Sunday, December 4, 2011

Matta, Pretty Boy, Pretty Good Painter.

Matta: A Centennial Celebration, on the occasion of the one-hundredth anniversary of Matta’s birth.
Pace Gallery Chelsea

Conundrums abound in this overtly zealous painter’s manic space, but you can’t accuse him of not trying, like Gorky he let it all hang out.
Matta’s Surrealist origins shape a lifetime of mostly hectic, unfussy canvases that contain cogently conceived contemplations, urgently constructed.
Leaving his native Chile for Paris in 1933 he hung with André Breton and became the youngest member of the Surrealist circle.  A literalism creeps into this early work, but Matta’s playful nature (which becomes an important saving grace during a long, industrious career) invigorates cubist doctrine and design.
After moving to NY at the beginning of WW2, he quickly joins the burgeoning Abstract Expressionist scene and connects with Gorky’s quirky synaptic painterly rhythms. Matta’s  “inscapes” and his “psychological morphologies” are inherently indebted to Gorky. Matta repays this kinship by having an affair with Gorky’s wife, (to be fair Gorky was suffering horribly at his time from cancer, depression, and a studio fire that wiped out some important work, he must not have been much fun to be around) and is excommunicated from Surrealist society.
Moving back to Europe for the rest of his life, Matta launches into a prodigious output of paintings inspired by socially relevant issues and technological phantasmagoria.
His mid century scheme features a modernist sensibility manifesting as an obsession with goofy, apocalyptic visions of techno sci-fi dilemmas run amok.  The most spectacular visages are spread out in a mural-like format of an extended rectangle. This provides us with a left-to-right narrative read that repeats itself a bit too much. The semiotics can get a tad predictable, even if his use of vivid pigments saves the day.
Figurative references abound in these epic compositions. Elastic, skeletal forms extend stretched out limbs that integrate a casual architecture. This zesty Mad Magazine cartoon-esque figuration succinctly anticipates graffiti.
Matta’s strengths as a painter are apparent; his expansive spatial atmospheres, and chromatic saturation are applied with a delicate airbrushed finesse, and achieve a sublime pastel fragrance. But the confluence of flatness and a murky palette at times lead to uncertainty of intent. He seems to lose focus easily, compositions can strive for harmony and end up a-tonal and off key. Excessive reliance on scratchy, hasty looking drawing weighs down already clunky and tentative cacophonies that for all the excited mark making end up static and slightly stale. With Matta sometimes you have to pick and choose to find the rewards.   
Then seen to be surging from some orchestral wellspring of momentous seismic activity, a gargantuan canvas like “L’Homme Descend Du Signe” goes rocketing towards an electro-mechanical nirvana, exuding a violet haze enveloping free-floating sections of disjointedly animated creatures.
This cosmic theater evokes sweeping cinematic vistas of space age paraphernalia that entertain notions of wit and whim. We know the painter was having fun and so are we. 

"L'homme descend du signe"
1975 (75/8)
406 x 835 cm.

"El espejo de Cronos"
1981 (81/1)
315 x 495 cm.
  "Burn, Baby Burn"
   298 x 971 cm.

  "Être Atout"
  (from suite 'Être Atout')
  1960 (60/15)
  200 x 288 cm.

"Comme elle est vierge ma forèt"
1992 (92/7)
300 x 530 cm.

"Les Roses sont belles"
201 x 281 cm.

"Etoile artaud"
1991 (91/15)
200 x 300 cm.

"Les découvertes du fouilleur"
1955 (55/2)

22.8 x 29.2 cm.

 Matta in his studio.

Tom Evans

Sideshow Gallery, Williamsburg Brooklyn

Tom Evans and Sideshow go together like a horse and carriage. Tom being a workhorse of a painter, and Sideshow his old school vehicle rattling along on its wooden wheels, displaying these painterly wares for the all the village to see.
Not that Evans is old fashioned, just out of fashion, which makes me appreciate his new work even more.
This vivid stew of neon luminescence ignites a visual fuse, and detonates before our eyes. This is action painting incarnate, tumbling scrums of acrobatic color fields wrestle each other to the floor (or perhaps the foreground) and emerge victorious in most of these boisterous canvases.
Evans says he was feeling “kicked out of painting”, and decided to get rid of some older works that were over cooked and burdening his oeuvre. He put many of his past efforts out on the curb for collection and started anew. This is a good sign, real painters always rid themselves of perceived clunkers. The last thing you want to do when rooting through your storage racks is continually remind yourself of how hard it is to learn how to paint.
However Evans has mined his previous wealth of art making expertise here, superseding flatness by draping sections of the picture plane with flecked patches of textured brushwork that connotes patterned animal pelts.
Although Evans did not waste any time with these paintings, they still accumulate a certain gravity that helps balance out the struggle for pictorial integrity that all authentic painters strive for.
These untamed riffs of muscular abstract activity promulgate physicality in the here and now, while refreshing our aesthetic senses with their unpretentious artistic vigor. 

Eva Lee - Reteach A Thing Its Loveliness

Streaming Festival 6th Edition at The Hague, Netherlands

Just think, 20 years ago when we were all still so analogue Eva Lee’s ode to nature could not have been seen. I don’t think she would have tried to paint this short lyrical sonnet using Old Holland, it really could only have taken form on a digital canvas.
But it is at heart a painting, and a pleasant one to look at.
The opening passage fades in to a shimmering black & white pool of shifting amoeba that could also represent a map of cosmic background radiation. Crackling on the soundtrack lends a primal quality to the scene. The interaction between the macro and the micro pervades this work and instigates a crisp visual dialogue.
Undulating kaleidoscopic orbs inflate and deflate in a very Hippie Trippy hallucinogenic manner. This ironic throwback reference is but one interpretation, the eye-catching yellow green chroma could intuit backlit stained glass or insect patterning.      
Kudos to Ms Lee for a clever digital age reinvention of the painterly craft. Dick Blick should take notice!

The Degenerate Craft Fair

A sort of anti-art fair, the Degenerate Craft Fair features over 75 artists, designers and their work. Just in time for holiday shopping, most of the items offered will cost less than $50.

Jeanne and I will be there, hosting a rare live appearance of “Ray & Dawn, The Astronuts”.
Ray and Dawn will provide personally autographed copies of their famous “Moonwalk By Earthlight” photos for a nominal fee. (considering the astronomical expense of getting them to the moon and back)
We hope to see you there.
Eliot & Jeanne

159 Bleecker Street
Between Sullivan and Thompson Streets
Take the 4, 6 to Bleecker Street or
A, B, C, E, F, M to West 4th Street
December 10th 12pm to 9pm
Opening night reception from 6pm to 9pm
Featuring music and free beer.
Beer has been lovingly provided by Brooklyn Brewery
December 11th 12pm to 6pm
First 50 visitors receive a tote bag full of goodies

Check out this amazing computer animation flyover of the 9/11 monument:

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dark Star

Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective
Metropolitan Museum

Good old adorable Richard Serra, cute as a button, whats not to like?
Well, according to the artist during his 2008 interview in the Guardian: “I don't give a shit but I care quite a lot.”
So where does that leave his befuddled but adoring public art aficionados? Perhaps admiring substantial works on paper with titles such as: “US Courts Partial to Government” and “The United States Government Destroys Art”. These typically monolithic concepts allude to the artist’s controversial public art fiascos in New York and California, and his reputation for grouchy, left-leaning proclamations.
Something tells me this guy has a really big heavy chip on his shoulder. But good for him, he’s proven he can take it, and with his “revenge drawings” it’s been best served Xtra Large.
Serra’s humorless, monumental obstructions, dominating and oppositionally defiant, still manage to convey the artist’s touch, and this long over due exhibit of his works (mostly) on paper gives us a sense of Serra’s funkier side.
Patina is the heart and soul of Serra’s art, the softer side of the iron man. The “Forged Drawings” series exemplify the fortitude of matter, while entropic decay (rust) seduces the flesh. The slightly sweet whiff of Ivory Black entices us with the possibility of undulation. The potential for malleability however remote, draws us in, while simultaneously, resolutely stolid object-ness commands authority, rebuffing any flirtation with delight. 
The “Forged Drawings” are as intimate as Serra has ever become, approaching radiance despite their immense gravity and gooey coats of paint stick.
The “out-of-round” group of works on handmade paper starts to suggest post war painting outside the minimalist constrictions of monochromatic flatness. These pulsating black holes stuffed with fermenting black carbon exude a painterly mess; much the way Pollack espoused splashy whippets of untamed pigment.     
The larger scale works on linen from the ‘70s, such as “Abstract Slavery” are stapled to the wall in a causal looking manner, most likely as they were in the studio. They are attached to the wall slightly off kilter, skewing our reference to “square” and setting a nice perceptual shift in motion. This is one of Serra’s keys to keeping such formidable work from becoming too static.
Calling the artist a minimalist becomes a misnomer. Serra’s work is really all about maximalism. His blackened blank screens are primed for total absorption of all mass, light, and sensation. They contain everything and nothing.
Although ego driven his work always denies personality, a totalitarian polemic guides the artist’s process. This is art deprived of spontaneity, and improvisation but rich in grandeur and architecture.  
His formalist zeal for rigidity and manifesto constantly reminds us that theres little room for dissent, its Serra’s way or the highway.  

Forged Drawings, installation view.

Forged Drawing Round

Richard Serra (American, b. 1939)
out-of-round X, 1999
Paintstick on handmade Hiromi paper; 79 1/2 x 79 in.
Private collection
© Richard Serra
Photo: Rob McKeever

Reconfiguring an African Icon: Odes to the Mask by Modern and Contemporary Artists from Three Continents

Metropolitan Museum of Art

What a racket!
At least according to the title of Romuald Hazoume’s street-smart sculpture “Ear Splitting”.
I’d have to agree; this eccentric collection of contemporary sculpture by both African and American artists is a noisy, rambunctious gang of aggressively tough looking assemblages.
This exhibit expounds on how traditional African masks, meant to establish tribal, social and spiritual hierarchies, has influenced contemporary art rooted in a low-tech, scavenger ethos.
The objects here have reinvented the original African context of primitively hand-carved wooden art that invoked magic, divination, and shamanism, into a glowering group of facial symmetries fabricated from junked plastic jerricans, discarded electronica, and metallic roadside detritus that conjure up a post apocalyptic, mad max-ian aesthetic.
The two contemporary African artists in this exhibit are both from the West African republic of Benin. The exhibit seems to extend out from an indigenous Beninese spiritual practice called Vodun, which conveniently morphs into visual art much the way Voodoo imbues artificial figurines with a literal connection to deities and psychic weaponry. 
Calixte Dakpogan’s piece “Perroquet” (Parrot) is a tautly economical gesture of great expression. This mechanical bird head’s stunning simplicity of form is generated by craftsmanship of the highest order. This is has it should be.
Dakopogan, his brother and a cousin run a metalsmithing shop in Porto Novo going back generations. They are devoted to Ogun, the god of iron (and junked auto carcasses) that litter the highways and byways of this former slave trading port.
This dedication to rusted remnants recovered, and then rediscovered lends wit, irony, and a scrappy originality to a found art tradition that thrives on third world frugality.
An American artist in this show, Willie Cole, brings his forebodingly bristling headdress “Shine” to prominence in the exhibit. Based on tribal styles that feature intimidating and protruding appendages, his use of black leather high heel shoes spikes the artwork with a fetishistic slant.
“Next Kent Tji Wara” then spins us on our heels. A pink bicycle frame has been twisted and turned into a gracefully posed antelope, poised to leap. Cole’s ingenious use of unexpected sculptural fodder dovetails beautifully with what you thought the curators intended for this installation.
So I’m not exactly clear what the Benglis pieces are doing here. (the cynical side of me might even think the curators thought a sexy name was needed) This well-known art star seems incongruously out of place. Especially when presenting blown glass, a highly risky medium that always makes me cringe, and form associations with the preciously pretty.

Romuald Hazoumé (Beninese, b. 1962). Ear Splitting, 1999. Plastic can, brush, speakers. Courtesy CAAC–The Pigozzi Collection, Geneva. © Romuald Hazoumé            

Calixte Dakpogan (Beninese, b. 1958)
Perroquet (Parrot), 2005
Iron, plastic, copper; H. x W. x D.: 32 11/16 x 22 1/16 x 14 15/16 in. (83 x 56 x 38 cm)
Courtesy CAAC - The Pigozzi Collection, Geneva
© Calixte Dakpogan 

Willie Cole (American, b. 1955)
Shine, 2007
Shoes, steel wire, monofilament line, washers, and screws; H. x W. x D.: 15 3/4 x 14 x 15 in. (40 x 35.6 x 38.1 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Hortense and William A. Mohr Sculpture Purchase Fund, 2008

Willie Cole (American, b. 1955)
Next Kent Tji Wara, 2007
Bicycle parts, spray paint, and brazing; H. x W. x D.: 37 x 20 1/2 x 8 1/4 in. (94 x 52.1 x 21 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Hortense and William A. Mohr Sculpture Purchase Fund, 2008 (2008.260)

Paul Klee: Silence of the Angel

A documentary by Michael Gaumnitz
Available on Netflix

“Prehistory of the visible”, this quote from Klee goes a long way towards encapsulating the understated majesty of this artist’s intuitive prowess.
Although this documentary leans heavily on Klee’s prodigious theoretical and literary capabilities, it’s his formidable draftsmanship skills coupled with an uncanny sense of chromatic harmony that lend themselves so beautifully to the filmic medium.
This well crafted recounting of Klee’s personal, professional, and psychic relationships draws few conclusions on it’s own, but leads us to consider the implications of Klee’s obsessive adherence to detail in his art and note taking, while conveying the intricacy of musical balance, and delicacy of composition that unfold out of a precognitive instinct.
Klee’s observation that “the eye examines the surface like a grazing animal” seems to encourage us to see without searching and to avoid the visual preconditions that inhibit an unencumbered response to unfamiliar symbols.
The inherent dichotomy in Klee’s work of theoretical construct, engineered improvisation and freeform, neo-painterly mark making combine to achieve his sublime sense of equilibrium. The film succinctly exploits this essence of the artist’s process by detailing some of Klee’s tightrope images; metaphors extraordinaire for a balancing act par excellence. 
Following Klee’s all too short lifeline, it becomes astounding how prodigious this artist was. Exiled from Nazi Germany as one of the “degenerates” he spent his last days in Switzerland entertaining the likes of Picasso and Kandinsky, and turning out some of his most profound, but humble work. His series of  “Angel” sketches stem from line drawings of ethereal, child-like simplicity. They fulfill a lifetime of studiously diligent yet exalted picture making that stimulate our visual cortex with fantastically impossible phantasmagoria.        

Forgetful Angel

Its me. Helmut.

Screened at Roof Top Films.

This delightfully daffy bit of German comedy centers on confusion surrounding a birthday and a trumpet for a gift.
The ending provides an unusual Dixieland sojourn through the Bavarian Alps.

Rat Segue; Brooklyn Man Stabs GIANT Rat With Pitchfork

I’m only including this for the gratuitous shock value and maybe to bring in some more page views.
Warning: not for the squeamish!


Saturday, July 16, 2011

(Un) Common Thread, Louise Bourgeois, fabric drawings

Cheim & Read

I seem to be spending a lot of time at Cheim & Read these days. I guess the upper echelon always gets the pick of the crop, and this late work by Louise Bourgeois certainly deserves harvesting, as it is a feast for the eyes.
Culled from an even more magnificent looking exhibit in Venice at the Emilio and Annabianca Vedova Foundation, these intricately stitched abstracts flutter like esoteric burgees coded in a profoundly mysterious semaphore.
I’ve always found Bourgeois’ seemingly feminist intent sabotaged by her exquisitely fine tuned sense of being. Her art extends past the merely socio-political into a temporal flux that brings old and new sensations of personal history into well-crafted alignment.
The mundane nature of her media here, brightly colored fabric that may have come from some scrapheap, is reanimated with a deft flourish of precision sewing. My favorite group resembles unfurled beach umbrellas drifting over an expanse of oceanic chroma. These poignantly visual recollections evoke a summer day at some salubrious, Riviera-esque resort.  
The child-like playfulness, and delicacy of touch found in this 90+ year old’s vision, connects to her use of memory as a tangible art medium. This innate ability to corral psychic flavors from her past, and make art based on dream-like narratives, engages us just beyond the cognitive.
The biographical imperative is compelling; a large vitrine encapsulates a feminine form, breasts that read as berets (or vice versa) devolve into a mattress stuffed with a lifetime of a woman’s secrets. On an enjoining wall a revealing peek into a metaphorical lingerie drawer; a small box contains a nylon rumpled up into an old ladies’ blossom. I wonder if she ever met Joseph Cornell?
What I admire most about Bourgeois is how she manages to remain undefinable, while becoming all things to all artists. She wasn’t just a painter, or a sculptor, but a symbol for creative ingenuity that always serves to inspire artistic integrity.     
Bourgeois has to be one of the cultural giants of the 20th century. Her recent retrospective at the Guggenheim served to cement her legacy. More intimate glimpses into her oeuvre, such as at this exhibition, just serve to provide further appreciation of this artist’s multitudinous gifts.


Louise Bourgeois in her home in New York, 2009. Photo: Alex Van Gelder. Courtesy Cheim & Read, Hauser & Wirth, and Galerie Karsten GreveImage

Fender Bender (or clunkers for cash), John Chamberlain

Gagosian Chelsea

I really should try to avoid the titillation of W 24th St’s master of the universe gallery, but in the case of John Chamberlain its like gawking at a car wreck, you just can’t look away.
Next thing you know his crumpled up car sculptures will be included in a Transformers sequel. (or perhaps the prequel) And that might not be such a bad thing, for this is fun art.
I think Chamberlain takes himself too seriously. His work would look great at a Six Flags park, or a NASCAR event, he would be an immediate populist hit. Crowds would gather, and rednecks would crave to become artists. Is that so wrong?
Entombed in the sterile high art environs of Larry’s Lair his efforts seem ho-hum, and trying too hard to impress. John, you’re just a junkyard dog at heart, don’t get all mega art market on us.
This is an artist who craves attention; using crushed sheet metal as gift-wrapping for celebrations of mashed up machismo machinery. These lyrically compacted monstrosities lurk innocently about, but get too close and you risk disillusionment. These sculptures are not about to whisper sweet nothings in your ear. They are indifferent and imperious, you wouldn’t want to try dancing with one.
Their ponderous scale doesn’t intimidate so much as invoke a kind of pity. You want to put your arm around one and try to console; don’t feel bad about being ungainly and overweight. At least you’re trying to be nice.
One of the best things about this exhibit is the video on the gallery web site. King John is plunked down on a directors chair in his wonderfully crammed Willy Wonka chocolate factory of a studio, surrounded by any weekend warriors dream of a tool shed, overseeing assembly (or shall we say reconfiguration) of his alter ego art.
I wish this guy had gotten into movies. If he’d gone with his cartoonish inclinations he would have made a more intellectually honest director then Schnabel, and certainly have been way more entertaining.



Beauty in every grain: For the first time remarkable photographs reveal hidden charms of ordinary SAND

"Viewed at a magnification of over 250 times real life, tiny grains of sand are shown to be delicate, colourful structures as unique as snowflakes.
When seen well beyond the limits of human eyesight, the miniature particles are exposed as fragments of crystals, spiral fragments of shells and crumbs of volcanic rock.
Professor Gary Greenberg who has a PhD in biomedical research from University College London said: 'It is incredible to think when you are walking on the beach you are standing on these tiny treasures".

Brooklyn rats take out finger lick’n good, but don’t clean up, wires for dessert

Before a packed crowd of more than 50 residents at a meeting sponsored by the Dean Street Block Association, Ms. Howard described how rats the size of cats had gotten into the engine of her car, a 2007 Camry, leaving behind chicken bones and aluminum foil, all the while chewing on the wires.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Received In Good Order At Saint-Gaudens; A Brief Art Shipping Chronicle

It’s all about networking.
If I hadn’t attended a recent opening at the part-time, artist studio exhibition space The Big & Small/Casual Gallery in Long Island City I still wouldn’t know who the heck Saint Gaudens was.
A few weeks earlier when I first met contemporary sculptor David Henderson at B&S/Casual we discussed transport of his biomorphic, tree hugger of a sculpture from the Pratt campus in Brooklyn to the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Site in New Hampshire, I thought why not?  A chance for a woodsy sojourn up I 91 along the Connecticut River.
Due to my glaring lack of formal art history studies I thought perhaps Saint Gaudens was some kind of French Canadian explorer on his way to Lake Champlain.
I hadn’t yet grasped the significant irony of delivering a sleek piece of recent Brooklyn sculpture to the magnificent palatial estate of this preeminently classical, Victorian era art tycoon.
In fact, it wasn’t until Jeanne and me were halfway to New Hampshire in my truck that she mentioned something about were we going to that famous 19th century American landscape sculptor’s old digs. I do take some solace from acknowledging that the Gilded Age was just never my thing.
After getting some good advice from Annette Compton, the curator at Saint Gaudens about dodging the old low overhead bridges crossing the river from Vermont, we arrived at the secluded locale.
Aspet, the main house near the visitor’s center, overlooks acres of sprawling field and lawn. (once a 9-hole golf course, no wonder I’d wished I’d had my clubs!) 
The sculpture was going to be installed on the other side of the property, so I got to drive around on the grass. I love driving on grass; it makes me feel agrarian, like I’m driving a tractor.  Someone should figure a way to make a grass interstate, quieter, a lot less glare, much easier on the eyes.
The crew of Park Service rangers quickly helped off-load the two disassembled sections of the relatively lightweight ”Skylark”. While David and his National Park Service crew got started installing, Jeanne and I got a quick guided tour from Annette.
The sweeping view west out past the Connecticut River towards Ascutney Mountain is spectacularly serene. Complimented by a foreground dotted with gardens, hedges, and sculpture, Saint Gaudens evokes the splendor of art and nature, each patting the other on the back.
At the end of a long hedgerow sits the “Little Studio” (which I guess it might seem, situated in that expanse of sun drenched greenery), that was St Gaudens’ primary studio. There is a spacious, inviting porch with Doric columns, and a pleasingly pink stucco façade with casts from the Parthenon. Theres a certain symmetry to parts of the Hearst Castle, which also utilize architectural elements (“acquired” shall we say?) from indigenous locations.            
There is a kind of romantic association with this robber baron decorating scheme. Perhaps the allure of far away places, and saintly idols that Saint Gaudens embraced was fostered by his “Cornish Colony” crowd that included Maxfield Parrish’s saccharine saturated sensibility.
However overbearing his oeuvre may have been, Saint Gaudens was a dedicated craftsman. His meticulous and finely tuned figures gain a stately and dignified demeanor that imbue a narrative credibility to their idealized stature.    
His gasp of profound historical moments is epitomized by the Shaw Memorial on view to great effect in its own hedgerow niche. This monument to the 54th Massachusetts regiment made up of former slaves is a compelling piece of public art that captures the drama and momentum of the march to war.
The gold coinage commissions were also intriguing. His strong allegorical abilities are put to good use in these tiny tondos. Saint Gaudens’ allegories were earnest, non-ironic tributes to the virtuous moral rectitude of the day. Combining detailed etching with nuanced contour, these tour-de-force miniatures employ dramatic visual metaphor helpful for conveying a “gold standard” to currency.     
Since the capitalist ethos demanded devotion to greed, what better way to profit as an artist than to design valuable money? Talk about conceptual art!
Spying my white beast of burden shimmering by the distant tree line, we headed back. I wondered what previous generations of art conveyers had used to bring precious objects de art to this pastoral pasture. Donkey carts no doubt.
As David hoisted Skylark into its final position, we bid adieu to Aspet and hit the road. In a little while we were back by the non-grass interstate, with it’s attendant strip mall rude awakening.

View of the Little Studio (left) and Aspet.    

Could it be? The great White Elephant On Wheels!


Shaw Memorial.

Little Studio.

View of Mt Asctuney