Untitled New York
30 Orchard St., New York, NY 10002
March 1, 2015 - April 4, 2015
Henry Taylor Filters Life Through Portraiture
by Stephanie Berzon
Posted by Stephanie Berzon
| tags: sculpture figurative painting portraiture Blum & Poe
Near the entrance of Untitled Gallery on the Lower East Side is a slab of concrete with a shovel stuck into it. Chair legs and wire sprout off the shovel, as do branches wrapped in stretched pantyhose like wings on an urban angel. The shovel’s handle fits into the mouth of a plastic bottle shaped like a fuel container, painted black to resemble an African mask. On the adjacent wall hangs an antique wooden mirror frame, which now holds a hand-drawn Confederate flag found by the artist. Two toy shotguns are tied to the top, replicating the crossbar gesture in the Confederacy’s battle flag. Although the frame no longer holds a mirror, there still remains the impulse for reflection on the juxtaposition of these materials, which have been abandoned or perhaps discarded as litter in the hot streets of Los Angeles where the artist Henry Taylor resides.
Henry Taylor, Solo show, Installation view at Untitled New York
The first time I was introduced to Taylor, I was unfamiliar with both his work and the city of Los Angeles; I hadn't anticipated how perfectly the artist and the city could mutually introduce one another. Inside of the MOCA in downtown L.A., the painting Warning Shots Not Required (2011) stretched 23 feet across a wall. However compelling, its physical size was the least impressive part. An intimate moment of eye contact is trapped between a black, muscular man walking across a prison yard and the viewer. The painting's title is stenciled across the canvas in capital letters. A galloping foal, a gathering of women, a fish, and a silhouette of a man’s head also join the tableau. Once the surreal set of images and text coalesce into a single story, it envelops everything in the same way as water does; it mutes the sense of anything else existing beyond its presence.
Taylor’s artwork isn’t necessarily easy to read—maybe because it requires the reader to be humanistic and instinctive. It’s an honest eye-on-eye perspective of the community, the streets that Taylor has seen, presented in a space one wouldn’t necessarily expect to draw empathy. At Blum & Poe in the Upper East Side—the other venue in Taylor’s two-part New York solo—there is an untitled painting of a handbag street seller, who appears disconnected from society, looking in all directions at once, as if in a state of paranoia; other figures peer around a corner at him and a woman in a summer dress seems to inquire about a purse he is holding. There also exists a tension between racial stereotypes and the illegal practice of street hawking. In Where Thoughts Provoke, a black and slightly amorphous profile is slumped in a bathtub, the figure’s head turned down. The title suggests that a space of solitude and self-reflection welcomes an overwhelming sad presence.
Henry Taylor, Untitled, 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 18 1/8 x 15 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe
Some consider Taylor an outsider artist because of his painting’s formal resemblance to folk style with its vibrant and loose brush strokes, and his fickle relationship with orthodox learning. However, when asked about it by a writer for the Observer, he responded “I say to hell with all that shit.” He received his art degree at CalArts in his 30s while working as an aide to the mentally ill at a hospital, only to reject his training in conceptual art and return to a prolific approach to making art. Because the artist moves quickly, things that inspire him must come within a swift reach. In one painting at Untitled a black child stands in flip-flops and orange shorts, holding a toy shotgun. On a larger canvas, a crowd congregates outdoors around a cross in what might be a block party or casual religious ceremony. In the middle of the room rests a sculpture of a tire made with the cardboard toilet paper roll tubes, a material that serves no further purpose after the toilet paper is gone. Taylor himself appears up close and in a corner, “selfie-style,” in another painting with two other men, a horse, and a hand stretched out in a shaking position. Whether it’s the scribble markings of shirt patterns, the absence of eyes or facial features on figures, or simply the loose handle of color on the paintbrush, all of the paintings share the feeling of an artwork left unfinished.
Henry Taylor, The Darker the Berry, The Sweeter the Juice, 2015, Acrylic on canvas, 78 x 63 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe
In The Darker the Berry, The Sweeter the Juice (named after Harlem Renaissance author Wallace Thurman’s 1929 novel) at the Blum & Poe location, a woman is represented as a silhouette of her skin color—she has no facial features or expression. Taylor visually extracts Thurman’s story of a young woman accepting her darker skin color into portrait form. He simultaneously challenges the viewer to share the journey with her by raising the question of who exactly is seeing the woman only by her skin color.
The intuitive relationship between the observer and Taylor’s art is similar to the artist and his barehanded process of creation; they’re visceral in the belly and emotionally elevated. His portraits are of friends, family or characters meets on the streets; he paints on canvas or cigarette packs and cereal boxes; his sculptures are made with colloquial materials that exist somewhere mindfully in his immediate or surrounding environment, and places he’s traveled to. To look at the art of Henry Taylor is to walk the streets with Henry Taylor.
Henry Taylor’s two-part exhibition with Untitled Gallery and Blum & Poe | New York is up until April 4, 2015.
(Image at top: Henry Taylor, Solo show, Installation view at Untitled New York)
164 Orchard Street , New York, NY 10002
March 13, 2015 - April 5, 2015
Kicking Against the Pricks
by Bradley Rubenstein
Posted by Bradley Rubenstein
| tags: figurative police eric garner History painting political paintings
“And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, 'Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.'”
—Acts 26:14 (King James Version)
"We have art in order not to die from the truth."
The paintings of Peter Williams have, for a long time, addressed the nature of the body, specifically addressing how one might inhabit such a fragile space in such an arbitrary world. Naturalistic figures inhabited landscapes populated with cartoon imagery, combinations rendered plausible through Williams’s skilled, and constantly striving, paint handling. With this background in mind, his latest paintings, all untitled, and all from 2015, come as something of a jolt—or, to paraphrase Bruce Nauman, a baseball bat to the back of the head. Here we find Williams stepping out of the atelier and onto the street, so to speak, with works that speak to political and social issues that he seeks to address.
Peter Williams, Untitled, 2015, Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Novella Gallery
To say that Williams has focused on the figure in the past is not to say that this current work is divergent from that course—there was a time when we spoke of “the body politic,” when our social structure was comprised of bodies, and when we looked at it as a living organism. Similarly, when speaking of painters, we talk of their bodies of work. When encountering these new works of Williams we see painting stripped bare. Gone is the lushness found in his early masterpiece PORTRAIT OF CHRISTOPHER D. FISHER, FOURTH REICH SKINHEAD (1996), itself a “political” work of sorts, depicting Fisher, a 20-year-old Long Beach skinhead in blackface; Fisher was involved in a 1994 plot to blow up churches and synagogues in Orange County in an attempt to ignite a race war.
In Williams’ new works we see the triumphs and tragedies of a cypher figure, a superhero called The N-Word, against a porcine police force, piggy cops with Cyclops eyes—they lack the ability to see things in perspective—who brutalize The N-Word, but he manages to rise time and again from picture to picture. As paintings, these works occupy a space somewhere between history painting and protest placard, at roughly 24 x 36 inches, in primary colors. In one painting Williams references Eric Garner, who lies prone, being choked out by a cop as The N-Word flies in to either rescue or merely bear witness with the camera in his hands. A text running around the sides of the image reads, “it’s ok if they die – they’r [sic] animals.” Williams clarifies this reading of the work: “I slowly have come to realize that some of the police in this country think they have permission to kill minorities. They already incarcerate millions and they are, simply put, exterminating the rest. It’s shocking that this continues even though there is documentation and videos of these acts of violence. So I feel free to expose this ignorance and make art that bears witness to these events.” Williams emphasizes the narrative of the artist (in the form of his alter-ego/protagonist, The N-Word) as participant, not mere victim or spectator in one painting in which the Harlequin vampire figure, the cop (who now has two eyes), and the N-Word embrace. “I cannot be separate,” Williams explains, “we are all culpable.”
Peter Williams, (both) Untitled, 2015, Oil on canvas, (above) 16 x 16 inches (below) 30 x 30 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Novella Gallery
Williams may have seemingly left his usual attention to facture at the studio door with these works, but to see these paintings less as Painting and more as Propaganda would be an egregious case of boat-missing. Indeed, there is a sense of passion and immediacy to them that at first look dominates. It is this immediacy, though, that is their strength, and it doesn’t come at the expense of the painter’s interest in painterly painting. In an era of television’s “live footage” and “breaking news” and endless iPhone shots, it is probably more valuable than ever for a painter to document his moment using the medium of his trade. One might be tempted to compare these works with Jacques-Louis David’s pen and ink sketch Marie-Antoinette on Her Way to the Scaffold (1793), that tiny last document of the Queen and the Terror—“that sinister jotting,” as Jean Louis Soulavie called it. Like David, Williams has tried to turn art to more noble ends through minimalist means; judging from these works, he succeeds.
Williams has grown, both as a painter and as an activist, and seems to have taken to heart Gil Scott-Heron’s edict: “You will not be able to stay home, brother / You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out / You will not be able to lose yourself on skag / And skip out for beer during commercials.” You will also not be able to stay home, Williams seems to add, or in the studio, crafting careful compositions. You must be in the public eye, the eye of the body politic, bearing witness. Because the revolution will not only be televised; it, by needs, must also be painted.
(Image at top: Peter Williams, Untitled, 2015, Oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Novella Gallery)
Brooklyn Museum of Art
200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11238-6052
April 3, 2015 - August 23, 2015
Clean, It Just Looks Dirty: Basquiat's Unknown Notebooks
by Bradley Rubenstein
Posted by Bradley Rubenstein
| tags: graffiti/street-art drawing painting artist notebooks basquiat notebooks artist sketchbooks text art
“Words are all we have.”
“I cross out words so you will see them more.”
There are some painters who are born great (Picasso), some who attained greatness due to circumstances of their time (David), and some whose work grows in importance posthumously (Kahlo); Jean-Michel Basquiat is a rare case of a painter who managed to fall into all three of these categories. He was a prodigious teenager who came out of the gate fast with his graffiti work, which was timely and poetic and achieved meteoric success and celebrity in the 80s. Now, 30 years on, he is an artist whose every sketch, it seems, grows in complexity and meaning through retrospective and deeper readings. Basquiat fused drawing, painting, pop culture, and music with history and poetry to produce an artistic language and content that was entirely his own. Combining the tools of graffiti (Sharpies, spray enamel, and chalk) with those of fine art (oil and acrylic paint, collage, and oil stick), his best paintings maintain a powerful tension between opposing aesthetic forces—thought and expression; control and spontaneity; wit, urbanity, and primitivism—while providing acerbic commentary on the harsher realities of race, culture, and society in the early 80s New York social landscape. Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks at the Brooklyn Museum is an excellent opportunity to evaluate fresh material from the collection of Larry Warsh, which has not been seen in any public exhibitions before.
Edo Bertoglio, Jean-Michel Basquiat on the set of Downtown 81, 1980–81, 35mm slide. © New York Beat Films, LLC. Courtesy Maripol.
By permission of the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, all rights reserved
Right at the start of the exhibition we see the ease with which Basquiat transitioned from tagging walls in the late 70s with Al Diaz under the pseudonym SAMO to filling small children’s composition books with block-lettered phrases, pieces of poetry, and found sayings. Conceptually and visually these books resemble the early concrete poetry of the sculptor Carl Andre, who used words as material, laying them down in careful arrangements on the page, composing, both visually and literarily, snippets of conversations, word snapshots, and diary entries, albeit of an oblique kind. The exhibition contains six notebooks, which have been carefully dissembled to present the work in a more individual format. Although they are displayed non-chronolgically, they show Basquiat creating a format and sticking with it throughout his career.
Basquiat's use of language, in contrast to other artists in the 80s like Barbara Kruger, Mira Schor, or Christopher Wool, was largely poetic. He chose words for their descriptive and lyric qualities, sampling found material and combining it with his own word inventions: “leapsickness,” “pedxing,” “aspuria.” Some pages, like this from a 1992 notebook, border on the cinematic:
AN EPELEPTIC SECRETARY ON TELEVISION/THAT MOBSTER STEVE’S GIRL/SCAN/I WANT YOUR PURSE/IF YOU SCREAM WITHIN 60 SECONDS ILL BE BACK.
Other pages from the same folio are lists of phone numbers, shopping lists (“1 STICK BUTTER/BACON/1/2 DOZ EGGS”), or women’s names. In a nine-panel work from 1984 titled Melville, Basquiat copies the chapter index from Moby Dick, emphasizing the poetry of Melville, by turning the chapter titles into haikus:
QUEEQUEG IN HIS COFFIN/DOES THE WHALE’S MAGNITUDE DIMINISH?/THE WHITENESS OF THE WHALE.
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1986, Acrylic, collage, and oilstick on paper on canvas, 94 1/8 x 136 2/5 in. (239 x 346.5 cm). Collection of Larry Warsh.
Copyright © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, all rights reserved. Licensed by Artestar, New York. Photo: Gavin Ashworth, Brooklyn Museum
In addition to the notebook pages, the exhibition includes larger examples of some of Basquiat's paintings with collaged elements. In these works he does not simply scale up the words to fit the canvas, as Cy Twombly or Julian Schnabel might, but rather fills the space with a cacophony of words both discordant and, sometimes, eerily brilliant. Untitled (1986), for example, a torn canvas that resembles a bearskin rug, riffs on familiar themes of jazz music, luxury items, and Batman logos. In this vividly colored canvas (as well as in the neighboring oil stick on paper, UNTITLED (LEONARDO DA VINCI) from 1982), words are used like brushstrokes; the frenetic, all-over quality suggests a drive toward a sort of disjunctive mapping, rather than the building of a classically unified composition, where seemingly unrelated marks suddenly coalesce in syncopated rhythms. Comparisons were made of his work to boxing and the cool jazz of Miles Davis.
In retrospect, it might have been a little too easy to place his work in the category of Neo-Expressionism, with its bombast and emphasis on direct, experiential painting. Closer looks reveal that his process (no doubt influenced by his working relationship with Warhol) didn't fit quite so neatly into the same camp as Schnabel and Clemente, but walked a fine line between high and low culture. In his essay "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception," the art theorist and social critic Theodor Adorno attempted to analyze the transformation of the cultural sphere in industrialized capitalist society. Adorno argued that as a result of the increasing rationalization of life in a technological society, the cultural sphere becomes one of the areas through which the dominant economic norms are inserted. He posited that this commodification of culture leads inevitably to the conflation of the avante-garde, or high culture, and those lower forms of popular entertainment or spectacle. For Adorno, the end result of this mash-up is kitsch. Perhaps no artist in the twentieth century since Warhol understood how to commodify kitsch into a believable art form as much as Basquiat.
(left) Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled Notebook Page, circa 1987. Wax crayon on ruled notebook paper, 9 5/8 x 7 5/8 in. (24.5 x 19.4 cm)
(right) Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled Notebook Page, 1981–84. Wax crayon on ruled notebook paper, 9 5/8 x 7 5/8 in. (24.5 x 19.4 cm). (both) Collection of Larry Warsh. Copyright © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, all rights reserved. Licensed by Artestar, New York. Photo: Sarah DeSantis, Brooklyn Museum
Basquiat indeed has proven to be a greater, more lasting talent than the bombastic propaganda the 80s promised. One of the most beautiful things about this show of works, which in some ways were probably meant to be personal, is that we get glimpses of the private Basquiat. One diaristic page reads like a confession, or an indictment—a poem of almost excruciating poignancy, showing us what this effort cost him:
THIS IS NOT IN PRAISE OF POISON/ING MYSELF WAITING FOR IDEAS/TO HAPPEN MYSELF—THIS NOT/IN PRAIS OF POISON/THE NON POISON NON POISONED/SO SELF RIGHTOUS/NO ONE IS CLEAN/FROM RED MEAT TO WHITE POISON/THIS IS NOT IN PRAISE OF POISON/THE BIGGEST BUSINESS/USGLY, FAT LIKE A PIG/THE CUSTOMER IN NEW YORK/CHICAGO DETROIT/PSALM.
(Image at top: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled Notebook (inside cover), 1980–81, Mixed media on board, 9 5/8 x 15 in. (24.5 x 38.1 cm). Collection of Larry Warsh. Copyright © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, all rights reserved. Licensed by Artestar, New York. Photo: Sarah DeSantis, Brooklyn Museum)
How to Exhibit and Collect Design
by Natalie Hegert
Posted by Natalie Hegert
| tags: design collecting collecting design r & company zesty meyers design galleries brazilian design african designers design exhibitions furniture
With the scope of art continually expanding to include everything from film to fashion wear, the design world is finding itself on the up and up. More art collectors are including works by iconic designers into their collections, and many major art institutions—MoMA for instance—either have departments dedicated to architecture and design, or they’ve presented major exhibitions of prominent design figures and movements (David Adjaye, for example, is currently having a huge retrospective at Haus der Kunst in Munich). And yet, in the grand scheme of things, design is generally undervalued—in art scholarship, in the press, and in the market—compared to what we traditionally consider art: paintings and sculptures. We talked to Zesty Meyers of R & Company, the Tribeca-based design gallery known for their innovative exhibition programming, about why we should be taking a sustained, more focused look at design, and why we should be collecting it.
Lina Bo Bardi + Roberto Burle Marx, Installation view at R & Company
Natalie Hegert: I’d like to talk a bit about your current exhibitions, Grains of Paradise, an exhibition of contemporary African design, and Lina Bo Bardi + Roberto Burle Marx, an exhibition showcasing two of Brazil’s most significant modern designers.
Zesty Meyers: We currently have a historic show of works by Lina Bo Bardi and Roberto Burle Marx, two exceptional leaders of architecture, design, and landscape architecture of the 20th century. They were masters at what they did. Roberto Burle Marx’s work has been internationally recognized and exhibited for many years. But Lina—one of the many great women in design and architecture whose works were somewhat forgotten until about 15 years ago—is just now having a major renaissance with exhibitions taking place all over the world.
Upstairs, concurrently, we have a show about contemporary African design, where three of the designers are from South Africa and one, Babacar Niang, is from Senegal.
The juxtaposition of these two major exhibitions embodies R & Company’s mission—to discover new and exciting contemporary design while remaining devoted to the promotion and preservation of the historic.
NH: What’s striking to me about these two shows is the focus that R & Company places on locating these works in their respective historical and geographic contexts. How did this approach to exhibition-making evolve with the gallery?
ZM: Africa and Brazil are actually very connected. Just as the work of Burle Marx and Bo Bardi draws from the indigenous native cultures of Brazil, the contemporary African designers are similarly taking inspiration from their indigenous tribal cultures. Both Lina Bo Bardi + Roberto Burle Marx and Grains of Paradise take on a social message about how to bring better things to people. The works on view by the younger Africans come from simpler or basic ideas, with many looking at the past or to animal behavior. Take Porky Hefer’s nests, which are inspired by questions like how does a bird make its nests, and how could it protect me, or how could I use it? Dokter and Misses are very influenced by the Kassena tribe, who create beautiful symbolic paintings on their homes, but they’ve made it more contemporary.
Dokter and Misses, Grains of Paradise, Installation view at R & Company
NH: When you generally go to a design gallery, most of the time you’ll find a showroom, but R & Company is unique in that you’re putting together these focused exhibitions. What prompted the idea to show design in an exhibition format, in the way you’d experience contemporary or modern art?
ZM: We think design deserves to be shown in a focused exhibition format. I would start there. We believe perception and presentation are everything. It’s great that I have chairs made by Lina Bo Bardi 50 or so years ago, but it’s more important that I share them with the public through a curated, thoughtful, gallery presentation. Plenty of chairs from the 1950s are cool or trendy, but that’s really not R & Company’s interest. We are interested in masterworks from their time. The people that we show are historical leaders of their generations or countries, designers who exerted global influence even back then. Often we look for designers who may not yet be globally recognized, compared to the super famous names—Charles Eames, Jean Prouve or Charlotte Perriand. There are many designers that are just as good, if not better, just for different reasons.
R & Company wants to show the works of the world together as a global format. We demonstrate that the design world was already global starting after WWII, as our collection dates from about 1940 to the present. Young designers need to observe the past, so they can grow into the future. There are some amazing stories that are being forgotten, either unwritten stories or archives that are being thrown away. We are working to preserve these histories, and to present them in a meaningful way as part of thoughtful exhibitions.
We could have just had a shop, you’re right, and we did have a shop when we opened in 1997 in Williamsburg. It was easy and fun. But the real pleasure comes from presenting the passion and knowledge that we’ve acquired, not focusing on making money. Through R & Company’s exhibitions, we become storytellers, representing the gallery’s idea of what is good design, something that is continually changing and growing.
The more that R & Company grows, the more I learn personally and that pushes me forward in how to showcase global perspectives of design. Why shouldn’t our exhibitions be as good as anything in the best museum in the world? Why should I lessen myself if we have this power of presentation?
Ardmore, Nighttime Owl Tureen in White, Designed and made by Ardmore, South Africa, 2013. 12.6" L x 12.6" W x 22.44" H / 32cm L x 32cm W x 57cm H.
Photo Joe Kramm, Courtesy R & Company
NH: Yes, I think it’s important that audiences are challenged with the information, history, and what you’re engaging with at the gallery. This is sort of a related but more general question—you kind of talked about it a little bit before—I’m curious about how geography relates to design. We often talk about Scandinavian design, Japanese design, and now you’re working on a book about Brazilian design. What do you think contributes to geographical grouping and design sensibilities? What is it about place that makes us think about design?
ZM: It depends. The most interesting thing about Scandinavian design today is that it’s in danger of being forgotten, considering what the younger designers are doing today. Their national governments are sponsoring projects outside of the country and not helping the people on the interior. It’s puzzling that they built reputations on this national pride and now it’s pretty much disappearing for the future. Unless you’re going to buy into the “classic” Scandinavia.
Finland, being a very young country, still not even a hundred years old, decided to base its reputation on design. You can see this in things like the ’39 World’s Fair from them. We are interested in why these design movements happen. We go and seek what else happened, and why, in these countries. In Finland, there couldn’t have just been Alvar Aalto, for instance, and there couldn’t have just been Arne Jacobsen or Hans Wegner in Denmark. There would have had to be more. In Brazil, they wouldn’t have imported all the design to sit on if the architecture wasn’t already so radical on the interior.
NH: Let’s shift gears and talk about how to build a design collection. What is the difference between collecting art and collecting design? Do you think there is a difference?
ZM: No I don’t. When you look at the 20th century design sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, etc, and compare it to their contemporary art sales, and how many hundreds of millions of dollars those sales are doing, why wouldn’t one of those art collectors try to buy the entire 20th century design sale for 5 million dollars? And buy 150 lots of the most amazing design works out there in the world?
NH: I don’t know, why?
ZM: Good question, right? For collectors, we’re like the penny candy store. Here’s the thing: institutions doing two different sales, in the same week sometimes, one does hundreds of millions and the other, if we’re lucky, does 5 to 7 million. It’s not even a 1 percent ratio.
I think most people don’t look at design as being something conceptual, they look at design as something you can sit on. But there’s so much more to it: why a chair works for different heights, sizes and shapes of people; why these things are aesthetically pleasing to some and grossly ugly to others. It’s the same thing as looking at a painting or a sculpture. You get the same basic reaction that starts a discourse. It is no different with design, it’s just the way that we present it to get people to try to start thinking and talking about it. All of the designers that we represent had ideas. They didn’t make a chair because they needed something to sit on. They made a chair because they wanted to make it better for some reason.
Chairs by Lina Bo Bardi, Photo: Joe Kramm, Courtesy R & Company
NH: Sometimes people collect works of art because of how historically important the artist is, rather than how they feel about that particular work of art. Is there an equivalent to this in collecting design? Like, do you find collectors that feel they’re collecting the designer rather than the object?
ZM: Both. There are certain icons already, the same way there’s certain blue chip art. And that could lead to some people bidding on something that they normally wouldn’t, if it’s an icon or blue chip, in either market. Sometimes these markets are really sustainable. Sometimes they’re not.
NH: What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to someone interested in building a design collection?
ZM: Create something that has a definition. Don’t collect just what’s popular, but rather create something that will give you the most pleasure. Historically, if you look at art collections that are sold at auction, the blue chip collections don’t do as well once they come back out on the secondary market as the ones from people who collected with an idea. It would be no different for a design collection.
David Wiseman's Studio, L.A. Photo: Joe Kramm, Courtesy R & Company. Upcoming exhibition David Wiseman: Wilderness and Ornament at R & Company
NH: What would you suggest for collectors with smaller budgets? In other words, how do you get the most bang for your buck when it comes to design?
ZM: Just keep searching. R & Company has amazing offerings that any level collector can afford to buy from us. From time to time, we release editions for a couple thousand dollars that sell quite quickly, although those can become more expensive towards the end of selling out. Be aware and be involved with us as a gallery. Figure out what we do and what our programming is and which designers you really like. Get on the mailing list so you’re notified when something new comes, particularly from the younger designers that we take on whose works are often less expensive compared to the masters that we have.
NH: You’re based in New York, but do you have any suggestions for our readers who are not in New York looking for other galleries doing similar things in other parts of the world?
ZM: A good place to get references or resources is the website of DesignMiami/. Look at the fair’s current list of exhibitors. Go to the major fairs in New York like the Collective Design Fair, which has 30 or so galleries from 5 different countries, or The Salon: Art + Design. You can also look at websites with great design sections, like Artsy.
Unique Collage fireplace screen in bronze and porcelain. Designed and made by David Wiseman, USA, 2014. 58.5" L x 18" W x 33.5" H / 148.6cm L x 45.7cm W x 85.1cm H. From the upcoming exhibition David Wiseman: Wilderness and Ornament at R & Company
NH: How do you feel about what’s happening in the field of design today? Any emerging trends or proclivities we should be watching out for?
ZM: I think it’s bigger than a trend now, I think it’s actually a movement. And I think it’s just picking up steam.
If you took the timeline of Design Miami/, which is now ten years old, or Design Miami/Basel, which will be in its 10th year this June, today’s sales are off the charts. But the public doesn’t realize this yet. This is not something that’s going away, this is something that's growing into a huge, sustainable marketplace.
While I don’t want the design world to be the art world, it’s the only template that I can look at. But I think there is a lot of crossover between design and art happening in the 21st century given the access of young people now entering the creative design and art markets, who don’t feel confined to just one or two mediums. There are works shown at R & Company that could easily be shown in a fine arts gallery as fine art, and there are some designers that we represent that purely want to be the best decorative artists in the world.
I think the design market is just going to grow insanely—by volume, by dollar amounts, and by the interest of people. When Evan and I first opened the gallery here in Tribeca, I thought people from Tribeca and Soho would come in occasionally, and maybe people from Uptown would come Downtown. Now there seems to be a different language spoken in my gallery at any day. We’re a destination. It has nothing to do with trends. I don’t pay attention to trends. We build markets, and I want to be here in another 30 years telling you the same story of why we kept growing. That’s my goal.
NH: Anything else you’d like to add about collecting?
ZM: Buy now. Prices that are here today will be gone in five or ten years. If you compare what stuff was selling for at auction ten years ago versus today, the price difference is amazing.
ArtSlant would like to thank Zesty Meyers, Jennifer Isakowitz, and Helen Cowdrey for their assistance in making this interview possible.
(Image at top: Porky Hefer, Grains of Paradise, Installation view at R & Company; All images courtesy of R & Company)
The Changing Treasons: It's Time for New York's Leading Critics to Surrender Their Crowns
by Darren Jones
Posted by Darren Jones
| tags: Peter Schjeldahl New York art critics Holland Cotter Roberta Smith Jerry Saltz art critics new york times
It is an astonishing peculiarity that in New York there is just one newspaper setting the tone of cultural opinion: The New York Times. There are others, of course, but they haven’t a fraction of its influence. There is no audible counter-argument. Conversations on the street rarely begin, “Did you see that thing in the New York Observer?” Even national papers such as the Wall Street Journal and USA Today are unable to penetrate the shield that the New York Times has formed over the city, despite those papers outselling it. The extraordinary absence of an alternative equal has positioned the Times as a cultural dictatorship, placing it at odds with the vibrant multi-facets that constitute one of the greatest cities on Earth.
In stark contrast, Londoners consume no fewer than five major newspapers, currently or formerly in broadsheet format—though these are national publications as opposed to the ostensibly regional New York Times—and for the purposes of this article it is worth noting how many of them have art critics. The Times (the 1785 original) employs Rachel Campbell Johnston, with Waldemar Januszczak at the Sunday Times; the Guardian/Observer has Adrian Searle and Jonathan Jones; Richard Dorment and Alastair Sooke are at the Telegraph, with Andrew Graham Dixon writing for the Sunday edition; the Financial Times has critic Jackie Wullschlager; and until a recent monstrous cull of its arts section the Independent had Charles Darwent, though the paper does still cover contemporary art. Additionally, the London Evening Standard—which will always be identified with outspoken critic Brian Sewell—currently retains Ben Luke, while in Scotland, the Scotsman relies on Duncan MacMillan and Moira Jeffrey.
UK newspapers are increasingly moving writers from staff to freelance positions—an important distinction—but the larger point is that there remains a democratized journalistic field of national art critics producing varied discourse—between rival newspapers and readerships—healthy competition, and choice. While the Telegraph enjoys the highest circulation, the perception is that no newspaper vastly outsells the others in terms of cultural real estate. The benefit to artists is the breadth and depth of intelligent coverage, the expanded possibilities of being reputably reviewed, and a certain liberation from any one of these papers bestowing its critical largess as a defining gold star of approval.
In New York, the city’s hallowed conclave of top art critics who are read by and beyond the art world, are restricted to the New York Times and one or two revered magazines. The Times’ current murder of critical crows is headed by co-chiefs Roberta Smith and Holland Cotter. Smith has presided over New York’s artistic kingdom by covering the subject for almost three decades at that newspaper. In terms of monarchic rule, hers would be the 14th longest reign by a living sovereign just ahead of Mswati III of Swaziland and just behind Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid al-Nuaimi of Ajman (United Arab Emirates). Smith has steered her critical barge with a reliable hand as standards have sunk around her due to marauding online opinionators (as everyone is now a photographer, so too is everyone a critic) and her writing remains insightful. Holland Cotter and Ken Johnson are by virtue of their writing and their positions at the Times, held in esteem, although Johnson has recently been the subject of some controversy.
At the New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl was installed in 1998, and his cartridge appears to be running low on ink. In a recent review of the exhibition The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World, he declared it understandable but “too tiring” to resist some of the most appalling sewage to stain MoMA’s walls in years. If ever there was a time for him to do his job and repel such effluence, it was then.
And mention ought to be made of the seemingly terminal literary decline of Jerry Saltz, critic at New York Magazine, whose infantile rantings include a fanatical expletive-laced diatribe against British artist, Banksy, and a disgusting Twitter tantrum about a fellow Acela passenger who displeased him. As the Pied Piper of self-promotional idiocy his antics are an arrant disgrace to New York’s critical field, displaying utter disrespect to the artists and art writers of later generations who work so hard to remain here and whom he, by his regrettably high profile, indirectly represents. With his recent suspension from Facebook, Saltz’s readership must see the deteriorating writing on the wall—and Banksy isn’t the culprit.
But quality is not the issue. The insufficient number of influential critical positions in New York renders those few extant jobs more important than they ought to be. It is the excruciating longevity that these people have clung to in their current and previous roles that sets such a dangerous lock-down on cultural privilege. Perhaps some of the British newspaper critics have been in their positions overlong, but their quantity lessens the issue.
It cannot be for one person, or a knighted few, to be exalted into such positions for decades. Remaining in place with such disproportionate sway for so long conveys breathtaking egotism on their parts and total complacency by their employers. There are many younger voices capable of taking up these rare and mighty quills.
As a reflection of the constant evolutionary brilliance of this city’s art scene—and as it is the most widely regarded arts section—all of the Times art critics ought be rotated every five years or so, and perhaps also at the New Yorker. The suffocating presence of Smith, Cotter, Schjeldahl, et al. represents a sepulchral blockade to new ideas. In addition to Smith’s stunning duration, Cotter has been at the Times nearly 25 years, Johnson is coming up on two decades, and Schjeldahl is approaching his 20th year at the New Yorker. Add to that their time at other publications and collectively these life members of the cultural one percent have been writing for over a century with generations of artists required to parade beneath their calcifying watches. (A note of criticism regarding his well established peers came recently from Yale School of Art dean, Robert Storr, but considering that he sits within that advantaged authority himself, his tone sounds dated, and his words lack urgency for the present or future, reading as a mere storrm in a teacup over a pinch of saltz.)
The art world today is one barely recognizable to the one these writers entered so long ago. Now the largest private galleries possess greater floor space than major museums, whose exhibition programming apparently follows in these galleries' outsized footsteps; money trumps all to a towering and damaging degree; internet transactions and social media disseminate new art and discourse—of varying relevance—at breakneck speed as artists, exhibitions, and trends rise and fall on daily tides of relentless information. Experience can ultimately be no match for the vigor and stridency of such change, especially in a city built upon it.
These critics now are as stubborn caps on the wells of artistic roil, keeping geysers of enlivening commentary under the rigid containment of their own preferences. The monopolistic taste-making dominance of the New York Times is hardly these contributors’ responsibility, but the wellbeing of the art scene they preside over is; the incumbents have more than earned their retirements. If there is ever to be a healthy injection of alternative commentary into these, the city’s most revered critical houses, then this cannot continue. New York’s artists deserve far more diversity at the highest levels than they have thus far received. Such positions are the great bridges of the art world, conveying criticism to the general public. New critics adept and accustomed to the machinations of today’s artistic landscape must be offered the task of driving the constancy, flexibility, and integrity of those choicest highways.
In Scotland—as a reminder of their proximity to the people and to remind them of humility’s merit—monarchs are not referred to as “Your Royal Highness,” but as “Your Grace.” It is time for the crowned heads of New York’s critical court to show some now, and abdicate their thrones.
(Image at top: New York Times Building. Via Flickr user samchills)