It’s time again to thank Messrs. Carnegie, Frick, Warburg, Vanderbilt, Morgan & Co. The plutocrats of the last Gilded Age left us unfathomable architectural treasures that we cherish and fight over but are still not sure how to care for. They erected houses, museums, and libraries in the form of temples and Renaissance palazzos, great hunks of ornate stone, carved wood, and intricate parquet, anthologies of precious materials and medieval craft. Some have been lost; touch what’s left and we get angry, alter them and we despair. As Manhattan keeps remaking itself, one shuttered shoe-repair store and vanished brownstone at a time, these ornate piles endure—the Frick, the Cooper Hewitt, the Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum, each with its tribe of passionate loyalists.
The great Zen-proto-conceptualist, On Kawara, has died at the age of 81. In a time of art stars, overnight sensations, and flashes in the pan, Kawara's long artistic river has glided silently through the art world. On January 4, 1966, he began making thousands of straightforward alphanumerical paintings of dates that were destroyed if not completed in one day; in 1969, he began a many-decade performance work in which he had people count one million years, one at a time, producing a multi-volume typed document, a tomb of the recitation. This enigmatic geomancer of invisible infinities finally reached the ultimate algorithm.
The 28-year-old Colombian-born artist Oscar Murillo has had a very good couple of years and has paid for it with a very bad couple of months. Until April, when he installed an elaborate chocolate factory inside one of blue-chip David Zwirner’s big-box spaces in Chelsea, he’d never had a solo show in New York. And yet astronomical sales of his scribbly, urgent, and defiantly un-precious paintings—which he makes using a broomstick and sometimes stitches together from multiple canvases, often feature “dirt” among their listed materials, and are tagged with large enigmatic words (YOGA, CHORIZO, MILK)—had made him perhaps the most talked-about young artist in the world.
It’s all helixed into this: something fantastic, something disastrous. “Jeff Koons: A Retrospective” is upon us. One can’t think of the last 30 years in art without thinking of Koons, a lot. I’ve witnessed this career from very close range. I have seen him transform himself into the Koons hologram we know now; him polishing sculptures late at night in galleries before and during his shows; not selling his work; almost going broke; charging less for a sculpture than it cost to produce. In a Madrid club in 1986, I watched him confront a skeptical critic while smashing himself in the face, repeating, “You don’t get it, man. I’m a fucking genius.” The fit passed when another critic who was also watching this, the brilliant Gary Indiana, said, “You are, Jeff.” I agreed.
Today the Museum of Modern Art crawled deeper into cravenness, announcing the upcoming "full-scale retrospective" of Björk. Don’t get me wrong: I love Björk and her fabulous amaranth persona, her videos, and her music. All Is Full of Love is often on repeat on my Spotify. Do not mock her fabulous swan costume around me. This isn't about her greatness or about museums' exhibitiions about pop stars or celebrities. It's about MoMA’s further damaging its credibility (with the permission of its trustees), riding on the backs of generations of artists and curators as it makes a suicidal slide into becoming a box-office-driven carnival. Tilda Swinton sleeping in a glass vitrine; Queen Marina staring at smitten viewers in the atrium; the trashy Tim Burton show; last season's gee-whiz Rain Room; and of course, the wrecking ball Diller Scofidio + Renfro is about to swing: All are signs of a deep institutional rot.
For the past 150 years, pretty consistently, art movements moved in thrilling but unmysterious ways. They’d build on the inventions of several extraordinary artists or constellations of artists, gain followings, become what we call a movement or a school, influence everything around them, and then become diluted as they were taken up by more and more derivative talents. Soon younger artists would rebel against them, and the movement would fade out. This happened with Impressionism, Postimpressionism, and Fauvism, and again with Abstract Expressionism after the 1950s. In every case, always, the most original work led the way.
Now something’s gone terribly awry with that artistic morphology. An inversion has occurred. In today’s greatly expanded art world and art market, artists making diluted art have the upper hand. A large swath of the art being made today is being driven by the market, and specifically by not very sophisticated speculator-collectors who prey on their wealthy friends and their friends’ wealthy friends, getting them to buy the same look-alike art.
Albrecht Dürer's Melencolia I is considered one of the biggest downers in all of art history. It has been ever since Dürer made it in Nuremberg in 1514. Dürer is the Leonardo da Vinci of the Northern Renaissance, a giant who merges mathematics, theology, psychology, and allegory with a visual force that resonates and shakes still. Melencolia I is the North's equivalent of Leonardo's Vitruvian Man, that touchstone of the Italian Renaissance depicting a male figure with doubly outstretched arms, which signals a new combination of thought, science, art, and observation. Right now the Met is observing the 500th birthday of Dürer's peerless foray into pathos, creativity, and self by hanging one print of the engraving made when the copper plate was fresh, and another better one made after the plate darkened a bit. (The later one lets you see more.) There are also a handful of supporting images, including a great copy made by Jan Wiery in 1602. The Dürers murmur and stir. This is an ineffably implacable image of a mind — possibly a creative one, perhaps Dürer's, certainly aspects of ours, when we're caught up in racing thoughts or daydreaming or stuck on an idea or spinning in circles.
Banksy has issued a video response to being named Person of the Year at the Webby Awards ceremony last week. The YouTube clip summarizes the anonymous street artist's hyped monthlong residence in New York last October, with Banksy congratulating himself on works such as the meatpacking truck filled with stuffed animals (cleverly titled "Sirens of the Lambs"), the roaming landscape truck, and that real-life balloon tag the NYPD was so fond of. And, for those still interested in figuring out who Banksy really is, the video reveals that he's "38-years-old," though that piece of information doesn't really narrow down his identity much (if it's even true.) Either way, New York fans will be glad to know that he's still thinking of them.
When the London architecture critic Hugh Pearman saw television footage of a fire shooting through one of Scotland’s revered buildings, he issued a desperate tweet: “This can’t happen. We can’t lose Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art. It’s unthinkable.” And yet it is happening: Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s baronial modern masterpiece, completed in 1907, and so firmly lodged in the affection of millions that in 2009 it was voted Britain’s most beloved building of the last 175 years, is burning, apparently beyond rescue.
Saltz: Here’s Exactly What the Metropolitan Museum of Art Needs to Do When It Rebuilds the Modern-Art WingBy Jerry Saltz
Dear Metropolitan Museum of Art:
Congratulations on the announcement that you’re going to rebuild the entire Lila Acheson Wallace Wing, where you keep the modern and contemporary art. Not only is it an intriguing shot across all other New York museums' bows: Saying that you’re likely to demolish the whole thing is an honest, open admission that this has long been the weakest and worst-displayed section of your glorious treasure house. It has been since the day that wing opened in 1987.
The Art Fairs are over for now. The gallerists have packed up after reportedly racking in big sales; many have moved onto other fairs somewhere else. Most will reconvene in Basel in June, and the cycle will begin anew in September. I've learned to look a little harder at art fairs, using them as essential Band-Aids when I can’t get to other scenes around the world. In Berlin a couple of weeks ago, however, when the subject of art fairs came up, more than a few dealers said to me that many European artists prefer the fairs to gallery shows. They explained that although there are many great galleries in Berlin, they’re poorly attended. (I’ve heard the same about L.A.) Art fairs afford more eyes on the artist’s work. This breaks my heart a little, but it does mean that art fairs are with us for the foreseeable future, and I made it my business to go to two of them this week.
I woke up on Saturday morning in my underwear in a room dominated by a functionally scaled wooden crucifix — ready to hang! — to a disembodied posh English voice over a loudspeaker: Frieze New York will be opening in one hour. It was 10 a.m. and, as part of the posh English art fair’s limber and intellectually entertaining public-relations apparatus, I’d been invited to stay overnight in the big squiggling tent on Randalls Island as part of a reenactment of something called Al’s Grand Hotel. (I wasn’t alone: The Times wrote about the hotel also, and had a writer sleep in this room the night before I did.) It was a re-creation of a 1971 participatory artwork by Allen Ruppersberg, patched together with borrowed old furniture and a few suggestive knicknacks from the original. There was a sign over the desk quoting the 1932 film that, with some irony, inspired the project: “Same thing everyday, / They come & go.”
Tonight’s contemporary-art sale at Christie’s, called “If I Live I'll See You Tuesday,” should be unremarkable, insofar as it's selling the same artists who always appear at contemporary-art auctions. There’s a twist, though: Christie's is trying to tout this sale as hardcore, dangerous. The house made a slick promo video featuring professional skateboarder Chris Martin and a soundtrack by Awolnation, in which we see Martin snake his way through storage bins, salesrooms, and freight elevators, giving high-fives to black workers and nodding to others preparing works on their way to auction. Martin glides in slo-mo past art featured in the sale: work by Christopher Wool, Wade Guyton, Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, Dan Colen, Cady Noland, John Currin, and other blue-chip names. Christie's crows that this sale has been "curated" by an in-house person named Loic Gouzer and that it seeks to represent "the gritty and underbelly-esq [sic] side of Contemporary Art ... tough, controversial ... built around a mood and an atmosphere ...to convey the darker side of what art can be." I say it’s just a bullshit ploy to massage client egos and reel in rubes.
Oscar Murillo, the 28-year-old market darling who has already sold pieces of his art for nearly a half-million dollars, is still making student work. It looks like a deft combination of Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Joe Bradley, whom I'm told he worked for and whose ideas he appears to have hugely appropriated. He’s not talentless: While I don't much care for Murillo's almost-monochrome drop-cloth abstraction or his funky formal paintings with words in them, he has a nice sense of warm colors, a handsome touch, and full-blown ambition. Otherwise, though, his work looks exactly like a lot of abstraction that is snapped up by speculator-collectors lately for ever-rising prices.
In the mid-1950s, Ansel Adams was perhaps the most famous photographer alive, and he had a request. For the past several years, he’d been a consultant to the Polaroid Corporation, testing and analyzing the company’s new film and cameras. He loved instant film: If you were up in the mountains or out in the desert, how else would you know if you got your shot? He’d taken his consulting job seriously, too, shooting pictures all over the world and sending the results back to Polaroid’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with technical notes scribbled all over their white borders.
Every week, Vulture faces the big, important questions in entertainment and comes to some creative conclusions. This week, we discussed the controversial scene from last Sunday's Game of Thrones, talked to Neil Patrick Harris about his transformation into Hedwig, and compared the artistic prowess of George W. Bush with that of James Franco. Naturally, spoilers follow. You may have read some of these stories below, but you certainly didn’t read them all. We forgive you.
Art critic Roberta Smith (my wife) wrote a damning review of James Franco's 65 silly self-obsessed demi-drag re-creations of Cindy Sherman's 1977-80 "Film Stills," now being shown at Pace as “New Film Stills.” The review's last line sums up the situation: "Someone or something, make him stop." Amen.
The Andy Warhol Museum has recovered artwork Andy Warhol made in the mid-1980s on a Commodore Amiga home computer. It all started with a YouTube clip of Andy Warhol at the Amiga launch event, making a portrait of Debbie Harry. Artist Cory Arcangel saw the clip and embarked on trying to find the images. Working with curators from the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Warhol Museum's chief archivist, they found Amiga floppy disks. Fortunately, Carnegie Mellon University Computer Club is known for its "collection of obsolete computer hardware" and was able to easily extract many doodles, photographs, and riffs on classic Warhol images like the banana, Marilyn Monroe, and, as you can see below, the Campbell's soup can. Also, below you can see a self-portrait and a three-eyed Birth of Venus. Even though it's only been a few hours since they've been made public, Jay Z has already written a verse about them.
Earlier this year, the enfant terrible photographer who calls himself JR made his New York City Ballet debut, wrapping the promenade of the David H. Koch Theater in an enormous photographic mural. The result has been Instagrammed nearly as often as Ellen’s Oscar selfie was, and a relationship with NYCB was born. On April 29, it will bear fruit, as JR’s first foray into ballet—a collaboration with the video director and musician Woodkid, with an assist from NYCB’s Peter Martins himself—premieres. It’s called Les Bosquets, and, he says, it “is about the French riots of 2005. I was even thinking of taking the dancers to the streets of Paris. I am sure that these two worlds that are completely opposite, the projects of Paris and the ballet world, could actually get together.” They certainly do cross paths in JR himself, a graffiti brat turned sophisticated photographer, seen here in his lower-Manhattan studio during a rehearsal-happening as he worked out the placement of every graceful, exquisite limb. He couldn’t resist putting one dancer’s foot in the (cold) oven—or parking himself at the center of the array.
For months, rumors have swirled that Pearl Paint, the legendary art-supply store on Canal Street, would be closing its doors. Yesterday, the red landmark was gated and locked, apparently marking the end of its eight-decade run as the supplier of choice to multiple generations of established and emerging downtown art stars. In the days before assistants did all the shopping, Pearl was more than a store — it was a scene in its own right, where artists would mingle and get hints about what their peers were working on based on the supplies they were buying. To mark the end of this chapter in New York's cultural history, Vulture asked a handful of top local artists to reminisce about the six-story retailer, which multimedia-installation specialist Justin Lowe lovingly referred to as "the StairMaster, helping lower Manhattan burn off those giant-cola calories for years."