Art Basel Hong Kong 2015 Reviews + Images + Articles

March 16, 2015

Oriental Blossom

Text by Huzan Tata.
Photos courtesy: Art Basel

Head to the Art Basel Hong Kong to satiate your artistic cravings

Ever wanted to see art from all around the globe but didn’t know where to start from? The Art Basel is here to make your life easy. The Art Basel Hong Kong, now in its 45th edition, presents at one place stunning artworks from the world over – paintings, installations, works in mixed media, sculptures and photographs from Asia, Africa, Europe, North America and Latin America all form a part of the show. That’s not all…to get a complete fix of the arts, one can also attend the salon conversations, talks and films that will be exhibited at the event. So, if you thought Hong Kong was just about Disneyland, the art fanatics will surely tell you otherwise.

Art Basel Hong Kong will take place at various locations in Hong Kong until March 17, 2015.




Art Basel opens its doors in Hong Kong with thousands to visit

March 14, 2015 2:43pm

A man checks his mobile phone next to an artwork by US conceptual artist John Anthony Baldessari during the opening of the Art Basel art fair for a VIP preview in Hong Kong on March 13, 2015. Hong Kong’s biggest art fair, Art Basel, opened its doors with thousands of visitors expected over the next five days. AFP PHOTO/Philippe Lopez

HONG KONG – Hong Kong’s biggest art fair, Art Basel, opened its doors Friday with thousands of visitors expected over the next five days for a city-wide canvas of creativity and commerce.

The sprawling display of artworks took over the city’s waterfront convention centre, as artists, gallerists and celebrities gathered to talk, buy and sell art.

“The Hong Kong art scene is growing so rapidly and robustly… the galleries seem to grow stronger every year,” said Art Basel director Marc Spiegler just ahead of the launch of the show on Friday evening.

The first two days are invite-only, with the fair open to the general public from Sunday.

The whitewashed walls of the convention center display space were crammed with everything from traditional ink paintings to film installations and giant sculptures.

A taxidermy reindeer with sprawling tree branches for antlers greeted visitors to the first floor, with a giant ear and trumpet protruding from a wall nearby.

The Hong Kong edition’s new director, Adeline Ooi, told AFP that the strong showing of Asian artists would be taking a “more daring” approach this year.

“There will be a strong representation of local artists at the show,” she added.

Also central to the display are large-scale “Encounters” pieces, including a suspended forest of olive trees by Irish artist Siobhan Hapaska, a mausoleum made from styrofoam boxes by Hong Kong-based Portuguese artist Joao Vasco Paiva and a giant see-sawing log propped up by Indian Buddhist statues by Indian artist Tallur L.N.

Smaller shows pop up all around town to coincide with the show—many of them throwing the spotlight back on grassroots talent.

Art Basel Hong Kong kicked off three years ago and is the newest addition to the international art show, which started in Switzerland in 1970 and also has a Miami Beach edition.

The Hong Kong edition is attracting celebrities this year such as Victoria Beckham and Hollywood star Susan Sarandon.

Greater China, grouping the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan, maintained its market leader status in 2014, accounting for $5.6 billion in global art sales—closely followed by the United States—according to data firm Artprice. — Agence France-Presse

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Collectors China

Seeking out Southeast Asia

As curatorial interest grows, will collectors follow?

One of Jakarta-born Bagus Pandega’s “portraits” at the fair, with ROH Projects (1B34)

There is an extraordinary diversity of art by Southeast Asian artists at Art Basel Hong Kong this year, reflecting the rich cultural heritage of the countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). While artists and dealers proclaim their cultural individuality, they also feel a strong affinity to their regional identity.

The fair features 22 galleries from Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia or with outlets in Singapore, with artists of the region also available on other stands. A Salon event at the fair on Sunday, 15 March, seeks to deepen collectors’ understanding of art from the region.

Institutions in the West are looking eastwards towards the region. Richard Armstrong, the director of the New York-based Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, who was at the fair to announce the shortlist for the BMW Art Journey award, visited Bangkok last September. London’s Tate Museum launched its South Asian Acquisitions Committee in 2012, and the Istanbul-based Arter Foundation brought contemporary art from Southeast Asia to the Turkish city this January.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s M+ museum is planning to collect in this area, and the National Gallery Singapore, due to open in November, will display historical Southeast Asian art.

One of the most unusual offerings at the fair is in the Discoveries section, where Jakarta’s ROH Projects (1B34) has four “portraits” by Bagus Pandega made up of mirrors, guitars or spinning LPs combined with found objects (US$6,000-$7,500 each).

Portraits of another kind feature at Manila’s 1335Mabini (1C26,) where Poklong Anading’s lightboxes feature people photographed in different settings holding up mirrors against their faces to reflect the sun (US$3,500-$35,000). “Initiatives such as the Guggenheim exhibition ‘No Country’ or regional biennales have had a huge share in terms of providing platforms to exhibit Southeast Asian artists in institutional contexts,” says Birgit Zimmermann of the gallery.

Indonesian artists are among the best known in the region. Singapore- and Berlin-based Arndt (3C30) sold Eko Nugroho’s embroidery Anarki Moral, 2014, (priced at US$38,000), as well as his large “Encounters” work, Lot Lost, 2015, bought by an Australian museum at the fair for US$330,000. At Gajah Gallery (1C38), three editions of sculptures by Yunizar sold for US$62,000 each. “We saw extraordinary growth in this market four to five years ago, then it slowed a bit, but prices are still very reasonable,” says Jasdeep Sandhu of the gallery.

The Jakarta-based Nadi Gallery’s stand (3C26) features detailed and delicate works by Handiwirman Saputra (US$150,000 and US$250,000) and a large abstract by Arin Dwihartanto Sunaryo. The well-known collector Deddi Kusuma is a fan of both artists, and he is expected at the fair, along with other prominent VIPs from the region such as Petch Osathanugrah, Jean-Michel Beurdeley, Dr Oei and Rudy Akili.

Philippines-based Silverlens (1D43) features a “scarf” with shoes as a motif— a reference to the Marcos era—by Pio Abad (Every Tool is a Weapon if you hold it right, 2015, US$7,000) as well as Yee I-Lann’s installation, Tabled, 2013, US$29,000, consisting of plates, fired in Indonesia with photographs from across Asia. It was shown in the Museum Van Loon in Amsterdam and sold in a Manila and Singapore gallery—a fitting example of the diverse nature of the art on show



An eye on Asia

By Liao Danlin in Hong Kong Source:Global Times Published: 2015-3-17 20:23:01

Art Basel sweeps into Hong Kong showing off latest trends in art

An artwork by South Korean artist MyeongBeom Kim at Art Basel in Hongkong on March 16 Photo: Liao Danlin/GTWalking around I saw people walking and pushing baby carriages, children running around and tourists taking photos right next to businessmen in suits and well-dress ladies standing in front of a huge oil painting, examining its every detail and discussing if they should spend the million dollars needed to buy this masterpiece.

This was the scene at Hong Kong’s Art Basel, the city’s biggest international art show for modern and contemporary works of art.

Over 200 galleries from 37 countries contributed to make this year’s artistic feast the biggest ever in the past three years. From Sunday to Tuesday, Art Basel was opened to the public generating a huge number of visitors. Becoming as crowded as a supermarket, galleries were filled with professional curators, artists and collectors as well as travelers that just happened to be in Hong Kong.

Asian Focus

While the original Art Basel (1970) and Art Basel Miami Beach (2002) have been around longer, what makes the Art Basel Hong Kong special is its large number of Asian participants. Half of the galleries this year came from Asia-Pacific regions.

Insights, for instance, was a section developed specifically for galleries based in Asia. One of these galleries, the Michael Ku Gallery from Taiwan, brought Taiwanese artist Luo Jr-Shin’s solo exhibition to the event. His work An Afternoon, an installation made from ready-made items featuring a “yolk” on a pair of broken glasses hanging upon a carpet, caused quite a few visitors to stop and take notice.

The gallery told the Global Times that to better tailor An Afternoon, which was first created in 2013, for audiences in Hong Kong, Luo went to several stores in the city to replace the tissue boxes used in the art work with the most commonly used tissue brand in Hong Kong. “He wanted this work to be able to connect with everyone.”

Other galleries brought works from more than one artist to better represent the wide range of their collections. The Mizuma Art Gallery for example offered works from Japan, Indonesia and China.

Discussions on Asian art went further with salons and other relevant events inviting artists and scholars to discuss certain phenomena or trends happening in Asia at the moment.

During a salon titled Social Engagement Artists/South Asia and Beyond, artist Shooshie Sulaiman from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and artist Mohamad Yusuf from Yogyakarta, Indonesia, discussed how artists have actively become involved in social change or expressing political views through art in their countries.

Venice Biennale/ Focus Pakistan and India was a conversation between independent curator Natasha Ginwala and Indian artist Jitish Kallat about the 56th Venice Biennale Gujral Foundation project “My East is Your West,” and the art scenes in the two countries.

A window to the world

While you could see works by famous names such as Chen Yifei, Zhao Wuji and popular artists like Nara Yoshitomo at Art Basel Hong Kong, emerging young artists also had their chance to shine.

Born in 1988, Lu Chao was the chosen artist for the Hadrien de Montferrand gallery this year. Lu’s works, mostly sketch-like portrayals of a massive number of different faces, quickly attracted a large number of visitors.

The owner of the gallery, Hadrien de Montferrand has lived in China for more than seven years and has worked at various art institutions and auction houses. He described Lu’s works as sensitive, powerful and beautiful, while visitors’ opinions ranged from scary, interesting and eye-catching.

Montferrand told the Global Times that the rapid economic and environmental changes and social pressures that Chinese artists have experienced over the past few decades have made their art work particularly interesting, as they often use their work to express what it’s like to live in this changing environment.

“Older artists are very different from younger ones,” he added, explaining that since the market in China is still young it is mainly dominated by a few well-known artists and as such there is little space for young artists.

However, in the wider market, young artists can take advantage of Western museums, curators, galleries and so on to be seen by international audiences as well as the Chinese crowd.

For Montferrand, whose galleries have held exhibitions for established artists like Liu Xiaodong and young artists like Lu, while the younger generation is more influenced by Western art in terms of creativity and more ideas and concepts are emerging, artists have also managed to keep a Chinese feeling in their works.

“You have very traditional trends going on, but at the same time you have a lot of people going into very different ways, people looking deeply into themselves,” said Montferrand.

Although Lu thinks of himself more as a young man who loves painting rather than a qualified artist, he feels that young artists in Asia seem to have more opportunities than in the West.

“If Chinese go to the West we like to buy famous artworks, whereas most Western collectors coming to Asia seem to be more interested in buying works from talented young artists,” said Lu.

A market with growing potential

Since the artists and works coming to Art Basel change every year, Li Zhenhua, curator for the Film section of Art Basel Hong Kong, finds the art fair a great way to get a feel for mainstream trends. And he feels it is able to fill people in on which artists or galleries they need to know about much faster than museums and or other sources.

As Li sees things, if someone studies the art fair and does solid research, they would be able to gain a deeper understanding of why some galleries make the choices they do and why artists decide to present certain works over others. Art Basel can also help insiders discover trade market trends and see how collectors have changed.

For example, the prominence of Southeast Asian artists seen at the art fair this year is a reflection of international trends. The Tate Museum in London created a South Asia Acquisitions Committee three years ago and the Art Paris held in February also showed a growing trend towards art from these regions.

In the past, Asian artists received most of their attention at biennials. However, usually only artists that have already established themselves are able to make it into these biennials. However, today, with art fairs such as the Art Basel Hong Kong, talented young artists that have yet to make a name for themselves have a way to take part in the international art scene and market.





Art Basel Hong Kong strikes the right notes, Singapore galleries report strong sales

Published on Mar 19, 2015 6:38 PM
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Visitors standing next to an artwork by Korean artist Hyung Koo Kang (left) during the opening of the Art Basel art fair for a VIP preview in Hong Kong on March 13, 2015. — PHOTO: AFP

In the surest sign of the evolution of Singapore’s gallery scene, the island’s largest contingent of galleries participated in Asia’s premier contemporary art fair in Hong Kong and netted handsome sales.

More than 10 Singapore galleries participated in the packed third edition of Art Basel Hong Kong, up from three in the inaugural fair two years ago.

The fair, which saw 233 galleries from both the East and the West taking up two floors of the cavernous Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, ended on Tuesday with happy faces among gallerists and collectors from around the world, and the Singapore contingent was no exception.

German gallerist Matthias Arndt, who also has a base in Gillman Barracks, had to do a second hanging when all the works he presented in the first hanging sold out by Sunday, just two days after the fair opened with a three-hour private view for invited collectors.

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Visitors take photos of the hyper-realist sculpture 'Untitled (Kneeling Woman)' created by Australian artist Sam Jinks during the VIP preview of the Art Basel art fair in Hong Kong on Friday, March 13, 2015. Art Basel stages modern and contemporary art shows and is held annually in Basel, Switzerland, Miami Beach and Hong Kong.
Visitors take photos of the hyper-realist sculpture ‘Untitled (Kneeling Woman)’ created by Australian artist Sam Jinks during the VIP preview of the Art Basel art fair in Hong Kong on Friday, March 13, 2015. Art Basel stages modern and contemporary art shows and is held annually in Basel, Switzerland, Miami Beach and Hong Kong. Kin Cheung
Art Central 2015, Hong Kong. This was its first year as a satellite fair to Art Basel on the island city.
Art Central 2015, Hong Kong. This was its first year as a satellite fair to Art Basel on the island city. supplied
Hiromi Tango, 'Now', 2014, neon and mixed media, 93.5 x 98.5 x 27 cm, Detail_2 From Art Central: Hong Kong 's first international standard satellite art fair, held alongside the island city's much-larger Art Basel.
Hiromi Tango, ‘Now’, 2014, neon and mixed media, 93.5 x 98.5 x 27 cm, Detail_2 From Art Central: Hong Kong ‘s first international standard satellite art fair, held alongside the island city’s much-larger Art Basel. Greg Piper
German performance artist of Turkish origin, Nezaket Ekici creates an artwork during the opening of the Art Basel art fair for a VIP preview in Hong Kong on March 13, 2015. Hong Kong's biggest art fair, Art Basel, opened its doors to an expected  thousands of visitors over five days.
German performance artist of Turkish origin, Nezaket Ekici creates an artwork during the opening of the Art Basel art fair for a VIP preview in Hong Kong on March 13, 2015. Hong Kong’s biggest art fair, Art Basel, opened its doors to an expected thousands of visitors over five days. Philippe Lopez
Arts & Entertainment
ArtMar 21 2015 at 12:15 AM
Updated Mar 19 2015 at 12:50 PM

Hong Kong’s Art Basel: tussle between money and culture

International art fairs are multiplying like billionaires – and the gallery owners showing at Hong Kong’s Art Basel were hoping for rich buyers, writes Katrina Strickland.
Visitors take photos of the hyper-realist sculpture ‘Untitled (Kneeling Woman)’ created by Australian artist Sam Jinks during the VIP preview of the Art Basel art fair in Hong Kong on Friday, March 13, 2015. Art Basel stages modern and contemporary art shows and is held annually in Basel, Switzerland, Miami Beach and Hong Kong. Visitors take photos of the hyper-realist sculpture ‘Untitled (Kneeling Woman)’ created by Australian artist Sam Jinks during the VIP preview of the Art Basel art fair in Hong Kong on Friday, March 13, 2015. Art Basel stages modern and contemporary art shows and is held annually in Basel, Switzerland, Miami Beach and Hong Kong. Kin Cheung
by Katrina Strickland

At every art fair there’s the party to be at, and at Art Basel Hong Kong this year, that party was staged by the Swiss cigar company Davidoff.

Held at the pool house and grill on the roof of the Grand Hyatt, the party celebrated excess in, well, excess. Hundreds of guests sipped on free-flowing French, grazed on food ranging from paella to sashimi and prawn cocktails, and watched Dita Von Teese strut her glamorous, risque stuff.

But what made it really feel like a scene from The Wolf of Wall Street were the cigars; most of the male guests were smoking them, along with a good swag of the female guests – all with a look of “I can’t believe we are able to do this” glee on their faces. The cigar bar on the way into the party was a heady place, manned by staff who were cutting and lighting the fat brown imports as quickly as guests were stepping up to take them off their hands. It was surprising not to see Leonardo diCaprio standing by the pool, surrounded by a bevy of topless women.

It was galling, nerve-racking and thrilling. Galling, because it felt so starkly at odds with the breadline life of so many artists, and such a counterpoint to last year’s Occupy Central protest movement.
Art Central 2015, Hong Kong. This was its first year as a satellite fair to Art Basel on the island city. Art Central 2015, Hong Kong. This was its first year as a satellite fair to Art Basel on the island city. supplied

Nerve-racking, because with so many cigars, so many people and so much excitement in the air, the very act of pushing through the crowd came with the risk – thankfully avoided – of having a lit cigar accidentally shoved in one’s face.

And thrilling, because who doesn’t get a voyeuristic charge from stepping into that kind of hedonistic world every now and again? It doesn’t happen too often in Sydney.

Davidoff was one of a host of international brands massaging the thousands of collectors, gallerists, journalists and – yes, artists – who flew in to the Chinese outpost just over a week ago for Art Basel Hong Kong. The fair opened on Friday the 13th with a VIP preview and wrapped up on Tuesday night, when the weary staff who had manned stalls for 233 galleries from 37 countries and territories got to pack up and have a quiet champagne of their own.
Mood-only works
Hiromi Tango, ‘Now’, 2014, neon and mixed media, 93.5 x 98.5 x 27 cm, Detail_2 From Art Central: Hong Kong ‘s first international standard satellite art fair, held alongside the island city’s much-larger Art Basel. Hiromi Tango, ‘Now’, 2014, neon and mixed media, 93.5 x 98.5 x 27 cm, Detail_2 From Art Central: Hong Kong ‘s first international standard satellite art fair, held alongside the island city’s much-larger Art Basel. Greg Piper

Among the highlights were some of the works designed not to be sold but to create a mood. These included 20 large-scale installations scattered through the fair by Australian curator Alexie Glass-Kantor, and a 10-minute light work projected nightly onto West Kowloon’s International Commerce Centre by the Chinese artist Cao Fei. Standing on a balcony at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre where the fair is held, looking across the water to the ICC building and glittering lights of Kowloon, viewers were instantly taken back to the Pac-Man games played in greasy fish and chip shops and arcades through the 1980s. Those who were old enough to remember greasy fish and chip shops, anyway.

The iPhone was ubiquitous. Sydney gallery Sullivan + Strumpf almost needed security guards, such was the crowd gathered each day at its stand, most taking pictures of its hyper-realist sculptures by Melbourne-based artist Sam Jinks. Another Sydney-based art dealer, Andrew Jensen, was bowled over by the way many people look at art in 2015. In his case, sculptures by artist Sam Harrison attracted the most iPhone clicks.

“If we took a levy on photographs we could have retired,” he says with a wry laugh. “It is extraordinary how mediated through a lens experiences have become.”

Most of those taking photos were what those in the trade derisively refer to as “tyre kickers”; that is, lookers not buyers. Art fairs are curious beasts in that they need the hordes to create an atmosphere and to appear successful, but the sales that make or break the participating galleries come from only a tiny percentage of visitors.
German performance artist of Turkish origin, Nezaket Ekici creates an artwork during the opening of the Art Basel art fair for a VIP preview in Hong Kong on March 13, 2015. Hong Kong’s biggest art fair, Art Basel, opened its doors to an expected thousands of visitors over five days. German performance artist of Turkish origin, Nezaket Ekici creates an artwork during the opening of the Art Basel art fair for a VIP preview in Hong Kong on March 13, 2015. Hong Kong’s biggest art fair, Art Basel, opened its doors to an expected thousands of visitors over five days. Philippe Lopez

Thus while gallery staff watch nervously to ensure the iPhone brigade don’t knock any artworks off their plinths or walls, they are also eagle-eyed for visitors there not to take pictures but to spend thousands of dollars. And desperately hoping they stop by their stand.

This was the third iteration of the Hong Kong fair since it was sold to one of the globe’s most successful art brands, Art Basel, which has run fairs in the Swiss city of its name since 1970 and in Miami in the US since 2002. Art Basel now has a firm foot in Asia, one of the growth regions for a global trade in art and antiques that, according to the TEFAF Art Market Report 2015, topped €51 billion ($70.7 billion) in 2014. China equalled the United Kingdom in accounting for the second-biggest slice of this record turnover, at 22 per cent, behind only the US at 39 per cent.
May better place on fair calendar

European ownership has brought with it a decision to move the fair from May, when it has been held every year since its founding in 2008, to March, when it was held for the first time this year. A welcome upshot for visitors was a cooler climate; for organisers and participants it was a better place on an annual calendar crammed with 180 big art fairs.
At Art Central, Hong Kong, the fair held alongside this year’s Art Basel, watchers and buyers crowded around Sam Jinks and Hiromi sculptures. At Art Central, Hong Kong, the fair held alongside this year’s Art Basel, watchers and buyers crowded around Sam Jinks and Hiromi sculptures. Sullivan+Strumpf

In May, Hong Kong butted up against the Frieze Art Fair in New York, the Venice Biennale this year and Gallery Weekend in Berlin, plus the main, mega Art Basel fair, which rolls around each June. In March, Art Basel Hong Kong competes only with the relatively new Art Dubai and the very old Maastricht fair, the latter not such a problem because it focuses on historical artworks in contrast to Art Basel, which is all about the contemporary. The shift in dates resulted in 29 more galleries participating, of which 20 came from Europe and the US, with more collectors coming from the northern hemisphere too.

That the fair is helping to transform Hong Kong from a city obsessed with money into one with a cultural as well as financial scene is not in doubt, although some query how deep the change is outside of what has now been dubbed Art Week, and whether it isn’t still all about money – namely, the sale rather than the appreciation of art.

Michael Lynch, the Australian who is outgoing chief executive of the giant West Kowloon Cultural District, hopes that when the multiple arts venues in that $HK22 billion ($3.7 billion) complex start opening over the coming years, it will change the balance.

“Progress has been pretty extraordinary over the last four years, [but] the thing that concerns me is too much of it is fundamentally market driven,” he says. “The importance of building new cultural institutions, as we are doing, is that you will get some restoring of the balance between the public and the private.”

Swiss art dealer Dominique Perregaux, who first opened a gallery in Hong Kong a decade ago, also strikes a word of caution about extrapolating too much from fairs. “The city’s cultural scene has not changed much; Hong Kong has just become an art trading hub,” he says. “Once a year, Art Basel brings in the names you would never otherwise get to see. It’s very important to see those works in Hong Kong, but in terms of intrinsic culture, nothing much has changed.”
Permanent spaces in Hong Kong

That said, a lot of big international galleries have opened permanent spaces in Hong Kong in recent years, including White Cube, Gagosian, Pace, Galerie Perrotin and Simon Lee. There are new developments every year – last year’s included PMQ, a joint venture between the government and some philanthropists in which the old “police married quarters” building has been transformed into a hub for local designers, who pay subsidised rent for studios and small shops.

A satellite fair, Art Central, made its debut this year, a 10-minute walk from Art Basel Hong Kong. If anything speaks of the pace of change in Hong Kong it is the walk between the two fairs, alongside a giant construction site full of cranes.

The founders of Art Central started Art Hong Kong back in 2008 before selling it to the Swiss, among them Tim Etchells, who also founded the one-year-old Sydney Contemporary and has the contract to manage the Melbourne Art Fair. Etchells sees the establishment of Art Central, which sits above an affordable art fair but below the Art Basel stratosphere, as another step in Hong Kong’s cultural evolution.

Rebecca Hossack, a London-based, Australian-born art dealer who showed this year in Art Central, is all for it. “These mega fairs are monstrosities, half way through the first floor you’re thinking ‘get me to the VIP lounge and champagne, I can’t go on’,” she says with a flourish. “At Art Central it’s a much more human experience and you can look at art in a non-commodified way.”

The establishment of a satellite fair is good news for Australian galleries, not all of which are accepted by Art Basel. Those hosting stands at Art Central this year included M Contemporary, Metro Gallery and Connie Dietzschold.

As someone who spent 18 years living in Asia before moving to Australia and opening her Sydney gallery in 2013, M Contemporary owner Michelle Paterson sees attending such fairs as mandatory. “We need to make our artists internationally known, Australia is too small a market,” she says.

Art Basel Hong Kong was attended by about 60,000 people this year, 5000 fewer than last year, partly accounted for by running for a day less this year and in a new month, while Art Central notched up about 30,000 attendees. Sales are never independently verifiable and are without fail promoted as fabulous.
Foot traffic brisk

With those riders in mind, foot traffic at both fairs was brisk, particularly at Art Basel, and the atmosphere upbeat in both places. Art Basel’s PR team put out a daily summary of who’d sold what, some of the highlights including an Andreas Gursky photograph at Spruth Magers for €400,000 ($560,000), a Sean Skully painting at ShanghART for $US850,000 ($1.1 million) and a Chen Cheng-po painting at Liang gallery for $US1.3 million.

The benefits of returning year in, year out are paying off for Australian galleries Sullivan + Strumpf and Anna Schwartz – the latter had her property developer/publisher husband Morry on hand to help sell works by the likes of Daniel Crooks, Rose Nolan and Shaun Gladwell.

“This year we noticed a lot more Europeans, a lot of French collectors – Swiss and German,” Sullivan + Strumpf co-director Ursula Sullivan says. “At the moment we price in Australian, US and Hong Kong dollars, but next year we’ll have to add euros.”

Davidoff is one of a handful of sponsors lured to Hong Kong by the Art Basel juggernaut, others include UBS and BMW, all of which leverage their art relationships in ways the Australian arts sector can only dream of. Aside from hosting parties par excellence, Davidoff has art programs ranging from residencies and grants for artists from the Caribbean and the Dominican Republic, to putting artworks on limited edition cigar boxes.

UBS funds a Junior Art Hub offering children free art sessions (while mum and dad are presumably off spending thousands in the fair), an app that collates art news from global media and a menu at the Mandarin Oriental’s Pierre restaurant inspired by works from the UBS Collection.

This year BMW selected three artists from the emerging art section of Art Basel Hong Kong to lodge proposals for a BMW Art Journey. The winner will get to go on “the journey of their dreams” – presumably in a Beamer – which will be documented online, in print and on social media.

If this all sounds like a co-opting of art by commercial interests – well, it is. But it has arguably ever been thus, just to a much lesser extreme. The creation of art has always depended on the patronage of someone.

Katrina Strickland visited Hong Kong courtesy of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office.

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Hong Kong’s Art Basel Lures Collectors Chasing Warhol

4:00 PM PDT
March 12, 2015

Polychromed Wood Sculpture

Polychromed wood sculpture by Jeff Koons of Buster Keaton. Source: Courtesy of David Zwirner Gallery via Bloomberg


Hong Kong’s Art Basel Lures Collectors Chasing Warhol

4:00 PM PDT
March 12, 2015
(Bloomberg) — Celebrities, billionaires and art moguls have descended on Hong Kong, lured by the chance to buy works by Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso and Jean-Michel Basquiat at Asia’s biggest art fair.

Art Basel Hong Kong, an edition of the fair that started in Switzerland, is selling as much as $3 billion worth of art displayed by 233 galleries from 37 countries, according to insurer AXA Art.

The Hong Kong version has become a major stop on the global art fair circuit of one-stop shopping malls for the mega-wealthy seeking to diversify their stock portfolios with paintings and sculptures by brand names and hot young artists.

First night sales, in a truncated VIP preview that lasted only three hours because the fair format was revamped from previous years, indicated that the economic slowdown in China hasn’t dampened sales.

“We were in China before this for two weeks and it certainly wasn’t palpable to me,” said dealer Sean Kelly, who sold a work by Sun Xun for $145,000, as well as works by James White and by Hugo McCloud.
‘Very Happy’

White Cube dealer Jay Joplin echoed Kelly’s sentiments. “It’s been excellent, I’m very happy,” he said, adding that his gallery sold works by Damien Hirst, Andreas Gursky and Theaster Gates.

Rachel Lehmann, of Lehmann Maupin was more cautious. “You cannot judge the success of an art fair in three hours,” she said. Still, by the end of the evening she had sold two Alex Prager photographs, a work by Tracey Emin, a Hernan Bas painting and several works by Korean artist Do Ho Suh.

It’s common for galleries to pre-sell works to preferred clients ahead of fairs, and dealers expected a flurry of purchases when the doors opened to select guests Friday at 6 p.m.

Art Basel anchors what is informally called art week in Hong Kong, a time when luxury goods companies, private banks and Michelin-starred restaurants are pulling out the stops in their pursuit of the vast amount of wealth pouring into the city as art and commerce converge in Hong Kong.

Tate Modern director Nicholas Serota, Swiss collector and auctioneer Simon de Pury and New World Development Co. scion Adrian Cheng are among the expected fair visitors. Gwyneth Paltrow, Victoria Beckham, Kate Moss and Robin Thicke have been invited to browse the booths since they’re in town for a charity benefit to raise money for amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, on March 14. Actress Michelle Yeoh is being honored at the fundraiser.
Fair Rebranded

The fair, which began as Art HK in 2008, was rebranded Art Basel Hong Kong two years ago after the owners of Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach took over.

Mainland collectors are on the prowl for trophy works to adorn the walls of their homes in Hong Kong, Los Angeles and Sydney, or to fill private museums in China.

Billionaire Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei are in town for the handover of a 15th century Tibetan embroidered thangka they purchased at Christie’s Hong Kong for $45 million in November for their private museum in Shanghai.

Wang Zhongjun, chairman of Beijing-based film company Huayi Brothers International, keeps a Vincent van Gogh still life he bought for $62 million at Sotheby’s New York last fall in his Hong Kong pied-a-terre.
Depth, Experience

Asia has 492 billionaires, according to the Knight Frank Wealth Report 2015, 53 of whom live in Hong Kong.

Still, dealers said the market lacks the depth and experience of the U.S. and Europe, where collectors have amassed works for decades. China accounted for 22.4 percent of global sales in the art and antiques market, ranking it second behind the U.S., according to an annual report published March 11 by the European Fine Art Foundation. Yet that’s a decline from 24 percent in 2013, according to the report.

“There is a vibe around Art Basel and lots of clients want to be part of it,” said Edie Hu, art advisory specialst at Citi private bank in Hong Kong. “Though a lot of the cutting edge art might not be to their taste, when they come across something like a Picasso or Warhol they have seen before it’s like comfort food, for them.”
Expanded Offerings

While dealers are expanding their offerings of abstract and conceptual works, blue chip contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons have a captive audience in the region.

“I show Picasso, Basquiat, Henry Moore; they are attracted to this kind of art,” said dealer Christophe Van de Weghe, who is bringing two of Warhol’s works, and a Gerhard Richter with an asking price of about $8.5 million.

London’s Victoria Miro gallery is offering $2 million pumpkin sculptures by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama and $225,000 tapestry works by Britain’s Grayson Perry.

Gajah Gallery is returning to the fair with Bali, Indonesia-based American painter Ashley Bickerton’s works, which provide a contemporary take on the fascination that 20th century painters had with Southeast Asian exoticism. The most expensive, “Party Time” is priced at $270,000.

Fair partner UBS Group AG said it expects several hundred high-net-worth private banking clients to fly in from around the region, and the bank expects as many as 8,000 visitors at its fair VIP lounge that displays works from its permanent collection including David Hockney, Hong Kong ink painter Wilson Hsieh and Wayne Thiebaud.
Satellite Fair

Those with more modest budgets can head to a new satellite fair, Art Central, which opens to the public March 14 in a tent on Hong Kong island’s waterfront. With 75 galleries from 21 countries, most works will be priced from $1,000 to $100,000, said managing director Charles Ross, who describes the fair as a “fun, fresh and edgy complement to Art Basel.”

While Art Basel has become increasingly dominated by international dealers, 65 percent of the contemporary galleries are from greater Asia, with 18 from Hong Kong alone.

Each year at this time Hong Kong’s social life goes into overdrive with gallery openings, charity auctions and champagne parties on rooftops, at poolsides and in parking garages.

New World’s Cheng, who hosted a dinner for 90 people Thursday, said he had invitations to 14 other events the same evening.

“That doesn’t even include the private bank requests,” said Cheng, who will try to squeeze in time to look at a dozen works he’s thinking of buying.

Elsewhere on Thursday, guests removed their Christian Louboutin heels to get into the party hosted by Zurich-based Bank Vontobel AG aboard the 27-meter-long (87 feet) Ferretti yacht organized by My Yacht Group founder Nicholas Frankl, who enforced a no-shoes policy.

Autonomie Projects (Los Angeles) press release for “A Book as a Work of Art for All” opening 4.17.2015

Altered book works DM-sinner Jodi Harvey-I'll Dress You in Morning 3 hagop-outsider Johnson_Buena HISTORY'S DISCONTENT-TRUTHS REVEALED- 72dpi Karen Chu_TTT2-1 Karen Kinney, "Plaid," 2010, mixed media on book cover, 6" x 9" From The Book Of Dreams Series: Betty & The Keys Steven_Jones_Stack_of_Books_2013_Oil_16_x12_ S Briand-photo-livreouvert-3-1


March 14, 2015

Vincent Johnson: 818-430-1604
Chelle Barbour: 424-274-1512
Autonomie Projects, Los Angeles, CA

A Book as a Work of Art for All
A group show of books turned into art
LOS ANGELES, CA — Autonomie Projects, which is located in the Mid-City area of the burgeoning new gallery corridor, along West Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles is pleased to present its spring 2015 exhibition, A Book as a Work of Art for All. Each artist in the exhibition explores their remarkable capacity to transform a book, which in itself is a found object and a contemplative objet trouvé that is altered and transformed into an extraordinary conceptual art piece. The works are beautifully well-crafted and may appear to perform as fantasies coming to life and seeming to be conjured from the book’s inner pages.
The exhibition includes distinguished artists from around the globe whose works have been exhibited in prominent museum and gallery exhibitions worldwide.
The historic significance of books as an art form can be traced back to the early 1970s Book Arts movement and further, to ancient Greece where scribes created an innovative reusable surface on the manuscript made from animal hide, which facilitated the production of new texts (sometimes the previous text would surface, creating a palimpsest). In the Victorian era, people pasted ephemera such as magazine images, family photographs and other personal treasures they wished to preserve. The exhibition A Book as a Work of Art for All, offers Los Angeles a rare opportunity to see the cultural production of leading artists working in the book arts genus of contemporary art, and emerging artists venturing into new territory in this expressive and invigorating art form.
Reception: Friday, April 17, 2015 Exhibition runs April 17, 2015 through May 16, 2015.
Beverage Sponsor: Jai-Ho Beer, Houston, TX

Participating Artists:
Banoo Batilboi (Mumbai)

Chelle Barbour (Los Angeles)

Vincent Johnson (Los Angeles)

Adrienne DeVine (Los Angeles)

J Michael Walker (Los Angeles)

Buena Johnson (Los Angeles)

Derrick Maddox (Los Angeles)

Glen Wilson (Los Angeles)

Servane Briand (San Francisco)

Karen Kinney (Los Angeles)

Jody Harvey-Brown (New York)

Dawn Rosenquist (Los Angeles)

Karen Chu (Los Angeles)

Jacqueline Rush-Lee (Hawaii)


Nicolas Jones (Australia)

Hagop Belian (Los Angeles)

Steven Jones (Illinois)

Heisue Chung (Los Angeles)

Colin Roberts (Los Angeles)

A. Mimura (Portugal/UK)

Madison Webb (Los Angeles)

Autonomie Projects Los Angeles’ Upcoming Exhibition is Inspired by Great Art Made from Books opens April 17, 2015

Emerging artist gallery Autonomie Projects in Los Angeles is inviting artists from all corners of the globe to participate in their exciting upcoming exhibition The Book As A Work of Art for All

The exhibition will include an online component as well as an electronic catalog. Visit for complete submission and exhibition details.

The exhibition is curated by Autonomie Projects director Chelle Barbour and The Book As A Work of Art for All exhibition project co-curator Vincent Johnson.

Exhibition dates are April 17, 2015 – May 16, 2015

Thanks for your interest in this upcoming important Los Angeles exhibition.

Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer, author of Fireplace Chats art blog

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at


 "Alexander Korzer-Robinson’s amazing antique book art."

“Alexander Korzer-Robinson’s amazing antique book art.”




Book art by Brian Detmer


“Artist Brian Dettmer created this book sculpture from an altered set of encyclopedias.”


“Kyle Kirkpatrick is a British artist who is creating topographical landscapes out of old texts.”

Book art by Robert The


Book art by Nicholas Galanin.


 About the co-curator and artist Vincent Galen Johnson:
Inline image 1

Vincent Johnson is a Los Angeles’ based artist and writer, and co-curator of Autonomie Projects.

Vincent Johnson received his MFA in Fine Art Painting from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California 1997 and his BFA in Painting from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1986. His work in both photography, painting and sculpture engages unnoticed or forgotten histories. He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was selected for the New Museum of Contemporary Arts Aldrich Art Award in 2007 and for the Art Matters grant in 2008, and in 2009 for the Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. His work has been reviewed in Artforum, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Art in America. He has shown at Soho House (curated by ForYourArt) and at Palihouse (curated by L.A.N.D.) both West Hollywood, and most recently at Another Year in LA gallery, West Hollywood. Johnson’s work has appeared in numerous venues, including The Studio Museum in Harlem (Freestyle (2001, The Philosophy of Time Travel, 2007, and The Bearden Project, 2011); the PS1 Museum, New York; the SK Stiftung, Cologne; the Santa Monica Museum of Art, LAXART; Las Cienegas Projects, Los Angeles; Boston University Art Museum; Kellogg Museum, Cal Poly Pomona; Adamski gallery of Contemporary Art, Aachen; both Lemonsky Projects and Locust Projects, Miami; Banff Center, Canada and Plug ICA, Winnipeg. Johnson’s work has been published in a dozen exhibition catalogs. His work was most recently exhibited in the inaugural Open Project exhibition at the Palace of the Inquisition, Evora, Portugal.

In early 2015 Johnson will show work at the Incognito benefit exhibition at the Santa Monica Museum of Art.

The New Museum Triennial 2015 New York City – exhibition photos and reviews


‘2015 Triennial: Surround Audience’ Exhibit Features Artists Not Afraid of 3D Printing & Contemporary Technology

logo (2)An edgy exhibit at New York City’s New Museum truly has a realistic idea of what’s going on in contemporary art and design today — as they make a statement about the future — featuring compelling evidence as to how technology like 3D printing gives many artists and designers new ways to experiment as well as manufacture their own designs for prototyping and selling.

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The artists being featured are early in their artistic careers, and will have their work displayed in the exhibit, titled 2015 Triennial: Surround Audience. Spanning the globe with artists from 25 countries, 51 young creators have work in the show, including Josh Kline, Juliana Huxtable, and Oliver Laric, whom we have covered previously regarding a show he did with 3D Lincoln Scans at the Usher Gallery.

“Many of the works in the show look really closely at our present moment, a time when culture has become more porous and encompassing,” explained New Museum Curator Lauren Cornell, who is co-curating the exhibit with artist Ryan Trecartin. “The metaphor that Ryan [Trecartin] and I use is, ‘Surrounded.’”

While the show has a comprehensive mix of political and social statement, 3D printing certainly made its presence known as a new and viable medium, and was centered especially in Frank Benson’s Juliana. Benson, a New Yorker himself, chose to make a stunning statement with his entirely 3D printed piece, which is the third in a series of nude sculptures. Juliana is a striking statement with Benson’s use of 3D printing coupled with the complete nudity of transgender artist Juliana Huxtable — who is also featured in the show as an artist, with her self-portraits in the exhibit.

Full-sized, iridescent, and pushing boundaries with both technology and sexuality, the piece was originally not planned as a nude, but Benson wrote and asked her tentatively if she would consider allowing him to portray her like so.

“I was nervous of what she might think of that, so I sent her this intense email full of historical references,” said Benson.

Benson made sure to convey Huxtable’s personality, even in the buff, paying special attention to her braids and makeup.


“I want the sculpture to exist as a completely finished entity inside the computer,” Benson says. “The 3D model is its ultimate version and the print is the real-world manifestation of it.”

3D printing features extensively in the exhibit, with a mind-blowing display of creativity and mastery of various mediums, as well as technology. These artists are not just painters or sculptors, but true craftsmen and artisans with technical skill. They are building artworks, installations, and entire rooms of mixed media impressions and concepts.

Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s work, Phantom, also integrated the Oculus Rift into his work as viewers entered a virtual reality 3D forest. Casey Jane Ellison made a 3D printed USB containing her stand-up comedy routine, which has with a surreal slant. Artist Josh Kline made use of 3D printing for props in a dramatic installation featuring a room filled with riot police bearing Teletubby faces.

Aleksandra Domanović mixed up media to use 3D printing for the Belgrade Hands, robotic hands, in her installation, SOHO (Substances of Human Origin). Again bordering on surrealism and horror, the design is from robotic prostheses straight out of the movie Demon Seed.

“Technology has changed all of our lives so dramatically, and really changed how art is being made, too,” said New Museum Director Lisa Phillips.

Have you used 3D printing in any artwork or mixed medium pieces? What do you think of the ideas behind the exhibited pieces? Tell us your thoughts in the 2015 Triennial: Surround Audience Exhibit forum over at




Meet Juliana Huxtable: Star of the New Museum Triennial


Photo: Courtesy of Juliana Huxtable / @julianahuxtable

Tuesday night, amid a sea of black beanies that constituted the crowd at the opening of the New Museum’s 2015 Triennial, one cotton candy–color fur bomber jacket stuck out like a fabulous sore thumb. Its oversize chrome buttons, shaped like the letter “J,” stood for Juicy Couture, but they also announced the woman who was wearing the piece—the photographer, painter, poet, DJ, and downtown sensation Juliana Huxtable.

Huxtable is by turns the subject and author of five separate works installed at the second-floor galleries of this year’s Triennial, “Surround Audience,” which was collaboratively curated by Lauren Cornell and Ryan Trecartin. Four inkjet prints by Huxtable herself (two poems and two self-portraits from her lyrically titled series, “Universal Crop Tops For All The Self Canonized Saints of Becoming”) hang in front of a new 3-D Frank Benson sculpture for which Huxtable is the model. (It’s called Juliana.) Since the show opened Wednesday, both Juliana and Juliana have become Insta-sensations, hinting that we might see as much of them on social media this spring as we saw of Kara Walker’s A Subtlety last year. The New Museum also chose one of Huxtable’s self-portraits, Untitled in the Rage (Nibiru Cataclysm), as the Triennial’s holding image on the museum homepage. To put this in Hollywood terms, an analogy not unbefitting today’s art world: If “Surround Audience” were a film, Juliana Huxtable would be its star.


Photo: Benoit Pailley; Courtesy of The New Museum, New York

Born to a Baptist family in what she describes as a “conservative Bible Belt town in Texas,” Huxtable has been drawing, collaging, and painting since a young age but only began a career in art after graduating from Bard in 2010. “I’ve always kept a notebook,” Huxtable says, “but it was never a cultivated practice in the way that people studying studio art develop.” Brought up as a boy named Julian (Huxtable has transitioned in adulthood), she drew pictures that “were always high-drama, high-fantasy images of idealized women—like angels flying through the air,” she explains. “Now, I’m becoming those women.”Operating out of a “diaristic impulse,” Huxtable’s work uses her own life experience as a point of departure. Her best known pieces, including the two self-portraits in the Triennial, depict Huxtable as a character derived from imagery of the Nuwaubian Nation. (Nuwaubianism, which Huxtable describes as “technically a cult,” was a religious organization inspired by Islam, Ancient Egypt, and extraterrestrial theories. Huxtable has no affiliations with the group.) “From the standpoint of mythology,” Huxtable explains, “I think it’s brilliant. It was like the Animorphs before there were Animorphs.” Painting herself in toxic shades of sage green and violet, Huxtable makes photographs that blend the visual languages of comic books and hip-hop in a way that looks like an Internet meme made by aliens.

Huxtable describes her pieces as “self-imaginings” and, it seems clear, views her art in the first person. “My works are avatars for the constantly growing list of references in my head,” Huxtable explains. “Some of them are political ideas, some of them are aesthetic ideas, but to me the clearest way I can translate them is through portraiture and through text.”

Frank Benson saw a photograph of Huxtable’s first Nuwaubian persona two years ago and asked her to model for him around that time. “Actually, that is how my body looked about a year and a half ago, when I got 3-D-scanned,” Huxtable says, describing Juliana. “The proportions of my body have changed at a rapid pace. Frank’s sculpture is a sort of pastiche of me at different points.”

It would have been hard for Huxtable to imagine this moment four years ago. In 2011, she was working as a legal assistant for the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program and keeping up a number of side hustles—hosting parties, baking and selling marijuana edibles, and DJing—to make ends meet. Most tellingly, she was part of the catering staff for the New Museum’s 2011 Spring Gala honoring Gilbert & George. These days, Huxtable still models (for DKNY last year and Eckhaus Latta this past season) and DJs—“I don’t see that as unrelated [to my art]”—but now also fields offers from dealers and collectors, in whom she doesn’t seem to have much interest. “Being in this show,” Huxtable says of the Triennial, “I never thought in a million years it would happen. It doesn’t have any sense of finality, but it definitely feels like a big step.”


Trans Artist Juliana Huxtable Is Owning the New Museum Triennial

Huxtable New Museum


Pictured, above: Untitled, Juliana Huxtable (2014)

Photographer, painter, poet, DJ, and OUT100 honoree Juliana Huxtable has created a series of artworks currently on view at the New Museum’s Triennial. The 27-year-old artist, who transitioned into a woman in adulthood, is in turn the author and subject of five pieces displayed on the second floor of the museum.

Huxtable New Museum

The centerpiece of the installation is a 3D sculpture by Frank Benson entitled Juliana. It represents Huxtable nude, revealing her breasts and penis.

Juliana Frank Benson

Huxtable, who’s been vocal on her blog about the discrimination she’s faced as a trans woman, was also recently featured in Vogue and the Wall Street Journal.

Frank Benson saw a photograph of Huxtable two years ago and asked her to model for him around that time. “Actually, that is how my body looked about a year and a half ago, when I got 3D-scanned,” Huxtable told Vogue. “The proportions of my body have changed at a rapid pace. Frank’s sculpture is a sort of pastiche of me at different points.”

In addition, the New Museum features one of Huxtable’s photographs, Untitled, on its website home page.

New Museum Triennial, on view through May 24, 2015.

Photo: Courtesy of New Museum



New museum feature

The New Museum’s Triennial Forecasts a Bleak Future

By Sehba Mohammad on February 25, 2015

Considering the New Museum’s technical savvy, one would expect its third triennial exhibition, Surround Audience, featuring post-internet, emerging artists tapped into global culture, to be rife with emoji art, glitchy videos of internet porn, and at least some of the 2014 Whitney biennial’s shock tactics. Especially since the triennial’s co-curator Ryan Trecartin is an artist known for his campy, over the top artworks which have been likened to Facebook having a nightmare. Instead the five floor exhibition,  featuring 51 artists from 25 countries , is understated and idea driven, consisting of muted works with dark undertones.

Most of the works on view traverse perceptions of the body in today’s technologically saturated, globalized world.

Middle Eastern artist Sophia Al-Maria’s three channel video installation Sisters (2014), shows ghostly repressed bodies freeing themselves through dance. Paranoia about militarism and regimes of control, most apparent in Josh Kline’s installation Freedom 2015, including sculptures of Teletubbies dressed as policemen, credit card trees, and a computer generation of Obama, are also prevalent.

The future, however, is the triennial’s most dominant feature. A considerable number of the show’s sculptural installations, as well as the abstract digital prints and Middle Eastern videos works that intersperse them, are portents of what could be. Their subjects vacillate from dystopian and suspicious to utopian and hopeful, presenting various imminent realities in the guise of art. Here, then, are the most futuristic works from the New Museum triennial.

Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s Phantom, 2015

Daniel Steegmann Mangrane

Tucked away in the second floor is Catalan artist Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s Phantom, 2015. From afar, the virtual installation seems simple: an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset dangles unassumingly in the middle of two concentric circles. Once you put on the headset things get exciting. The artist used 3D laser-scanning software to map a lush spot in Brazil’s endangered Mata Atlântica rainforest. The work allows viewers to explore the forest as if they are walking through it. As you move around, look up and down; different elements of the indigenous Brazilian landscape reveal themselves, albeit a grainy, colorless, digitized version of the forest. The artist’s pervasive viewing experience highlights the idea that reality is dependent on people’s perspectives. It also makes one ponder on the future of nature and how new ways of seeing and experiencing the world will effect our reality.  

Nadim Abbas’ Chamber 664 KubrickChamber 665 Spielberg, and Chamber 666 Coppola, (all 2014–15)

nadim abbasi

Three grey bunkers, sealed by screens, protrude from the gallery wall. Rubber gloves protrude in and outside a clear vestibule which resembles incubators for quarantining hazardous bodies. The bunkers are filled with familiar domestic objects: toilet rolls and pillows; making them inviting, alarming, and unbearably intriguing. Created by Hong Kong-based artist’s Nadim Abbas the works have an element of post-apocalyptic Hollywood to them, touching upon popular dystopian themes of biological warfare and highly contagious diseases. They are also a personal comment on modern day intimacy.

Juliana Huxtable’s Untitled in the Rage (Nibiru Cataclysm), 2015


Perhaps the most colorful works on display are inkjet self portraits by artist, DJ, and performer Juliana Huxtable or the “cyborg, cunt, priestess, witch, Nuwaubian princess,” as she calls herself. The prints belong to the artist’s series “Universal Crop Tops for all the Self Canonized Saints of Becoming,” depicting the queer, former legal assistant in guises based on black mythology. Surrounded by surreal landscapes with fantastical color palettes, she effectively mixes club kid aesthetics with deeper poetic insights. Her works are precursors of an emerging identity in which categories such as gender, race, sexuality, and age are fluid and open.

Ed Atkins’ Happy Birthday!!, 2014

Ed Atkins' Happy Birthday!!, 2014

This eerie six minute video centers around a melancholy computer-generated avatar with 2016, and other dates, tattooed to his forehead. He utters mysterious numerical phrases and his body continuously degenerates. The work is a meditative piece on our increased immersion with life-like digital images and how this alters what we know of ourselves and the material world. It reminds us to take note before it is too late; that realistic HD images no matter how exact, don’t really exist.

Antoine Catala’s Distant Feel (2014-15)

Antoine Catala's Distant Feel

The French video artist, previously preoccupied with incorporating human traits such as confusion and humor into machines, created an advertising campaign for a basic human emotion instead of a product, an act that seems logical in our increasingly commercialized world. In collaboration with agency Droga5, the artist created a a new symbol for empathy—EƎ, two E’s facing each other. A sculpture of the symbol, meant to be a generational update on the peace sign, is submerged in a fish tank with live coral growing on it, an attempt to inject life into the work.  Catala’s new project has an accompanying website  with more details


Adam Lehrer Adam Lehrer Contributor

I write about New York’s art gallery system and museum structure.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Lifestyle 2/25/2015 @ 11:00PM 2,045 views

Six Pieces That Stuck Out at the New Museum’s Triennial

The primary criticism towards the New Museum’s Triennial is that it it, quite simply, A LOT to take in at once. This criticism is fair, but it also might be missing the point. As I skulked around the opening last night, snapping photos on my sad point and shoot camera, I was overwhelmed with sensory and hyper aware of the setting. Trying to navigate through swarms of people, from young New School students to the elder statesmen of the art world, was like trying to escape from a straight jacket. The venue was packed, and there were hundreds of good looking artsy types adorned in fashionable clothing of one style or another that were clearly feeling the density of the production as well. Attendees were more often found schmoozing and boozing then taking in any single piece for any length of time.  It was a little uncomfortable, a little unnerving, and perhaps that was the entire point.

Scenes from the Opening of the New Museum Triennial

“Surround Audience” was aimed towards exploring the way we live in this mega-connected and technological world. And in this world, we are overwhelmed constantly. Even if we wanted to unplug, most of our jobs wouldn’t let us. It’s hard to appreciate beauty when you are plugged into the Matrix. The exhibit explores that notion teetering on sensory chaos. That being said, there were some pieces that sucked me right out of the pandemonium. Curators Lauren Cornell and Ryan Trecartin could certainly have kept the exhibit tighter; showing 51 artists at once is no easy accomplishment. But these six pieces took me out of the chaos; for a moment I could look closely and appreciate.

Frank Benson “ Juliana”

Frank Benson, "Juliana"

Judging from some of the press, it appears that the Virginia-based artist Frank Benson’s “Juliana” is a crowd favorite at the Triennial and with good reason: the sculpture of Benson’s friend, transgendered artist Juliana Huxtable, is beautifully rendered and clearly made in loving homage. Perched in the center fold of the museum’s second floor, the image cuts through the crowd. It’s dazzlingly life-like. Those that don’t know the subject of the piece before looking at it find themselves shocked when they look up and down the beautiful female form only to find a penis between the object’s legs. The piece forces you to recognize the world’s changing standards of beauty.

Josh Kline, “Freedom”

Josh Kline, "Freedom"
Philadelphia’s Josh Kline thinks about the way humanity has been commodified and controlled through various means of technological surveillance, and judging from his piece at the Triennial, he has a lot of fun doing it. “Freedom” consists of sculpted and life-like stormtrooper-looking police each equipped with their own screens attached to their bellies. Almost as if the guards are protecting him while watching the audience, a screen projection of an Obama lookalike giving a speech plays in the background. Standing from the corner of the room, it looked as if the museum attendees were blended into a crowd with the cops.

Antoine Cala “Distant Feel”

Antoine Cala, "Distant Feel"

French artist Antoine Cala examines the gadgets of the information age and illuminates their decay, darkness, and essentially, their life. In his piece, “Distant Feel,” he examines the issues he’s interested in with humor, with an object that resembles a fish tank. Of course, there are no fish. But looking at the piece you get the sense that life exists within the space. It’s bright neon colors highlight the ugliness and rotten appeal of the mold growing within the tank. I’m always a sucker for neon.

Aleksandra Domanović, “SOHO (Substances of Human Origin)

Aleksandra Domanović, "SOHO (Substances of Human Origin)

Conceptually, I couldn’t quite grasp the statement being made in Yugolsavian artist Aleksandra Domanović’s, “SOHO (Substances of Human Origin), but I loved looking at it and walking through it. Apparently, she was making a statement on the history of the Internet in her country and celebrating the women who helped make it happen. The installation, with prosthetic limbs derived from the model of the Belgrade Hand (the first robotic hand) and gorgeous rafters that must be walked through to get to them, takes on a life of its own.

Avery K. Singer, “Untitled”

Avery K. Singer, "Untitled"

Benjamin Sutton is one of my favorite art critics these days, but his statements about New York’s own Avery K. Singer and her piece, “Untitled,” couldn’t be more unfounded in my opinion. How could something so beautiful only be meant to take up wall space? The fact that her monochrome paintings stuck out to me more so than the larger-scale installations speaks to the piece’s striking beauty. Singer is a painter that uses technology as a tool rather than a medium: she uses Google SketchUp and projects images onto a canvas and then uses spray paint to bring the piece to life. The results are gorgeous; shadowy figures floating in an infinite space.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby “And We Begin to Let Go”

Njideka Akunyili Crosby "And We Begin to Let Go"

Nigerian painter Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s “Thread” strikes personal for me. For one, I love to see an artist just show his/her talents for painting and collage. I still believe that few objects can be more evocative than a gorgeous painting. In this painting, we see Crosby kissing her American husband’s back in bed. The husband is painted realistically, while she is made up of a collage of Nigerian imagery. Being in a relationship with a woman of a different cultural background myself, I certainly empathize with the sentiments at hand. Through the act of kissing, Crosby imparts her husband with her knowledge, experience and identity. Together, their two cultures form a new identity. A new way of viewing the world. Bi-cultural couples are not a new idea, but are not often explored enough contextually. There is no better way to spread culture than through the act of intimacy and love.


‘Digital’s Bitches’: The New Museum Triennial


DIS, The Island (KEN), 2015. Photo: Heij Shin/New Museum

Some inventions are mastered instantly. The earliest adapters of oil paint, including Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, are still among the best who ever lived. After the invention of the electric guitar, early recordings confirm that Les Paul, T-Bone Walker, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe (followed soon thereafter by Jimi Hendrix) were immediate maestros, and some say the novel has never gotten better than Don Quixote. But the internet is not like these inventions or genres. We are 25 years in and we still have no van Eyck, van der Weyden, Hendrix, or Cervantes. In part, that’s because nothing endures online; commerce and novelty topple all idols (even new ones); and today’s links are already decaying and may be useless in the near future. But we have no new masters also because digital technology is more than an invention, tool, or genre. It is a whole new landscape, a new biology, one that is changing us as much as we are changing it — and could one day live on the moon or inside us. Either way, we are digital’s bitches.

And have been for a while. Since everything changes but the avant-garde, art exhibitions about digital technology date back to at least 1968, and London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts’ “Cybernetic Serendipity” examination of “computer art. Most such shows are spectacles of interactive keyboards, whiz-bang effects, listening stations, impossible-to-navigate websites that do little more than give visitors who touch them colds, and wearable helmets that project distorted cyberscapes. Now comes the New Museum’s generously plentiful, frustrating but worthy-of-attention 2015 triennial, “Surround Audience.” This is the museum’s third triennial, each of which is devoted to “early-career artists” and is meant to be “predictive, rather than retrospective.” This year’s building-filling extravaganza is devoted to current art by newer artists who examine “the social and psychological effects of digital technology.” The exhibition has been adroitly co-curated by the New Museum’s Lauren Cornell, who made me happy when she said “media lounges have failed,” and happier still when she said she loathes “techno gimmicks.” Her co-curator is one of the best artists of his generation, 34-year-old Ryan Trecartin, someone who has narrowed the space between objects, images, digital manipulation, cultural narrative, millions of colors, and layers of sound to a supercharged splinter.

“Surround Audience” purports to examine “a world in which the effects of technology … have been absorbed into our bodies and altered our vision of the world … visual metaphors for the self and subjecthood.” Before you bristle — Excuse me, all art does this — not only are there no keyboards, workstations, or websites here, and only one helmet (Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s fantastically alluring depiction of layered linear space), there are, thankfully, no darkened rooms with portentous videos that make you wonder if curators are human beings aware that they’re spending fortunes while abusing the curiosity, patience, and humanity of their audience. That’s a big leap for the art world. These curators understand, finally, that there’s no such thing as “digital art” (certainly no variety that could be defined by the machines it’s made of and through), only art that might be inscribed with its ethos. And while the show includes a tad too much arty-adolescent apocalyptic dystopianism, there’s, happily, no annoying, New Age–y, utopian-Zeitgeist babble.

More important, it is full of artists thinking past objects of the digital era and addressing the much weirder experience of actually living in it and recognizing, all the while, that this landscape is already authored by and is us anyway, that there’s little distinction anymore between inside and outside, and that engaging with technologies doesn’t have to involve a computer, mouse, or iPhone. Even William Gibson, the man who invented the term, recently wrote, “Cyberspace, not so long ago, was a specific elsewhere … Now cyberspace has everted. Turned itself inside out. Colonized the physical.”

I knew only a small percentage of the 51 artists and artist-collectives on hand, which is refreshing when many exhibitions look like they’ve been concocted in the curator-industrial complex, where all shows are made to look similar. Cornell and Trecartin abandon the lockstep curatorial love of preapproved, postconceptual academic practice, meaning installations with a little text, possibly photography, video, a sound file, booklets, and/or found objects displayed haphazardly or carefully in a vitrine or on a shelf. (This default international curatorial style not only marred the 2012 triennial, it infects most museum shows of contemporary art.) In many of the artists they’ve chosen to highlight, we glimpse a generation coming to terms not just with technologies that they’ve been immersed in since childhood, but with what it means to try to create change from within a system only to see that system closed back down again. These are artists comfortable with reconfiguring information and refusing refuge in vaunted Romantic terms like timelessness or cynicism.

Take Josh Kline’s epic third-floor installation, which includes replicated elements of Zucotti Park, benches, Teletubbies riot police standing guard, and communication towers, which suggest that all of this is being monitored and broadcast at all times. The work is titled Freedom and contains one of the most far-reaching videos I’ve seen in some time — a digitally manipulated President Obama delivering his first 2009 inaugural address, as reimagined by Kline and former Obama administration speechwriter David Meadvin. In this version, the words heard are those dreamt of by tens of millions of people for the two years leading up to Obama’s 2008 election, and we see Obama sharply taking aim at those who deny global climate change and calling for immediate action, pointedly holding corporations responsible for the financial collapse, calling out cynics and pundits who profit from fearmongering, and challenging bigots, homophobes, racists, and sexists. On the night of Obama’s 2008 election, thinking about how the politics of “hope and change” might be gutted by governmental dysfunction and pragmatism, I wrote on my Facebook, “A generation must now learn to be disappointed in new ways.” That did not happen.

After this vertex, don’t miss Lawrence Abu Hamdan, who enlisted Cairo sheikhs to deliver real sermons about noise pollution; it’s fantastic to listen to the religious tenets of the Koran used to understand adverse effects of noise. (A sub-theme of the show is how the organism of the internet landscape allows old systems and filters to be adapted.) Also excellent are Lena Henke’s large, three-dimensional JPEGs, which make you grasp how artists are using old tools to dig deeper into new ones. To see a steel frame wrapped in a transparent photo, and have that clunky thing become a thing with no dimensions at all, titillates. Casey Jane Ellison takes the old form of stand-up comedy or talk shows to explore states of hypervisibility on social media and the earnest failed ways we try to communicate; Frank Benson presents a hyperreal rendition of the trans body of one of his fellow “Surround Audience” participants, Juliana Huxtable, which includes her breasts and penis. To be both bodies at once, to unveil the enigma and beauty of both, is radical vulnerability, while the new sculptural persona achieved via scanning and what looks like 3-D printing turns this most physical thing vividly, paradoxically immaterial. Speaking of which, also get a load of Steve Roggenbuck’s mad poetic video ramblings of a self looking inside and outside at the same time.

As probing as these and other works are, I won’t recommend seeing this show without a serious warning and complaint. As with the last triennial, “Surround Audience” has way too many lengthy wall labels explicating multi-level backstories, histories, sciences, rationales, philosophies, various lores, myths, art history, and personal narratives. Wall labels like these are epidemic in museums. The problem isn’t reading. It’s that what the text claims the work is “about” is rarely actually in the work itself, and is only on the wall label or in the artist and curator’s flimsy imaginations. The label next to Velázquez’s Las Meninas is a tiny fraction as long as those accompanying most contemporary art in museums. Long labels like these are a triumph of pedagogy over the object, a breaking of faith with art and its audiences. Worse, they evince institutions and artists armoring themselves in ridiculously obtuse, implacable language to hide the fact that their ideas are skin-deep, masturbatory, lazy, and banal.

And it’s not just labels. The art world as a whole is enamored with work that withholds some backstory — intellectual, biographical, material, or influence-based — to be delivered only upon request, through conversation with a gallerist, a curator, or the artist him- or herself. It’s really elitist. When one is told the secret, we are meant to feel a tingle of personal insight (“I see. His mother was kidnapped.”), even when the story doesn’t add up to much or seem to be actually present in the work. While the phenomenon isn’t entirely new, it does connect with the logic and language of the internet, which is this triennial’s subject. Namely, the way the internet prizes secret or arcane understandings — links that only you’ve found, cults that you visit while still in your bedroom — even while making all information instantly accessible, though often without real understanding. The internet may radically flatten hierarchies of knowledge, but it also builds little tribal moats around particular ideas. Most important, it doesn’t even recognize either of the paradoxes or contradictions contained in that approach. (See most Zombie Formalism, and much of the above-mentioned neo-conceptual practice.) As good as it is in places, I left “Surround Audience” convinced that museum labels shouldn’t be longer than three inches. With that in mind: Only read the last two lines of any label, rejoice in curators gleaning the digital as a new landscape, garner activism inside disappointment, and don’t miss “Surround Audience.”

*This article appears in the March 9, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.



Slide Show|7 Photos

‘Surround Audience’


It is early 2009. Hope and change are in the air. President Obama stands before the camera delivering his Inaugural Address, but within seconds something seems off. The speech is not the pragmatic one he gave on that cold January day but a fiery message in which he excoriates “peddlers of hate whose stock-in-trade is xenophobia, homophobia, racism, sexism and isolationism, and who define America by our differences rather than our common bonds.”

As he speaks, his face seems to be slipping digitally — and disturbingly — around his skull, and you suddenly realize it is not the president but an actor who has had the president’s portrait software-mapped uncertainly to his own face. The video is the creation of Josh Kline, an influential 35-year-old New York artist. And his Philip K. Dick vision of an alternate past wishfully conjuring an alternate present provides a fitting window onto the ambitions of the New Museum’s 2015 Triennial, a show that will take on the widely debated and often misunderstood ideas of “posthuman” and “post-Internet” art as squarely as any American museum has.

Opening Feb. 25, the exhibition includes Mr. Kline and 50 other artists and collectives from more than two dozen countries, many of whom have never shown in the United States before and whose work casts a queasy science-fiction eye onto an ever more digital, more automated, more omniscient society. The show, the third iteration of the museum’s emerging-art triennial, has been highly anticipated in part because of its two curators — Lauren Cornell, a former director of Rhizome, the Internet-focused art organization; and Ryan Trecartin, one of the most admired artists of his generation, whose video work has always seemed to exist at least a dozen years in the future, where identity, language and humanity itself have become as gleefully anarchic as a 14-year-old’s social-media feed.

The triennial is titled “Surround Audience,” Mr. Trecartin’s effort to capture that sense of a wired world in which, as Ms. Cornell puts it, “technology and late capitalism have been absorbed into our bodies and altered our vision of the world.” For many of the show’s younger artists, the Internet and the digital revolution are no longer just the tools and delivery system for their work but the air they breathe and the world they see before their eyes. That also means that while the digital might not be formally present at all in some of the work, it still hovers sociologically and politically on every side.

“I think I look at the way things are changing more from an optimistic standpoint, and Lauren tends to see it more from a dystopian one, but the older I get the more complicated my own views get,” said Mr. Trecartin, 34, who told The New Yorker last year: “Everything we do is going to be captured and archived in an accessible form, whether you want it or not. It’s going to change all of our lives. We are a species that can no longer assume a sense of privacy. It’s not an individual decision, and I feel that’s exciting to explore — or something.”

In an essay for a show last year called “Art Post-Internet” at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, the curators Karen Archey and Robin Peckham tried to find some consensus about the kind of art that Mr. Trecartin and other young artists have brought to attention in recent years, writing that “post-Internet refers not to a time ‘after’ the Internet but rather to an Internet state of mind — to think in the fashion of the network.”

And by that definition, most of the artists in the triennial seem to be fully in a “post” world, one without much abstract painting (there is none in the show) but lots of representations of bodies yearning to leave human form, in ways that science-fiction novelists and philosophers have been imagining for years. The posthuman has become more prevalent in pop culture, too — in movies like “Her” (man falls in love with operating system) and “Transcendence” (man becomes one with the Internet), but 21st-century artists can move with a nimbleness that often puts them in touch with the implications of technological change before the culture at large.

Casey Jane Ellison, a Los Angeles stand-up comic and artist in the triennial, creates video routines using digital avatars that vaguely resemble her but sometimes look more like Max Headroom. Antoine Catala, a French artist working in New York, has made previous work consisting of drones that fly around a space, analyzing the images in it and reciting descriptions of them in a mechanical voice. Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, a Spanish artist working in Brazil, has conceived an installation in which New Museum viewers will wear a version of the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset and be transposed into a representation of the rapidly disappearing Mata Atlântica rain forest in Brazil.

There will be paint on canvas in the show, though most of it by artists deeply immersed in the digital, like Avery K. Singer, a figurative painter in the South Bronx who often depicts comically simple robot-like figures that she creates in virtual 3-D space using a SketchUp animation program.

And there will also be work by artists that addresses the technological revolution only by seeking to deny it as thoroughly as possible. Eduardo Navarro, an Argentine artist who has worked with meditation and trance, is creating a work called “Timeless Alex,” in which a performer will meditate for days to try to enter the mind-state of a turtle and then wear a handmade turtle shell and creep across the city. Mr. Navarro, who describes turtles as “the opposite of the Internet,” explained one recent morning in a studio adjacent to the New Museum, where he has been creating the turtle shell, that part of the aim is to suggest a conception of time probably always inconceivable to humans but now certainly so.

“If it’s boring to watch, I think that will be better because watching a turtle can be very boring,” he said, speaking quite slowly, as if already trying to get on reptile time. “I like the idea that turtles are not even aware of their own longevity.”

In a recent interview at the museum, after travels that took her, non-virtually, to more than two dozen countries in search of emerging artists, Ms. Cornell, 36, said: “I think there is this kind of expectation, because Ryan and I are the curators, that the show is going to be all holograms and that we’re going to fly in on U.F.O.s. But it’s because there are still pretty simplistic ways of thinking about art in the digital age. That kind of online-offline binary that used to exist about art made with technology or the Internet as a factor doesn’t really exist anymore.”

Mr. Kline is one of many artists in the show who plumb the darker depths of contemporary society — surveillance, identity theft, government coercion, the commodification of “the most literally intimate aspects of life,” as the show’s catalog says — with an unabashed political edge. For “Hope and Change,” his Obama-inauguration piece, he hired David Meadvin, a veteran Democratic speechwriter and strategist, to rewrite the address in a way that imagines change from within the political system being possible.

Calling his creation a “kind of simulated open-source Obama,” Mr. Kline said: “Obama campaigned as a transformational candidate and once he got into office, here was this very pragmatic, efficient technocrat. This is definitely about trying to actualize the presidency that people voted for.” For the triennial, Mr. Kline has also created a piece in which he uses face-mapping software to morph off-duty uniformed police officers, whom he hired for the occasion, so that they come to look like civilians. In this transfigured state, the officers recite words from the social-media feeds of the civilians they have been made to resemble, as if their job entails not only monitoring the lives of others but also almost supplanting those lives. Similarly, Nadim Abbas, an artist working in Hong Kong, has built a artwork, commissioned by the New Museum, in the form of a kind of biohazard bunker that feels like a cozy apartment, an attempt to show how “violence has been sublimated into the fabric of the everyday,” as he said in an interview.

But others in the show play around the idea of an emergent Big-Brother-capitalist-military state in much more ambiguous ways, making it tough to tell which side they are on — or suggesting that sides are just so depressingly 20th century. K-Hole, a New York collective that makes work in the form of brand research (in 2013 it coined the term “normcore,” which took the fashion world by storm) has made its work for the triennial in the form of an advertising campaign for the show itself, which will soon begin showing up on buses and the streets.

The ad slogans, written with input from Mr. Trecartin, tweak the suspicions and fears many people seem to harbor about the kind of art the show will feature: “No Past, No Present, No Problem” and “Nothing Lasts Forever” (Mr. Trecartin’s suggestions included “Meaning Needed,” “Triennial Season 3” and “Pay Me in Feelings;” he wrote to K-Hole explaining that the aim of his slogans was to “get high school and middle-school kids to come see the show on their own inspired terms.”)

Probably the most visible and provocative piece in the show, in the glassed-in lobby gallery, will be by the New York collective DIS, which over the last four years has pushed questions of where art ends and fashion and merchandising begin to a kind of breaking point. The triennial work will be an installation in the form of a surreally combined kitchen and bathroom, made by the collective in collaboration with the high-end German fixture manufacturer Dornbracht.

“We like that it is going to be extremely confusing — some people are going to read this as a product showroom,” said Lauren Boyle, one of the collective’s members, who explained that the group became interested in the company after seeing its “hyper-real imagery” on Pinterest. “Google brought us to Dornbracht through Pinterest, in a way, through this weird sort of feedback loop. And so I guess we wanted to create another kind of feedback loop and bring the actual thing into the art world.”

A performer in the kitchen-bathroom will shower as visitors watch, merging the role of performance artist and showroom model. But Ms. Boyle, evincing no hint of irony, said the group also dreamed of inviting Gwyneth Paltrow to take part in the project, to add to it in ways they could not imagine. “Basically to do anything she wants to do,” Ms. Boyle said, beaming, “because she’s amazing.”

The phrase “Surround Audience” sounds like it could be the name of an EDM party, a function in a home theater system, a Quickmeme caption, or Michael Fried’s worst nightmare. It is actually the title-cum-motto-cum-slogan of the 2015 New Museum Triennial, which at first glance appears to be some mixture of these descriptors. The current Triennial, curated by Lauren Cornell and the artist Ryan Trecartin, is the third installment of an event that has quickly realized its ambition of becoming New York’s leading exhibition of on-trend global contemporary art. As if this weren’t enough, the current Triennial aspires to expand into a kind of aggregative platform: hosting performances, publishing a poetry collection, and sponsoring residencies, research projects, and a web series.

Visitors to the Triennial will indeed feel themselves surrounded, even overrun by competing appeals for their attention. These bids are so numerous and elaborate that at times the show seems less like an art exhibition than a tech convention or a curated Tumblr. To be fair, such heterogeneity is endemic in biennials, which tend to be at cross purposes in trying to craft a cohesive, timely statement from disparate works chosen for divergent reasons. Depending on one’s age, taste, and stimulus threshold, this tension might be a distracting nuisance, or perhaps a problem worth reflecting on. Those of selective, delicate, or “critical” dispositions should by all means visit the Triennial, but are advised to regard it as three more or less separate exhibitions; these are described below in ascending order of their presumable appeal to such an audience.

The first of these is loud, shiny, cool, and young. It basically amounts to a trend forecasting report, which is not surprising given the participation of the soi-disant collectives K-HOLE and DIS, which unapologetically compare or even equate their art to consulting, advertising, and merchandizing. This ploy arguably has less to do with Warhol, who flirted with tragic irony, than with the more purely cynical Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst. K-HOLE’s ad campaign, which is somehow more inane than their pseudo-trend normcore, features slogans like “HATRED OF CAPITALISM,” which in this context is so ludicrous as to almost be an insult to capitalism. While the ads are easily enough ignored, at least once inside the museum, the same can’t be said for the DIS contribution, The Island (KEN) (2015), in which a stress-relieving luxury shower will doubtless serve as a popular selfie station, as well as a platform for the Red Bull-sponsored DIScourse (sic) of invited theorists, some of whom openly identify as Marxist. #accelerationism #srsly?

In a feat of curatorial legerdemain, this part of the Triennial showcases post-internet art without actually using that now unfashionable term. If this art and much of the debate around it were deservedly criticized as forms of self-promotional branding, they also promoted the McLuhanite fantasy that The Internet Changed Everything, ignoring the ways that digitalization has reinforced existing socioeconomic divisions. The problem was not that post-internet is a utopian notion, but rather that its dystopianism was merely atmospheric or gestural. It is one thing to surround an audience with reminders of its immersion in techno-spectacle; it is another to explore why this matters.

As an artist, Trecartin has taken such inquiries further than some critics realize; the scrappy, Ritalin-addled character of his work can disguise its perverse genius. As a curator, he and Cornell have chosen some works that can’t quite live up to his example. Daniel Steegmann Mangrané uses a VR gaming headset to immerse viewers in a laser-scanned rendering of an endangered Brazilian ecosystem (Phantom, 2015) without seeming to register the flagrant contradiction between these environments. Josh Kline does some clever things with face substitution software, only to brandish it clumsily in an installation that recalls the overtness of Ed Kienholz (Freedom, 2015). The most interesting and problematic of such practices belongs to Juliana Huxtable, whose four prints from the series “UNIVERSAL CROP TOPS FOR ALL THE SELF CANONIZED SAINTS OF BECOMING” (2015) are coupled with a life-size 3D-printed sculptural avatar of her body by Frank Benson (Juliana, 2015). While Huxtable’s work provocatively integrates the histories of Afrofuturism, black militancy, and cyber-feminist theory with the contemporary efforts of transgender activists, it also exemplifies the contradictions of a post-Fordist identity politics in which self-styling, no matter how radical, can simultaneously produce value through the commodification of difference.

The second “exhibition” within the Triennial, while much less conspicuous, forms the bulk of the show and consists mainly of work by emerging artists born outside the North Atlantic. Given that New York remains the most provincial and self-obsessed of the art world’s major centers—witness the New Museum’s 2013 show “NYC 1993”—this is welcome, even subversive. That said, the selection skews toward artists working in the EU and within familiar, market-sanctioned modes. Beijing-based Guan Xiao juxtaposes repurposed camera equipment with constructed artifacts to track the emergence of new techno-animisms in The Documentary: Geocentric Puncture (2012). The Indian artist Shreyas Karle has mined the Bollywood imaginary to produce the Daniel Spoerri-esque Museum Shop of Fetish Objects (2012), which casts a sly eye back on the exoticizing impulses of its host institution. Georgian-born Ketuta Alexi-Meskishvili contributes a captivating suite of semi-abstract photographs; these stand out in a show where abstraction, painterly or otherwise, is noticeably absent. However, although such works are perfectly well executed, they often fail to problematize their status within the emergent, increasingly dominant category of Global Contemporary Art, in which artworks tend to present their own singularity in paradoxically generic or universalizing terms.

It is only in our third hypothetical show-within-the-show that such contradictions are engaged thoughtfully and productively. One can imagine re-curating the Triennial into a tighter, more powerful exhibition featuring the work of about a dozen artists. Some pieces would engage new technologies from a position of critical immanence. These would include Li Liao’s Consumption (2012), in which Li worked 5 weeks of 12-hour shifts at a Foxconn plant, earning just enough to buy one of the iPads he was helping to manufacture; Aleksandra Domanović’s SOHO (Substances of Human Origin) (2015), which proposes an alternative genealogy for technicized embodiment through 3D-printed sculptures patterned after the Belgrade Hand, an early prosthetic developed in 1960s Yugoslavia; and Exterritory’s Image Blockade (2014), a research project based on neurobiological experiments with conscientious objectors from an elite Israeli military intelligence unit. (One can’t help but notice that this piece, easily the most confrontational one in the Triennial, is installed in what must be the most inaccessible location in the New Museum, in the far corner of the topmost floor.)

A second strand would comprise moving-image work made in speculative or essayistic modes. While such an approach is hardly uncommon, especially in Europe, its still-considerable potential is demonstrated by artists like Nicholas Mangan, who re-narrates the recent history of resource extraction in Micronesia from the perspective of a limestone pinnacle (Nauru, Notes from a Cretaceous World, 2009), or Oliver Laric, who locates a surprising degree of pathos in the transformation of animated characters, updating classical myths of metamorphosis in a moment of Tindr romance and imposed vocational “flexibility” (Untitled, 2014­–2015). Especially noteworthy is Basim Magdy’s marvelous short film The Dent (2014), which nods to Alexander Kluge in its parabolic style and its subject (circus elephants), interweaving references to ecology and biennialization with lustrous double-exposed shots of clouds, forests, and construction equipment.

The last group one might wish to extract from the Triennial includes artists working in a more poetic mode, favoring obliquity, facture, and restraint. Olga Balema exemplifies this orientation in her untitled contributions: two large plastic sacs containing rusting rebar, decaying images, and water (both 2015). It is easier to trip over these unprepossessing floor sculptures than it is to grasp their quasi-abstract, semi-organic form, which seems to equally recall tidal pools and IV bags. Kiluanji Kia Henda’s prints combine the idioms of conceptual photography and traditional Angolan sona drawing to suggestively indicate the vicissitudes of global development (Rusty Mirage (The City Skyline), 2013). And in one of the Triennial’s most memorable pieces, Not How People Move But What Moves Them (2013–ongoing), the Czech artist Eva Kotátková has covered a large wall with pottery, architectural fixtures, and wire sculptures of unclear origin and function. These elements become props in a obscure and bewitching tableau vivant, which transforms the precedents of Jirí Kovanda and Rebecca Horn into a compelling drama of constrained movement. In such moments, the phrase “Surround Audience” assumes a markedly different connotation, one that the Triennial only intermittently endorses. Here, it is not a meme or a brand; rather, it becomes a problem, an injunction, and above all a point of departure.

Andrew Weiner is Assistant Professor of Art Theory and Criticism in the Department of Art and Art Professions at NYU-Steinhardt.

View of "Surround Audience," New Museum, New York, 2015.

1View of “Surround Audience,” New Museum, New York, 2015.

View of DIS, The Island, 2015.

2View of DIS, The Island, 2015.

View of K-HOLE, Extended Release (detail), 2015.

3View of K-HOLE, Extended Release (detail), 2015.

Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, Phantom, 2015.

4Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, Phantom, 2015.

Josh Kline, Freedom (detail), 2015.

5Josh Kline, Freedom (detail), 2015.

Juliana Huxtable, Untitled (Destroying Flesh), from the series "UNIVERSAL CROP TOPS FOR ALL THE SELF-CANONIZED SAINTS OF BECOMING," 2015.

6Juliana Huxtable, Untitled (Destroying Flesh), from the series “UNIVERSAL CROP TOPS FOR ALL THE SELF-CANONIZED SAINTS OF BECOMING,” 2015.

Guan Xiao, The Documentary: Geocentric Puncture, 2012.

7Guan Xiao, The Documentary: Geocentric Puncture, 2012.

Aleksandra Domanović, SOHO (Substances of Human Origin), 2015.

8Aleksandra Domanović, SOHO (Substances of Human Origin), 2015.

View of "Surround Audience," New Museum, New York, 2015.

9View of “Surround Audience,” New Museum, New York, 2015.

(Left) Nicholas Mangan, Nauru, Notes from a Cretaceous World, 2009. (Right) Nicholas Mangan, Dawiyogo's Ancient Coral Coffee Table, 2009-2010.

10(Left) Nicholas Mangan, Nauru, Notes from a Cretaceous World, 2009. (Right) Nicholas Mangan, Dawiyogo’s Ancient Coral Coffee Table, 2009-2010.

Basim Magdy, The Dent, 2014.

11Basim Magdy, The Dent, 2014.

(Left) Olga Balema, Untitled, 2015. (Right) Olga Balema, Untitled, 2015.

12(Left) Olga Balema, Untitled, 2015. (Right) Olga Balema, Untitled, 2015.

  • 1View of “Surround Audience,” New Museum, New York, 2015. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York. Photo by Benoit Pailley.
  • 2View of DIS, The Island, 2015. Mixed-media installation, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York. Photo by Benoit Pailley.
  • 3View of K-HOLE, Extended Release (detail), 2015. Advertising campaign, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York.
  • 4Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, Phantom, 2015. Virtual environment and Oculus Rift DK2, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo, and Esther Schipper, Berlin.
  • 5Josh Kline, Freedom (detail), 2015. Mixed-media installation, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York. Photo by Benoit Pailley.
  • 6Juliana Huxtable, Untitled (Destroying Flesh), from the series “UNIVERSAL CROP TOPS FOR ALL THE SELF-CANONIZED SAINTS OF BECOMING,” 2015. Inkjet print, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York.
  • 7Guan Xiao, The Documentary: Geocentric Puncture, 2012. Mixed-media installation, three parts, 230 x 280 x 210 cm each.
  • 8Aleksandra Domanović, SOHO (Substances of Human Origin), 2015. Mixed-media installation, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York. Photo by Benoit Pailley.
  • 9View of “Surround Audience,” New Museum, New York, 2015. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York. Photo by Benoit Pailley.
  • 10View of “Surround Audience,” New Museum, New York, 2015. (Left) Nicholas Mangan, Nauru, Notes from a Cretaceous World, 2009. HD video, sound, color, 12:27 minutes. (Right) Nicholas Mangan, Dawiyogo’s Ancient Coral Coffee Table, 2009-2010. Coral limestone from the island of Nauru, 120 x 80 x 45 cm. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York. Photo by Benoit Pailley.
  • 11Basim Magdy, The Dent, 2014. Still from super 16mm film transferred to full HD video, sound, color, 19:02 minutes. Image courtesy of Gypsum Gallery, Cairo.
  • 12View of “Surround Audience,” New Museum, New York, 2015. (Left) Olga Balema, Untitled, 2015. Water, steel pipes, acrylic paint, dimensions variable. (Right) Olga Balema, Untitled, 2015. Water, steel pipes, acrylic paint, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York. Photo by Benoit Pailley.


Quickly Aging Here: The 2015 Triennial

After six years and three installments, is the New Museum’s Triennial entering middle age? An odd question for an exhibition devoted to “early-career artists,” as the museum’s press release describes them. But compared with its predecessors, the latest rollout, which is called Surround Audience, frankly isn’t all that audacious.

There’s a lot to see — the exhibition, which was organized by New Museum curator Lauren Cornell and the artist Ryan Trecartin, feels crowded in spots — but that doesn’t translate into the knockabout energy that characterized the earlier versions. This may be a byproduct of the curatorial focus, which grounds the show in a context of technological interconnectedness. From the press release:

We are surrounded by a culture replete with impressions of life, be they visual, written, or construed through data. We move through streams of chatter, swipe past pictures of other people’s lives, and frame our own experiences as, all the while, our digital trails are subtly captured, tracked, and stored.

The statement puts contemporary culture at a remove from reality (“replete with impressions of life”) as it underscores the distractions that derail us from true engagement with art or each other. Accordingly, as if not to crack the veneer of a network thrumming with interrelated ideas, most of the artworks seem content to reside on the periphery, surrounding the audience but not grabbing attention for themselves.

The air of reticence, even politeness, encountered here feels like a deliberate step away from the rambunctiousness of the earlier iterations, The Generational: Younger Than Jesus in 2009 and The Ungovernables in 2012. That may be a sign of maturity for the Triennial as well as for the artists (more than one have already breached the age of 40), but it doesn’t really make for an exciting show.

Paradoxically, the emphasis on daily life’s immersion in technology as a curatorial premise seems to work against the exhibition’s cutting-edge intentions. Technology is so much a part of who we are, regardless of age, that to remark upon its ubiquity at this point feels dated and even a little clueless. Video, photography and digital devices may abound in this show, which also features lots of sculptural objects and a handful of paintings and drawings, but its look and feel aren’t markedly different from other surveys.

Which is another reason why the exhibition seems middle-aged. The first two Triennials, by dint of their age restrictions, felt front-loaded with a sense of discovery. While the current show is filled with just as many fresh faces, the work on display appears more generic, more tried and true, as if it belongs in the Whitney Biennial instead of the distinct niche that the New Museum has carved out for itself with the Triennial. Even the title is bland and hard to grasp, unlike the artist-centric handles of the previous two. Priorities have shifted, it would seem, from the individualistic to the atmospheric, the unruly to the phlegmatic.

A case in point is “The Island (KEN)” (2015) by the collective DIS, which, at the press preview, featured a performance by a fully-clothed woman who lay beneath a horizontal shower stall for about ten minutes before silently emerging, soaking wet, to turn off the faucets.

This piece may be among the most arresting in the show, but it felt like a retread of Chu Yun’s far edgier “This is XX” (2006) from the first Triennial, in which volunteers (after ingesting what was described in the wall text as “sleeping aids”) would lie in bed asleep during viewing hours, creating a discomfiting power imbalance between the conscious and the unconscious — an aesthetic experience inextricable from voyeurism.

Still, thankfully, the dreariness afflicting the last couple of Biennials is nowhere in evidence. There is enough variety to sustain interest, even if the assortment does not ultimately hold together, let alone add up into a sum greater than its parts.

Among the more fractious works are Geumhyung Jeong’s video “Fitness Guide” (2011), which includes an attempt by the artist to outrace an out-of-control treadmill; Nadim Abbas’s isolation chambers dedicated to three American filmmakers: Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola; Shreyas Karle’s fetish objects; and Juliana Huxtable’s incantatory poetry and quasi-mythic self-portraits, which are installed in dialogue with Frank Benson’s meticulously rendered sculpture of the transgendered Huxtable’s nude body.

Like the earlier Triennials, there is at least one breakout work to fix the exhibition in memory. And like such showstoppers as LaToya Ruby Frazier’s searing domestic photographs and Keren Cytter’s demonic video “Der Spiegel” (2007) in The Generational, or Adrián Villar Rojas’ towering sci-fi golem from The Ungovernables, Eva Koťátková’s performance/installation “Not How People Move But What Moves Them” (2013) is a confluence of personal and cultural histories, a repurposing of selective traditions into a bracing new configuration.

Writing in the exhibition catalogue, Rachel Wetzler describes Koťátková’s art as ingrained with elements of Czech avant-garde theater, Art Brut and Surrealism, set against a backdrop of the failed states of Communist Czechoslovakia and the Prague Spring.

“Not How People Move But What Moves Them” is composed of a large yellow wall outfitted with a door and shelves, and hung with framed collages. The shelves hold a variety of sinister/funny objects made from wire, steel, thread, terra cotta, leather and other materials, all of which will presumably be “activated,” to use the term found in the piece’s wall text, by performers at various points during the run of the exhibition. Larger examples of these structures, all of which are meant to constrain the body in some way, sit on the floor.

The objects are both props for the performers, who silently pose — standing or lying on the floor — with the pieces attached to their bodies, and persuasive works of sculpture in a funky-Minimalist mode. The collages, which are squarely — perhaps a little too squarely — in the mold of John Heartfield and Hannah Hoch, depict painfully fanciful applications of the objects on variously deconstructed human bodies.

The catalogue entry states that Koťátková’s sculptures derive from “disciplinary systems as a point of departure, ranging from those found in the family home and schools to psychiatric institutions or prisons.” These repressive tactics are conjoined with a highly specific art historical lineage that evokes the prewar work of Alberto Giacometti, such as “The Cage” (1930-31) and “The Palace at 4 A.M.” (1932); the infernal machine from “The Pit, the Pendulum and Hope” (1983) by the great Czech animator Jan Švankmajer; and the Eastern European Surrealist dread suffusing the Quay Brothers’ “Street of Crocodiles” (1986), a stop-action animation freely adapted from the stories of the Polish writer Bruno Schulz.

What is most compelling about Koťátková’s “Not How People Move But What Moves Them” is that it is activated not only by the performers, but also by the viewers’ imaginations. What will be done with the clay pots, we might ask, and why is there an undulating wire construction resembling an elephant’s trunk attached to a hole in the door? And why is the door leaning against the wall rather than set into a jamb? One question leads to the next, as the mysteries embedded in each detail draw us deeper into the piece.

“Not How People Move…” represents the kind of interactivity — not digital, but intellectual, physical and emotional — that many of the works in the Triennial lack. It doesn’t attempt to surround the audience; instead, its tough materiality and formal elegance inch their way across the threshold of consciousness until they lodge, uninvited, in the brain.

2015 Triennial: Surround Audience continues at the New Museum (235 Bowery, Lower East Side) through May 24.



New Museum Triennial: Art for a Digitalized World

New Museum Triennial exhibition highlights wide range of ‘exuberant’ works by young artists

A performers in the activation of Eva Kot’átková's work ‘Not How People Move But What Moves Them’ at the 2015 New Museum Triennial. ENLARGE
A performers in the activation of Eva Kot’átková’s work ‘Not How People Move But What Moves Them’ at the 2015 New Museum Triennial. Photo: Mark Abramson for The Wall Street Journal

On a recent morning in a studio on the Bowery, talk-show host Casey Jane Ellison had a pressing question for a panel gathered in advance of the New Museum Triennial opening Wednesday.

“What is the most insane thing about art?” she asked her guests, two other artists and a patron. “Is it the money? Is it the content? Is it the people?”

Her tone suggested that she thought it was all three—and that insanity might be a virtue.

Special episodes of Ms. Ellison’s web series “Touching the Art,” now in its second season online on the Ovation network, will screen on a loop in the lobby of the New Museum, as part of its triennial exhibition titled “Surround Audience.” They are among works by 51 young artists and artist collectives hailing from 25 countries.

The show defines art broadly, including sound, dance, comedy, poetry, installation, sculpture, painting, video, and yes, a web-based satirical talk show. Half the pieces were commissioned for the exhibition, which runs through May 24.

Artist Casey Jane Ellison is projected on a monitor as she hosts her talk show ‘Touching The Art,’ part of her exhibition at the New Museum Triennial. ENLARGE
Artist Casey Jane Ellison is projected on a monitor as she hosts her talk show ‘Touching The Art,’ part of her exhibition at the New Museum Triennial. Photo: Keith Bedford for The Wall Street Journal

At the shooting for a particularly reflexive episode of Ms. Ellison’s show, the topic under discussion was the significance of triennials and biennials—curated roundups of new art—in an age of abundant, often hypercompetitive art fairs.

“What is a triennial?” asked Ms. Ellison, 26 years old, in a deadpan manner that signaled her sometime persona as a standup comedian.

“It’s kind of like a sports competition, definitely not like the Super Bowl,” said the artist K8 Hardy.

“What is the Super Bowl?” Ms. Ellison asked.

Visitors preview artist Josh Kline's new installation ‘Freedom’ (2015), at the New Museum Triennial. ENLARGE
Visitors preview artist Josh Kline’s new installation ‘Freedom’ (2015), at the New Museum Triennial. Photo: Mark Abramson for The Wall Street Journal

The exhibit, said co-organizer and New Museum curator Lauren Cornell, is “very exuberant and very surreal.”

In it, artists address life in an increasingly digitized, hyper-aware world through topics such as virtual reality, drones, avatars, product design and advertising. One work by the artist collective K-Hole takes the form of an ad campaign for the triennial, doubling as both genuine marketing and conceptual critique.

Other chosen works poke provocatively at notions of gender, race, nationality—and the relationship between artists, their identities and their audience.

“We were thinking about people who are assuming a spot in their own audience or allowing for different vantage points to come at their work that they didn’t intend,” said video artist Ryan Trecartin, who co-curated the triennial along with Ms. Cornell.

New York-based Juliana Huxtable, for one, said most people who know her “are aware of me as a night life and Internet figure, so I’m happy [the curators] understand all the aspects of what I do and the connections between them.”

Artist Juliana Huxtable poses in front of her artwork at the New Museum Triennial. ENLARGE
Artist Juliana Huxtable poses in front of her artwork at the New Museum Triennial. Photo: Mark Abramson for The Wall Street Journal

The exhibit includes self-portraits of the 27-year-old transgender artist posed in digitally enhanced settings with fantastical colors and editing effects that make her look, at times, like an online avatar.

Is she excited to move her art off the Internet and onto museum walls?

“I think I’m really excited,” Ms. Huxtable said. “It’s not about privileging that over other ways of creating, but it’s an opportunity to translate the work I do for different people. Not everyone relates to or understands the world of Tumblr or social networking.”

José León Cerrillo, an artist from Mexico City, achieved a different effect with a minimalist sculptural installation that plays tricks on the mind and the eye. The works, which define space with a skeletal metal framing, greet viewers right off the elevator, arranging the room with what seem like visions into extra dimensions.

“I think of them as screens into the act of looking,” Mr. Cerrillo said. “The idea was to point into the void.”

For a series of dance performances that will be presented throughout the triennial, Niv Acosta —who grew up in Washington Heights and the Bronx and now lives in Brooklyn—drew inspiration from the portrayal of the black American experience in science fiction.

“I’ve been thinking about…how it’s translated into being like an alien culture,” said Mr. Acosta, 26. “Often the people in these projections are female-bodied or female-presenting, bodacious and dancing.”

Artist Niv Acosta performs an excerpt of ‘DISCOTROPIC’ in the Sky Room at the New Museum. ENLARGE
Artist Niv Acosta performs an excerpt of ‘DISCOTROPIC’ in the Sky Room at the New Museum. Photo: Mark Abramson for The Wall Street Journal

For his piece, Mr. Acosta and three other dancers will take over the New Museum’s theater and gallery spaces to interpret “The Star Wars Holiday Special,” originally made for network television in 1978, and now viewable online.

He said his favorite scene features the African-American actress Diahann Carroll singing inside a machine called the Mind Evaporator.

“It’s a super-pervy but also majestic moment,” Mr. Acosta said. “It’s exciting for people who are queer-identified and also black to think about what our lineage is in the terms of sci-fi and disco. These are our ancestors in a way.”

The exhibition, in all its analytical energy and cultural commentary, is particularly suited for New York, said co-curator Mr. Trecartin, himself a Los Angeles native. “It’s so much a city for showing things in their final state…a place for things to go to be presented and judged, and I like that there’s a city so exhaustingly all about that.”


New York – The New Museum Triennial: “Surround Audience” Through May 24th, 2015

March 3rd, 2015

Frank Benson, Juliana, via Art Observed
Frank Benson, Juliana, via Art Observed

If the New Museum Triennial is to be believed, 2015 might in fact be the year that artists put the pervasive notions of “cyber-dread” to death in the contemporary discourse.  Curated by Ryan Trecartin and New Museum Curator (and former Rhizome head) Lauren Cornell, the exhibition combines aspirational commodities, linguistic play and digital microcosms into a fascinatingly deep exhibition, one that feels particularly appropriate as the 21st century turns 15.

Works by Anna Graff, via Art Observed
Works by Ana Graff, via Art Observed

Trecartin’s particular blend of digital maximalism was jarring by nearly all accounts when it first breached the art world over ten years ago, but as his breakneck editing and hyper-commodified landscapes gained a certain degree of palatability in recent years, so too did the work of his contemporaries: the Dis collective, poet/artist Juliana Huxtable, critic and writer Brian Droitcour, and a range of other artists in the orbit of the downtown New York art community, each of whom took their own respective viewpoints on the development and embrace of contemporary life within hyper-mediated spaces.

Josh Kline, Freedom (2015), via Art Observed
Josh Kline, Freedom (2015), via Art Observed

Verena Dengler, via Art Observed
Verena Dengler, via Art Observed

The Triennial, as a result, feels like something of a victory lap, a recognition of their particular approach to capital and consumption in the millennial era.  Throughout, mechanisms of production are bound up with their distribution and practical use, or perhaps vice versa, as illustrated in the marketing and social media campaign devised by K-Hole, including a selection of social media “stickers” users are invited to adorn Instagram photos and share, and a lighthearted poster series with phrases like “I’ll Triennial Once,” that invites publicity as a space of play and innovation.

Eloise Hawser, The Bride's House, via Art Observed
Eloise Hawser, The Bride’s House, via Art Observed

Performers at Eva Kotatkova's installation, via Art Observed
Performers at Eva Kotatkova’s installation, via Art Observed

A certain sense of generative practice sits at the heart of much of the work, embracing new modes of expression within older forms as a point of departure.  One highlight is the dizzying glow of Antoine Catala’s Distant Feel, a new emoticon and website platform developed by the artist as a method to express empathy online (expressed as “E3″).  Placed in a tank, the immense scuptural rendering of the icon is used to grow coral and other sea-life, a space for the maintenance and sustenance of new life within the cold linguistic confines of the digital.  On the ground floor, Dis has produced a gleaming horizontal shower/fountain, complete with a beverage tap, in which a performer lies down, inside its clean lines, fully clothed, while enjoying what appears to be a mint julep from.  The sheer excess of the work walks a fine line between critique and fetish. One wonders if the object merely pushes luxury beyond practicality, assuming the role of art object, or if is this goal merely propels it to a new level of commodity capitalism.  Several floors up, artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan has created a sonic environment exploring the critical noise pollution of Cairo, where cabs, bustling markets and mosque sound systems have created one of the most densely sonorous spaces in the world.

Lena Henke, via Art Observed
Lena Henke, via Art Observed

Guan Xiao, via Art Observed
Guan Xiao, via Art Observed

In other works, this same sense of playfulness and exploration turns its eye towards the archive.  The work of Eva Kotatkova, for instance, places performers among a selection of sculptures that vaguely reference early twentieth century surrealism, but are placed into interactions with a pair of performers, turning their intersections into a constantly shifting relationship with the works’ own historical references.  On the fourth floor, spatial intrusions by José Léon Cerrillo, Verena Dengler and Tania Pérez Córdova interact to create a drastically reformatted flow of movement, utilizing pop imagery and familiar sculptural forms to reformat the space of the museum as one of physical encounter.  Close by, Oliver Laric’s hypnotic video, depicting copied transformations of characters in varied animated television programs worldwide, proved an early favorite, inviting meditations on the structure and definition of bodies in media representation, and the willful desire for fluidity among them.

Dis, The Island (KEN) (2015), via Art Observed
Dis, The Island (KEN) (2015), via Art Observed

Yet the exhibition doesn’t shy away from the darker corners of digital modernity, either.  In the ground floor gallery, bitingly close to Dis’s aforementioned installation is Consumption, Chinese artist Li Liao’s performance work in which he assumed a position at a Foxconn-operated plant, creating components for iPhones and iPads, finally saving up enough after 45 days to buy an iPad himself.  The sheer scale of labor to merely own this icon of digital consumption is sobering.  But for sheer shock, few works can escape Josh Kline’s Freedom, a dystopian environment populated by shock troop mannequins, all masked with the faces of Teletubbies.  Nearby, the artist’s face-mapped performance as Barack Obama features a speech the artist longed for the president to give during his tenure, decrying corporate greed and calling for citizens to take back their government.

Li Liao, Consumption (2012), via Art Observed
Li Liao, Consumption (2012), via Art Observed

At times sprawling and surreal, at others powerfully concise, the New Museum’s current exhibition is a deep look at a disparate series of practices, united by material and political concerns that gradually emerge throughout the show’s five floors.  Almost impossible to properly summarize, the Triennial takes the polymorphic formats of digital circulation and places them into a free-flowing exchange, one which shifts from every perspective.

Surround Audience is on view through May 24th.

Aleksandra Domanovic, via Art Observed
Aleksandra Domanovic, via Art Observed

— D. Creahan

Read more:
“Review: New Museum Triennial Casts a Wary Eye on the Future” [New York Times]
“New Museum Triennial: Art for a Digitalized World” [Wall Street Journal]
“The 10 Most Interesting Works From the New Museum’s Triennial” [Bloomberg]
“Meet Juliana Huxtable: Star of the New Museum Triennial” [Vogue]
“Where Virtual Equals Real” [New York Times]
New Museum Triennial [Exhibition Site]



travel & leisure


Travel Blog

Advising the Curators of the New Museum Triennial


The 2015 New Museum Triennial<br /><br />
Not So Charmed

The 2015 New Museum Triennial:
Not So Charmed

Does the third edition of the New Museum Triennial, Surround Audience, struggle amidst curatorial conceits? Brienne Walsh reports

For the third edition of its triennial showcase for early-career and emerging artists, the New Museum claims a light curatorial touch. Entitled Surround Audience, the show professes to explore the tension between new forms of freedom in contemporary culture and threats to such freedom — embodied by social media, extremist states, the corporate sovereign entity, and the cult of self, to name a few examples. What the exhibition emits in execution is a sort of self-driven approach to both art making and curatorial practice.

Exploring themes such as sexuality, racism, nationalism, and consumerism, most of the works — by 51 artists from 25 countries, many of who identify as poets, dancers, designers, writers, and filmmakers rather than artists — are highly personal. But instead of connecting with one another, the pieces stand within the museum walls as cloistered units, reading like individual manifestos. The effect is somewhat like reading a blog composed of posts examining completely disparate topics. ‘It was really important to encourage the artists to do what they wanted to do, and not impose too much,’ says video and performance artist Ryan Trecartin, who co-curated the show with New Museum curator Lauren Cornell. ‘I just drop out of that shit if someone tries to do it to me.’

Casey Jane Ellison, IT’S SO IMPORTANT TO SEEM WONDERFUL, 2015 (still).
Video, sound, color. Courtesy the artist

Antoine Catala, Distant Feel, 2015. Production still

Staging a show that reads like an art fair, where many exhibitive displays are offered in a single forum, wasn’t the intention of the curators. According to Trecartin, the museum was meant as a ‘jumping off point into the world rather than a place where things are put into.’ In the context of other exhibitions, such as Crossing Brooklyn: Art from Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Beyond,which closed at the Brooklyn Museum last month and truly did extend off-site with works such as Pimp My Piragua, 2009, a coco helado cart that artist Miguel Luciano drove through the neighbourhood during the course of the show, Surround Audience is fairly unexceptional.

The show’s pervasive sense of alienation is introduced by Casey Jane Ellison’s Touching the Art, 2014. Presented on a television in the museum lobby, the ongoing series of videos features the artist in discussion with various cultural workers on the state of the art world. ‘I’m in a death metal band, and I’m only in the art world by accident,’ states musician and performance artist Kembra Pfahler. ‘I think we all are,’ replies Ellison.

DIS, Studies for The Island (KEN), 2015. Codesigned by Mike Meiré. Courtesy the artists and Dornbracht

Frank Benson, Juliana, 2015. Digital renderings of painted Accura® Xtreme Plastic rapid prototype. 54 x 48 x 24 in (137.2 x 122 x 61 cm) (approx.). Courtesy the artist; Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York; and Sadie Coles HQ London

Freedom, 2015, by Josh Kline well embodies the cult of self that runs throughout the Triennial. In a black box, life-size figures dressed in riot gear sport Teletubby heads and stomachs implanted with screens offering remarks on the culture’s proliferation of violence sourced from social media. These surround an HD video that depicts a digitally rendered version of President Barack Obama giving an inaugural address authored by the artist. ‘People who love the country can change it,’ says the facsimile, echoing a sentiment that galvanised the 2008 presidential campaign, now deemed as rhetoric unable to survive 21st-century political realities. As a dream of what could have been in the face of what is, the work reads as naïve rather than insightful.

Despite wanting to shed the label of artist, all of the show’s practitioners are keenly accomplished at creating art objects. There isn’t a work in the exhibition that doesn’t appear entirely at home in the museum galleries. The Island (Ken), 2015, by the collective DIS is a mash-up of kitchen and bathroom fixtures designed by the German luxury goods manufacturer Dornbracht. Commenting on the confluence of high-end design and fine art as systems that rely on one another to appeal to potential consumers, the piece will be the site of various performances including product demonstrations, cooking lessons, and a lucky few participants taking actual showers. Without its interactive component, however, the work, which resembles a tanning bed, remains quietly hermetic. Antoine Catala’s Distant Feel, 2015, is a pair of facing letter Es constructed from living aquatic plants encased in an aquarium. Pulsating with life, the work is the result of a collaboration between Catala and the advertising agency Droga5 that attempts to re-brand the concept of empathy. Regardless of its conceptual intent, its hard not to see it simply as a mind-numbingly beautiful object.

Left: Juliana Huxtable, Untitled in the Rage (Nibiru Cataclysm) from the “UNIVERSAL CROP TOPS FOR ALL THE SELF CANONIZED SAINTS OF BECOMING” series, 2015. Inkjet print. Courtesy the artist; Right: Juliana Huxtable, Untitled (Destroying Flesh) from the “UNIVERSAL CROP TOPS FOR ALL THE SELF CANONIZED SAINTS OF BECOMING” series, 2015. Inkjet print. Courtesy the artist

And aesthetically, the show appeals. Frank Benson’s Juliana, 2015, is a regal, nude statue, painted in shimmering tones of green and purple, of artist Juliana Huxtable, who is represented by her own self portraits as a comely female force with whom anyone would be lured into reckoning. Museum Shop of Fetish Objects, 2012, by Shreyas Karle, is a cabinet of curiosities that examines the culture of Bollywood with the clinical air of an anthropologist. Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s And We Begin To Let It Go, 2013, is a collage of thread, Xerox transfers of advertisements and women’s fashion images, and paint, that depicts the artist kissing the back of her husband. One could potentially spend hours before it, detangling its many references.

With people taking to the streets globally to protest injustice, the Triennial’s stab at cultural commentary will likely have little lasting impact. It reflects rather than leads, which is a shame given the potential for art to shape perceptions in society. ‘For some, it will be more traditional than expected, and for others, it will be a lot weirder,’ says Trecartin. The stance of being impervious to the reaction of others might be necessary for an artist to take to make bold work. But if Surround Audience is any indication, curatorial indifference to viewer experience only has the effect leaving both artists and visitors cold.

Main image: Frank Benson, Juliana, 2015. Digital renderings of painted Accura® Xtreme Plastic rapid prototype. 54 x 48 x 24 in (137.2 x 122 x 61 cm) (approx.). Courtesy the artist; Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York; and Sadie Coles HQ London


New Museum’s Generational Triennial: wired for the future

The 51 young artists in the New York gallery’s show are exploring the frontiers of digital technology, from the surveillance state to gaming culture

Surround Audience

Surround Audience: digital worlds explored. Photograph: Benoit Paley/New Museum

“Almost everybody wakes up and does something they don’t like – we can do better than this! … You are going to die: Make something beautiful before you die!” Screaming manically, alone in a damp Maine forest, the euphoric intensity of internet poet Steve Roggenbuck is balanced with humour in his 2012 video Make Something Beautiful Before You Are Dead. Roggenbuck embraces the cosmos and encourages us to do the same: “Back in my grandfather’s day they didn’t have #yolo! We have #yolo! We have to harness this gift,” he yells.

He is one of the 51 artists and collectives included in Surround Audience, the New Museum’s third Generational Triennial, which opens on Wednesday. The exhibition is hotly anticipated, largely because of its two curators: Lauren Cornell, a former director of Rhizome, a New Museum-affiliated organisation that has been promoting digital art for almost two decades, and Ryan Trecartin, the artist wunderkind whose work has been received rapturously by critics since he emerged on the scene in 2006.

Surround Audience


Frank Benson’s Juliana in the installation foreground. Photograph: Benoit Paley/New Museum

Because of their shared engagement with new digital technology, the exhibition is expected to be future-focused (“predictive, rather than retrospective”, according to New Museum director Lisa Phillips). People are eagerly awaiting the outcome of Cornell and Trecartin’s shared endeavour, which brings together artists from countries including Jordan, Qatar, South Korea, China and India, as well as Europe and America: “We’re expecting to be wowed by the breadth of interesting new work,” says collector Mihail Lari, who, together with his partner Scott Murray, has provided support for the exhibition.

“I think we are lucky to have a lot of artists in the world right now who are truly trying to invent and establish a unique creative freedom. Artists are reaching,” Trecartin says. Most of the artists in the exhibition are digital natives, born into an age of rapid technological change. While artists have always used the tools available to them, those in the triennial are particularly agnostic about medium. Their work is a mash-up of different materials and digital platforms, from PVC, nail polish, jade powder and oil paint, to works incorporating 3D printers, Google Earth and HD video.

Surround Audience
A performance on the first night of Surround Audience. Photograph: Benoit Paley/New Museum

For many of the artists, the medium is merely the means of expression, not the subject. The exhibition focuses on artists who, Trecartin says, “are creating new realities through their transformative thinking. They aren’t concerned with the somewhat parochial thinking about what an art practice can or should encompass right now. It’s hard to meditate on potential futures when we are still transitioning out of a period that has been culturally obsessed with defining the past through acts of rejection or fetishization. There are many artists today who are not only looking past older entrenched ways of thinking about art, they are actually behaving past it.”

The wired ways in which we receive information today – a lot of it all at once – is suggested both by the kaleidoscopic range of influences evident in the exhibition, and their compression. The artists eddy around a swell of subjects from art history to sci-fi fiction, from the surveillance state to gaming culture, from racism in America to issues of self-identity – with their evident paranoia tempered by a healthy dose of humour.

Surround Audience


Dowiyogo’s Ancient Coral Coffee Table by Nicholas Mangan. Photograph: New Museum

Many of the artists in the show express a sense of invasion, whether by technology, political systems or the effects of late capitalism. Several deal with the environment, such as Lisa Tan’s Waves, which uses Skype footage, HD video and Google’s virtual Art project. Taking Virginia Woolf’s experimental novel as its cue to explore language and consciousness, the work is also “a poetic imagination of how technology affects the planet,” Tan says. Meanwhile, Australian artist Nicholas Mangan’s Nauru, Notes from a Cretaceous World is based on his expeditions to Nauru, a once-booming, phosphate-rich Pacific island that has been mined to the point of destitution. “A lot of my work is about finding materials that open up stories – stuff to do with our human mark on the world,” he says. His work is far removed from digital technology. “I’m totally against social media. I find it exhausting. I guess I’m making a considered decision to move in the opposite direction. I’m much more interested in tree-ring dating – it’s like Google in reverse.”


Other artists use new media to address centuries-old concerns, such as German artist Peter Wächtler. His work, whether stop-frame animation, charcoal or video, centres around the existentialist problems of being human. Sweetly melancholic and slightly absurdist, Wächtler’s art deals with “change and the impossibility of it, the lie of it and the idea of another self”, creating “a looping environment with characters fixed and paralysed by the wish for personal change, unable to perceive that you are still the same idiot watching a different sea.”

The search for self, or loss of self, manifests in different ways: the intricate still-life works by Nigerian artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby speak to the liminality of the immigrant experience; Avery K Singer’s figurative paintings of robot-like people created with a Sketch-Up animation program suggest a sense of disassociation with the body; the avatars in Ed Atkins’s videos point to the post-human possibilities long imagined by the sci-fi fiction community.

Gender identity and body politics are the focus for artists including Frank Benson, showing a 3-D sculpture of the transgender DJ and artist Juliana Huxtable (who is also a Triennial artist), or trans dancer Niv Acosta whose Discotropic performance will deal with race and queer identity.

Other works simply ask us to imagine being somebody else. A twice-daily performance piece by Luke Willis Thompson will take visitors on walks, pursuing one of his cast members and collaborators through New York in choreographed routes. “You never really know which narrative you’re going to be immersed in,” says the New Zealander. “Some of them lead home, or to an idea of home, while others are designed to disorientate the audience.” The work emerged from time spent visiting New York. “When I first came Michael Brown was still alive and when I left he wasn’t, so there is this sense of social change the cities are going through which I felt strongly had to be part of the work.”

The quest for meaning leads to new connections, and this is really what the show is about. Bringing together scores of artists from around the world, the meshing of so many ideas and intentions mirrors the way in which we consume information and create meaning. Indian artist Shreyas Karle, who is creating a museum-within-a-museum dedicated to fetish objects, which is about the impact of cinema on Bombay (and vice versa) and the idea that censorship and licentiousness are “two sides of the same coin”, is looking forward to the exchange. “My wife keeps telling me to focus on my own work, but I’m not really like that. Being asked to exhibit in the triennial, it’s less about me than it is about being part of something dynamic.”

Great and Devastating Reviews of MoMA’s The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World






Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World

Museum of Modern Art | December 14, 2014  –  April 5, 2015

In an instance of spectacularly unfortunate programming, The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World shared the first two months of its exhibition life on the Museum of Modern Art’s sixth floor with Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs. Visitors intoxicated with Matisse’s rhapsodic color and cunning simplicity wandered bemused through the thicket of contradictory, restrained, profligate, ambivalent paintings in The Forever Now exhibition.

Rashid Johnson. Cosmic Slop “Black Orpheus” (2011). Black soap and wax. 96 × 120 × 13/4 ̋. Collection of Richard Chang. Photo: Martin Parsekian.

The exhibition announces its disruptive position outside the entrance to the gallery, where Kerstin Brätsch’s super-sized drawings-as-paintings in monumental wooden frames variously hang on the wall or stand stacked awaiting their turn. These are complex works in which shards of black invade vaporous orbs of light out of Nolde and O’Keeffe, malevolently stealing their glow as though jagged sci-fi creatures were colonizing Brätsch’s customary brash color.

On the evidence of sight alone, the paintings by 17 painters in The Forever Now exhibition do not bear a discernible relationship to one another. Matt Connors pirates and dismembers color strategies from Matisse through Richter with screwball combinations and improbably painted frames. Rashid Johnson incises thick gestural troughs through expanses of black soap and mud. Dianna Molzan unravels her paintings, deconstructs canvas and frame, and repositions both structure and surface as sculpture.

But The Forever Now is not specifically concerned with what the eye sees. Its motivating principle is theory. In the end that theory has very little to do with the actual experience of viewing the paintings. It misunderstands the process of their making and obfuscates the reasons for their selection.

Laura Hoptman, curator of the exhibition, has been called “the canary in the coal mine of contemporary art.”1 The selections she made for MoMA’s Projects series between 1995 and 2001, before she departed to organize the 2004 – 05 Carnegie International and to mount such exhibitions as Brion Gysin: Dream Machine at the New Museum, have since been successfully market tested. As a canary in the coal mine, Hoptman has responded to a very real phenomenon since the turn of the millennium—the upsurge of painters painting and the prevalence of abstraction emerging from studios—and she has guided MoMA on a painting buying spree. As a coal mine canary, she might also appreciate comments of the “my graduate students can do better” variety from an exhibition visitor or two. After all, isn’t one test of advanced art that it takes a while for audiences to get it?

On the contrary, Hoptman argues in her catalogue essay. In this cultural moment of forever now, “thanks to the Internet, all eras seem to exist at once,” a situation that the science-fiction writer William Gibson described as “atemporality” in 2003. The artists whose search engines prowl continents and eras, universes and grains of sand for information and cues “dramatically” challenge “the great, ladder-like narrative of cultural progress that is so dependent upon the idea of the new superseding the old in a movement simultaneously forward and upward,” she writes in the catalogue. The already well-acknowledged artists on the MoMA’s sixth-floor walls don’t hold with the notion of historical progress or make any attempt “to define the times in which we live,” she writes. On the contrary, “it is not progress as such that is at stake in this new, atemporal universe. Time-based terms like progressive—and its opposite reactionary, avant- and arrière-garde—are of little use to describe atemporal works of art.” Instead, she states, images from all times and all places have become malleable materials to mine, manipulate, “reanimate,” “reenact,” and “cannibalize.”

It’s a workmanlike, even plausible, concept particularly since atemporality under various soubrettes has lately been the hot new concept in fiction, fashion, poetry, pop music, and pop culture. Yes, the impulse to name a period is irresistible; yes we live in a Google world; yes information is cheap and phlegmatic. But as a lens for looking at painting—and particularly at some of the most arresting paintings in the exhibition—the Forever Now thesis is as reductive as Modernist Formalism. It leaves out intent, content, biography, the alchemy of transmutation, the hustle and flow of lived life, the conversation between hand and paint—all variously present in works in the show. And most of all it leaves out how painters make and what the eye sees.

“You feel the painting and the reason you read the mark is because you can also feel the mark,” the painter Julie Mehretu has said.2 Her exquisitely layered, often epic encrustations of marks, erasures, fade-outs, superimpositions, and gestures engulf an underlying stratum of maps, grids, and blueprints—emblems of humanity’s attempts at imposing order. Only on the most superficial level does the fierce calligraphy distilled into her new paintings in the exhibition fit the atemporal template.

Mehretu was born in Addis Ababa, where her American mother and Ethiopian father experienced the radical disruptions of decolonization, and she fled with them at the age of seven in 1977 during the Derg terror. “Now we’re all dislocated … and there’s this constant negotiating of place, space, ideals, ideas,” she has said.3 Through painting, she interrogates the news, the contradictions of the moment into which she was born and history as it evolves. That includes 9/11, the Iraq War, and internecine battles everywhere. True, she browses the Internet for information about Tahrir Square, Zuccotti Park, a new shopping center in Africa, et al. But this is hardly promiscuous surfing. It serves core concerns with construction and collapse, order and chaos, utopias and their disintegration, all occurring simultaneously. She also incubates images while watching TV, listening to NPR, riding the subway, traveling, reading, doing all the things that artists do to inhale reality and exhale it as a work of art.

I’d argue that it has almost always been thus. The Internet may be faster than the mind can comprehend, its reach further and less discriminating than once imaginable. But Willem de Kooning created his mash-ups from cartoons, movies, magazine pinups, art historical training, 10th Street talk, Louse Point water-gazing, and East Hampton evenings on his orange leather couch paging through artbooks in the interests of problem-solving.

In the exhibition, Mary Weatherford is represented by neon tubes affixed like slashing lines to dark washes of color (for New York) or sunny hues (for Bakersfield, California). Memory and experience trumped Internet when she recited the backstory of the Bakersfield paintings for W Magazine in a “breakneck monologue that touches on the Dust Bowl, the oil rush, The Grapes of Wrath, Dorothea Lange, Merle Haggard, honky-tonks, the Tea Party, the Ku Klux Klan, and dinosaurs. Thrown in are an impression of Jackson Pollock and a rendition of a Beatles song.”4 Even more important than such sources, is what, in the actual making, she left out.

The Internet collapses time and space, alters world views, influences consumption, and disrupts economic sectors. It lets artists’ fingers do some of the walking. It certainly wields its influence on painting, but so did the newfangled tools of the telegraph, the automobile, the radio, photography, and television, not to mention technological advances in the materials of canvas, oil paint, acrylic, video, and—thank you David Hockney—the copying machine and the smart phone. In the end, painting and drawing are handmade, their recombinant DNA resulting from an intimate interface between artist and process. Many of the artists in the exhibition engage in multiple practices, venturing periodically into photography, performance, installation, sculpture—each medium with its own history, demands, and possibilities.

The strength of The Forever Now exhibition lies in the macro/micro nature of so many of the paintings, which demand multiple viewpoints, with close-up examination of details and passages slowing things down to pre-fiber-optic pace. Visual satisfactions are often labor intensive. Even here, Hoptman diminishes the rewards by installing mostly color affinities, dark to light. Palettes of tamped down greens and golds, dour purples, grays, and blacks inhabit the opening galleries, periodically interspersed with antic shout-outs of color by way of Nicole Eisenman’s riffs on portraiture, modernism, and masks. (There’s comic relief, partway through, in young-artist-of-the-moment Oscar Murillo’s sophisticated takes on graffiti, rendered in underplayed urban colors. Viewers are invited to interact with a selection of his canvases heaped on the floor. One afternoon I watched four dapper men drape the paintings neatly over their suits and request the guard to shoot them the old-fashioned way before selfies.) The exhibition’s tone brightens in the back galleries, culminating on the end wall with Michael Williams’s resort-wear hued, allover compositions of air-brushed washes, and computer-generated painted incidents.

This literal arrangement of works manages to diminish the force of Rashid Johnson’s black soap and wax paintings, which could easily have held the whole gallery on their own. The black-on-black paintings induce an aftereffect in the manner of Ad Reinhardt, as the eye attempts to focus. Gouged with a broom handle, his whole body implicit in the gesture, the paintings suggest bomb sites, itinerant paths, the mellow wail of jazz on a summer night. In the grand humanist tradition, he holds that “Art should be about the bigger issues in life. Life, death, sex, taxes, race, gender. The best art has something to say about the human condition.”5

As with so many of the artists, it wasn’t necessarily from the Internet that Johnson learned sampling. His influences are as apt to be tangible as digital. “I’ve collected so many things that there are so many crosscurrents of language and contradiction throughout my studio, whether it be a rap album next to W.E.B. DuBois’s Souls of Black Folk, or a gold rock that I painted next to a brass urn. It’s all this language that, when combined, produces a complicated kind of narrative.”6

A good place to end here, is with a poem that is a kind  of road map to the ways in which so many artists—and poets—make art. Frank O’Hara wrote “The Day Lady Died,” on a typewriter in 1964:

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don’t know the people who will feed me

I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets
in Ghana are doing these days
I go on to the bank
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)
doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or
Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness

and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing.



  1. Julie Halperin, “The Curator as Canary or Crony,” The Observer (Oct. 20, 2010).
  2. Julie Mehretu, “To be Felt as Much as Read,” Interview by Susan Sollins, Art21 (Oct. 2009).
  3. Jason Farago, “Julie Mehretu … from Tarhir Square to Zucotti Park,” The Guardian (June 20, 2013).
  4. Fan Zhong, “Mary Weatherford: Brushes with Greatness,” W Magazine (Dec. 11, 2014).
  5. Andrew Goldstein, “Rashid Johnson on Making Art ‘About the Bigger Issues in Life,’” Artspace (Dec. 31, 2013).
  6. ibid.

Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World

Museum of Modern Art | December 14, 2014  –  April 5, 2015

Nothing sums up the ephemeral nature of MoMA’s attempt to make a statement about painting today better than its title, The Forever Now. The phrase implies no history and no future, no past and no evolution. All the right “postmodernist” tendencies are represented—stylistic quotation, simulation, irony, mixed media, self-reference, graffiti, media recycling, text and image, interactivity, multiple overlays—you fill in the rest. In that sense, the works are strictly academic, torn from the pages of the art magazines or taught in the proliferation of M.F.A. programs. However, the dominant tone is not of a rigorous examination of the medium. Rather, the feeling is of the relaxed atmosphere of a mosh pit in a provincial art fair.

The question is, why is this show at MoMA? The answer seems only too obvious: the collectors who own the work are young and affluent potential new donors to the insatiable funding needs of the ever expanding, constantly morphing museum that once prided itself on having its great permanent collection permanently on display. (Now, try and find these fragments on view in hallways and ancillary galleries.) In the show’s favor is the fact that of the 17 painters included, each is represented by several works that when viewed together, could possibly be assessed as a personal style. The collection of oversize, bright paintings on paper by Kerstin Brätsch piled up and flanking the entrance are indeed startling and could possibly have been a credible one-person exhibition. Instead, they are stacked casually on the floor so that few can be entirely seen. The jagged black framing image is bold, as are the brilliant colors that pop like a fireworks display. Unfortunately, the rest of the works in The Forever Now, with the exception of Julie Mehretu’s paintings of dense and elegant calligraphic filigree, seem flaccid and singularly unambitious despite their hugeness, which unfortunately does not correspond to monumental scale.

Matt Connors, “Divot,” (2012). Acrylic and pencil on canvas. 48 × 36 ̋. Collection Richard and Monica Weinberg. Courtesy of Herald St, London. Photo: Andy Keate.

Making paintings as big as those of the New York School does not equate to anything more than using large quantities of material. In some cases, like that of Michaela Eichwald, her individual works are more impressive than the large mural in the show that lacks concentration and coherence. Matt Connors, too, is better dealing with human rather than architectural scale; it’s too easy to see his tricolor floor to ceiling planks as a Gulliver-size marriage of Ellsworth Kelly and John McCracken. But at least in the smaller, more personal pieces he exhibits interest in perceptual issues and a lack of fear in confronting the past. Nicole Eisenman, once one of my favorite painters, is represented by enormous, thickly impastoed caricatures of goofy heads that seem inexplicably crude in comparison with her earlier work as if she, too, felt the need to join the chaotic din that characterizes this not-so-magic moment.

Among the common denominators of this exhibition is a lack of coherence; an indication perhaps of what post-postmodernism may turn out to be. Presenting this collection of works as a sampling of where painting is now, is as irresponsible as within the current context it is understandable. These artists, after all, are supported by “emerging collectors”—“emerging” being the code word for a non existent avant-garde—courted by powerful galleries who place ads in art magazines, which review shows by galleries who advertise. This self-serving Ring-Around-the-Rosie proves why the exhibition of a work at MoMA is like a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, a much sought-after guarantee of quality that instantly skyrockets prices into the auction house stratosphere.

Some of the choices are clearly more market driven than others. Saatchi and Rubell protégé Oscar Murillo’s hodge-podge of this, that, the other thing, and everything else is particularly vacuous and unconvincing. Murillo’s is not the only work that suggests more is less, seeming to throw everything against the wall to give an impression of excitement, activity, and the spontaneity that is, in fact, entirely absent. The result is like a Chinese master sauce to which new ingredients are constantly added until a thick gluey mixture produces a blurring of distinctions in taste and consistency. One senses a desperate, even nervous need to get the recipe right despite the je m’en fous nonchalance of the Forever Now artists. The problem with the mock-heroic dimensions of many of the canvases is that the inarticulate surfaces look flabby rather than tense. This suggests that the work, rather than trying to stun with super size, should go on a diet.

I remember when “freshness” was the sought after quality in painting. Laura Owens makes a stab at freshness with her wallpaper-like floral motif embellished with oil stick squiggles, but the effect is coy rather than crisp. The artist who most successfully embraces the slacker attitude is Richard Aldrich. His conflated and referential images do have a certain piquant unpredictability. His use of mixed media—including greasy oil, wax, and charcoal on fine linen—belies the sophistication behind his off-the-cuff bricolage style. In the all and anything-at-all current mode, he does it best. Looking casually uncomposed, the work is actually quite consciously structured.

Mark Grotjahn, “Untitled (Circus No. 1 Face 44.18)” (2012). Oil on cardboard mounted on linen, 8 ́5 1/2 ̋ × 72 1/2 ̋. Collection Donald B. Marron, New York. Courtesy of Mark Grotjahn. Copyright Mark Grotjahn. Photo: Douglas M. Parker Studio.

Mark Grotjahn’s “Circus” triptych is a competent evocation of the manic thrill of roller-coaster rides which is at least evocative, demonstrating control and skill, rather than just an empty accumulation of larded pigments and aimless scrawls. Personally, I think Kurt Godwin’s complex carnivals were more original and ambitious, but he had the disadvantage of living on the wrong side of the tracks in Virginia where nary a critic or curator would venture. He painted all his life, immersing himself directly in the alchemical sources of both Duchamp and the best recent German art. He died last fall, age 58, in total obscurity.

It’s not as if there is no ambitious painting today that would not look out of place in a Museum of Modern Art, a name by now inappropriate for much currently featured by the Matrix on 53rd Street. Everyone, of course, has their own suggestion of painters not on the list of conspicuously strategized market darlings in The Forever Now. I would point to the exquisite enlarged miniatures of Shahzia Sikander, the rigorous constructions of R.H. Quaytman, the sophisticated color and compositions of Joanna Pousette-Dart, the tough materiality of Melissa Kretschmer, and the lush, fluid painterliness of Cecily Brown, along with the meticulous warped optical space of Rebecca Norton, the kinky perfection of Julie Speed, or the quiet poetry of Mary Corse. Not only is their painting unhip and uncool, they have the distinct disadvantage that they can’t produce enough to satisfy the needs of international mass production. Their work requires long hours of thought, preparation, and execution, as opposed to the fast-food rehash of Sigmar Polke—whose stunning retrospective, it should be said, MoMA did house—Albert Ohlehn and Martin Kippenburger, the apparent godfathers of The Forever Now. It is as if the unspoken message for young artists is grab the first flight for Berlin; do not pass New York or Paris except in reproduction.

I never thought I would be nostalgic for Marcia Tucker’s 1978 Whitney Museum Bad Painting show. In retrospect, it was a valiant effort to show a group of highly individualistic works that went beyond the boundaries of good taste and current trends. Like Kynaston McShine’s equally aberrant and even more memorable International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture show at MoMA in 1984, Bad Painting made no attempt to find common denominators defining a moment. At the time, McShine was quoted as saying, “I have to go beyond the way work is perceived in New York … a serious public cannot depend upon the whims of commercial galleries. It has to depend upon museums.” Ah, how nostalgic that sounds today. An independent contrarian spirit, McShine curated exhibitions that brought unexpected variety to MoMA’s mainstream program that have not been sufficiently acknowledged as major contributions. Some of the artists he chose were more durable than others, but many in the International Survey proved to become major international figures. And surely one of the “bad painters,” Neil Jenney, deserves to occupy precious MoMA space with a retrospective far more than this collection of forever now, forgotten tomorrow work.


Barbara Rose BARBARA ROSE is an art historian and curator who lives in New York and Madrid, Spain.


Features Reviews

Structure Rising: David Salle on ‘The Forever Now’ at MoMA

What the flawed survey tells us about painting today

Installation view of “The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (December 14, 2014-April 5, 2015). JOHN WRONN/©2014 THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART

The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World” is MoMA’s first survey of recent painting in over 30 years. In the museum’s crowded sixth-floor galleries, curator Laura Hoptman has corralled 17 artists who have come to notice in the last decade or so, and collectively they give off a synaptic charge. There are a fair number of clunkers, but the majority of the painters here display an honestly arrived-at complexity, expressed through a rigorous series of choices made at what feels like a granularly visual level. Their work rewards hard looking.

The good artists in the show are very good indeed. Charline von Heyl, Josh Smith, Richard Aldrich, Amy Sillman, Mark Grotjahn, Nicole Eisenman, Rashid Johnson, Joe Bradley, and Mary Weatherford have all developed tenacious and highly individual styles. Each makes work that engages the viewer on the paintings’ own terms and that shakes free whatever journalistic shorthand might, in passing, get stuck on them. What drives these artists is resolved in works that are self-reliant and unassailable while remaining open and undogmatic—it’s the ebullience of secular art freed of any ideological task.

Two words one should probably avoid using in exhibition titles are “forever” and “now,” and Hoptman uses both. “Atemporal” comes from a William Gibson story, and Hoptman worked it into a youthful-sounding phrase, but it’s just distracting, like someone talking too loudly while you’re trying to think. She wants to make a point about painting in the Internet age, but the conceit is a red herring—the Web’s frenetic sprawl is opposite to the type of focus required to make a painting, or, for that matter, to look at one.

What does “atemporal” mean, in the context of painting? Judging from Hoptman’s catalogue essay, it’s the confidence, or panache, to take what one likes from the vast storehouse of style, without being overly concerned with the idea of progress or with what something means as a sign. Today, “all eras co-exist at once,” Hoptman writes. She goes on to say that this atemporality is a “wholly unique phenomenon in Western culture.” Big news. The free-agent status accorded the artists in her show is something I take as a good thing—maybe “minding one’s own business” would be a better way of putting it—but her claim for its uniqueness is harder to swallow; it’s more or less what I’ve been advocating for the last 35 years. Not that I take any credit for the idea; within a certain milieu it’s just common knowledge.


In her desire to connect everything to a narrative of the digital future, Hoptman misses the salient difference between the best work here and its immediate antecedents: a sense of structure. By structure I don’t mean only relational composition—though that plays a part—but more generally the sense of a painting’s internal rationale, its “inside energy,” as Alex Katz would say, that alignment of intention, talent, and form. Hoptman wants to make a clean break for her crew from the mores of “appropriation,” but again, the emphasis seems misplaced. Appropriation—as a style—had a tendency to stop short, visually speaking. The primary concern was with “presentation” itself, and the work that resulted was often an analog for the screen, or field, something upon which images composed themselves into some public/private drama. Appropriation pointed to something—some psychological or cultural condition outside of the work itself—that was the basis of its claim to criticality and, at its best, excavated something deep in the psyche. But there are other things in life. At present, painting is focused on structure, discovering and molding pictorial form for its own sake.

Atemporality, then, is nothing new. Most if not all art reaches backward to earlier models in some way; every rupture is also a continuity. The “reaching back” might be to unexpected sources, but imprints of earlier achievements are what give art its gristle and grit. What’s different is the mode of seeing. As an example, Weatherford places tubes of colored neon in front of fields of paint-stained canvas. In the old, appropriationist mind-set, one might get hung up on a list of signifiers along the lines of, say, Mario Merz or Gilberto Zorio meets Helen Frankenthaler; this reductiveness was, from the beginning, an unsatisfying way to see. Pleasantly, reassuringly, more like an old friend showing up after a long absence, arte povera echoes through Weatherford’s work, but it doesn’t feel like a self-conscious reference. Her works clear a space where they can be taken on their own terms. They do, as Ben Jonson said in a somewhat different context, “win themselves a kind of grace-like newness.”

In a related, refreshing development, Warhol’s gloomy, vampiric fatalism is no longer dragging down the party. Duchamp, too, is absent. What a relief. Nothing against the two masters as far as their own work is concerned, but they have exerted such an outsize gravitational pull on generations of artists that finally being out from under them feels like waking from a lurid dream. There is camp in “The Forever Now,” to be sure, and imagery, and irony, and “presentation,” but they are not the main event.

Painting also seems to have shed its preoccupation with photography; here you will find only the faintest nod to “the age of mechanical reproduction.” Even for Laura Owens, who blithely tries on the visual conundrums of the digital world, photography isn’t really part of her DNA. It turns out that much of the art-historical hand-wringing of the last 40 years over Walter Benjamin’s famous prophecy was either misplaced or just plain wrong. Painting is not competing with the Internet, even when making use of its proliferative effects.


Imagery is present to varying degrees in many of these artists’ works. It’s front and center in Eisenman’s paintings, exuberantly evident in Smith’s, lambent in Bradley’s. Drawn forms, some with a goofy, cartoony quality, are often the basis of Sillman’s muscular lyricism. Sillman is a great picture builder; her evocative and gemütlich paintings give the show some real gravitas. Representation even shows up in the trenchant cerebral complexities of von Heyl, but none of these artists is involved with the tradition of realism. They are not translating what can be seen into what can be painted. While everything, even abstraction, is an image in the ontological sense, and there are snatches of imagery in most of these paintings, these artists are simply not imagists; their images are more like the folk melodies in Bartók—present as understructure, there but not there.

The overall tone of “The Forever Now” has a West Coast casual feel about it. Five of the artists in the exhibition—Grotjahn, Weatherford, Owens, Dianna Molzan, and Matt Connors—are based in Southern California, and their work has some of Los Angeles’s take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward materiality. It’s a feeling I remember from living in L.A. in the ’70s: a slightly secondhand relationship to the New York School pieties. The alternative to sober, grown-up painting was an emphasis on materials, often industrial or non-art materials, and on the idea of process itself. The work embodies a youthful vigor without visible strain—in a word, cool. When combined with an internal structural core, the result has a kind of multiplier effect; it wins you over.

(The situation in literature today is not so different; while still avoiding straight realism, the parodists, inventors, miniaturists, and tinkerers are now coming into prominence, taking over from the arid metafictionists. Writers like George Saunders, Ben Marcus, Sam Lipsyte, Sheila Heti, Ben Lerner, and Chris Kraus have clear parallels with painters von Heyl, Weatherford, Bradley, Aldrich, Chris Martin, et al. Painting and advanced writing are now closer in spirit than at any time in living memory.)

But I want to return to that quality that sets apart certain painters in this show—that sense of structure. Like diamonds, Grotjahn’s paintings are the result of great pressure brought to bear on a malleable material over a protracted period of time. His work is a good example of the way in which many artists today are using imagery and history—which is to say, the way that artists mainly always have. Grotjahn manages to simultaneously invoke Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism—everyone from Malevich to Victor Brauner—and translate those impulses into an intensely focused, schematic composition that leaves just enough room for his hand to do its stuff.

Much has been made of Grotjahn’s Picassoid heads, but the overall looping structure of his paintings produces an effect closer to Joseph Stella’s 1920s paintings of the Brooklyn Bridge. Grotjahn reimagines Stella’s swooping catenaries into arched ribbons of impasto paint. Because the chunks of color are small and contiguous, they tend to blend together in the viewer’s eye, giving the paintings an alternating current of macro and micro focus. His colors are dark red and burgundy, forest green, warm white, cobalt blue—the colors of silk neckties. They are preppy in a nice way, with a whiff of the 1940s. More importantly, Grotjahn’s color intervals are exacting. They put the painting in a major key. Their simple, clear visual forms—arcs, circles, lozenge and ovoid shapes, like segments of an orange—sometimes overlap and cut into one another, creating a space of increasing, sobering complexity. Grotjahn’s paintings do a funny thing: they achieve great scale through the linear arrangement of small areas of paint, and their structural and imagistic concatenations are in good alignment with the color and paint application. The what and the how are in productive sync. These paintings are tight, shipshape, and very satisfying to look at. At 46, Grotjahn is close on to a modernist master.

Aldrich has been making interesting and surprising paintings for a while, and one of his works here shows great panache. Two Dancers with Haze in Their Heart Waves Atop a Remake of “One Page, Two Pages, Two Paintings,” from 2010, is Aldrich at his least gimmicky and most in tune with the spirit of abstract painting as deconstruction. The painting’s success lies in its loose-limbed sense of structure: a grid- or ladder-like armature along which an array of painted shapes and brush-drawn lines alternate with the interstitial white spaces to form a syncopated rhythm. Its painterly touch calls to mind Joan Mitchell and Philip Guston, and also Robert Rauschenberg’s Winter Pool from 1959—two canvases joined in the middle by a ladder—as well as Rauschenberg’s later Combines. Aldrich’s palette here is sophisticated, just shy of decorator-ish; he takes eight or nine hues and nudges them into perfectly tuned intervals of cream, white, Pompeii red, burnt umber, and a grayed cobalt green—colors that feel at once Mediterranean and Nordic. This particular painting touches on a number of visual cues without leaning too heavily on any of them; the four irregular black rectangles framed by cream-colored bands suggest darkened windows in a cracked plaster wall.

Richard Aldrich, Two Dancers with Haze in Their Heart Waves Atop a Remake of “One Page, Two Pages, Two Paintings,” 2010. FARZAD OWRANG/COURTESY THE ARTIST AND BORTOLAMI GALLERY, NEW YORK/PRIVATE COLLECTION, NEW YORK

That Aldrich’s painting is reminiscent of earlier paintings while maintaining a clear sense of contemporaneity is perhaps what Hoptman means by “atemporal.” But this is what painting is always about, in one way or another. Rauschenberg’s work of the late ’50s and early ’60s was itself a deconstruction and reconstruction of Abstract Expressionism, freed from its self-importance. Aldrich has taken a lot from that period in Rauschenberg’s work, but his tone is lighter; it has Rauschenberg’s insouciance, without the urgent nervousness. The stakes are different. This is now. Though informal, at times almost flippant, Aldrich’s work is sturdier and more tough-minded than it first appears. His painting says, “Lean on me.”

Susan Sontag observed nearly 50 years ago, in her essay “On Style,” that no self-respecting critic would want to be seen separating form from content, and yet most seem drawn to do just that, after first offering a disclaimer to the contrary. Make that double for curators. The real problem with “The Forever Now” is that it’s two shows: there are the painters who make stand-alone paintings—we don’t need no backstory—and those who use a rectangular-ish surface to do something else. The artists in the former group are the raison d’être for the show; their work has formal inventiveness and pictorial intelligence; it lives in the moment. As for the latter, they are artists who make tip-of-the-iceberg art. What’s on the canvas is the evidence, or residue, of what happens offstage. There’s nothing at all wrong with this in principle, of course, but it can result in an arid busyness that masks a core indecisiveness or, worse, emptiness.

Here is another way to see this: there are pictures that repay our attention with interest and others that simply use it up. The qualities we admire in people—resourcefulness, intelligence, decisiveness, wit, the ability to bring others into the emotional, substantive self—are often the same ones that we feel in art that holds our attention. Less-than-admirable qualities—waffling, self-aggrandizement, stridency, self-absorption—color our experience of work that, for one reason or another, remains unconvincing. By “unconvincing” I mean the feeling you get when the gap between what a work purports to be and what it actually looks like is too big to be papered over.

Such is the case with several of the most celebrated artists included in “The Forever Now.” The problem of grade inflation has been with us since at least the 1920s, when H. L. Mencken, in his American Mercury magazine, coined the term “American boob” to mean our national variant of philistinism. The flip side of “boob-ism,” in Mencken’s formulation, was the wholesale enthusiasm for everything cultural, lest one be thought a philistine. It’s created a hell of confusion ever since.

George Balanchine once complained that the praise had been laid on a little thick. “Everyone’s overrated,” said the greatest choreographer in history. “Picasso’s overrated. I’m overrated. Even Jack Benny’s overrated.” He meant that once it’s decided that someone is great, a misty halo of reverence surrounds everything he or she does. The reality is more prosaic: some things, or some parts of things, will be great and others not. It’s annoying to be overpraised; it’s like showing your work to your parents. The lack of criticality is one of the things that give our current art milieu the feeling of the political sphere (I don’t mean political art). Politics, as a job, is the place where the truth can never be told; it would bring the merry-go-round to a halt.

I decided a long time ago not to write about things I don’t care for. So much work is deeply and movingly realized, and so many artists of real talent are working today that it’s just not worth the time to take an individual clunker to task. There’s an audience for everything—who cares? Besides, one can always be wrong. However, I’m compelled to make an exception in the case of 27-year-old Oscar Murillo. While it’s not his fault for being shot out of the canon too early, I feel one has to say something lest perception be allowed to irretrievably swamp reality. There have always been artists who were taken up by collectors, curators, or journalists; artists who fit a certain narrative but are of little interest to other artists. So why get worked up over it now? Of course it’s not just him. The problem is really one of what constitutes interpretation; it’s the fault line of a deepening divide between how artists and curators see the world. Though it may seem unfair to single out Murillo, the best way to explain why the distinction matters is to describe his work.

Murillo seems to want to say something with his work about palimpsest and memory and being an outsider, but he lacks, to my eye, most of what is needed to make a convincing picture of that type. His grasp of the elements that engage people who paint—like scale, color, surface, image, and line—is journeyman-like at best. His sense of composition is strictly rectilinear; he doesn’t seem to have discovered the diagonal or the arabesque. Worse, he can’t seem to generate any sense of internal pictorial rhythm.

Murillo’s paintings lack personality. He uses plenty of dark colors, scraping, rubbing, dripping, graffiti marks, and dirty tarpaulins—run-of-the-mill stuff, signifiers all. The work looks like something made by an art director; it’s meant to look gritty and “real” but comes across as fainthearted. This is painting for people who don’t have much interest in looking, who prefer the backstory to what is in front of their eyes. Murillo is in so far over his head that even a cabal of powerful dealers won’t be able to save him. He must on some level know this, and so he tries to make up for what’s missing by adding on other effects. One piece in “The Forever Now” is a pile of canvases crumpled up on the floor that viewers can move about as they choose. It’s interactive—get it? MoMA visitors with a long memory will recognize this as a variation on early work by Allan Kaprow, the inventor of Happenings, who wished to mimic the “expressionist” impulses in ’50s paintings and channel them into little games that invited viewer participation with the result that what had once been pictorially alive became pure tedium. To quote Fairfield Porter, writing at the time, “[Kaprow] uses art and he makes clichés….If he wants to prove that certain things can’t be done again because they already have been done, he couldn’t be more convincing.” You can kick Murillo’s canvases around from here to Tuesday—there is no way to bring them to life, because they never lived in the first place.

The real news from “The Forever Now,” the good news, is that painting didn’t die. The argument that tried to make painting obsolete was always a category mistake; that historically determinist line has itself expired, and painting is doing just fine. Painting may no longer be dominant, but that has had, if anything, a salutary effect: not everyone can paint, or needs to. While art audiences have gone their distracted way, painting, like a truffle growing under cover of leaves, has developed flavors both rich and deep, though perhaps not for everyone. Not having to spend so much energy defending one’s decision to paint has given painters the freedom to think about what painting can be. For those who make paintings, or who find in them a compass point, this is a time of enormous vitality.

David Salle is an artist living in Brooklyn and East Hampton.

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Antenna More paint, less ‘isms’

Antenna: More paint, less ‘isms’

Sampling is in which, according to Meredith Etherington-Smith,
might just lead paint out of the cul de sac of the conceptual

Forget conceptual, let’s talk timeless

The earliest years of the 20th century were a tale of ‘isms’ — from the dying fall of Impressionism to Post-Impressionism to Cubism, Surrealism and on to Abstract Expressionism; all convenient labels which defined and promoted artists in different schools of art.

In the earliest years of the 21st century, however, something very different is going on. Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World at MoMA in New York could be taken as long-hand for ‘anything that smacks of an ism is irrelevant to contemporary art’. This is a show of work by 17 artists (see our interview with the curator), none of whom represent through style, content or medium the time in which they work.

Left: Matt Connors, Divot, 2012. Acrylic and pencil on canvas. 48 × 36” (121.9 × 91.4 cm). Collection Richard and Monica Weinberg. Courtesy Herald St, London. Photo: Andy Keate

Right: Mark Grotjahn, Untitled (Circus No. 1 Face 44.18), 2012. Oil on cardboard mounted on linen. 8’ 5 1/2” × 72 1/2” (257.8 × 184.2 cm). Collection Donald B. Marron, New York. Courtesy Mark Grotjahn. Copyright Mark Grotjahn. Photo: Douglas M. Parker Studio

Put another way, sampling is in. That means historical references to the ism schools of 20th century art or earlier and general sampling of popular motifs — all at the same time. It’s the same thing that’s happening now in literature, fashion and popular music. The Seventies are back? Yeah! So are the Cubist Twenties, and so, for that matter, are the Abstract Expressionist Fifties, Sixties, and so on.

Charline von Heyl, Carlotta, 2013. Oil, acrylic and charcoal on canvas. 82 x 76” (208.3 x 193 cm). Ovitz Family Collection, Los Angeles. Courtesy of the artist and Petzel, New York. Photo: Jason Mandella
In fact, the only thing that the artists in this exhibition have in common is paint. And maybe that’s the giveaway — the common denominator — even if it isn’t an ism: that this whole sampling exercise, this banishment of isms, is a way out of the cul de sac paint got itself into which led to the ‘conceptual decade’ at the end of the last century.

Rising stars like Oscar Murillo, established stars such as Matt Grohjahn, Charline von Heyl and Richard Aldrich are painting, not welding. So forget conceptual; talk timeless.

Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World is at MoMA until 5 April 2015.



Mary Weatherford, La Noche (2014)

Mary Weatherford, La Noche (2014)

From the 1940s through the early ’60s, the Museum of Modern Art mounted a series of group shows that offered many viewers their first glimpse of some of the most vital new American painting and sculpture of the day. Curated by Dorothy C. Miller, the exhibitions never claimed to capture the zeitgeist, but rather to do nothing more than display new art worth considering. Even the titles of the shows were modest: “Sixteen Americans,” “Twelve Americans” and so on. As Miller explained in 1959, “Differences rather than similarities in point of view, as well as in age, experience and fame, have been emphasized in these exhibitions at the Museum…bringing together distinct and widely varying personalities.” Yet the shows were often controversial. “Congratulations, Dorothy,” her boss, Alfred H. Barr, quipped at the opening of one. “You’ve done it again. They all hate it.”

Yet the “Americans” exhibitions are legendary because Miller was discerning in her choices. In 1946, the second of these shows, “Fourteen Americans,” included such exponents of the new abstraction as Arshile Gorky, Isamu Noguchi, Robert Motherwell and Mark Tobey. Among those in “Sixteen Americans,” in 1959, were Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Rauschenberg and Frank Stella, not to mention the West Coast assemblagists Jay DeFeo and Wally Hedrick; and the last in the series, “Americans 1963,” included the budding Pop artists Robert Indiana, Claes Oldenburg and James Rosenquist among the fifteen selected, as well as young and older abstractionists such as Lee Bontecou and Ad Reinhardt.

Miller decided to start the series because she’d realized that there was no other way for many artists, in the New York of the 1940s, to get their work seen. “I had this terribly sad job of seeing all these artists who were starving,” she later said. “There were no galleries to send them to.” By the mid-’60s that was no longer true. Accompanying the emergence of Pop Art was a boom in the market for contemporary art, and the number of galleries mushroomed along with it. Fifty years on, New York is so thick with galleries that it’s impossible to immerse yourself in all of them, and so many cities around the world have thriving gallery scenes (and art fairs) that you couldn’t possibly visit them all. Maybe the museum should be the public’s filter again—surveying all the galleries and selecting the best work for an audience that wants to explore contemporary art without hacking a path through the jungle. Except that the population of artists has increased even more rapidly than the number of galleries, so that there are still plenty of talented artists whose work is hard to see even for die-hards of the scene.

One of the current shows at the Museum of Modern Art (through April 5) could have been called “Fourteen or Fifteen More-or-Less Americans, Three Germans and a Colombian Who Lives in London.” That’s an unwieldy title, but also as accurate and straightforward as it could be. The “More-or-Less” would be necessary because the show includes some foreign-born New Yorkers, and the qualification also has the virtue of not pretending that the exhibition is other than it is: a gathering of “distinct and widely varying personalities” with not much more in common than that they’re all at work right now and the curator (in this case, MoMA’s Laura Hoptman) thinks they demand attention.

Sad to say, MoMA has done something different: it has saddled the exhibition with the unjustified goal of thematic coherence. With good reason, the museum has lost faith in its competence to pick the cream of contemporary painting without ulterior rationale. What’s on offer instead is another nebulous effort to take the temperature of the zeitgeist. But guess what? It’s the zeitgeist of no zeitgeist, so anything goes. The show is called “The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World,” and, according to the museum’s press release, the remarkable thing about the works is that “they paradoxically do not represent—either through style, content, or medium—the time in which they are made.” How is that even possible? Hoptman, in her catalog essay, attributes the word “atemporality” to the science-fiction novelist William Gibson, for whom it means “a new and strange state of the world in which, courtesy of the Internet, all eras seem to exist at once.” But long before the invention of the Internet, Jorge Luis Borges imagined an infinite library in which all the books that could ever be written would already exist. What’s new and odd is the urge to characterize a phenomenon of apparent timelessness with the distinctly temporal designation “new.” Neo retro, anyone?

In any case, the feeling hazily conjured at MoMA is far from new. “All ages are contemporaneous,” Ezra Pound wrote in The Spirit of Romance in 1910. He might have seemed, at the time, to be speaking for the great cultural movement about to emerge—for James Joyce, with his layering of classical myth and the profane reality of early-twentieth-century Dublin in Ulysses; for Picasso, whose postwar art of pastiche seemed to disassemble and recombine historical styles just as his earlier work had taken apart and reconstructed pictorial space; for Stravinsky, whose music had found a sense of modernity in both primitive ritual (The Rite of Spring) and the mincing artifices of the eighteenth-century ballroom (Pulcinella), and who sought for his Oedipus Rex “a medium not dead but turned to stone.” And decades later, the postmodernism of the 1980s—above all in architecture but also in the quotationism of neo-Expressionist and “transavantgarde” painting—sought atemporality with a vengeance.

* * *

For Hoptman, all this history is bunk. “Forever Now” does not mean, as it did for Gibson, that “all eras seem to exist at once,” but that the present is all, and no one knows when that is. Her only point of comparison is with the practice of “appropriation in the 1980s,” by which she presumably means Sherrie Levine’s quotations of famous photographs or Richard Prince’s Marlboro Man. She might have thought back to the 1960s and Elaine Sturtevant’s remakes of works by contemporaries like Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, the subject of a retrospective elsewhere at MoMA (“Sturtevant: Double Trouble” is on view through February 22). Levine, Prince and Sturtevant are the artists who, as Hoptman says, “lifted images and styles from art history and pop culture and dropped them in the arena of contemporary art as if they were toxic ready-mades, stripped of their auras of power and persuasion through decontextualization.” By contrast, according to Hoptman, her atemporalists draw on history guiltlessly, one might even say uncritically. Maybe so, but wouldn’t she say the same of artists as different as Nancy Spero, Francesco Clemente and Julian Schnabel, each of whom has ranged through time and space in pursuit of the sources of his or her art?

If anything, Hoptman’s artists du jour have a shallow sense of tradition. One of Richard Aldrich’s paintings has a certain redolence of the Philip Guston of the early ’60s; Matt Connors is showing a twelve-foot-tall triptych of red, yellow and blue monochromes that can’t fail to remind you of Ellsworth Kelly and Barnett Newman; Nicole Eisenman’s stylized heads have discreet echoes of Paul Klee and Alexej von Jawlensky as well as of the ’80s neo-Expressionists themselves; Mark Grotjahn’s densely layered concatenations of shimmering, thickly textured lines recall Joseph Stella’s Americanized Futurism as reinterpreted by way of Richard Pousette-Dart’s hypnotic tactility; Amy Sillman sometimes uses still life as an armature for abstraction in ways that would not have seemed alien to Hans Hofmann; Rashid Johnson and Julie Mehretu draw very different conclusions from Cy Twombly—in Johnson’s case, an influence productively united with that of the matterism of ’50s Europeans like Antoni Tàpies and Alberto Burri.

I could go on, but you get the point: for inspiration, Hoptman’s atemporalists rarely look beyond European and American modernism, and most often postwar modernism—which is not surprising, because most of them are abstractionists. Less easily explicable is the restricted geographical reach of Hoptman’s choice in an era when ideas, like people, pass so easily from continent to continent. The time traveling behind Spero’s fascination with the archaic or Clemente’s with Indian miniatures or Schnabel’s recourse to the religious iconography of Spanish and Mexican Catholicism—this is absent from “The Forever Now.” As it is, the best paintings in the show are the least dependent on citation: in a set of gloriously luminous works, depicted light is confronted with the literal light of bent neon tubes that Mary Weatherford has stretched like drawn lines across the canvas. Almost miraculously, it’s the depicted light that wins out.

* * *

What MoMA has offered is hardly a state-of-the-art report on painting in an age when the Internet has supposedly made all the information in time and space available to us simultaneously. But how would the exhibition look to the innocent viewer who walks into the museum without reading the catalog or text panels or giving a second thought to the title? How would it be, in other words, for the viewer who sees the show for what it really is, a sort of “Seventeen Mostly Americans”?

A little better, but not a lot. The usual MoMA tendency to shoehorn too many works into too little space is partly to blame. At least Kerstin Brätsch is lucky enough to have her massive “Blocked Radiant” paintings on paper installed in the hall outside the show’s first room, where they can breathe a little; and the strongest of an otherwise thin batch of paintings by Laura Owens, combining silk-screened appropriated imagery and freehand gesture, broadcasts loud and clear from the wall above the ground floor ticket desk. But in the rooms housing the bulk of the show’s art, the works elbow each other irritably. More important, Hoptman’s choices are questionable—not only her selection of artists, but also her selection of works by some of them. Eisenman, Grotjahn and Sillman are among the most interesting painters at work today, but the canvases of theirs on view give little sense of their range and adventurousness. Owens, Aldrich and Brätsch, like Charline von Heyl and Josh Smith, have always been hit-or-miss (in Smith’s case, where Stakhanovite productivity is the name of the game, the misses must number in the thousands, and for all I know maybe the hits do too), and while a daring inconsistency is often in itself attractive, the selection here makes it less so.

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A tightly organized presentation of just those five artists might have made for a rewarding show in itself—an examination of how what looks like eclecticism can sometimes amount to a determinate artistic strategy. On the other hand, Oscar Murillo and Michael Williams still look like promising, slightly too energetic grad students, and it seems a little cruel to expose their weaknesses in public when some good might still come of them if they are left to develop at their own pace, undisturbed. The jury is still out on Connors, Michaela Eichwald and Dianna Molzan. But Mehretu, like Joe Bradley, is wildly overrated. Rashid Johnson, better known as a photographer, assemblagist and installation artist than as a painter, comes on strong with his “Cosmic Slop” paintings (their title borrowed from the 1973 George Clinton/Bernie Worrell song about doing what you’ve got to do to survive)—monochromes made of black soap mixed with wax and vigorously incised. Along with Weatherford, Johnson will be the surprise bonus for many viewers of ”The Forever Now.”

I owe to Roberta Smith’s New York Times review of the exhibition the “demographic detail”—which I have to admit I’d overlooked—that almost all the male artists in the show are younger than almost all the women. That tells us something about time and history that Hoptman’s notion of atemporality leaves out: that men can still find institutional and market acceptance far more quickly than their female peers. I’m getting sick of it. Unfortunately, Smith, who certainly knows better, falls into the trap of pitting women against women, pointing out some midcareer women painters who she feels might have been worthier inclusions than those in the show. More to the point would be to mention the young women artists who might have been there instead of the young guys. Sticking to New Yorkers, I’d trade Bradley and Williams for Amy Feldman, Julia Rommel, Kianja Strobert or Wendy White any day.

* * *

What “The Forever Now” fails to offer is painting that, in its curator’s words, is “inspired by, refers to, or avails itself of styles, subjects, motifs, materials, strategies, and ideas from an array of periods on the art-historical timeline.” To see such work, amble downtown to the New Museum, where Chris Ofili’s midcareer retrospective “Night and Day” is on view through February 1.

Although Ofili, now in his mid-40s, is one of the most prominent figures in the British art scene (despite his having deserted London for Trinidad), New Yorkers still probably know him best, unfortunately, for the 1999 controversy over the Brooklyn Museum show “Sensation: Young British Artists From the Saatchi Collection.” There, Ofili’s 1996 painting The Holy Virgin Mary became an object of extreme contention; like most of his paintings at the time, it used elephant dung as one of its materials. It was denounced in the pages of the Daily News, then by the Catholic League and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who threatened to cut off municipal funding for the museum and evict it from its city-owned building. Catholic groups picketed the museum, and the painting itself was eventually vandalized by a protester who smeared it with white paint—the black Madonna had to be whitewashed to be made less offensive—though conservators were able to successfully remove the paint before it dried.

The Holy Virgin Mary is here again to bless us, and I still agree with Peter Schjeldahl in his review of “Sensation” for The New Yorker, where he wrote that “Ofili’s lightning-rod canvas is gorgeous, sweet, and respectful of its subject.” Ofili’s art of the 1990s is mostly joyous and extrovert, and designed to catch the eye, as much by wild patterning as by the employment of porn and pop-cultural imagery and the symbolism of black nationalism. At the New Museum, there are a few works from the period that are more overtly serious in their demeanor, like The Holy Virgin Mary or No Woman, No Cry, from 1998, but they are exceptions. (The latter painting was a response to the murder in London of a black teenager; it was subsequently found that the haphazard way in which the crime was investigated was a result of institutional racism on the part of the Metropolitan Police.)

Around the middle of the last decade, Ofili’s art suddenly changed. Out went the elephant dung, the glitter, the riotous patterning, the map pins, the often raw and attention-grabbing subject matter—though the religious overtones remained. What came in is harder to characterize, and that seems deliberate. In 2005, Ofili moved from London to Port of Spain, Trinidad. To some degree, the move seems to have been a calculated effort to distance himself from the London art scene, where he had become the object of attention and where he was rapidly becoming something like an establishment figure. He’s chosen rural life over his urban origins, but also a locale where, as a foreigner who is black, he can blend in, becoming an observer who looks on from close quarters without attracting attention.

Strangely enough, some of Ofili’s more recent works all but rebuff the viewer’s attention. The “Night” segment of “Night and Day” is a group of paintings done mostly in shades of blue, and shown in a room with dark walls and lowered lights. Even after your eyes adjust to the darkness, it’s still hard to detect the forms in the paintings. One depicts the hanged Judas; another, a man set on by policemen. In a few cases, I was never quite able to tell what it was I was trying to see. But even in other recent paintings that are not so hard to decipher, the imagery can be difficult to interpret. Ofili seems to evoke what might be a coherent narrative or at least a metaphor, only to dissolve it into ambiguity. Stylistically, too, his reach has become broader, more unpredictable. Robert Storr, in his catalog essay for the New Museum, notes that “the work’s pictorial frame of reference has changed dramatically from that of the earlier works to a sleek, semisilhouetted semiabstraction reminiscent in some respects of the cutouts of Henri Matisse, and in others of Art Deco murals, while evoking the fusion of these influences in the marvelous rhythmic hybridity of Romare Bearden’s collages and prints.” Tribal art is recurrently evoked too. Ofili’s subject matter ranges from biblical tales to Greco-Roman myth to Afro-Caribbean folklore to the artifice of daily life in what is also, after all, a tourist destination. He seems to be questioning, more and more, who he is—what he’s made of and what he cannot absorb. He doesn’t always succeed in making his images and influences cohere, but his self-questioning has its own coherence that transcends mere thematic or even pictorial consistency. It’s a communion with the unknown.






Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World

14 Dec 20145 Apr 2015 at Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Nicole Eisenman. Guy Capitalist. 2011. Oil and mixed media on canvas. 76 x 60” (193 x 152.4 cm). Collection of Noel Kirnon, New York, NY. Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

Paintings by 17 artists working today will be the focus of The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World at The Museum of Modern Art from December 14, 2014, through April 5, 2015. These works are united by a singular approach that characterizes our cultural moment in the early years of this millennium: they paradoxically do not represent—either through style, content, or medium—the time in which they are made. This “atemporality,” or timelessness—also present in contemporary literature, fashion, and popular music—is manifested in painting through the reanimating of historical styles or by 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 by radically paring down an artistic language to its most basic, archetypal form. The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World is organized by Laura Hoptman, Curator, with Margaret Ewing, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Painting and Sculpture, MoMA.

The Forever Now includes nearly 90 stylistically disparate, and often visually dazzling, large- and small-scale paintings made in the last several years by Richard Aldrich, Joe Bradley, Kerstin Brätsch, 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. Several artists—including Connors, Eisenman, and Owens—are producing new work for the exhibition.

The featured artists utilize 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 an engagement with traditional painting, however each artist tests those traditions with a view towards reshaping the various languages of abstraction, redefining strategies like appropriation and bricolage, and reframing more metaphysical, high-stakes questions that surround notions of originality, subjectivity, and spiritual transcendence.

The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World will be accompanied by a catalogue featuring an introductory essay by curator Laura Hoptman and illustrated sections on each of the 17 artists.




New Yorker magazine
The Art World January 5, 2015 Issue
Take Your Time
New painting at the Museum of Modern Art.
By Peter Schjeldahl



Struggling to tame a wild mental landscape: Laura Owens’s “Untitled” (2013). Struggling to tame a wild mental landscape: Laura Owens’s “Untitled” (2013). Credit Courtesy MOMA and Enid A. Haupt Fund

“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? / Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” Those lines, from T. S. Eliot’s “Choruses from ‘The Rock,’ ” published in 1934, came to mind at “The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World,” a challenging show of seventeen mid-career artists at the Museum of Modern Art. The note of dismay resonates generally today, when another of Eliot’s prophetic laments—“distracted from distraction by distraction,” from a year later, in “Burnt Norton”—might be this morning’s spiritual weather report. But consider the signal plight of painting. The old, slow art of the eye and the hand, united in service to the imagination, is in crisis. It’s not that painting is “dead” again—no other medium can as yet so directly combine vision and touch to express what it’s like to have a particular mind, with its singular troubles and glories, in a particular body. But painting has lost symbolic force and function in a culture of promiscuous knowledge and glutting information. Some of the painters in “Forever Now,” along with the show’s thoughtful curator, Laura Hoptman, face this fact.

Don’t attend the show seeking easy joys. Few are on offer in the work of the thirteen Americans, three Germans, and one Colombian—nine women and eight men—and those to be found come freighted with rankling self-consciousness or, here and there, a nonchalance that verges on contempt. The ruling insight that Hoptman proposes and the artists confirm is that anything attempted in painting now can’t help but be a do-over of something from the past, unless it’s so nugatory that nobody before thought to bother with it. In the introduction to the show’s catalogue, Hoptman posits a post-Internet condition, in which “all eras seem to exist at once,” thus freeing artists, yet also leaving them no other choice but to adopt or, at best, reanimate familiar “styles, subjects, motifs, materials, strategies, and ideas.” The show broadcasts the news that substantial newness in painting is obsolete.

Opening the show, in the museum’s sixth-floor lobby, are large, virtuosic paintings on paper by the German Kerstin Brätsch, which recall Wassily Kandinsky and other classic abstractionists. Brätsch encases many of her paintings in elaborate wood-and-glass frames that are leaned or stacked against a wall. The installation suggests a shipping depot of an extraordinarily high-end retailer. Next, there is a wall of six canvases by the American Joe Bradley, who, at the age of thirty-nine, has been hugely successful with dashing pastiches of circa-nineteen-eighties Neo-Expressionist abstraction. His pictures here are swift sketches in grease pencil that a child not only could do but has likely already done, such as a stick figure, the Superman insignia, a number (“23”), or a lone drifting line. How little can a painting be and still satisfy as a painting? Very little, Bradley ventures. After straining for a sterner response to the works, I opted to relax and like them.
Kerstin Brätsch, “Blocked Radiant D (for Ioana)” (2011).
CreditCourtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s Enterprise

Disarming, too, is the show’s youngest artist, the twenty-eight-year-old Colombian art-market phenomenon Oscar Murillo, who shows stitched-together, furiously scribbled and slathered, uncannily elegant abstractions somewhat in the vein of early Robert Rauschenberg. In addition to the canvases that are stretched and hung on the walls, several lie loose and heaped on the floor. Viewers are encouraged to rummage through them, pick them up, and inspect them. (This provides a definite frisson—you’re playing with paintings by someone whose works sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars—enhanced by the clayey odor of fresh oil stick.) The American Josh Smith, a year younger than his friend Bradley, joins him in testing the world’s tolerance for shambling improvisation. Fantastically prolific, he creates series of bravura paintings, all of them five feet high, four feet wide, with motifs that include monochromes, kitschy tropical sunsets, kitschy memento mori (skulls and skeletons), and his own signature. What is painting for? Smith’s answer stops a winsome step short of nihilism: something more or less lively to hang on a wall. As with Bradley, resistance to Smith is understandable but, in the end, too tiring to maintain.

Painters of a more conventionally serious stamp are on hand. The most distinctly original is the forty-six-year-old American Mark Grotjahn. His palette-knife patterning, packed and energized in smoldering colors, yields tensions that you can feel in your gut. Grotjahn’s art may not be about much beyond the pleasures of his mastery, but it is awfully good. More symptomatic of Hoptman’s thesis of “atemporality” are works by the Americans Julie Mehretu and Amy Sillman. Mehretu, forty-four, rose to fame, and a MacArthur Fellowship, in the past decade with exhaustingly complex compositions of overlaid marks and diagrams, which seemed bent on mirroring our cybernetic age in total. To my relief, she appears to have abandoned that conceit in order to liberate her inner abstract lyricist, with skittery gray paintings that pay candid and exhilarating homage to Cy Twombly. Sillman, fifty-nine, revisits modern-arty looks, from around 1940, by the likes of Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning, to which she adds mainly the assurance of knowing, as they could not, that they were on a right track.

If one modern master haunts “Forever Now,” it is Sigmar Polke, who, from the early nineteen-sixties until his death, in 2010, ran painting through wringers of caustic irony and giddy burlesque. He hovers at the shoulders of the two most impressive painters who befit Hoptman’s theme of present pastness, the German Charline von Heyl, fifty-four, and Laura Owens, forty-four, from Los Angeles. Heyl’s mixes and matches of elements of many styles forswear irony but take Polke’s restless eclecticism as a rule. Each stages a more or less successful struggle to tame a wild mental landscape. The quicksilver Owens contributes two rather precious new works—bagatelles, really—that feature perfunctory touches of paint on silk-screened reproductions of an advertisement for bird feeders and of a notebook page bearing a sarcastic fairy tale written out in a child’s guileless hand. But be sure to spend time with her large abstraction, an untitled work from 2013, hanging in MOMA’s ground-floor lobby: gestural glyphs and splotches in white, black, green, and orange on a ground imprinted with a blown-up page of newspaper want ads. It is almost off-handedly majestic and preternaturally charming, and my favorite work in the show. It suggests Polke mistaking himself for Joan Miró.

It will surprise many, as it did me, that “Forever Now” is the first large survey strictly dedicated to new painting that MOMA has organized since 1958, when “The New American Painting,” a show of seventeen artists, including all the major Abstract Expressionists, went on to tour Europe and to revolutionize art everywhere. Hoptman clearly considered the echo, presenting the same number of painters—except that this group bodes little change in art anywhere, that being a melancholy mark of its pertinence today. But even more arresting is the mere occurrence of the show at MOMA. Hoptman strives to shoehorn painting back into a museum culture that has come to favor installation, performance, and conceptual and digital work. The effort seems futile, at least in the short run.

You can see the painters in “Forever Now” reacting to the dilemma of an image-making art struggling to stand out in an image-sickened society—“Filled with fancies and empty of meaning,” as Eliot went on from his line about distraction. The artists’ tactics include emphases on gritty materiality and refusals of comforting representation. It’s a strong show, and timely. But its own terms make it more expressive of honest discontent than of inspiring invention. Painting can bleed now, but it cannot heal. ♦



Reshuffling, Not Reinventing

Breaking no new ground, a show at the Museum of Modern Art merely recycles received wisdom, with artists who are market-vetted and gallery-approved.

New York

In the Museum of Modern Art’s long-anticipated exhibition “The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World,” a showcase of about 100 works by 17 living artists, you will encounter Richard Aldrich’s “Angie Adams/Franz Kline” (2010-11). A mixed-media muddle roughly 7 feet tall by 5 feet wide, the mostly white painting comprises a big, derisively Franz Kline-like black rectangle, adjacent to two smaller splotches of pale red and violet, with some drips, smudges and squiggles.

‘Angie Adams/Franz Kline’ (2010-11), by Richard Aldrich. ENLARGE
‘Angie Adams/Franz Kline’ (2010-11), by Richard Aldrich. Photo: Courtesy the artist and Bortolami Gallery, New York. Photo: Farzad Owrang

According to the show’s curator, MoMA’s Laura Hoptman, Mr. Aldrich’s “Angie Adams/Franz Kline” exemplifies the zeitgeist of the new millennium’s Internet-driven “atemporality,” a term coined in 2003 by science-fiction writer William Gibson. Her theory is that in our globalized, “atemporal” world—in which artists always have access to everything on the Web—hierarchies, timelines, meanings, distinctions and histories dissolve. Today’s irreverent, ransacking artists, Ms. Hoptman explains in the show’s catalog and wall text, are “self-identified cultural pirates…contemporary Dr. Frankensteins” who, “taking advantage of this avalanche of information…reanimate, reenact, or sample elements from the past without a trace of parody or nostalgia, challenging them to be relevant again in our ‘endless digital Now,’ as Gibson has described our time.”

How does open-ended “atemporality” rear its head in “Angie Adams/Franz Kline”? The wall label clarifies: The painting refers to “pop culture and art history simultaneously, in effect leveling any hierarchy between them. Angie Adams is a name Aldrich misheard in a Kanye West song that he listened to while making this painting.”

Elsewhere, Mary Weatherford slaps bright neon tubes over pastiches of Color Field painting. According to the catalog, these derivative artworks supposedly “reanimate” American abstraction and the “neon-flecked nights in New York.” Joe Bradley’s childish linear scrawls—of a cross, a stick figure, the number “23” and the Superman logo, respectively—in grease pencil on large white canvases, are said, by Ms. Hoptman, to “thwart time,” as they sample Abstract Expressionism, Carl Jung’s archetypes, Paleolithic cave painting, comics and emoticons.

Matt Connors “reenacts” painting styles “plucked” from abstract sources as diverse as Barnett Newman, Ellsworth Kelly and Morris Lewis. Imagine enormous hard-edged planes of pure color, fudged here and there with splatters and drips. Also mashing up styles is Nicole Eisenman, who borrows from African art, German Expressionism and pop culture. Catalog text explains that her large “Feminist” paintings of masklike male heads riff on tribal art, as they subvert early 20th-century Modernists and today’s “masculine archetype, preoccupied with technology, money, and status.” Ms. Eisenman’s “Breakup” (2011) depicts a cartoonish, clownish man staring at his smartphone.

Performing what Ms. Hoptman refers to as “a kind of self-cannibalism,” Oscar Murillo recycles his own work, cutting up and sewing together remnants of earlier paintings, refuting notions about progress. Three of Mr. Murillo’s stretched canvases, influenced by graffiti and Jean-Michel Basquiat, hang on the wall, while eight more lie, unstretched, in a heap on the floor. Viewers are encouraged to unfold and examine, move and manhandle the floor works, which, we are told, “are indistinguishable from the ones on the wall in terms of quality.” (I won’t argue with that.) This process purportedly “breaks down the border between the studio and the outside world.”

‘Untitled (Circus No. 1 Face 44.18)’ (2012), by Mark Grotjahn. ENLARGE
‘Untitled (Circus No. 1 Face 44.18)’ (2012), by Mark Grotjahn. Photo: Courtesy Mark Grotjahn/Douglas M. Parker Studio

To anyone who has consistently followed contemporary painting, a medium that has been under attack as irrelevant for decades now—increasingly so recently, in the wake of digital art—none of this work will come as a shock. The artists in “Forever Now” superficially recycle ideas that go all the way back to Dada, Pop art—especially Robert Rauschenberg’s “Combines”—Neo-Expressionism, Neo-Dada and Postmodernism. To her credit, Ms. Hoptman has chosen artists who actually touch their paintings—as opposed to producing them mechanically or digitally. But she has created a show neither visually nor conceptually engaging. Worse, the most compelling paintings here, Mark Grotjahn’s energetic abstractions that rehash the work of American Modernists Marsden Hartley, Joseph Stella and Alfred Jensen, are pigeonholed to illustrate the curatorial proposition—which is inherently flawed.

It contends that artists today are different from 20th-century artists. Ms. Hoptman believes that past artists thought of art as progressing linearly—evolving—that they looked at art history in terms of a timeline. This viewpoint strikes me more as that of an art historian than of an artist. Let’s not forget that it was Picasso who said: “To me there is no past or future in art. If a work of art cannot live always in the present it must not be considered at all. The art of the Greeks, of the Egyptians, of the great painters who lived in other times, is not an art of the past; perhaps it is more alive today than it ever was.”

Picasso, the first and greatest-ever mashup artist, took from other artists, too. But he did not borrow, sample and remix. He stole. Stealing—as opposed to borrowing—stresses ownership. “The Forever Now” artists merely reshuffle, rather than reinvent, the art of the past.

The other major problem with this exhibition is that it breaks no new ground. Almost all of its artists are blue-chip gallery- and market-approved. In effect, “The Forever Now” is a recycling of the perceived wisdom of New York’s most prominent galleries, as well as that of other museums. This show, the first survey of new painting MoMA has mounted since 1958, says a lot about the museum’s stance on contemporary painting—which is grim, to say the least. It may seem backward—nostalgic—to pine for the old days, but MoMA’s Alfred H. Barr Jr. and Dorothy Miller trawled artists’ studios, building shows from the ground up. “The Forever Now” feels top-down.

When MoMA reopened a decade ago, after the enormous renovation, expansion and reinstallation of its stellar permanent collection, it was made perfectly clear that its curators wanted to weigh in more on contemporary art. The big question for some of us was how, exactly, the museum with the greatest holdings of Modern art in the world would balance that collection against contemporary art. What would happen when Modernism and Postmodernism collided?

“The Forever Now,” which identifies contemporary strategies, not great contemporary paintings, turns its back on—if not mocks—MoMA’s superb permanent collection. This is not a show that values, deepens and extends excellence in art, but one, instead, that celebrates lessening attention spans, careerist trends and a blatant, blanketing dismissal of the past. This exhibition identifies, celebrates and panders to contemporary art’s lowest common denominator. “The Forever Now”—hell-bent on the moment—repositions MoMA as a follower, not a leader. Forever “now,” it is a show that tomorrow most likely will forget.

Mr. Esplund writes about art for the Journal.



January 5, 2015 6:23 pm

The Forever Now, Museum of Modern Art, New York — review

MoMA’s survey of contemporary painting is a depressingly inert experience
Left, Amy Sillman, 'Still Life' (2014). Right: Charline Von Heyl, 'Carlotta' (2013)

Left, Amy Sillman, ‘Still Life’ (2014). Right: Charline Von Heyl, ‘Carlotta’ (2013)

In The Forever Now, Museum of Modern Art curator Laura Hauptman takes the pulse of contemporary painting and finds it dangerously weak. You can sense the desperation masked in her upbeat analysis, her frustrated desire to extract some excitement from all those studio visits. Weighed down with depressingly inert material, the show follows a line back to the past where it peters out in confusion. Hauptman is a perceptive museum-world virtuoso and if this is the best she could come up with, the situation must be dire.

Gloom is in the eye of the beholder, of course, and on the day I saw the exhibition, a wet grey light filtered into MoMA’s galleries, dampening spirits even indoors. Yet, as a fellow critic pointed out, the best art renews the world around it. That would have been a good time for an infusion of artistic joy or a blast of inventiveness. MoMA’s handpicked highlights offered neither. They returned my curious gaze with a deadpan stare and a knowing mash-up of art-historical precedents.

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In her pop anthology “Carlotta”, Charline Von Heyl adorns a Warholesque Marilyn type in black lipstick with a band of Lichtenstein Ben-Day dots. In “It’s Vot Behind Me That I Am”, she experiments with a smear of abstract expressionist angst, drips and all. Von Heyl’s eclecticism invokes a whole catalogue of forebears with an arched eyebrow, as if to hint that even her mix-and-match technique is a reference to the postmodern past.

For his series “Cosmic Slop”, Rashid Johnson covered large canvases in a thick impasto of black soap and wax, then scratched them with a stick. You can practically deduce the recipe: two parts Stella to one part of each of Reinhardt, Twombly and Pollock. Even his titles have a pedigree. Just as Stella named his works with Nazi phrases such as “Die Fahne Hoch!” and “Arbeit Macht Frei”, Johnson dresses up his abstract studies with cool historical consciousness. “Cosmic Slop: The Berlin Conference” refers to the 1885 meeting where the colonial powers carved up Africa among themselves.

Hauptman doesn’t just acknowledge these parrotings: she celebrates them, building the whole exhibition around the theory that imitation is the new originality. She marshals plenty of evidence. Dianna Molzan channels Kandinsky; Amy Sillman prays at the altars of Matisse and De Kooning; Matt Connors’ bold geometric abstractions imitate the colour-field painters of the 1950s and 60s, by way of Josef Albers. All this recycling, according to Hauptman, accumulates into the fascinating phenomenon of “atemporality”, a word popularised by the novelists William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. The term refers to the internet’s great whirl of information that has come to replace a sense of linear history. Ask not “What happened in the 14th century?” Sterling exhorts, but “What does Google do when I input the search term ‘14th century’?”

Hauptman is excited by this development, this “new and strange state of the world in which, courtesy of the internet, all eras seem to exist at once”. She detects an unprecedented weirdness in the oil paintings she has hung on MoMA’s walls. I’m not sure that “super-charged art historicism”, as she calls it, is quite as thrilling or new as she claims. Artists have rampaged through the past before, wrangling with their predecessors, conflating eras and violating chronology. Picasso retrofitted Manet who reworked Velázquez. Long before the internet, the performance artist Meredith Monk was already stirring together antiquity and futurism, treating time like a pack of cards to be endlessly shuffled.

Still, Hauptman is right that in the past 20 years, the cultures of other periods and continents have come clamouring for attention like never before, leaving artists of all kinds overstimulated and reeling. New York magazine music critic Justin Davidson has pointed out that young composers are often burdened by too many sources, stifled by too much freedom. YouTube, he writes, offers “an infinite thrift store of influences. A century ago, Bartók had to haul his gramophone through the mud of Moravia to learn about folk music. Now a curious kid in Brooklyn can track down an Azerbaijani song in seconds. Today’s styles need not be born of deep experience; they form out of collisions that bypass history and geography.” We no longer need to sift, select, and organise knowledge; the internet has made Collyer brothers of us all.

The fashion writer Vanessa Friedman, formerly the FT’s fashion editor, noticed a similar ragpicker phenomenon on the runway: “I sat through fashion show after fashion show and saw yet more yet more ‘reinventions’ and ‘homages’ to 1960s rock chick dresses and 1970s flared trousers, 1980s power jackets and 1920s flapper frocks, and wondered, ‘How do I explain this lack of new ideas among so many extremely talented designers?’ Her answer was a scathing label: The New Mediocre.

Maybe it’s fusty to feel distress at the atemporal present, but in art it yields a regurgitated mash-up that leaves me feeling sour. And it occurs to me, as I cruise through MoMA’s old-timey galleries and look at pre-digital handmade paintings encrusted with minced bits of movements past, that Hauptman’s Forever Now will soon seem hopelessly dated — the expression of a naive belief that humanity is done with unidirectional history. We have developed a whole lexicon to describe the culture of neo-everything timelessness: retromania, hauntology, steampunk, presentism, super-hybridity. But these terms all paper over the same uninspired and superficial revivalism, a bankrupt excuse for having no fresh ideas.

Until April 5,

==== > Life&Arts > Arts >
Visual Arts

January 5, 2015 6:23 pm
The Forever Now, Museum of Modern Art, New York — review

Ariella Budick
MoMA’s survey of contemporary painting is a depressingly inert experience
Left, Amy Sillman, ‘Still Life’ (2014). Right: Charline Von Heyl, ‘Carlotta’ (2013)

Left, Amy Sillman, ‘Still Life’ (2014). Right: Charline Von Heyl, ‘Carlotta’ (2013)

n The Forever Now, Museum of Modern Art curator Laura Hauptman takes the pulse of contemporary painting and finds it dangerously weak. You can sense the desperation masked in her upbeat analysis, her frustrated desire to extract some excitement from all those studio visits. Weighed down with depressingly inert material, the show follows a line back to the past where it peters out in confusion. Hauptman is a perceptive museum-world virtuoso and if this is the best she could come up with, the situation must be dire.

Gloom is in the eye of the beholder, of course, and on the day I saw the exhibition, a wet grey light filtered into MoMA’s galleries, dampening spirits even indoors. Yet, as a fellow critic pointed out, the best art renews the world around it. That would have been a good time for an infusion of artistic joy or a blast of inventiveness. MoMA’s handpicked highlights offered neither. They returned my curious gaze with a deadpan stare and a knowing mash-up of art-historical precedents.

IN Visual Arts

Homage to Manet, Norwich Castle Museum and Gallery, Norwich, UK
Cornelia Parker at Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester
‘Staying Power’ at Victoria and Albert Museum
Pioneering art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel

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In her pop anthology “Carlotta”, Charline Von Heyl adorns a Warholesque Marilyn type in black lipstick with a band of Lichtenstein Ben-Day dots. In “It’s Vot Behind Me That I Am”, she experiments with a smear of abstract expressionist angst, drips and all. Von Heyl’s eclecticism invokes a whole catalogue of forebears with an arched eyebrow, as if to hint that even her mix-and-match technique is a reference to the postmodern past.

For his series “Cosmic Slop”, Rashid Johnson covered large canvases in a thick impasto of black soap and wax, then scratched them with a stick. You can practically deduce the recipe: two parts Stella to one part of each of Reinhardt, Twombly and Pollock. Even his titles have a pedigree. Just as Stella named his works with Nazi phrases such as “Die Fahne Hoch!” and “Arbeit Macht Frei”, Johnson dresses up his abstract studies with cool historical consciousness. “Cosmic Slop: The Berlin Conference” refers to the 1885 meeting where the colonial powers carved up Africa among themselves.

Hauptman doesn’t just acknowledge these parrotings: she celebrates them, building the whole exhibition around the theory that imitation is the new originality. She marshals plenty of evidence. Dianna Molzan channels Kandinsky; Amy Sillman prays at the altars of Matisse and De Kooning; Matt Connors’ bold geometric abstractions imitate the colour-field painters of the 1950s and 60s, by way of Josef Albers. All this recycling, according to Hauptman, accumulates into the fascinating phenomenon of “atemporality”, a word popularised by the novelists William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. The term refers to the internet’s great whirl of information that has come to replace a sense of linear history. Ask not “What happened in the 14th century?” Sterling exhorts, but “What does Google do when I input the search term ‘14th century’?”

Hauptman is excited by this development, this “new and strange state of the world in which, courtesy of the internet, all eras seem to exist at once”. She detects an unprecedented weirdness in the oil paintings she has hung on MoMA’s walls. I’m not sure that “super-charged art historicism”, as she calls it, is quite as thrilling or new as she claims. Artists have rampaged through the past before, wrangling with their predecessors, conflating eras and violating chronology. Picasso retrofitted Manet who reworked Velázquez. Long before the internet, the performance artist Meredith Monk was already stirring together antiquity and futurism, treating time like a pack of cards to be endlessly shuffled.

Still, Hauptman is right that in the past 20 years, the cultures of other periods and continents have come clamouring for attention like never before, leaving artists of all kinds overstimulated and reeling. New York magazine music critic Justin Davidson has pointed out that young composers are often burdened by too many sources, stifled by too much freedom. YouTube, he writes, offers “an infinite thrift store of influences. A century ago, Bartók had to haul his gramophone through the mud of Moravia to learn about folk music. Now a curious kid in Brooklyn can track down an Azerbaijani song in seconds. Today’s styles need not be born of deep experience; they form out of collisions that bypass history and geography.” We no longer need to sift, select, and organise knowledge; the internet has made Collyer brothers of us all.

The fashion writer Vanessa Friedman, formerly the FT’s fashion editor, noticed a similar ragpicker phenomenon on the runway: “I sat through fashion show after fashion show and saw yet more yet more ‘reinventions’ and ‘homages’ to 1960s rock chick dresses and 1970s flared trousers, 1980s power jackets and 1920s flapper frocks, and wondered, ‘How do I explain this lack of new ideas among so many extremely talented designers?’ Her answer was a scathing label: The New Mediocre.

Maybe it’s fusty to feel distress at the atemporal present, but in art it yields a regurgitated mash-up that leaves me feeling sour. And it occurs to me, as I cruise through MoMA’s old-timey galleries and look at pre-digital handmade paintings encrusted with minced bits of movements past, that Hauptman’s Forever Now will soon seem hopelessly dated — the expression of a naive belief that humanity is done with unidirectional history. We have developed a whole lexicon to describe the culture of neo-everything timelessness: retromania, hauntology, steampunk, presentism, super-hybridity. But these terms all paper over the same uninspired and superficial revivalism, a bankrupt excuse for having no fresh ideas.
Until April 5,


The Death of Painting: All-New, 2014 Edition

The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World, the new exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, prompted thoughts of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, though I’m not sure how much acceptance there is in the end.

This particular reaction was due to a particular experience of the show, which began with reading the press release a few minutes before heading up the escalator to MoMA’s sixth floor to see the actual art. The statement, which is a single-spaced, four-page reduction of the catalogue essay by Laura Hoptman, one of the show’s two curators (the other is Margaret Ewing), painted a picture (to use a term advisedly) of an exhibition that seemed nothing if not dry, rigid and academic.

The term “atemporality” is taken from the science fiction writer William Gibson, who used it in 2003, according to Hoptman’s essay, “to describe a new and strange state of the world in which, courtesy of the Internet, all eras seem to exist at once. Since that time, atemporality has been observed in literature, popular music, and fashion, and subsequently called many different names, including retromania, hauntology, presentism, and super-hybridity.”

The exhibition, in turn (according to the press release), is presenting art that embodies atemporality “through the reanimating of historical styles or by 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 by radically paring down an artistic language to its most basic, archetypal form.”

Old wine in new bottles, some may say. Others might argue that the Museum of Modern Art is throwing its weight behind a narrow bandwidth of contemporary painting practice, one that revolves around the artwork as a mediated object referencing institutionally sanctioned styles. This footnoted approach fits all too well within the historical narrative that MoMA, despite its best efforts, has never been quite able to shake: that after representation was subsumed into abstraction, and abstraction was reduced to Minimalism, painting could only repeat itself. As Hoptman writes in her essay:

Abstraction is a language primed for becoming a representation of itself, because as much as it resists the attribution of specific meanings, the abstract mark cannot help but carry with it an entire utopian history of modern painting. […] It would be difficult to identify a contemporary abstract painter who is not self-consciously referring to that history.

Moreover, to uphold such Postmodernist strategies as “the reanimating of historical styles” and “sampling motifs” while supporting what sounds for all the world like classic Minimalism — “radically paring down an artistic language to its most basic, archetypal form” — is a contradictory stance. It may reflect the crazy-quilt visual environment in which we live, but it’s also a little crazy-making for the passionate observer — a premise that seems to play both ends against the middle while paradoxically ignoring what lies between those two extremes. This is where the stages of denial (of a narrowly parsed take on contemporary art) and anger (over the glibness of same) come in.

By associating atemporality, which is admittedly a very cool and potentially useful term, with the reuse or revival of past styles (characterized by neologisms like retromania and hauntology), the exhibition is affirming the inability of painting to do anything surprising or new — aka painting is dead — a mindset reinforced by the subheads and “corollaries” in Hoptman’s essay: Nostalgia; Frankenstein’s Monster; Cannibalism.

But upon reaching the sixth floor, all that changed. The first thing that hits you is the stack of very large, very aggressive paintings by Kerstin Brätsch, which are leaning against the walls on either side of the entrance to the exhibition — compositions that look like Georgia O’Keeffe gone off the deep end, with crabbed, thorny, branch-like forms and other ominous but less definable shapes skittering around a central, intensely pigmented, haloed disk.

Walk through the entrance, and you’re confronted with a double-height black wall filled with Joe Bradley’s casual scrawls of grease pencil on canvas. They look splendid. Turn around, and there are Rashid Johnson’s heavily impastoed and scarified works in black soap and wax, and in your peripheral vision, the playfully brooding paintings of Michaela Eichwald — one small, expressionistic portrait and two large, long, loopy abstractions.

Suddenly, what seemed predetermined to be an infuriatingly categorical exercise in curatorial cherry-picking, all in the service of a constricted thesis, had turned into a rumpus room of contemporary art-making. Nothing seemed to be illustrating a point or, refreshingly, even making a point. You could stay in that first room for as long as you liked without bothering with any formalist or anti-formalist distractions, reveling in the purely visual language of line, color, texture and shape.

We are now at the bargaining stage: okay, MoMA, you can have your teleology and hang these paintings on whatever theoretical scaffolding you like, as long as you are reopening your doors to the medium and allowing its inherent multiplicities to do their subversive dirty work.

But then you venture deeper into the show, and while the visual spectacle makes it is easy to forget (or, more accurately, to be confused about) which one of the four points outlined in the press release (Reanimation; Reenactment; Sampling; The Archetype) is being made among the exhibition’s various alcoves, the work in aggregate begins to wear thin.

Perhaps this is due in part to the backward-glancing criteria of the selection (that everything in the show is allegedly based on — or at least related to — something else), which disregards and even, in an indirect way, countermands vitality as a qualifier. All that matters is that the chosen works, again from the press release, “paradoxically do not represent—either through style, content, or medium—the time in which they are made.”

In the Western tradition, the pattern of art history is a continual cycle of ossification and regeneration, with form-breakers like Giotto, Caravaggio, Manet and Pollock arriving every now and then to shake things up, adapting strains of an inherited style to what they knew of experiential existence. What the exhibition proposes is that, in our forever now, “an atemporal painter,” as Hoptman writes in her essay, would “see and utilize style, as if it is a bit of iconography; some even use specific stylistic gestures and strategies in a manner akin to a medium.”

In its insistence that painting is a closed system, the exhibition falls apart. This is the fourth stage, depression. Julie Mehretu’s big canvases in acrylic, ink and graphite may relate to automatic writing and “seem to channel mid-century calligraphic abstractions by artists like Michaux and Twombly.” But even if they achieve “a result as distinct from theirs as one person’s signature is from another,” as the essay claims, the works do not make much of an impression. Nor do Michael Williams’ busy, cartoonish amalgams of digital printing, airbrushed lines and loaded, meandering, Terry Winters-esque strokes. In all, much of the work is so attuned to art’s interior conversation that it entirely tunes out the clangor of the street.

But then you look around again, and certain paintings stand out, not for any other reason than their presence as worked-over objects. And this allows for a degree of acceptance, the fifth of the five stages, although the constant echo of the show’s restricted premise makes those pieces feel as beleaguered and isolated as they are individuated.

There’s Charline von Heyl’s “Concetto Spaziale” (2009), titled after Lucio Fontana’s series of slashed canvases, but in its dazzling array of lines and wedges in yellow and black against a purplish gray field, it’s miles away from the Italian painter’s reductive gestures (which are in fact recapitulated in the show by the deconstructed canvases of Dianna Molzan).

Mark Grotjahn’s untitled “Circus” paintings from 2012 and ’13 — complexly tessellated, dazzlingly colored, high-speed collisions of spirals, loops and arcs — are highlights of the show, but their references to faces or masks (evidenced by indications of nostrils sprouting in the lower midsection of the canvases) signal a weakness in my view — they would be much more resonant as pure abstractions — but the allusions are what the show wishes to underscore, with Grotjahn’s wall of three “Circus” works facing off with Nicole Eisenman’s wall of three moon-headed “Guy” portraits, “Whatever Guy” (2009), “Guy Racer” and “Guy Capitalist” (both 2011).

Matt Connors’ enormous (216 × 132 inches), tripartite “Variable Foot” (2014) in red, blue and yellow (shades of Barnett Newman and Jasper Johns), along with Kerstin Brätsch’s large-scale installation, “Sigi’s Erben (Agate Psychics)” (2012), comprised of agates, glass, masks, and painted aluminum, go a long way toward supplying the exhibition’s wow factor, though Connors’ other works are contrarily, exceedingly modest in their ambitions.

Amy Sillman turns to Neo-Cubist semi-abstraction in her four contributions to the show, but one of them, “Still Life 1” (2013-14), goes beyond the blunt, linear forms of the other three, wandering into a place that’s weightier, darker, more layered and mysterious. Richard Aldrich is another artist with one painting that leaves his other, more desultory work behind: it’s a small, aqua, scraped and scarred oil and wax on panel from 2006, “Blue Sea Old Wash.” At 14 1/2 × 11 inches, it’s the smallest thing in the room, but it pulls your eyes immediately toward it.

With his renderings of palm trees, insects, fish and his own outsized signature, Josh Smith makes a splash in the final gallery with nine, big, juicy, colorful paintings on a single wall (painted black, like Joe Bradley’s at the entrance, forming a kind of bookend to the show), while Laura Owens’ text-based works seem to retreat into hermeticism. Neither Mary Weatherford nor Oscar Murillo appear able to escape their antecedents (Mario Merz, Dan Flavin and Bruce Nauman for Weatherford; Robert Rauschenberg for Murillo), but in the exhibition’s inverted logic, that may be a plus.

And yet, there’s acceptance. The Forever Now is a show that should be seen and argued with. Its highly specific focus provides a flint to strike sparks and sharpen nails, a useful “this, not that,” which helps to clarify issues even where its assumptions are mistaken. For an exhibition like this, the trick is to light a path without erasing the shadows.

The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World continues at the Museum of Modern Art (11 West 53rd Street, Midtown, Manhattan) through April 5, 2015.



‘The Forever Now’ Is MoMA’s Market Moment

The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal WorldInstallation view of “The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World” at MoMA. John Wronn/© 2014 MoMA, N.Y.

“The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World” at the Museum of Modern Art arrives, curated by Laura Hoptman, at a moment when painting is in an astonishingly conflicted but promising abysm of wakefulness. A group show about this stirring medium, atthis moment and in the very House of Modernism, sends shock waves through the art world — anointing artists, starting arguments, performing operatically contested desires and new standards. It’s the kind of thing that friends stop being friends over. Or that’s what shows like “The Forever Now” used to be — when time moved slower, information wasn’t instantly accessible everywhere at once, museums were codifiers and curators defending their absolute power positively, or ridiculously. I’m not nostalgic for the dreaded age of curator-bullies, and now that galleries and biennials do most of the codifying, I love that museums have the luxury of time to sift through things rather than react to every twist of aesthetic fate (although too many museums are trying to be like galleries — more on that later). “The Forever Now” is handsome, professional, well intentioned, and has moments that take the breath away. I’m a fan and was an early advocate of a third of its 17 artists. Yet, overall, “The Forever Now” doesn’t capture enough of painting’s pangs, conflict, promise, or current astonishment at its position. Most of all, with a handful of exceptions, the show fails to make a case for the exceptional quality, or truly new character, of contemporary painting; For long stretches, it instead settles for showcasing its ubiquitous presence. If MoMA is the Ferrari of Modernist museums, “The Forever Now” is driving it like a Prius: something made to have minimum impact on the environment while making people feel okay about something troubling.

How did this happen? Hoptman is nobody’s fool. Highly admired, even loved in the art world, she is a lucid thinker and writer and has long been a remarkably perceptive curator, among the first proponents of early-1990s artists like John Currin, Luc Tuymans, Elizabeth Peyton, Gabriel Orozco, and Chris Ofili. I count myself lucky to call her a friend and to have known her for more than 25 years. The roster of artists she has chosen is revealing. Thirteen of the artists in “The Forever Now” are American; all but one of the rest are from Germany. Age-wise, there’s a 30-year spread with Amy Sillman being almost 60 and Oscar Murillo nearly 30. This is not a show to define a generation, since the artists are not of a generation as that term has typically been used. Instead, they are all participants in a cultural moment, in which painting has come to reign supreme, defined by virtuosic newness, of course, but more and more by the basic stylistic sameness valued by the art market and the art fair in particular. To those in the art world, the list of included artists will seem familiar, almost a lineup of acceptable artists and market darlings, many of whom are represented by major spaces or megagalleries like David Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth, and Marian Goodman. (Although a few do not fall into this category.) Many have had museum retrospectives. It’s not the fault of the curator, but most of these artists already fetch enormous prices — some in the millions of dollars — for their work. Indeed, the show’s opening found dealers and art advisers parked in front of artist’s work taking sales orders, as if at an art fair.

That feels odd. The job of forging art history over the last 100 years has probably always been in the hands of galleries and artists more than in museums. But it’s in galleries (and art fairs) more now than ever. This is how it should be, but it has had a deleterious effect of late, causing some curators to transform themselves into Grand Guignol showmen specializing in big productions and spectacle, arriving at every art event, moving on to the next, and in between making atrium exhibitions, film screenings, and the like. Other curators contract, demonizing anything successful or of the art world and embrace a kind of Curatorial Correctness — specializing in the rediscovery of the assistants of famous artists or other overlooked makers of the recent past (in other words, safer, quieter projects that make fewer grand claims about what is new or newly important). Some say that the market has taken over everything. There was a panel this week titled “Zombie Formalism,” the term for precisely this kind of look-alike abstraction. Painter Walter Robinson who coined the term, remarked, “If bad abstraction is the problem then the virus spreading it is money.” It’s true — the market loves abstraction as an easy-on-the-eyes investment and surefire sign of being avant-garde and radical. But Hoptman is too good a curator, with too much integrity, to ever follow the whims of the market. Yet so many of the artists in “The Forever Now” are critically or market approved that the exhibition has the feel of the validation of the inevitable. How does this happen, and what does it mean? Maybe it’s that curatorial impulses and market judgments are no longer separate enough that it makes sense to talk about one or the other taking over.

“The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World.” John Wronn/© 2014 MoMA, N.Y.

Hoptman writes in the catalogue that “the seventeen artists in this show are stalwart practitioners of painting qua painting.” For those not conversant in art-speak, “painting qua paintingmeans, technically, painting as painting. What it seems to mean to those in the art world is painting about painting. Or painting about the processes of making paintings; or about the history of making paintings; or maybe about painting’s modes, compositional approaches, color theories, materials, marks, and subject matters. Or something. Frankly, this is not all that different from what we used to simply call “abstract painting.” And in fact, it’s not hard to see the painting collected here, and the broader painting universe from which it’s drawn, partly as an expression of some nostalgia about earlier eras, when experiments with form seemed to offer something like truly radical content. (There are numerous gestural similarities to the painting of the Abstract Expressionists and the Neo-Expressionists.) Not to say these painters would necessarily acknowledge any of that; I suspect that each one of the included artists would emphatically say that his or her work is not “qua” painting but just painting.

As for what the show says, its subtitle is “Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World.Atemporal refers to the conceit that all artistic styles — from cave painting to Pop Art back to Impressionism and Chinese ink drawings — are current, because we see them in the present, a present that collapses the sprawling palimpsest of history and geography into the flat screens of our smartphones. In this view, painterly styles, schools, and gestures all exist free from the limitations of time, history, and, perhaps especially, Modernism’s imperious dictate about always having to change style in order to be Modern, novel, and worthy. All art has always come from other art, and artists have always dug into, repurposed, and outright stolen from and made styles, tendencies, and approaches their own. But the conceit of “The Forever Now” is, I think, that something is different now, that Modernism’s incessant ever-forward march seems so last century, so debunked, and with the combined knowledge of the known universe essentially in our pockets, more artists know about more art than ever before. This is probably true. And because of that, the title suggests, they are making art that, for once, isn’t about taking the next step forward in art history. I think.

But let’s put aside the rhetoric and look at what the show itself tells us. As is often the case with MoMA these days, “The Forever Now” is wedged into too little space. Paintings are hung salon-style, wedged in, given attenuated spaces and little bins, or installed near the top of tall walls meant only for showing the work of Richard Serra. It would have been better had Hoptman been allowed to do 17 one-month one-person shows of each one of these artists somewhere in MoMA to really drill down into their own ideas and make a real statement.

Looking around at the statements made by what has been hung, Laura Owens, Nicole Eisenman, Michael Williams, Michaela Eichwald, Kerstin Bratsch, and Joe Bradley all impress. (Josh Smith does, too, although this may have to do with all of his work being jammed together on one wall and generating this massive graphic impact.) Bradley’s gigantic squiggles and doodles really have grandeur while simultaneously producing a shock of incredulity at how simple and unfinished looking art is, but how powerful of presence. Similarly, Bratsch’s giant paintings on paper encased in steel and glass frames leaned against the walls outside the show’s entrance look like grossly enlarged book end-papers adorned with crenellated turrets of iridescent paint and colorful aigrette crowns gone mad. I love them. Ditto Eichwald’s pliable brown and black Formica-like surfaces of stains, marks, shapes, and scrapes, which have the feel of having gone through excremental fire and survived.

I relish the ropy sluicing surfaces of Mark Grotjahn, but his great paintings seem more excellently old-school than newly atemporal. Stalwarts like Amy Sillman, happy inclusion Mary Weatherford, and Charlene Von Heyl come off well. Von Heyl is, to my eye, the most influential artist in art schools today (almost every student loves to mix up different styles, spaces, and gestures in individual canvasses), but one who is falling into the predictable habit of making all the parts of her painting different. Sillman supplies brushy mid-century-like figurative-abstractions à la de Kooning, Diebenkorn, and Guston. It is a style that is easy to be bad at, and one I don’t often pay much attention to, but in Sillman’s accomplished hands looks strong and also original of color. There are the physically powerful, otherwise bland, almost-monochromes of Rashid Johnson. And some pulled-apart paintings by Dianna Molzan — certainly not a “market approved” artist, as I don’t think she even has a New York gallery — are placeholders for all the generic deconstructivist art (torn or otherwise attacked canvases, exposed stretcher bars, etc.) that’s all the rage. And endlessly boring. Matt Connors, whom I’m usually not a fan of and who is the show’s token Zombie Formalist, looks fantastic here with a gigantic, leaning three-panel painting that is Ellsworth Kelly and Brice Marden made by Richard Serra. It is painting as architectural fact. International art star and market phenom Oscar Murillo shows his impressive Schnabel-like touch and wonderful color in works that are warm and would look lovely in any living room. Beyond that, they are only elegant. Speaking of which, Julie Mehretu, whose handsome work strikes me as merely decorative, makes a welcome move here. Brava. The problem is that now she’s making sooty Cy Twomblys.

“The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World.” John Wronn/© 2014 MoMA, N.Y.

So: There is good painting in “The Forever Now.” Very good. Some great. (The show’s last wall of Michael Williams finds an artist so adept at creating complex surfaces that it’s hard to even fix our focus on them.) But it is far too narrow in its focus, giving us only one known strain of contemporary painting that, while shadow-dancing with various methods of reproduction and processes, is all more or less handmade and mostly abstract. That’s it. What does all this abstract atemporality and gestural painting add up to? In the case of the artists I don’t like, I’d say that dipping into any and all styles of painting and abstraction is a way not to address the anxieties that now exist around painting in general and abstraction specifically. It’s become a kind of shelter and sanctuary where instead of making old ideas new (as many artists do now), these artists make old ideas palatable, unthreatening, un-conflicted. Or they make paintings that look like edgy hard-core abstraction, deploying fields of black or monochrome paint; Polke, Richter, or Oehlen–like effects; splashes; all-over composition; switching styles willy-nilly within works. These are all familiar signals that say to viewers and buyers, “I know I’m an abstract painting, but the fact that I know that means that I’m cool and you knowing that I know it makes you cool too. Plus, I’m not crass like Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami. Like me.” It’s both too confident and too needy. I call this assertive negative content — art whose primary content is what it’s not. And it’s a startling statement that this negative content is so appealing to people (collectors especially) right now.

But what is truly missing here is the sense of painterly anxiety. Not enough of “The Forever Now” lets us in on the storms gathering in the medium, where there is an epic struggle going on, not in spite of the disappearance of modernism’s teleology but precisely because painters working today have had that universe of possibilities collapse on them. On the one hand, artists are ultra-aware of and therefore in an ironical position to painting’s processes, endless tropes, styles, ideas, and, therefore, their own work. Perhaps it’s been ever thus, but it’s more thus than ever. An artist using Day-Glo color today is also using Warhol; every brushstroke references a hundred other artists; painting on fabric might be Polke, Kippenberger, Salle, Oehlen. And so on — not absolutely, not every time, not intentionally, even, but it’s there. History and style are now extra-active content.

If that were that, we’d be dealing only with self-conscious work. The complication is that while artists are in this ironical position to painting, to them their work is not ironic at all — in fact, it is completely, utterly sincere. Today, artists have an almost Romantic relationship to their own work — even if it is made in a time when they are as self-aware as almost never before. This is because the need to make art and the drive to be an artist still run as deep as ego and insecurity towers high. The tension that now exists between these two previously opposed, now concurrent states, is fusing in some new powerful emotion of being at once sincere and ironic. It is a new interior emotion and the tremendously productive chasm and chaos alive in painting and much art today. I’m thinking, for example, of the blasted-looking abstract paintings of Lucy Dodd; the scorching color and rash repeating orders of Katherine Bernhardt; the erratic organization and Eros of Keltie Ferris; the maybe-too-pretty but hobbled Modernism of Patricia Treib; the all-out discontentedness and retinal attack of Bjarne Melgaard; the insane glutted flat surfaces of Borna Sammak.

While I like a lot of the artists in this show, the exhibition as a whole fails to deliver up the restless interiority, forming intellectual constructions, and exigencies that this split is producing. There are places beyond just using abstraction as a cruise ship or tasting menu. These places can be glimpsed in “The Forever Now.” But the show doesn’t venture far enough into this charged, pathos-filled, maybe magisterial arsenal of internal and historical anxiety, insatiable introspection, and outward amplitude. If art really has broken free of time and history — more of the art in “The Forever Now” would not cling to or look like so many of its known safe lifelines. More of this art would not look like what more and more art looks like. That’s why I love the artists I love in this show, and even more why I love all of the artists I love who are not in this show. I almost don’t know what to call what they’re making now or how to see it — except with my nerves.



This weekend allows members of MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art) with a first look at “The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemportal World.” The show officially opens on December 14, 2014 and continues through April 05, 2015 on the sixth floor of the museum in the International Council of The Museum of Modern Art Gallery. The show presents the work of 17 artists whose work manifests a timeless that alludes qualities that could identify the work as being of a specific or current time period, according to the museum.

The condition of atemporal (or timelessness) was first noted by science fiction writer William Gibson, who used the term to describe a cultural product of our moment that paradoxically doesn’t represent the time from which it comes, according to MoMA. In painting, the concept results in a “historical free-for-all, where contemporaneity as an indicator of new form is nowhere to be found, and all eras co-exist.”


"Blocked Radiant D (for Ioana)" by Kerstin Brätsch. 2011. Oil on paper, 110 × 72 inches. Tony and Elham Salamé. Courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s Enterprise. Copyright the artist. Photo by Filippo Armellin.


"Divot" by Matt Connors, 2012. Acrylic and pencil on canvas, 48 × 36 inches. Collection Richard and Monica Weinberg. Courtesy Herald St, London. Photo by Andy Keate.


This mixing of past styles and genres is a hallmark of our “moment in time” in painting with artists reanimating historical styles or creating contemporary versions, sampling motifs from across 20th-century art and comingling in a single painting or an oeuvre, or paring their visual language to archetypal forms, explained MoMA.

The exhibition presents works by Richard Aldrich, Joe Bradley, Kerstin Brätsch, 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.


"Carlotta" by Charline von Heyl, 2013. Oil, acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 82 x 76 inches. Ovitz Family Collection, Los Angeles. Courtesy of the artist and Petzel, New York. Photo by  Jason Mandella.


"6" by Oscar Murillo, 2012-14. Oil, oil stick, dirt, graphite, and thread on linen and canvas, 7' 2 ¼” x 6’ 13/16." Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London and Carlos/Ishikawa, London. Photo by Matthew Hollow.


The artists represent a wide variety of styles and impulses but all use the painted surface where genres intermingle, morph, and collide. “The 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,” states the museum.

“The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemportal World is organized by Laura Hoptman, Curator, with Margaret Ewing, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Painting and Sculpture, MoMA.


Installation view of The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World at The Museum of Modern Art, New York (December 14, 2014-April 5, 2015). Photo by John Wronn © 2014 The Museum of Modern Art.




‘Forever Now’


‘Forever Now’

CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times


“The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World” has been a long time coming. The Museum of Modern Art has steadily been acquiring new painting, as a visit to its website will confirm. But for years it has disdained actually saying anything about the state of the medium in exhibition form, and all the while painting has developed actively on numerous fronts.

“The Forever Now,” which opens Sunday and is organized by Laura Hoptman, curator of painting and sculpture at MoMA, considers some of those changes, and it does so with a normal combination of successes and shortcomings, including a lack of daring. Its thesis hinges on the word atemporal, inspired by “atemporality,” which was coined by the science fiction writer William Gibson in 2003. The idea is that, especially in the digital era, culture exists in a state of simultaneity, where all of history is equally available for use.

It could be argued that simultaneity is nothing new: It was once the definition of postmodernism; it also describes the ways artists selectively consider past art alive and useful, and can be a cover for simple derivativeness — a condition not entirely absent from the exhibition.

The terrain the show stakes out is diverse and fairly recent, but also very familiar: The 17 artists represented here are all known, mostly market-approved entities familiar to anyone who follows contemporary art even casually. Nearly all the participants possess résumés dotted with solo shows in smaller museums and at blue-chip galleries, here and abroad; 12 of the artists are already represented in MoMA’s collection.

In short, this exhibition looks far too tidy and well behaved, much as you might fear a show of recent painting at the Modern would look: validating the already validated and ready for popular consumption. For the majority of the museum’s visitors who rarely set foot in commercial galleries, the show may hold surprises and even mild frissons of shock.

And this exhibition may also exceed the expectations even of gallery-scene regulars. Against the odds, it is surprisingly engaging. It gives you plenty to look at, which has become something of a rarity with shows of recent art at the Modern. (It’s when you consider what else could be here that the problems begin.)

The show is actually less predictable than the list of names would imply. It helps that there are new works by several artists. Some, like Julie Mehretu, have pushed into new territory (in her case, from drawing closer to painting, of a decidedly Twombly-esque sort).

If you focus intently, you can get an expanded appreciation of some of the artists. The much ballyhooed young painter Oscar Murillo, for example, shows several reasonably promising new paintings, albeit all lent by one of his galleries, which should have been avoided.

Although it occupies galleries that are too small for close to 100 pieces, the show has been smartly installed. The sequence of works and the conversation about current painting that it presents in real space is one of its primary strengths. It is arranged in largely contrapuntal exchanges between extremes: spare and labor-intensive; little or no color and lots of it; improvisation and deliberation; and riffs on Minimalism and reconsiderations of Expressionism, both abstract and figurative. And in plotting this conversation, Ms. Hoptman makes highly effective use of the narrow, dead-end space at her disposal, dividing it crosswise with walls, including four free-standing ones.

Consequently, artists drop in and out of sight, and different ones are prominent, when you retrace your steps, as you must. The work of Josh Smith, possibly the most rough-edged artist here, is (perhaps deliberately) invisible until you reach the show’s final space and turn around. Mr. Smith’s nine canvases insouciantly sum up the show’s no-holds-barred attitude, tripping the light fantastic with works variously monochrome, gestural and figurative, as well as a kitschy sunset and the artist’s signature, writ goofily large.

The contrasts among artists are sometimes so glaring they seem sure to set even a novice’s mind in motion. At the entrance, the large elaborately textured and tinted, latently Symbolist paintings on paper by Kerstin Brätsch — which suggest masses of rustling silks or feathers — flank a wall of works from which they could not be more different: Joe Bradley’s emblems simply outlined in grease pencil on raw canvas, redolent of children’s drawings. But the rich detail of Ms. Brätsch’s works attunes you to the unexpected subtleties of Mr. Bradley’s bare-bones approach. The rudimentary perpendicular forms of his “On the Cross,” for example, are enhanced by repeated diagonal creases in the canvas, intimating the wrapping of a bandage, a shroud or swaddling.

Rashid Johnson’s voluptuous black paintings, whose thick graffitilike marks are scrawled into a mix of wax and black soap with a broom handle, confront the more delicate and colorful improvisations of Michaela Eichwald, which look impressive but more decorous than usual.

After that comes a conversation about carefully but thickly applied paint that is one of the show’s best face-offs. To one side: Mark Grotjahn’s palette knife loops of color, which define a deep space but are also scattered with oblique features, and Nicole Eisenman’s forthright, masklike faces, laid on in thick, textured slabs of color. They recall the early modernist visages of Alexej von Jawlensky, but on a contemporary scale and with references to our political present: a raised (white) fist here, collages of African sculpture elsewhere.

Sometimes the show makes such clear points, you can get the impression that artists or works were chosen to fill slots, to demarcate positions as much as for themselves. You almost imagine Ms. Hoptman going down a punch list.

Interactive? Check: Mr. Murillo has an additional eight unstretched canvases on the floor that visitors can unfold and look at, like rugs at a bazaar.

Minimalism? Check: Matt Connors is represented by an immense three-panel work in sharp, non-primary hues of red, yellow and blue. Purposefully made so tall it can only lean against the wall, it evokes everything from Barnett Newman’s “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue” painting to Richard Serra’s steel plates.

Painting as deconstruction? Check: Dianna Molzan’s piquant explorations of canvas, stretcher and paint improve upon the French Surface/Support group of the 1960s.

Abject-art deprivation and the trendy “de-skilling”? Check. Richard Aldrich’s elegantly offhand works, one of which has strips of painted wood and canvas at right angles to the canvas.

His spare works face the excessive but smooth-surfaced paintings of Michael Williams, whose crazed, partly printed tapestries of color, cartoons and airbrushed lines make the digital and the handmade all but indecipherable. Mr. Williams ends the show on a very promising note.

There’s one way that “The Forever Now” is something of a landmark: Nine of its 17 artists are women. A large-group show that is over 50 percent female is beyond rare and sets a standard for other museums (and commercial galleries) to match.

Less cheering is this demographic detail: With one exception, all the older artists are women, all the younger are men. And only three are not white.

And yet it’s not just about numbers. This show also reminds us that a more open art world allows male and female artists alike to have inflated reputations, which I think is the case with Amy Sillman, Charline von Heyl and Ms. Mehretu. They’re perfectly good painters, but no better than, say, Joanne Greenbaum, Dona Nelson, Sadie Benning and Katherine Bernhardt, any of whom might have disrupted the conversation here a bit more.

Another possibility would have been the irrepressible Mickalene Thomas. It’s great to think of her extravagant depictions of proud black women in this well-done but too-safe show.

It makes you wonder what’s so scary about surveys of current painting.



10 questions about contemporary painting

10 questions about contemporary painting

Florence Waters quizzes Laura Hoptman, the curator of MOMA’s newest exhibition

A new MOMA exhibition, The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World, takes the pulse of painting right now, and explores how new techniques are colliding with old ideas and vice versa. Art Digest asked the curator, Laura Hoptman, what she’d learned from working with the show’s 17 carefully selected contemporary painters.
1. What is the first painting we see in the show?

Laura Hoptman: ‘The show begins with a display of a group of paintings by Joe Bradley, juxtaposed with two Cosmic Slop paintings by Rashid Johnson, and two mural size paintings by Michaela Eichwald. The first works one actually sees are a group of nine large paintings called Blocked Radiants by Kerstin Bratsch that serve as a kind of explosively beautiful introduction to the show and are located in the entrance area.’

2. Which painter from art history feels most present in the show?

‘I can’t say one, but certainly artists from the Modern period: from Kazimir Malevich and Picasso during his Cubist period, through the era of the 1960s hard edge abstraction.’

3. Can you sum up the thesis of the show in 10 words?

‘An exhibition of work that reminds us of many eras past, and because of that, offers a very contemporary take on the culture of the ‘aughties.’

Julie Mehretu. Heavier than air (written form), 2014

Left: Nicole Eisenman, Guy Capitalist. 2011.
Right: Oscar Murillo, 6, 2012-14.

4. That’s 26 words but we’ll let that slide. Is expressionism dead?

‘Of course not!’

5. Ok, so is painting having a moment?

‘Artists are always painting, and the public is always looking at what people paint. Painting might be having a moment in the art market, but I wouldn’t say that there are any more (or fewer) artists making wonderful, life changing paintings now, than say, 10 or 15 years ago.’

6. Are painters currently looking inward or outward?

‘That’s the beauty of an atemporal cultural universe. You’ve got it all: inward, outward, Warhol, Pollock, Picasso, Polke, all at the same time.’

Michaela Eichwald, Kunsthalle St. Gallen, 2012.

Left: Laura Owens, Untitled, 2013.
Right: Matt Connors, Divot, 2012.

7. Does painting now always require paint? We’re thinking of Hockney’s iPad pictures in particular.

‘Of course not, though in this show, everyone touches the canvas at least a little bit.’

8. From your discussions with the painters, could you write a new dictionary of painting — the ‘i-brush’, for example?

‘Using technological means to ‘paint’ goes back almost 30 years to Paintbox technology that was developed in the 1970s. Some artists use airbrush on their paintings, and this is a similarly old technology, one brought to great heights by automobile, motorcycle, and surfboard makers.’

9. Are these ‘future directions’ directions of aesthetic beauty?

‘I think so. Others are free to disagree.’

Mary Weatherford, La Noche, 2014.

10. Finally, did any thematic contradictions arise?

‘Sure; some artist re-enactors are also re-animators. Some who use so-called ‘primitive’ imagery are also deploying it in very complex ways that are in no way like cave painting. These are just two examples. There are plenty more. The show is meant to be porous and inquisitive. It is an argument but not like one that is presented in a court of law.’

The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World is at MOMA, New York from 14 December to 5 April, 2015

Main image: Installation view of The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World at The Museum of Modern Art, New York (December 14, 2014-April 5, 2015). Photograph by John Wronn © 2014 The Museum of Modern Art

Julie Mehretu. Heavier than air (written form), 2014. Ink and acrylic on canvas. 48 x 72 ins. (121.9 x 182.9 cm). Courtesy the artist, Marian Goodman Gallery, and carlier | gebauer, Berlin. Copyright Julie Mehretu. Photograph by Tom Powel

Left: Nicole Eisenman, Guy Capitalist. 2011. Oil and mixed media on canvas. 76 x 60 ins. (193 x 152.4 cm). Collection Noel Kirnon and Michael Paley. Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. Photograph by Robert Wedemeyer
Right: Oscar Murillo, 6, 2012-14. Oil, oil stick, dirt, graphite, and thread on linen and canvas. 86 1/4 x 72 13/16 ins. (219 x 185 cm). Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London and Carlos/Ishikawa, London. Photo: Matthew Hollow

Michaela Eichwald, Kunsthalle St. Gallen, 2012. Synthetic polymer paint, oil, crayon, and lacquer on cotton. 109 15/16 × 51 3/16 ins. (330 × 130 cm). Private collection, Rome. Courtesy dépendance, Brussels. Photograph by Gunter Lepkowski

Left: Laura Owens, Untitled, 2013. Flashe paint, synthetic polymer paint, and oil stick on canvas. 115 3/8 x 119 7/8 ins. (349.3 x 304.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Enid A. Haupt Fund. Photograph by Jonathan Muzikar
Right: Matt Connors, Divot, 2012. Acrylic and pencil on canvas. 48 × 36 ins. (121.9 × 91.4 cm). Collection Richard and Monica Weinberg. Courtesy Herald St, London. Photograph by Andy Keate

Mary Weatherford, La Noche, 2014. Flashe paint with neon lights and transformer on linen. 117 3/8 × 104 1/4 × 5 7/8 ins. (298.1 × 264.8 × 14.9 cm). Collection Mandy and Cliff Einstein, Los Angeles. Courtesy David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles. Photograph by Fredrik Nilsen

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