Wednesday, May 31, 2006

To Buda or not to Buda

It's that time of the year again. Time to plan how not to be in this city for as much of the next three months as possible.

Which brings me to Budapest, where a friend from college has been living and working. And where she won't be living for much longer, so if I want to experience the city like a local, I need to make a plan.

I could visit the Bélyegmúzeum (Postal Stamp Museum) or the Victor Vasarely Museum.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Honey, I love what they've done with the pilasters

One good thing about having your beach house renovated over Memorial Day weekend is that it gives you time to really enjoy the city's cultural attractions without the usual hoi polloi getting in your way - just well-mannered tourists stalking every attraction in a slow-moving, fanny-pack and flip-flop brigade.

So I set off to the Upper East Side again to visit museums, this time the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, in the landmark Andrew Carnegie Mansion on Fifth Avenue, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, further south.

At the Cooper-Hewitt is Feeding Desire: Design and the Tools of the Table, 1500–2005, which addresses "the development of utensil forms, innovations in production and materials, etiquette, and flatware as social commentary." You might think that the history of silverware is an esoteric subject, but to judge by the number of people who were fixated by every piece, it may be underexamined. Upstairs is Frederic Church, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Moran: Tourism and the American Landscape, an exhibition of painters who romanticized the country's pristine beauty. The idea here is not just to highlight beautiful landscape paintings, but to show how they contributed to tourism. Each room is organized around a popular vacation destination, such as Niagara Falls or the Catskills, and offers a historical look at what tourists would find there and how these places were memorialized.

Over at the Met, which was open today thanks to our mayor, is Girodet: Romantic Rebel, a retrospective devoted to Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy-Trioson, the apparently arrogant pupil of Jacques-Louis David. Here I saw many paintings that were familiar from art survey classes, though for some reason they were all hung at the eye level of an NBA All-Star. Girodet's artistic reputation is still being debated: some call him a good comeback story, while others think he might be better left forgotten. I'm not so picky about my Romantic painters - I loved it.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Artstar - reality TV about artists

Jeffrey Deitch, on how the contestants were chosen: "It's not that different from the way we look at artists who we want to get involved in the gallery. It's the whole personality. And generally people who, in their way, have a very distinct personality are often the more interesting artist."

Seems like only yesterday they were sprawled out in Harper's Bazaar

Kimberly Guilfoyle and furniture heir Eric Villency were married yesterday in Barbados. The bride's previous marriage, to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, ended in divorce.

When did that happen?!?

Diving into the dreck

The Strand is having a sale this weekend - $10 for as many books as you can stuff into a shopping bag. Before you get too excited, these books cost $1.00 each, so it's safe to say that you are doing them a bigger favor than they are doing you.

I decided to dive into the dreck anyway. I passed on countless first novels (do authors whose first novels wind up on the $1.00 table ever write second novels? And why do so many have pictures of the ocean on their covers?), books by or about Linda Ellerbee, books about "extraordinary women," the memoir of a female martial artist, Inviting God to Your Wedding, and the like.

But then I found The Man Who Tried to Buy the World: Jean-Marie Messier and Vivendi Universal (who doesn't love reading about a business scandal in the summer, especially if it involves a flamboyant Frenchman?) and David Halberstam's War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton, and the Generals, a completely out-of-date look at America's foreign policy.

Awesome, right?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Charlotte Nicholson

Stealing an idea from Greenpoint blogger Art Soldier, I have been looking at the online image database at Artists Space, which is free of charge and open to artists and curators.

Looking at art this way is not ideal, of course - it's like flipping through a magazine but worse, because it benefits only work that looks good in a small jpeg file. That said, it's quite addictive, and the easiest way I've come across to see large quantities of not-yet-mainstream art.

The first artist to catch my eye was Charlotte Nicholson, a young Brooklyn artist. (I think "young Brooklyn artist" probably applies to most of them.) Using oil paint and sometimes gold leaf, Nicholson applies tiny brush marks to build up an impressionistic atmosphere over fairly large canvases.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Desmond Dekker dies

Jamaican legend Desmond Dekker has died at the age of 64.

I used to listen to his song Israelites in college and replay it about 50 times, because that's how many times you have to hear it to get it out of your system. Now that I think about it, I probably only knew about it because it was in the movie Drugstore Cowboy, from 1989.

Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson - brainy, chilly, sexually ambiguous, louche

From the New York Times:

"[Girodet's] Sleep of Endymion was a Vargas pin-up, a muscled shepherd reclining on a leopard skin bed, ravished by a shaft of light, which is meant to represent the goddess Diana, who hovers like the scent of rosewater in the air around him. When Balzac saw the painting, he asked whether he could be left alone with it. Endymion made Girodet instantly famous."

Girodet: Romantic Rebel is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Chinese art and townhouse envy

Tuesday night I went to the opening for Jiang Hu: Contemporary Chinese Art, a survey of established and emerging Chinese artists, at the Tilton Gallery on East 76 Street - the first opening I've ever attended that featured a brief performance of classical Chinese opera.

The Upper East Side is not an area I generally associate with galleries, though it certainly boasts a few; instead I tend to think of museums, Madison Avenue, the Central Park Zoo, and elderly fathers with their trophy wives, pushing lab-hatched offspring around in Bugaboos. But contemporary Chinese art? No.

Unfortunately, the Tilton Gallery is in a distractingly beautiful townhouse at 8 East 76 Street, just off Central Park. Unfortunate because anyone accustomed to the warehouse spaces of Chelsea is unlikely to notice any art when there is so much prewar detail on display. The gallery apparently moved to its current space in 2005, and takes up two full floors (two gorgeous, herringbone floors). It has large windows at the front and back (the better to see your well-heeled neighbors on their way to Café Boulud), fireplaces, and curlicue molding snaking up and down every wall. This is the sort of building for which real-estate-obsessed New Yorkers would gladly give up limbs, children, or personal ethics. Am I exaggerating? Not by much. Go see for yourself.

The art is funny. China is so trendy right now that it's hard to know what to think of it. A large neon sign by Sui Jianguo reads simply "Made in China," and has a price tag of $50,000. (Three words that have always meant "cheap." So naughty!) A portrait by Qi Zhi Long, of a young woman in Communist dress, is probably a good investment - a similar painting sold for double its high estimate at Sotheby's recent Contemporary Art Asia auction. The painting I'd most like to see in a museum collection, however, is a mottled, bloody-looking portrait by Yang Shaobin, "the Francis Bacon of contemporary Chinese art."

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring - quiet, serene, and violent

Pagans and Christians, illicit pregnancy, sibling rivalry, brutality and vengeance in 14th century Sweden - Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The weekend is here, and it's off to a chilly start

"...always there is a tinge of sadness, a subtle indication of a tormented soul" in the art of Clifford Odets.

Interesting pairings: Buckminster Fuller and Isamu Noguchi at the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, and Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jean Dubuffet at PaceWildenstein in Chelsea.

Wolfgang Tillmans gets his first large-scale US retrospective at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mary Ellen Mark

Mary Ellen Mark spoke tonight at the Strand Bookstore about two of her books: Falkland Road: Prostitutes of Bombay and Exposure, a collection of her most well-known photographs. She took questions from the audience about how she works and how she gains the trust of her subjects (with persistence). Being a female is an advantage, in her estimation.

I was surprised to recognize most of the images in her books, though I didn't think I was especially cognizant of her all these years. But her photographs are the ones you tend to stare at for a long time - portraits taken at odd angles, often a bit off balance, of people that you might not usually acknowledge.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Monday night and the rain has passed

Nicole Eisenman's Progress: Real and Imagined opened on Saturday at Leo Koenig - complete with film crew.

Architect Michael Arad’s Ground Zero memorial teeters on the brink of collapse.

Bloggers versus critics, an online debate: "If I were a newspaper editor, I’d be looking to the blogs for the next generation of critics." If only.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Betty Woodman brings home the bacon

The Art of Betty Woodman, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is a good title for an exhibition that has to hoist ceramics over the great institution's lofty hurdle - it is art, in case you were wondering. I saw the show on my recent trip uptown, but it was hard to figure out what to make of such an aggressive onslaught of craggy form and exuberant color. (Peter Schjeldahl struggled a bit too.)

Good thing, then, that I stopped in to the Max Protetch gallery in Chelsea on Saturday, because there her recent work makes perfect, comforting sense. In these pieces, from 2005 and 2006, she sometimes incorporates canvas and paper along with her glazed earthenware. With this bit of context, her clay slabs become part of a larger pictorial plane, and her influences - like Bonnard and Roman art and architecture - help to place her in a grand aesthetic tradition.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Luminous vapors and clouds - Jennifer Coates

Jennifer Coates paints what appear to be landscapes or expanses of sky, in vivid colors that throb and glow. But the imagery starts to melt on closer inspection, and magical things percolate on the surface: trees sway but don't have roots, apparitions appear and dissolve, bubbles coalesce, and prisms sparkle. In several places, veins or vines curl and intertwine, standing in for life amid so much atmosphere. The most successful, the brilliant Softwall, captures the atmospheric energy of a whirling vortex; Creeper, meanwhile, meanders beautifully but without a similar payoff.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Now a zoologist wants to play matchmaker

In Secrets of the Sexes, a three-part BBC series, scientists think they have found the secret of longlasting love. Watch a psychologist use wedding photographs to determine whether a marriage will last (it's all in the smiles).

Bonus test: Is there a connection between your personality type and the art that you like?

Links from here and there

In France, art as "a political public relations exercise for the prime minister"?

At Christie's, world records were established for 12 artists. At Sotheby's, bidders dropped sums that baffled some of today's savvy professionals.

Many collectors from mainland China came to last month's sale of contemporary Asian art at Sotheby’s, but most of the bidders in the room were New York dealers.

Via Tyler: Museum label writers don't really know what they're talking about. They're just blowing art-theory smoke.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A comic genius

Steve Coogan plays the television journalist-turned-impresario Tony Wilson in Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People, a movie about the post-punk music scene in Manchester, England and Factory Records, the label that Wilson founded. The style of the movie, which Coogan sort of narrates from his self-serving point of view, is risky but irresistible. He seems to stroll through the late 1970s and 1980s, identifying musical trends as they happen. I didn't know until reading Elvis Mitchell's review ("fact-free fabulous fabulism") that the movie contained cameos by the actual people that Coogan describes.

I don't know why I liked his smug and erudite character so much, except that I kept wishing he had a corollary in the art world.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

All systems down

I stayed home from work today. Beyond the guilt about calling in sick, I had to miss something that I thought would be a good blog topic: Doug Fishbone's performance at Joe's Pub. Finally something a little different, and I could have shoehorned him into my "Artists I've Known" series. Oh well. He will also screen a number of videos at Freight & Volume on 24th Street in Chelsea on May 13.

I also lost all my art blog links after I took my laptop into the shop (i.e., work) for some upgrades. Now I go to Edward Winkleman and use his links.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Playing hooky at the Met

I took today off and headed uptown to the Met, which is much more civilized on weekdays than on weekends. In such a gargantuan institution, I favor a tripartite approach: See the show that everyone is talking about (AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion); see the show that you really want to see (Kara Walker at the Met: After the Deluge); and choose one wild card (Warriors of the Himalayas: Rediscovering the Arms and Armor of Tibet). Well, that last one was my mother's choice - and it was wild for her.

AngloMania was the weirdest exhibit I've ever seen at the Met, which seemed cool until I remembered that it was sponsored by Burberry and that its opening party was a celebrity-studded outlet for Anna Wintour's ego, according to the New York Times. In English Period rooms, gowns by John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood, and other contemporary design icons mix with more traditional costumes, and the effect is wild, as if some art students had been given the run of the place.

Kara Walker is an artist I first learned about at the Walker Art Center in the 1990s - alongside other black female artists like Carrie Mae Weems and Lorna Simpson. Walker is known for using cut-paper silhouettes, an 18th-century medium, to comment on race. For the Met exhibit, she chose paintings and objects from the museum's collection and combined them with her own work to explore the nightmarish fallout of Hurricane Katrina. I was impressed that the Met even ventured to confront the topic, but I wasn't expecting much. What could she find? Some old paintings of rivers? The little show is a lot more than that, though, especially with Winslow Homer's contribution: It's a reminder that an institution that preserves objects has a lot to teach about any cataclysmic moment in history.

An exhibition of Tibetan armor, helmets, and weapons from the 13th to the 20th centuries is not something I'd typically run out to see; I've found that the arms and armor department of the Met is usually inhabited by fathers and their preteen sons. But the examples of Himalayan ironwork in this show can be appreciated by anyone who is impressed by sheer craftsmanship. Among the usually staid placards, I was surprised to read one that gushed uncharacteristically about a pair of particularly decorative stirrups - and indeed they were stunning stirrups!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Artists I've known: Edward Landon (1911-1984)

Growing up, my sister and I had to accept the New England temperament of my mother's family, where disputes could rage silently for generations until branches of the family tree eventually dropped off. If the stoicism didn’t scare us, it sometimes prompted gales of laughter and a pact that we’d never act so foolish. But a disposition that valued independence also prized creativity, and my grandparents were surrounded by artistic types who were lured to Vermont by nature and its promise of fulfillment.

Edward Landon was part of that constellation. Lest you think I’ve abandoned the geographic mandate of this blog, Ed and his wife lived in Greenwich Village until the late 1950s, when they moved to Vermont. Ed started out painting but eventually specialized in silkscreen printmaking, or serigraphy. His work through each decade – from the 1940s until the 1980s – mirrors the major trends of the time, with Arthur Dove and Picasso perhaps his greatest influences. My mother helped him in his studio as a teenager, after an accident rendered him paralyzed from the waist down. Indeed, his wheelchair probably made the biggest impression on me as a kid.

Finding a single print to represent him was difficult, and so I chose Family Tree (1984) because it reminds me of the Vermont landscape and its self-reliant inhabitants, holding each other at arm's length. I happen to have three of Ed's prints; my favorite is At the Gallery (1981), of - what else? - a woman gazing at a painting.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Blogger's block

The posts have been few and far between, I know. How do other bloggers do it, what with their daily posts and general ranting and raving. Wait, I know: They don't have to show up at an office every day, stay there for 10 hours, and spend an hour commuting each way. Well, maybe some do, but here's the rub: Blogs are blocked at my office. It's like being marooned on a desert island. Your friends say "Did you see such-and-such on Gawker?" and you're like, "No, I've told you a thousand times that it's blocked." I suppose the policy makes sense, in a totalitarian way. I wouldn't get much done if I had access to blogs all day long.

Anyway, I did just have a couple of new ideas. For one thing, I've been wanting to do another installment of my Office Art series ever since I saw some Joan Mitchell prints (see her self-portrait above) on the other side of my floor. Yet another tragic placement of very large prints along a narrow, poorly lit hallway - guaranteeing that no one will really see them, let alone appreciate them.

But I am more excited about another idea. I am going to highlight some artists I know - or in some cases have known, for they are no longer with us. It's only a tiny handful, so it shouldn't take long to run through them. More to come...