Archive for December 2011
Just wishing all my readers a great new year.
My one resolution for 2012 ? – Be nicer to people who deserve it …… and less tolerant of the ones who don’t.
The oil-on-matboard painting above by Filipino artist Faith Te; her blog may be found here.
Image of the day: Swiss artist Félix Vallotton’s Self Portrait at 20 (1885), currently in the collection of the Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts in Lausanne.
Isn’t it enchanting ? – I refer to both the painting (pastel-pretty), and its subject (winsomely wistful).
The Dreams and Reality show now on at the NMS – my review here – includes a later work by Vallotton. The Ball (below), oddly enough for an artist affiliated with the Nabi crowd, seems indebted to the then-still unusual perspectives of the photographic medium …
Since Heman Chong’s having a show on right now (my review here) …… a recap of something else he did earlier this year. Plus, I have a massive backlog of badly-taken pictures – of shows I’ve seen – just sitting in my iPhoto folder, doing plenty of nuthin’.
This is Chong’s hilarious series, Obscenely Bad Guggenheim Joke, shown at Valentine Willie’s annual survey of Singapore art in August.
I think these are wasted in a gallery space, by the way. Humour requires an audience, and these posters (such as they are) need to be embedded in a public arena, where their sly, unexpected wit can find its natural niche as a subversive disruption of the lived everyday — and *not* as a monumental statement in and of itself, which the circumscription of a gallery display imposes.
Bit of trivia: Chong seems to hold the number ’7′ dear. The year 2017 here, the duration specified in his Calendars work (1,001 images = 77 years multiplied by 13 images per year) … Oblique references to his year of birth perhaps ?
You snigger, but a Johore Bahru incarnation of the Gug ? – it could happen.
Three words: Crystal Bridges Museum.
Helen Frankenthaler at work, in 1969. Photographed by Ernst Haas; all images here from ernst-haas.com.
Seems like the Grim Reaper is determined to get the most mileage out of the last few days of the year.
Helen Frankenthaler, pioneer of so-called color field painting, passed away yesterday, on Dec 27th.
What I find absolutely fascinating are the series of images Life magazine photog Ernst Haas took of her at work in the studio in the late ’60s. There she is, straddling a wide expanse of canvas rolled out against the floor; unravelling a river of paint; impressing a series of splotches onto the blank canvas, her body crouched like a cat’s or an acrobat’s.
Remind anyone of anything ?
Yep – Hans Namuth’s famous pictures of Jackson Pollock in a similar vein, which gave rise later to Harold Rosenberg’s declaration of “action painting.” And indeed Namuth’s images cemented Pollock as the Ab-Ex artist par excellence in the popular imagination: the reinventor of post-war painting as a gestural, action-oriented, macho arena, a man who embodied talent, tragedy, and – ultimately – self-destruction at the height of fame.
(Chief victim though: Lee Krasner.)
Perhaps Ernie Haas had Namuth’s Pollock pictures in mind when he snapped these shots of Frankenthaler; they look like a conscious attempt to mythologize her creative processes and originary power, in like fashion. The NYT’s obit of her (reproduced below, or read it here), interestingly enough, seems to emphasize her privileged, moneyed existence, offering up her biographical circumstances – which includes her connections to influential men, such as ex-squeeze Clement Greenberg (?!) and one-time husband Robert Motherwell – as an explanation of sorts for her place in a resolutely masculine canon, almost apologist in tone, not unlike Haas’ conspicuously citational framing of her as a Pollock-ian wannabe (whatever the reality) …
HELEN FRANKENTHALER, ABSTRACT PAINTER WHO SHAPED A MOVEMENT, DIES AT 83
By Grace Glueck. Published: December 27, 2011.
Helen Frankenthaler, the lyrically abstract painter whose technique of staining pigment into raw canvas helped shape an influential art movement in the mid-20th century and who became one of the most admired artists of her generation, died on Tuesday at her home in Darien, Conn. She was 83.
Her longtime assistant, Maureen St. Onge, said Ms. Frankenthaler died after a long illness but gave no other details.
Known as a second-generation Abstract Expressionist, Ms. Frankenthaler was married during the movement’s heyday to the painter Robert Motherwell, a leading first-generation member of the group. But she departed from the first generation’s romantic search for the “sublime” to pursue her own path.
Refining a technique, developed by Jackson Pollock, of pouring pigment directly onto canvas laid on the floor, Ms. Frankenthaler, heavily influencing the colorists Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland, developed a method of painting best known as Color Field — although Clement Greenberg, the critic most identified with it, called it Post-Painterly Abstraction. Where Pollock had used enamel that rested on raw canvas like skin, Ms. Frankenthaler poured turpentine-thinned paint in watery washes onto the raw canvas so that it soaked into the fabric weave, becoming one with it.
Her staining method emphasized the flat surface over illusory depth, and it called attention to the very nature of paint on canvas, a concern of artists and critics at the time. It also brought a new, open airiness to the painted surface and was credited with releasing color from the gestural approach and romantic rhetoric of Abstract Expressionism.
Ms. Frankenthaler more or less stumbled on her stain technique, she said, first using it in creating “Mountains and Sea” (1952). Produced on her return to New York from a trip to Nova Scotia, the painting is a light-struck, diaphanous evocation of hills, rocks and water. Its delicate balance of drawing and painting, fresh washes of color (predominantly blues and pinks) and breakthrough technique have made it one of her best-known works.
“The landscapes were in my arms as I did it,” Ms. Frankenthaler told an interviewer. “I didn’t realize all that I was doing. I was trying to get at something — I didn’t know what until it was manifest.”
She later described the seemingly unfinished painting — which is on long-term loan to the National Gallery of Art in Washington — as “looking to many people like a large paint rag, casually accidental and incomplete.”
Unlike many of her painter colleagues at the time, Ms. Frankenthaler, born in New York City on Dec. 12, 1928, came from a prosperous Manhattan family. She was one of three daughters of Alfred Frankenthaler, a New York State Supreme Court judge, and the former Martha Lowenstein, an immigrant from Germany. Helen, their youngest, was interested in art from early childhood, when she would dribble nail polish into a sink full of water to watch the color flow.
After graduation from the Dalton School, where she studied art with the Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo, she entered Bennington College in 1946. There the painter Paul Feeley, a thoroughgoing taskmaster, taught her “everything I know about Cubism,” she said. The intellectual atmosphere at Bennington was heady, with instructors like Kenneth Burke, Erich Fromm and Ralph Ellison setting the pace.
As a self-described “saddle-shoed girl a year out of Bennington,” Ms. Frankenthaler made her way into the burgeoning New York art world with a boost from Mr. Greenberg, whom she met in 1950 and with whom she had a five-year relationship. Through him she met crucial players like David Smith, Jackson Pollock, Willem and Elaine de Kooning and Franz Kline.
In 1951, with Mr. Greenberg’s prompting, she jointed the new Tibor de Nagy gallery, run by the ebullient aesthete John B. Myers, and had her first solo show there that year. She spent summers visiting museums in Europe, pursuing an interest in quattrocento and old master painting.
Her marriage to Mr. Motherwell in 1958 gave the couple an art-world aura. Like her, he came from a well-to-do family, and “the golden couple,” as they were known in the cash-poor and backbiting art world of the time, spent several leisurely months honeymooning in Spain and France.
In Manhattan, they removed themselves from the downtown scene and established themselves in a house on East 94th Street, where they developed a reputation for lavish entertaining. The British sculptor Anthony Caro recalled a dinner party they gave for him and his wife on their first trip to New York, in 1959. It was attended by some 100 guests, and he was seated between David Smith and the actress Hedy Lamarr.
“Helen loved to entertain,” said Ann Freedman, the former president of Knoedler & Company, Ms. Frankenthaler’s dealer until its recent closing. “She enjoyed feeding people and engaging in lively conversation. And she liked to dance. In fact, you could see it in her movements as she worked on her paintings.”
Ms. Frankenthaler’s passion for dancing was more than fulfilled in 1985 when, at a White House dinner to honor the Prince and Princess of Wales, she was partnered with a fast stepper who had been twirling the princess.
“I’d waited a lifetime for a dance like this,” she wrote in a 1997 Op-Ed article for The New York Times. “He was great!”
His name meant nothing to her until, on returning to her New York studio, she showed her assistant and a friend his card. “John Travolta,” it read.
Despite the early acknowledgment of Ms. Frankenthaler’s achievement by Mr. Greenberg and by her fellow artists, wider recognition took some time. Her first major museum show, a retrospective of her 1950s work with a catalog by the critic and poet Frank O’Hara, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, was at the Jewish Museum in 1960. But she became better known to the art-going public after a major retrospective organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1969.
Although Ms. Frankenthaler rarely discussed the sources of her abstract imagery, it reflected her impressions of landscape, her meditations on personal experience and the pleasures of dealing with paint. Visually diverse, her paintings were never produced in “serial” themes like those of her Abstract Expressionist predecessors or her Color Field colleagues like Noland and Louis. She looked on each of her works as a separate exploration.
But “Mountains and Sea” did establish many of the traits that have informed her art from the beginning, the art historian E. A. Carmean Jr. suggested. In the catalog for his 1989-90 Frankenthaler retrospective at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, he cited the color washes, the dialogue between drawing and painting, the seemingly raw, unfinished look, and the “general theme of place” as characteristic of her work.
Besides her paintings, Ms. Frankenthaler is known for her inventive lithographs, etchings and screen prints she produced since 1961, but critics have suggested that her woodcuts have made the most original contribution to printmaking.
In making her first woodcut, “East and Beyond,” in 1973, Ms. Frankenthaler wanted to make the grainy, unforgiving wood block receptive to the vibrant color and organic, amorphous forms of her own painting. By dint of trial and error, with technical help from printmaking studios, she succeeded.
For “East and Beyond,” which depicts a radiant open space above a graceful mountainlike divide, she used a jigsaw to cut separate shapes, then printed the whole by a specially devised method to eliminate the white lines between them when put together. The result was a taut but fluid composition so refreshingly removed from traditional woodblock technique that it has had a deep influence on the medium ever since. “East and Beyond” became to contemporary printmaking in the 1970s what Ms. Frankenthaler’s paint staining in “Mountains and Sea” had been to the development of Color Field painting 20 years earlier.
In 1972, Ms. Frankenthaler made a less successful foray into sculpture, spending two weeks at Mr. Caro’s London studio. With no experience in the medium but aided by a skilled assistant, she welded together found steel parts in a way that evoked the work of David Smith.
Although she enjoyed the experience, she did not repeat it. Knoedler gave the work its first public showing in 2006.
Critics have not unanimously praised Ms. Frankenthaler’s art. Some have seen it as thin in substance, uncontrolled in method, too sweet in color and too “poetic.” But it has been far more apt to garner admirers like the critic Barbara Rose, who wrote in 1972 of Ms. Frankenthaler’s gift for “the freedom, spontaneity, openness and complexity of an image, not exclusively of the studio or the mind, but explicitly and intimately tied to nature and human emotions.”
Ms. Frankenthaler and Mr. Motherwell were divorced in 1971. In 1994 she married Stephen M. DuBrul Jr., an investment banker who had headed the Export-Import Bank during the Ford administration. Besides her husband, her survivors include two stepdaughters, Jeannie Motherwell and Lise Motherwell, and six nieces and nephews. Her two sisters, Gloria Ross Bookman and Marjorie Iseman, died before her.
In 1999, she and Mr. DuBrul bought a house in Darien, on Long Island Sound. Water, sky and their shifting light are often reflected in her later imagery.
As the years passed, her paintings seemed to make more direct references to the visible world. But they sometimes harked back to the more spontaneous, exuberant and less referential work of her earlier career.
There is “no formula,” she said in an interview in The New York Times in 2003. “There are no rules. Let the picture lead you where it must go.”
She never aligned herself with the feminist movement in art that began to surface in the 1970s. “For me, being a ‘lady painter’ was never an issue,” she was quoted as saying in John Gruen’s book “The Party’s Over Now” (1972). “I don’t resent being a female painter. I don’t exploit it. I paint.”
Image of the day: Elliott Erwitt’s iconic snapshot of a Springer, Paris (1989).
Someone I know is facing one of those dilemmas that seem to crop up in life with almost .. reassuring regularity.
Sometimes a leap – of faith, of courage – is called for.
No better way to break a deadlock than a bold, gravity-defying gesture.
Overheard on the tweet-vine: American sculptor John Chamberlain, famed for his works involving old automobile parts, is dead at 84.
And right before his big retrospective at the Guggenheim too …
His NYT obituary reproduced in full below. (The original here.)
JOHN CHAMBERLAIN, WHO WRESTED ROUGH MAGIC FROM SCRAP METAL, DIES AT 84
By Randy Kennedy. Published: December 21, 2011.
John Chamberlain, who almost singlehandedly gave automotive metal a place in the history of sculpture, smashing and twisting together a poetic fusion of Abstract Expressionism and Pop from fenders, fins, bumpers and hoods, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 84.
His wife, Prudence Fairweather, announced his death but declined to give a cause. He had spent his last years mostly in Shelter Island, N.Y.
In a restless career of almost half a century, Mr. Chamberlain worked with a broad range of materials, some as pliant as foam rubber and as ephemeral as brown paper bags. But he returned again and again to the more substantial stuff of the scrap yard, explaining the attraction as one of practicality. “I saw all this material just lying around against buildings, and it was in color,” he said, “so I felt I was ahead on two counts.”
But auto bodies also provided him with a material that could bear more than its weight in art-historical significance: as a chaotic riff on Duchamp’s readymades, as a renegade form of truth-in-materials Minimalism, as a bridge between the raw expressiveness of the New York School painters and the assembly-line deadpan of Warhol.
Critics often saw his crumpled Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles as dark commentaries on the costs of American freedom, but Mr. Chamberlain rejected such metaphorical readings. He turned to making sculpture from other things partly because he grew so tired of the automotive associations.
“It seems no one can get free of the car-crash syndrome,” he told the curator Julie Sylvester in 1986. “For 25 years I’ve been using colored metal to make sculpture, and all they can think of is, ‘What the hell car did that come from?’ ”
Years later, he said: “I think of my art materials not as junk but as garbage. Manure, actually; it goes from being the waste material of one being to the life-source of another.”
Mr. Chamberlain devoted his life to challenging traditional notions of sculpture and to eroding the boundaries between sculpture and painting. He was among a wave of late-modernist sculptors who put color on an almost equal footing with form, and he had an uncanny ability, as the curator Klaus Kertess wrote, “to make roundness into color and color into roundness.”
Donald Judd, who enshrined many of Mr. Chamberlain’s pieces at the art complex he built in Marfa, Tex., observed that Mr. Chamberlain’s colors in his early years were quintessentially American, “the hard, sweet, pastel enamels, frequently roses and ceruleans, of Detroit’s imitation elegance for the poor.”
Mr. Chamberlain felt that even the word “sculpture” was limiting in describing art that, while functioning in three dimensions, could be made from almost anything.
“A sculpture is something that if it falls on your foot, it will break it,” he said. (Well into his career, some people still had a tough time seeing his sculptures as works of art; in 1973, two 300-pound metal pieces were mistaken for junk and carted away as they sat outside a gallery warehouse in Chicago.)
Mr. Chamberlain’s early influences included few sculptors. He gravitated to poets and to the Abstract Expressionist painters he met at the Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village after moving to New York from Chicago in 1956, chiefly to Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning.
“Kline gave me the structure,” he once said. “De Kooning gave me the color.”
They also helped fuel a love of drink that contributed to his reputation as an art-world hellion, especially during the heyday of Max’s Kansas City, the Cedar’s successor as New York’s art-world clubhouse. At six-foot-four, with a broad, toothy smile full of mischief and menace, he looked, and sometimes acted, like a character from a Sam Peckinpah movie. In 1964, the year he represented the United States at the Venice Biennale, he was arrested in the Village after a drunken street fight with a police officer. Mr. Chamberlain’s lawyer defended his client by saying the fight was the fault of the officer, who had repeatedly and “needlessly struck Mr. Chamberlain on the head with a nightstick.”
John Angus Chamberlain was born on April 16, 1927, in Rochester, Ind., the son of a fifth-generation saloonkeeper. He was raised above a meat market until he was 4, when his parents divorced. His mother, a sometime waitress, took him to Chicago, where he was left in the care of his maternal grandmother, Edna Brown Waller, whom he described as a strong, voluble presence in his life.
In his teens, he grew to love classical music but decided he didn’t have enough talent to pursue a music career. Mostly to stay out of trouble, he joined the Navy at 16 in 1943, lying about his age, and served in the Pacific and Mediterranean before returning to Chicago to study hairdressing on the G.I. Bill — an occupation he saw partly as a good way to meet women. Between shifts as a hair and makeup instructor at a modeling school, he tried to teach himself to draw but grew frustrated and enrolled in private art classes. He later entered the School of the Art Institute of Chicago but lasted only a year and a half because of quarrels with instructors he accused of being narrow-minded.
Through a friend, Mr. Chamberlain found Black Mountain College in North Carolina, which he attended in 1955 and 1956. It introduced him to like-minded artists, most of them poets including Robert Creeley, Charles Olson and Robert Duncan. Shortly after leaving the school he met and married Elaine Grulkowski, his second wife, and the couple had three sons. Two, Angus and Duncan, survive him, as does his fourth wife, Ms. Fairweather, and her daughters, Alexandra Fairweather and Phoebe Fairweather. Elaine Chamberlain died in 1973, and a son, Jesse, died in 1999. Two other marriages ended in divorce.
Early on, Mr. Chamberlain was drawn to the totemic welded constructions that David Smith made from old tools and machine parts. But in 1957, he had an epiphany while staying with the painter Larry Rivers in Southampton, N.Y. Using two fenders he pulled from a 1929 Ford rusting on Mr. Rivers’s property, he made a sculpture by running over the pieces repeatedly with a truck to bend them the way he wanted, then he fitted them together almost like puzzle pieces.
The sculpture, “Shortstop,” opened his eyes to the potential of pre-painted junk metal. And work like it, heavily indebted to his Abstract Expressionist mentors, attracted admirers like the influential collector Allan Stone, who described the young Mr. Chamberlain as “a gruff, hairy” character, “more like a north woodsman than a sculptor.” Many critics saw his early work as an affront. One, writing in The New York Times in 1959, described a Chamberlain work as “a construction from the wreckage of a motor car.”
Even admirers like the critic Peter Schjeldahl seemed unsettled by the apparent randomness of Mr. Chamberlain’s crushing machines. “As with a sunset or a snowstorm, you don’t know whether there’s an operating intelligence behind it all or not,” he wrote in 1969, “so you learn to accept the manifestations for themselves.” He added: “The mangle is the message.”
Mr. Chamberlain was rarely happy working for long in one place. Besides New York, he lived in New Mexico, California, Connecticut and Sarasota, Fla., where he kept a houseboat and a yacht in addition to two sprawling studios. He continued to work and sail after settling in Shelter Island (while living part-time in Manhattan). At 74, he took up the saxophone. He also made headlines in 2011 by leaving his longtime gallery, Pace, for the larger empire of the Gagosian Gallery.
His pieces — with punning, portmanteau titles like “Awesomemeatloaf,” “Schizoverbia” and “Anything Goethe” — were not usually intended to be figural. But, depending on the vantage point, they could evoke dancing or hobbled human forms, trees, flowers, boats and birds. A 1982 sculpture called “The Lineup (Dedicated to the Sarasota Police Dept.)” looked like a row of reprobates hauled in for public indecency.
In the late 1960s he switched from car parts to unpainted galvanized steel, then made pieces from resin-coated crushed paper bags. He also began using blocks of foam rubber that, when tied with cords, resulted in forms strikingly like his car-metal pieces, underscoring the seeming softness of such rigid pieces. In 1968, Mr. Chamberlain took a detour into filmmaking, the most notable result of which was the cult hit “The Secret Life of Hernando Cortez,” filmed in Mexico with Warhol regulars Taylor Mead and Ultra Violet in various states of intoxication and undress.
In 1970, the year he was given a retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum, he began working with heat-shaped Plexiglas and aluminum foil. But he returned to car bodies in 1974. (The Guggenheim is planning a new retrospective, to open in February.)
Mr. Chamberlain’s work is in the collections of dozens of museums, including the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art and Dia:Beacon in Beacon, N.Y.; this year an older piece sold at auction for $4.7 million, a record for his work.
Mr. Chamberlain spoke of his work with reluctance and often humility, deriding the over-intellectualizing tendencies of his questioners. “Everyone always wanted to know what it meant, you know: ‘What does it mean, jellybean?’ ” he told Julie Sylvester, adding: “Even if I knew, I could only know what I thought it meant.”
But he trusted his instincts and seemed to follow them to please himself more than anyone else. “When a sculpture is nearly done, you can put things on and you take them off and it doesn’t make any difference,” he said. “Stopping is the key; you have to know when to stop. If I feel so glad that a sculpture is here, and I don’t care who did it, then I figure it’s a good piece.”
Evil Empire is organizing a series of Good Fridays in its space – an invite-only sort of salon night.
Gracing the first ever affair last week was local musician Leslie Tan of the T’ang Quartet, as well as fellow cellist I Shyan Tang. (The event was primarily a fundraiser for the Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home - which is in need of cash for essentials for their residents – so if you’re reading this, do feel free to click on the link above, and make a donation.) Tan and Tang played Mozart’s Sonata Opus Posthumous (K.292), a charming little piece for two cellos. While their instruments were scraping away in euphonious, intimate conversation with each other, the pair of slightly unsettling portraits on the wall behind them provided an impish – because incongruous – visual complement to the musical tête-à-tête ..
I enjoyed it. A big thank-you to Alan Oei for the invite, and Notabilia for the company.
No gratitude for SMRT, who for some reason or other saw fit to turn down the air-conditioning on their trains to bizarrely stifling levels that night, resulting in a shvitz-fest my entire journey. You guys SUCK. (But you knew that already.)
December 12th is Yasujiro Ozu Day.
Unofficially, that is.
The Japanese director was born on this day in 1903 – and passed away on his 60th birthday, in 1963. He is buried on the grounds of the Engaku Temple (or Engaku-ji 円覚寺) in Kamakura, an old, historic city some 50 km south of Tokyo. (Read an appropriately spare yet stirring account of visiting Ozu’s grave here.) The character carved on his headstone is mu – wu in Mandarin - which translates into a number of related concepts: nothing, without, lacking.
Famous last words.
Happy birthday, Mr. Ozu, and R.I.P.
Still trying to finish up my review of the Amanda Heng show at 8Q, and it’s getting long …
Anyways. Artwork of the day: Indonesian artist Samsul Arifin’s You Can See series (2010), a pair of gowns stitched together from numerous little dolls – nude, faceless, vulnerable, seemingly abject.
They’re beautiful and creepy all at once. From afar, they resemble the sort of lavish wedding frocks you see all the time, with ribbons, rosettes, frills and what-have-you; up close, they reveal themselves to be quite another sort of visual experience altogether, their tactile immediacy and motific outlandishness presenting a sly, subversive shock to the system.
Two thumbs up.
Was at the ArtScience Museum this morning for a sneak preview of the upcoming iLight Marina Bay festival, which happens in March next year. (The projects by Chinese artist Li Hui and Indonesian Wiyoga Muhardanto look especially promising – do check out the link.)
Anyways, the sight above – the reflection of canopied struts on curved glass - stopped me dead in my tracks.
… Anthony Poon, anyone ?
The convergence of art and life doesn’t get any more serendipitous than this. Living proof perhaps that Poon’s trademark wave patterns (below) – geometric, methodical sinuousities that made his name as Singapore’s premier abstract artist back in the ’70s – may lend themselves to more than mere formalist considerations.