The Museum of Modern Art’s sprawling extravagant “Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963–2010” is really good. How could it not be, with more than 260 works by a great artist on hand? When Polke died at 69 in 2010, John Baldessari observed that “Any one [Polke] move can provide a career for a lesser artist.” The Whitney curator Chrissie Iles said, "I don’t like using terms like ‘master,’ but Polke is a master; he knows it, and we know it." I think of him as a Rosetta Stone for young artists, one whose material glee, anarchic inventiveness, and hallucinogenic Blakean imagination puts him in the same influential postwar class with Pollock, Johns, Rauschenberg, Warhol, and his old friend and nemesis Gerhard Richter. He created his own ravishingly visual, impish blends of Pop, Conceptualism, Neo-Dada, Fluxus, Constructivism, and Process Art, all replete with philosophical heft, social bite, and an extraordinary combination of chaos and control.
Two years ago, choreographer and New York City Ballet dancer Justin Peck needed someone to write the score for a new project and asked Sufjan Stevens — a musician with a penchant for flourescent stagewear, Hula-Hoops, and songs about Illinois. That collaboration resulted in Year of the Rabbit, showcasing the refreshingly youthful, inventive choreography that made Peck a wunderkind of the ballet world (and you can get a close-up look at his work process in Ballet 422, a highly anticipated documentary by Jody Lee Lipes debuting at the Tribeca Film Festival), with a rollicking all-string score by Stevens that was surprisingly well matched. Now they’ve put together a new piece, Everywhere We Go, which premieres May 8 at City Ballet, and it's an even more ambitious task for Stevens: a nine-movement orchestral score. For a sneak peek at both the dance and music, Lipes directed this short film, featuring principal dancers Tiler Peck, Teresa Reichlen, and Amar Ramasar.
When I look at the paintings of George W. Bush, it’s like seeing an incubus on America, as freakish and off-putting as his presidency was. Yet the art critic in me has to grant that if I stumbled on three or four of Bush's paintings in a flea market by an anonymous artist, I'd snap them right up. The first batch of his paintings we saw, in 2012, were of landscapes, churches, Bush himself in the bathtub, and other scenes, and I liked them for their sheer weird obliviousness, their zonked-out earnest attempts at figuration, the odd feel for form and space, light, color, and softly contoured edges. If I didn't know they were by Bush, I'd imagine they were made by a diligent high-school senior, maybe a beauty queen perfecting her talent, maybe a mischievous frat boy spying on his father, possibly an onanist. I liked these amateurish paintings for their perverted pictorial twists and psycho subject matter. Now Bush is having his first-ever solo exhibition of 30 of his new oil paintings, most of which are portraits of world leaders. It’s at his presidential library, with the bogus title "The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy," and we are all considering Bush As Artist once again.
How does an early-aughts quasi-slacker art star making millions — one who was a big voice, back then, in the hip new academy of derivative artists painting gritty images based on stock ideas about mass culture and appropriation — transition to being just another 35-year-old painter trying to make good work without hype and buzz? The answer shows up in Nate Lowman's new show at Maccarone. In this same gallery, in 2008, Lowman and his fellow art-star buddy Dan Colen created a cheeky self-conscious mash of Warhol, Richard Prince, Cady Noland, and a few other usual suspects, giving us a smashed-up 1971 Jaguar, paintings on beach towels, pictures of crack pipes, and the like. Collectors ate it up. Four years later, Lowman did a huge show for the collector and media mogul Peter Brandt at his Greenwich space that included a zillion paintings of Richard Prince-y pictures of a de Kooning Woman painting, riots in Cancun, women in bikinis, bullet holes, a figure falling out of the World Trade Center, and other scenes of neo-punk sex and death.
The past year has seen collectors and auction houses creating their own art market. They’re essentially bypassing dealers, galleries, and critics, identifying artists on their own, buying works by those artists cheaply in great numbers, then flipping them at vastly higher prices to a network of other like-minded speculator-collectors. Thus, we’ve seen the rise of artists in their early 20s, male painters mainly, about whom the sole topic of conversation and interest is profit margins.
This annoying trend has been discussed in fits and starts — until this weekend, when the Artspace online magazine published Andrew Goldstein’s very long interview with the self-described “great collector” Stefan Simchowitz. (I’m one of his targets, though I don’t really care about that.) In 5,000 words, he manages to embody everything that's gross about this new breed. Call it the New Cynicism.
The story is almost too good to be true. One of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, among the most omnivorous and hyperperceptive visionaries ever to use a camera, was entirely unknown before 2007. That's when a young Chicagoan named John Maloof went looking for images to illustrate a history of his neighborhood that he was writing and bought a box of unprinted negatives at an auction for $380. It held between 30,000 and 40,000 frames, shot from the 1950s through the 1970s, by a woman named Vivian Maier. The photographs weren’t useful for his project, but a new world opened and a star was born. The odds against this exact buyer’s walking across the street to this auction and stumbling on these photographs, then having the wherewithal and dedication to save and piece together the life story of this extraordinary forgotten woman, borders on the providential.
I spend way too much of my time in my office and endless business meetings,” says Thomas Campbell, the preternaturally unassuming director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “so I try to get out a couple of times a day, if I can, and just get down there to the galleries, walk randomly in any direction.” Five years into his job, the British-born 51-year-old still comes off as less the maharaja of the Met than someone who, to his self-deprecating delight, has been given Charlie and the Chocolate Factory–like privileges to sneak around backstage. He has a special key, he tells me on the morning we are scheduled to walk not so randomly about, which is “supposed to open every door in the building,” he says. “Of course, I always discover the door it doesn’t work on is the one that I really need to get through.”
On January 8, Museum of Modern Art director Glenn Lowry and the architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro made public their scheme to redesign and expand MoMA. Since then, virtually no artists or architects, or art, design, or architecture critics, have lauded the plan. Nearly all the reaction has been negative. Yet no one’s raised a finger to do much of anything about it. We live in a time when power structures are impervious to and imperious about protest. Yet the Lowry–DS+R plan so irretrievably dooms MoMA to being a business-driven carnival that it feels like something really worth fighting against. Actions like this aren’t pie-in-the-sky or far-fetched. If 40 well-known artists whose work is in the collection signed a petition protesting the plans, it might have a real effect. This is MoMA’s Robert Moses moment, and five decades ago, artists were key to stopping his Lower Manhattan Expressway from being built. By the end of May, the problematic American Folk Art Museum on the MoMA site will likely be torn down, to be replaced with an even worse building for art. Then construction will begin. If this scheme is not stopped immediately, it’s going to go ahead.
Expansionism, encroachment, defying the rest of the world, driven to empire. We're not talking about Vladimir Putin. We're talking about this morning's New York Times announcement that Larry Gagosian will be adding two more spaces to his worldwide occupation. One is on the Upper East Side, and the other will be a pop-up gallery that will operate for a month out of a former Lower East Side Chase Manhattan bank building. It will feature the work of fellow dominion-seeker and art-star Urs Fisher. Thus the elephant's foot will temporarily stomp down among the neighborhood's many other smaller, poorer galleries. I hope the tide will float nearby boats and not swamp them.
Richard Prince, the very famous 64-year-old artist, loved Instagram. He’d joined it in the middle of last year, when he’d gotten a new iPhone. “It’s almost like it was invented for someone like myself,” he says. “It’s like carrying around a gallery in your pocket ... Everything became easy. It was enjoyable. It reminded me of a free concert.” Prince is a member of the “pictures generation” — the group that, in the '70s, began making art out of appropriated and rephotographed mass-culture images — so the idea of being able to conveniently dip in and out of this endless river of photos, and get instant feedback on his own, enthralled him.
New York is about to be awash in art, with the Whitney Biennial going up and the Armory Show coming to town. But New York is always awash in great art (much of it not for sale—imagine that). Here, critic Jerry Saltz has created six walking tours of galleries, museums, and the street, singling out 43 particular pieces he loves. The slideshow can give you only a taste—illustrated or crudely reproduced—so put on good shoes, and take a look at these works for yourself.
These artists will engage with the old Whitney building as they close it down.
The character of Donelle Woolford (fictionally b. 1980; above left) was created by the middle-aged white artist Joe Scanlan and is embodied by the actress Jennifer Kidwell. Wearing man-drag, she’ll reenact a 1977 stand-up routine by Richard Pryor.
A local artist paid Ai Weiwei a strange compliment on Sunday by smashing one of the sixteen vases in the Chinese artist and activist's installation "Colored Vases" at the Pérez Art Museum Miami. Maximo Caminero tells the Miami New Times that he was protesting local museums excluding Miami artists while spending "many millions now on international artists." He was inspired by one of Ai's most famous works, "Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn," a series of photographs in which Weiwei smashes an ancient Chinese vase. "I saw it as a provocation by Ai to join him in an act of performance protest," said Caminero.
Hudson — the founder of the Feature Inc. gallery, who went by one name — was one of the greatest of his generation, a generation that was rich in art-dealer talent. Feature opened on April Fool's Day 1984 with a show of work by Richard Prince, and was eventually among the first to exhibit the art of Takashi Murakami, Raymond Pettibon, Tom Friedman, Charles Ray, B. Wurtz, Judy Linn, Richard Kern, Lisa Beck, Tom of Finland, and many others. Hudson was 63, but seemed timeless. He was one of the last of his kind, and among the smartest, wittiest, and most visionary gallerists I've ever known — old-school in that he almost seemed not to want to be a dealer. He just loved art and artists.
You don't paint; I don't paint. But we both like painting. Could one of us, in our first time ever picking up a brush, re-create by hand, with no one's assistance, an exact replica of one of the most beautifully complex paintings in art history — Johannes Vermeer's The Music Lesson? The question is like something out of a Borges short story, imagining the impossible possibility of a one-to-one scale map of the world that covers the world, or the old statistical saw about monkeys and typewriters. The mind-blowing answer given in this documentary foray into the depths of human drive is: Not only can this be done, but we can see it, over the course of 80 quietly intense minutes. Far from deflating our sense of art or giving the lie to past definitions of artistic ability, Tim's Vermeer, which opens in New York this weekend, proves that the way to greatness is always in redefining skill and following obsession. (Read my colleague Bilge Ebiri's review here.) If this film doesn't leave you saying "Holy shit!" nothing will.
As a noxious cloud of anemic abstract painting and sculpture continues to blanket the art world — and junior postmodernists churn out handsome harmless knockoffs, all involving scraping, scribbling, silkscreened images, spray paint, stenciling, staining, and some drips — a small survey of the late Moira Dryer is a quickening pick-me-up. The day Dryer died from cancer in 1992, at just 34, the art world lost a great gritty painter. Starting in 1986, her work startled the art world, then stuck in a similar rut of cool formalist abstraction. This eight-painting show couldn’t be better timed.
The To Do list in this week's New York Magazine directed New Yorkers to the latest solo exhibition of photographer Jackie Nickerson. Her latest series is called "Terrain." The photos, taken all over Africa, show the basic task of gathering food. Where they diverge from ethnology, though, is in the poses — bodies support giant sacks, masses of vegetables or leaves, a Terry Gilliam tangle of vines. We simultaneously see people as people, as transport, and as sculpture. Click through this slideshow for a sample of her striking work, and then see the show at Chelsea's Jack Shaiman Gallery through February 15.
1. Defining a new form.
We live in the age of the selfie. A fast self-portrait, made with a smartphone’s camera and immediately distributed and inscribed into a network, is an instant visual communication of where we are, what we’re doing, who we think we are, and who we think is watching. Selfies have changed aspects of social interaction, body language, self-awareness, privacy, and humor, altering temporality, irony, and public behavior. It’s become a new visual genre—a type of self-portraiture formally distinct from all others in history. Selfies have their own structural autonomy. This is a very big deal for art.
What was Wade Guyton to do? When last we saw him in his full-on 2012 Whitney retrospective, deploying Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop, bitmapped files, and inkjet printing on linen, Guyton had non-painted himself into a corner. On the one hand, he pushed these technologies beyond their limits in amazing ways, establishing a signature open way of making paintings that proceeded from artists like Reinhardt, Kelly, Warhol, Robert Morris, Dan Flavin, Christopher Wool, and the Pictures Art crowd. He developed a complex quantum touch, simultaneously there and not there, located between painting and printmaking, a computer and a printer, and dependent on the transmission of pure information. I liked two of the para-paintings in his survey so much I had the artist Vincent Zambrano make me perfect copies, using TIFFs of the originals, processed through Adobe Illustrator. I love them.
In naming DIA director Philippe Vergne its new director, the beloved and lately bedeviled Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art has taken a step to put itself out of the misery it's been in for almost six years. Born of an art community's mutual desires for a great museum and opened in 1983, MoCA has mounted an extraordinary number of exemplary group shows, surveys, and retrospectives. Everything was going swimmingly until the aughts, when it was discovered that under director Jeremy Strick the institution had spent down much of its endowment and was for all practices broke. From there, this great museum has had a season in hell. From the perspective of many in L.A.'s tight-knit art world, the low-water mark was Jeffrey Deitch's recently ended tenure.