berlin Documentary Forum 3
- 06/27/14--13:55: Gavlak Gallery's 2nd Gallery Opening Reception in Hollywood
- 06/28/14--11:16: New York
- 06/30/14--16:36: Sotheby's Has a Strong Lead-Off Night in London
- 07/01/14--04:59: Katie Torn’s “Virtual Sculpture” Is Seductive, But Toxic
- 07/01/14--07:09: IMA Nabs Giant Lichtenstein, MoMA Names New Archives Chief, and More
- 07/01/14--08:45: "Life Itself": A Barroom Eulogy for Roger Ebert
- 07/01/14--09:44: "Death Becomes Her" at the Met
On June 27 the Mauritshuis reopens in The Hague after two years of ambitious refurbishment and extension. And — I mean that as a sincere compliment to the director, architects, and staff — it’s almost exactly the same as it was before the 30 million euro reconstruction work was begun. But perhaps I’d better explain why that’s such a good thing.
The Mauritshuis is the perfect gallery of 17th-century Dutch painting. Perhaps on a crass masterpiece count it somewhat lags behind the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam — though even there one could argue the point. Among its Rembrandt roster is the grisly “Anatomy Lesson of Doctor Nicolaes Tulp,” 1652, a group portrait of early surgeons, boldly investigating where more squeamish cultures hesitated to look: beneath the waxy skin of the cadaver of a deceased thief named Aris Kindt.
Less gruesome and even more sublime as a piece of oil painting is a “Self-Portrait” from the last year of the painter’s life, 1669, in which Rembrandt seems to be gently melting away: his hair soft as the finest duvet stuffing, the lines of his face pouching and sagging, his eyes full of a searching sadness.
Even so, the Mauritshuis loses on points to the Rijksmuseum in the Rembrandt stakes, but on the other hand it has an unparalleled assortment of Vermeers. The Mauritshuis has three — a total other museums could rival, even though Vermeer is a rare artist — but among that tally are two of the world’s most famous pictures: the “View of Delft,” c. 1660-61, and “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” c. 1665. The latter, following the novel by Tracy Chevalier, a film, and a world tour — the Tokyo leg of which was the single most popular exhibition of 2012 anywhere in the world — is in danger of becoming too famous for her own good.
The paintings of the Mauritshuis, as the museum’s dynamic director Emilie Gordenker was heard to say on press day, have the power to inspire novelists. In addition to “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” “The Goldfinch,” 1654, by Carel Fabritius, takes an important role in the recent bestseller by Donna Tartt of the same name; the splendid but gruesome Rembrandt mentioned before is the subject of a historical fiction by Nina Segal. Most distinguished of all is the role played by Vermeer’s “View of Delft,” c. 1660-61, in Marcel Proust’s great “À la recherche du temps perdu,” in which a character swoons and dies in front of the picture, happy to expire in the presence of such beauty.
In fact the picture is not a health hazard although Proust had a point when he deemed it the world’s most beautiful painting. That is a hard competition to adjudicate, but the “View of Delft” is most certainly a candidate. It combines a wonderfully lucid cityscape, surely studied by the artist through a camera obscura, with a transient light effect caused by a cloud covering the sun that could only have lasted in reality for a minute or two.
You will have spotted that, having labelled masterpiece counting “crass,” I’ve gone on to do just that. Nonetheless, though the star pictures are perhaps the reason most of us will make a journey to The Hague, the true charm of the Mauritshuis is that is such an ideal ensemble. It is a high-quality, smallish collection — around 800 works in total, on the low side for a major institution — which all belong harmoniously together.
The great majority of the pictures are 17th-century Dutch, with a few works from later and earlier (including a fine clutch of Holbeins). And the whole array is shown in a perfect setting: a grand but not particularly big 17th-century town house, which is itself one of the finest examples of classical Dutch architecture. This means that the paintings are seen in exactly the kind of context for which they were intended in the first place.
As I say, it’s perfect. If you went there before the revamp, you probably won’t notice much difference within the galleries themselves. The decor has been spruced up. There are new wall coverings and Murano glass chandeliers; the hanging has been slightly aerated. But pretty well all the pictures are where they were before. Leaving things as they were — on the basis that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it — is a decision I applaud.
The novelties are hidden away neatly underneath the forecourt of the Mauritshuis itself and in an adjoining building: a new entrance hall, restaurant, temporary exhibition gallery, and all the amenities that a 21st-century museum feels it ought to have. These have been deftly and elegantly fitted in. In the old days you entered through the rather scruffy basement of the 17th-century structure, not that I minded much.
More people will visit the Mauritshuis now, and rightly. It’s one of the world’s great treats for those who like looking at pictures. But let’s hope it’s still possible, as it used to be on a quiet day, to spend some quality time alone with the girl and her pearl. Increasingly, she has the “Mona Lisa of the North” tag hung around her neck. But you’ll never, ever get the Mona Lisa to yourself like that. Paradoxically, its lack of popularity was one of the nicest things about the old Mauritshuis, and that is one attribute that is likely to change.
Let the summer frenzy begin for Jeff Koons in New York City. Hailed as one of the most influential (and controversial) cult artists of our time, Koons broke boundaries of art and mass culture with his larger-than-life sculptures and collaborations with pop icons like filmmaker Gus Van Sant, fashion designer Stella McCartney, and of course mama monster, Lady Gaga. For the first time in New York, Koons’ seminal works from his 35-year career fill the entire Whitney Museum of American Art, making this a landmark retrospective for the visual artist and a grand finale for the museum in the current Breuer Building.
“It’s really wonderful to have an exhibition in, kind of, my hometown here in New York,” said Koons to Blouin ARTINFO. ”I think the Whitney is the perfect platform for my work to have a dialogue with a young generation of artists.”
From the highly disputed nude images of him and his wife Ilona Stallar from the 1990 "Made In Heaven" series to his boisterous "Balloon Dog," the retrospective takes a chronological approach with more than 150 works scattered throughout the museum floors and outdoor sculpture court. Apart from Koons’ classic works, he’s also presenting for the first time his latest creation “Play-Doh,” a ten-foot polychromed aluminium sculpture that took him almost 20 years to make.
In conjunction with the opening of the retrospective, Koons also debuted his floral “Split-Rocker” sculpture in Rockerfeller Center. Presented by the Gagosian Gallery, Public Art Fund, and Tishman Speyer, the 37-foot high piece features more than 50,000 flowering plants. It was first presented in 2000 in Palais des Papes in Avignon and its also in the collection of the Glenstone Private Museum in Potomac, Maryland. Over the summer, the flowers will continue to grow and visitors can watch the sculpture bloom to a flora-mania, giving a touch of vibrancy to the otherwise concrete jungle of Midtown. “It’s a loss of control,” told Koons. “That’s really one of the beautiful things about this sculpture; You give up control to nature and the piece is going to become really vibrant.”
You can read more about the "Great Koonsian Adventure" HERE.
The retrospective is open through October 19 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Avenue, and “Jeff Koons: Split-Rocker” by the Public Art Fund is on view through September 12 at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan.
New York’s Hauser & Wirth has a neat couplet of exhibitions opening in conjunction with each other, both examining the ways in which the boundaries of photography have been pushed (and chopped, warped, slashed, and occasionally embedded in concrete) over the past four decades. First up is “The Photographic Object, 1970” a reprise of the 1970 Museum of Modern Art show “Photography into Sculpture,” curated by Peter Bunnell. The new iteration (pulled together by Olivier Renaud-Clement, with serious assistance from Philip Martin of Los Angeles’s Cherry & Martin, who staged a similar group of works at that gallery) retains 19 of the original 23 artists in that pioneering exhibition, most of them based on the west coast. As Mary Statzer, who is editing a catalogue on the original 1970 show, noted, the exhibition was truly “out of step” with prevailing art world trends — neither close enough to what she called the “straight” photography of Gary Winogrand and Lee Friedlander, nor to the cerebral noodlings of Conceptualism. The prevailing hand of Robert Heinecken looms large — five of the participants in the 1970 show were his current or former students — and his inclusion here includes one “puzzle” piece (human anatomy dissected into 24 small prints), and a semi-goofy collage-style piece, “Breast Bomb.” Other artists in the male-heavy show tend to fixate equally on female anatomy and how it can be distorted, disassembled, or re-imagined: Robert Watts’s “Girl With Mole That Lights Up,” Jack Dale’s “Untitled Cubed Woman.” But one of the few women participants, Ellen Brooks, was also fascinated by what new photographic techniques could do to the human form: Her “Flats: One Through Five” is a series of small, model-size tableaux, featuring shaped photographs of a nude couple on faux-grass terrain, as if a pair of free-loving hippies had rolled onto the square domain of a golf course. (A massive, life-size version of a similar piece is installed in the back gallery — evidently you can lay down on the “lawn,” so be sure to take a selfie and see how Instagram feels about the piece’s full-frontal male nudity.)
In some ways, the most contemporary-seeming pieces are a pair by Robert Brown and James Pennuto that take images of landscape (a tractor-furrowed dirt field; a hill) and print them onto shaped, unnatural mediums (vacuum-formed plastic, acetate). Richard Jackson's “Negative Numbers” is also strangely fascinating: A wooden table holding two backlit photo negatives, a nearly indiscernible image of what might be a young man posed at an amusement park, with the numbers of the negatives scrawled on top in a very shaky hand. Elsewhere, artists run through every conceivable novelty, trick, and innovation possible: Folding a print into a pillar-shape (Jerry McMillan’s “Patty as Container”); burying an image in thick Lucite, or using a chunk of shaped Lucite to augment the composition of an accompanying photograph (Robert Watts’s “BLT” and “Pork Chop on a Plate with Pea,” respectively); turning a flat scene into a dimensional, Cubist object (Dale Quarterman’s “Untitled”); printing images on all sides of cardboard cubes that can be stacked and rearranged at will.
If “The Photographic Object” doesn’t strike the same subversive, controversial blow that its 1970 edition did, that’s understandable — we’re pretty blasé these days about the cross-pollination of mediums. The companion piece to the show, “Fixed Variable,” in a modest side-room down at Hauser & Wirth’s 18th Street gallery, shows how far we’ve come. The young, mostly New York-based artists here, marshaled by the gallery’s Madeline Warren and Yuta Nakajima, are focused more on formal, rather than figurative, aspects. The curators joke that the works can be divided between the “gritty and the griddy,” from Ethan Greenbaum’s prints of street surfaces on vacuum-sealed plastic to John Houck’s mathematically-derived, cleanly-folded C-prints. Warren and Nakajima note a few other defining elements: a reliance on digital technologies; a prevailing sense of humor; and a willingness to use image archives that didn’t exist in the ’70s, like the massive trove of stock and found photography on the Internet. This compact, streamlined show is a winner, and acts as a similar checklist of the tactics available to today’s practitioners. Letha Wilson’s C-prints of rock formations or landscapes embedded in panels of concrete — or in some cases printed directly on concrete — deserve all the buzz they’ve gotten in recent years. (She also has a terrific floor-piece here, a print of a sunset affixed to a curled panel of Corten steel.) Kate Steciw combines shaped frames with sheets of Plexi and hyperactive image collages to make some of the most purely sculptural works, including one that hangs from the ceiling, as menacing as a guillotine. Lucas Blalock digitally edits “real” photographs to create unreal oddities, like a four-pronged mutant cactus. And the show includes three works by Chris Wiley — a pair of the wildly framed “Dingbats” prints recently featured at Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, and a series of wall prints made by cutting faux-marble wallpaper into large stickers.
A word to the wise: See “The Photographic Object” uptown first, to appreciate the historical and technological progression between that survey and this current snapshot. The enlightening thing is that, despite the vast terrain covered in both shows, the potentials of photography seem far from exhausted. In many ways, the photograph has become one of many items in the toolbox of contemporary artists — much to the chagrin of traditional photographers, who doubtlessly still grumble about the ways in which their medium is molested along the cutting-edge.
— Sarah Sze’s Biennale Work Heads to the Bronx: Sarah Sze’s 2013 Venice Biennale installation, “Triple Point (Planetarium),” will be shown at the Bronx Museum of Arts beginning July 3 through August 24. The original site-specific work, commissioned by the Bronx Museum, utilized every day household objects displayed throughout several rooms of the American Pavilion. The installation has been reworked for the museum’s North Wing Gallery. [NY Times]
— Corcoran Aims to Keep Art in DC: Papers were filed in DC court this week that give a technical look at how the Corcoran’s merger with George Washington University and the National Gallery of Art will play out. The Corcoran has taken measures to certify that most of its collection will stay in the DC area and that its historic building will be maintained and display art. The National Gallery will have first pick of the Corcoran’s 17,000-work holdings and then other local institutions will be offered the pieces. [WP]
— Millennials Are All the Rage at Auction: The demand and market value for work by millennials continues to skyrocket, according to a piece in the Wall Street Journal. Apparently young artists and their dealers are worried that the fast interest of auction houses may be building hype too quickly. Collector Richard Chang said, “There’s nothing inherently wrong with buying at auction. What’s damaging is pushing up the prices for young artists to the point where they crash… This isn’t horse betting. You’re potentially going to damage a young person’s career." [WSJ]
— Sackler Heads Brooklyn Board: Elizabeth A. Sackler, founder of the Brooklyn Museum’s Center for Feminist Art, has been appointed as head of the museum’s board — the first woman to hold the position. [NYT]
— Rockaways! Festival Celebrates Renewal: Klaus Biesenbach and Patti Smith will rep the Rockaways this weekend with their site-specific festival. [NYT]
— Partying in Hydra: Here’s a look at Leonidas Joannou and George Economou’s exclusive post-Basel parties in Greece. [Bloomberg]
— The Cummer Museum won’t have to give up a painting it has long displayed — believed to be stolen by Nazis — after working out a deal to buy it. [First Coast News]
— Abstract painter Jennifer Wynne Reeves passed away on Sunday at age 51. [AiA]
— Spain has sent more than 700 works confiscated by police in a 2003 investigation back to Colombia. [TAN]
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The eyes have it at “Queen of the Night,” the immersive theatrical spectacle at the restored Diamond Horseshoe Supper Club in the basement of New York’s Paramount Hotel. There, amidst a bacchanalia that includes a communally shared feast of suckling pig, lobster, and ribs, and a show loosely based on Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” comely cast members roam the room inviting spectators into one-on-one intimacies that generally begin with an unsettling and prolonged stare.
“Interocular intimacy is the most universal taboo, even more universal than the incest taboo,” said Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist and professor at New York University, quoting the emotion theorist Silvan Tomkins. “We simply don’t lock eyes with strangers except when we are courting or trying to intimidate. The effect is always electric.”
At “Queen of the Night,” the line between stage and audience is highly porous and often filled with approaches from the cast members doubling as staff — “butlers,” as they are called. A hand is slipped around the waist. There are kisses to the fingertips. Or an invitation to a private room where one can engage in flirtatious games, whispered intimacies, even a ritual bath. The overtures are a full frontal assault on the impulse to shy away from strangers, avoiding eye contact and keeping one’s body at a safe remove. So how does “Queen of the Night” not only get away with it but also induce people to play along with sybaritic abandon?
“What I love about immersive theater is that you just completely make up your own rules to make sense of the world that you are creating,” said Randy Weiner, one of the presenters of the show who has also produced the downtown hit “Sleep No More,” at the McKittrick Hotel. “You come into a situation in which you don’t know the rules and someone is telling you to do this thing that is alien to you. Some people are happy to go along with it, others fight it. But if you set up the rules properly, then people tend to live by them, no matter how crazy they might seem.”
To try to understand how the production team of “Queen of the Night” has been able to skillfully tread the line between celebration and violation, ARTINFO spoke with Haidt, the author of “The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom,” about the social experiment underway at the Diamond Horseshow.
How does “Queen of the Night” manage to be so disarming in breaking through a person’s natural reserve?
Well, first the room is so beautiful. It feels like you’re in a high-class, expensive, 1930s or 1940s ballroom. In many ways it’s like a Roman orgy — let me correct that — a Roman feast with elements of sexuality. I can’t speculate on general social trends in society, but I study moral emotions and two of the main ones are moral elevation and disgust. Food and dining can be elevating and uplifting or it can be grotesque, an animal orgy. And we humans are animals, though we’ve spent thousands of years trying to cover that up.
When you attended the show, how was your interaction with the butlers?
Intense. A lot of us have a long history of flirting in our lives and this was a close proximity of it in many ways. It’s arousing for the novelty and sexuality of it. All the actors are beautiful men and women who are acting and moving in ways that are out of the ordinary. It’s visceral and unnerving. It throws you off balance the whole night because it’s constantly shifting.
Is it a power game that the butlers are playing?
They clearly have the power because, as at “Sleep No More,” we don’t know what to expect, we can’t predict what they’ll do. It’s up to them and we can’t or really shouldn’t say, “No.” The spectator has no power and that can be quite pleasurable. You’re giving yourself up to an evening.
Why can’t you just say, “No”?
You wouldn’t go there in the first place if you weren’t open to experience. “Openess to Experience” is one of the big five personality traits. People will go to something just because its new, they really appreciate having an artistic and theatrical experience they’ve never had before.
New Yorkers are famous for rolling their eyes in contempt.
New Yorkers don’t want to appear unsophisticated. So if there’s an event that’s the talk of the town, that gets rave reviews, and all your friends like it, then if you give yourself over to it no one is going to think less of you for it. And if you hold back and act like you’re above it all, you risk looking like a prude or a philistine. There’s almost a command to go along with it.
Are people likely to be more submissive by virtue of the fact that they are in a theater?
There’s a long tradition going back to Ancient Rome that the aesthetic experience makes us more passive and receptive. It calms us down and makes us more open to ideas.
What about the potential for the violation of body boundaries?
Well, moral judgments are not generally about objective physical movement. They’re about intention. If a doctor cuts into you, it’s not a moral violation. And if an actor or actress at “Queen of the Night” touches you in a way that has erotic overtones, I believe few people who elected to have this experience would feel violated. People are highly variable so it’s something that the producers — and their lawyers — have to figure out. But I would think that the rules of propriety and the boundaries of transgression are much, much wider in the theater than in almost any context of daily life.
Does the context of pigs on a spit, heaping plates of lobster, shared communal meals widen those boundaries even more?
Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy” suggests that performance has always been participatory. The idea of sitting and watching passively is a modern Western invention. Esthetic performances around the world have been much more participatory. Everybody sings, everybody dances, everybody is involved. “Queen of the Night” is anything but passive.
Do the lighting and scenic effects also encourage people as well?
It’s a setting of decadence, exclusivity, and darkness. Research shows that if you simply lower the lights, people are more likely to lie and cheat. It’s this idea that things that happen in the dark stay in the dark. Nothing bad actually happens but you feel just a little bit naughty about being there and that’s part of the pleasure of being there.
Is there something of “Queen” that takes us back to childhood, when we’re more open to fantasy?
I don’t think they’re activating thoughts and feelings from childhood. It certainly is playful. Human beings are unique in that, unlike other animals, we retain our playfulness as we mature. Humans and, I guess, dogs.
You mentioned that immersive theater as goes back to the authentic roots of the theatrical experience…
I can’t comment on the history of theater but I look at art as a psychologist. I think of the dozens and dozens of buttons and switches in our mind that never get activated. The aesthetic experiences I most treasure and remember are those that activate those buttons I had either forgotten about or didn’t know that I had. And “Queen of the Night” hit more of those than anything I can think of.
I think that Randy and the creative team are just brilliant intuitive psychologists. I think they have their finger on the pulse of the theatergoer and have designed an experience based on two things: understanding of psychology and the possibilities of the theater activating a broad range of psychological reactions.
Over the course of its 58-year history, the Museum of Arts and Design has changed its name twice. Founded by craft patron Aileen Osborn Webb as the Museum of Contemporary Crafts — an institution devoted to displaying the handmade work of artisans, craftsmen, and highly skilled individual makers — it later became the American Craft Museum. In 2002, another name change dropped “craft” from its moniker altogether. The new name succeeded in reflecting of institution’s increasingly broad spectrum of interests, but failed to explain how such an institution would fare in a city already replete with world-class museums devoted to visual art and industrial design. “The new name seemed to have been chosen mainly for its vagueness — all the arts, and design too? Isn’t design one of the arts anyway?” wrote craft scholar Glenn Adamson in Art in America, reviewing the museum’s 2011 show “The Global Africa Project.” Then-director Holly Hotchner responded to Adamson with a definition: “We had to face the fact that many people associate ‘craft’ with non-professional hobbywork or even folk art.” After Hotchner stepped down in January 2013, the museum’s board of trustees announced in September that it had selected Adamson as the new Nanette L. Laitman Director of the Museum of Arts and Design. At the time, he was the Director of Research at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The appointment represented a homecoming of sorts for Adamson, who began his museum career as a post-college intern at MAD in 1994.
Since his arrival at the Columbus Circle institution in October 2013, Adamson has sought to bridge the museum’s two wide-ranging charges, arts and design. As Adamson sees it, craft — practiced by “a person with deep knowledge and commitment to the production process, who applies that by hand to a purposeful result” — provides the “connective tissue” between art and design. Both creative fields depend on the skills of talented makers and craftspeople to achieve their material results. And making now stands to remake MAD under Adamson’s tutelage. With a renewed curatorial emphasis on handcrafted objects and a brand new biennial that opens on July 1 to celebrate the individual artisans and craftspeople who make them, the Museum of Arts and Design is poised under Adamson’s leadership to bring craft back out of the woodwork.
Adamson cuts an idiosyncratic figure in the realm of cultural administrators: the new MAD director also ranks among the leading academic experts in his field. A Yale-trained historian and theorist of craft, Adamson has authored a score of scholarly books on craft and its origins, co-founded the first academic journal devoted to craft, and served as Director of Research at the most storied design museum in the world. When he arrived to take the helm at MAD, Adamson brought comprehensive historical expertise to the institution. However, some observers, his predecessor among them, were quick to note the absence of high-level executive experience on Adamson’s CV. When asked to comment by the New York Times on the museum board’s new appointment, Hotchner saw fit to wish him good luck: “They’ve hired a curator — that’s just a challenge. I wish him lots of luck. New York is a complicated landscape in which to raise money and that’s not his background.”
Yet Adamson is proving as adept at working with the museum’s board of trustees, fundraising, and establishing a distinct institutional identity as he is capable of interpreting the products of 19th-century manufacture through Marx’s labor theory of value. “We wanted somebody who is knowledgeable and intensely supportive of our mission, which is to promote process and materials,” explains Lewis Kruger, chairman of the museum’s Board of Trustees who oversaw the campaign to recruit a new director. “It was also our thought that when a prospective funder meets Glenn, our impression was that the prospective funder would be opening their purse strings in order to fund Glenn’s initiatives. We thought that his passion and vision for the subject matter would entice and attract funders,” notes Kruger, adding, “It’s turning out to be true.”
That vision holds craft — and craftspeople — at the core of MAD’s mission and programming. “We are a museum about giving credit where credit is due,” Adamson has repeated time and again since his appointment in September. It’s an unusual refrain in the worlds of fine art and industrial design, where praise is typically accorded to the artist or designer who conceptualized an object. The skilled craftspeople often responsible for its fabrication typically remain unknown and unacknowledged. By championing the vital role of craft in both art-making and design fabrication, Adamson means to highlight the creativity and talent of the many capable artisans who rarely receive recognition for the quality of their handiwork. After all, he quips, “You’re not going to get a giant balloon dog made of steel without the work of many highly skilled people.” However, Adamson also embraces craft and its practitioners beyond the immediate context of the creative class: “I really feel like someone who is a union tradesman has a place at this museum,” he says. The entire breadth of makers, from milliners to tool and die makers to pastry chefs, is now the raw material from which Adamson and his curators organize MAD’s programming.
Adamson’s reverence for technical skill emerged when he took up drawing as a teenager. “I remember thinking when I was 15: if only I could draw like Norman Rockwell.” He planned to study art upon matriculating at Cornell University a couple years later, but couldn’t get into freshman visual art classes. He took art history instead and found that his interest in production skills had outlets there as well. During an exchange year at Harvard, Adamson took a course with Robert D. Mowrey on Chinese ceramics. When the professor passed a Tang dynasty bowl from the 10th century around the room, Adamson was enthralled: “You could sort of feel the maker’s fingers in it after a millennium! I just fell in love with ceramics and the whole idea of learning about somebody that remote in time and space from me, who would have made this thing.” As Adamson pursued his studies — he went on to earn a Ph.D. in art history at Yale, where he began writing about the relationship between craft and fine art — his interest in the creativity of skilled craftspeople expanded via conceptual art. “I went on this long journey of thinking that what was really important was people like Marcel Duchamp, and ultimately coming back to a respect for technical skills more than anything else,” he reflects. “But having had that journey, I can contextualize what it means to be technically trained: how to balance raw skill against questions of innovation and conceptual depth.”
At MAD, Adamson has set about developing programming to contextualize what it means to be technically trained for the museum’s public. The list of forthcoming exhibitions reflects his interest not only in the material qualities of handmade objects, but also in the individuals who make and champion them. “What Would Mrs. Webb Do?” opens this fall as an homage to the museum’s founder and a celebration of craft advocates who support the work of makers. “For me, it’s absolutely about continuity right back to the founder, Aileen Webb,” says Adamson, who intends to pursue her original vision of MAD as a place for appreciating and understanding craft. To that end, a survey of contemporary Latin American making, “New Territories,” opens in November. Curated by Lowery Stokes Simms, the show will present skilled craftsmen, designers, and entrepreneurs who recycle and reinvent tradition in their respective cities. With his curators deployed to Latin America “as investigative journalists” seeking out the latest and most innovative developments in local craft, Adamson promises a show that brings unknown talent to light: “You’ve probably heard of the Campana brothers. This is everybody else.” For 2015, Adamson’s plans are equally ambitious: the first exhibition ever to focus on the relationship between fine artists and their fabricators, one that will examine how different artistic intentions result in different fabrication strategies; a survey that examines the production strategies of furniture craftsman Wendell Castle; and a show about the role of female craftspeople in the emerge of 1950s modernism. Despite the breadth of their subject matter, these exhibitions share a single mission: to expose and applaud the work of talented and often underrepresented makers.
Well aware that capable and compelling craftspeople are overlooked on the museum’s home terrain, Adamson suggested a survey of New York City-based makers while he was still interviewing for the job. That idea has since expanded into a full-fledged craft biennial, with an inaugural edition opening on July 1 to celebrate the variety and creativity of 100 makers from all five boroughs. Future editions of the biennial will focus on different cities, but Adamson wanted to connect with local makers early into his tenure as a sign of support and solidarity. “This city definitely relies on makers in all sorts of unacknowledged ways. And that’s as much economic as it is aesthetic,” says Adamson. “The city is absolutely teeming with people who are worth looking at.”
To find those makers, biennial curator Jake Yuzna, the museum’s head of public programs, established various criteria for nomination: the maker must be living, represent the highest skill in their field, and subvert hierarchies of conception, production, and distribution through their practice. A large group of nominators was asked to suggest the names of local makers and craftspeople for inclusion in the biennial. The museum then established a panel chaired by design entrepreneur Murray Moss, which reviewed each candidate and made selections. The ultimate lineup reflects the sheer variety of crafts practiced in New York City. Set designers from the Metropolitan Opera, Chris Pellettieri who works as a stonecarver at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, industrial designer and furniture maker Ana Kraš, musical instrument makers from BrassLab, and architecture and fabrication firm Situ Studio are but a few of the makers selected for the biennial. All participants make a living as skilled, specialized fabricators of material culture — proof, says Adamson, that craft is an economic endeavor as much as an aesthetic activity. The program engages exhibiting makers beyond the museum galleries — for example, candy company Pappabubble are producing a custom sculpture for display, leading a candy-making demonstration, and developing a custom candy line for the museum gift shop. “It’s like a 100 day long event,” says Adamson — with the array of attendant film screenings, demonstrations, studio tours, and talks he hopes “NYC Makers” will be a festival as much as a biennial. By celebrating the talents of individual craftspeople who literally make some of the city’s renowned cultural establishments, MAD means to elevate the position of makers in the public eye and simultaneously position itself as a hub for the city’s making milieu.
New York City is home to a booming global economy of cultural consumption: fine art and high design objects are bought and sold at a frantic pace in the city’s auction houses and commercial galleries. With the sheer volume of sales, artworks and design objects have become lauded more for their resale value, than for the creativity and talent of their makers. In this frenzy over consumption, Adamson focuses instead on production. By turning the Museum of Arts and Design into a platform for understanding the work of craftspeople, artisans, and makers, MAD and its new director offer a reminder that effort, creativity, and technical skills are ultimately invaluable.
A version of this article appears in the July 2014 issue of Modern Painters magazine.
LONDON — Powered in large part by a rare to market Francis Bacon triptych, Sotheby’s lead-off contemporary evening sale charged to £93,147,500/$158,490,471. The tally, including the added on buyer’s premium, exceeded pre-sale expectations of £67.9-89.7/$115.5-142.8 million. Estimates do not reflect premiums.
Eight of the 58 lots offered failed to find buyers for a trim buy-in rate of 14 percent. The result exceeded last June’s £75.7/$116.8 million result for 53 sold lots in the same category. Twenty-one of the 51 lots sold for over a million pounds and 29 sold for over a million dollars.
Four records were set, including a hotly contested Adrian Ghenie figurative painting, “The Fake Rothko” from 2010, featuring the artist slumped over a studio couch with blood flowing from the red canvas (lot 35). It sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for £1,426,500/$2,427,190 (est. £250-350,000).
The feel good evening got off to a jaunty start with 11 guaranteed works from a cutting edge New York collection bundled under the catchy title “Ahead of the Curve: The Sender Collection,” including (lot 1) Urs Fischer’s jumbo scaled “Youyou,” comprised of two galvanized cast bronze screws, one bent and one straight, from 2004-12 that sold for £338,500/$575,958 (est. £200-300,000).
Last month in New York, 19 other guaranteed works from Adam Sender, a former hedge fund manager, made $44.6 million in that evening sale.
Tonight, the take was a more modest £4.4 million as another Sender highlight, (lot 2) Rosemarie Trockel’s ominous skull over plaid knitted work, “O.T. (Death’s Heads)” from 1990, and also large-scaled at 78 ¾ by 59 inches, sold for £482,500/$820,974. (est. £500-700,000).
Also rich in YBA (Young British Artists) material, Sender’s (lot 5) Chris Ofili painting, “Blue Riders” from 2006, inspired by the Modernist Der Blaue Reiter group, sold for £290,500/$494,286 (£150-200,000) and (lot 4) Damien Hirst’s “Kingdom of Heaven” painting from the same year, comprised of butterflies and household high-gloss paint, hit £1,082,500/$1,841,874 (est. £600-800,000).
The Sender carousel continued with (lot 10) Cindy Sherman’s grotesque, fairy-tale inspired “Untitled #145,” a 72 ½ by 49 ½ inch color photograph from an edition of six from 1985 that went for £302,500/$514,704. (est. £350-450,000).
The color yellow seemed to be in unusual evidence as a smallish scaled (lot 12) Gerhard Richter from a European private collection, “Abstraktes Bild (845-3)” from 1997, executed in oil on a composite board called Alu Dibond and featured in the Venice Biennale from the same year, sold for £2,546,500/$4,332,500 (est. £1.8-2.5 million).
Andy Warhol’s unmistakable (lot 13) “Dollar Sign (Yellow)” from 1981, large-scaled at 90 by 70 inches and featured in the Leo Castelli Gallery dollar sign exhibition of Warhols the same year, made £4,002,500/$6,810,254 (est. £3-4 million). It carried a so-called “irrevocable bid,” meaning a third-party backer insured the piece would make an undisclosed price no matter what reception it received in the salesroom. The painting was stamped on the back by both the Warhol estate and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts but not signed by the artist, a factor that sometimes negatively influences the price. Another Warhol, (lot 43) “Nine Multicolored Marilyns (Reversal Series)” from 1979-86, sold to another telephone for £4,562,500/$7,763,094.
The star offering of the evening and possibly the standout painting of the season, Francis Bacon’s electrifying (lot 15) “Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer (on light ground)” from 1964, sold to an anonymous telephone bidder after a fierce bidding battle for £26,682,500/$45,400,274 (est. £15-20 million). Bidding opened at £12.5 million and quickly jumped at £500,000 increments until around £21 million, when the pace cut back to £250,000. Auctioneer Oliver Barker smoothly rode out the bidding battle like a jockey on a thoroughbred horse.
Helena Newman, Sotheby’s seasoned Impressionist and Modern specialist, took the winning phone bid while Patti Wong, the Hong Kong-based chairman of Sotheby’s Asia, was part of the posse of underbidders.
The exquisite triptych, with each 14 by 12 inch oil on canvas framed behind glass, depicts the artist’s lover and muse, arguably the most important subject in Bacon’s oeuvre apart from his celebrated series on popes. It has been tucked away in a Milanese private collection since 1970 and was featured in a traveling Bacon retrospective in 1999 and again in 2008 at Palazzo Reale in Milan.
Wearing a light colored sweater with a crisp white collar showing, the head and shoulders view of Dyer is dramatically different in each swirling canvas, making him appear almost savage-like with a spiky crown of brown hair. Dyer committed suicide in a Paris hotel room two days before Bacon’s retrospective opened at the Grand Palais, in 1971. Other versions of the triptych reside in Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
Bacon made some 40 portraits of Dyer, and this example was done during the first year of their meeting, when Bacon caught Dyer red-handed, burglarizing his home in Reece Mews. Dyer was 29 at the time and Bacon was 54.
It is based on a small group of black and white photographs capturing Dyer on a Soho London street corner by John Deakin, his drinking partner and one of Bacon’s key cronies since the artist never painted from life but always from photographs.
“I find it easier to work,” Bacon told critic David Sylvester for a monograph published in 2000, “than actually having their presence in the room.”
Two other Bacons were also in the mix, including (lot 28) “Study for Portrait of P.L. No. 1” from 1957, featuring an earlier lover and muse, Peter Lacy, lying nude with legs bent against a white pillow, sold to an unidentified buyers in the packed salesroom for £4,450,500/$7,572,526 (est. £3.8-4.5 million) and (lot 30) the “(Seated Man)” from 1957-58, a tamer work of his sadistic lover Lacy, suited and seated cross-legged on a high-backed couch, sold to Conor Macklin of London’s Grosvenor Gallery for £2,098,500/$3,570,598 (est. £1.5-2 million).
None of the Bacons were guaranteed.
Peter Doig’s high-speed cover (lot 27), “Country-rock (wing-mirror)” from 1999, considered to be one of his major cinematic styled landscapes and never before at auction, sold to another anonymous telephone for a record £8,482,500/$14,432,974 (est. on request in the region of £9 million). The guaranteed painting beat the previous mark set last month at Christie’s New York by “Road House” from 1991, which made $11,925,000 (est. $9.5-1.5 million). Counting tonight, six Doig paintings have sold for over $10 million at auction.
The painting debuted at Doig’s breakout solo, “Wing Mirror,” at the Gavin Brown Enterprise in New York the year it was painted and when it was acquired by the seller.
Viewed as it were from the passenger side of a speeding automobile on a highway outside of Toronto, where the Scottish-born artist lived for a time, it captures a famed local landmark of a rainbow colored tunnel entrance, painted by an obsessed local (Berg Johnson) countless times from 1972 onwards until he was eventually banned by the local authorities from the vicinity of the site. The park authorities considered it vandalism and apparently grew tired of painting it over. Today it is venerated and maintained by volunteers.
Two other large-scale versions of the Don Valley Parkway rainbow exist, one of them residing at the Pinchuk Art Centre in Kiev while the other version was shown in Doig’s retrospective at Tate Britain in 2008. “Tunnel Passing (Country-rock),” a smaller and later version from 2000, sold at Sotheby’s London in June 2010 for £265,350/$399,617.
On the Italian Post-War front, (lot 53) Piero Manzoni’s “Achrome” from 1959-60, in kaolin on sewn canvas, sold to Nicolo Cardi of Milan’s Cardi Gallery for £554,500/$943,482 (est. £500-700,000) and (lot 25) Lucio Fontana’s violently slashed “Concetto Spaziale” from 1966 also sold to Cardi for £902,500/$1,535,604 (est. £800,000-1.million). The Manzoni last sold Christie’s London back in October 2007, for £378,000.
“Finally, I had some luck as a buyer,” said Cardi as he exited the salesroom, “and like a good Italian, I support the Italian artists.”
Cardi, a frequent bidder in the contemporary sales, wasn’t kidding, also nabbing (lot 19) Michelangelo Pistoletto’s “Untitled” screen print of two standing figures on mirror-like polished stainless steel for £422,500/$718,884 (est. £350-450,000).
Another serial buyer tonight was New York’s Dominique Levy Gallery, which snared four lots, including Louise Bourgeois’s sexy (lot 54) “Untitled” polished black marble sculpture from 1990, which sold for £830,500/$1,413,096 (Est. £500-700,000).
Of the two works by Yves Klein, (lot 16) “Untitled Fire Color Painting (FC 28)” from 1962, in dry pigment and resin on burnt cardboard, scorched the room at £3,218,500/$5,476,278 (est. £1-1.5 million).
In his London evening sale debut (lot 38), David Ostrowski’s mostly white abstraction interrupted by a streaking blue line, “F (Dann Lieber Nein)” from 2011 in lacquer, spray paint, and wood on canvas, fetched £122,500/$208,434 (est. £30-50,000). Another “F” painting from the series sold last month at Phillips New York day sale for a record $281,000 (est. $50-70,000). This season, both Christie’s and Phillips have an Ostrowski in their evening sales.
Like Jacob Kassay, Oscar Murillo, and Lucien Smith, these early auction outings reflect in part rampant speculation on the futures of promising young artists.
Wade Guyton, a wildly successful veteran from that scrum, sagged a bit this evening with his flame patterned “Untitled” work from 2008 (lot 39), generated by an Epson UltraChrome inkjet printer on linen, sold shy of its estimate for £1,426,500/$2,427,190 (est. £1.8-2.4 million).
There were some other seeming bargains as Jean-Michel Basquiat’s late but nervy (lot 44) “At Large” canvas from 1984 sold to Abigail Asher of New York/Los Angeles art advisory Guggenheim Asher Associates, for £1,762,500/$2,998,894 (est. £800,000-1.2 million).
It last sold here (Sotheby’s London) in June 2007 for £748,000.
“We just thought it was a very attractive piece,” said Asher as she departed the salesroom, “and we didn’t want to see an opportunity pass by. For opportunities and great things, the market is absolutely solid on both ends of that spectrum.”
The evening action for this still torrid market resumes at Christie’s Tuesday evening.
There’s a lot of gushing liquid in Katie Torn’s work, but since this is digital art we’re talking about, there’s no real danger of getting wet. There are also a number of disembodied heads, bobbing like oil derricks; a small platoon of My Little Pony figurines; and chaotic still life compositions that double as abstracted bodies. Torn’s vision, as seen through the four prints and two animations included in the exhibition, is colorful yet bleak, with a certain post-apocalyptic playfulness. Using the computer program Maya, along with a handful of others (like Poser and Zbrush), Torn is able to integrate elements of actual, purpose-built sets with purely fantastic objects created digitally. The artist conceives of it all as “virtual sculpture,” despite the fact that it’s experienced in the form of flat images on a panel or monitor.
The 32-year-old artist — most recently an Eyebeam Fellow, where she co-curated this year’s stellar “New Romantics” exhibition of digitally focused art — is set to unveil “The End of Flutter Valley” at Portland’s Upfor Gallery, opening July 3 and on view through August 2. (Her print “Aunt Lizzie” is also included as one of the sole two-dimensional works in the current survey at Postmasters, “This is what sculpture looks like.”) A turning point for Torn came when she was a student of the artist Claudia Hart, who introduced her to technology that could render digital animation in a way that generated effects more unnerving than Pixar films. “It had such a plastic feeling to it,” she said, complimentarily, of Hart’s aesthetic. It’s a feeling she’s built on in her own work: pieces like “Monument,” 2011, in which the virtual camera pans on a wild-haired mannequin form, her eyes vomiting streams of liquid; or “The Calm Before The Storm,” 2012, which depicts a hellish fantasy island composed of everyday detritus, the whole architectural mess topped by a female head sporting Ziggy Stardust-worthy makeup. (“Even if it’s a human,” Torn said, “I like it to be half-human, half-plastic.”) The soundtrack in both works is a spare, haunting wash of wind and desolation. “I always think of those scenes in Fellini,” the artist explained of the aural inspiration, “the moments on a beach, where the person is totally alone, and it switches from ‘everyday’ to ‘surreal.’”
For the accompanying prints, Torn is often looking to painting, both as a reference — Kandinsky’s gestures for one recent work, she said, or Yves Tenguy’s biomorphic forms — and an end goal (the “physical presence” achieved by how mounting the prints on aluminum over wood, which makes them look like “a painting on masonite.”) The pieces are the result of an intricate movement between the two- and three-dimensional, and between various media: An inspiration from a painting, recast as a three-dimensional virtual object in Maya, and then “photographed” within the program to create a two-dimensional print. And while they’re often still lifes of inanimate objects, they also double as portraits of a sort, like “Sleeping Beauty,” 2012, which nearly has a head, limbs, a heart, and blood (even if those roles are filled by a fake flower, pipes, a metal blob, and a variety of hot pink Kool-Aid, respectively). It’s this state of uncomfortable in-betweenness that makes Torn’s images fascinating, examining a world that seems to be simultaneously alive and dead — a lonely junk universe, an array of monuments to a civilization that killed itself. “It seduces,” Torn said of her work overall, “but then it’s toxic.”
— IMA to Show Landmark Lichtenstein: Roy Lichtenstein’s “Five Brushstrokes,” a massive five-part sculpture commissioned in the early 1980s but never assembled until now, has been acquired by the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The museum will unveil the complete work, the tallest of its five parts standing 40-feet, for the first time this August. Director and CEO of the IMA, Dr. Charles L. Venable, said in a statement, “I am confident it will become a beloved addition to the cultural landscape of our state, similar to Robert Indiana’s original LOVE, which has long greeted our visitors.” [Press Release]
— MoMA Names Michelle Elligot Chief of Archives: MoMA has promoted Michelle Elligot, formerly senior museum archivist, to a newly established position as chief of archives, effective July 1. Elligot’s primary duties will be to lead the museum in acquiring, preserving, and providing access to the institution’s archives of 20th- and 21st-century art. She will also spearhead an initiative for an electronic archive to make digitized objects from MoMA’s six-million-item collection available online. [Art Review, Press Release]
— Study Shows New York Art World Is Super White: A study conducted by the collective BFAMFAPhD that is currently part of “NYC Makers,” the Museum of Arts and Design’s new biennial, shows that the art world in New York is 200 percent whiter than the population of the city. The group drew on the US Census Bureau’s 2010-2012 American Community Survey to create some statistics of their own. One example: “New York City’s population is 33% white, but 74% of people in the city with arts degrees are white and 74% of people who make a living as artists are white.” [Hyperallergic]
— Artbinder Raises Millions: Artbinder, an iPad app that creates artwork portfolios, has raised $3.17 million in venture capital, including funds from billionaire Leon Black, who owns “The Scream.” [Bloomberg]
— Take a Sensory Tour: New York institutions like the Rubin Museum and the Metropolitan Museum provide “sensory tours” for the visually impaired. [The Observer]
— Manifesta Challenges Russia: According to Guardian critic Adrian Searle, Manifesta 10’s inclusion of artworks by Nicole Eisenman, Bruce Nauman, and others confronts Russia’s LGBT laws. [The Guardian]
— The new Shigeru Ban-designed Aspen Art Museum will open to the public on August 9. [ArtfixDaily]
— Curator Miranda Lash is leaving the New Orleans Museum of Art for the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky. [nola.com]
— The Huffington Post profiled New York City museum security guards who are also artists. [HuffPo]
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In the summer of 2006, the film critic Roger Ebert — famous for his television show and the popularization of the “two thumbs up” rating system — lost the ability to speak. After a series of surgeries for cancer in his salivary gland, complications related to a burst carotid artery necessitated the removal of his lower jaw. Mostly confined to a wheel chair, he would continue to write, still for the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started in 1966, but more prodigiously on his blog and on Twitter, where his thoughts and ideas were freed from the shackles of the newspaper column and he could meditate on his life as a writer, a husband, and a man in the world.
“Life Itself,” a new documentary opening in theaters July 4, is the story of Roger Ebert told in this reflective mode. Based on his 2011 memoir of the same title, the film, directed by Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”), uses a combination of talking-head interviews with friends, family, and colleagues, along with email interviews James conducted with Ebert, spoken in the film by a digitized voice (Ebert, for the last few years of his life, would primarily interact through a computer program that would voice his typed responses). These dialogues are intercut with excerpts from his memoir, spoken in voice over by the actor Steven Stanton in a Midwestern twang that easily passes for Ebert himself.
Part of what makes “Life Itself” appealing, and ultimately sad, is that the film is very much a collaboration between James and Ebert. The two joke around about who is directing who, and Ebert is unflinchingly straight-forward in his responses to James’s questions and his desire for the camera to show the truth of his pain. But as the film begins to wind down, it becomes heartbreakingly evident that Ebert won’t make it to see the film about his life.
But James doesn’t manipulate “Life Itself” into a tearjerker — an easy route lesser filmmakers might have taken. Instead, the film is embedded with bittersweet undertones that make it feel less like a grim funeral than a barroom eulogy. It’s a film about life, not death, with a sweeping ending worthy of any Hollywood classic. Just the way Roger would have wanted it.