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Peter Doig
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA)
1379 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, Quebec H3G 1J5, Canada
January 26, 2014 - May 4, 2014

Peter Doig's Weird Beauty
by Brad Phillips

The Musee Des Beaux-Arts in Montreal is currently hosting what it claims to be the first comprehensive survey show of Doig's work in North America, freshly arrived from the artist's birthplace, Edinburgh, Scotland. My first encounter with his work was at the large Power Plant show in Toronto in 2001.

Doig was born in Edinburgh, and now lives in Trinidad. Canada has tried in many ways to claim him as a national hero. As is stated in the press release, he grew up in Montreal and returned there for some years in his late twenties. I've heard Doig described as having spent his formative years in Canada, being a Canadian expat who lives here and there. But I do remember meeting Doig during his opening at the Power Plant through an early supporter of his work, Bruce Bailey, and detecting a fairly authentic Scottish accent.

The work that Doig first gained attention for was very much indebted to the overlooked and tragic Canadian painter, David Milne, who spent most of his life living in remote isolation, sharing his suffering with his wife and children, and making extremely unusual, stark landscape paintings dominated by austere branches, odd areas of black and a sense of nature as oppressor. Early on Doig made heavily overworked paintings that owed much to the lines and sensibilities of Milne. Other early works referenced Group of Seven painters. They were unusual when he was making them, which drew the attention of a certain type of art lover. Many of the works in the show at the Power Plant—seemingly appropriated images of skiers, glittery magic hour mountain vistas—were coming out of a corner of the art scene that no one had seen was developing. The most appealing aspect of the work, for myself and others was that it was beautiful. Finally.

Peter Doig, Ping Pong, 2006-2008, Oil on canvas, 240 x 360 cm, Private Collection, Promised gift to the Tate.  Foreground: Peter Doig, Study for Ping Pong, 2008, Oil on paper, 30.5 x 25 cm;  Collection of the Artist / Photo The Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, Denis Farley.


Doig went on to be hugely successful, the details of his life accompanying all extant writing about his work. Doig fits perfectly into contemporary art history. Gaugin in Tahiti, Doig in Trinidad. Although this isn't important, it does add a perfect shiny bow of art feeling to his enterprise. His paintings are notoriously beautiful. I myself believe it's important that artists be free to feel as if they can make good-looking work, that they don't need to be encumbered by research and investigation. After all, visually appealing things constitute a great portion of art historical treasures.

What I can see over the course of twelve years of Peter Doig painting, regardless of his success or his hometown, is that his ability to craft attractive paintings hasn't been pushed into the weirder areas his earlier work promised, but has become instead lightly poetic and somewhat nostalgic for a different time, in painting.

Doig loves Edvard Munch as he should. A lovely part of Doig's work is the recurrent images. His paint handling can feel Munch-y. It also sometimes feels like an amalgam of winning modernist styles. It's these paintings—brushy landscapes of Trinidad, an occasional figure or natural element—that seem too easy and fun to make. I don't, however, sense that he's trying to riff off the idea of a European artist living in Trinidad. Doig has always seemed sincere and heartfelt. But if there is not a joke inside these paintings, they're weaker in that they engage in an expert Sunday-painting style. He can and does make beautiful work. But these are only that, and feel like pleasant sampling. The repeated images of the table tennis player, Lapeyrouse Wall (2004), Pelican: while they continue intelligently to act as Munch's painting did, do not hit you in the stomach. The things Doig feels compelled to keep painting over and over again, which artists should be free to do, aren't things that I feel offer much new information to the viewer or have any emotional import. They're beautiful replications nonetheless.

As much as the paintings of tennis players have a Vuillard-at-play quality, they're weird. The best paintings in the show are. A painting of a wall of flags painted on it, if that's what it is, is singularly bizarre and good looking. A painting of two men diving, although again painted in a very fundamental and recognizable way, is strangely composed and brightly colored. It has an uneasiness that keeps you looking. The other paintings look great when you look at them, but they're missing the pull of the weirder work.

Peter Doig, Poster,‘Grizzly Man’ by Werner Herzog, 2005, Oil on paper, 90 x 65 x 3 cm; Ringier Collection, Switzerland.


These problems of beauty lacking any subtext are solved perfectly in the film posters that are included in the show. These have become well-known paintings, and having seen them for years in reproduction and now seeing a great deal of them in person, they confirmed for me that they were his best work. Having to work on a smaller scale, Doig's painting style is different, more intuitive and personal. Combining text with imagery is the ideal answer to the missing element in the other works. The poster for Grizzly Man by Werner Herzog shows a big rudimentary bear and a happy naked white man in a toque with a weird dick against a simple mountain background. The poster for Xala is perfectly simple and washed out, but the figures are as articulated and informative as in Manet. Pure Chutney is a beautiful colour study and graphically expert.

When Doig is too easily taken up with nostalgia and drawn towards the poetic, the work seems beautiful but light. The film posters force him to deal with an interesting juxtaposition, or rather a compounding of graphical elements expressed poetically. By taking graphical poetics and reinterpreting them into the poesie of painting, Doig leads us down a path of weird beauty.


Brad Phillips 



[Image on top: Peter Doig, Red Boat (Imaginary Boys) [Bateau rouge (Garçons imaginaires)], 2004, Huile sur toile, 200 cm x 186 cm.; © The Weston Collection /Photo Jochen Littkemann]


Posted by Brad Phillips on 3/29 | tags: figurative painting

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Cildo Meireles
HangarBicocca Foundation
Via Chiese 2, 20126 Milan, Italy
March 27, 2014 - July 20, 2014

[VIDEO] Cildo Meireles: Installations. HangarBicocca, Milan, Italy / Interview with Cildo Meireles
by Vernissage TV


Interview with the Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles on the occasion of his solo exhibition at HangarBicocca in Milan, Italy. The show is titled Installations, and is curated by Vicente Todolí. It features 12 of Cildo Meireles’ most important installations, spanning the artist’s whole career – from the tiny Cruzeiro do Sul to the huge labyrinth like Através. This video provides you with an exhibition walk-through, including an interview with Cildo Meireles. The artist talks about the concept of the show, explains how he works and where he gets his ideas, and speaks about his plans for the future.


Read more on Vernissage TV.


(Image on top: Cildo Meireles, Babel, 2001, installation view, 2014; © Photo: Agostino Osio / Courtesy of the artist, The HangarBicocca Foundation & The Museum of Contemporary Art, Kiasma, Helsinki, Finland)

Posted by Vernissage TV on 4/1 | tags: installation

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John McDermott: an “Artist Entrepreneur” thrives in Cambodia
by Roslyn Bernstein

These days, photographer John McDermott, once described as the “Ansel Adams of Angkor” by a New York Times writer, might be redubbed as the foremost “artist-entrepreneur” of Siem Riep, Cambodia.

The owner of three galleries, McDermott understands the dynamics of selling art in a tourist town that has had explosive growth since 2003 when global tourists began to come in significant numbers to Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, about a thirty minute drive from the city.  

McDermott’s personal journey – from his home town of Little Rock, Arkansas, to Los Angeles, Bangkok, and finally Siem Reap – preceded the tourist boom. After living in Bangkok for six years, photographing the region for a magazine, McDermott read about a total solar eclipse that was to pass over Angkor Wat in 1995. Taken with the idea of photographing the temples in the eerie light of an eclipse, he headed to Cambodia. Looking at his pictures later, he discovered that the black and white photos shot with infrared film were the most interesting. “They gave a surreal look to everything,” he said, “mimicking the light seen before the eclipse.”

John McDermott, Temple Lion and Clouds – Pre Rup, Angkor, Cambodia, 2008; Courtesy John McDermott


McDermott shot the temples virtually alone. "At that time," he said, “perhaps 3,000 people came to Angkor Wat to see the eclipse, a miniscule number when one considers the thousands who visit the temple complex daily today." Now, the three-mile drive from Siem Reap to the temples is a vast traffic jam of tuk-tuks and tourist buses, many overflowing with Chinese visitors.

There were no hotels then. It was only five years later, after Thailand opened its border with Laos in 2000, that tourism in Siem Reap began to flourish and then to explode. For the first three years, from 2000 to 2003, McDermott showed his work in hotel lobby exhibitions. When the FCC Restaurant decided to expand into a hotel with a few retail shops, they invited McDermott to open a gallery, which he did in September 2004 with the help of his wife and a staff member, who was fresh out of hospitality school.

Three years later, with the gallery at the FCC Angkor Boutique Hotel thriving, Siem Reap was booming as more shops, restaurants, and bars opened, especially in the area around the Old Market. Ever the entrepreneur, McDermott started looking at old shop houses there. The neighborhood had mostly been residential so the places were pretty run down. “But I found one I liked and rented it, then renovated it and turned it into my second gallery. It was much larger – four rooms total – and it allowed me to showcase other photographers from the region as well as my own work.”

McDermott’s third gallery opened in October 2012 in the Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor, which was then undergoing renovations and creating new space for shops. McDermott hired the architects who helped design the gallery in the Old Market and they worked together to come up with a gallery that “would fit into the upscale hotel.” The Raffles gallery rotates exhibits, with the help of a curator.

As an artist-entrepreneur, McDermott is sensitive to the issue of affordability and he pays great attention to the price points of his work. His limited edition pieces sell for anywhere from $500 up to $10,000, with sizes from 11 x 14 inches to 40 x 80 inches, depending on the image. Most of the buyers for his limited edition prints are westerners, many from the US and the UK. Photo reproductions of the prints, which are photographs from scans that are printed in a consumer lab, are priced from $15 to $125. For those with even more limited budgets, he also sells postcards and greeting cards.

McDermott still uses a darkroom to print the silver gelatin prints and he is shrewd about the tools he uses to market and sell his art, namely, the Internet, websites, and tourist contacts. “The Internet is of course where the world lives and shops these days so you must have a good presence there – a website of your own and listings with other sites that might sell art for you, especially since there are now galleries that are specifically online, many more than brick and mortar galleries, which are harder and harder to get into these days.”

In a tourist environment like Siem Reap, though, McDermott depends heavily on word-of-mouth contacts. Since people are in town for relatively short stays – to tour temples – McDermott works with travel agents and tour companies, arranging events for travelers that fit conveniently into their itineraries.

While there are many shops selling tourist art in Siem Reap, there is no real competition, especially not in the area of fine art photography. “We are the only big gallery in the town that shows top professional work,” he said, although he added that “he wished there were many more.”

John McDermott; Monks in a Sunlit Doorway – Angkor Wat, Cambodia, 2000; Courtesy John McDermott


Sadly, McDermott’s Angkor Wat portfolio could not be photographed today. “A lot of these pictures can’t be shot anymore,” McDermott explains. “Now, there are too many people and too much restoration work.” All of the gates have big wooden braces surrounding them as does the iconic twisted kapok tree.

So, he has moved on to places outside of Cambodia. “I have been making a couple of trips a year to places like Kathmandu, Bali, Jordan, and Myanmar to shoot new collections,” he said. Mindful of all his opportunities, McDermott added that he is also “putting a lot of time and effort into my commercial photography business which involves shooting hotels and resorts, portraits, and such, and then doing photo tours with tourists, where I take them places in and around Angkor and teach them about how to make better pictures.”

“This all keeps me pretty busy,” said McDermott. Resourceful, resilient, and talented, the artist entrepreneur of Siem Riep is thriving.


Roslyn Bernstein 



(Image on top: John McDermott, Two Towers – The Bayon, Angkor, Cambodia, 2010; Courtesy John McDermott)


Posted by Roslyn Bernstein on 4/4 | tags: photography landscape entrepreneur

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Jordan Tate
Transformer Station
1460 West 29th Street , Cleveland, OH 44113
March 28, 2014 - June 14, 2014

Black as midnight on a moonless night
by Natalie Hegert

"Black as midnight on a moonless night."

That’s how Special Agent Cooper likes his coffee, and that’s what I thought of when viewing SUPERBLACK by Jordan Tate, at Transformer Station in Cleveland, Ohio.

“That’s pretty black,” says Pete Martell, as he pours a cup of coffee for Cooper in that first episode of Twin Peaks.

SUPERBLACK is pretty black all right. In fact it’s the blackest black you’ll ever see. It’s… excuse me… really fucking black.

Tate became fascinated by the concept of the blackest black in 2012 after wrapping up his book Gamut Warning, and thinking at the time of space as “the master gamut.” He stumbled across a British team working on creating a superblack and was “kind of hooked from there.” The endeavor turned earnest after a conversation with and commission from Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell (of the eponymously named foundation and collection, which runs Transformer Station along with the Cleveland Museum of Art).

Jordan Tate, New Work #174, 2013, Munsel Soil Color Chart, Mylar tape, aromatic cedar frame, 24 x 46 inches; New Work #173, 2013, Munsel Soil Color Chart, Mylar tape, aromatic cedar frame, 24 x 36 inches; Courtesy of the artist


Tate, trained as a photographer, has since been on a quest to find the blackest black. No kind of ink, or paint, or photographic paper will give you perfect black. He ordered black, non-reflective foil, the stuff they line the insides of telescopes with; that was pretty black, but “not mind blowing,” as he put it. Finally he got his hands on a material that absorbs almost all electromagnetic radiation, visible (and invisible) light: carbon nanotube arrays.

With help from the laboratories at the University of Cincinnati and an industrial designer in Germany, Tate made SUPERBLACK: a white box, its interior lined with a multi-walled carbon nanotube array and ultra-diffusive light absorbing foil. An aperture on the face of the box allows the viewer to peer in at the complete and utter darkness.

First of all, it’s smaller than you think will be. It’s not the yawning void, the inescapable black hole you might imagine. It’s quite modest, sitting there on a white pedestal about the height of an average person, flanked by two powerful yet diminutive HEPA filters (to control dust and provide some white noise). It’s approachable and somewhat anthropomorphic, this void, in the same way that HAL is in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Only slightly suspicious. During the opening I kept glancing over at it, getting the feeling that it was watching us. And indeed it was, absorbing all of the visual information around it, all the light reflecting from our bodies, our clothing, the room—mute, stoic, giving nothing back.

The allusion to 2001 is not accidental; the exhibition catalogue features an excerpt from Arthur C. Clarke’s novel describing the black monolith that appears: that mysterious harbinger, representing the ultimate unknown. In the catalogue’s glossary, the cultural connotations and scientific explanations of darkness and lightness are surveyed, from dark matter to the Enlightenment.

Jordan Tate, SUPERBLACK, 2014, Multi-walled Carbon nanotube array, Ultra-diffusive Light Absorbing Foil, Cast acrylic, Wood. 12 x 12 x 36 inche; Courtesy of the artist


Tate further explores the dark/light binary in two large-scale, monolith-shaped prints: one a vision of the black night sky, the other a view of a polar ice cap. As Tate explained to me, both photographs (sourced from the internet) were ostensibly taken from about the same elevation in orbit around the earth: one looking out, one looking in. “The contrast between black and white sits at the very apex of their hierarchy of universal terms: that is, all languages will make this basic distinction and make it before they make any others,” wrote the linguist Charles Goodwin.[i] In Twin Peaks there was the White Lodge and the Black Lodge, a place of great goodness and a place of dark forces, the light and the darkness, good and evil.

Let’s go back to SUPERBLACK. What struck me most about viewing this work was my eyes’ inability to truly perceive this pure blackness. Dancing across the surface of my vision were familiar striations and faint static, what appears when you close your eyes tight. I couldn’t gaze into the blackness—almost as if my own mind stepped in to insert the visual equivalent of white noise, to protect me from truly glimpsing the void.

The flaws of human (and machine) perception and our efforts to counteract them form the basis of Tate’s other primary focus, which he explores in the other works on view. On the west wall, a diptych: two photographs taken by the Mars rover with scales of measure indicated on them, though, as Tate pointed out to me, those scales were essentially useless without taking into account the position of the camera; as a gesture of that uselessness, Tate introduced soil color sample charts onto the photographs, practical for use on Earth, but pointless to compare the soil on Mars. On the north wall: a photograph of an ancient statue—Tate was careful to select a Greek statue of uncertain provenance and authorship, whose art historical credentials were supplied and verified only by the institution that houses it—and a sculpture comprising an archaeologist’s grid propped on the wall next to a mylar backdrop on which is arranged a level, a shim, and a plaster statue, modeled after a Greek bust, which the artist fabricated, broke, and then re-plastered. The grouping brings to mind the futile yet relentless measure of art history, the malleability of perception, and our need to quantify, to measure, to evaluate.

Next spring, SUPERBLACK is scheduled to travel to New York, to Denny Gallery on the Lower East Side. If you’re lucky enough to be in Cleveland right now, you can gaze into the void long before New Yorkers get a chance. Concurrently on view at Transformer Station, and on the absolute opposite range of photography, is the phenomenal project Redheaded Peckerwood by Christian Patterson.

[i] Quoted in the exhibition catalogue, Jordan Tate, SUPERBLACK (Cleveland, OH: Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Foundation, Transformer Station, 2014).


Natalie Hegert 



(Image on top: Jordan Tate, New Work #185, 2014, Pigment prints, Left image printed on Canson High Gloss, Right image printed on Hahnemeuhle Ultra Smooth Rag, 36 x 74 inches each; Courtesy of the artist)




Posted by Natalie Hegert on 4/12 | tags: space black Twin Peaks conceptual photography

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