Being a director of a museum is, unsurprisingly, busy work. In between management, fund-raising, working with curators, and everything else, directors don’t often look back and, well, reflect. And they rarely share the reason why they got into this game in the first place — the art. SEEN recently interrupted their chaotic schedules to find out, firstly, the first work of art that made an impression on them, and secondly, the piece of art currently in their museum’s collection that they can’t get out of their heads. Reading their answers below — which are thoughtful, precise, and surprising — it comes as no surprise that they are at the top of their field.
Stationed above a busy corner on Canal Street, the studio of the Iranian filmmaker and artist Shirin Neshat whirred with several working film editors and assistants upon our arrival. Neshat is best known for her black-and-white cinematic films addressing gender issues within Islamic culture. She shares the space with her partner Shoja Azari, a fellow filmmaker and frequent collaborator. Conversations in Farsi and Italian were shooting back and forth among the crew. “We are very lucky because our studio is like a community. We’re all close friends and we’re together all the time basically,” said Neshat.
For an artist whose practice is predicated on the somewhat subversive, it's no surprise that Peter Coffin would stack a playlist with Miles Davis and Kraftwerk and Tonto's Expanding Headband. "I don't have anything interesting or quotable to say about the songs I sent,” he wrote, somewhat teasingly, "They inspire different moods." Coffins's works do, too — whether with his outdoor Cloud installations or oversize taxidermy animal sculptures or slow-motion videos. For those times when you don’t know where you want to go but want the journey to inspire you, listen up.
It’s not easy nabbing the Nivola Brothers. Alessandro, who is starring in The Elephant Man on Broadway with Bradley Cooper and Patricia Clarkson, is also busy filming the second season of the HBO comedy series Doll & Em with his wife, the actress Emily Mortimer. He also has two movies opening later this month: Selma and A Most Violent Year. His artist brother, Adrian, is preparing for a group show titled “Winter Salon” at the Drawing Room, open December 13 through February 28, 2015. But they generously made time to meet at Alessandro’s home in Brooklyn, where they described growing up in the fascinating world of their grandparents — artists Costantino and Ruth Nivola — and getting to know their grandparents’ legendary friends, which included artist Saul Steinberg and architect Le Corbusier. We sat down in Alessandro’s cozy living room, where Adrian, on the left, and Alessandro, on the right, started by talking about their grandfather’s work, the painting above the couch being one of Costantino Nivola’s.
Just like her partner in two initials George R.R. Martin, J.K. Rowling is releasing 12 days of digital Christmas gifts for fans. Today's Pottermore update: a story on vampires, which Rowling admits she didn't include in Harry Potter because "there was little I could add to the tradition." Besides, she says, vampires are an Eastern-European thing, and she tried to draw more from British and Celtic mysticism when creating Harry's world. Still, one bloodsucker does make a brief appearance in The Half-Blood Prince, and Rowling admits she had plans for another: a vampire teacher named Trocar, who would have presumably only taught night classes. Rowling adds that, despite appearances, Severus Snape was not a vampire either, making this the latest Pottermore update to come back to Snape in the end. We've previously learned why he became a Potions teacher and all about the drab industrial town in which he grew up, though Rowling has yet to confirm whether or not Snape was based on Antonin Scalia.
I don't remember where or when, but I once read that the great artist, filmmaker, and true national treasure John Waters said of the late, equally great gallerist Colin de Land of American Fine Arts, "Colin broke the curse of fame for me.”
The debate over art selfies has escalated to hilarious new heights this year. Jay Z and Beyoncé's publicity shot at the Louvre almost reduced the Mona Lisa to wallpaper. And DIS published a whole book of the popular #artselfie hashtag from Instagram. Which has us wondering: Will selfies ultimately prove the biggest boost to museum attendance ever? Does "being seen with the artworks count as much, if not more, than the work," as the New York Times suggested in its official trend piece on the matter? Did white people's selfies make a mockery of Kara Walker's sugar sphinx? It's hard to say, but Walker herself seemed fairly unfazed. Which is why we decided to go to ask artists what they really think about people taking selfies with their work. Here's what ten had to say.
In case you missed it, we mentioned Oliver Wasow’s fascinating work in found photography on Monday. You can check out his previous slideshow of people standing next to their televisions here. Next up: a new slideshow of his found photography featuring people standing next to their Christmas trees!
When I inquired with Rashid Johnson, an artist who works in photography, video, and sculpture, about participating in this project, he said, “Oh, yeah, I’m all about ritual.” Johnson, whose studio is based in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick, creates altarlike sculptures and installations bearing relics such as vases, album covers, plants, books, and photographs that are homages to black historical figures and spiritual manifestations of African-American culture. These shrines are often saturated with a thick layer of dripped black soap and black wax. Johnson dips the same objects — two coffee mugs and a bat — into the mixed concoction each time he works, using them as tools to distribute the substance. Each item makes a different size of splatter mark. The soap-and-wax mixture on the tools is never removed but instead reheated before each use.
Last week, as part of our year-in-culture extravaganza, our art critic Jerry Saltz named his picks for the 19 best gallery shows of 2014. Here, he follows that up with his favorite museum exhibitions of the year.
1. "Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs" at MoMA
To the last, I grapple with thee, MoMA ... for hate's sake, I spit my criticisms at you in hopes that you will get out of your own way, create usable galleries for temporary exhibitions, and double the space for the permanent collection (rather than, as you’ve promised to do, double-down on useless event- and temporary-exhibition space). I'm not alone in my MoMA odium. In ten years, I haven't met a single person in the art world who isn't thoroughly frustrated by and furious with MoMA — although I may be the only one who's gone the full-Ahab about it.
John Ruskin, as any liberal arts grad will tell you, is famous less for being the defining voice of Victorian art criticism and more for the putative story of his wedding night: He gazed upon his bride’s naked body, saw her muff, and fled in horror. Ruskin died in 1900, but our own repulsion at and fascination with female pubic hair continues to mirror his. The human body holds myriad uncanny sites, but few are as contested or as overdetermined as the female mons. Hairy or bare, it’s rife with meaning, intrigue, and analysis. It’s also the shiny, glossy, four-color subject of Marilyn Minter’s glam new art book, Plush.
Denis Johnson’s great-great-great-great grandfather was a pirate. This bit of family lore weighed on the author’s mind as he and his old friend, the artist Sam Messer, traveled to the Grenadines in the late 1990s. They were attending the artist residency Moonhole in the company of Kiki Smith, Sally Mann, and Rachel Whiteread, as well as Messer’s 6-year-old daughter, Josephine. Johnson, who had published the short-story collection Jesus’ Son a few years earlier, sometimes entertained Josephine, his goddaughter, with a tale he wrote called “Denis the Pirate.” It was the story of a fearsome pirate who sailed the seas with a one-eyed, one-armed, one-legged monkey who smoked mushrooms and spoke 27 languages, including Elephant and Iguana.
In his rollicking, insightful new book Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll, author Peter Bebergal delves deep into the weird connections between popular music and the occult, and how the former has so often utilized the mystique of the latter. In this excerpt, Bebergal looks at the rumors that have long circulated about Jay Z's involvement with the mysterious Illuminati cabal, and what those rumors signify about how we think of the rap superstar.
Setting up shop in Chelsea is not the end-all, be-all of gallery locations. And we’re not even going to mention the Lower East Side or Bushwick right now. Instead, we direct your gaze to a little stretch of downtown Manhattan, wedged between the ultimate Meatpacking District landmark — the nightclub — at 55 Gansevoort, the only 24/7 gallery in Manhattan (that we know of, at least). It’s not an apartment gallery, nor does owner Ellie Rines sleep or live there. But strolling under the industrial arcade that lines the block, blink and you might miss it. Her space, formerly an elevator shaft, is the size of a closet — so it comes as no surprise that Rines has undertaken a rather unconventional approach to the gallery model. “As a dealer, one of the best things I can provide is a new space for an artist to show in. I like the challenges and constraints within 55G, and the idea of having a 24/7 show is both exciting and daunting,” she says. Rines took over the space long before the Whitney’s move even began. “Nowadays, one of the biggest challenges is not outgrowing my shoes,” explains Rines. “The Whitney raises the bar and I am going to do my best to keep it simple — good art, fully visible 24/7, just walk by.” So far, Leo Fitzpatrick, Todd Eberle, Dylan Bailey, and Aaron Aujla have all exhibited under Rines's programming perimeters. "If it isn't an opportunity for the artist to show something new and something less commercial or to take a different direction,” says Rines, "Forget it."
I knew I was not a collector when I dropped that Charlie Patton 78 of “Pony Blues” on the floor. Recorded at the Gennet studio in Richmond, Indiana, on June 14, 1929, the disc came to me from a friend who, as any real collector would, had wrapped it in several layers of bubble wrap for safe travels through the U.S. Postal Service. Now the record lay about my feet, 50 shards of blackened shellac, the famous Paramount label split down the middle. All these years, through who knew how many owners, stored in uncounted garages and basements, across time and space, the neo-sacred object had persisted. Less than 60 seconds into my custodianship, its journey was at an end. There was nothing left to do but to stare in disbelief, cry in mortification. I was a slob. I could not be trusted with the past.
“We all share on Facebook, but that’s a very performative type of sharing. That’s very different than the sharing of you alone with someone talking in isolation in quiet for a little bit more time,” says Amar Bakshi, the founder of Shared Studios, a multidisciplinary collaborative space that is “carving out wormholes in the world” and that has staged Portals — something that is part art project, part social experiment. The idea is to pair individuals who have the time to take a second out of their day and connect with a total stranger in an entirely different city and time zone. It’s "satiating a fundamental curiosity that’s in a lot of us, which is, ‘What is it like to live another life? What is a day in life like?’” Bakshi adds. “I think there’s a reason we have a day in the life as a cliché.”
Our senior art critic Jerry Saltz has long known the artist Oliver Wasow — the two met in the '80s, when Wasow used to run an art gallery in the East Village. These days, Wasow has become more well known for his humorous and playful found photography, which has drawn a sizable following on social media, where he shares images he has discovered across the Internet. Wasow used to go deep-diving in libraries and physical archives, but as more and more material has become digitized, he’s enjoyed a certain amount of freedom and immediacy that he has never experienced before. "Pinterest has really changed things,” Wasow explains, “I follow hundreds of people who have similar interests to me. Archives can now be exponentially shared. Often it’s difficult to trace the origins of the image — in theory, when someone pins something from someone else’s Tumblr, that is then linked back to its source, but in reality it almost instantly gets severed from its origins. I kind of like that, that ownership is almost impossible to trace.”
Three art-scene controversies from New York’s archives that are worth revisiting.
1. When the Met almost became a theme park.
In 1977, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s then-director Thomas Hoving and billionaire Walter H. Annenberg were surreptitiously planning for the “Fine Arts Center of the Annenberg School of Communications at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” In a clear conflict of interest, a recently retired Hoving would have assumed the role of overseeing the new center’s creation. Besides sidestepping public participation and undermining the democratic principles of a public trust, the proposal for the center promised a new “Technotronic Era” at the Met, with “communications devices and ‘superb software’ through which … the Imaginary Museum would come to pass.” Hoving’s Epcot-like vision was eventually foiled, but not without the help of Barbara Goldsmith’s investigative report for New York.
If there is one artist who has created an almost cultlike fascination around every dimension of his life, it would be Jean-Michel Basquiat. Most of us have seen how his meteoric rise as an artist was turned into a film by Julian Schnabel, starring Jeffrey Wright as Basquiat and David Bowie as Andy Warhol. But we rarely get a more intimate glimpse into his more private domestic life. In Jennifer Clement’s book Widow Basquiat, she takes the personal narrative of her friend Suzanne Mallouk — who was a longtime lover of Basquiat’s — and weaves it into a slender and poetic novella. Mallouk moved to New York City from Ontario, Canada, on Valentine’s Day of 1980. She paired up with Basquiat shortly thereafter. And as Basquiat became the New York art scene’s enfant terrible, Suzanne served as his muse, mother, and lover, struggling to sustain the both of them. She earned the moniker “Widow Basquiat” years before the artist’s death by drug overdose in 1988. Clement’s book follows Basquiat’s road to genius through Mallouk’s eyes — one lined with excessive drug use, endless nights, strangers, and moments of sheer excess — Mallouk says Basquiat was known to sometimes flutter bills into the street from his limousine. Below are three scenes of his life, as sketched by Clement.