Sunday, November 22, 2009

Saturday at The Met

My friend and I spent nearly three hours at The Met yesterday. I can usually only engage in activities for 1.5 - 2 hours before becoming antsy, bored, restless (thanks for this trait, Dad!), so I was pleasantly surprised that I had surpassed this stage to reach one of Zen-like calm and enjoyment.

We first visited the exhibition entitled American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765 - 1915, which can be seen through January 24, 2010. Among our favorite works were the following: subversively feminist artist Lilly Martin Spencer's Young Husband: First Marketing, 1854; Henry Bacon's First Sight of Land, 1877; William Henry Burr's The Intelligence Office, 1849;  Mary Cassatt's A Woman and a Girl Driving, 1881; Thomas Wilmer Dewing's A Reading, 1897; Thomas Eakins' Between Rounds, 1898-99; Winslow Homer's Croquet Scene, 1866 and The Gale, 1883-93; John Singer Sargent's A Street in Venice, 1880-82 and In the Luxembourg Gardens, 1879; and John Sloan's Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair, 1912.

Robert Frank's collection of black-and-white photographs was first published in 1959 in The AmericansThe book was criticized initially, but is now acknowledged as having captured the essence of American life in small towns and big cities during a cross-country road trip Frank took in 1955-1956. Jack Kerouac, Frank's friend, wrote the introduction to the book. Many of the images in the exhibition are iconic, such as Trolley - New Orleans, 1955, Political Rally - Chicago, 1956, and Rodeo - New York City, 1954. However, the show left me yearning for the more candid, less posed photographs taken by Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, the latter an acknowledged and powerful influence on Frank. Still, there is a beauty in the bleakness of Frank's images, which leave one with a distinct sense of his disenchantment with America.

Johannes Vermeer painted The Milkmaid in 1657-58. According to The Met's website, "it may be considered one of the last works of the artist's early, formative years." Milkmaids had long been regarded as "...having an amorous disposition." Since this particular milkmaid will be going back to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in exactly one week, my friend and I had a look at her. She is lovely, but we agreed that there were other Vermeers that we like better. For example, one of my favorites is at The Frick - Mistress and Maid (pictured above left). Another one I love is at The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC - Girl With the Red Hat. And of course, The Met owns five wonderful Vermeers, including Study of a Young Woman and Woman with a Lute.

Finally, we went to the VĂ©lez Blanco Patio on the first floor to visit the controversial sculpture that is believed by some art experts and scholars to be an early work of Michelangelo. Young Archer is on loan to The Met by the French government for ten years. The piece was one topic of discussion at an Art Law panel my friend and I attended last Friday, so we wanted to see it for ourselves. An interesting theory put forth by Columbia University's Professor Lynn Catterson (one of the panelists) is that the sculpture was carved down from its original size, possibly accounting for the disproportionately large head on a slim, boyish body. It brought home to us once again the difficulty of proving that an object is what it is - experts can be fooled and often the truth can only be guessed at.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Gagosian Uptown and Law Downtown

While waiting to attend an awards ceremony for Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat tonight at Gagosian uptown, I quickly took a peek at the 4th, 5th, and 6th floor galleries. Richard Prince photographs and Cy Twombly sculptures are on 6, the work of South African photographer Roger Ballen is on 5, and there is a gem of an exhibition on 4 that includes an assortment of Picassos, a Rothko, a Pollock, a few Smiths, and some Giacometti sculptures.

The Ambassador was honored for his immeasurable contributions in the area of Holocaust art restitution as well as his significant efforts to obtain justice for victims and their families who suffered under the Nazi regime. The evening was the prelude to tomorrow's New York County Lawyer's Association Art Litigation Seminar downtown. I am looking forward to the panel discussions about Holocaust restitution claims, proving the provenance of artworks, biennials and art fairs, and expert appraisals.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Do Not Go Gentle into Those Good Woods

Welcome to the Woods, a play written by celebrated Dutch filmmaker/playwright Alex van Warmerdam, has been described as a cross between Revolutionary Road and Little Red Riding Hood. It premiered on Saturday night at the Witzenhausen Gallery in Chelsea. The "white cube" art gallery was transformed into a menacing patch of forest, thanks to several strategically-placed floor lanterns and a lot of mulch. Audience members at the sold-out show were seated in the woods on the fringes, but very much a part of the scenario.

Two women - Dora and her friend Fannie - temporarily and perhaps permanently escape their tedious lives to enter the woods for reasons unknown. [Don't they know that danger lurks in the woods? Yes, they do. Anyone familiar with Grimm's fairy tales knows that a visit to the forest may be one-way.] Dora and Fannie are undaunted however, and throw caution to the wind. They meet a man (the wonderful Jonathan Co Green), who has a ball playing "All Forest Creatures" according to the Playbill. These creatures include: a satyr, an elf, a preacher, Dora's husband, and a hunter. In each of these guises, Green coaxes and cajoles Dora and Fannie to explore their darkest, most forbidden desires and fantasies. Carl Jung would have approved.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Frick Collection - Two Special Exhibitions

The special thing about The Frick Collection is that you can enjoy remarkable British, French, and Dutch Master paintings in the setting of an art connoisseur's home. A visit to The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC provides a similarly intimate experience, in which the beauty of the objects complement one another in a way that cannot easily be duplicated by larger museums or galleries. 

Now through mid-January 2010 at The Frick, you can see Watteau to Degas: French Drawings from the Frits Lugt Collection. Frederik Johannes (Frits) Lugt was a Dutch art historian and connoisseur whose extensive collection of 18th and 19th century French drawings includes the work of Watteau, Boucher, Fragonard, David, Ingres, and Degas. The landscapes and portraits are remarkably fine. 

In 2008, a large dish painted with a narrative scene inspired by Raphael's The Judgment of Paris was gifted to the Frick Collection. This piece, along with five other related works on loan from the The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Philadelphia Museum of Art, form Exuberant Grotesques: Renaissance Maiolica from the Fontana Workshop, also on view at The Frick through mid-January 2010. Maiolica is a type of ceramic pottery developed in Italy during the Renaissance, and is characterized by a high glossy glaze. In The Judgment of Paris, the famous scene is surrounded by dainty grotesques, a signature of the Orazio Fontana workshop in Urbino. 

Often overshadowed by its larger neighbors on Museum Mile, The Frick Collection is a quiet gem off the beaten path that will reward visitors with its calm sanctuary.   

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Cities of Jean-Michel Berts at Sous Les Etoiles

The Cities of Jean-Michel Berts are ones with which you may already be familiar, either through personal visits, postcards, or books. However, Berts depicts these cities - Venice, Tokyo, New York, and Paris -  in a way that you have probably not seen before. They are ghostly, surreal, black-and-white apparitions of places that are usually portrayed in color and in a far more commercial manner. He uses a large-format camera and Technopan film, which when combined with the carbon printing technique, create images that incorporate a wider spectrum of whites, grays, and blacks. The result is astonishing photographs that glow. Venice appears even more otherworldly, as do Tokyo, Paris, and New York. Monsieur Berts told me that he does quite a bit of prep work beforehand to set up the shot, but the actual moment when he takes the photograph is brief, the mark of an assured, practised eye.

From now until January 29, 2010, Sous Les Etoiles presents the work of a photographer who captures these iconic cities through an eerie, dramatic lens. Don't miss it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Slice of Pie with Alanna Heiss at apexart

Last night at apexart, the dynamic Alanna Heiss entertained a SRO audience with anecdotes from her past. She told of personal adventures that have included chicken rotisseries and communes. She described her upbringing in a musical family in the Midwest, where she had played piano and violin, intent on becoming a professional musician. Ms. Heiss changed courses when she was told that she would only be good enough to be second violin, second chair, in a minor orchestra.

After relocating to New York, where she became a part of the Downtown tableau for a time, Ms. Heiss headed for Europe during the Vietnam War years. She eventually returned to New York, and in 1976, she became the Founder and Director of  P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, an affiliate of The Museum of Modern Art, and the oldest and second largest non-profit arts center in the United States solely devoted to Contemporary art. She was and is dedicated to transforming alternative spaces in New York City into exhibition, performance, and studio spaces for artists. During her tenure, she curated more than 700 exhibitions at P.S.1 and elsewhere.

Ms. Heiss left the position in December 2008 to establish in April 2009 Art International Radio (AIR), a Web radio station and arts center operating out of the Clocktower Gallery in Lower Manhattan. Her affinity for the vastness of radio "space" she says, can be attributed to hailing from the Midwest, which has always had a strong radio presence. Ms. Heiss wants Clocktower to be an artists’ space, a performance space, and envisions creating sets which are used by actors and writers in an ongoing narrative radio series. She imagines having endless vistas of space for dancers, sound, and abstract works.

Ms. Heiss said that her successor at P.S. 1, Klaus Biesenbach, has a “ferocious agenda” for the museum, which includes ensuring that its shows are historically documented in catalogue format. She also noted the likelihood that there would be fewer shows per year than in the past. Interestingly, she advised people in today's art world to "carry weapons." And she did encourage us to eat pie – it was lemon meringue.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Visions for Collecting

Last night, I attended Visions for Collecting, a panel discussion hosted by Sotheby's and organized by The Professional Organization of Women in the Arts.  Moderated by Lisa Dennison (Chairman, Sotheby's, North and South America), the panel included the following: Nancy Spector, Chief Curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Lynne Cooke, Curator at Large, Dia Art Foundation and Chief Curator/Deputy Director, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia; and Alison Gingeras, Chief Curator, Palazzo Grassi.

According to Ms. Spector, The Guggenheim continues to follow the mission of its founders to collect Non-Objective Art, building upon its extensive Kandinsky holdings which form the basis of the museum's original collection. The museum's Contemporary Art collection - in particular, Conceptual Art - is built on the Panza Collection it acquired in 1991-1992. Ms. Spector acknowledged that The Guggenheim has many critical gaps in its holdings. The institution obtains the majority of its works from the primary market and from work it commissions. The Guggenheim is scheduled to open its location in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in 2013, adding to its network of museums in Venice, Bilbao, Berlin, and New York.

The mandate of Reina Sofia, a national museum in Madrid, Spain, is to represent Spanish artists, while also including the work of international artists. Ms. Cooke noted historical and political factors such as the Franco years, which have interfered with the museum's ability to accumulate a substantial collection and have affected funding. She envisions the Reina Sofia developing its Latin American art collection and is excited about the future prospects for her role as Curator at Large for the Dia Art Foundation, which has recently announced plans to build on its former site in Chelsea.

Ms. Gingeras was a curator at the state-funded Centre Pompidou in Paris, and is now Chief Curator at Palazzo Grassi, which houses the Contemporary Art collection of luxury goods magnate Francois Pinault. Mr. Pinault has built his collection of Minimalist and Post-Minimalist work by looking beyond the artist's passport to focus on the art itself.

Ms. Dennison asked all three curators about the future of collecting. Ms. Spector stated that collections will be more global. She advised collectors to see as much art as possible and to build an individualistic collection with pieces that have a story behind them. Ms. Spector further suggested looking at art that artists themselves are excited about. Ms. Cooke believes that museums and other cultural institutions will continue to develop specialty collections. Ms. Gingeras advises anyone who wants to collect to get obsessed with something and to avoid putting together a contrived collection.

Despite the recent CNN Money article which reported that curators are among those who have the most stressful jobs, these three women seemed to be quite happy, fulfilled, and comparatively stress-free.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Georgia O'Keeffe: Abstraction at The Whitney

Georgia O'Keeffe is that "woman painter" who was obsessed with painting pastel flowers that suggest female genitalia. Georgia O'Keeffe is the one that does those desiccated skull paintings against the backdrop of the tawny Southwestern desert. Georgia O'Keeffe had a passionate, unfortunate affair with (and marriage to) Alfred Stieglitz. Georgia O'Keeffe's work amounts to "...little more than tinted photography," in the words of art critic Clement Greenberg. Everyone claims to know Georgia O'Keeffe.

O'Keeffe grew increasingly perturbed that the erotically-charged photographs Stieglitz took of her seemed to forever cast her own work in a sexual light. I remember thoroughly enjoying a film shown at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in which her annoyance with this narrow view of her work was apparent. Instead of acknowledging O'Keeffe as being an important member among the tight-knit circle of vanguard Modern artists which included Stieglitz, Arthur Dove, and Marsden Hartley, many chose to marginalize her work in a way they could understand.

The ubiquity and universal appeal of O'Keeffe, the woman, and O'Keeffe, the artist, give one a false sense of knowing her. I thought I knew her, too. I was glad to see an earlier side of her last night at The Whitney's exhibition, Georgia O'Keeffe: Abstraction, which runs through mid-January 2010. After that, the show travels to The Phillips Collection (one of my favorite museums) from February to May, and then to the O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe (another excellent venue). The Whitney show includes more than 130 drawings, paintings, sculptures, and photographs, many of which capture the early years of O'Keeffe's career. It is her boldest, most experimental work. In particular, charcoal drawings such as No. 17 - Special, 1919 (pictured above left), an oil on canvas entitled Red & Orange Streak, also from 1919, the Black Spot series (also pictured), and the exquisite little Alligator Pears from 1923, reveal an artist in her nascent, and most interesting, form.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Acting Alone at the ArcLight Theatre

The ArcLight Theatre is located in the lovely basement of The Church of the Blessed Sacrament on the Upper West Side. It was a fitting, intimate venue in which to experience Acting Alone, a drama about the life of Lee Harvey Oswald. The play opened last night and will run through November 21st, the day before the 46th anniversary of Oswald's assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It was written by David M. Korn and directed by Lee Gundersheimer.

All involved with Acting Alone deserve praise for staging a play whose timing and subject matter could easily be described as sensitive, even inappropriate. But the writing, directing, and acting did not allow for this. Korn has written a poignant story that invites audience members to immerse themselves in the life of a vilified man as seen through the respective lenses of Oswald's mother, brother, and wife. It became apparent how these strong figures exerted their influence over Oswald's life and provides possible explanations for his erratic behavior, resulting in deaths including his own. The narrative of the quotidien events in his life, when punctuated by phrases such as "Dealey Plaza" and "Texas Book Depository," caused the frisson that comes from knowing that no matter how the story is told, it always has the same ending.

Nick Scoullar as Oswald had the right blend of swagger, innocence, and charm to bring the notorious man to life while simultaneously invoking the right amount of pathos. Stephen Graham as Lee Harvey's brother, Robert, and stage veteran Vivian Neuwirth as Oswald's mother, Marguerite, were both excellent. They successfully captured the surprise, hurt, and feelings of betrayal that can occur when family members realize that they are enigmas to each other.

But it is Monica Hunken as Oswald's Russian-born wife, Marina, who was the star of the show. In addition to her mastery of Russian-accented English, her body language and nuanced facial expressions conveyed every emotion flawlessly. It is through Marina's character that Lee Harvey Oswald emerged as a man who was loved and it is through her that we pity him his short, frustrated life, uncomfortable as it is to admit.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Parlor Entertainment in Harlem

If you ever find yourself with some free time on Sunday afternoon from 4:00-6:30, make it a point to stop by Marjorie Elliot's apartment (3F) in the historic building at 555 Edgecombe Avenue, the former residence of such icons as Count Basie, Paul Robeson, and Charles Buchanan. The building is located directly across the street from Morris-Jumel House, another treasure in the Sugar Hill area of Harlem. 

For the past 18 years and on every Sunday afternoon, Ms. Elliot has opened her parlor to all jazz lovers. There are three sets, in which guest musicians accompany Ms. Elliot as she plays her piano. The atmosphere is relaxed and convivial, with treats served during breaks. Although it is free, please contribute to the tip jar. Whatever you give, you'll get back ten-fold, not only musically, but also in the knowledge that perhaps your feet have touched the ground where history has walked.

Anything Boys Can Do

Anything Boys Can Do is a 1996 film directed by Ethan Minsker, founder of Antagonist Art, a movement whose mission is to encourage artists of all kinds to create art that provokes. [Please see my earlier post on this movement, its founder, and one of the films I viewed.] Anything Boys Can Do was screened Saturday afternoon at The Brooklyn Museum.

In many ways, the film is a detailed sociological case study of "girl bands" involved in the punk scene of New York City and San Francisco from 1993-1996. Groups such as Tribe 8, Sexpod, Thrust, The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, Vitapup, The Wives, and Maul Girls were interviewed with the same set of questions. It was interesting to hear the variety of the responses to questions such as "Are you a feminist?" "Do you feel discriminated against because you are a woman in the music industry?" and "What message are you trying to convey on stage and with your music?" While there were common threads, several groups had different missions.

Not much has changed in the past 15 years or so, at least as far as the percentage of women in the music business is concerned. Even today, the numbers stand at around 90% male groups and 10% female groups. Of the above-named groups, only The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black is still in existence. Attrition affects male groups as well, but when a female group disbands, it is all the more noticeable because of its rarity in the first place.