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Articles on this Page
- 08/19/14--09:20: _Slideshow: See Phot...
- 08/19/14--11:00: _Winter in July: Man...
- 08/19/14--13:38: _Iconic Outfits Go o...
- 08/20/14--06:23: _Review: Dorothea Ta...
- 08/20/14--06:23: _Best Music of 2014....
- 08/20/14--07:07: _VIDEO: Foundland Co...
- 08/20/14--07:25: _DFS Masters of Wine...
- 08/20/14--07:26: _Arch Street
- 08/21/14--04:00: _Datebook: Baltimore...
- 08/21/14--04:02: _Latiff Mohidin at O...
- 08/21/14--06:36: _Koons Whitney Show ...
- 08/21/14--09:22: _Performing Arts Pic...
- 08/21/14--09:39: _Slideshow: Take a P...
- 08/22/14--04:00: _Polymorphous Perver...
- 08/22/14--06:20: _VIDEO: The Paris of...
- 08/22/14--06:57: _Christo Rafts the A...
- 08/22/14--12:44: _Strange Lands at Fi...
- 08/22/14--12:57: _Week in Review: Fro...
- 08/23/14--04:00: _Generation Next: Jo...
- 08/24/14--04:00: _Dealer's Notebook: ...
- 08/19/14--09:20: Slideshow: See Photos from Manifesta 10's Public Program
- 08/19/14--11:00: Winter in July: Manifesta’s Public Program
- 08/19/14--13:38: Iconic Outfits Go on Show at "Hollywood Costume"
- 08/20/14--06:23: Review: Dorothea Tanning's "Web of Dreams" in London
- 08/20/14--06:23: Best Music of 2014... So Far
- 08/20/14--07:07: VIDEO: Foundland Collective Examines Syria Through an Artist's Lens
- 08/20/14--07:25: DFS Masters of Wines and Spirits 2014
- 08/20/14--07:26: Arch Street
- 08/21/14--04:00: Datebook: Baltimore Summer Antiques Show
- 08/21/14--04:02: Latiff Mohidin at Opera Gallery
- 08/21/14--09:39: Slideshow: Take a Peek Inside Cincinnati's 21c Museum Hotel
- 08/22/14--06:20: VIDEO: The Paris of Toulouse-Lautrec at MoMA
- 08/22/14--06:57: Christo Rafts the Arkansas, Senior Director Ditches Basel, and More
- 08/22/14--12:44: Strange Lands at Film Society of Lincoln Center
- 08/24/14--04:00: Dealer's Notebook: Jack Shainman
On July 20, Moldovan artist Pavel Braila started a snowball fight in front of St. Petersburg’s Winter Palace. Four Mercedes sedans pulled up inside the city’s main Palace Square, and a security detail of suit-clad men emerged to deposit 660 pounds of artificial snow onto a golden table, arranged outdoors for the occasion. Braila said that he collected the fake snow in Sochi during February’s Winter Olympics, shortly after he received a commission from Manifesta for the biennial’s public program. Claiming to have preserved the snow specifically for that midsummer afternoon, Braila watched one of several performances he conceived for the 10th edition of Manifesta with bated breath. How would onlookers respond?
Having completed their task, the four men stepped aside to give the assembled crowd — small children, their mothers, curious tourists, members of the local artist community, and the city’s culture press — access to the glinting, watery mass. Within several minutes, snowballs flew in every direction as audience members spontaneously pelted each other under the shadow of the State Hermitage Museum (where Manifesta is currently on view). Braila had pitched his project as a celebration of Sochi to municipal authorities. He hoped they would approve a laudatory gesture, much as he knew the final performance would be altogether different. One ironic breach of propriety led to another, less affected one. Observing the impromptu results of his handiwork on that sunny Sunday, Braila exclaimed: “It’s perfect!”
The Chisinau-based artist’s “Cold Painting” performance was but one of nearly 100 events organized as part of Manifesta’s public program, curated by Joanna Warsza. The curator invited artists from the western republics of the former Soviet Union — previous colonial territories, like Ukraine, that are underrepresented in the main exhibition — to produce time-based commissions across St. Petersburg throughout the biennial’s four-month run. With such a wide variety of performances and artists, including Ragnar Kjartansson, Slavs and Tatars, and newcomers like Alexandra Pirici, the biennial’s public program amounts to a massive undertaking in its own right, more than a secondary complement to chief curator Kasper Konig’s main exhibition at the Hermitage. While Konig’s display demonstrates how a reactionary Russian state undermines political art’s agency by appropriating its leftist critiques, the public program shows that the government’s attitude can also be co-opted by artists. By re-appropriating elements of the current regime’s self-celebratory rhetoric, public program participants like Braila assert that things are not as they appear. In such inverted circumstances, farce proves a more effective creative tool than dissidence.
That weekend, the public program created a temporary theater of the absurd inside the Palace Square, a sprawling public space that previously hosted some of the most dramatic political turns in Russian history. In October 1917, Bolshevik troops stormed the Winter Palace and started the Soviet Union from that square; nearly a century later, Braila started a small snowball fight there, while earlier that day, Estonian artist Kristina Norman erected a modest steel sculpture in the shape of a Christmas tree amidst the square’s symbols of political might. The obvious differences between such historical and contemporary dramas overshadow their shared revolutionary spirit. By injecting spontaneity and visual dissonance into settings steeped with emblems of state power, public program artists create conditions for viewers to question the sources and symptoms of authority.
Case in point: winter reigned that day in the Palace Square, despite the July heat. In the morning, Norman, who represented Estonia at the 2009 Venice Biennale, unveiled “Souvenir,” a green steel frame that has the form, though not the foliage, of a Christmas tree. The bare-bones sculpture appears especially out-of-place against the Winter Palace’s baroque façade, painted green but covered in gilded ornamental detail. As the initial crowd dispersed, passersby approached the tree out of confusion — why is there a fake Christmas tree standing here in the middle of July? — and found a placard explaining in English and Russian its Ukrainian roots. A symbol for the infamous Christmas tree erected in Kiev’s Maidan Square, where the Ukrainian revolution began last winter, Norman’s piece proved disturbing, not merely bizarre, in light of the Malaysia Airlines plane crash that occurred in Ukraine three days prior. Norman’s effort to map Maidan onto the Palace Square extends to her video “Iron Arch,” screened at the Hermitage. Named after the triumphal arch in Maidan devoted to friendship between the Russian and Ukrainian nations, the reel shows Ukrainian artist and Maidan activist Alevtina Kakhidze navigating around the Petersburg square as though in Kiev. There, imagines Kakhidze as she walks past “Souvenir” in the short film, is where we set up the makeshift medical clinic; over there is where the soup kitchen was located, she tells the camera, pointing toward the Hermitage. Neither Norman nor Kakhidze overtly say that the Palace Square could also host a comparable popular uprising, though the suggestion looms large over the tree and its attendant film. The reminder that Petersburg’s main square has already witnessed such upheavals in the past is ever-present.
That metaphor was not lost on Russian authorities: two days after Norman premiered “Souvenir,” Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky issued an unusual statement about the piece. “People, be aware! Maidan caused chaos… Disturbances can be borne out of innocent entertainments,” he warned, insisting that “Souvenir” advises against such upheaval. “The Palace Square is vulnerable,” he explained. Yet Norman’s installation immediately revealed as much — the artist used little more than a fake Christmas tree to turn St. Petersburg’s symbolic seat of power into a site for interrogating that same authority.
“It’s only art, but it’s our tool,” said Warsza, the curator, during a discussion about contemporary art and political activism later that day. Initially, her sentiment had a defeatist ring — why fake winter in the middle of July, if it won’t change much? Yet the artist and activist Dmitry Vilensky, who was sitting in the audience, had already noted the importance of distinguishing the seasons. “It’s fucking winter outside. If you ran outside naked, full of joy with the red flag, you’d be frozen in five minutes,” he observed in 2013. “And then your brain and your body will be rather useless for the task of the future transformation,” he explained to a foreign curator who insisted that activists could overturn the Russian government. “So, if you want to do it, please take into consideration what season it is, and don’t pretend that the Californian sun is shining outside when it’s actually a Russian winter.”
LONDON — As every good student of psychoanalysis will tell you, Freud knew that a certain region of each dream lay beyond interpretation. He called this part “the dream’s navel, the spot where it reaches it down into the unknown.” The previously unseen collection of Dorothea Tanning’s haunted drawings, paintings, and ragged ephemera assembled in “Web of Dreams,” on view at Alison Jacques Gallery through October 4, often seems to emerge from this mysterious territory. If Tanning, who died in 2012 at the age of 101, has long appeared as a marginal figure in the history of Surrealism—typically referred to as Max Ernst’s wife and little else—then this show signals a mighty sea change. Here’s an artist of singular gifts and intoxicating strangeness who spent 50 years attempting to capture her dreams in their full, writhing perversity. They assume many forms, including blearily expressive and anguished blurs, a sinister ink drawing of an owl that bristles with totemic menace, and the fearful Notes for an Apocalypse, 1978, in which two sleeping figures wrestle in a room suffused with a woozily phosphorescent glow. The arrangement is remarkably sensitive to oblique formal continuities, connecting works made decades apart by the repeated jaggedness of certain limbs and the eerie recurrence of dancing shapes. Women always appear in conditions of Gothic ecstasy, swooning from fever or twisting with fear as if they’re dreaming up the tableaux Tanning has conjured around them. The pieces with female subjects feel at once like part of a submerged autobiography, an old-school psychoanalytic game in which the women incarnate fragments of Tanning’s anima, and an account of a lifelong expedition into the depths of the unconscious. These dream paintings are necessarily obscure where too often others are readily comprehensible, as the scenes that appear in our sleep rarely seem to be. But if you try to read them as expressions of madness or maternal angst then some of their ghoulish thrill is lost, too. What Tanning knows is that the unique convulsive effect of dreams can often come from something other than their weird pageantry, and lies instead in uncanny atmospheric shivers and the spooky promise of horrors just beginning to coalesce. She expertly records these elusive sensations and transmits them, strangely radiant, to the waking mind.
Creating this kind of list always proves to be a more difficult task than expected. For one, I often wonder if I’m qualified to make this list at all. I’m not really a music critic, even though I listen to a lot of music. And anyway, shouldn’t a list like this exist to help introduce people to music they might have missed throughout the chaotic early months of 2014? I fear that, especially as I’ve gotten older, my tastes have solidified, become predictable and boring. I’m not tracking emerging trends and seeking out what is happening in the shadows.
The other, and maybe more obvious reason, is that my listening tastes are so scattered that even thinking of what is the best music of 2014 ends up including music that was recorded sometimes decades earlier. Reissue culture is maybe the most exciting thing happening in music right now, and I could have (more easily) made an entire list of the best reissue releases of the year. But what is compiled below is a combination, of the new and the not so new, all released on some sort of physical format (with one exception) in 2014. This is also, of course, a partial list. There are many artists — Flying Lotus, Kanye West, Shellac — that are reportedly releasing albums in the next couple of months and that I will surly devour. For now, this what we have, a diary of my listening habits over the first three quarters of 2014. Enjoy.
FKA Twigs – “LP1”
The plainly titled “LP 1” is a delirious set of loopy and hypnotic rumbling R&B tunes from the UK-based FKA Twigs. This one has been majorly hyped over the past few months and, almost shockingly, lives up to the pre-release chatter. Her previous EP’s have been on heavy rotation in my headphones all year, and the new one will certainly be for the rest.
Madlib – “Rock Konducta Vols. 1&2” & “Piñata Beats”
One of the most baffling things to me is how people continuously sleep on everything Madlib does. I know he has a cult following, and his stuff is madly respected in underground rap circles, but everything that comes out of his chaotic and brilliant mind is undoubtedly better than most of what else is being released in that year, 2014 being no exception. So far, he has dropped two volumes of his “Rock Konducta” series — a sidebar to his longstanding classic “Beat Konducta” series — featuring a dense collage of rock music samples from all over the globe. Beat digging doesn’t get better than this. He also released “Piñata,” a collaboration with the rapper Freddie Gibbs, and then released an instrumental version of the album which is just as listenable. Some of the most pleasurable listening experiences of the year, for sure.
White Lung — “Deep Fantasy”
Ferocious punk from Canada, this one is a little more polished than their previous two albums — “It’s The Evil” and “Sorry,” both worth checking out — but still holds the same intensity. It’s a quick one at 10 songs in 22 minutes, which is part of its greatness.
Todd Terje — “It’s Album Time”
Todd Terje’s singles were at the top of my 2013 end-of-the-year list, and his album, released in April, was something totally unexpected. Instead of wall-to-wall space-disco thump, the album sees Terje expanding his sound, from the suspenseful Bryan Ferry-guested “Johnny and Mary” to the lounge-like “Alfonso Muskedunder.” All the songs incorporate Terje’s use of vintage analog synthesizers, but as a collection you never feel like you’re listening to the same song over and over again.
Evian Christ — “Waterfall” (EP)
I first heard about Evian Christ when he worked with Kanye West on last year’s “Yeezus.” Their collaboration led to one of the album’s most profane and pleasurable songs, “I’m In It,” which sounded like a porn soundtrack slowed down and played through a sound system in a subway tunnel. Needless to say, his next batch of songs matched the weirdness of his “Yeezus” appearance, and I’m looking forward to whatever he does next.
Jamie xx — “All Under One Roof Raving”
Jamie is a member of the xx, a band I don’t really like. Thankfully his solo recordings are much more engaging, and built more for the club than the dorm room. My only wish is that he would collaborate with more forward-thinking artists (imagine if he got in a room with Kanye West?) and leave those dour bandmates behind.
Fennesz — “Becs”
This is strictly for nighttime, and might be an acquired taste. It is not music to throw on when your friends are over. It is headphone music for walking home from a bar, or to left drift over you as you sleep. Christian Fennesz does things with noise I never thought possible, and every album he puts out always makes me fundamentally challenge my preconceptions about what makes music listenable. I know some noise fanatics can probably point me in the direction of more challenging or difficult stuff (please do), but for now, this is my soundtrack for the fading hours.
Shabazz Palaces — “Lese Majesty”
This is another very recent one (I picked it up less than two weeks ago) but I’m finding myself listening more and more to the leftfield future-hip-hop sound coming from Shabazz Palaces. I’m not going to even pretend I know what he’s talking about most of the time, but I enjoy falling deep within the web of abstract rhymes and obscure, swirling beats.
Cultures of Soul (record label) — “Bombay Disco” & “Tropical Disco Hustle”
If I’m being honest, this is what I’ve listened to more than anything else this year. Cultures of Soul, a small label based out of Boston, has released two of the most listenable compilations of the year. “Bombay Disco” features songs from Bollywood films of the ’80s, whose soundtracks were clearly influenced by the success of “Saturday Night Fever.” The label’s other major release, “Tropical Disco Hustle,” features a smattering of disco-influenced tracks that came out of the Caribbean during the late-’70s and early ’80s. I’m so in love with these records that I’ve made it a personal goal this year to turn people on to this music, so this, of course, is an extension of that.
Red Bull Music Academy — Hardcore Activity in Progress
Here is the one exception I mentioned earlier. Although the music played during the Red Bull Academy’s “Hardcore Activity in Progress” event was not recorded, to my knowledge, and has never been released in any kind of format, physical or digital, it was the most intense musical experience of the year for me and so I felt it deserved a place on this list. The general idea was for the event to explore the many sonic varieties of the term “hardcore,” and featured so many acts on so many different stages, all playing inside a giant warehouse at the same time, that the effect was like being in a boxing ring getting pummeled from every angle. Exhausting and thrilling in equal measure.
The Clean — “Anthology” (reissue)
Legendary New Zealand band finally getting the recognition they deserve. Merge Records reissued their “Anthology,” an essential collection of most of their (best) recorded content. All the music that came out on the Flying Nun label is having a bit of a renaissance in the last few years, and the Clean are the best of those bands. Listen to this entire thing and try to imagine a world of lo-fi indie music existing without them. One more thing: it sounds better than most, if not all, of the people who ripped them off.
Furthur Reductions — “Woodwork”
This is one I don’t know much about but purchased at a record store on a whim. Mid-temple dance music, infused with dub delays, and the type of music that manages to work in a variety of settings. I’ve gone on marathon writing sessions listening to this record over and over again, and I’ve thrown it on during a party and let it drift over the chatter and drinks.
Copeland — “Beacause I’m Worth It”
This is another record I bought on whim, based on the recommendation of somebody at the local record store where I shop and because the album cover is strangely appealing. I knew that Inga Copeland was part of the mysterious group called Hype Williams with the musician Dean Blunt. There is no easy way to describe what this record sounds like. The beats throb, noises emerge out of nowhere, sometimes grating and other times sensual, and then disappear just as quickly. Sometimes the songs sound sinister, other times they have an innocent, almost sweet quality to them. Nothing predictable about this one here, which is part of the reason why I keep listening to it.
Punk 45 — Vols. 1-3 (compilations)
These compilations, released by the estimable Soul Jazz label out of the UK, are non-stop fun. Most of the songs are not that obscure if you’re a fan of punk music from the late ’70s and early ’80s, but just having them all in one place, sounding great, is enough for me. And if you’re not well-versed in the music of the period, these serve as the perfect introductions.
Fluxion — “Broadwalk Tales”
This is another one that I picked up randomly at a record store (starting to notice a trend here?) without any clue of what it sounded like. It’s another late-night record for me, and to my ears it sounds like Kingston-born dub or lover’s rock filtered through the swirl of modern electronic hiss. It’s relaxed in a way most records are not, especially in the world of electronic music.
NEW YORK — In a small studio space in Brooklyn, Foundland, a collective comprised of Ghalia Elsrakbi and Lauren Alexander, are putting large issues from a half a world away under a microscope. Outside their studio, in the International Studio & Curatorial Program’s presentation space, they’ve mounted their first-ever exhibition in the United States, “Escape Routes and Waiting Rooms.”
Elsrakbi and Alexander are participating in a summer residency at ISCP, the first sponsored by Edge of Arabia in partnership with Art Jameel with goals to connect Middle Eastern artists with new audiences.
The collective focuses their work on analysis concerning political and social issues, such as immigration, emigration and integration. Since 2011, they’ve been focusing on how those issues have been unfolding online, specifically how social media has been used as a platform for political expression. Foundland says this exhibition was born out of a six-month residency in Cairo. The duo moved closer to Elsrakbi’s native Syria to investigate personal stories of mobility and migration in a country where freedom of movement is strictly limited.
“’Escape Routes’ is really referring to our experience of watching people who are displaced from Syria move to Egypt, witnessing a kind of displaced community forming outside of Cairo,” says Alexander, who is from South Africa but based in Amsterdam. “In the other parts of the exhibition, we try to relate more to the idea of ‘Waiting Rooms’ the status of people who are waiting with the hope that they could possibly return home but probably with their current situation being a permanent situation.”
Foundland uses a white tent — modeled on actual tents used in the Za’tari camp in Jordan, one of the largest Syrian refugee camps in the world — as a symbol for a “Waiting Room” for an unknown future. Projected on the tent are drawings collected from social media connections.
“We approached people with the simple question: could you draw the house that you left behind?” explains Alexander.
“Talking about the house that you left behind is something that is very present in any discussion you open with them,” adds Elsrakbi.
The other major installation is staged around the dinner table of a Syrian family — Elsrakbi’s own. It depicts a schematic map of her family’s movements, where most of its members have migrated over time.
“We’ve tried to give a different perspective on what you really see in the media. It’s quite clear that the conflict is very heavy and it’s bloody and this is what really dominates the image,” says Elsrakbi. “We choose to work with metaphors like a dining table and a tent to bring those little small stories that you don’t hear so much closer to the audience. It’s very difficult to find ways to tell these in the media… art makes space for this.”
As part of the collective’s summer residency as ISCP, they are also investigating Little Syria, the first major Arabic community set up in Lower Manhattan in the late 1800s. The duo will explore the immigration patterns from Arab countries to the United States during that time. They’ll dig into history to discover what the community of Little Syria meant to Manhattan: who were the big figures involved, how did it unfold and, ultimately, how did most of the area get demolished in the end to make way for Battery Park.
“There are a small group of people that are very passionate about putting this area back on the map, particularly people who are interested in Arabic literature and how that has played into the understanding or lack of understanding around what we see today,” says Alexander. “For example, people who were writing in the late 1800s, early 1900s really spoke about connecting East and West in quite an optimistic way, about how the two places interact with each other. These sorts of things are also lost in history. These are things we want to look into: what did this people say about it and what can we learn from that today.”
“Foundland: Escape Routes and Waiting Rooms" is on view through September 26th at the International Studio & Curatorial Program.
Some 575 purveyors of international collectibles gather for the 34th edition of the Baltimore Summer Antiques Show, the largest indoor fair in North America, at the Baltimore Convention Center August 21 through 24. “With the extensive selection of objects, ranging so vastly by age and place of origin, the Baltimore Summer Antiques Show is the closest anyone can come to time travel,” says Scott Diament, president and CEO of the Palm Beach Show Group.
“To complement these offerings, we have added a special white-walled modern and contemporary section.” Highlights include a 2 3⁄4-inch round gilt silver and vibrant raspberry enamel photograph frame, circa 1890, made by Fabergé master craftsman Michael Perchin in St. Petersburg, on offer for $32,000 from John Atzbach of Redmond, Washington; Edouard Leon Cortes’s oil on canvas Place de la Concorde, tendered by New York-based Rehs Galleries for $22,000; and an Art Deco floor mirror with macassar and walnut veneer from Robert E. Alker Fine Art of Houston. The fair features a pair of shows-within-a-show: Art Baltimore, ranging from old European masters to contemporary works, and a 70-dealer Antiquarian Book Fair.
A version of this article appears in the July/August issue of Art+Auction magazine.
— Koons’s Whitney Show Vandalized: Yesterday, a man who has been identified as performance artist Istvan Kantor vandalized a wall in the Whitney Museum’s Jeff Koons retrospective by splattering his own blood in the shape of an X and signing the name Monty Cantsin underneath. Hyperallergic did some detective work on Kantor and his chosen moniker and found that he is one of the founders of Neoism, as group that previously tried to deface a Koons work in a similar incident in 2004. “I just came out of mental hospital where the police took me after the Whitney I was discharged I am free I’ll put out my Supreme gift manifesto that I handed to the museum after the intervention tomorrow now I go out for a drink in the lower east side thanks for your support,” Kantor said in a Facebook statement included in an update on Hyperallergic’s original post. [Hyperallergic]
— Gwangju Biennial Head Resigns:Gwangju Biennial Foundation president and founding member Lee Yong-woo has resigned after a controversial act of censorship that led several artists to pull their work from a special exhibition celebrating the 20th anniversary of the biennial at the Gwangju Museum of Art. Yong-woo allowed for an artwork, which depicts “South Korean president Park Geun-hye being assailed by the families of children who died in the country’s MV Sewol ferry disaster” to be removed from the show. “I am taking full responsibility for what happened,” he said. [TAN]
— Amy Winehouse Immortalized in Brass: A life-size Amy Winehouse sculpture is coming to London and will be installed by the late singer’s home near Camden market. Scott Eaton will design it. "I had a meeting with Camden council and they told me they don't usually allow statues until 20 years after someone has died, but in Amy's case they made an exception," said her father, Mitch Winehouse. [The Guardian]
— Smithsonian Names Panda Its “Most Iconic Item”: Results from the Smithsonian Institution’s Summer Showdown competition have named its “most iconic item” to be a baby giant panda at the National Zoo, Bao Bao. [NYT]
— Revised Venice Cruise Ship Route No Good: A revised route for cruise ships into Venice through the Canale Contorta Sant’Angelo could potentially be harmful to its lagoon. What a shocker. [TAN]
— BP Portrait Award to Accept Digital Entries: In 2015, the National Portrait Gallery will begin accepting digital entries for the BP Portrait Award. [Art Daily]
— A professor of astrophysics has determined that Claude Monet’s “Impression, Soleil Levant” was painted at exactly 7:35 A.M. on November 13, 1872. [TAN]
— Dutch conceptualist Ger van Elk has died. [Artforum]
— Filmmaker John Waters will be the special guest at the Cincinnati’s FotoFocus biennial this fall. [TAN]
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This week’s Performing Arts Pick is “The Essential Jacques Demy,” a staggering new DVD box set containing the bulk of the French director’s output over a 30-year career, including his work with legendary actresses Anouk Aimee, Jeanne Moreau, and Catherine Deneuve.
A career-spanning collection like this can be just as fascinating for what it omits as for what it includes. On the one hand, watching the New Wave touchstone “Lola,” Demy’s first feature length film, alongside the candy-colored, Deneuve-starring musicals “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and “The Young Girls of Rochefort” is enough to demonstrate that he was a much more versatile director than many would have thought. On the other, the collection pushes a fairly conservative narrative about Demy’s career and leaves out true oddities such as “Model Shop,” his first film in English (and prominently featured in the last season of “Mad Men”), and the bizarre comedy “A Slightly Pregnant Man.” Look a little deeper than what is here, and you’ll find that Demy’s career was much weirder and more interesting than you ever realized.
“Bay of Angels” was the big surprise for me, a character study that is in many ways unlike anything else he made and that had somehow escaped me. Moreau stars as Jackie, an icy platinum blonde who joins an eager banker for a journey through the casinos of the Riviera. Despite its seaside setting it’s maybe the smallest-scale film Demy ever made, essentially a character study that is almost claustrophobic in its focus on the couple.
The other surprise in the collection is the little-seen “The World of Jacques Demy.” The 1995 documentary made by Demy’s wife Agnes Varda (a filmmaker of even more renown than Demy) is one of her best works and one of the most moving portraits of a filmmaker that has ever been made.
The beguiling fantasy “Donkey Skin” and the late-career working-class musical “Une Chambre en Ville,” one of the more underappreciated films in Demy’s oeuvre, round out the box set, along with a smattering of special features including archival interviews and visual essays.
Like most of the handful of people who had even heard of John Altoon, for a long time I was under the impression that he was merely a footnote figure in the history of the legendary Ferus Gallery stable that produced such 1960s L.A. art stars as Ed Ruscha, Larry Bell, and Ed Moses. He lived large, drank, chased the ladies, met Picasso, got committed to a mental hospital, and died young of a massive heart attack. He was on the cover of Lawrence Lipton’s Venice Beach beatnik exposé, The Holy Barbarians. He made cartoonishly explicit Pop art paintings and drawings, chock-full of genitalia, but was left in the dust by his arguably more talented and ambitious comrades.
As more attention gets paid to his work, though—culminating in his first major retrospective, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through September 14 (traveling to the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University in October), and the simultaneous publication of two substantial catalogues—it has come to light that Altoon was, in fact, the linchpin of the Ferus scene, the bigger-than-life artist whom all the others emulated; whose untimely escape-aroo was also the death knell of a utopian—if dysfunctional—pocket of artistic autonomy. And he was a better painter than most of them.
In the wake of a series of shows at the Box, Nyehaus, Luise Ross, and Mary Boone in New York, public perception of Altoon’s artistic range has expanded exponentially. Until recently, two bodies of work—his elegantly cartoonish pen-and-ink erotic scenarios and his proto-slacker biomorphic abstract paintings—have claimed most of the scant attention directed toward the L.A. native’s oeuvre. As persuasive and prescient as these works are, they become all the more remarkable in light of two other phases of his aesthetic evolution: his masterful and utterly sincere abstract expressionist period and his perversely compelling illustrational figurative works, which emerged from his on-again, off-again career in advertising.
Born in 1925 to Armenian immigrant parents, Altoon earned a scholarship to the Otis College of Art and Design with his prodigious drawing chops, but his education was interrupted by World War II and a stint as a U.S. Navy radar technician. On his repatriation, he studied commercial illustration at the Art Center School on the G.I. Bill, then transferred to the fine art program at the Chouinard Art Institute (later CalArts). In the early ’50s, he moved to New York to pursue commercial illustration and fell in with the Ab-Ex crowd (Gorky and de Kooning seem to have made big impressions), who pushed him to explore areas outside the comfort zone of his consummate draftsmanship.
While few works survive from his NYC sojourn (he was in the habit of destroying large swaths of his copious output), Altoon’s Ab-Ex period lasted until about 1960, and the paintings that survive are revelatory. Mother and Child, 1954—the second-oldest painting in the LACMA show—is an exquisite, umber-toned homage to de Kooning that rivals the master, from a time when that actually meant something. The ghost of Marsden Hartley and foreshadowings of early Georg Baselitz animate the cascading striped shingle-explosion of hisUntitled, 1960. LACMA curator Carol Eliel notes the connection to Duchamp’s Nude Descendinga Staircase in her catalogue essay, a lineage that resurfaces under more uncanny circumstances later in Altoon’s career.
After a few years in the Big Apple, Altoon was awarded a grant that enabled him to travel to Spain and devote himself to his painting. It was here, on Majorca, that he claimed to have encountered Picasso, who is said to have anointed Altoon’s precocious drawing skills, but not his painting. I’d always heard that Picasso never returned to Spain after Franco took over in 1939, but it’s the myth here that counts (Altoon’s later, erotically charged work has frequently been compared to Picasso’s late sex-crazed outpourings), years after their alleged encounter. And time and space have a way of warping in the presence of schizophrenia.
Whatever else actually transpired in Europe, Altoon eventually experienced some sort of mental breakdown and had to be escorted home to recover in his parent’s house in L.A. He found his feet quickly—landing a teaching gig at Art Center, hooking up with Kienholz and Walter Hopps, and soon finding himself the poster boy for the quirky DIY era of the original Ferus Gallery of the late ’50s. It is from this period that most of his stunning Ab-Ex pieces survive. But his mental health and the twin creeping menaces of Pop art and the sexual revolution shifted his paradigm for good.
In 1962 Altoon split up with his Hollywood-starlet wife, Fay Spain, and started hearing the voice of God telling him to “destroy all art on the face of the earth,” according to his psychoanalyst, Milton Wexler. He was then to “teach little children how to create art that was genuinely fine and noble.” Wexler took Altoon on as a patient after the troubled genius tried to put his calling into action in the gallery row along La Cienega Boulevard. Luckily, his posse subdued him before he could smash things up. Then, in 1963, in a fit of paranoia, he locked himself in his studio. He was committed to the State Mental Hospital in Camarillo, where he is said to have been given electroshock treatment.
Altoon and Wexler had daily sessions for many years, and much of the psychosexual content of the artist’s best-known work can be traced to the psychotherapeutic process. But as the comprehensive exhibition and catalogue—as well as the massive new book deriving from the 2010 Nyehaus survey show, which includes bound-in facsimiles of several historical publications—attest, his work had already begun mutating away from the serious formalism of his abstract oils. As early as 1959 we see him exploring mythological and sexual imagery in his large ink drawings, and by 1960 he has begun his “trip series,” which initiated his strategy of assembling rebuslike sequences of ambiguous biomorphic shapes floating or piled up in blank white spaces.
But 1962–63 seems to have been the year Altoon kicked into high gear on all fronts, including his “Ocean Park” and “Hyperion” series of mixed-media abstractions and the beginning of blurred boundaries between his commercial illustration and his fine art. Altoon was renowned for his rapid-fire drawing skills, knocking out stylish renderings of swinging consumers living the good life. When he turned this same skill set to lay bare the hidden persuaders at work in advertising, he produced one of the most idiosyncratic and provocative bodies of work of the Pop era.
Untitled (F-8), 1962–63, is a prime example. From the waist up, all is as it should be: a stylish, soft-focus model type in a pumpkin-orange ensemble swivels away from her southern gentleman friend, who’s lighting up a White owl–brand cigar from a prominently displayed box hovering between them. All that’s missing is the slogan (usually lettered on commission by Ed Ruscha) and some generic ad copy and it would be camera-ready. Below the belt, all hell breaks loose. Not only are both of our young professionals buck naked, but their genitals are full and frontal! The rug is pulled out from under the gauzy dream of consumer heaven, and we see that sometimes a cigar isn’t just a cigar after all. And when Altoon got hold of an airbrush, it only got sicker.
These works—and his output as a whole—are hard to contextualize art historically. Affinities abound; Gorky and Picasso are frequently cited. Homeboys Sam Francis and Craig Kauffman. The perverted airbrush advertising imagery has the queasy softness of Richard Hamilton’s concurrent domestic pastiches, while the lighthearted bacchanalian tableaux conjure the improbable specter of late Renoir. Altoon’s biomorphic abstractions have the paradoxical funny-page solidity of Peter Saul and Philip Guston when rendered in oils; the pen and airbrush versions often bring Sigmar Polke’s drawing style to mind.
Altoon’s final innovation came as his tumultuous life seemed to be settling down under the influence of his second wife, Babs. While the former prodigy’s elegant penmanship had played an important part in his work all along, in 1966 he embarked on the overdrive production of ink drawings straight from his id: hilariously monstrous cartoons of human-animal hybrids engaged in all manner of sexual escapades; a giant penis on a roller skate proffering a bouquet to a despondent naked lady; a sexually indeterminate figure roasting a shish kebab over the flame-engulfed lower torso of a naked lady in a bathtub—the stuff that dreams are made of.
Even more remarkable is the fact that they were rendered in a sophisticated modern cartooning style, fully informed by the erudite traditions of Saul, Steinberg et al, but exhibiting a sexual frankness that was only just percolating in the nascent underground comix scene in San Francisco. This explicitness began to leak into Altoon’s other work, particularly the ongoing series of goofy, candy-colored organic pile-ups on white grounds that now began to enclose small rectangular frames—like windows or video monitors—containing erotic figurative ink drawings. Several of these have an eerie similarity to the reclining nude in Duchamp’s final work, Etant donnés, which wouldn’t be made public until July 1969—five months after Altoon’s death from a massive coronary.
It was also one of these hybrid portals that made a fan out of a young Paul McCarthy, who saw it reproduced in Art in America in 1966 (and who has recently been doing his own nightmare variations on Etant donnés). “It was,” he recalls, “‘Wow!’ Altoon was, all of a sudden, one of my favorite artists.” McCarthy’s ongoing enthusiasm has been a major factor in Altoon’s revival, and the former’s 1996 installation Yahoo Town, featuring roboticized Western-themed mannequins (with a few animal-headed grotesqueries for good measure), is clearly a curdled theme-park homage to the original L.A. bad-boy artist’s late suite of erotic Cowboys-and-Indians drawings.
Still, there’s something strangely untransgressive about Altoon’s work, no matter how kinky it gets—and it gets pretty kinky! Ultimately, the artist’s unrestrained eroticism reaches back to invigorate even his purely formalist abstractions, testifying to an inherent sensual continuity between the language of color and shape and the pictorial representation of flesh; between the creative act and the voyeur’s gaze—a concept with which Duchamp was all too familiar.
In one of several brief artists’ essays included in the LACMA catalogue, Monica Majoli observes that Altoon’s work “hints that at the base of the creative impulse is an artist’s sexual pleasure [that] intimates a continuum between sexual gratification, sensuality, and artistic fecundity.... in sexualizing both the making and the looking at an image, Altoon implicates himself and foists his viewer into the discomfiting role of conspirator.” Discomfiting perhaps, but there’s a disarming innocence to his indiscriminate eroticism that validates the entire world with the undifferentiated libidinous enthusiasm of a newborn. What’s not to love?
A version of this article appears in the June 2014 issue of Modern Painters magazine.
NEW YORK — After more than 30 years, the Museum of Modern Art brings together over 100 original prints and posters from legendary post-impressionist, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901), in “The Paris of Toulouse-Lautrec: Prints and Posters.”
Organized thematically, the exhibition focuses on the Parisian life and its inspiration for Lautrec’s myriad of posters and illustrations, depicting his observations of politics and the rise of popular entertainment such as cabarets and café-concerts in the late 19th century.
“In his practice, he really is an observer,” said Sarah Suzuki, Associate Curator at the Department of Drawings and Prints at MoMA. “All depicted with a gimlet eye. There is not really a gloss.”
From rare color posters portraying Jane Avril and her performance at the Jardin de Paris to his pivotal portfolio of 12 works Elles (1896), which captures the quiet moments of brothel workers pinning their hair or having coffee in the boudoir, Lautrec found inspiration from all walks of Parisian city life, despite his aristocratic background.
The exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53 Street in Manhattan, is open now through March 22nd.
— Christo Rafts the Arkansas: Christo has taken his first rafting trip down the river that he hopes to cover in nearly six miles worth of fabric. Although he is still battling lawsuits that are attempting to block his Arkansas River project, the artist is working away on the logistical aspects of the work. “We need to install many things, we need to install anchors for the cables,” Christo said. “We need at least three years before the exhibition.” [CBS]
— Another Art Basel Executive Departure: Art Basel sees its second executive departure this summer with the loss of Annette Schönholzer, its director of new initiatives. Schönholzer, who has been with Basel for 12 years, will “pursue other opportunities in the cultural sphere” and act as a consultant for the art fair, according to the Art Newspaper. The news comes after Art Basel Asia director Magnus Renfrew stepped down in July to join Bonhams in September. [TAN]
— Morocco Opens Its First National Museum in 50 Years: Morocco’s first national museum in 50 years, the Mohammed VI Musée National d’Art Moderne et Contemporaine, is set to open on September 25. With archaologist and conservator Abdelazzi Idrissi at the helm as director, and curator Mohhamed Rachdi on board, the Rabat museum plans to host exhibitions of non-contemporary art as well, like next spring’s “Medieval Morocco,” a traveling show that opens at the Louvre in October. As for what to expect from Rachdi, he told the Art Newspaper, “My goal is to stage an exhibition that will serve as a model for the museum’s collection and function.” [TAN]
— USPS Honors Hudson River School: The U.S. Postal Service will feature four Hudson River School painters — Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand, Frederic Church and Thomas Moran — on its newest stamps. [Chicago Tribune]
— Warhol Reintroduces Father and Son: The son of a bank robber found out his father was part of Warhol’s “13 Most Wanted Men” because it is the subject of a show at the Queens Museum. [NYT]
— All of Cindy Sherman’s Wigs: Photographer Leanne Shapton condensed all 156 of Cindy Sherman’s wigs into a 24-second stop-motion video. [T Magazine]
— The artist Dread Scott has written a piece responding to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, for the Walker Art Center’s website. [Walker Art Center]
— The Getty has hired Jeffrey Spier as senior curator of antiquities and David Gasparotto as senior curator of paintings. [LAT]
— LACMA is officially the first museum to join Snapchat. [Hyperallergic]
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The shift in science fiction literature around the halfway mark of the 20th century, when a new wave of writers turned away from the “narrow imaginative limits” of the genre in favor of an exploration of the mysteries of the “inner life” — in the words of J.G. Ballard — was a line drawn in the martian soil. Space exploration and the uncertainty of extraterrestrial life were quickly becoming cliché, relics of science fiction’s murky juvenile roots in pulp magazines and dime-store paperbacks. It was time to turn attention from the sky to the ground, where the world was turning out to be just as weird and dangerous as outer space.
Science fiction films would soon follow suit. “Strange Lands: International Sci-Fi,” a new series at the Film Society of Lincoln Center opening August 22, maps out a shadowy enclave of the genre’s cinematic history, where the only rule, it seems, was that none were allowed. The peripatetic series hopscotches around Europe with a soft focus on the Eastern Bloc, highlighting a dizzying array of modes that expand the definitions of science fiction.
In part, the shift was a bid for greater seriousness. The outer limits charted by science fiction were always in dialogue with a coded present, but the conversation needed to be constructed in new ways. Kingsley Amis, in a widely cited survey of the genre, likened it to jazz and offered a view typical of the period: both popular forms, he wrote, “have thrown up a large number of interesting and competent figures without producing anybody of first rate importance.” Time would prove Amis wrong, of course. Philip K. Dick—whose most prophetic works would be published in the next decade—along with the Ballard, Octavia Butler, Samuel Delany, and many others became celebrated stylists who reshaped the forms science-fiction writing could take and the subjects it could address.
Stanislaw Lem and the Strugatsky brothers, writing in Poland and the Soviet Union respectively, were towering figures in Eastern Bloc sci-fi. Much of their work was not recognized in the United States until much later, but they were adapted by the great Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky in two films, now considered classics, released seven years apart — “Solaris,” based on Lem’s novel of the same name, and “Stalker,” based on the Strugatskys’ novel “Roadside Picnic.” The influence of Tarkovsky’s films can be seen across much of the work featured in “Strange Lands,” and his two major science-fiction films — one set in space, the other in a future world that looks like a war torn present — form nice bookends for the work included in the series.
All the films are worth seeing (and many of them are so rare this may be your only chance), but here are a few key titles that really should be seen on the big screen in order to aprreciate their prophetic and zany glory.
GROOVIEST PARTY IN THE GDR
“In The Dust of Stars,” 1976 (August 23)
A candy-colored fantasia produced by East Germany’s DEFA Studios, it concerns a group of space travelers who respond to a distress call from a nearby planet, only to arrive and find that everyone seems suspiciously friendly. The studio only produced four science-fiction films, and this was the final and best one, engaging in its campiness and grandiose vision. “Eolomea” (August 23), another DEFA-produced curiosity, screens in the series as well.
LAND OF THE LOST
“Morel’s Invention,” 1974 (August 27)
“The End of August at the Hotel Ozone,” 1967 (August 28)
The two best films in the series present a stark contrast to the decadent DEFA productions. “Morel’s Invention,” an adaptation of Adolfo Bioy Casares’s slim novel of the same name, concerns an escaped criminal — we never learn his crime — who discovers the wealthy inhabitants of a deserted island are strangely disregarding his presence. Produced in Italy and featuring Anna Karina in one of the main roles, this mind-bender features a stunning, almost wordless introduction and demands multiple viewings to navigate its hypnotic maze. “The End of August at the Hotel Ozone” is a forgotten masterpiece of the Czech New Wave, featuring an almost all female cast rummaging through the abandoned countryside after a nuclear attack. Shot in bracing black-and-white and featuring a deft array of compositions, it’s one of the more startling and thrilling films in the series.
“Golem,” 1980 (August 25)
“The 10th Victim,” 1965 (August 27)
Two visions of the future, both grim (are visions of the future ever not grim?). “Golem,” directed by Piotr Szulkin and produced in Poland, is about a rouge clone who has escaped the scientists who created him. The film has the disorienting influence of Stanislaw Lem while copping some of the visual-paranoia from Orson Welles’s adaptation of Kafka’s “The Trial,” with nods to Tarkovsky in between. “The 10th Victim” is a more opulent affair, starring Ursula Andress and Marcello Mastroianni (sporting a close-cropped, Lou Reed-like blonde hairdo) as participants in a television program that features contestants hunting each other like wild animals. Directed by Elio Petri (who would later on make some of the best poliziotteschi films of the 1970s), the film is prescient in its dizzying-view of the furthest reaches of a media-obsessed culture
— Christopher Kareska reported that Gagosian has organized its first show with the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation.
— Ashton Cooper talked with artistic director Sylvie Fortin about remodeling the Montreal Biennial.
— Martin Gayford reviewed “Radical Geometry” at London’s Royal Academy of Arts.
— Ashton Cooper interviewed the founders of the forthcoming Honolulu Biennial.
— Charlie Fox reviewed Dorothea Tanning's "Web of Dreams" at Alison Jacques Gallery in London.
— Ed Schad profiled painter Joe Reihsen for Modern Painters.
— The Tom of Finland Foundation tapped ten art stars to judge its 10th annual emerging arist competition.
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When it was announced in January of this year that Philippe Vergne, of New York’s Dia Art Foundation, would be taking over for Jeffrey Deitch as director at the embattled Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the city was abuzz. Shortly after Vergne’s arrival, lawyer Joshua Roth and his wife, Sonya, hosted a small dinner party to welcome the new director and his wife, independent curator Sylvia Chivaratanond. Guests including Alex Israel and Sam Durant dined in view of their own artworks in the Roths’ Hancock Park home, where the couple are building a collection of pieces by artists of their own generation.
Roth knew he wanted to contribute in some way to the launch of a new era at the institution. He had a history there, having served on MOCA’s drawings committee and as co-chair of the Fresh benefit auction held in March 2012, during Deitch’s tenure. “Jeffrey is a friend and a mentor and someone I admire,” Roth says, choosing his words carefully. “But Philippe has come at a critical moment, when MOCA has more money than it has ever had, and I want to be involved with the museum’s reemergence.”
He and Vergne hit it off that night in March, and by the beginning of April they had a plan in place for the Director’s Council, a new patron group that Roth will chair. “We want to get together a critical mass of future philanthropists, people who are not yet ready to join a board,” he explains.
Not that the commitments will be much lighter: “The goal is to assemble a sizable six-figure number from the members. We’ll also make six to eight studio visits a year, asking all of those artists to submit pieces to be purchased for the permanent collection,” he says. “At the same time, we want to expose the council members to policy issues such as budgeting, attendance numbers, and community outreach, to show people how to create a sustainable museum.” Unspoken is the aim to cultivate and widen the pool of patrons who will step into leadership roles not just at MOCA, but at all of the city’s museums.
Such unabashed ambition initially seems out of sync with Roth’s youth (he is 36) and genial manner. But his engagement with and passion for art permeate all aspects of his life, from the friends he keeps and his travel schedule to his circa-1919 Mediterranean revival home, which he and his wife chose in part for the ample wall space. The rooms are packed with works by mostly young Los Angeles artists, including Mark Flood, Jason Rhoades, and Kaari Upson, as well as lesser-known artist’s artists like Nathan Hylden and Larry Johnson.
Art likewise played a decisive factor in setting his career path. When he entered law school, Roth thought he might like to be a litigator (Sonya is a deputy attorney general for the State of California), but he soon realized he could integrate his longtime love of art with the legal profession. Today he leads on all art-related accounts at Glaser Weil, drawing up contracts between artists and their galleries, negotiating licensing deals, vetting the language in gallery sales contracts, and helping collectors secure loans against their art. Clients include Regen Projects, Andrea Rosen Gallery, Sprüth Magers, Mark Grotjahn, Jordan Wolfson, and several major banks and boutique art-loan specialists.
“It has always been my dream to be around art all of the time,” he says. “I feel lucky because in some small way I am able to assist artists with their process. And they get the benefit of having a lawyer who really knows all corners of the art world.”
Roth’s love for art was kindled in childhood. His father, Steven Roth, cofounded the Hollywood talent firm Creative Artists Agency and was on the board of International Creative Management before shifting his focus to the oil industry. He began collecting art in the 1980s and has served on the boards of both LACMA and MOCA. “My dad got his start buying Lichtenstein prints and Hockney drawings,” the younger Roth recalls. “By the time I was a teenager, we would spend family time going to galleries and museum openings. We would have conversations around the dinner table about this Baldessari versus that one.”
Growing up with two busy doctors as parents, Sonya had less exposure to art. “After moving to New York, I was more interested in art. It’s so prevalent there with the number of museums and galleries,” she says. “L.A.’s scene is wonderful, so creative and artist-driven, but it is harder to be involved in the arts in Los Angeles. You do have to seek it out; the distances are so far you have to be really committed to see everything.” Sonya and Josh met after her return to the West Coast during their first year at Loyola Law School in downtown Los Angeles, and soon they embarked on their partnership as collectors. Josh had just made his first purchase: a baseball-themed watercolor by Raymond Pettibon, whose rebellious spirit and deep ties to Southern California appealed to the nascent collector. The couple’s law-school years were equally important for the education they got off-campus. “We had classes three to four days a week and we would do reading at night,” recalls Josh. But almost every day we would get up and go for a hike and then go to galleries.”
“We were lucky,” says Sonya. “We were kids and they weren’t going to make a lot of money off us, yet we had a lot of people who were patient and made time for us.” They rattle off names of some of today’s most important L.A. dealers: Shaun Regen, Tim Blum and Jeff Poe, Richard Telles, and David Kordansky, back when he was in a small space off Chung King Road in Chinatown.
The couple connected with artists close to their own age. They both vividly recall a studio visit with Sterling Ruby at the time of his 2006 “Interior Designer” show at Marc Foxx, from which they bought a collage. “The studio visit blew my mind,” says Sonya, “because he was the first artist I had seen who just completely knew what he was doing. Everything fit together; he had a singular purpose and idea. It was completely off the wall—either you loved it or you hated it—but that was what he was doing.” The visit led to early purchases of another collage and a sculpture.
They had a similar response to Paul McCarthy and the late Mike Kelley, who, although somewhat older, is a touchstone for many of the artists in their collection. “From a historical perspective, Kelley has always been one of our favorite artists because of what he did in terms of creating an all-encompassing practice,” Josh says. “Although Sterling’s work is very different in that it is related to Postminimalism, we think of him as the next generation of Mike Kelley in terms of having this multidisciplinary practice.”
Rhoades provided another sort of enveloping art environment, with the late artist’s now legendary Black Pussy Soirée Cabarets. Still in law school, the couple were invited by a new friend at the time, Israel, who was working as Rhoades’s studio assistant. “Most people experience art as an object. But this was like being invited into the inner workings of someone’s mind,” recalls Josh. “It was fun and irreverent, and obviously there were sexual undertones and rock culture allusions. Ten years later, I am realizing how lucky we were. Things like that don’t just happen all the time.”
Sonya marked the end of law school with a gift for Josh of two Nathan Hylden collages that are displayed in their bedroom. And other family events tie in to the art world as well. “I want to pass on my love of art,” says Josh. “So the first time our daughter Anabel was allowed out of the house, at one month old, we went to a Baldessari opening at the Margo Leavin Gallery. Since then she has been to every gallery. When she was a year old, she was just fascinated by the Bruce Nauman piece For Beginners at LACMA, and she would imitate the hand movements.”
Despite the pressures of two legal careers and taking care of Anabel, now four, and her one-year-old sister, Colette, the couple make weekly rounds to galleries to keep up with the growing list of artists they collect and to discover new names. “Some people are only on the hunt for the next big thing, and I don’t really get into that,” says Josh. “I want to collect an artist like Sam Durant in depth, buying as many things as I can that are great representations of his work, because I think he is a truly important artist.” A light box by Durant emblazoned with the words “Tell it like it is!” hangs in the study above a Jean Prouvé daybed from the Lycée Fabert.
The Roths’ art selection is ecumenical, spanning a range from gestural abstraction to stark representation and from the jokey to the meditative, and when discussing specific works, they take each artist on his or her own terms. They are energized by the process of discovery, particularly when they have the opportunity to meet and talk with an artist about the genesis of a work. At the time of neo-Earth artist Sam Falls’s show last year at LAXART, they made an initial studio visit, and then another in the company of LACMA contemporary art curator Franklin Sirmans. “We saw the complete range of his work,” Sonya says, “and ended up really wanting one of his rope paintings. He lays a rope on the canvas with pigments and lets the rain make it happen; when the rope comes off you have the essence of the rope. They are very process-driven, yet beautiful.” They walked away with one of his wind-chime photographs instead, but as with most of the artists in their collection, they plan to collect Falls’s work in depth and are willing to wait for prime examples to become available.
Another recent discovery for them is Kaari Upson, whose painted, molded-silicone “mattress” currently appears alongside large canvases by Flood, Israel, and Lucien Smith in the sun-drenched study. The mix of distinct styles hung cheek by jowl seems to heighten each piece. Visible through the elegantly arched doorway to the living room are a large canvas of stylized flowers by Jonas Wood, a Johnson photograph above the fireplace, and the early Ruby sculpture in metallic glazed ceramic on a table placed in front of his Day-Glo orange collage. A mural-size McCarthy photograph of a soiled teddy bear is around the corner, equal parts cute and unsettling.
Stacked on the floor under windows and on every tabletop are art books and monographs on the likes of Christopher Wool and Julian Schnabel, as much of an addiction as the art itself, Josh admits. The furnishings, clearly meant to play a supporting role behind the artwork, give the home a designed but relaxed and livable feel. Despite their understated presence, the eclectic pieces have been carefully selected by the Roths. In the living room and study are two Pierre Jeanneret chairs from Chandigarh, a leather sofa by Børge Mogensen, Jean Royère wall sconces, and an Arne Jacobsen lamp, as well as African tables and a distressed-leather English armchair dating from the 17th century.
The dining room, anchored by an 18th-century French farmhouse table and equally rustic English chairs of the same vintage, is dominated by a mural-size Joe Bradley painting from 2012. The walls also feature the Pettibon watercolor and a “pie painting” by Smith, with pie tins and splashes of white plaster clinging to the surface like a slapstick joke. In the foyer, ceramic vessels by Shio Kusaka (sometimes the subject of paintings by Wood, her husband) sit on a worn yet stately side table from Mexico below a rubbing by Cyprien Gaillard of a manhole cover that says “City of L.A. Made in India.”
Upstairs, the master bedroom contains more intimate artworks, such as the Hylden collages, that mingle with Swedish Rococo and Gustavian furniture. Another work by Gaillard, a painting of the Cleveland Indians’ mascot superimposed on a landscape, hangs above the bed. The guest bedroom has become a storage area for works awaiting installation, like a neon sculpture by filmmaker Kenneth Anger that spells out “Hollywood Babylon” over a pair of pink lips. “It’s the only object he’s ever made,” says Josh. “And it is going to be a major production to get it installed over the fireplace.”
More shifting will take place this summer when the Bradley painting departs the dining room for six months on a loan to the artist’s retrospective at Le Consortium in Dijon, France. Roth sees such loans as an obligation for collectors. Extending that notion of duty, he has promised gifts from his own collection to LACMA. Under the umbrella of a family foundation, he will donate a Wool painting from his series shown at the Venice Biennale in 2011, and two Andreas Gursky water photographs that he hopes will become part of a suite in a sort of meditation room planned for Peter Zumthor’s redesign.
Like his commitment to collecting artists in depth and his sense of responsibility to local institutions, Roth’s generosity reflects the traditional values of the collector-as-patron that he absorbed early in life from his father and is looking forward to passing on to future generations. But he is afraid these values are being eroded. Over the course of two hours discussing art and artists, the laid-back lawyer became agitated only when the conversation turned to flipping artworks, as some buyers do with hot, of-the-moment names like Jacob Kassay and Lucien Smith. “At the end of the day, some of these young artists’ careers will be significantly and negatively impacted by these market plays,” laments Roth. “Kassay has one body of work that has been sought-after in the market. But go to Xavier Hufkens’s website and see what he did there a couple years ago, and look what he has shown at Lisa Spellman’s 303 Gallery in New York. Look at the work and forget what the silver paintings went for at auction. The same with Lucien—he’s a 25-year-old artist who has a lot of interesting ideas. We haven’t seen that many shows, and he is owed the benefit of the doubt. He is showing up in his studio and doing his job every day. I am eager to see where he goes in the next 10 years. I will ignore the auction records and make my decision based on his practice.”
Josh’s decisions won’t be driven by the amount of wall space available, though. Jokes Sonya, “That’s what they say defines a collector, right? Someone who just keeps buying art when there is no more space on the walls.”
A version of this article appears in the July/August 2014 issue of Art+Auction magazine.
Click HERE to see a video interview with Jack Shainman.
NAME: Jack Shainman
HAILS FROM: Williamstown, Massachusetts
PRESIDES OVER: Jack Shainman Gallery, 513 West 20th Street and 524 West 24th Street, New York, NY; and 25 Broad Street, Kinderhook, NY
GALLERY’S SPECIALTY: Contemporary art
ARTISTS SHOWN: El Anatsui, Radcliffe Bailey, Yoan Capote, Nick Cave, Gehard Demetz, Vibha Galhotra, Barkley L. Hendricks, Brad Kahlhamer, Hayv Kahraman, Titus Kaphar, L.N. Tallur, Kerry James Marshall, Enrique Martinez Celaya, Richard Mosse,Odili Donald Odita, Toyin Odutola, Michael Snow, Susana Solano, Hank Willis Thomas, Carlos Vega, Carrie Mae Weems, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye
FIRST GALLERY SHOW: Paintings by Claude Simard, in 1984
Tell us about your background. Do you remember the first work of
art that captured your attention?
My father was a professor at Williams College, so I grew up with the Clark Institute and the Williams College Museum of Art. They are the reason I do what I do, and it is so gratifying to see my artists installed in those venues. The William-Adolphe Bouguereau at the Clark with the nymphs leading the satyr was always an attention grabber.
What drew you to the business, and how does your personal taste influence the type of artists you show?
It always felt innate. Growing up, I would save up all my money to buy work from art students. I had that collector gene. Perhaps having a gallery was a way to feed it. As for personal taste, it absolutely influences the artists I show. To represent an artist, I have to be in love with the work and want to own it myself.
What sets your gallery apart?
I represent artists from around the world and bring artwork into the arena that may otherwise be overlooked. But that is only a small part of it. The artists we work with have a rare combination of formally excellent work that also often has a political engagement or a social commitment.
What are the biggest challenges you face as an art dealer?
Keeping the lights on! I am grateful that our artists are doing so well and that we have been able to expand to The School in Kinderhook, to 24th Street, and also to the seventh floor of 20th Street. I feel responsible for presenting work that will keep the gallery alive and growing without compromising quality or succumbing to market needs.
How has the art landscape changed since you started out? Where
do you see it headed in 5, 10 years?
Most of my current staff wasn’t even born when I opened the gallery. But in 30 years of business, I can say that the landscape has changed immensely. I watched everyone move from the East Village to SoHo to Chelsea and beyond. I remember how everything used to happen in person before we sent JPEGs and PDFs, how it was about being in a space together, but also how exciting it was when we got a website and the art world became global. As for the future, I’ve seen bubbles come and go. I think contemporary art is a force that is here to stay, but I also anticipate that there will be bumps along the road as it grows, and we all have to be smart and think long-term.
What is your view on art fairs?
They are a necessary evil. I limit our participation because it takes away from the gallery and puts a lot of pressure on the artists. It’s very rewarding to focus on exhibitions at home and museum exhibitions elsewhere. All that being said, it is also great to have everyone in the art world in one place, meet new people, and put together the booths.
Are there any works that have been painful to part with?
I wish I had bought a work from Kerry James Marshall’s first show at the gallery. They were relatively inexpensive, but I just couldn’t afford it at the time when I was just starting out. Every time I see one I sigh.
What is the best advice you’ve received about buying or selling art?
Buy what you love and make sure you are selling to people who are also buying what they love.
What are the most important skills for an art dealer to have?
We must listen and remember that our job is to do the very best for the artists and their work. When I have to make tough decisions, I step back and think about what is best for the work. That usually helps all the noise fall away, and the decision becomes clear.
If you could own any artwork, price no object, what would it be?
Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling. I could install it at The School. I already have a place picked out.
If you were not an art dealer, what would you be doing?
I would be riding horses—hunters and jumpers—full-time.
A version of this article appears in the July/August 2014 issue of Art+Auction magazine.