Saturday, January 24, 2015

A visit to MoMA: 1) Matisse and 2) The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World

     Made it to MoMA on a non-freezing cold day to catch the soon-departing Matisse show. No cameras allowed, but if you aren't already quite familiar with his cut paper/collage work, it's easy enough to find. The best part of this show was seeing the originals with the pins holding bits and pieces of paper where Matisse was trying to get just the right shape, line or form. A video showed him at work with assistants attaching the paper, but this was before pushpins so they used a hammer and small nails. The volume of work was another pleasure of this expansive show. MoMA recreated his swimming pool piece, there was the Jazz book, and a room dedicated to the Chapel of the Rosary in Vence, France. And color. So much color! One of the things that hits you is the stark contrast of hue and value in his compositions - black over orange, yellow over green, or white over deep magenta.
     Loved seeing his iconic 4x8' Icarus piece, the aforementioned Swimming Pool from 1952, Blue Nude with Green Stockings (1952) and the "Christmas Eve" stained glass window study and finished piece, also from 1952. The show ends with an impressive finale, "Large Decoration with Masks" from 1953. As I sat looking at it, a friendly older woman next to me said to the gent on her left, "Makes ya wanna go buy a pair of scissors!" to which he replied with a wry smile, "I know better."
Indeed. To the average person, I'm sure many think this work looks easy to do. But what that man was saying in his succinct reply, is it takes alot more than scissors and paper to do what Matisse did.

The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World

     Next to the Matisse show was an exhibit of modern abstract work, mostly painting. It was interesting to see current abstract work at MoMA in a group show without work from the 50s/60s. One of the aims of this show was to show how current abstractionists not only have their predecessors to draw from, but the inundation of information and imagery at our fingertips in this technological age factor in greatly, too - two elements those 50s/60s pioneers didn't have.
     Below are some photos and following is the statement from the show. It features work by Richard Aldrich, Joe Bradley, Kerstin Br├Ątsch, Matt Connors, Michaela Eichwald, Nicole Eisenman, Mark Grotjahn, Charline von Heyl, Rashid Johnson, Julie Mehretu, Dianna Molzan, Oscar Murillo, Laura Owens, Amy Sillman, Josh Smith, Mary Weatherford, and Michael Williams. The show runs Dec 14, 2014 - April 5, 2015.

One of the absolute highlights of this show is shown in these three photos. Hot Oscar Murillo, whose works are going in the mid 6-digit range, spread a few of his canvases on the floor for people not only to touch, but to roll in, crawl on and under, etc. Really amazing to watch...and yes, I touched them, too.

AMY SILLMAN   2014, Oil on canvas

AMY SILLMAN    2014, Oil on canvas
CHARLINE VON HEYL "Carlotta" 2013  Oil, synthetic polymer paint, charcoal


RICHARD ALDRICH   2010 "Two Dancers with Haze in Their Heart Waves Atop a Remake of One Page, Two Pages, Two Paintings"  Oil and wax on linen

Forever Now presents the work of 17 artists whose paintings reflect a singular approach that characterizes our cultural moment at the beginning of this new millennium: they refuse to allow us to define or even meter our time by them. This phenomenon in culture was first identified by the science fiction writer William Gibson, who used the term “a-temporality” to describe a cultural product of our moment that paradoxically doesn’t represent, through style, through content, or through medium, the time from which it comes. A-temporality, or timelessness, manifests itself in painting as an ahistorical free-for-all, where contemporaneity as an indicator of new form is nowhere to be found, and all eras coexist. This profligate mixing of past styles and genres can be identified as a kind of hallmark for our moment in painting, with artists achieving it by reanimating historical styles or recreating a contemporary version of them, sampling motifs from across the timeline of 20th-century art in a single painting or across an oeuvre, or radically paring their language down to the most archetypal forms.
The artists in this exhibition represent a wide variety of styles and impulses, but all use the painted surface as a platform, map, or metaphoric screen on which genres intermingle, morph, and collide. Their work represents traditional painting, in the sense that each artist engages with painting’s traditions, testing and ultimately reshaping historical strategies like appropriation and bricolage and reframing more metaphysical, high-stakes questions surrounding notions of originality, subjectivity, and spiritual transcendence.

Organized by Laura Hoptman, Curator, with Margaret Ewing, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Painting and Sculpture.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Killed for Cartoons

     The killings at Charlie Hebdo in Paris are filling the airwaves and pages today. It's been deemed a terrorist act since the perps have ties to Al Qaeda and the murders are apparently in retaliation for the paper's continuous satirizing of Mohammed, especially via cartoons. Creating a visual image of Mohammed is not allowed in the Muslim faith and the paper was firebombed years ago for this. The editor firmly stated something to the effect that he lives by French law, not Islamic law, and though it upsets many Muslims he will continue Charlie Hebdo's raison d'etre. It's known for biting satire and has had most religions in its cross-hairs on more than one occasion.
     You can get more details in any paper, that's not what this post is about. Some in France have publicly stated that the editors and artists at Charlie brought this on themselves. Not that the murders are justifiable in any way, but the sentiment is more along the lines of how sorry can you be for a guy who gets gored after walking up to a bull and waving a red flag in his face? Was the Charlie crew foolish for repeatedly doing something that a religion finds very offensive? Especially when extremists from that religion made it very clear (yeah, a firebombing is a pretty clear message) that they won't stand for it?
     Or is this a free speech issue? is it an issue of standing for principles against terrorism? Would it have really been "backing down" if they made an editorial decision earlier to maybe tone it down a bit on the Mohammed cartoons?
     Sure, Boss Tweed must've been pretty pissed off at Thomas Nast for the skewering political caricatures he did. And I'm sure every politician has to have rhino hide to deal with some of the caricatures done of them. Remember when Nixon was in Watergate trouble? Talk about a cartoonist's wet dream...but none of them were gunned down in cold blood over their works.

     Political cartoonists can wield a mighty sharp pen sometimes. I wouldn't be shocked if some of them were on the receiving end of a punch in the nose or an "accidentally" spilled drink at a political function. But not this. To kill over cartoons? To be killed over cartoons? Would the magazine have lost its readership or its edge if it chose to stop doing cartoons of Mohammed? and more importantly, would they be alive if they chose to stop? Maybe, maybe not - maybe it was already too late and their fates were sealed a long time ago. Would it have made someone a coward if they said, "Hey, these people are fanatics. They already tried to kill us once. Maybe not to us, but to them, drawing Mohammed is insulting. Let's still satirize them in every way we can as hard as we have been doing, but minus the cartoons of Mohammed." Do you think that would have been wisdom or cowardice?