It was a schizo week of art viewing for me that started with a trip to New York last Friday. I had been excited to hit the Lower East Side with the taste still in my mouth of Jerry Saltzâ€™s assault in New York Mag on the Neo-Mannerist painting that has taken over the Lower East Side and Bushwick (though I donâ€™t think he pins the tendency to a specific area). Reading it on the plane it struck me as a bit ironic that the fate of the LES art scene, whose life expectancy is often a subject of speculation even as galleries continue to mushroom there, should be so fastened to the the success of painting, an art form with five centuries on it, and which has risen from the dead more times than the number of years most of the LES artists have walked the planet.
But alas I didnâ€™t have the chance, so I traveled to the artistic opposite of the LES where, I targeted the Metâ€™s newly overhauled European wing. The giant Tiepolo remains on the left at the top of the main staircase, but inside, the galleries are completely restructured, and the shuffled deck of masterpieces forced me into a complete reevaluation of the story of the Italian Renaissance:
Pardon me for a moment while I digress toward the conspiratorial.
Our current notion of the renaissance wasnâ€™t codified until Jacob Burckhardt did so in the middle of the 19th century. And the treasures of art that signify that rebirth werenâ€™t substantiated until the wheelings-and-dealing of mercenaries like Bernard Berenson and Joseph Duveen canonized them only more recently. The subsequent narrative about the primacy of Italy has been reinforced by a century of lectures from auditoriums dimly lit by the pale glow from Kodak slide projectors loaded with Fra Angelicos and Mantegnas.
Despite the gospel to which we’ve willingly subscribed, rolling Pico Della Mirandola, Boccaccio, Machiavelli, Cimabue, Giotto, Raphael, Titian, etc. etc., into a tidy narrative that spread Northward, I had to wonder at the Met whether, if we could press â€˜resetâ€™ on the Game Cube of Western Civilization, we would end up listening to adjunct professors recite an alternative story of the North, of Erasmus, of the Hussites, of the Hanseatic League, and Martin Luther and Gutenberg…and of course in art, of van Eyck and van der Weyden, with Da Vinci, Tintoretto and Titian relegated to supporting roles?
If History is a story of overcoming tradition and inventing change, the North seems to have a good case for preeminence.
Art Historians, address your letters to me not to the Bad at Sportsâ€™ offices.
That was the ferment in my head as I flew home the same evening to Milwaukee. The very next day I inadvertently got the antidote to the Met in Bayview, that I missed on the LES.
In a semi-improvised gallery called Usable Space at a studio building at 1950 S. Hilbert Street, on what might be the very same narrow footprint of any gallery on Ludlow in NYC, stands a modest painting show that will remind naysayers of the enduring thrill that comes from pushing pigment and binder around a canvas with a brush. The show, â€œInformation Processorsâ€ curated by Shane Walsh serves up meat-and-potatoes painters that celebrate the gooey joys of the tradition, with more than a few eccentric, non-traditional moments to keep us on our toes. Notable are Michelle Bollingerâ€™s naked and luscious abstractions, which recall everyone from Franz Kline to John Lasker to Thomas Scheibitz, to the deliciously strange sprayerbrusher, Trudy Benson, without losing their singularity.
Janet Bruhnâ€™s â€œMelting Jello Cakeâ€ is too representational a title for a painting that first smacks as an abstraction with gorgeous marbled painting inside an unexpected perimeter of languid brushwork that I only eventually realized was a container. Without the title telling us, we would have naturally inferred the sense of a confectionary orgy, even if we didn’t identify the subject matter directly.
There are other high points in the show, so go see it for yourself, but Iâ€™ll fittingly conclude with Bradley Biancardiâ€™s â€œCrystal from Berwyn (after Titian)â€ which seems less Titian than Matisseâ€¦with a Dash of Alice Neel and David Hockney, but inspiration is inspiration.
Still, câ€™mon, Titian? No Van Eyck. Maybe Biancardiâ€™s influence reaffirms the triumph of the Italian Renaissance. Thinking of Titian made me doubt my musings about alternative histories. But whatever the real foundations of the last half-millennium of Western painting, itâ€™s great to see that there are still plenty of practitioners willing to carry on the legacy, willing to approach canvases without guile or cynicism, and do their best to keep the gravediggers at the art cemetery leaning on their shovels. This experience will make it easier to stomach the ailing Neo-Mannerists at the Orchard Street hospice next week.
CROSS-FADE, a group show of Chicago-based artists who are romantically involved, gives new meaning to the term relational aesthetics. The chosen lovebirds here are Julia Fish and Richard Rezak, Michelle Bolinger and Todd Simeone, and Kevin Kaempf and Michael Thomas of People Powered and Lucky Pierre, respectivelyâ€”couples who don’t normally collaborate but, as organizer Stacie Johnson points out on the Swimming Pool Project Space website, “their independent practices have been in dialogue for some time.”
I like how this show explicitly acknowledges the influence of a domestic partnership on artistic practice, viaÂ (one imagines) the kinds of conversations that occur not only in the studio but over coffee at the kitchen table or in bed watching t.v. It’s a small show, with a piece from each artist (Kaempf and Thomas contribute a single collaborative video) and a sculpture of a potted plant credited to Bolinger and Simeone. Johnson treads lightly over her theme, as if she’s afraid that by making too much of the romantic ties that bind she’ll warp our view of what each artist is doing on his/her own.Â The works aren’t installed in a manner that encourages side-by-side comparisons, and there’s no accompanying text to provide insight into precisely how these artists’ practices are in dialogue. We’re left to figure that out for ourselves, but I think Johnson’s curatorial premise is good enough to warrant a much larger and more in-depth exploration of the idea.Â Maybe she could include some examples of what happens to work when lovers break up. Now that’d make for some juicy encounters at the opening reception.
I think we’ve all had this experience:Â you see a show that’s mostly forgettable save for one work so good it makes you re-think everything else in the room. This happened to me while viewing Alison Katzâ€™s exhibition at Kasia Kay Art Projects Gallery, which on the whole struck me as a pretty good example of not-so-interesting painting, the show’s provocative title (â€œYou Talk Greasilyâ€) not withstanding.Â I’ll admit it: I went to this show under the vague impression that this was an artist who painted with fat, and I was kind of turned on by that idea, but instead I found paintings in oils and acrylics whose execution was of the fashionably loose and sloppy sort; Katz’s garish palette and flattened perspectives also left me cold.
To use a (now-unfashionable) term from Roland Barthes in an admittedly off-kilter context, there’s no punctum in Katz’s paintings, nothing to latch on to, emotionally or intellectually. Is that what they mean by “greasy”? Katz makes paintings for a post-photography era; she also seems to want to deflate traditional notions of authorship.
As Patrice Connelly points out in her New City review of the show, Katz employs so many varying stylistic devices it’s hard to tell that the work was made by a single artist. Perhaps that’s why the one image that repeatedly drew me back was also the most mundane: a still life of a flower bouquet soaking in a clear glass jelly jar, the cellophane still wrapped around the red and yellow buds.
I still can’t quite put my finger on why I liked this particular painting so much. Maybe it’s in its seamless melding of the recognizably “real” with the patently artifical, the way Katz’s rough brushstrokes capture the hurriedness with which the flowers have been plunked into the jar and how the painted materiality of the glass and the cellulose behind it extends the parameters of the still life into something more like a frozen landscape. It was the only painting in the show that worked for me, and I caught myself wishing I could tuck it under my arm and take it home, like a real bouquet of flowers.
Whatâ€™s that oft-cited quote? “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” Variously attributed to Elvis Costello, Miles Davis, Lauri Anderson and a bunch of others, whoever said it, I just lived it a little during a visit to Sebastian Craigâ€™s new installation at Old Gold. With its 70â€™s era rec room feel, Old Gold looks and feels like a party space; no doubt a few prior generations of kids have gotten stoned down there while their parents drank martinis and watched TV upstairs. Sebastian Craig plays off the grungy conviviality of this basement gallery’s past and present incarnations with a party-themed architectural installation that invites (nay, requires) participation and gives you permission to dance like a dork (yay me!). Craig has taken a lengthy pink cord and angled it across two walls so that it looks like the laser beam security device from spy films like Entrapment.
As you pick your way through it to cross the room,Â you’re forced to lift up your limbs in a wonky kind of dance. No doubt the piece reached a certain apotheosis during the opening, when the room was filled with people weaving in and out of the cords in order to view the video on the other side of the room, or more importantly, grab a beer.Â But I was there alone, when the room was empty (save for co-director Caleb Lyons and his cutie-pie pug), and I’m glad I was, as I don’t think the work’s remarkably strong architectural elements would have asserted themselves so clearly had I seen it only during the opening festivities.
… Anyone go to Paul Chan’s opening at The Ren yesterday? If you did, what’d ya think?