525 West 25th Street, New York, NY
June 19, 2014 - August 8, 2014
Younger Americans at Driscoll Babcock
by Ryan Wong
Posted by Ryan Wong
| tags: sculpture painting American art summer group shows
Driscoll Babcock, which moved to Chelsea two years ago, is something like a stately townhouse in a row of beige suburban mansions. The gallery bills itself as the oldest in New York, and casts itself in a grand tradition of the city’s academic art. You don’t find sly, discreet conceptual gestures, nor massive, high-production-value installations. Instead, the gallery seems to look for untrendy, well-crafted works in a certain American tradition—their roster includes works from the estates of Thomas Eakins, Stuart Davis, and Andrew Wyeth. With their summer exhibition, In Between Days, they are turning to younger generations of artists who bring a strong emphasis on craft to their individual projects.
The visitor is greeted in the lobby by a series of totemic objects from Leonardo Benzant: Paraphernalia of the Urban Shaman M:5 (2012-2014). The “urban shaman” is the artist himself, who traces an artistic African diaspora through his Dominican background. A cluster of poles, mostly about the height of an adult, dangle from the ceiling. Together, they suggest a curtain or forest wrapped in bright beads, frayed thread at times poking through. Most of the poles look like rainsticks or staffs, but some are curved into more vegetable-like nubs.
One wall of the main gallery is dominated by Phosphenes—Phoenix for the American Republic (2012) by Michael Maxwell, a monumental painting and sculpture. The work draws upon indigenous American traditions of the southwest, using turquoise, a silver and tan palette, strong diagonals, and torn strips of cloth suggesting feathers. The cloth strips seem to burst through the canvas at times, forming an added layer to and disrupting the plane of the work.
Across from it are Luke Whitlach’s radially symmetrical dye and acrylic paintings. The paintings are notable for the multiple simultaneous methods of paint application: mechanically-straight lines, impasto, feathering, and bleeds. The dye process allows the colors to run from the center out or the borders inward. Some canvases, like Mike Cedar Stakeout (2013) are bifurcated by paint lines. The works might be reminiscent of a petri dish, or a geologic formation, or a planet formation: indeed, the intricately constructed abstractions make scale seem irrelevant.
Left to right: Kara Rooney, ON MOVING FARTHER AWAY FROM SPEECH, OR HINDSIGHT IS TWENTY/TWENTY, 2014; Michael Maxwell, PHOSPHENES: PHOENIX FOR THE AMERICAN REPUBLIC, 2012; Photo credit Stan Narten; Courtesy Driscoll Babcock Galleries
Kara Rooney’s starkly black-and-white sculptures dominate a gray-tinged wall. Five pedestals, black-topped and white-columned, support football-sized white plaster and ceramic casts. Buried into works, seemingly during the casting process, are small pieces of paper like the digital photograph fragment in On Moving Father Away from Speech, or Hindsight is Never Twenty/Twenty, No 1 (2014). The casts are of immaterial or neglected objects. One seems to be of bubble wrap; others of shards of wood and stacks of paper. The sculptures suggest an attempt to hold onto the ephemeral, like odd monuments to the ignored.
Four of Jennifer Packer’s wild, colorful paintings take up the opposite wall. She applies paint thinly but in strong scrapes, not unlike Leon Golub’s large paintings. Two paintings of calla lilies turn the flowers into mysterious, obscure beings, not the theatrical flora of so many photographs. The purple lilies seem to emerge from the purple backdrop, into which their vase disappears, too. In the central painting, For James (III) (2013), a man with marble-like yellow eyes stares up at the viewer from the surface he lies on. The space is ambiguous; the whole scene is disorientingly inverted. Paint is the primary thing here: the classic subjects for a painting study of portraits and still lifes given a new, painterly space to inhabit.
Left to right: Jennifer Packer, ORIENTAL LILIES, 2014; Jennifer Packer, CALLA LILIES, 2014; Jennifer Packer, FOR JAMES (III), 2013; Jennifer Packer, UNTITLED, 2013; Leonardo Benzant, BAMBULA from the series PARAPHERNALIA OF THE URBAN SHAMAN M:5, 2012-2014; Luke Whitlatch, VULTURES IN THE CARGO PLANE, 2013; Luke Whitlatch, TALE OF TELEGRAPH HILL, 2014; Photo credit Stan Narten. Courtesy Driscoll Babcock Galleries
The exhibition puts forth no Grand Theory of American art, nor do the artists belong to any single stylistic, political, or theoretical camp. But we need not expect this in a summer show, least of all one calling itself In Between Days. Think of it more as a studio visit for a different swath of American art than that presented in the city’s big biennials and hangar-sized galleries. The artists here keep their heads down, focusing on craft and pushing away from trends, even if that means resting for a moment in an "in between" space.
(Image on top: Leonardo Benzant, BAMBULA from the series PARAPHERNALIA OF THE URBAN SHAMAN M:5, 2012-2014; Photo credit Stan Narten / Courtesy Driscoll Babcock Galleries)
The Art World's Intrinsic Conflict of Interest: Curating the Private Collection with the Public Trust
by Ryan Wong
Posted by Ryan Wong
| tags: museums collector's catalogue private collections curators
The cousin, flip side, and feeder to the museum, in today’s money-saturated world of contemporary art, is the private collection. The necessity of this relationship might be surprising to the average museum visitor, who often looks to museums as the centers of the art world. Private collections, however, shape our understanding of art history and production not only by determining which artworks are available for display and loan, but by actively applying curatorial labor towards their care and interpretation. Who gains from these relationships, and what sustains them? Are they necessary for the functioning of the art world, and if so, why? What are the responsibilities of curators, entrusted with public institutions, when dealing with private collections, and to whom are they responsible?
The liaisons between the worlds of the collection and the exhibition are curators: both museum curators who build relations with collectors to secure important loans and contributions, as well as a younger, new brand of curator using collections as a space to build their careers without an institutional foothold.
Curators are often tasked with “friend-raising”—with establishing strong networks of donors and potential donors to support museum exhibitions and acquisitions. These relations can take many forms, and often research, social activity, and professional fundraising blur into one activity. Massimiliano Gioni, when he joined the New Museum as Associate Director and Director of Exhibitions, kept his role as the artistic director of the Trussardi Foundation, a private non-profit that mounts contemporary art exhibitions (it does not collect). He has held the position since 2002. The Kadist Art Foundation counts among its advisors Jens Hoffman, Larry Rinder, and Hou Hanru: all of whom oversee museum or exhibition programs. It was recently announced that Michael Darling, Chief Curator at The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, is leading a selection committee to acquire a work for the offices of Northern Trust, a wealth management firm with over $200 billion in assets.
Is there not a conflict of interest inherent when the custodians of public museums simultaneously curate private collections? The Association of Art Museum Curators leaves the question of ethics up to each individual museum, stipulating in its advice section only that curators avoid “conflicts of interest.” Accepted activities include having a curator’s travel, food, and lodging paid for on a trip, if the trip fits the category of “donor cultivation.” Conflicts include gifts from donors and collectors, and sometimes even accepting work themselves. There is little guidance on whether the influence of a donor or collector over a curatorial program might be too great, or on how much of a curator’s time and advice may be spent with a collector.
Within the art world, museums still set the standard for critical debate, the resuscitation and reexamination of artistic legacies, and scholarly research within the art world: their exhibitions are the most consistently reviewed, they command the largest spaces, and they attract the most visitors. But they no longer have a monopoly on that work. Indeed, while the museum standard appeals to private foundations and collectors for partnerships, those partnerships are creating a more fluid border for museum sovereignty.
Meanwhile, young curators no longer need to follow the traditional script: to train for a PhD then look for a research or curatorial assistant post with the hope of eventually securing a museum curating job. Private collections are offering an alternative route, using private dollars to sponsor the apprenticeship and training that used to happen almost exclusively in museums.
Fondazione Re Rebaudengo, photo Maurizio Elia.
The self-titled Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo runs a residency program for young curators nominated from prestigious curatorial studies programs like Bard, the Whitney ISP, and Goldsmiths. The curator spends four months with the collection, culminating with an exhibition of contemporary Italian art drawn from it. Similarly, the Demergon Curatorial Award invites MA students to propose exhibitions based on works from the collection of D. Daskalopoulos, a collection of international contemporary art with an emphasis on Greek artists. The Demergon foundation also hosts curatorial exchanges between the UK and Greece. The prize is co-sponsored by the Whitechapel Gallery in London.
Pool, an initiative founded last year by curator Beatrix Ruf with wealthy patrons Maja Hoffmann and Michael Ringier, has given three young curators opportunities to mount exhibitions drawn from Hoffmann and Ringier’s collections at Luma Westbau in the Löwenbräu Art Complex. It plans to expand the number of collections available, offering a sort of meta-collection for the curators’ proposals. Pool has assembled a superstar roster of artists and curators as advisors, with Philippe Parreno, Liam Gillick, Tom Eccles, and Hans Ulrich Obrist. This roster signals a major shift in our thinking about the seriousness of curating private collections. As Ruf told Art Newspaper: “‘Pool’ does not interpret private collections as merely the representation of individual preferences, but rather as a contemporary document.”
Indeed, as contemporary documents, private collections are actively shaping the public’s relation to art. Any curator working with objects, and especially those working with contemporary art, must learn not only the theories and disciplines taught in graduate school, but also the rosters of major collectors and foundations in the landscape. As long as there are eager young curators to fill the roles in both institutions and private collections, and as long as institutions rely on private donors for the immense sums needed to collect, insure, and ship artworks, these partnerships will proliferate.
Collecting, then, might be seen as its own sort of curatorial project. In the past, collecting shaped taste. Today, with the growth of these programs and open relationships with museums, such partnerships might seem a natural part of the way the system functions. But when prominent museum curators working in the public trust are also on the payrolls of private collections, we should see the conflicts of interest for what they are and view these activities with a healthy sense of skepticism. They may be shaping the very structure of knowledge within the art world.
(Image at top: ‘Go! You sure? Yeah.’, A POOL exhibition, Curated by Nicola Ruffo and Tanja Trampe, November 23 - January 19, 2014; Courtesy POOL.)
Rachel Uffner Gallery
170 Suffolk Street, New York, NY 10002
June 28, 2014 - August 16, 2014
A World's Fair tribute in a New York neighborhood mash up
by Lee Ann Norman
Posted by Lee Ann Norman
| tags: photography pop mixed-media sculpture painting New York Artists collage
New York City has always been a draw for an eclectic mix of artists working across the visual and performing arts. Its underground pubs and speakeasies, expansive loft spaces, museums, sidewalks, and streets have served as creative inspiration for all kinds of movements including jazz, expressionism, Fluxus, hip-hop, and punk. Despite all of that creative energy and expression, the city has also been a beautiful breeding ground for social and cultural dissonance. While New York may not be known for the kind of territorial neighborhood culture akin to a highly segregated “city of neighborhoods” like Chicago, space and community do matter here. Our island is only about 13.5 miles long and nearly just under 2.5 miles across at its widest. In reality, East isn’t actually that far away from West, but sometimes it’s just easier to stay local. As rental and real estate costs have skyrocketed alongside stagnant incomes, all New Yorkers—especially artists—seem to be on a never-ending hunt for space to match their incomes and expenses. That hunt, though, often requires social sacrifice. What happens when creative communities are forced together for financial rather than social reasons?
In an effort to explore connections between cultural geographies, artistic scenes, and factors influencing them, Rachel Uffner Gallery presented The Crystal Palace, an expansive group exhibition named after the first World’s Fair held in London in 1851 and in celebration of the 50th anniversary of New York City's own 1964 World's Fair. The exhibition features artists affiliated with local Uptown and Downtown scenes working across genres ranging from Pop to Surrealism, figuration, assemblage, and more. Many of the artworks were borrowed from the vast archives of Richard L. Feigen & Co., the estate of Stan VanDerBeek, and other private lenders. Notably, the mail art and collages of Ray Johnson (1927-1995), an active and somewhat reluctant participant in New York’s 1950s Downtown scene, make a strong appearance in the exhibit. With artwork mixed together and installed without regard to chronology or genre, Rachel Uffner’s sleek space, which is located outside of traditional gallery districts—even the burgeoning one in the Lower East Side—provided the perfect blank canvas for considering questions about hyper-local and intra-city difference.
Daniel Gordon, Crescent Eyed Portrait, 2012, Chromogenic print, 40 x 30 inches; Courtesy of the artist and Wallspace Gallery
Stan VanDerBeek’s collage Science Fiction (1959) riffs on ideas about modernism with a surrealist flair. In the collage, a man with a cigar in his mouth and a winding key in his back is surrounded by time pieces and typewriters. Images of a bustling metropolis that fill the remainder of the image—people crowded into the streets and hurrying about—suggest not only the march of time but also industrial progress. Contemporary critical darling Daniel Gordon is represented by Crescent Eyed Portrait (2012), a chromogenic print from the “Still Lifes, Portraits & Parts” series that carries echoes of collage in its staging. The shadowed profile of a young woman’s face is visible the background while the found, cutout images used to create her shadow reveal the layers of her composition in the foreground: a cut slit for one of her eyes, torn, curling paper as her mouth and teeth, and glued bits making up her hair. These works were not installed near each other, but both felt timeless in their critical reflections. VanDerBeek’s images evoke social concerns of the 1950s like the hysteria about “little green men,” the wonders of space, and technology; Gordon’s staged and posed photographs press further, inviting comment on the effects of technologically manipulated images.
Ray Johnson’s mail art piece Untitled (Blue Bunny with Pop Art) (1958-94) also playfully juxtaposes images contemplating the pace of modern culture. The lower left corner shows a red Mickey Mouse-like figure with a risqué-looking Minnie Mouse wearing high heels fused to it—perhaps a nod to the evolving ideas about the role of American women—while ghostly blobs in grays and blacks hover in the background. A portion of the lingering figures have been traced with dotted scissor guides, and beneath them, Johnson wrote instructions that the cut portion should be removed and sent to the artist Robert Indiana in care of Paris gallerist Denise René. Across the way, Anya Kielar’s macabre sculpture Les Doubles Dames (2011) acts like a surrealist cabinet of curiosities or demented game of exquisite corpse. Painted plaster and burlap body parts—breasts, feet, forearms—hang from rope tied to trundles suspended across a wooden frame, creating the eerily disembodied remnant of a human being.
Anya Keilar, Les Doubles Dames, 2011, Plaster, paint, glue, burlap, rope, wood, artwork: 84 x 36 x 12 inches base: 6 x 40 x 14 inches; Courtesy of the artist and Rachel Uffner Gallery
New York’s so-called Uptown and Downtown, or high and low divisions can be arbitrary at worst and situational at best. An old saying about change in the city goes something like, "If you don’t like the neighborhood, just wait because it will change soon enough.” New scenes are emerging constantly; new people are always discovering new sources of inspiration from what’s around them. Forced communing is never ideal, but real magical creativity can blossom when artists are forced out of their cultural or geographic comfort zones. Reaching out across boundaries doesn’t automatically ensure the flattening of culture. The Crystal Palace shows how mixing up spatial geographies also contributes to the vibrant eclecticism of city life.
—Lee Ann Norman
(Image on top: Stan VanDerBeek, Science Friction, 1959, Collage, paint, and ink , Framed: 35.6 x 48.9 cm; © Courtesy of the estate of Stan VanDerBeek)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10028-0918
February 24, 2014 - September 1, 2014
Lucas Samaras' Offerings from a Restless Soul
by Roslyn Bernstein
Posted by Roslyn Bernstein
| tags: mixed-media figurative painting pastel Greek art
The path to the Lucas Samaras exhibition, Offerings from a Restless Soul, at the Metropolitan Museum proved to be a fortuitous one. It led me though the Greek and Roman Galleries, filled with remnants of classical art, works that undoubtedly inspired Samaras, a Greek-born artist who came to America in 1948.
Two works stayed with me as I made my way to the Samaras show: the marble head of a youth, attributed to the Greek sculptor Polykleitos, with its strong muscular face, aquiline nose, and locks of hair carved carefully in the stone, and a statue of a kouros (youth), ca 590-580 BC, said to be one of the earliest marble statues of a human figure, which marked the grave of a young Athenian aristocrat. Chuck Close’s painting of Lucas Samaras, Lucas I (1986-7), in the intervening contemporary gallery, 915, created a good link between the two galleries hosting Samaras’ show.
Samaras and Marla Prather, Curator in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, have installed sixty works for Offerings, mostly drawn from the museum’s collection, though seventeen pieces were newly gifted by the artist. The show came to being as a collaboration between the artist and the curator and Samaras’ influence is apparent in many of the curatorial decisions.
Lucas Samaras, Untitled, Drawing, 1963; Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The show’s title, Offerings from a Restless Soul, came from Samaras who is clearly a man of literary inclination. He prefers the word “offerings” to “exhibit,” which creates a sense that this show is less structured and more personal. Is this modesty on his part or rather a political statement, a criticism of the formality of many art exhibitions?
Although the show might be understood as a retrospective, with work representing different moments and styles in the artist’s long career, it is not organized chronologically. Rather, works are grouped by types: charcoal drawings, pin art, dot drawings, photo-transformations, self-portraits, and constructions—an extraordinary diversity, however uneven, from a man who was also an actor and writer.
Samaras was very engaged in the installation. He not only helped install the work but also designed the walls in the spaces. Gallery 914 is wallpapered in a design taken from one of his pastel drawings and in Gallery 916 striking colored arches frame the walls. The wallpaper is particularly effective, creating another layer or complex background for the pastels hanging on it.
Undoubtedly, the most impressive part of the exhibit is Samaras’ small pastels, or “colored dust” as he calls them. These are intricate and often surreal works, where geometric motifs are occasionally interlaced with nude bodies. There is a powerful tension between the chalky medium and Samaras’ geometric grids, lines, squiggles, and shapes, distinguishing these drawings. In the wall text accompanying the pastels, we learn that Samaras drew on sheets of paper in his lap, completing several compositions in one sitting: “Then,” he wrote, his “mind and hand would have absorbed too much color, too much chalk,” and he would stop. The description of his process seems to fit these free-association works which feel as if they were completed rapidly.
These early pastels from the 1960s (he also returned to work in pastels in 1974 and in 1981) are so dense with color that they resemble fabric woven of artful dots and lines. Samaras repeats sequences of colors in patterns, often subtly altering the shapes of the objects.
In Untitled Drawing (1974) his palette moves through a succession of colors, with grey on the outside edge of the square and dark blue in the center, but if you look carefully, the centers vary in shape and size. This is Samaras playing tricks with what we see, creating repetitions that are not quite repetitions.
In Untitled Drawing from August 7, 1961, a man peers into a red device, much like an x-ray machine, where we see red stuff inside a body that suggests internal organs. Samaras’ use of dabs of color, red and orange in the lower half of the work, contrast markedly with the squiggles of white, green, and blue. Here, as in all of his works, the human form is muscular, reminiscent of the marble head sculpted by Polykleitos.
Other works in the show are clever but lack, somehow, the power of the pastels. Two Chair Transformations, sculptural pieces from 1969-1970, stand in the middle of Gallery 914. For Samaras, whose name in Greek means “saddle maker,” the form of chairs clearly holds a personal appeal. One chair in the exhibit, fabricated in 1969, was originally covered with cotton batting which became soiled over time. The artist’s response, a decade later, was to strip the chair down to its original frame and to marbleize its surface with white on black paint, a new work of art.
Family history, too, plays an important role in Samaras’ work. After learning that his mother had a miscarriage before he was born, Samaras began his Wound paintings. One of them, Wound #18, hangs on its own wall in Gallery 916, a thickly textured acrylic, with a deeply riveting, red wound.
A gift of Sculp-metal, a clay-like material, resulted in the artist creating wall-mounted reliefs, several with razor blades, pins, and mangled cutlery. These works are not Samaras at his best and although he wrote that he was interested in the tension between the Sculp-metal surface and “the pricking intrusion,” that tension is not apparent. Despite the blade and the sharp objects, these works do not have the raw power of his Wound painting.
Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, Remnants from 18 Happenings in 6 Parts, 1959; Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The last piece in the show is a canvas with black vertical stripes and circles by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg that was rescued by Samaras from Allan Kaprow’s 18 Happenings in 6 Parts (1959) at the Reuben Gallery in the East Village. Although he participated in many of Kaprow’s Happenings, Samaras did not contribute to this work. We are left wondering why end with this piece?
On balance, Samaras has offered us a thought provoking show, one that reveals much about the artist even when it seems to conceal.
(Image on top: Lucas Samaras, Installation view; Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art)