Munich/Salzburg/Vienna Top 10

One of my favorite things is to travel to see art. As you know, I've half-jokingly described myself as an Art Ninja: I feel I'm wearing x-ray goggles, and my mind and heart race as I weave through museum crowds like a wisp of a shadow. Travel, getting out of one's world and away from one's cares and duties, frees up the mind. Art viewing skills are heightened and I have the capacity to clock more museum time. Thankfully, my patient spouse is game for my relentless and (let's face it) greedy approach to museum-going.  But, how much of it sticks? I mean, really sticks? I like to fully immerse myself, see and read as much as possible, take notes and photos, and then sit down a few weeks (or months) later to recall the few works, of the thousands that I may have seen during a trip, that have permanently adhered to my brain cells. My beloved and I recently spent two weeks in Munich, Salzburg and Vienna, and I'm still sorting through museum ticket stubs, catalogues and books, hundreds of photos and a notebook filled with my decidedly unattractive scrawl. But, here are a few things (in no particular order) that I'm still thinking about and continue to see, as afterimages.

1. Edouard Manet, Luncheon in the Studio, 1868


There are a number of treasures at the Neue Pinakothek in Munich, including several terrific van Goghs, a moody Gauguin, a decent Monet and an interesting Bonnard, but this Manet really knocked my socks off.  The first thing that popped into my mind was, "That black!  Manet's black! Boy, I would love to be a fly on the wall, listening to Manet and Kerry James Marshall discussing the color black!" In this case, the young man's black jacket takes hold of your eyeballs and doesn't let go. It's a bit shocking, really, in a purely retinal/optical sense. And then...the eyes begin to take in the scene. What's going on here? The space has a strange push/pull, like a wheezing accordion, opening and closing in only the midrange. The oysters and the lemon...oh, the lemon peel! So tantalizingly tangible, just falling off the edge of the table. The young man, one Leon Leenhoff-Koella, seems plucked from another scene, and pasted onto this one. He was allegedly the younger brother of Manet's wife, Suzanne Leenhoff, but was possibly her son, maybe from a relationship with Manet prior to their marriage. Thus, the woman in the painting might be his mother, and the man might be Manet, who might be the young man's father. However, scholars seem to disagree about this, and of course we will probably never know the truth. To the left is a pile of weapons and armor, in relatively sharp focus. I thought, "This young man is in a toxic family and he's aiming to get the hell out of Dodge." A fantastic painting, in true Manet-mystery fashion. Apparently, I'm not the only one seduced by the black jacket. I found this quote on  "Henri Matisse saw Lunch in the Studio in 1910, and was so struck by it that thirty-six years later he could bring details of the work to mind: 'The Orientals used black as a colour, particularly the Japanese in their prints. Closer to us, there is a certain painting by Manet, I remember the black velvet jacket of the young man with the straw hat is in downright black and light.'"


2. Mike Kelley, Untitled, 1991


I was delighted to stumble across this gem, part of the The Michael and Eleonore Stoffel Foundation at the Pinakothek der Moderne, in Munich. In general, I respond to Kelley's works as I would to an old friend kicking me in the gut: a mixture of surprise, pain, anger and sadness. But, wait! Back up! Before the gut punch: a brief, naive moment of pleasure and joy, even. Pleasure, in response to the formal qualities of the work. Joy, in the feeling of recognition: I know this. Case in point: a patchwork of 70s & 80s wool sweaters, with a carefully arranged assortment of panels, some merely blocks of solids and stripes, some displaying vintage graphic logos of ski resorts. For a moment, I was lost in a reverie, thinking of guys and girls with feathered hair, wearing Levis and brightly colored ski jackets, hot-dogging on the slopes. But... oh, wait, what's that? An oddly-proportioned dummy’s torso, adorned in a sweater of similar patches. But in this case they are arranged like so many colorful bricks, and sewn together with very prominent, thick stitches (think Frankenstein's monster). Suddenly: an intense wave of sadness for the outsiders (Yes, me. Yes, us.) living in a world of insiders.  

3. Max Beckmann, The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1937


Beckmann painted nine large triptychs in the 30s, following his dismissal from his position at the Frankfurt School of Art in 1933 (after which he fled to the Netherlands for a self-imposed exile from Nazi Germany). I think I've seen three of them. I felt a chill down my spine when I turned a corner in the Pinakothek der Moderne and into a gallery containing several Beckmanns. Seeing them in Munich felt different than seeing them elsewhere. The vivid, relentlessly violent imagery, the compact compositions and the high color are an unequivocal indictment of human cruelty. Legs and arms are torqued into impossible positions, compositions are compressed and claustrophobic and the graphic use of black (and the triptych format) harken to medieval art. The reds and blacks and nickel yellows are thrilling, but they're just a smidge away from being nauseating. I stared at this painting for a very long time. The only other people in the gallery were the guard and a very old German man who brought one of the portable museum stools into the room. He sat. I stood. We stared in silence. 

4. Martha Rosler, Untitled Postcard, 1973


Well, this was a surprise! We spent a couple of days in postcard-picture-perfect Salzburg, in the historic city center, amidst its Christmas markets, castles, churches, fanciful shops and incredible views of snow-capped mountains. We popped into the Museum der Moderne's Rupertinum  (the old town location; the main museum is situated high above the rooftops of on Salzburg's Mönchsberg). The Rupertinum is a small baroque building in the heart of the old town. We were delighted by the Art & Politics exhibition. An excerpt from Curator Stefanie Grünangerl, Librarian Museum der Moderne Salzburg:

"This exhibition showcases works from the museum’s collections that articulate pointed views and solicit debate on issues in society and politics. Such socially critical art is especially apt to illustrate the value of a collection of prints and other “ephemeral” media that allow for comparatively inexpensive reproduction and dissemination such as flyers, posters, postcards, stickers, and magazines. Politically “engaged” artists do not primarily make work so that others contemplate it with a view to its aesthetic merits; they rather want to broadcast concrete messages. Yet they also reflect on the constraints that circumscribe their scope of action and the limitations of art and political activism in general."

I confess: sometimes my eyes glaze over when viewing a show like this. I mean, it's not exactly a visual feast. And yet, this little exhibition, very text-heavy, minimal and (at first glance) rather dry-looking, was the perfect antidote to the formidable cuteness of Salzburg. There, in long, plexiglass vitrine tables, were countless gems, but this is the one I'll always remember.   From the accompanying text:

"This first-person narrator of a postcard by Martha Rosler would seem to recount trivialities, yet there are subtle but unmistakable political overtones, raising questions of economics and labor. The missive is a prelude to several novels in the form of postcard which Rosler examines the linkages between food, imperialism and exploitation as well as resistant practices."

This piece, so juicy, so dense with layers of meaning, its fragmented thoughts so provocative, absolutely captivated me. The awkward yet pointed phrasing, the balance between what is suggested but not elaborated upon, the contradictions of meaning...I fantasized for a moment that I was back in grad school at CalArts, deconstructing and parsing out meaning for hours, in a windowless room, thick with cigarette smoke under horrid florescent light. I find this small, discolored postcard to be a poetic call to arms. 

Haus der Kunst, Munich

The Haus der Kunst had not one, not two, but THREE excellent exhibitions on view: Sarah Sze, Centrifuge; Thomas Struth, Figure Ground; and Frank Bowling, Mappa Mundi. Also on view: Oscar Murillo's Going Forth-The Institute of Reconciliation, Polina Kanis' The Procedure and Mel Bochner's The Joys of Yiddish (A small encyclopedia). 

First, a bit of history. From the museum's website

"After its opening in 1937 as "Haus der Deutschen Kunst” [House of German Art], the Neoclassical building served to demonstrate National Socialist cultural politics and became the party's leading art institution. After the end of World War II, the museum building was first used by the US army as an officer's club. Art exhibitions took place as early as 1946. The return of modernism to the very place where the denigration of artists had begun served as part of a larger historical contemplation. 

Haus der Kunst became an important venue for featuring avant-garde works - like Picasso's Guernica in 1955 - and thus a counterbalance to its defamatory stance during the Third Reich. Since then, Haus der Kunst has been transformed radically into an international center of modern art exhibitions, and, today into a global museum of contemporary art. The cultural examination and curatorial analysis of this process has become an ongoing, integral part of Haus der Kunst's program."

The Director of the Haus der Kunst is none other than Okwui Enwezor, former Dean of Academic Affairs and Senior Vice President (from 2005 to 2009) at the San Francisco Art Institute , where I taught in the undergraduate and graduate programs for 11 years.  

As if all of this history weren't enough to pique one's interest, the building itself is quite astonishing in both scale and fascistic demeanor. The vast, cavernous spaces have been adapted into serviceable galleries that would likely swallow more intimate or subtle exhibitions.  However, the shows on view were all capable of holding the space. 

5a. Sarah Sze, Centrifuge, 2017


Sarah Sze's Centrifuge is positioned in the main gallery on the ground floor.  The space is enormous, dark and downright intimidating. I was drawn in by the piece, an impossibly fragile structure of reed-thin supports, fashioned into a fantastical, stadium-like form that serves to display fragments of paper, many of which serve as projection surfaces. The projections and sound elements extend into the far reaches of the cavernous space. As is typical for Sze, the piece employs a range of detritus, presumably scavenged on site: office supplies, trash, coffee cups and the like. This fragile arrangement somehow humanized the cold, forbidding gallery, with delightfully fanciful, unexpected detail and delicacy.

According to Sze:  Centrifuge’s “interior sculpture will seem caught in an indeterminable state between growth and decay. As the visitor approaches the sculpture it will immerse them in a micro scale at its interior, while simultaneously gesturing to a macro scale as it projects into the larger space of the hall. The sculpture will function both as a site of action, as well as a projector, illuminating the ceiling and giving the space the openness of a palazzo or city square.”

For me, the sum of this piece is much greater than Sze's description. 

5b. Frank Bowling, Mappa Mundi


Frank Bowling's Mappa Mundi was a revelation to me. I am sorry to admit that I was unfamiliar with Bowling till now.  According to the museum's website:

"Frank Bowling: Mappa Mundi presents a comprehensive overview of rare and never-before exhibited large-scale paintings along with other works by the Guyanese-born British painter Frank Bowling. Born in Bartica, British Guyana, in 1934, Bowling left his native country at the age of nineteen, arriving in London in 1953 as part of the momentous wave of Anglophone West Indian and Caribbean populations who migrated to England in the aftermath of World War II. Later he would study painting at The Slade School, University College London, and the Royal College of Art, distinguishing himself with the silver medal for painting (David Hockney received the gold medal) in RCA's 1962 graduating class.

The principal anchor of this exhibition is the monumental and celebrated "map paintings" (1967–1971) that were first shown to acclaim at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1971. For Bowling, whose art is preoccupied with place and history, like those of his Caribbean contemporaries, the poet Derek Walcott and philosopher Edouard Glissant, the use of maps as conceptual objects of painting make for a fitting transactional trope through which to tackle the idea of geography and narrative. Maps and mapping present not only an exploratory metaphor through which to mirror the physical weight of painting; they also project absorbing, metaphysical and protean domains."

I was blown away by this exhibition. The map paintings, in particular, are gorgeous--especially those employing fiery yellows and hot pinks. The color and surface qualities are compelling,  the progression of thought and action is convincing and the show was perfectly installed. The wall text was informative and direct and the exhibition included the artist's archive, which would more than suffice on its own as a fascinating exhibition. It was pure joy to be surrounded by and immersed in this terrific, accomplished body of work, with only the occasional gallery guard disrupting the view. What a treat! The catalogue for this exhibition is at the top of my post-travel wishlist.

5c. Thomas Struth, Figure Ground

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Haus der Kunst describes Thomas Struth's Figure Ground as:

"... a comprehensive survey of his genre-defining oeuvre. Covering four decades of work and every phase of his career, the exhibition focuses on Struth's social interests, which represent the important forces of his influential artistic development. Comprised of more than 130 works, this exhibition is the largest survey of his artistic career to date. It brings together never-before-shown early works and collected research material drawn from his archive; these, elucidate the far-reaching and long-standing ideas behind the works and demonstrate the process of his artistic translation up to the perfection of the image." 

The exhibition was so huge that I kept losing my Beloved in the massive gallery spaces, which seemed to go on forever. Some bodies of work appealed to me than others. My favorite is the recent series "Nature & Politics," in which Struth documents technological environments of the aerospace, energy and medical industries. I had recently seen one of these enormous prints in a collector's home in San Francisco and had been astounded by the visceral, writhing quality of the extreme-focus details. These sterile spaces (research labs, space vehicles, energy facilities) are almost too much to take in, with their harsh, cold light, miles of cables and wires, and vastly complex conglomerations of engineered metallic and plastic forms. Though the human figure is  absent, these environments nonetheless imply the presence of the human body and its frailties, through the technology required to sustain it, transport it and study it. 

6. The Venus of Willendorf


We had to look high and low to find this little lady, in Vienna's Naturhistorisches Museum. First, I confess that I was surprised to find Venus in a natural history my mind, she resides in the first chapter of Janson's History of Art. We were in the museum on the one night of the week that it is open until 9 PM (all the better for packing in four museums in one grueling day). We tromped, in reverse order, through the hierarchy of biological classification, beginning with the primates and ending with microscopic life forms. On and on we went, through rooms of massive wood and glass cases full of taxidermy and specimens in jars, flesh and feathers faded to a dull grey-brown. Perhaps it was because we were alone in the quiet, stately galleries, without huge groups of squealing school kids, or perhaps I'd just hit a wall after 10 hours in museums, but I was overcome with sadness. I couldn't look at the elephants or lions. My heart broke when I saw case after case of birds, and then butterflies, the latter being the only creatures who still sported flashes of color. Oh, the loss of animal life over the years, the spoils of human destruction, corridors filled with extinct and near-extinct creatures encapsulated and displayed in eternal stillness. Once, I would've said that I love natural history museums. But now, I'm not so sure. We pressed on, through the gems, the splendid meteor collection and the prehistoric art. Finally, we found our Venus, in a special side gallery--basically, a black tomb--in the dark, lit by a dramatic spotlight. She's small, but mighty. Faceless, anonymous, a symbol...a vessel. My beloved said, "She is the grim little seed of the Patriarchy.  Her humanity is amputated. She has no arms, no feet, no agency, no personhood. Her head is encased in a basket. Things haven't changed much in 30,000 years."

I thought of the Commodores song, Brick House:  

"Ow, she's a brick house
She's mighty-mighty, just lettin' it all hang out
She's a brick house
That lady's stacked and that's a fact
Ain't holding nothing back"


7. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

The Kunsthistorisches Museum is a world class museum, on par with the Louvre, the Uffizi Gallery, the Met, and the like--the grand museums of the world that specialize in old master paintings and antiquities. The museum building is a veritable mirror image of the Naturhistorisches Museum, and the two face each other across Maria-Theresien-Platz. The Kunsthistorisches is literally packed with treasures.  My head was spinning, trying to take in the abundance of first-rate works by Rembrandt, Bruegel, Vermeer, Raphael, Velázquez, Dürer, Holbein, et. al. I often find myself tallying masterworks when I'm in museums such as this. "Okay, there are 35 or 36 Vermeers in the world, and now I've seen 19 of them."  I'm not advocating this, and in fact it's probably a bad habit, but I can't help it, especially when I am surround by masterpieces so old and so rare. So much art, so little time. But, hey, it's not as if I'm tallying Warhols.  

It's tough to pick a favorite, or even a handful of favorites, due to the general level of excellence reflected in the collection. One thing that stuck me: we saw a lot of paintings of decapitated men. I mean, a lot. A good number of depictions of Judith and Holofernes, Salome with the head of John the Baptist, and a very interesting Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath. Perhaps they just happened to be hanging in close proximity, but the quantity seemed somewhat remarkable. Of course, old master depictions of women holding the heads of decapitated men has always provided a bit of relief from Jesus' suffering, Mary's placid steadiness and relentlessly chubby, rosy putti. The triumph of the bloodied, disembodied head represents the feminist impulse within the unforgiving symbolic world and general misogyny of Christianity. So, here are two of my favorites, each of which displays a pretty astonishing level of symbolic gender-bending. 

Lucas Cranach the Elder,  Judith with the Head of Holofernes , c. 1530 (The sword! The hands!)

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Judith with the Head of Holofernes, c. 1530
(The sword! The hands!)

Caravaggio,    David with the Head of Goliath  , c. 1607 (Um, what's with his shirt, pants and the opening of his shoulder bag?)

Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath, c. 1607
(Um, what's with his shirt, pants and the opening of his shoulder bag?)

8. Gustav Klimt, Beethoven Frieze, 1902

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Confession: I now count myself among the legion of Gustav Klimt fans. Don't get me wrong, I never really disliked his work. If you spend time in Vienna, you will be immersed in Klimt. You'll find his work at the Belvedere and the Leopold, as well as Secession, which houses the Beethoven Frieze. We saw a lot of Klimt paintings, including Death and Life (1910/1915), Judith and the Head of Holofernes (1901), The Kiss (1907-08), all of which are pretty spectacular. However, the piece that will remain burned into memory is the Beethoven Frieze. According to Secession's website:

"Gustav Klimt created the famous Beethoven Frieze for the XIVth exhibition of the Association of Visual Artists Vienna Secession, which was held between April 15 and June 27, 1902. Conceived as a tribute to the composer Ludwig van Beethoven, the presentation epitomized the Secessionists’ vision of an encompassing synthesis of the arts."

After the exhibition, the frieze was cut into sections (overall, the piece is 7' h. and 112' w., with the plaster panels weighing in at about four tons) and stored for decades, both before and after being confiscated in 1938 from the dispossessed August Lederer who bought it in 1915. It is a sordid story, but not an uncommon one. It wasn't until 1985 that the restored frieze was mounted in its permanent installation, which was designed to be similar to the original configuration. One wishes for a lesser degree of veracity; if only one could see it at eye level! I was taken by the composition, most of all. The vast expanses of soft, unadorned plaster punctuated, in a staccato rhythm with delicate figures. About halfway through, a dark, dense, fantastical arrangement of figures, including a serpent and an unexpected gorilla. Then: another soft passage, a few more figures and a final crescendo of lavish gold, patterning, and a couple locked in an embrace, diaphanous fabric falling around their ankles. It's stunning, and was marred only by the fact that the so-called climate-controlled room was cold and damp and reeked of cigarette smoke, presumably emanating from the surly guard. 

9. Cecilia Bartoli at The Musikverein


I could not capture a decent photo of this magical performance, but here's a shot of the Musikverein. Cecelia Bartoli performed with Sol Gabetta and Cappella Gabetta. The program included works by Vivaldi, Handel, Gabrielli,  Albinoni and Boccherini. During the concert, I was alternately crying and grinning ear to ear. What a night to remember! 

Do yourself a favor:  buy the album, Dolce Duello

10. Franz Mayer of Munich


Last, but not least, the reason for this amazing journey: an invitation from Franz Mayer of Munich, architectural glass fabricators, to work for a week with their artists, in their amazing, historic Munich studio. I am so grateful for this opportunity and the chance to work amongst this renowned and talented group of people.  

Franz Mayer of Munich was founded in 1847. The studio has produced some of the world's most successful public art over the years, in stained glass, glass mosaic and float glass. The range of techniques and possibilities is astonishing. I literally felt like I was entering a magical space, akin to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory: five floors of light and color, incredible work spaces, row upon row of colored glass  (sheets stored in vertical bins, as well as mosaic pieces lining the hallways in rack after rack of numbered boxes) and works in progress by some of the world's most renowned artists. Together, we produced several samples that I will use for future public art proposals. We now have a sense of what it's like to work together; there is a big learning curve for both artist and fabricator, and it takes time to build a common language. 

I did not want to photograph the studio's work in progress, out of respect for other artists, but here are a few photos of FMoM's stores of materials, as well as my samples in progress:  

Luscious chunks of glass, as far as the eye can see.

Luscious chunks of glass, as far as the eye can see.

Work in progress. 

Work in progress. 

Me, looking up at the ceiling mirror in order to view work on the light table. 

Me, looking up at the ceiling mirror in order to view work on the light table. 

Hand-blown colored glass samples. 

Hand-blown colored glass samples. 

Printed sketch with color notations. 

Printed sketch with color notations. 

Hand-blown colored glass, replete with beautiful striations and bubbles. 

Hand-blown colored glass, replete with beautiful striations and bubbles. 

Well, there you have it. Until next time!

If I Had a Million Dollars to Spend on Art

A few years ago, I created a Stickies app list of artists' names on my laptop computer. At first, I thought of it as an imaginary exhibition, but I soon realized that it's actually a wishlist of artists whose work I would love to collect. I know many artists who own art. A few are successful enough to buy it outright, but most collect the work of artist friends, acquired through trade or received as gifts.  

If you've been in my home, you know that it's incredibly compact. Nearly every wall is occupied by a window, door, appliance or piece of built-in furniture. We have one, and only one, wall that is large enough for a substantial work of art. What hangs on that wall? A large 1960s tapestry that once belonged to My Beloved's grandmother. She lived to be 106 years old, give or take a few years (she was coy about her age). I always loved the tapestry. It was made by Los Angeles artist John Smith and has the initials JS woven into the bottom edge. I don't know much about Smith, but he made large tapestries for Los Angeles banks and public buildings throughout the 60s. The tapestry hung for many years in Grandmother's Westwood apartment. When she moved into an assisted living facility, she gave the tapestry to me, much to the amusement of the rest of the family.  In her old apartment, the piece was under-lit and a little shabby looking. The artist had stretched it over a folding stretcher bar frame. When I took possession of it, it was easy to remove a few screws, fold it in half, wrap it in plastic sheeting and tie it down in the bed of my old Ford pickup. As I recall, we did this on a hot summer day, and the tapestry "sweated" quite a bit in its plastic wrapping on the drive up Interstate 5 back to San Francisco. Of course, I had measured our wall, and was certain that the piece would fit, but when we got it up the stairs and into our flat, it seemed impossibly huge. However, my measurements were correct and it fit perfectly. It's held its place in our dining room for perhaps 12 years or so. I love it just as much as ever, mostly for the nostalgic associations that it evokes: mid-century California design; my undergraduate days at Scripps College, where such idealized imagery would not be entirely out of place amongst the early 20th century frescoes and mosaics found around campus; and the proto-feminist novel Herland, if perhaps it had been set in the 1960s or early 70s. I also love that it was a generous gift that made me feel like a real member of My Beloved's family.

tapestry copy.jpg

Inevitably, when we have friends over for dinner, someone will ask, "Why don't you have one of your paintings there, instead of that?" Fair question. The answer: I live with my work, all day, everyday. If it is not in physical proximity, it is in my head, banging around, day and night. I really don't need to have it in front of me at all times. In fact, it is good and necessary to be away from it for a few hours a day.  

Which brings me back to the subject of my imaginary art collection. What would I love to live with if I had more space to show art and a goodly sum of money to spend? You may have noticed that my imaginary budget is one million dollars. Sounds like a lot, right? Maybe, to some of you, it sounds like very little. If I had a smaller budget, I would probably buy the work of promising emerging artists. Of course, if I had a billion dollars and could buy anything I wanted, my list would be different, or at least more extensive. I would throw tens of millions at Roman antiquities, Picasso and Matisse, first- and second-generation Abstract Expressionism, German Expressionism, Allan McCollum, Jonathan Lasker, Sol Lewitt... to think about.  

But, let's say I had a million dollars to spend, and I wanted to buy ten works of art. I am not an expert on prices or the market or the auctions. In writing this piece, I discovered that it is actually pretty difficult to find auction prices, unless you pay to view them. But there have been instances when I have seen price lists at galleries or art fairs and have been greatly surprised by the affordability of certain works by artists that I love, some of whom are on this list. Before I begin, a few things:  1) I do not know exact current values for each of these artists.  Some of them have died in the last few years, so their prices may have risen or fallen;  2) my imaginary collection is comprised of things that I love and would love to live with. I have been thinking of most of these works for years--in some cases, nearly a decade; 3) these works are by artists who are well known, with solid careers, but I believe that most of them are somewhat undervalued.

Here they are, in no particular order.

1. Jay DeFeo, works on paper, particularly from the 1980s

Jay DeFeo,  Untitled (Eternal Triangle series), 1980

Jay DeFeo, Untitled (Eternal Triangle series), 1980

On two separate trips to Santa Fe, NM in the last decade or so, I was lucky to see a pair of absolutely gorgeous Jay DeFeo exhibitions at Dwight Hackett Projects. DHP (now closed) was a fantastic venue, off the beaten track and away from the (mostly) schmaltzy offerings on Canyon Road. The first encounter was on the occasion of Jay DeFeo: No End: Works on Paper from the 1980s in 2006. We walked out of the blazing sun and into the cool garage-like space to find a gallery full of tightly-wound, gripping works on paper, along with a series of photographs, also by DeFeo. I was interested in the former, some of which were from the Eternal Triangle series. At the time, I wasn't familiar with DeFeo's works on paper. These works have a muscular, torqued quality about them. DeFeo was a master of form, and here she has taken the simple, primal form of a triangle and turned it up, down and inside out, revealing every edge, plane and the entirety of volume at once. There is a compressed, animated quality to these drawings, as if she has forced a several dozen animation cells to exist in a single frame. Some edges are jittery, some are succinctly incised. Some elements are transparent, while others are seemingly solid, all of them in a state of material flux that I find quite mesmerizing. As it turns out, the humble subject of these strong works is a simple, worn, kneaded eraser. According to Dana Miller's exhibition catalogue essay:

"In the early 1980s DeFeo used that collection of worn erasers as the basis for a series of drawings that she initially referred to as “the eraser series” and later titled the Eternal Triangle series, including two untitled works in this exhibition. DeFeo photographed her old erasers, collapsing one stretched-out, kneaded eraser in upon itself to create a sculptural form of triangular folds not unlike a fortune cookie. For an artist who often chose to work with a grisaille palette, the black-and-white photographs presented certain advantages as models. DeFeo could manipulate her photographs to alter tonalities, emphasize contrast, and heighten shadows. These elements could then be employed as a means for guiding both the tonal and perspectival aspects of her drawings and paintings. The eraser photographs also possess a sense of ambiguous, artificially compressed space, an aspect of her paintings and drawings of this time."

Jay DeFeo,  Untitled (Eternal Triangle series), 1980

Jay DeFeo, Untitled (Eternal Triangle series), 1980

Untitled (Eternal Triangle series), 1980

Untitled (Eternal Triangle series), 1980

Summer Landscape,  1982

Summer Landscape, 1982

In the early 2000s, the prices for these were around $30,000. They may have increased quite a bit since then, particularly since DeFeo's 2012 retrospective. Let's face it: I would love to own anything by DeFeo, but these works have really stayed with me for over a decade, so it's safe to say that I would probably enjoy living with one them for the rest of my life. I will close this section with a quote from the late Bill Berkson, who wrote extensively about DeFeo:  

“Fittingly, the lead sentence of DeFeo’s statement for the “Sixteen Americans” catalogue read: ‘Only by chancing the ridiculous can I hope for the sublime.’ Sublimity was built into the tremendous body language—‘organic’ and full of ‘growth forms’ in the parlance of the time but with supra-organic, and dashingly clear, cosmological overtones—that characterizes the paintings, outsized drawings, collages and other mixed medium constructions DeFeo made from about 1954 on. The ridiculous too was ever at hand. At her most obsessive, DeFeo was gifted with a sprightly sense of play that allowed her to follow her intuitions and yearnings without hammering them into theses. A early as her student years, she later told [Paul] Karlstrom, she had conceived of making an image ‘about being on an edge…I wanted to create a work that was just so precariously balanced between going this way or that way that it maintained itself.’”

2. Nell Blaine, early works from the late 1940s

Nell Blaine,  Abstraction, 1948-49

Nell Blaine, Abstraction, 1948-49

Like DeFeo, Nell Blaine possessed a deep understanding of form vis a vis the plasticity of paint. I first saw her work at Valerie Carberry Gallery's booth at an art fair in San Francisco in the early 2000s. I can't remember which fair or what year it was, but I clearly remember VCG's spectacular booth, and thinking who IS this? as my heart began to race. I was bowled over by these works, with their compact, muscular, confident forms. Valerie was so kind to me that day. She gave me two Nell Blaine exhibition catalogues that I often refer to. Blaine was a student of Hans Hofmann and at one time, at the age of twenty, the youngest member of the American Abstract Artists group. She worked in abstraction throughout the late 1940s but then retreated back to figuration, inspired by a trip to Paris with Larry Rivers in 1950, where she was impressed by the work of Vuillard and Bonnard.  The abstract works are relatively few, but they hold up exceedingly well. I'm not as keen on the late work, but I would gladly live with anything Nell Blaine made between 1944 and 1949. 

Nell Blaine,  Peaks,  1948

Nell Blaine, Peaks, 1948

Nell Blaine,  Bones,  1946

Nell Blaine, Bones, 1946

Nell Blaine,  Abstraction  ,  1948

Nell Blaine, Abstraction1948

Here's a bit of what Roberta Smith had to say about Blaine's early works, in a New York Times review from 2001:

"This terrific show puts on view for the first time in 50 years the astoundingly accomplished abstract paintings that Nell Blaine made in New York in the mid 1940's, when she was barely 20 and fresh off the train from Richmond, Va. With thick black lines and quirky biomorphic shapes submerged in wonderfully forward white backgrounds, they tell a complex story of precocious talent and determination fed by study with Hans Hofmann, devotion to jazz and admiration for Mondrian, Léger and, one supposes, Stuart Davis."

Blaine's early work has become scarce in recent years. An Art News article from a decade ago put her work in the $20,000-$100,000 range, so hopefully she's still within reach. I have been drooling over these paintings and works on paper for nearly 15 years.  

3. Roy Newell

Roy Newell,  Untitled,  2000

Roy Newell, Untitled, 2000

Roy Newell created a group of fifty or so paintings in his fifty-year career that he painted over and over again, sometimes returning to them for decades. It was not uncommon for him to rework paintings for more than thirty years. Each of these little gems exists as a relic of time, attention and material engagement. At the same time, each was an eternal work in progress. Newell worked in isolation, shunned his friends and acquaintances and consistently refused to sell his work.  He was friends with de Kooning and Kline, hung out at the Artist's Club and the Cedar Tavern and was just as hell-bent on self-destruction as Jackson Pollock, who he punched out one night after a round of drinks. He was a severe alcoholic and his wife financially supported him throughout his career. Most of the works are diminutive. In reproduction, it is difficult to ascertain the scale of these paintings. In 2010, I saw the exhibition Roy Newell: The Private Myth, curated by Richard Dupont, at Carolina Nitsch Project Room in New York. Together, the works present an amazingly consistent vision. The surfaces are strange, soft-looking and almost felt-like in texture. Newell went against the grain and suffered for it. He was out of step with late AbEx, Pop and Minimalism. Here's a snippet from the exhibition catalogue:

"In a 1986 half page New York Times Review titled “When a Period Lasts a Lifetime”, the art critic Helen Harrison wrote, “The long-term, single minded pursuit of a narrow, self imposed esthetic discipline is rare among visual artists, most of whom undergo the periodic changes in style or viewpoint that we associate with a developing career. Those uncommon few who commit themselves to an approach at once so clearly defined and so personal that it seems to exist outside of time exert a special fascination, especially on the imaginations of their fellow artists. As Morandi represents the ideal “painter’s painter” for the gestural realists, so we might think of Roy Newell as a paragon for the geometric abstractionists.”"

Roy Newell,  Untitled,  1959-87

Roy Newell, Untitled, 1959-87

Roy Newell,  Silents,  1988, 1966, 1998

Roy Newell, Silents, 1988, 1966, 1998

According to Newell's New York Times obituary, his total output, over 70 years, was around 100 paintings. I keep coming back to his paintings because of their compositional intensity. Some have a near-symmetry, while others are strikingly off-kilter. The forms seem as if they are woven together and then tightened--ratcheted down-- with excessive force. It's as if color-saturated, dense scraps of felt have been composed and petrified, resulting in very powerful little paintings.  I have no idea what the current prices are for Newell's work.  

4. Channa Horwitz 

Channa Horwitz,  Sonakinatography I Composition XXII , 1991

Channa Horwitz, Sonakinatography I Composition XXII, 1991

Truth be told, I have never seen Channa Horwitz' work in person. So, although I need to experience her work in person, I am pretty certain that my appreciation of her work will only increase. I'm glad that she received increased institutional attention and support at the end of her career, before her passing in 2013. One wonders whether she would have received more attention in her lifetime had she been a man. Her work involves grids, systems and numeric permutations. It is logic- and rule-based work that references music and spatial coordinates. In contrast to someone like Sol Lewitt, Horwitz' work has an otherworldly quality to it. The logic seems alien somehow even though it is rather straightforward once one understands Horwitz' systems. When I look at her work, I think of the 1970 film Chariots of the Gods which posited that the technologies and religions of ancient civilizations were given to humans by extraterrestrials who were welcomed on earth as gods. I find these works utterly captivating and I can't wait until the day that a major museum devotes some real time and space to Channa Horwitz.  

Channa Horwitz,  Language: Series Three , 1964.

Channa Horwitz, Language: Series Three, 1964.

Channa Horwitz,  8th Level Discovered,  1982

Channa Horwitz, 8th Level Discovered, 1982

Here's a snippet from Jennifer S. Li's Art in America review of Channa Horwitz' 2016 exhibition at at François Ghebaly, Los Angeles:

"As a student at the California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, in the late 1960s, Channa Horwitz (1932–2013) developed a graphing system that she would use for over four decades, producing some fifteen hundred pieces of ephemera and finished works (with more waiting to be organized and archived). In a 1974 interview, she told the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art Journal: “I am interested in simplifying my tools in order to maximize the potential of the work.”
Most of Horwitz’s work is strictly two-dimensional, but she had a fascination with physical space and with integrating art, music, and language. She staged multiple performances during her time at CalArts, including a Happening with instructor Allan Kaprow. She also developed “Sonakinatography” (sound-motion-notation), a system for organizing graphic and nongraphic elements through the use of color-coded symbols, which allowed her to generate scores that could be performed."

5. Shirley Jaffe 

Shirley Jaffe,  X Encore,  2007

Shirley Jaffe, X Encore, 2007

Ah, Shirley Jaffe! I think of Jaffe as the love child of Matisse and Stuart Davis. Spectacular color, bold, suggestive forms, tightly wound and compact, yet maintaining a nice sense of openness and freedom. I love, love, love these paintings. Jaffe passed away just a few months ago. Like Joan Mitchell, she moved to France (Paris, in 1949) and stayed for the remainder of her career, putting her outside the trends of the New York painting milieu. In addition to Matisse and Davis, I see hints of Mondrian and Léger. I also suspect her influence on younger 1980s painters such as Jonathan Lasker and Matt Mullican--something to do with her use of pseudo-expressive, graphic symbols and signs, I suppose. Jaffe's works are just plain thrilling to the eye, heart and mind. The forms are suggestive enough to keep me guessing. They can't always be decoded. I drift between sensation and thought when I see these works.  In my opinion, Jaffe is terribly underrated. Shortly after her death, I saw one of her large works prominently installed at the Centre Pompidou, a big honor for an expatriate woman painter. In a 1990 issue of Artforum, Donald Kuspit wrote about Jaffe’s first US solo exhibition, which took place at Holly Solomon Gallery when she was 60 years old:

“The brightness of color, the diversity of unresolved, quirky shapes on the canvas, and the tendency toward quick, succinct statement suggest a determination to remain innocent, perhaps to make a kind of sophistication or cult out of innocence.” Kuspit also compares Jaffe’s works to Henri Matisse’s cutouts: “Her shapes are the product of a similar process of essentialization, and her colors seem derived directly from those of Matisse, even seem to be a play on them.”

Shirley Jaffe,  Horizontal Black,  2015

Shirley Jaffe, Horizontal Black, 2015

Shirley Jaffe,  The Black Line,  1974

Shirley Jaffe, The Black Line, 1974

If I recall correctly, I saw this 1974 Jaffe at one of the Miami art fairs a few years ago.  I believe it was priced at around $70,000.  I like to think that her prices have increased in the past few months, but an artist's death can sometimes cause prices to dip.

Shirley Jaffe,  Four Squares Black,  1993

Shirley Jaffe, Four Squares Black, 1993

6. Frederick Hammersley 

Frederick Hammersley,  Screen Door,  1969, computer-generated drawing on paper

Frederick Hammersley, Screen Door, 1969, computer-generated drawing on paper

Fred Hammersley made three distinct bodies of work, and I love each of them with equal fervor.  He is probably most appreciated for his hard-edge geometric abstraction. Hammersely, along with Lorser Feitelson, John McLaughlin and Karl Benjamin, was in the groundbreaking 1959 exhibition, Four Abstract Classicists, curated by the art critic Jules Langsner at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. If Hammersley's entire output consisted of geometric abstractions, I would still love him madly. But luckily, he made things a little more interesting for himself, and for the rest of us. First, he left Los Angeles and moved to Albuquerque to teach at the University of New Mexico. Clearly, the move put him outside of the burgeoning LA art scene of the 1960s and 70s. Second, he produced two other bodies of work: the "organics," which are small, biomorphic abstractions in funky handmade frames, and a large body of computer generated work.  Of the latter, he said:  

"This happened to coincide with a time in which I had painted myself out, so I welcomed this new experience. I was shown how to prepare a computer program and how to transfer it to an IBM punch card by machine. The alphanumeric characters we could ‘draw’ with were: the alphabet, ten numerals and eleven symbols, such as periods, dashes, slashes, etc….It took me some time to get used to this medium. What I intended to make did not always correspond to the program I thought I had punched in the card. I made many mistakes which the computer, in its logical way, would not print. The intricacies and possibilities seem endless and I have spent a great deal of time simply trying to master the mechanics of this particular technique."

Frederick Hammersley,  Tango  ,  1979

Frederick Hammersley, Tango1979

Frederick Hammersley,  EQUAL TEA TALK , 1969

Frederick Hammersley, EQUAL TEA TALK, 1969

Frederick Hammersley,  Orchestra,  1987, oil on rag paper on linen on wood in artist-made frame  

Frederick Hammersley, Orchestra, 1987, oil on rag paper on linen on wood in artist-made frame

Frederick Hammersley,  Hot & heavy , 1990, oil on cotton on birch in artist-made frame

Frederick Hammersley, Hot & heavy, 1990, oil on cotton on birch in artist-made frame

I don't know what the current prices are for Hammersley, but I would take anything, even a print.  He made some gorgeous prints based on the computer drawings in the early 1970s.

7. Sheila Hicks

Sheila Hicks,  Never Say No , 2015

Sheila Hicks, Never Say No, 2015

I haven't seen much of Hicks' work in person. She is well-known for her large-scale commissions and installations. These days, we're having a resurgence of traditional craft-based work such as weaving, ceramics, etc. Hicks has made textile-based sculptural work and weavings since the late 1950s, when she traveled on Fulbright scholarship through South America. Like Jaffe, she spent most of her career in Paris, having moved there in 1964. For half a century, she made what she refers to "minimes," small studies, approximately the size of one's hand. She has created over 1,000 of these studies during her long career. They are diaristic, employing whatever materials might be at the ready in a given day: along with colored yarn or thread, they might include scraps of wood or other natural materials, or rubber bands and the like.  Hicks uses a small, portable makeshift loom to make these woven sketches.  On the occasion of her 2011 retrospective, Artforum's Lauren O'Neill-Butler wrote:  

"To weave, to twist, to knot, to wrap—the processes animating fifty years of fiber-based work in Sheila Hicks’s traveling retrospective may conjure several of the actions inventoried in Richard Serra’s iconic 1967–68 Verb List, which is now on view in his survey of drawings at the Metropolitan Museum. Here are a few more connections linking this (very) odd couple: Both received MFAs from Yale (Hicks in 1959, Serra in 1964); both studied with Josef Albers; both make “sculpture in the expanded field”; both use unconventional materials; both make monumental public art. And yet Serra is much more known, his statements made in steel, lead, and paint stick; hers are made in wool, linen, and cotton."

Again, I'm left to wonder about the role of gender as well as expatriate status and how both might have shaped Hicks' career. She had a 2015 solo exhibition at Sikkema Jenkins, so one would expect that her prices are healthy at the moment.  

Sheila Hicks,  Aube , 2008

Sheila Hicks, Aube, 2008

Sheila Hicks,  Zapallar , 1958, and  Cluny II , 2008

Sheila Hicks, Zapallar, 1958, and Cluny II, 2008

8. Al Held (something, anything, even a little sketch)

Al Held,  Untitled,  1967, India ink on paper

Al Held, Untitled, 1967, India ink on paper

Al Held is one of my all-time favorite painters.  Most of his work is monumental.  So, it's safe to say that his prices absolutely bust my imaginary budget.  Throughout this exercise, I have tried to select artists whose primary output is in the "affordable" realm; therefore, I won't resort to "buying" little scraps from super famous artists.  However, I will make an exception for my pal, Al.  Al Held has such mastery over scale that his small studies, like this one, at a mere 20 x 24 inches, packs almost as much punch as his large-scale works of the same era.  The ink drawings combine the bold geometry of his work typical of the mid- to late 1960s with the calligraphic assuredness of an expert Japanese brush painter. 

Al Held, T he Big "A,"  1962, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 168 inches

Al Held, The Big "A," 1962, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 168 inches

I was lucky enough to see the terrific exhibition AL HELD: BLACK AND WHITE, 1967 at Loretta Howard Gallery in 2012. According to the press release:  

"This exhibition highlights early black and white works from a pivotal moment in the artist’s career before his monumental black and white paintings of the late '60s and '70s. Here we see the artist as he turns a corner, playing with scale, space and geometry but still dedicated to the physical realities of painting. Held’s forms vibrate and collide in space, marking the artist’s shift from flat color to optical geometry and tearing open the picture plane of Abstract Expressionism.

Art Historian Robert Storr writes: “What he was trying to do was to muscle painting back into three dimensions without betraying its character as painting or his own long-standing commitment to the primacy of gesture.” Exceptional in their own right, these pictures mark the beginning of an almost four decade long dialog wherein Held changed the language of abstraction."

The black and white studies were made in preparation for the large-scale works.

The black and white studies were made in preparation for the large-scale works.

Cheim & Read exhibition,  Al Held: Black and White Paintings,  2016. 

Cheim & Read exhibition, Al Held: Black and White Paintings, 2016. 

I can't get enough of Al Held's work. There's much to appreciate in each period of his trajectory, but I favor works made up until the late 1970s. The late works are amazing in their compositional complexity, but the use of color doesn't always sit well with me.  Still, Held is a true master, no doubt about it.  

Al Held,  Rothko's Canvas,  1969-70, acrylic on canvas, 10 x 90 feet

Al Held, Rothko's Canvas, 1969-70, acrylic on canvas, 10 x 90 feet

9. Suzanne Blank Redstone, 1960s Portal Paintings

Suzanne Blank Redstone,  Portal - Descent,  1968

Suzanne Blank Redstone, Portal - Descent, 1968

I wrote about Redstone's work in a previous blog post. I'm still thinking about her September 2016 exhibition at Jessica Silverman Gallery. Like some of my other picks, Redstone's work is based in Geometric Abstraction. Like Al Held, she creates a fragmented, topsy-turvy sense of space using simple geometric forms and a limited palette of mostly red, blue, yellow and black, white and grey. When I first saw this exhibition, I was struck by the looseness of some of the paint handling. The works are slightly rough around the edges; gradients are not perfectly smooth and some of the shapes are not as crisply defined as one might expect when looking from a distance. The paint surface is a bit chalky. In other words, these paintings look like they were made in another time, for if they were made now, I think they would be tighter, crisper, slicker.  There is a pleasing wonkiness to them.

Redstone is in her 70s and has worked for most of her career outside of the the U.S., and has steadily produced despite not having gallery representation until recently. It's wonderful that she is finally getting some recognition, but once again, I wonder: what took so long? I didn't see prices at the gallery, but I am betting that one of these could be acquired with my imaginary budget.   If not, I also love Redstone's works on paper.  

Suzanne Blank Redstone,  Portal 8,  1968

Suzanne Blank Redstone, Portal 8, 1968

Drawing for Portal 2 #1 , 1967

Drawing for Portal 2 #1, 1967

Suzanne Blank Redstone,  Preliminary drawing 3 for After van Doesburg , 1968

Suzanne Blank Redstone, Preliminary drawing 3 for After van Doesburg, 1968

From Gwen Allen's Art In America review:  

"In a brochure essay for the show, Jenni Sorkin suggests that Redstone’s belated recognition fits a pattern common to women artists. But if the gender politics of the art world have affected the reception of Redstone’s work, her identity and lived experience as a woman have also surely shaped its production. Helen Molesworth provides a compelling framework for such an interpretation in her catalogue essay for “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution,” the touring survey that originated at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in 2007. Though she does not discuss Redstone per se, Molesworth points to the “ambivalence” with which a number of female painters of Redstone’s generation, including Mary Heilmann, Howardena Pindell, and Joan Snyder, have appropriated modernist techniques and tropes that have been historically and culturally coded as masculine. Like the artists Molesworth discusses, Redstone simultaneously deploys the formal devices of modernist abstraction and distances herself from them, reinscribing them with a difference that does not necessarily or simplistically equate with gender, but does lend originality to this particular body of work."

10. Marcia Hafif

Marcia Hafif,  Mass Tone Painting: Cadmium Yellow Medium, Oct 2, 1973,  1973

Marcia Hafif, Mass Tone Painting: Cadmium Yellow Medium, Oct 2, 1973, 1973

Marcia Hafif, like some of my other picks, lived abroad for a good chunk of her career.  Her work is about the materiality of physical matter as applied to a planar surface: the very stuff of painting itself, in the most pure, reductive, systemic way. At 88 years old, her lifetime body of work is freakishly consistent and logical, but also poetic. Her color associations reflect, among other things, her travels in Italy. To me, the color choices are completely evocative of place.   

Hafif's website is descriptive, concise and well-organized, reflecting her clearly delineated process.  She states:

"The Inventory is a listing by series of works in the approximate order they appeared. One series followed another at approximately two years intervals, in idiosyncratic order, building my project of examining the methods and materials of Western Painting in the form of works of art.

In 1972, in order to start at the beginning, I covered a vertical sheet of drawing paper with vertical pencil marks starting from the top left and ending at the bottom right. Each drawing developed in a slightly different way leading to unexpected patterns within that same procedure. I turned to paint, acrylic at first presenting a palette of fourteen colors on fourteen canvases then oil in The Extended Gray Scale, 106 canvases graduated from white to black.

About this time I was lent Max Doerner's book, The Materials of the Artist and Their Use in Painting that led me to experiment. I bought every color in powdered pigment that I could find using a glass muller to grind them one by one into linseed oil making my own paint. Each color was painted on prepared canvas on a ready-made stretcher each element referring to Painting. Wall painting came next, then grayed colors, the color of "the most beautiful black," and the color of skin in European painting each displaying some technique such as egg tempera, encaustic, watercolor, glaze or scumble."

Marcia Hafif,  Mass Tone Painting: English Red, March 5, 1974,  1974

Marcia Hafif, Mass Tone Painting: English Red, March 5, 1974, 1974

Marcia Hafif,  2015 installation view of  An Extended Gray Scale ,  1972-73.  Hafif painted as many gradations from white to black as she could distinguish, for a total of one hundred and six 22 x 22 inch oil paintings on standard cotton canvases.

Marcia Hafif,  2015 installation view of An Extended Gray Scale, 1972-73. Hafif painted as many gradations from white to black as she could distinguish, for a total of one hundred and six 22 x 22 inch oil paintings on standard cotton canvases.

Marcia Hafif,  Pencil on Paper: February 9. 1972,  1972   

Marcia Hafif, Pencil on Paper: February 9. 1972, 1972


So, there you have it.
Until next time.  

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2016: Memorable Works

2016 was an extraordinarily busy year for me.  I was preparing for my October exhibition, Chopping Wood on the Astral Plane and I worked very steadily through the year, regularly seven days a week.  I confess that I didn't get out much to see exhibitions.  Like most artists, I feel torn about this.  How do we, as artists, approach our art viewing?  Is it a responsibility and an obligation?  Is it a pleasure and a reward?  Or, is it sustenance for our souls?  To me, it's all of those things.  When I am on an Art Ninja trip--that is, a vacation that is largely dedicated to viewing art--I will see anything and everything, voraciously and enthusiastically.  I don't mind seeing shows that fall short, shows that disappoint, shows that "aren't my thing."  However, when I am in town and in the studio with looming deadlines, I am very careful about my time management.  I try to see friends' exhibitions, and things that I am particularly interested in.  This year, I missed a lot.  But, looking back, I experienced some wonderful work that punctuated my intensive hours in the studio.  Here are a few highlights, in no particular order.

Christian Marclay: Six New Animations at Fraenkel Gallery.  I loved this exhibition.  Marclay, master of time and of whimsical, careful editing, has created mesmerizing animations from thousands of still photographs of urban detritus such as bottle caps, straws, cigarettes, old chewing gum and the like.  The static images are arranged, stop-motion style, so that the objects transform: cigarettes appear to burn, from just-lit to down to the filter and then, miraculously,  back to full length; bottle caps and lids appear as pulsating orbs, increasing and decreasing in size; straws assume the position of clock hands, playfully telling time. Like all of Marclay's work, these projected animations are amazingly clever, poignant and just plain fun.

CHRISTIAN MARCLAY,  Bottle Caps (video still) , 2016 Single-channel projected animation, silent

CHRISTIAN MARCLAY, Bottle Caps (video still), 2016
Single-channel projected animation, silent

CHRISTIAN MARCLAY,  Chewing Gum (video still) , 2016 Single-channel projected animation, silent

CHRISTIAN MARCLAY, Chewing Gum (video still), 2016
Single-channel projected animation, silent

Bridget Riley: The Interactive Character of Color, 1970-2014 at John Berggruen Gallery.  Riley is one of my favorite painters and also an extraordinarily accomplished writer. I return to her writings on the subject of color again and again. The purity of her approach and her sensitivity to the elusive nature of color is what makes the work effective.  It is difficult to focus one's eyes when viewing the paintings.  Everything moves and shifts. Each shape and color, so deceptively simple and direct, is in flux.  This exhibition included a selection of works (paintings as well as studies on paper) spanning thirty-five years.

At the core of color lies a paradox. It is simultaneously one thing and several things – you can never see color by itself, it is always affected by other colors…Color relationships in painting depend on the interactive character of color; this is its essential nature.
— Bridget Riley
BRIDGET RILEY,  Chord,  2014, oil on linen, 61 1/4 x 104 3/4 inches I was very delighted to see this recent work.  It was one of the most vibrant and compelling pieces in the exhibition. 

BRIDGET RILEY, Chord, 2014, oil on linen, 61 1/4 x 104 3/4 inches
I was very delighted to see this recent work.  It was one of the most vibrant and compelling pieces in the exhibition. 

Yes, I am one of those painters who obsesses over the sides and edges of paintings.  This gave me a little thrill.  

Yes, I am one of those painters who obsesses over the sides and edges of paintings.  This gave me a little thrill.  

Nicole Couch (Pink, Fuchsia, Orange), 2010 by Liz Craft at Los Angles County Museum of Art.  I spent at day at LACMA with my friend Tom during Thanksgiving weekend.  We went for the express purpose of seeing the John McLaughlin exhibition, but we also perused the permanent collection.  I hadn't been there in a number of years, so it was nice to reacquaint myself with the collection. I especially enjoyed the Giacometti installation, Matisse's 1953 La Gerbeand Chris Burden's Urban Light and Metropolis II.  

One work that I am still thinking about is Liz Craft's large figurative sculpture, which was part of her 2010 exhibition Death of a Clown at Patrick Painter, Inc.  To be honest, I am not sure why this work has stayed with me over the past month.  When time is short I am usually determined to see things that I know I will love.  To me, the greatest reward is seeing a painting that I've read about and thought about for years.  To experience it in real time and space and light... well, that is what I live for.  So it is a bit of a surprise that one of the most memorable works that I saw this year is a downright weird, kitschy figurative sculpture. 

LIZ CRAFT, Nicole Couch (Pink, Fuchsia, Orange),  2010, fiberglass and paint, 32 x 98 x 40.5 inches

LIZ CRAFT, Nicole Couch (Pink, Fuchsia, Orange), 2010, fiberglass and paint, 32 x 98 x 40.5 inches

This life-size figure in repose on a sofa is odd. First, LACMA has the title wrong.  On the card, the title is Death of a Clown, but as it turns out, that was the name of Craft's exhibition at Patrick Painter, Inc.  Nicole Couch is a strange title.  Why isn't it Nicole on the Couch or Nicole's Couch?  Then, there is the color.  The palette is limited to the pink of the couch, the magenta-purple gown, orange hair and near-white skin.  Is the figure supposed to be asleep?  Dead?  There is a romantic, Pre-Raphaelite quality about the piece.  The heavy relief texture of the sofa writhes around the still figure.  The decorative details are sharply incised, yet the figure is somewhat ill-defined.  The piece stands out, I think, because of it's anachronistic, romantic qualities, as well as the use of materials, which have the presence of unfired ceramic clay.  There is something abject and grotesque about it; it's strangely half-baked.  Because it is life-size and rather boxy, it is an awkward presence in the gallery.  For the record, I'm not sure I would categorize this piece as "important."  No matter. It certainly claims its space and it does not allow the viewer to ignore it.  That counts for something, doesn't it?  

John McLaughlin Paintings: Total Abstraction at LACMA.  This exhibition was the real purpose for our visit to LACMA, and it did not disappoint.  The museum's webpage for the exhibition includes a terrific video, Seeing John McLaughlin, in which artists  Ed Moses, Mark Grotjahn, Roy McMakin, Marcia Hafif, Tony Berlant, Tony DeLap, and James Hayward share their insights on John McLaughlin and his paintings.  It is a treat to hear them address the subtle qualities of McLaughlin's abstractions.  See also Christopher Knight's terrific review of the exhibition.  

Photo credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

Photo credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

McLaughlin is one of those artists who gives us all hope.  He was an odd duck: self-taught and late to the game, having begun painting at age 48.  His brand of abstraction was not so much in line with seemingly obvious antecedents, such as Mondrian; rather, it was based in his interest in Japanese art.  He lived outside of the mainstream, he did not fit neatly into the LA art scene, nor did he teach at any of the local art schools.  However, he (along with Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson and Frederick Hammersley) was included the groundbreaking exhibition Four Abstract Classicists, which opened at SFMOMA in 1959.  How I wish I could go back in time to see that show!  According to the current exhibition's catalogue (which is a great resource and well worth the price) Four Abstract Classicists was organized by LACMA, but opened at SFMOMA because of a scheduling conflict.  The catalogue thoroughly documents the legendary exhibition, which is reason enough to buy it.    

Utopianism, however, was not his goal. European abstraction provided a form for his art’s embodiment of Japanese aesthetic philosophy.

McLaughlin had looked at Japanese paintings since his childhood outside Boston. Son of a jurist on the state’s Superior Court, he was a regular visitor to the illustrious Japanese collection at the Museum of Fine Arts. His great-uncle was a collector, and he left his Japanese paintings to McLaughlin’s mother.
— Christopher Knight, LA Times

Photo credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

In LACMA's video, Seeing John McLaughlin, each of the artists attempts to describe the qualities that make McLaughlin's paintings effective.  Tony DeLap says that they exhibit "a depth of feeling."  Yes. And, exactly, do paintings show feeling?  Feeling. It is essential, yet elusive.  In the exhibition, there is a text written by Edward Albee, who owned several of McLaughlin's works.  

Finally, there is the matter of the patina of age on these works.  It is something that I think about a lot.  Over time, all paintings change-- either a lot or, at best, a little.  Colors darken and yellow, cracks appear in the paint, edges are scuffed during handling.  I worry about how my own work will hold up over time.  I want my paintings to look exactly as they do today until the end of time.  And yet, as a viewer and as a lover of painting, I enjoy the physical history of work; the little bumps and bruises that accumulate over time.  

Joan Brown: Presence Known at Anglim Gilbert Gallery.  This terrifically strong show included paintings form 1974-81.  I was bowled over by the power of these works.  Everything about them is strident, direct and forthright.  Every formal decision seems necessary and right.  There's so much freedom and humor in these works.  They are personal, yet matter of fact.  The works cross through the categories of Beat, Funk and Pop, but they also go beyond, touching on painterly concerns that have preoccupied artists for hundreds of years.  I greatly enjoy Brown's exploration of the confines of the picture plane and her sophisticated sense of pictorial space. 

JOAN BROWN,  The Bicentennial Champion,  1976 ,  oil and enamel on canvas, 96 x 78 inches

JOAN BROWN, The Bicentennial Champion, 1976, oil and enamel on canvas, 96 x 78 inches

JOAN BROWN,   The Room, Part I,  1975  ,   enamel on canvas, 85.5 x 73.5 inches

JOAN BROWN, The Room, Part I, 1975 , enamel on canvas, 85.5 x 73.5 inches

My favorite piece in the show was The Room, Part I, 1975.  This painting is odd and mysterious.  It took me a while to realize that the bent knee reminded me of several Balthus paintings. It's a familiar gesture: a slumping posture that connotes petulance and boredom, but also flirtatiousness and sexual availability-- at least when rendered by a male artist.  In this case, in the hands of a female painter, the figure is largely hidden by the chair.  The viewer's gaze is directed (by the yellows and reds) back and forth between the shoe, the chair and the painting on the wall in the otherwise bare grey room (which reminds me of Francis Bacon's simply rendered rooms, defined only by a few succinct lines).  The male gaze--that of the viewer regarding the petulant, flirty girl-- is subverted.  Instead, the viewer looks at a girl who is (presumably) looking at the painting. The room is otherwise empty. Nothing else matters. The painting within the painting depicts a group of people (men?) and horses. Perhaps it is a pre- or post-battle congregation of sorts.  The men seem to be "other."  Their hair, garments and horses indicate that perhaps they are Native Americans. I have been thinking about this painting for months.  It interests me on so many levels: formally (color, composition, spatial sense), art historic connection (Balthus, Bacon), state of mind of the artist (the importance of painting), and gender/identity (position of the subject, position of the object).  

BALTHUS,  Girl with Cat,  1937

BALTHUS, Girl with Cat, 1937

BALTHUS,  The Golden Years, 1945

BALTHUS, The Golden Years, 1945

Landfill/Bedrock  at Guerrero Gallery

Landfill/Bedrock at Guerrero Gallery

Guerrero Gallery's new space.  Like many in San Francisco, I am happy to see that Guerrero Gallery has found a new location.  Finding it is a bit of an adventure, as it is tucked behind an interior design warehouse that's full of giant amethyst crystals, Buddha statues, hunks of petrified wood, air plants and antique doors and furniture from Asia.  Once you make your way through, into the bright, clean gallery space, your are in a world beyond a world.  The experience is like emerging from a primeval land into PeeWee's Playhouse.  Two shows caught my attention this year:  Landfill/Bedrock and PURPLE [Tears of Rage].  Both were bright, fun, light, brash and pleasingly rough around the edges.  The exhibitions were beautifully installed, the light is gorgeous, and it is great to see this new incarnation of the gallery, which previously skewed heavily toward young male artists.  Perhaps it's too soon to tell, but Guerrero seems to be showing more abstraction and more women artists in its new location. 

JAMES GOBEL ,  I Used To/Still Care ,   2014-16. Felt, acrylic, yarn, and embroidery thread on canvnas, 58 x 42 in. 

JAMES GOBEL, I Used To/Still Care, 2014-16. Felt, acrylic,
yarn, and embroidery thread on canvnas, 58 x 42 in. 

I was excited to see this new piece by James Gobel in Landfill/Bedrock.  I'm not sure if this is a one-off or a new direction for him, but I love the looseness, even as he adheres to his usual labor-intensive process of piecing together 'paintings' out of felt and yarn.  This piece looks like a sheet of ruled paper, turned vertically and covered with text and scribbles.  Very strong.  

PURPLE [Tears of Rage] was another solid group show at Guerrero.  I enjoyed Sofie Ramos' monochromatic paintings, even though they tend to reside in the 'one-liner' category, consisting of pre-fab textile materials saturated with paint and mounted on panels.   My favorite is outrage, our rage, orange (FTD), which looks like a patch of shag carpet dipped in orange paint, or a pile of cheetos standing up on end. Of course, it recalls Yayoi Kusama's accumulation works, as well. 

SOFIE RAMOS,  outrage, our rage, orange (FTD),  2016. Latex, hand sponge mounted to panel. 5.5 x 4.5 x 4.4 inches. 

SOFIE RAMOS, outrage, our rage, orange (FTD), 2016. Latex, hand sponge mounted to panel. 5.5 x 4.5 x 4.4 inches. 

YAYOI KUSAMA,  Compulsion Furniture (Accumulation),  c. 1964

YAYOI KUSAMA, Compulsion Furniture (Accumulation), c. 1964

I was happy to see Linda Geary's new work at Guerrero.  During the run of PURPLE [Tears of Rage], Linda had work in a concurrent exhibition, I Dreamt Bees Made Honey From My Past Failures at George Lawson Gallery.  When I saw Linda's large painting at Lawson, I thought: "That painting is coming apart.  It wants to be pulled apart.  It's barely holding together."  So, it was surprising and gratifying to see Linda's installation, Everything Comes from Something, Only Something Comes from Nothing, an installation of 100+ shaped paintings, most of them quite diminutive, arranged along one rough wall of the gallery.   

These small works look like they have been cut from existing paintings on panel with a jigsaw or a scroll saw.  The installation takes full advantage of the gallery's architecture; forms are arranged along a ragged concrete ledge. The shapes are engaged in conversation with the other works in the show and with each other. As a group, they are quite lyrical.  They remind me a little of Jean Arp's relief works. Linda Geary is a painter who is always pushing the boundaries, exploring the depths and mixing things up. I always feel the urgency of her painterly inquiry when I see her work.  

LINDA GEARY,   Everything Comes from Something, Only Something Comes From Nothing,    2012-2016.   100+ paintings, various sizes, acrylic and oil on panel

LINDA GEARY, Everything Comes from Something, Only Something Comes From Nothing, 2012-2016.
100+ paintings, various sizes, acrylic and oil on panel

LINDA GEARY,    Everything Comes from Something, Only Something Comes From Nothing,    2012-2016.   100+ paintings, various sizes, acrylic and oil on panel

LINDA GEARY, Everything Comes from Something, Only Something Comes From Nothing, 2012-2016.
100+ paintings, various sizes, acrylic and oil on panel

LINDA GEARY,    Everything Comes from Something, Only Something Comes From Nothing,    2012-2016.   100+ paintings, various sizes, acrylic and oil on panel

LINDA GEARY, Everything Comes from Something, Only Something Comes From Nothing, 2012-2016.
100+ paintings, various sizes, acrylic and oil on panel

A confession:  I have a soft spot for kitsch. Therefore, I greatly enjoyed Laura Rokas' works in PURPLE [Tears of Rage].  These paintings and ceramic sculptures are so fun, personal and clever.  The work suggests that her process involves a continual circuit between 2-D and 3-D object; she makes paintings of sculptures, and sculptures of paintings.  I am really looking forward to seeing Rokas' work develop over time.   

LAURA ROKAS,  Stabbed in the Back, Let Your Rage Guide the Way,  2016. Hand sewn patches on felt and linen; cotton embroidery floss, acid washed denim, synthetic hair, 30 x 24 inches 

LAURA ROKAS, Stabbed in the Back, Let Your Rage Guide the Way, 2016. Hand sewn patches on felt and linen; cotton embroidery floss, acid washed denim, synthetic hair, 30 x 24 inches 

LAURA ROKAS,   R.O.K.A.S. (Rage Out Kut And Scratch),   2016. Hand sewn patches; cotton embroidery floss on felt, vinyl, canvas, 20 x 18 inches.     I am in love with these custom hand-sewn patches. These works remind me of  Matthew Palladino's plaster reliefs.

LAURA ROKAS, R.O.K.A.S. (Rage Out Kut And Scratch), 2016. Hand sewn patches; cotton embroidery floss on felt, vinyl, canvas, 20 x 18 inches.  

I am in love with these custom hand-sewn patches. These works remind me of Matthew Palladino's plaster reliefs.

LAURA ROKAS, various works, ceramic

LAURA ROKAS, various works, ceramic

LAURA ROKAS,  Seeing Red,  2016. Oil on canvas, 28 x 36 inches  This painting makes me grin from ear to ear. 

LAURA ROKAS, Seeing Red, 2016. Oil on canvas, 28 x 36 inches
This painting makes me grin from ear to ear. 

Suzanne Blank Redstone at Jessica Silverman Gallery

Suzanne Blank Redstone at Jessica Silverman Gallery

Suzanne Blank Redstone: 1960s Portal Paintings at Jessica Silverman Gallery. I loved this exhibition!  What a treat to see these works unearthed by Silverman.  While I don't know how this show came about, I am delighted that it did (even though it falls into the problematic category of "exhibitions-by-ignored/overlooked-women-artists-rediscovered-by-hipster-gallerists-hoping-to-make-a-killing").  Redstone is in her 70s and has spent most of her career without the support of a gallerist. Looking at the works online before I saw the show, I wasn't sure if they would hold up, but indeed they did.  Some of them remind me of my favorite Al Held paintings. The paintings have a nice, 'complete, yet not overworked' quality.  Some aspects are a bit rough, such as the blended gradient areas, which makes them seem more urgent.  I mused that, if these were made today, they would be more slick, more labored. Redstone's faster, lighter touch works somehow, and helps to locate the paintings within their timeframe.  Her works on paper (which I would categorize as studies) are beautiful, too--very assured--and nearly as powerful as the large paintings, despite their small scale.   

SUZANNE BLANK REDSTONE,  Portal 1,  1967. Acrylic on shaped masonite, 44.5 x 66 inches   

SUZANNE BLANK REDSTONE, Portal 1, 1967. Acrylic on shaped masonite, 44.5 x 66 inches   

SUZANNE BLANK REDSTONE,   Portal - Descent,   1968. Acrylic on   masonite, 41 x 74.5 inches

SUZANNE BLANK REDSTONE, Portal - Descent, 1968. Acrylic on masonite, 41 x 74.5 inches

A few other shows worth mentioning, below. Please click links to view.  

RADICAL: Monochrome Paintings from the Goodman Duffy Collection at George Lawson Gallery

WINSTON ROETH,  Insider , 2001.  A crylic on Hexcel® honeycomb panel   45 x 32 in.

WINSTON ROETH, Insider, 2001. Acrylic on Hexcel® honeycomb panel
45 x 32 in.

LOUISE NEVELSON,  Untitled,  1964 I love the satiny black of this piece, which reads almost like graphite. Once your eyes adjust to the value scale, the whole piece comes into focus. 

LOUISE NEVELSON, Untitled, 1964
I love the satiny black of this piece, which reads almost like graphite. Once your eyes adjust to the value scale, the whole piece comes into focus. 

“My plan is to grow these physical fields of pattern into monumentalized paintings,” says Grabner. “At such a scale, the gingham fields will continue to evoke an American domestic nostalgia but they will also speak to the authority of painting.” With some canvases measuring nearly 100 inches tall, these gingham paintings usurp the viewer’s periphery.
— Gallery 16 press release

It's interesting and surprising to me what work sticks over time.  I'd like to write about exhibitions while they're on view, but my thoughts don't solidify quickly, so I like to wait and see what rises to the top over a period of weeks or months.  In the New Year, I'll be writing about my recent trip to London and Paris, so please stay tuned.  

Art Jaunt to Dallas-Fort Worth

A few months ago, my art pal, Tom Mueske, called and said, "Amy, I think we need to go to Dallas."  I'd been so immersed in the studio that I hadn't been aware that the Dallas Museum of Art would be the only U.S. venue for Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots, a comprehensive survey of Pollock's black paintings (1951-53). While we were on the phone, I did a quick web search of the other museums in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  We set a date, made our travel plans and, a couple of months later, met at Dallas Love Field on a Friday afternoon.  We checked into our hotel, walked over to the DMA (which is free, except for special exhibitions) and headed straight for the exhibition.  Our exhibition tickets allowed for multiple entries, so we went through the show on Friday, twice on Saturday and once more on Sunday, spending about 6 hours total with the black paintings. 

In addition to the DMA, we visited the Kimbell Art Museum, The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, The Nasher Sculpture Center, the Dallas Contemporary and a few galleries.  It was non-stop art for two and a half days, with Tex-Mex and cocktails in the evenings.

I allowed this art pilgrimage to really settle in before writing about it. With these five venues,  the Dallas-Fort Worth area is rich in truly spectacular art and architecture.  So much of what we viewed has stayed with me.  Here are a few highlights:

Dallas Museum of Art.  The DMA is one of those old-fashioned general museums, full of families and school children.  Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots was a special exhibition.  The galleries were were designed to resemble a New York gallery in the 50s: intimate, carpeted spaces with Le Corbusier chairs and Mies van der Rohe benches.  In general, the black paintings have been under-appreciated.  Some regard the move away from the dense and intricate poured paintings toward a more open, pseudo-figurative approach as a step back for Pollock.  However, seeing these paintings together, along with a gorgeous installation of works on paper and a few small sculptures, I was extremely aware of Pollock's technical mastery and willingness to experiment with techniques and materials, and his ability to expand upon the techniques he had previously developed.  The fluidity of line is perfectly confident, varied and purposeful.  The hints of figuration are integrated with pure abstract elements. Christopher Knight reviewed the show for the Los Angeles Times, and I agree with his assessment: Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots is the rare exhibition that triggers a revision of one's long held beliefs about an artist and his work.  One thing that really struck me was the patina of the raw canvas.  It is pleasantly aged and tawny (almost golden)  creating an aura of authenticity and historical import.  I wish I could go back in time and see these works when the canvas was new and just barely off-white.  Did the paintings have a different impact? 

Echo (Number 25, 1951),  1951

Echo (Number 25, 1951), 1951

Convergence: Number 10, 1952, 1952

This painting is the perfect blending of the techniques of the black paintings and the earlier poured paintings.  It literally sizzles with opticality. 



The catalogue for the exhibition is an excellent resource.  I was so saddened to read this on the first page:

If only he knew...

[detail]  Silver Square,  c. 1950    This piece was painted on the rough side of a piece of Masonite.  I love the silver ground and the lively line work.  I also enjoyed Pollock's experiments on various papers: Japanese, mulberry and Howell.  He treated each so differently, with absolute sensitivity to the surface texture and absorbency. 

[detail] Silver Square, c. 1950  

This piece was painted on the rough side of a piece of Masonite.  I love the silver ground and the lively line work.  I also enjoyed Pollock's experiments on various papers: Japanese, mulberry and Howell.  He treated each so differently, with absolute sensitivity to the surface texture and absorbency. 

Orignal exhibition poster.

After a couple of hours in the exhibition, we went back to the hotel, had dinner and went to bed early.   

Kimbell Art Museum. The Kimbell is one of my "bucket list" museums.  The original Louis Khan (1972) building is complimented by the Renzo Piano Pavilion (2013). Both are wondrous.  The Khan building is possibly the most perfect building I have ever seen.  The materials, the proportions, the light.  Oh, the light!  The natural light enters in a way that is gentle and diffused.  The entire space is luminous.  The museum is small, and filled with high-quality, mind-boggling treasures.

The vaulted ceiling lets in diffused light that floods the space. 

Giovanni Bellini, Christ Blessing, c. 1438-1516

Tintoretto, Portrait of Doge Pietro Loredan, 1518-1594

The ermine cape is so incredibly rendered.  The brushstrokes are so loose that it is impossible to discern the image when you are close to the painting. 

Picasso, Nude Combing Her Hair, 1906.  This painting really stayed with me.  The concrete awkwardness of the figure, mass of hair, mask-like face, soft brushy background and the placement of the figure within the picture plane gave me a sense of physical tension and compression.  

The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.  This museum was the biggest surprise of our trip.  The building was designed by Tadao Ando in 2002, and it is hands-down one of the best museums I've seen for contemplating works of contemporary art: galleries are perfectly proportioned, works of art have plenty of room to breathe and sight lines are excellent.  The museum is situated near the Kimbell.  We were there on a Saturday, and the museum was pleasantly quiet, allowing for private, extended engagement with the art.  Works from the permanent collection were on view.  WOW!  I could include a hundred things, but here are few highlights:

Andy Warhol, Self-Portrait, 1986

The placement of this painting could not be better, with Andy presiding over the museum with an eerie Wizard of Oz effect.

The museum has many single-artist spaces.  I love this Ellsworth Kelly installation. 

A small, but terrific, painting by Roy Lichtenstein. The museum also holds Lichtenstein's Mr. Bellamy in the collection, but I particularly enjoyed this simple yet powerful piece. 

One of the best Pearlsteins I have ever seen: Two Female Models on Eames Chair and Stool, 1976. The use of color, diagonal figure-eight composition, strong vectors and repetition of linear elements (fingers, stomach, breastbone) make for a very dynamic picture. 

Lynda Benglis, For Carl Andre, 1970.  This terrifc Benglis looks so fresh, as if it had been made yesterday.  The foam is in great condition. 

Morris Louis, Dalet Kaf, 1959.  The Modern has two Louis paintings, both absolute exemplars.  This is probably the best of the Veil series works that I have seen.

Joan Mitchell, Untitled, 1961.  A really wonderful Mitchell with a great palette of purples and earthy golds. 

[detail] It was timely for me to see these color relationships as I am working on two paintings with strong yellow and purple elements. 

A small gem by Howard Hodgkin. 

Tom, with an enormous stunner by Mark Bradford. 

Dan Christensen, Pavo, 1968.  We weren't allowed to photograph this painting.  I've seen it in reproduction a lot. It is really spectacular in person. The ground is luminous and metallic, glittering in its iridescence.  It is one of those works that, had it not been so perfectly executed, would be meaningless. 

I could go on, but let it suffice that the Modern is a destination museum, and the fact that it is next door to the Kimbell makes Fort Worth a necessary stop for any art pilgrim. 

Dallas Contemporary.  After a full and satisfyingly mind-boggling day in Fort Worth, we made it back to Dallas in time to see the Dallas Contemporary, a non-collecting exhibition space in the warehouse district.  We were delighted to find Black Sheep Feminism: The Art of Sexual Politics on view.  The exhibition included four radical feminist artists active since the 1970s: Joan Semmel, Anita Steckel, Betty Tompkins and Cosey Fanni Tutti.  As scholar Richard Meyer has written, they "eroticized the male body in ways that conformed neither to heterosexual convention nor to mainstream feminist thought at the time...The art they produced reminds us that sexuality cannot be made to align with politics, including the politics of feminism." Photos were not permitted, but here is a terrific overview of the exhibition by curator Alison M. Gingeras.  Tom and I agreed that some of the work, while important and radical in its time, appears dated now.  However, Betty Tompkins' work looked fresh and timeless.  It was great to see such a fine selection of her Fuck Paintings from the early 70s.  Much like the Tintoretto we saw earlier in the day at the Kimbell, the images fall apart when you stand in close proximity to the work. All you see is paint, surface and technique, until you move back far enough to perceive the image. The Dallas Contemporary was a perfect, jarring, gritty end to our day. It was really wonderful to experience this 70s feminist time-capsule exhibition.  It reminded me how much can be--should be!--at stake in art making.

Betty Tompkins and her work, c. early 1970s.

On Sunday, we went to see the Pollock show one last time, first thing in the morning when the museum was still quiet.  It was great to have the opportunity to see the show multiple times over the course of two and a half days. I really had the chance to let the works burn into my eyes and memory.  

As it turned out, a beautiful Rebecca Warren exhibition, The Main Feeling, opened that very day.  While some of the DMA's galleries are a bit dated and stodgy, the Warren exhibition was in a suite of light, airy, beautifully proportioned galleries, and included three different bodies of work: blobby works in clay and bronze, some small and painted, displayed on plinths, and some tall. thin and figurative (here is a short Art Forum piece in which Warren discusses her recent bronze works); works from her vitrine series, which employ wall-mounted cabinets, small objects and neon light; and large works made of welded steel slabs.  I respond most favorably to the first group, which heavily draw from de Kooning, Degas and Giacometti. While the other two bodies of work are also interesting, Warren's divergent approaches prompted me to wonder about a particular (unfortunate? problematic?) phenomenon of postmodernism: the gratuitous diversity of practice.  Or, phrased differently: at what point does the extreme diversity of practice become gratuitous, a mere market strategy? This has nagged at me a bit, even though I greatly enjoyed this exhibition. 

Rebecca Warren.

Rebecca Warren.

Rebecca Warren.

Rebecca Warren. 

From there, we went to the Nasher Sculpture Center. Another spectacular building filled with the best of the best; too many treasures to count.  Here are a three of my favorites:

Willem de Kooning, Clamdigger, 1972.  After seeing the Rebecca Warren exhibition, it was great to see de Kooning's large plaster sculpture.  I love this piece.  It is simultaneously scary, sad, pathetic, expressive, with a lively surface and a patina made of linseed oil and soap.  It's mesmerizing, lumpy, barely a figure, but terribly human. According to the wall text, de Kooning wore three pairs of heavy work gloves, one over the other, so that his hands and his gestures would be bigger.  Brilliant. 



Okay, I like Richard Serra as much as the next person, but this is the first time I ever had a truly spiritual experience with a Serra.  Why?  Well, this piece, My Curves Are Not Mad, is in the Nasher's beautiful garden.  The day was gorgeous, warm and sunny, and the light was dappled and brilliant in spots, animating the surface of the piece. Trees swayed in the breeze, casting elegant shadows on the Cor-Ten steel surface. The brilliant green of the lawn reflected off the steel. And then, the church bells rang for three full minutes, providing a soundtrack for the moving shadow forms. Unbelievable.  I was lucky to capture a video. 

Somehow, the brilliant green grass cast a reflection on the inside of the piece. It was a hovering cloud of bright green, impossibly beautiful. 

Last, but not least, I enjoyed at terrific piece by Ann Veronica Janssens, Blue, Red and Yellow, 2001, an outdoor box-like room made of translucent walls, colored with blue, red and yellow films, illuminated by natural light, and filled with thick fog.  Upon entering, one immediately loses one's bearings.  The viewer is enveloped in colored fog and is unable to see more than a few inches.  Really, there is nothing to see but color and light. Magical, fun, and disruptive.  In a way, it is similar to the experience of being inside a pitch-dark cave, but one is lost in light rather than darkness. I watched viewers going in and coming out. Some people were terrified (losing all sense of their visual control, not knowing whether anything else would "happen" to them as they stumbled about in the space) while others found it relaxing, peaceful and enjoyable. I found it to be a unique, pleasurable and pure sensory experience. 

Somehow, the colored films shift and mix, producing a soft and playful cubic form. 

This is what it looked like inside, but the color is variable and the piece shifts through the color spectrum,  Beautiful. 

This is what it looked like inside, but the color is variable and the piece shifts through the color spectrum,  Beautiful. 

After the Nasher, we popped into the DMA one last time to peruse the permanent collection, which contains a number of gems. I will end with this piece, a painting by an  artist unfamiliar to us, Sadamasa Motonaga.  It surprised and delighted both of us and looks particularly fresh and timely, as if a young LA artist made it yesterday. Ah, nothing is new. 

Sadamasa Motonaga, ine, Line, Line, 1979. 

We headed back to Dallas Love Field, had a beer and boarded our respective planes. What a great, unforgettable trip. 

An Unexpected and Delightful Collaboration with Adam Hathaway

It's great when things come full circle.  When my friend Adam Hathaway told me about his project, Rainbrush, and asked me (along with Sarah SmithRenetta SitoyGrant DavidsonTamra SealS.D. Willis and Carrie Hott) to collaborate with him by providing him with an image that would be interpreted by his painting machine, I was intrigued.  According to Adam, Rainbrush would be a machine that "makes simulated rainfall, and that simulated rainfall makes a watercolor painting.  There will 288 individual vials giving a final resolution of 12 x 24 'pixels.'  I'm hoping the final images will simply appear to be blurry renditions of the original, like looking at something with your naked eye while under water."  

I selected a cropped image of one of my recent paintings, Variation (white), 2014, and sent it to Adam.  My work begins with digital imagery that is then translated, via process and materiality, into a painting.  Adam took an image of my painting, reinterpreted it as a low-resolution arrangement of pixels, which he then used to program Rainbrush to make a watercolor painting.

It is wonderful to participate in and witness the cycle of digital>material>digital>material image-making. Brilliant job, Adam!  

Rainbrush is currently on view at Aggregate Space Gallery in Oakland.  Congrats, Adam, and thanks for inviting me to collaborate with you!

(Left)  Rainbrush  painting; (center) pixel mapping of my painting; (right) detail of my painting,  Variation (white),  2014

(Left) Rainbrush painting; (center) pixel mapping of my painting; (right) detail of my painting, Variation (white), 2014

A detail of  Rainbrush  and its color vials.

A detail of Rainbrush and its color vials.

Adam Hathaway's  Rainbrush  in action at Aggregate Space Gallery.

Adam Hathaway's Rainbrush in action at Aggregate Space Gallery.

Rainbrush  making a painting based on  Variation (white)

Rainbrush making a painting based on Variation (white)

Studio Blog!

Welcome to my studio!  This is my first blog post.

This is a detail shot of one of my new paintings, Variation (orange).  Nearly finished!