Sunday, September 22, 2013

Rose


Matthew Lutz-Kinoy, As a primitive freak out, 2009. (Photo courtesy the artist/Paddle8)

The art world can look pretty bleak sometimes: huge group shows in which 34 of 35 artists are male, "cruel and offensive" offers, a breathtaking lack of diversity, and incredible amounts of money being spent on the same few artists, to name just a few issues.

But every time things look especially dark from my vantage point, something comes along to mitigate those embarrassing truths and remind me that there is a lot of great stuff happening all over the place. Sometimes it's a show that bowls me over and forces me to think about or see something in a different way. Right now it's a group of artists who have gotten together to support a peer who has supported them many, many times in the past.

With the help of numerous friends and colleagues, the artists Van Hanos and Jory Rabinovitz have organized a benefit exhibition that runs through Monday, September 23, at Cleopatra's in Greenpoint for their fellow artist Rose Marcus. (The accompanying auction of the work runs through 2 p.m. on that day.) Here's what they wrote about the project:
A community of artists have come together to support their friend and colleague, Rose Marcus, in her time of need after unexpected surgery. This benefit serves as homage to Rose's contributions as a young artist, organizer, academic and friend. The artists united behind the conceit that they can utilize their agency and artwork to provide shelter and preservation to other artists' practices when hardship arises.
If you don't know Rose, she is a New York-based artist, art historian and, as they wrote, organizer. You may have seen her canny, cagy work around town, or been to the art fair that she put together twice, the Dependent, which in my book provided two of the most entertaining, fruitful, and positive days of the past few years. (It's worth noting that she designed these to be strictly break-even affairs for herself.) She's also—full disclosure—a friend, and someone who has been intensely helpful with my writing.

I often argue to friends (or really anyone who will listen) that, if they follow contemporary art with some level of interest, they should also buy it. Sure, it can be expensive, but by buying a drawing or painting by a young artist even only every year or two, you're helping to keep a young artist in the game and potentially supporting a young art dealer—not an easy job—at the same time. Plus you get something interesting, and maybe even beautiful, to spend some time with. If you're not a regular art collector, this is a great time to try out that role: it's for a wonderful cause, many of the works are remarkably affordable, and—this I cannot emphasize enough—they are by an absolutely phenomenal group of artists, who all happen to know Rose. It's a benefit show, but it doubles as a superb, tight survey of what smart, ambitious emerging artists are doing right now.

Have a look at the works online or, if you're in New York, head over at Cleopatra's. If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a note. Thanks for taking the time to listen.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Florine Stettheimer at the Detroit Institute of Arts [A Day for Detroit]


Florine Stettheimer, Love Flight of a Pink Candy Heart, 1930. Photo courtesy the Detroit Institute of Arts.

It's a thrilling thing when it happens. You're wandering through an American museum, probably in its modern-art wing, when suddenly you find yourself in front of a painting by the inimitable Florine Stettheimer (1871–1944)—a confection of whites, pinks, and yellows offering up a scene of a chic-looking salon or picnic, or a portrait of a luminary of the time. 

This happens more frequently than you might expect for an artist who generally refused to part with her paintings during her lifetime (she had a single solo show, at Knoedler). Thankfully, her sister, Ettie (1875–1955), ignored her request that her artworks be destroyed after her death, and spent the last years of her life carefully placing them in collections across the U.S., in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, MinneapolisManhattan, Burlington, Dayton, and among other places, Detroit, where I had the pleasure of coming across one this past weekend.

The DIA's painting, from 1930, has the best title of any painting by her that I know of: Love Flight of a Pink Candy Heart. According to a catalogue from the museum, she actually wrote that title on the the back of the work, along with a free-flowing poem. From the stretcher:
My romance Past NY
House Party Eden, New York
In Memory of a Sugar Coated Heart
My House (?) on Paradise
(my party)Arcadia
Beautiful Yong men
I have known
Paradise, NY
House Party Eden N. York
April 1930
And then on the back of the canvas, there is this:
THIS ONELove Flight of a Pink Candy heart
The titleLOVE FLIGHT OF A PINK CANDY HEART
Pretty awesome. (For more on just how awesome Florine and her two sisters were, this article I wrote about them last year for The Observer has some stories.) The title was so great, in fact, that Michael Duncan took it for a 1995 group show at Holly Solomon about the wide influence of Florine on younger artists. (The catalogue is available thanks to Mira Schor.)

In a note that Ettie penned at the time of her donation to the DIA, she wrote that the work "represents Florine…contemplating various friends of her youth whom she has portrayed with a mingling of symbolism and realistic observation."

According to the DIA, the gentleman in white lounging on the grass is probably the painter Charles Demuth, with whom Florine was friends, while the gentleman in tails is likely the photographer and writer Carl Van Vechten, a longtime associate of the Stettheimers who snapped some really amazingly strange, even creepy, photos of Ettie and the third sister, Carrie, who's responsible for the dollhouse replica of their home that is on permanent view at the Museum of the City of New York. Florine's to the left on the balcony in that great pink number, and also at the lower right, dancing with an anonymous harlequin whom some scholars have identified as Duchamp, another family friend. (Florine organized his 30th birthday party).

There are a lot of things that I love about Stettheimer's paintings, but here are three of them. One is that the more time you spend with them, the stranger and more interesting they get. You notice odd messages and codes that she had secreted within them. She hides inscriptions and captions in plain sight, and often includes seemingly random bits of architecture that actually have deep personal significance once you know what she's referring to (thanks to the work of some intrepid scholars). They're ideal permanent-collection works, in other words, generously repaying repeat viewings.

The second thing I love is that they seem almost preternaturally confident and brave in their idiosyncratic style. Florine was hanging out with some of the most accomplished, ambitious, radical modernists of her day and making these sensual, sweet, and thoroughly bizarre figurative paintings. And at the age of almost 60, she was at work on this sensual, thoroughly feminine look back on her life. Her work stands as a reminder that tidy, linear histories of modernism are simply false.

The third thing is that, in her paintings, definitions of gender and sexuality, as well as narrative and formalism, become gloriously unmoored and free-floating. They embody and promote a permissiveness that I suspect I am not alone in finding deeply comforting. In short, they present attitudes and feelings that everyone should be able to encounter and experience at their local art museum.

(This is part of a series of pieces by various art websites that are posting about art in Detroit today. More are available here.)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Smørrebrød and Courbet, Laura Owens and Rachel Kushner, the CIA and Haim Steinbach, etc. [Collected]


Installation view of Keil Borrman, “Airing the Facilitation Banner Paintings,” at Osmos, New York, July 22, 2013. Photo: 16 Miles
  • "He worked a brush quickly back and forth on the canvas. 'What is this article about, again?' Your home." [NYT via Ah Hole Ah Hole]
  • "You get the feeling, in fact, that this woman could leg-wrestle a crocodile if she needed to." [LACM on Fire]
  • Laura Owens talks with Rachel Kushner. "Well, I love it when you have done that, put paintings inside paintings. I mean, even as a child if there was a children’s book with paintings on the wall inside the image––like in Goodnight Moon—I always felt entranced, like I was seeing something more, a surplus of viewing that was not being controlled for presentation: as if the pictures inside the picture were 'real' views, less authorized, because incidental. I guess that’s part of the playfulness when you, Laura, paint paintings inside of paintings—it suggests access to a more insightful view if you can see inside the picture something that wasn’t drawn by the hand of the picture maker." [The Believer via Brian Sholis]
  • "The Architecture of Superman: A Brief History of The Daily Planet." [Design Decoded]
  • The Central Intelligence Agency channels Haim Steinbach. [Greg.org]
  • Steinbach at CCS Bard: the show of the summer. [NYT]
  • Dirk Luckow conducts—assembles? or writes?—an interview with Imi Knoebel in 1993–94. [JCA via Rolublog]
  • A special message from Brian Belott! [ABAB]

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Standing Outside Tiffany & Co.: Edgardo Aragón, 2013, and Stephen Varble, 1977


Performance view of Edgardo Aragón, La Encomienda, June 23, 2013, outside Tiffany & Company, New York. Photos: 16 Miles [more]

On June 23, at 4 p.m., a young man walked in front of Tiffany & Co., at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue, and started singing. A performance by the young Mexican artist Edgardo Aragón had begun. The musician, hired by Aragón, was dressed discreetly, in khaki pants and a blazer a slightly lighter shade of khaki, the sort of outfit that many of the men walking out of Tiffany with robin egg blue bags were wearing.

Peering down occasionally at sheet music in a binder, he sang a composition made of mining-protest songs from Mexico. Almost no one noticed him. A very small group of art types watched from down the block, apparently alerted by announcements from Aragón's New York dealer, Laurel Gitlen (his solo show there closed that evening, and this was the second of two planned performances outside the store he organized during its run), but otherwise he was pretty much ignored. Scores of tourists strolled past him. A doorman from the nearby Trump Tower walked by, smoking a cigarette. A gentleman standing next to me—one of the few clued in to the performance—leaned on the wire stand of a vendor selling various comic-book knickknacks and souvenirs (visible at the start of the video below), and even after the vendor asked him pretty nicely to stop, that he was afraid his merchandise would get knocked off his stand, he refused to stop leaning, and they started bickering at each other. The man told the seller not to interrupt him, that he was watching the performance. After asking the man to move quite a few times, the vendor called him a "fucking faggot," and threatened to beat him up. Eventually the guy moved away from the stand. All the while the singer kept going, pretty much completely ignored except by the occasional curious look from a passerby, or someone posing for a portrait next to the store's sign.


Stephen Varble in front of Tiffany & Co., 1977. Photo by David Mayer, Art in America, July/August 1977, p. 63.

That sign seemed oddly familiar, but it took me a few days to figure out why it was stuck in my head. Looking through old photos—big thanks to the Flickr map tool—I came across an image of Stephen Varble in almost the exact same spot in 1977 that I had come across in an old Art in America. Varble was so inventive, outrageous and generally out-there that if you wrote him into a novel, people would roll their eyes. You could call him a performance artist, though that would be far too constraining an identification. In the mid-1970s, he gave tours of Soho galleries dressed in various outré outfits, many composed of garbage, and gave various self-degrading performances. (One involved playing around in a swimming pool at a party while being sprayed with yellow water from a penis-shaped shower nozzle as he asked people to urinate on him. Think of him as a one-man proto-Gelitin.)





After spending a few years doing performances throughout downtown Manhattan, according to Hayden Herrera, in her excellent "Manhattan Seven" piece in the July/August 1977 in Art in America, he moved uptown and found two wealthy patrons. (He showed up to one performance, which involved washing ink-splattered dishes in a gutter outside a gallery, in a silver Rolls Royce that he had borrowed.)



In 1977, he started visiting Tiffany in costume, and on the second stop there was banned from the store. "On his third sally he wore his elephant costume," Herrera says, "but barely got his elephant-foot in the door." (Her report is the best—and only account—I've been able to find of the incident, and is also the most in-depth profile of Varble that I'm aware of. It also includes some quotations from him about his practice and American life that are just absolutely epic—like, "I am as shameless as nature"—but I'll save those for another time. Herrera's piece is also the source of information for the other performances I've mentioned.)



"I adore Tiffany's," Varble told Herrera. "It institutionalizes the horror I hate the most. It's really a five-and-dime." Guards reportedly met him at the door the third time he tried to visit. He continues, "They kept me in the revolving door and I just kept revolving. The elephant hoof made a noise like a sledge hammer. Finally I went and stood outside the door and did my dance." I would love to be able to see a video of that dance, but I haven't heard of one. We can get at least a hint of it from David Mayer's photo, above.



Varble, who died of AIDS in 1985, and Aragón, in numerous ways, offer intensely different, almost absolutely opposite, approaches to the famed jeweler. Varble's the outrageous, costumed extrovert, throwing himself into the belly of the beast, humorously and abjectly begging for the attention of the crowd, and the authorities. Aragón, in contrast, handed off duties to a trained professional, who was completely nondescript, in the midst of the crowd (though not part of it), ready to regal you if you paid attention, but content to do his own thing, to voice protests songs to no one but himself and the silent building, so that they ultimately become songs of mourning—memorials to failed political intentions. The tone of the performance was far removed from Varble's, but it was, in its own way, just as abject.



He sang forcefully, almost without hesitation, and with good posture, enunciating and projecting, letting his voice travel. But he was still apparently so easy to ignore that, as I watched, holding my camera and filming a bit of the performance from the edge of the sidewalk, a woman came up and asked me to snap her and her friends in front of the Tiffany sign, as if nothing of note was going on around them. Who could refuse? They posed in front of the sign, smiling as the man sang just a few feet away.

Eventually he closed his binder and walked briskly up Fifth Avenue, disappearing into the crowd.



Update: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the performer was Aragón. In fact, the singer was a musician hired by the artist. The post has been changed to reflect this.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sam Anderson, 'Shuffle Puck Cafe,' at Bed-Stuy Love Affair


Installation view of Sam Anderson, "Shuffle Puck Cafe," at Bed-Stuy Love Affair, Brooklyn, through June 23. Photos: 16 Miles [more]

For her recent one-person show at the new Bed-Stuy Love Affair gallery, "Shuffle Puck Cafe," Sam Anderson arrayed more than 100 hunks of coal in long rows on the floor. Carefully spaced out across the room, they dominated the display at first glance—dusty or lustrous, sharp-edged or elegantly worn down, chic or dirty. Wielding Minimalist tropes awkwardly and irregularly, they recalled in their variations Joel Shapiro's sets of small clay objects and inked fingerprints from 1969 to 1972 that Craig F. Starr Gallery showed earlier this year, though Anderson's mutations are readymade, ultimately impersonal selections, rather than handmade and intimately produced.



The carefully handmade sculptures are elsewhere, though it took me a moment to spot them—peculiar objects set on top, around, and within the coal grid, like musical notes on a staff or words placed on the lines of a notebook. A fragmented, ad hoc syntax became apparent. Two short saloon doors, just a few inches tall and made of light wood, were ajar. Frog skeletons appeared in various places: climbing a piece of coal, asleep or dead on a bed—a pyre?—of leaves and gambling chips, and sprawled out next to at least half a dozen little bottles of liquor. It looked like a raucous party had come to an end hours earlier, only a few stragglers having failed to escape. Or maybe separate, solitary tragedies had just been playing themselves out all night. (Another, even more bracing possibility: this was the same frog, presented throughout the installation at various points in his or her life, like a biblical figure who reappears repeatedly throughout an old painting at different stages in a religious journey.)



There was also a minuscule bowl of minuscule walnuts (complete with a properly proportioned nutcracker), tiny skis, a few little drums, (full-size) lemons, and a toy trireme-like vessel sitting not far away from the coal, guaranteed to sink immediately upon being placed in water, its body a slab of cement, its oars little wooden sticks. And all of this was lit by colored ceiling lights. (My photos don't really do it justice, but the gallery's website has some images that better capture the atmosphere.)



You could point to Charles LeDray's minute sculptures as a reasonable comparison, but Anderson's not interested in obviously obsessive (finicky) craftsmanship. She's building provisional, hilarious sculptures with seemingly whatever she has at hand. And all the while, there are hints of rich and strange stories playing themselves out. What were the Alcoholics Anonymous coins doing throughout the piece? The dead slug on a slab of concrete? And the show's title, referring to a classic, bizarre air hockey video game?



I'm tempted to think of the show as a dissembled, madcap, and maybe even slightly sinister version of Carrie Walter Stettheimer's dollhouse at the Museum of the City of New York, though that's a structure that is eerily devoid of life, always begging to be activated by people, whereas Anderson's piece teems with signs of activity—maybe more activity than one could take in even on a long visit. Just when I thought I had seen the whole work, another little sculpture caught my eye, suggesting other stories.



Sheer novelty is a pretty dubious criterion for evaluating art, as Aldous Huxley wrote in his 1926 essay "The Best Picture," warning about "the error of those who measure merit by a scale of oddness and rarity." There are plenty of unique, one-of-a-kind things that are terrible or worse, boring. But not Anderson's practice, which feels wonderfully, exceptionally unique in its blending of formal and narrative issues, and its absolute brio. The show has been stuck in my head for more than a month now. What was happening to those frogs? What are they up to now? Where will Anderson go next? Bring on the sequel.







(A final note: the gallery takes its name from a cocktail that was offered for a time at Peaches, the redoubtable Southern-leaning New American restaurant located not far away in Bed-Stuy, a sign of good taste and ambition if ever there was one.)