Yearly Archives: 2014

Nights and Days of Chris Ofili and Benny Andrews

In recent days I have posted on Facebook galleries of photos from recent exhibitions I’ve just seen, with a brief text which I typically write quickly, just enough to give readers a quick sense of the work. Since Facebook’s algorithm is notoriously unreliable, I thought I would republish two such brief reports, about works I saw in the past two days, especially since the works presented here propelled me into the studio, an effect of art work that I particularly noted when I began this blog. As is often the case, happenstance unexpectedly reveals thematics. This is a case in point.

Sunday December 21 * Here are some pictures of my visit to Night and Day, the Chris Ofili exhibition at the New Museum. I should say my first visit because I intend to go again, this is a show it is a pleasure to spend time with and the works make you spend time. I very much wanted to see the show although/because I haven’t seen that much of Ofili’s work, and my attitude was in a sense neutral because on the one hand I am not necessarily a fan of a kind of stylized style of figuration and yet I love cartoon figuration. Same duality about vivid color. So, needle set at neutral but looking forward to and anxious to see.

It’s a great show and by far the best use of the New Museum’s awkward cold space I have ever seen. Each floor tells a story and each room is not just a space to stick some work, but to consider a body of work. Important to go in order, second floor, third floor, fourth floor, and fifth floor for small exhibition of his work for ballet.

YEAR-Night-Day-Ofili-1

YEAR-Night-Day-Ofili-2

On the second floor, first thing you see coming out of the elevator is an installation of works from Ofili’s series Afromuses, 170 small framed watercolors (looks like watercolor and ink) of silhouetted heads of African women and men, emphasizing the abstract design of hairdos, patterned textiles of clothing and jewelry. These works, a selection of a larger series, emphasizes the importance of drawing–these were works that the artist did every morning for about 10 years for about fifteen minutes as warm ups for painting, and they serve here as a warm up to the rest of the show.

YEAR-Night-Day-Ofili-3

One experiences them twice, as you loop back to them after going around the corner first into a large space with a great group of large paintings from the 90s, including the notorious Holy Virgin Mary of Mayor Giuliani fame.

YEAR-Night-Day-Ofili-4

YEAR-Night-day-Ofili-4detail

These paintings have a great sense of scale, and the fact that each rests on a ball of elephant dung adorned with the title of the work rather than being hung on a wall keeps them at the level of the viewer’s body. They are intensely surfaced, vividly pigmented, very funny–at one point I started thinking about the Simpsons–and very moving: particularly striking from across the room as well as directly in front of is No Woman, No Cry about the mother of a black teenager killed in a racially motivated assault in London. This painting’s use of the ball of dung is particularly striking, as a piece of jewelry which is also a weight, a scar, a tumor, at the core of the painting.

YEAR-NIght-Day-Ofili-6

YEAR-Night-Day-Ofili-detail-text

So already two impressive groups of works, but the show really gets impressive when one walks into the next room, lit slightly differently, with large paintings which share a color scheme of green, black, pink, red, and white, and a lush sexuality and sensuality.

YEAR-Night-Day-Ofili-7

YEAR-Night-Day-Ofili-7-detail

At this point in the show looking at these works I also felt strongly that these paintings were made by the artist, that he was engaged in the painting, even though these are not conventional paintings–there is neither brushwork, ton smooth flatness, the surfaces are complex, textural, layered, constructed, but they are convincingly by one person making decisions as he goes along

YEAR-Night-Day-Ofili-8

YEAR-Night-Day-Ofili-8-detail1

YEAR-NIght-Day-Ofili-8-detail2

The next floor is dedicated to a darkened room with dark paintings which at first are nearly unreadable, somewhat like figurative Ad Reinhardts. Strangely my iPhone camera was able to pick out forms that my eye could not. The darkness hides dark subject matter including a lynching. It is a room I particularly want to return to, must return to, to see what more I can see.

YEAR-Night-Day-Ofili-9

YEAR-Night-Day-Ofili-10

The next floor (4th fl of the museum) is the total opposite, an emotional reversal: a knockout of color and sensuality, yet painted much more flatly than the first large paintings. No more stippling, no more varnish and glitter, no more elephant dung, in some cases figures appear to be drawn on the linen with charcoal. They bring to mind William Blake (an important artist to Ofili) and Nabis and early 20th century Viennese Orientalism, and also a lot of mid-twentieth century European artists, Matisse’s cut outs, late Picabia, Chagall even. The walls of the room are painted a light violet and blue floral pattern (based on images from Powell and Pressburger‘s movie Black Narcissus–a movie about Western sexuality repressed by religiosity and unmoored by its encounter with the exotic eroticism of the Himalayas–and painted on the wall by a team of professional scenic painters, according to the guard we spoke to). This helps transform the scale of the room in a way that is humanizing and welcoming, a large public space that one wants to spend time in, go back to, a vivid Botanical Gardens of painting.

YEAR-Night-Day-Ofili-11YEAR-Night-Day-Ofili-12

The way I’ve described the show here is to give a sense of the experience floor by floor. There are some critical issues, or issues one could have a discussion about: how do these work somehow radiate a sincerity opposite from works from the New Expressionist period that share some of the same references to between the World Wars European stylization of the figure? Is the role and critical reception of stylized figuration, vivid pigmentation of painting, vivid patterning and gaudy surface different when the artist is a person of color with ties to Africa , now living in the Caribbean? How is the reception different if similar images are presented by a male artist or a female artist? The work itself resists these, often unspoken problematics, and this is part of their strength and affirmation.

Monday December 22 *

YEAR-Night-Day-Andrews-No-MOre-Games-2

I went to MoMA yesterday and saw this really interesting painting by Benny Andrews: it is large, bold, arresting. Not a perfect painting–what appears to be a mutilated body covered by a crumpled American flag is awkward, not just disturbing, which it is, but awkwardly drawn, with strong foreshortening and the crumpled three dimensional cloth of the flag intruding into our space, and yet the painting, No More Games from 1970–is all the more powerful because of that awkwardness, a smoother painting would not be as effective, would be a contradiction. Each element means something, in the way that everything means something in a Northern Renaissance painting, there is iconography going on here, but iconography that is invented and adapted to speak to a desperate situation, a broken dream, the desperation of rebellion perhaps. Iconography is an important terms because in fact the painting also has a strong biblical reference, the painting is organized around a tree of knowledge and of patriotism that has been ravaged, leaving only the stump and the snake. Eve has been murdered for her sins–not sure about the sexual politics of this painting because its overall politics seem mainly about something other than sexual politics–and Adam sits with the body. Is it his crime?

 

YEAR-Night-Day-Andrews-detail-4

The sun shines bleakly on bare canvas, it has burned the background away to a stark empty apocalyptic desert, and the figure of the man, “Adam” has a shade, a flat black shadow silhouette who springs from the same pair of high tops as the figure. This figure is very inventively painted and very sculptural, both representationally and literally, wearing a real T-shirt stuck on him like clothes on a paper doll.

No More Games. What a title for this moment, what a day to see it, when the senseless massacre of cops in NY arrives to devastate and demonize a budding civil rights movement.

A really strong painting, it would be nice if the museum saw fit to put some more lights on it, though the lower light on the right hand side and the fact that the painting is right off the escalator, in the hallway, means one comes upon it, the way you discover something powerful in the subway or on a street wall. By the way, the hallway seems to be the installation spot of choice for–often figurative (and perhaps not coincidentally often political)–paintings by “others,” Alice Neel, Robert Colescott near the bathroom a few months ago. No More Games is by far the painting that remains with me from all the paintings I’ve seen in the past few days, it is a political essay–a trying something out, as a painting it is trying something out in painting: Rauschenbergian–that is, post-War, use of the real on a flat modernist picture plane, within a Renaissance representational program, to speak to a political history that is rarely faced, especially within painting.

The painting is on the third floor, just outside a really good installation of late 60s/70s painting, sculpture, and video. The painting’s installation outside of the illuminating historical presentation is both insulting and fitting, given its subject matter, which cannot be properly contained within the institution.

YEAR-Night-Day-Andrews-No-MOre-Games

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail

To view embedded video

Dear subscribers, it’s been a while since I posted a video on A Year so I forgot to remind you all that embedded YouTube videos don’t work within emails, just click on the blog post title which will open up the blog post in your browser and the video will work in the browser. Or to view the lecture in December 5 blog post, click on this link:

Thanks,
Mira

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail

“Abstract Marriage: Sculpture by Ilya Schor and Resia Schor”-Lecture by Mira Schor

On the occasion of my mother Resia Schor‘s birthday today (b. December 5, 1910 near Lublin, Poland), I’d like to share a lecture I gave at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum August 20, 2013, in conjunction with the exhibition “Abstract Marriage: Sculpture by Ilya Schor and Resia Schor” at PAAM, August 16 – September 29, 2013

I take the liberty of sharing this video not just because I am proud of my parents’ extraordinary works-which I am!–but also because some of the histories, diverse traditions, and diverse methods of making that infuse their work are worth recalling now, and suggest models of art practice of interest and value even though they may belong to a very different era and philosophy of craft and art.

NOTE: comments during the lecture about the quality of the slide projections refer to issues that have been corrected in this version of the video.

The catalogue of exhibition available here

Selected installation images:

ilya_resia_schor__02

ilya_resia_schor__10

ilya_resia_schor__13

Resia Schor, Lockerbie, 1990, and Ilya Schor, Lovers, c.1958

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail

The mice will play

If you are an artist or just about anyone participating in the art world, this is not the week to email anyone, or send announcements about anything, or, indeed write a blog post that focuses on anything but the shiny smooth surfaces presented on art media coverage of the fairs: nothing will be heard except the concentration of commerce in Miami.

The cats are away, so at what will the mice play?

Meanwhile at night the streets and highways of New York resonate with people materializing in one neighborhood and then another, chanting “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” What can the mice who are not gathered in the brightly lit agora, and those who are, do about the present injustices, if anything? What is the worth of a single artist’s voice or even the voice of a people?

This summer I was captivated by an essay by Austrian philosopher Gerald Raunig, “Josephine, Or Streaking The Territory,” in his 2013 book Factories of Knowledge, Industries of Creativity.Through it I learned of a short story by Franz Kafka, his last short story, “Josephine, the Singer, or the Mouse Folk.” The concept of an artist’s work as a “weak event,” barely different from the work of the other mice people yet vital to their sense of community, the image of the artist who is as conceited and contemptuous of her audience as she is justifiably admired and heroic, the artist whose song is at best a “gentle streaking of the territory”–all these weak indicators of the generous egotism and valiant futility of the artist offer a model for artistic engagement with the body politic which, by recognizing futility and significance alike, might give an artist some tiny bit of hope for the meaning of the work.

Here are the pages of the short text interspersed with some quotes from Kafka’s story:

YEAR_MICE_Gerald-Raunig-Josephine-or-streaking-the-territory-1a

Is the artist any different than the rest of her people?

Among intimates we admit freely to one another that Josephine’s singing, as singing, is nothing out of the ordinary.

Is it in fact singing at all? Although we are unmusical we have a tradition of singing; in the old days our people did sing; this is mentioned in legends and some songs have actually survived, which, it is true, no one can now sing. Thus we have an inkling of what singing is, and Josephine’s art does not really correspond to it. So is it singing at all? Is it not perhaps just a piping? And piping is something we all know about, it is the real artistic accomplishment of our people, or rather no mere accomplishment but a characteristic expression of our life. We all pipe, but of course no one dreams of making out that our piping is an art, we pipe without thinking of it, indeed without noticing it, and there are even many among us who are quite unaware that piping is one of our characteristics. So if it were true that Josephine does not sing but only pipes and perhaps, as it seems to me at least, hardly rises above the level of our usual piping—yet, perhaps her strength is not even quite equal to our usual piping, whereas an ordinary farmhand can keep it up effortlessly all day long, besides doing his work—if that were all true, then indeed Josephine’s alleged vocal skill might be disproved, but that would merely clear the ground for the real riddle which needs solving, the enormous influence she has….

After all, it is only a kind of piping that she produces. If you post yourself quite far away from her and listen, or, still better, put your judgment to the test, whenever she happens to be singing along with others, by trying to identify her voice, you will undoubtedly distinguish nothing but a quite ordinary piping tone, which at most differs a little from the others through being delicate or weak. Yet if you sit down before her, it is not merely a piping; to comprehend her art it is necessary not only to hear but to see her. Even if hers were only our usual workaday piping, there is first of all this peculiarity to consider, that here is someone making a ceremonial performance out of doing the usual thing.

But we listen to the artist precisely because of her imperfections, which attract more than the artist who is trained and proficient:

She gets effects which a trained singer would try in vain to achieve among us and which are only produced precisely because her means are so inadequate. …This piping, which rises up where everyone else is pledged to silence, comes almost like a message from the whole people to each individual; Josephine’s thin piping amidst grave decisions is almost like our people’s precarious existence amidst the tumult of a hostile world. Josephine exerts herself, a mere nothing in voice, a mere nothing in execution, she asserts herself and gets across to us; it does us good to think of that. A really trained singer, if ever such a one should be found among us, we could certainly not endure at such a time and we should unanimously turn away from the senselessness of any such performance.

YEAR_MICE_Gerald-Raunig-Josephine-or-streaking-the-territory-2

The artist is the individual who steps forward at times of need and gives all her strength to the song:

Our life is very uneasy, every day brings surprises, apprehensions, hopes, and terrors, so that it would be impossible for a single individual to bear it all did he not always have by day and night the support of his fellows; but even so it often becomes very difficult; frequently as many as a thousand shoulders are trembling under a burden that was really meant only for one pair. Then Josephine holds that her time has come. So there she stands, the delicate creature, shaken by vibrations especially below the breastbone, so that one feels anxious for her, it is as if she has concentrated all her strength on her song, as if from everything in her that does not directly subserve her singing all strength has been withdrawn, almost all power of life, as if she were laid bare, abandoned, committed merely to the care of good angels, as if while she is so wholly withdrawn and living only in her song a cold breath blowing upon her might kill her.

YEAR_MICE_Gerald-Raunig-Josephine-or-streaking-the-territory-3

The audience is in part competitive and dismissive, in part enraptured:

But just when she makes such an appearance, we who are supposed to be her opponents are in the habit of saying: “She can’t even pipe; she has to put such a terrible strain on herself to force out not a song—we can’t call it song—but some approximation to our usual customary piping.” So it seems to us, but this impression although, as I said, inevitable is yet fleeting and transient. We too are soon sunk in the feeling of the mass, which, warmly pressed body to body, listens with indrawn breath.

YEAR_MICE_Gerald-Raunig-Josephine-or-streaking-the-territory-4

The artist feels “it is she who protects the people. When we are in a bad way politically or economically, her singing is supposed to save us, nothing less than that, and if it does not drive away the evil, at least gives us the strength to bear it.”

YEAR_MICE_Gerald-Raunig-Josephine-or-streaking-the-territory-5

Those who feel that art must have an objective function based on objective research that is objective, or those who both insist that art fulfill a transformative critical function yet reject fantasies of resistance, might find what Josephine gives the people a bit too idealistic:

Here in the brief intervals between their struggles our people dream, it is as if the limbs of each were loosened, as if the harried individual once in a while could relax and stretch himself at ease in the great, warm bed of the community. And into these dreams Josephine’s piping drops note by note; she calls it pearl-like, we call it staccato; but at any rate here it is in its right place, as nowhere else, finding the moment—wait for it—as music scarcely ever does. Something of our poor brief childhood is in it, something of lost happiness that can never be found again, but also something of active daily life, of its small gaieties, unaccountable and yet springing up and not to be obliterated. And indeed this is all expressed not in full round tones but softly, in whispers, confidentially, sometimes a little hoarsely. Of course it is a kind of piping. Why not? Piping is our people’s daily speech, only many a one pipes his whole life long and does not know it, where here piping is set free from the fetters of daily life and it sets us free too for a little while. We certainly should not want to do without these performances.

YEAR_MICE_Gerald-Raunig-Josephine-or-streaking-the-territory-6

YEAR_MICE_Gerald-Raunig-Josephine-or-streaking-the-territory-7

YEAR_MICE_Gerald-Raunig-Josephine-or-streaking-the-territory-8

What will the artist have contributed? What will be left of the song?

The time will soon come when her last notes sound and die into silence. She is a small episode in the eternal history of our people, and the people will get over the loss of her. Not that it will be easy for us; how can our gatherings take place in utter silence? Still, were they not silent even when Josephine was present? Was her actual piping notably louder and more alive than the memory of it will be? Was it even in her lifetime more than a simple memory? Was it not rather because Josephine’s singing was already past losing in this way that our people in their wisdom prized it so highly?

Georg Flegel (1561-1638), Still Life with Mouse and Parrot, Coll. Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail

Thanks for the Memories: The Whitney and The Breuer Building Years

Today the Whitney Museum is ending its 48 years in its Marcel Breuer building on 75th and Madison with a 36 hours marathon. The building was open through the night last night and will close tonight October 19 at 11PM.

I had thought about going at midnight but decided that I had said my goodbyes earlier in the month when I was one of the last people in the New York art world to see the Jeff Koons show.

Perhaps it is an exaggeration to say that every New York artist has a deep relationship of a kind of ownership of the Whitney in that building, which is the only place where most of us knew the Whitney Museum. Perhaps because it felt like family, we often have been angry at it, the Biennials rather like Thanksgiving dinners, something where you’re disappointed by some of the food, you have a lot of resentment about who was there, you feel it’s gone downhill but you’ve learned a lot from it, and you look forward to the next one. There have been so many exhibitions of note in this building and it has been such a quirky idiosyncratic but intimate place to experience art! I have not yet seen the new building, all the way on the west side, huge, filled, we are told, with the requisite large performance spaces for a more spectacular culture, and not near any public transportation, which marks it as another kind of place entirely than the cosmopolitan urban space and the kind of urban life that marked the New York of the modernist era.

On my last visit, ostensibly to see the Jeff Koons show, I also felt I was saying goodbye to the building, even though that is irrational since the building will remain as a space in which contemporary art will be exhibited. The Metropolitan Museum has deep pockets and takes good care of its properties, and also they have a limited multiyear lease only, until 2023, not ownership, but the Met, as much as I dearly love it, also has a tendency to tart things up with little extra luxuries that might be in the wrong taste in Breuer’s austere though warm building, so a lot depends on how much of the building’s interior is landmarked and how much the Met is interested in respecting the building’s interior as a modernist art work. The size and proportion of the rooms, the elegant brut nature of the stone floors and concrete ceilings, the inset lightbulb fixtures, and the relaxed configuration of the small lobby, the quiet of the stairwell, are as much part of the experience as the art seen, and confer dignity to the visitor to the museum. The art’s adaptation to that space, and the fact that the museum was just not that big also contributed to the possibility of an intimate experience, something that is now considered undesirable by most museums because it relies on art and the individual experience of the viewer with the artwork, rather than on a contemporary social network experience writ large and targeted for iPhone documentation rather than contemplation and private thought.

YESR-Whitney-Koons-IMG_9374YEAR-Whitney-KOONS-Zwirner-IMG_9843

Even the Koons exhibition benefited from its interaction with this space. I had seen the blue balls works at Zwirner a couple of years ago and the chill of the white plaster in the large white space, clean bright white on clean bright white–which I somehow imagine will be the temperature of style of the new Whitney’s interior–was synergistically antipathetic to the human whereas at the Breuer Whitney, the concrete ceiling with its service ducts bare, created a useful counterpoint to the chill of these particular works by Koons, just as the sculptural ceiling of the 4th floor provided a counterpoint of some helpful gravitas to Koons’ Play-Doh  sculpture.

YER-Whitney-Koons_c_IMG_9311

I started my last visit at the top on the 5th floor, where some of the museum’s permanent collection was on view arranged along the theme of gifts to the museum. I was particularly struck and moved by the fortuitous juxtaposition of two large square paintings, one by Helen Frankenthaler, the other by Grace Hartigan. Hartigan has never struck me as the strongest of the three major women artists of the Abstract Expressionist New York School era, the third being Joan Mitchell, and Frankenthaler’s mid-late career works could get very rote and boring, but this was a very strong Frankenthaler and a complex Hartigan which seemed to gain strength from its neighbor’s bold clarity.

Year-Whitney-Frankenthaler-Hartigan-IMG_9292

Like everyone else I took lots of pictures of Koons’ shiny objects. I happen to like some of Koons work very much, while despising other works and the show was equally distributed among the ghastly vulgar sexist, and the sublimely mirrored iconic. I particularly enjoyed taking a picture of myself in the purple balloon tondo that reflected the entire room it was exhibited in, including the great asymmetrical window.

Year-Whitney-Koons-IMG_9320

I also noted on a trip to the ladies’ room on the second floor that the Whitney was acting like anyone who is moving out of a place: there were empty shelves where exhibition displays normally would be, the utility closet was gaping open in the bathroom, and why repair loose fixtures, let the next tenant take care of it.

Year-Whitney-MG_9369

YEAR-Whitney-IMG_9367

YEAR-Whitney-IMG_9368

Finally I sat in the lobby. The museum bookstore, in recent days reduced to last bits and pieces, was once one of the really useful art bookstores of New York, it had no special room, just shelving in a smallish area near the coat check–hey guys I know many of your faces and you’ve been nice and I hope you all keep your jobs– and in addition to the requisite museum-branded chatchkes, there was a great selection of art books including art theory and criticism, selected by people who cared about books (I was honored to have my books there, or maybe just Wet, not sure now but anyway, honored because the selection was thoughtful and the space limited). In recent years there were fewer books and a less diverse and critical selection. The Met has a talent for proliferating gift shops, I don’t mind so long as they leave that open casual feeling that made the lobby of the building seem like a living room of a family you knew.

YEAR-Whitney-IMG_9380

I thought of all the exhibitions I had seen in this building through the years. I decided to look back through the Museum’s website of past exhibitions to recall some great shows but their current website only goes back to 2006. I won’t go hunting through my notes over the years, but will just select a few from over the years that have stayed in my memory.

Starting from the top of my head, some of the memories have not been substantiated by factual research: I distinctly remember a work by Richard Tuttle that was simply a white wall that one gradually realized had inset into its flat surface a rotating disk, white on white. The wall turned. I think I did see such a piece but I don’t think or haven’t been able to prove that it was a Tuttle, so I did see this but now I’m not sure whose work it was (this goes back to the 1970s I think). An early reader of this post tells me it was most likely Rotating Circle by Charles Ray from 1988, must be, and most likely then in a Biennial from that era, interesting how the memory shifts information from one place to another.

In a Biennial before 1974 or 75, or in a group show at any rate, I noticed little oval steelwool-like pads installed in spaces that normally would not contain art–above a red exit sign, outside the building–but that called attention to themselves with a strange intensity that marked them as art. Some time later later Richard Artschwager gave a lecture at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and I discovered that these mysterious piece were his blps which also appeared in other media in other exhibition/non-exhibition spaces over the years.

In a Marsden Hartley retrospective at the Museum in 1980 curated by Barbara Haskell, an early Hartley painting of Mount Katahdin in Maine, from the early 20th century, its forms abstracted and the surface painted in a late pointillist Signac-inspired manner, was hung at the beginning of the exhibition in a large room to the right side of the elevator, and as you stood in front of it, you could see from across the floor to the last room, to the left of the elevator, one of his last group of paintings of the same subject, from the early 1940s, the forms even more abstracted with a flatter surface, with bolder, less sugary colors, and a more extreme sense of emotional definition. Thus one could see embodied the meaning of a lifetime of work as an artist.

In a Biennial in the early 1980s, from across a very large space, I spot a very small painting, the first time I recall seeing a painting by Bill Jensen, when his surfaces were thick, scraped, much more intense and dense than his most recent work. In that period I was beginning to consider painting with oil and both Jensen’s scraped, palette knifed surfaces and the surfaces of Hartley’s late works, painterly and sculptural also, even when relatively thin, were both helpful mentors in my transition to this difficult rich medium.

An mid-career retrospective of Elizabeth Murray: at the opening I seem to remember that Elizabeth is carrying one of her young daughters in her arms, a powerful image for people to see. A painting I have never been able to see or find an image of since remains in my memory: a large work though made of relatively small shaped fragmented parts arranged in the shape like a giant abstracted question mark. Did I see this? Have I reshaped it in memory the way I did the Tuttle? Possibly.

More recently, at the 2013 exhibition Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective, sitting alone in a room, trying to outwit the guards by just getting my iPhone enough out of my bag to surreptitiously snap a picture of works by DeFeo from the early eighties which I had never seen and whose greatness left me feeling crushed because I had never seen them before, because they needed to be in the history of American painting from their period, not an addition after the fact.

YEAR-Whitney-Jay-DefeoIMG_8447

Some more personal memories: of the night my mother dressed up to go to the opening public reception for the 1966 inauguration of the new Breuer building as the guest of a friend who taught architecture at Harvard and I think was friends with Breuer. She fussed over the right dress and to find the best dress she could afford, and then I remember hearing about the crush of people. The last art exhibition I took her to see was Picasso and American Art, in the fall of 2006, forty years later. The rooms were very crowded, she felt unwell and had to sit down while I looked at the second half of the show. In a further concession to the frailty of her great age, we took a cab home across the park instead of the bus as we once would have done. Nevertheless, sitting in the cab, she said firmly, “it’s the kind of exhibition that makes you want to go home and work.” I should add that my mother Resia Schor was an artist. She was 94 and died a few weeks later, just before her 95th birthday.

Another memory: someone gave me an invitation they couldn’t use, to the opening of Jasper Johns’ retrospective at the Whitney in October 1977. I floated around, young and solitary. At that point in my life, at 27, despite personal ambition, I could look at art world events and careers with a sense of impersonal distance, or rather, I had ambitions certainly but no expectations in that moment, I could watch the scene with interest but not personal jealousy. At one point I found myself in a small room off  the main hall, from which I could see Jasper Johns, surrounded by admirers, magnetically elegant in an impeccable tuxedo. I happened to be alone in the room with Richard Serra, who, surly and probably sweltering in the heavy wool brown tweed jacket he was wearing, seemed like a working class character at an upper-class gathering in a 1920s British novel. I didn’t know him of course, but I did know it was him. I was struck by the discomfort of his jacket, and I sensed his fury at being at an event glorifying another artist–Why not him? When him?–and why was that artist such a James Bond like character, damn him, so handsome and so beautifully dressed!

The 2005 exhibition of Edward Ruscha’s series of paintings, Course of Empire, his contribution to the 51st Venice Bienale, was one of the most unusual exhibitions at the museum in recent years and the most strikingly effective uses of the space. This exhibition as I recall was an opportunistic event, arranged in a relatively short time frame, and taking advantage of all the walls from a recent Biennial (or perhaps some other major exhibition) having just been taken down to create an unusually broad open space for a very interesting installation of the paintings in a kind of foreshortened vista, an avenue bordered by paintings with a small room to the side a few versions or the complete cycle of The Course of Empire by the nineteenth century American artist Thomas Cole. The contrast between Ruscha’s flat portrayals of American commercial architecture and Cole’s bizarre imaginings of the rise and fall of ancient Rome was very curious and thought provoking. When I saw this show I was practically alone with the work and the space, one of my favorite experiences.

YEAR-Whitney-IMG_9382

Many many more memories of so much art, thanks for the memories, and goodbye Whitney Museum of American Art at the Marcel Breuer Building, it’s been swell, and I hope the Whitney comes to regret its decision to leave it, and returns when the Met’s lease is up, to have a second, more intimate and experimental space for its collection and special exhibitions.

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail