Interviews with Luc Tuymans



On and by Luc Tuymans: Why Painting Still Matters

25/10/2013 13:43 | Updated 24 December 2013


Luc Tuymans is not shy about admitting that he is easily one of the most influential figurative painters working today. His work – which often deals with heavy historical subjects like the Holocaust and postcolonial guilt – resists easy interpretation. So fans and the creatively curious alike will be delighted by the Whitechapel Gallery‘s launch of On & By Luc Tuymans, a collection of Tuyman’s writings (one of them is appropriately entitled, “I Still Don’t Get It”) on not only his own ideas and images, but those of El Greco, Giorgio Morandi, and Neo Rauch, to name a few. Edited by historian-publisher Peter Ruyffelaere, it also includes critical essays, dialogues and interviews by art historians, critics, and artists like Ai Wei Wei and Takashi Murakami.

I actually managed to catch Tuymans after his recent Whitechapel Gallery talk in London with art critic Adrian Searle (who also wrote On & By Luc Tuymans‘s introduction) about his work across painting, film, and exhibition making. The feted Belgian artist discussed the continued relevance of painting today – even in an age of Instagram selfies – as well as his personal reading recommendations, and why he really is not flattered by imitators.

Many describe your work as “beyond language.” So why is it important to talk, and even to write, about painting?
Luc Tuymans: My book is much more about a way of thinking, a way of approaching. I think its important to look at art. We are living in a society that is predominated by an enormous amount of visuals, but they’re not really looked at. What painting does is slow that mechanism, which is necessary, so you can also say something about it.

In your talk, you mentioned Instagram selfies. Do you want to further explore the effect of social media in painting?
LT: I already created an entire show called Against the Day that deals with developing digitised imagery. Why? Because instead of fighting it, its better to take it, and make it part of the toolbox.

Do you think the digital age makes painting an irrelevant genre?
LT: No, just the opposite. Because as I mentioned before, its about the necessity of slowing down. And painting does exactly that. For a spectator, looking at a painting is always a little bit more of a physical experience than looking at a reproduced image.


Has discussing your work changed the way you approach it – or made you more of a critic than a painter?
LT: Not at all. The’re just two different things. What remains important is the fact that when someone makes the choice to be an artist, it is a choice of conviction. When you are not convinced that you will be an artist – you will never be one.

Do you agree that you are one of the most influential painters of the 21st century?
LT: I cannot deny that I’ve had a massive influence, but that’s only regarding the topical element, the surface. Its just an aesthetic that people can monkey. I’m not really flattered when other artists imitate me actually; its annoying. I’d rather that they do something different.

Which writings from On & By Luc Tuymans would you personally recommend?

LT: First of all, you should read “Curating the Library,” a lecture I gave. And the conversation with Kerry James Marshall, which I think is among the better ones. And the last one. They give an insight into the way I think, which is more than just the work.

How do you maintain a fresh perspective as an artist?
LT: By staying sharp. By not enjoying success.

ON&BY, co-published by Whitechapel Gallery and MIT Press, is a new series which presents insightful writings by and on leadin

Quotes by Luc Tuymans – (9 quotes)

When I start to paint, it is real agony. I get nervous. The day before, I am already working up to it. Then I get to the studio and, once the image starts to emerge and come together, pleasure kicks in. And then you can see things that no other person can see. (Luc Tuymans)

An artwork should point in more than one direction, not be this sort of placating, self-demonstrating, witnessing element. (Luc Tuymans)

When you feel concentrated within the intensity of making paintings, you know exactly what you are doing. (Luc Tuymans)

All art is failure. How one fails is a different matter. (Luc Tuymans)

It is not important to convince people; they should convince themselves, they should look with their own eyes. (Luc Tuymans)

If you ask people to remember a painting and a photograph, their description of the photograph is far more accurate than that of the painting. Strangely enough, there is a physical element intertwined with the painting. It shakes loose an emotional element within the viewer. (Luc Tuymans)

Every painting has a weakness and a breaking point, where the essence of a painting lies. In my case it is never in the centre. (Luc Tuymans)

Life is politics, basically, but you don’t just go to a gallery and put the words ‘art’ and ‘politics’ on the wall. (Luc Tuymans)

Painted time is a different zone. This is why I don’t believe that a painting – although I’ve been accused of it many times now – can be truly topical. A painting’s physicality gives it a different persistence and a different perception. (Luc Tuymans)



The Painter Speaks About Commercialism In The Contemporary Art World, And The Cinematic Inspirations Behind His New Exhibition

May 12, 2016

Text: William Simmons

Le Mépris, Luc Tuymans’ exhibition of new paintings at David Zwirner Gallery, takes its evocative title from a Godard film of the same name. Translated as Contempt, the film stars Brigitte Bardot and takes on themes of art, commercialism, and gender politics. Tuymans mirrors Godard’s serious, but irreverent, take on these issues with a group of paintings that speak volumes in their quietude. Taken from Polaroids and other found imagery, Le Mépris combines mysterious paintings of a parade in his mother’s hometown, standing water in local canals, and the eponymous painting of the fireplace of the Villa Malaparte, where Godard’s film was shot. It may sound scattered, but what it coalesces into could only be described as a kind of burlesque, which shows you just enough of what you crave, and traps you in an unending search to see more.

I was struck by your relationship to cinema, which you have talked about extensively. What kept popping up for me is the part in the prologue of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (2011) wherein Breughel’s painting The Hunters in the Snow (1565) is the backdrop while countless dead birds fall from the sky. I see your work along similar lines—a visually based melodrama.

Luc Tuymans There’s another movie with Breughel’s work that predates von Trier, and that’s Solaris (1976) by Andrei Tarkovsky. I was shocked to be with my wife in the cinema watching this film. You see all these images of Breughel as the central character proclaims, “You don’t go to the universe; the universe comes to you,” which is a mind-blowing thing in relation to Breughel. With Brueghel, there’s an element of journalism, in that it’s the Renaissance, but it’s a different Renaissance [the Northern Renaissance]. It has to do with humanism.

So, Lars von Trier is similar. I wouldn’t say it is melodramatic, but there’s a religious backdrop. There’s that element of guilt and the fact that we have lost the idea of eros, not in the sexual sense, but in the truest sense, in society. That’s what makes Lars von Trier quite important and interesting. He can still make films like Dogville (2003) and people just leave. It’s fantastic. That was also the case with Le Mépris. They don’t make those films anymore, because they are too complicated. But they are also fabulous. Maybe there has been one epic since–There Will Be Blood (2007). In the same year, you had No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. There you could see what the contemporary art world had not yet grasped–the specific element of, I wouldn’t say cynicism, but they’re definitely sardonic. That’s a quality that should be enhanced in contemporary art.

Luc Tuymans, Model, 2015, Oil on canvas, 47 1/2 x 47 5/8 inches (120.6 x 120.8 cm)

That’s a perfect way to describe your work in that it is very rare to find a contemporary artist who produces such different and polarizing opinions, even though what you are doing appears at first to be understated or minimal.

LT Cruelty lies among tenderness. The best torture is very tender. I’m much less involved in the photographic image, but the moving image has always been predominant in my work, especially since I come out of the television generation. The element of pause is important. The lens gave me the right distance that I didn’t have before. You need distance in order to create imagery. There’s a great similarity between film and painting because they are both about the approach to imagery, not so much taking imagery, like photography. They are very similar mediums, so you cannot really combine them. The big difference is that painting I can do on my own, and I don’t need a crew.

What I want to discuss with regard to your work is the legacy of Warhol, and his relationship to stock images and the narrative of celebrity. If you look at some of his Marilyn Monroe silkscreens, for instance, they often decompose to the point of being unrecognizable, which seems to be a touchstone of your work–that you might miss something by passing over your heavily fraught images.

LT People should not necessarily know what they are looking at or be totally informed, because I am a visual artist and the visual takes precedence. The only problem is that I work with already-represented imagery, which requires me to know what the images mean. Painting is a very slow medium. It’s a medium that works on your brain and your memory. When I did my show at the Tate Modern, there was a curator who hated my work and came and looked at it and hated it even more. But then he started to dream about the work, and he became the biggest fan! So that is the impact. Also, I am not my work and my work is not me. It is important to make that distinction. That element of detachment and the measure of the spectator’s distance from the imagery I make is basically how the imagery is going to be enacted. I was always very open about source material, because I didn’t want to be the kind of artist who sits in a corner and once in a while says something. But that made it so that, even if I paint a chair, it is going to be political, right? People are conditioned to think that there is always something behind, which I think is fine. I was born into a poignant distrust of imagery, even my own. We are surrounded by all these things, but they are also fabrications.

Luc Tuymans, Corso II, 2015, Oil on canvas, 77 1/4 x 60 1/8 inches (196.2 x 152.5 cm)

How do you balance the political element of the work with the fact that sometimes you are creating paintings that are unabashedly aesthetic or beautiful? Maybe the question is–how would you want that question to play out in art history?

LT That is something for art historians to decide upon. I also studied art history as a working student. First of all, I never saw it as a science. It remains very subjective. Art historians, such as those in the October [arguably the most influential art history journal of the last 40 years] school, have often tried to make art history into a process of deduction, but that does not function anymore. These ideas were important, there is no doubt about it, but you cannot hang on to that concept. So I think it will become harder and harder for art historians to think about what kind of legacy a contemporary artist will have. The legacy will never be the same as Velázquez or Goya; it must be different now. And most of the legacy will be fabricated during the lifetime of the artist. To be an artist now is quite inhumane because the expectations are extremely high. Being a young artist right now is about the most horrible thing you could be, because, first off, it is no longer kind, and now art is super market-driven. We valorize contemporary artists, but artists are isolated. In this huge world of the Internet and Wikipedia and access, everyone is getting specialized and weakened and isolated. A lot of the discourse in the art world has to do with misreading 1980s sociology, and nothing to do with reality. You can see stupidity growing around you.

Le Mépris is on display now through June 25 at the David Zwirner Gallery: 525 W 19th St, New York, NY 10011.




LUC TUYMANS with Jarrett Earnest

For decades, Luc Tuymans’s paintings have plumbed the nature of images—charting the limits of their personal and political functions. Before the opening of his latest solo show at David Zwirner Gallery, Tuymans spoke with Jarrett Earnest about temperature in paintings, their instantaneous decay, and the balance between violence and tenderness.

Portrait of Luc Tuymans. Pencil on paper by Phong Bui. From a photo by Scott Rudd.

Jarrett Earnest (Rail): I wanted to start by talking about color. In this exhibition the painting Model (2015), appears to be a single dark tone, but within it there is a subtle fluctuation between warm and cool, which creates a very gentle rocking across the surface of the painting.

Luc Tuymans: That is true. First of all, I don’t use black. That is important to know. I used to use a lot of van Dyck brown to get this really deep, dark color. I do that because it’s about the profoundness, the depth of the tone, which, if you use black and just mix it with white, will be flat. Therefore you’re right; in Model there are two different colors, it has been worked twice: first in the cool color, then overworked again the same day with a brown because it was too blue. When there was just one color it stuck out too much; it was not the right balance with the image.

Rail: That painting showed me something about the rest of the show, which is that they have a color dynamic that wavers between warm and cool contrasts, that are very close in tone. In the three “Murky Water” paintings (2015) I was particularly interested that they are green, which is already a mixture of warm and cool—blue and yellow. Its relationship to warm and cool is precarious, so that the rather cool green feels warm next to a blue-edged shadow. How do you approach the color temperature as structure?

Luc Tuymans, Model, 2015. Oil on canvas. 47 1/2 × 47 5/8 inches. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London.

Tuymans: The temperature of things is really important. The early works, particularly the Gaskamer [Gas Chamber] (1986), are quite warm in temperature. Throughout the years I’ve become much more cool. There is a big difference between the “Corso”flower parade paintings and the green “Murky Water”paintings—they are from different distances. They are differently painted also. That was the whole idea, to let them collide with each other, which gave me the idea of the title for the show—Le Mépris [Contempt (1963)], the same as Godard’s film. The title painting in the exhibition, which shows the fireplace of that fantastic villa where Godard filmed is the only painting in the show that deals not with temperature but with light: light that beams out—pierces, actually—and makes a hole in the wall. In producing a show there is one particular painting I make to stop it, put the lid on the body of work, and that was it.

Rail: One of the special things that color can do in painting is create light.

Tuymans: That is why I always work with tonality. It’s nice to see this show in the early afternoon, like today, with this gray light that is very luminescent; you can see much better how it’s put together. That sensibility, that light, is very particular to the region of artists I come from, there is much more tonality. I actually curated a show of Belgian abstract art, The Gap, which is still up at the Museum of Modern Art in Antwerp, of people from the ’50s who are largely unknown and made fantastic work—even though they are abstract, they are all related to reality, and that kind of sensibility. There is a specific apprehension of light, which is really important. That is the reason for the persistence in working with this tonality. A lot of people could say that my paintings are monochromatic but, as you correctly saw, they are not, because there is much more investment in creating a certain temperature or tonality than just a color, which is very difficult. And I mix these things. It isn’t premeditated—you put in this color and that color and it is surprising to see which colors you have to put in to get to that tonality, which is not always that self-evident.

Rail: How has your relationship to color changed?

Tuymans: In the beginning I banned it. I actually started out as a very colorful, gestural painter. When I started to work with imagery I wanted to go more for the signifier and what it meant than the aesthetics of it, which meant I had to reduce, and reduce drastically, to a point that some of the works can look pretty graphic. This has changed, of course, because I allow myself more painterly freedom now than I did twenty years ago.

Rail: Godard’s Le Mépris is one of the most perfect films ever made; how do these paintings relate to it?

Tuymans: It’s much more about the idea and the word “contempt.” There are so many elements to that film: you have a mythological element, the Greek sculptures; then you have the tricolore of France, though Godard is Swiss; then you have Curzio Malaparte, the megalomaniac Italian writer who claimed he built that Villa himself—which he didn’t, he had an architect. He’s a very interesting writer—books like Kaputt (1946) are still banned by the Vatican. In the film you can see that Brigitte Bardot understands zilch of it, she’s a total void. You have an epic aspect, and sex, jealously, and of course contempt. The film is loosely based on Alberto Moravia’s Il Disprezzo, which I also read of course, but you don’t really find that many threads in that film. What you do find is a specific space. There is also the element of the festive that goes totally wrong, like an accident. There is despair and decay—decay because the water is polluted and because the floats will immediately perish, they will be scrapped the day after the parade. All that feeling is in Godard, which is atypical of a Godard movie anyhow—it’s even something that escaped him, so to speak, and that is what makes it so fucking important. This type of film will never be made again, it’s a one-off, even for Godard. The end with Jack Palance and Brigitte Bardot crushed by two trucks—fantastic. It becomes indifferent, ungraspable to a point, and that is really an achievement in cinema. Recently there were three films like that in the same year: Control (2007), the biopic about Ian Curtis, which was really good, No Country For Old Men (2007) by the Coen brothers, and then you have There Will Be Blood (2007) by Paul Thomas Anderson—those three films did something which contemporary art has not yet been able to do in terms of sardonic intensity.

Rail: Twenty years ago you wrote the essay “On the Image,” which is an incredible piece of writing and thinking. I wonder how you feel the function of the image has changed since then.

Tuymans: Enormously, I suppose, seeing the tools we have now. I was never a tech guy but when I saw the iPhone touch screen I thought, I want to have that. It changes the way you perceive things, the way you can even crop and distort on your phone. Even if we don’t want to admit to it, it will change our way of looking at things—which is not a problem, it’s just what happens. I’m not going to be an idiot and reject it, why? It’s just another tool and it makes life easier up to a certain point and more complicated at the same time.

Digital technology delivers a different structure of imagery. When I received the Max Beckmann Foundation award at the Städelschule in 2007, I curated an exhibition for the Städel Museum in Frankfurt. They wanted me to go through the collection of five thousand works and create a show, but they also wanted it to have work of mine. I had a diptych, one part of which was in China and the other one was in my studio, that shows a guy shuffling in my garden next to a tree—actually quite like Millet, it could be a 19th-century image. I decided to hang that specific painting, Against the Day (2008), next to a painting by Fernand Khnopff, The Game Warden (1883), which shows a hunter with his gun. The contrast was shocking—the light was totally different, and mine clearly came out of a digital age. My painting had nothing to do with the 19th century even though the imagery was the same, which means every age has a specific quality to it that you will be able to retrace via the visual itself. Against the Day was the first from a large body of work about digitalized imagery.

Rail: One of the things I loved about your essay on the image is that you describe the static image as disappearing as soon as it’s made.

Luc Tuymans, Murky Water I, 2015. Oil on canvas. 92 3/4 × 92 3/4 inches. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London.

Tuymans: Because it’s in decay. A painting as an object in the world is decaying. It is interesting doing a show where you get works back from thirty years ago, and you see that they are aging—the colors are deepening or yellowing—even though they’re in fairly good shape. Some of these paintings traveled a lot and there is a weariness in the paintings, like they are tired, and in a way it deepens them. When you get to put recent work next to old work you can see how they function—and they do function, no problem—but they are very different experiences.

Rail: One of the reasons I’m interested in color is because it is the least stable part of an image—the colors change at different rates and for different reasons. I’ve started to think of color as always temporal—a blooming flower—color as a rupture and movement through time. You can also move through paintings because of color.

Tuymans: If you see the first flower float painting in the show, you’ll see there is a darkened area of the flowers—more contrast and a different depth. This is what you can do with tonality and color: you pick the point where it breaks and that is the entry. Van Eyck is so perfect, everything is so held down, and maybe he’s the only one that gets away with it, which is why he’s a real motherfucker. I’ve often said that after van Eyck we’re all dilettantes. In that sense, there has to be something off-balance, which is the point where you get into the image. That is really important with static imagery because that is the point where it moves.

Luc Tuymans, Corso I, 2015. Oil on canvas. 98 3/4 × 72 5/8 inches. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London.

Rail: You’ve said that one distinction between painting and photography is that people can remember a photograph better than a painting, but that painting loosens an emotional dimension.

Tuymans: Painting is far more detailed. It’s more physical, and therefore very difficult to remember.

Rail: Where does that put photographs of paintings?

Tuymans: A good painting is a bad painting in a photograph. Whenever your paintings look better in reproduction you should get scared because something’s wrong. The reproduction should remain the reproduction. That is a totally different ball game, and that is why I still paint.

Rail: I’m interested in the places where you’ve gestured toward painting’s emotional function. How do you see the relationship between emotion and form?

Tuymans: It is rather collateral damage, accidental to a point. A couple of days before the show opened, the first batch of collectors arrived and one elderly woman burst out crying in front of the paintings and came up to me saying they’re so beautiful, and I’m like really? I’m not like Rothko who wanted people to cry in front of his paintings. But they do that—they danced in front of the paintings at the Wexner, they sang in front of them—all totally ridiculous. That may be too harsh: it’s beautiful and nice, but it’s not true. It can’t be true, it’s an image. So the emotion is really an element of perversion, and it’s also a construction of culture. Torture comes from tenderness. The balance between violence and tenderness is the most efficient way to torture anything or anybody. That’s what it’s about and I’ve clearly been into that power game from the start—my imagery is clearly built on an interest in that power.

Luc Tuymans, Le Mépris, 2015. Oil on canvas. 44 1/4 × 56 1/8 inches. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London.

But I cannot devoid myself from the fact that whenever I finish a painting I’m still amazed that it worked—there is a magical moment. What is unexplainable, even to me—and I’ve been working at this for more that thirty-five years so I know all the tricks—is that I’m still very nervous when I start, not totally secure. By the middle of the painting the security comes in because it starts to work, and then the total amazement when you stop, because something has left your body, has become a total entity in opposition to what you are, because it’s an image. In the studio they mostly hang tacked and un-stretched on the wall, then they get put on stretcher bars. When they are not on stretchers you see much more. When they are stretched you see less—it becomes more diffused, it becomes an object, gets a width—it’s really weird, like a different skin that comes over it. That is always an important point because that is when you see how it really works.

Rail: It makes me think of something Fassbinder said in an interview: “The theme of my films has remained the same, and always will: the manipulability, the exploitability of feelings within the system that we live in.”

Tuymans: Well, he enacted that with the actors in his group, he really abused them. Of course he is also a genius filmmaker, an amazing character.

Rail: In an interview with Juan Vicente Aliaga, you said: “Violence is the only structure underlying my work.” I wanted to know more about that, because you never represent an actual act of violence.

Tuymans: Fritz Lang didn’t show violence; in The Big Heat (1953)you hear the scream, you see the coffee pot, you make a deduction. The same with M (1931), you see the balloon pop and you know the kid dies. The best way to represent violence is not to show it. That is one thing.

With violence as a structure, as an idea: if you take happiness as anthem, what are you going to paint? There is no fucking consequence to any form of happiness. You’re going to be happy for what, thirty seconds, then what? There are many more consequences with violence— there is psychological violence, physical violence, and all types of violence and abuse that create images. I’m constantly looking at those ISIS videos of people dressed in orange jumpsuits about to be decapitated: what are you going to do with that? I went through and saw the whole decapitation—to see a whole decapitation is something completely different, because it’s really horrific. Are you going to paint that? You can’t. It doesn’t have the same function. Of course there have been many depictions, the best being the Caravaggio’s self-portrait David with the Head of Goliath (1610), which is after the beheading.

Rail: In arguments around violent images there is one side that believes those kinds of images proliferate violence, and another that believes it is important to show exactly what happened as a way of confronting the reality of the violence. How do you relate to that discussion?

Tuymans: It is still ambiguous and remains problematic, because I don’t think it will solve anything to decide either way. The repetition of these images is obviously propaganda. It’s terror, but it’s also like a Hollywood production—these guys have good equipment, good lights, and that makes you wonder. In a sense, the premeditation of the production is itself part of its violence. I’m more interested in the moment before or after than the act itself, because I think these things are much more evocative. They are positions, like borders and frontiers, and when they are connected with other imagery they are bound to influence each other.

Rail: When you talk about the influence of film on your paintings, it is mostly through the grammar of cinematic language. But thinking of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Hitler, A Film from Germany (1977), the scrims with rear-projections, cutouts, manikins, and dolls all seem to relate to imagery and effects of your early paintings.

Tuymans: It was a really big shock when I saw that movie in 1978. I first saw Hitler at my parents’ and they still had a black-and-white television. I saw it over two nights, so my reception of the film was black-and-white, not color, and it was far later that I saw the film in color, which is totally different—less cinematic in a weird way, and less epic, because the black and white adds an epic quality. But still, even that way it was a masterpiece. What is interesting is the way that Syberberg seeks to identify with Hitler, and that he goes at it through culture, which is really important because the big difference between German and Italian fascism in general is that German fascism was culture—the culture of Hitler was the first European project. What Syberberg was actually showing was that the Nazis destroyed a great deal of their culture, and they didn’t understand. This was very important because it was exactly the way I was going at it, and he personified that in words as well as imagery.

Rail: One of the best things about right now in painting is that no one is fighting battles between abstraction and representation. When did you feel that change in the discourse around painting?

Tuymans: Well, first of all I came out with my paintings at the exact wrong moment. When I started showing, it was a gallery where they only showed post-conceptual work. Immediately, my paintings weren’t “painting” but were treated like conceptual images, which makes a very big difference. Now there is no need anymore for any of that—modernism, or postmodernism, or post-postmodernism—all those ideas are totally obsolete. Now you can sayit’s relevant or not, but it’s not about fitting art into some theoretical structure. You cannot have October now, which made sense when they did it in the 1980s—that was a different era. Unluckily for the art world, most artists are now isolated by the market. There is a profound need within a generation to find each other, which is more difficult now because there is this specialized mechanism, this art market, and the professionals who are formed there. You end up with discourse like the sociology of the ’80s and misunderstandings of Habermas. So right now there is a grave need for different, intelligent interactions because otherwise art doesn’t really mean much, which is why I’ll probably take some money and do a three-yearly prize on the world level for people who write about art.

Rail: The volume of your writing and interviews ON&BY Luc Tuymans (2013) is very impressive, and I had no idea you’d written so much.

Tuymans: Me neither! And I hate it. I have so much respect for people who write but it’s so difficult, it’s such a slow medium. But moreover, the most important thing in writing is how you formulate things, which is a nightmare for me.

Installation view: Le Mépris. David Zwirner, New York, May 5 – June 25, 2016. Photo: Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London.

Rail: I assumed you were writing to create a framework to help others understand what you were doing. A lot of the artists I know who are verbally articulate about their work get to a point where they feel imprisoned by the way critics endlessly repeat the terms they’ve set up.

Tuymans: Problematic, but it was my mistake. It was a necessary mistake because when I started out it was all about contextualization—you could not just hang a painting on the wall. You had to say what the source material was, what it meant, etc. Of course the critics loved that because they knew what to write about. Then they all turned on me, Mr. Tuymans you cannot explain it all to us. The damage has been done, but I’m very secure that in time these things will evaporate—I will die and the works will remain, so totally different things will crop up. We’ve already talked about different things today, like color, which is interesting because that is something you can see. It’s important that the visual becomes more central to the discussion.

Rail: The things I was bringing up about your paintings are not just things you can see, but they are the things that you see in person. We have to move toward writing that is more grounded in physical experience.

Tuymans: People are not educated in looking now. They look fast. How long will people stay in front of a painting at a museum, twenty seconds? There are some that really look, but they are the patient people, they look differently. There is a culture of looking that is disappearing because of the fact that you have all these possibilities, overload, and little time to pause.

Rail: You conclude “On the Image” with this thought: “The question is: for and by whom is the information centralized? Who keeps track of it?”

Tuymans: That is what we are living now, and that is the danger. The values have been turned upside-down: what used to be the most valued was the most scarce; what is most valued now is the most accessible thing, but controlling it is the most valued thing. A totally different world.

Rail: One thing about the nature of looking today is that attention itself has been reduced; people have trouble paying attention for long periods of time, so to paraphrase your question, I’ve been asking myself: For and by whom is attention being degraded?

Tuymans: Even in the art world, we have the dominance of the corporation, which monopolizes and makes uniform. There is a great need for differentiation; you have to differentiate room for things in the middle, which is now nearly gone. Today you have to look at all this information, and that is not even the work: it doesn’t have to do with whether the work is good or bad; virtually nothing can be done in art now without the fucking packaging. And that is why a lot of artists are opening their apartments, and trying to run spaces, which I support. But that creates another problem, whether it’s too provincial, or too small, too specific, and too nice.We’ll see what happens, maybe one day the bubble will really explode.


Jarrett Earnest JARRETT EARNEST is a writer living in New York. He teaches and is faculty liaison at the Bruce High Quality Foundation University (BHQFU), New York’s freest art school, where his classes have included “Object Relations,” “Color Feelings,” and “Emotional Formalism.” From 2012 – 13 he ran the alternative art space 1:1 in Manhattan.


luc tuymans

a misunderstanding


From 1976 to 1982, Luc Tuymans (° 1958) studies painting at diverse academies in Belgium. He could have spared himself the trouble, for it soon turns out that he had been misled by his teachers: nobody seemed interested any longer in the medium they had learned him to master. Probably to get a broader view on the problem – but also because there is something of an intellectual in him – he proceeds to study Art History from 1982 to 1986, equally in Brussels. Meanwhile, he remains also active as an artist, although in a more contemporary medium: film. In 1985, however, he returns to painting. Especially since a new wind began to blow from Germany: with the exhibition ‘Zeitgeist’ (1982), the uncomplicated joy of painting broke through on the European scene with the ‘Neue Wilden’, painters like Georg Baselitz Jörg Immendorf, Markus Lupertz, Sigmar Polke, Rainer Fetting, Helmut Middendorf and Salomé. For Luc Tuymans’ first exhibition ‘Belgian Art Review’ in the Palais des Thermes in Ostend (1985), on the other hand, there was not the least interest. But after some exhibitions in ‘Ruimte Morguen’ and ‘Zeno X’ in Antwerp, Jan Hoet (the curator who became famous with ‘Chambres d’Ami’ 1986), buys his ‘Body’ in 1990. In 1992, the same Jan Hoet selects his work for the Documenta. Soon, there are exhibitions in diverse European countries, and finally also with David Zwirner in New York (1996 The Heritage). In 2001, he causes a furore at the Venice Biennale (with Jan Hoet as a curator). This is the beginning of triumphal progress via the White Cube (‘The Rumour’ 2001) and Saatchi in London (Display Room 2) to the Tate Modern and K21 in Düsseldorf in 2004. Presently, Luc Tuymans is universally hailed as “the man who put painting on the agenda” again, yes, even as the most important painter of his generation, nothing less than the successor of Gerhard Richter.


Luc Tuymans foremost caught the attention by his subject matter: themes like the holocaust, (Belgian) colonialism (Mwana Kitoko, 2001), the rise of the New Right in Flanders (Heimat, 1995), Conservatism in America (‘The Heritage’ 1995-1996, ‘Security’ 1998, ‘Proper’ 2005), sexual abuse of children and recently also the church (‘The Passion’, 1998-99 and ‘Les Revenants’, 2007). A broad array op political themes.

How political are these themes? Many of them seem to be inspired by the personal experiences of Luc Tuymans. Thus, the obsession with the holocaust comes as no surprise with someone whose family from mother’s side was active in the resistance, whereas his family from father’s side sympathised with the Nazis. His unhappy youth and his childhood anxieties may have made him susceptible for the theme of the sexual abuse of children, and, through his wife and his friends, he is acquainted with the effects of Jesuit education. The strange thing is that these themes are not handled directly, but wrapped in themes that are in vogue in the media. The series ‘Heimat’ (1995) is a reflex on the rise of the New Right in Belgium, that came to a first apogee with the ‘Black Sunday’ of 1991. The theme of sexual abuse of children appears in 1996, the year Marc Dutroux was arrested. The theme of ‘Mwana Kitoko’ appears after the publication of Ludo de Witte’s book on Lumumba in 1999, where the involvement of the Eyskens administration and the Belgian Royal House in the murder on Patrice Lumumba is handled. And the portrait of a boy in the series ‘Les Revenants’ (2007) suggests that the theme of the power of the Jesuits may have something to do with the recent paedophilia scandals.

At once, it also becomes clear that Luc Tuymans’ themes only apparently cover a broad array. On a closer look, it rather strikes us that many themes are completely absent. Adult private life is underrepresented, as well from the point of view of the inner life of the individual, as from the point of view of parental and sexual relations and eroticism. And as far as politics is concerned, where he seems to feel better at home, Luc Tuymans is rather obsessed by the resurrection of the old monsters, than by the impact of the modern versions, which are, if possible, still more devastating. For, Nazis and bureaucrats have the advantage of being clearly identifiable, which is not the case with the ‘Invisible Hand’ that is increasingly taking over the lead in our present world. In that sense, Luc Tuymans’ obsession with the past is rather a kind of blindness for what is happening here and now before our eyes. Besides, we can have some doubts about the political awareness of someone who, on occasion of his exhibition ‘I can’t get it’ in the Museum of Photography in Antwerp (2007) had a smoking room installed as a way of demonstrating his resistance to the banning of smoking from public life. (He is not alone is his struggle: also that other revolutionary from Antwerp, Jan Fabre, joins him in his resistance with his ‘I am a mistake’, in which, together with Wolfgang Rihm, he sings the praise of smoking – ‘the pleasure that is trying to kill me’).

We cannot escape the impression that the involvement with what is topical in the media only masks a blindness for what is really at stake. That Luc Tuymans is above all interested in the problematic that have influenced his childhood experiences, makes us suspect that his political themes are merely a metaphor for private problems, especially childhood experiences. In that respect, a comparison between ”Gas chamber’ (1986) and the children’s room in ‘Silent Music’ (1992) speaks volumes. We will come back on this theme later.


Remarkably enough, the man “who put painting back on the agenda” harbours a deep distrust in the image.

That distrust is, among others, inspired by the fact that the image is often used to mask horror: think of the opposition between the images of the Nazi propaganda and the monstrosities perpetrated by that regime, as denounced in ‘Our new Quarters’ (1986). In some of his paintings, Luc Tuymans is out at a reversal of this obfuscation by making a painted version of the photo, as when he overpaints a photo Reinhard Heydrich (1988) from ‘Signal’ with sunglasses. The images distorts not only in that it conceals the horror behind misleading glamour and heroic poses. More often, there is a shift from the political to the private. Again, Luc Tuymans disturbs the idyll through reversing the shift. Just think of the painting after of photo of a fallen skier who turns out to be Speer (Der Architekt, 1998), or of ‘Walking (1989), after a photo with Hitler and setting off on a walk with his escort in Berchtesgaden. We get the feeling that something horrible goes hidden behind these seemingly banal snapshots.

Soon, this procedure becomes Luc Tuymans hallmark. The private is thereby generalised to the banal as such. The gaze of the unsuspecting onlooker falls on pictures, which, at first glance, look innocent, if not poetic, precisely because the horror has been removed. Thus, from the concentration camps, Luc Tuymans paints only the empty gas chambers. From the visit of King Bouduain to the Belgian Congo, we get only to see his foot on a leopard skin rug spread by two black hands. But the banal turns out to be a mere trap: inadvertently, the onlooker is confronted with the horror that has been zoomed out or removed from the image. Luc Tuymans describes such breakthrough in terms of an ‘assault’ (Aliaga*).

Through such reinvestment of the banal, Luc Tuymans succeeds in reinstalling the horror in our memory. He thereby undermines the idea that the horror is such that it cannot be depicted in an image. According to Luc Tuymans, the only truth in this contention is that the horror cannot be handled in, say, depicting heaps of corpses – referring to the more explicit approach of painters like Anselm Kiefer (if not to documentary films).

Luc Tuymans’ most cherished procedure can be described in two ways. In terms of photography, it is a ‘close-up’, a zooming in on a detail of the whole image. No zooming in on the kernel of the proceedings, however: these are rather zoomed out of the image. From the spreading of the leopard skin rug before the feet King Bouduain, we only get to see the leopard skin. ‘Zooming away’ might be a better name for this procedure.

We can also describe such ‘zooming away’ in terms of the conventional academic genres. Luc Tuymans is then turning away from ‘history painting’ – the explicit depiction of the human drama, condensed into one single meaningful scene. He withdraws in the ‘lesser genres’ of the hierarchy: landscape, interior, still life – where the painter ‘zooms away’ from human drama to concentrate on the place where it happens (interior, landscape) or on the objects which he uses or produces (still life). Thus, ‘Schwarzheide (1986), can be classified as a ‘landscape’, ‘Gas chamber’ (1986) as an interior, ‘Orchid’ (1998) as a flower piece, ‘Bird’ (1998) as an animal piece.

Such shift from history painting to the lesser genres, must be seen in a broader art historical context. The shift began already centuries ago, lead to an open rejection of history painting by the Impressionists, came to an apogee through the introduction of abstract art, and was completed by the banning of every narrative element from art. Against this background, we understand not only why Luc Tuymans has a predilection for the lesser genres, but also why he often tends to become completely abstract, like in ‘Insomnia’ (1988), where there are only unidentifiable spots to be seen. But, as a rule, Luc Tuymans feels more at home in the preceding phase where the lesser genres are taking over. In that sense, Luc Tuymans’ painting is a step backwards, a step towards a pre-modern phase in the development of modern art. As a matter of fact: Luc Tuymans does not believe in something like a synthetic image in which reality is contained in a condensed form, as usually expected from history painting. According to Luc Tuymans, a universal image – the ultimate history painting – is impossible: we can only lift the veil through fragmentary images.

Nevertheless, Luc Tuymans understand his still lifes, interiors and portraits as ‘history paintings’, not as lesser genres. They are only ‘understatements’: on closer view, the rather banal subject matter conceals a more encompassing world of horror.


But, let there be no confusion: it is not the image that works such reversal from ‘a sense of cosiness’ in the seemingly banal genre piece into the historical dimension of ‘something terrifying’ (Aliaga*). At its best, the image is only the occasion of such transformation. It is rather the word that ignites the fire. It does so on three levels.

To begin with, there are the texts in or below the image. We are not dealing here with the usual titles that provide further information on the subject matter, even less with titles that facilitate the access to the image, or put our mind on the right track. A text like ‘Our new quarters’ (1986) does something totally different. It is only through these words that the meagre image gets some substance and that we realise that we are dealing with the model camp built by the Nazis in Theresienstadt to deceive the world. That surely makes us think: all kinds of memories and images pop up in our mind. Until we suddenly realise that we are no longer looking at a painting. The text makes us discard the image and lose ourselves in a train of thoughts and memories completely independent from the image.

Next to the titles, also the comments of Luc Tuymans himself are indispensable for a proper understanding of the image. A title like ‘Schwarzheide’ is only the onset of a longer comment, that initiates a train of thoughts in its turn. The comments can be found in a increasing number of books devoted to Luc Tuymans, but also in the catalogues – like the one for the Kunsthalle in Bern (1992) where every single painting is commented on. That results in the hilarious – but telling – spectacle in the exhibition ‘Der Diagnostische Blick’ in Düsseldorf. Rather than looking at the paintings hanging on the walls, all the visitors stood staring in the booklets distributed at the entrance.

Another essential part of the extensive glosses around Luc Tuymans’ images is the information about the photos used by Luc Tuymans. Thus, we are told that the image of ‘Mwana Kitoko’ descending from the aeroplane, is borrowed from a propaganda film on the visit of King Bouduain to the Belgian Congo. The intention is to spare the art historians the trouble to find the origins of the image themselves,

Finally, it speaks volumes that also the titles of the exhibitions themselves play an important role. This is understandable as long as we are dealing with series of images like ‘Heimat’ (1995), ‘Mwana Kitoko’ (2000-2001) or ‘Les Revenants’ (2007). But, for Luc Tuymans, also new combinations of pictures that have been isolated from the initial series, like in the Tate or in K 21 Düsseldorf, have to be read as a new discourse. They are thereby reduced to mere signifiers that get a new meaning in another context. Nothing demonstrates better how, for Luc Tuymans, paintings are mere occasions for a discourse that is essentially independent from the image.

In a first series of images, hence, the text is merely a kind of midwife that brings to birth the real content of the painting or the exhibition as a whole. The child that is thereby delivered, is no longer an image, and, a fortiori, not a history painting. Rather is it a complex of thoughts and representations in the mind, as independent from the painting as the meaning of a word from the arbitrary sound of the word itself. The withdrawal into the detail or into the ‘lesser genre’ turns out to be only a first move, which is completed by a second, where the word takes the lead. The image as un understatement is replaced by the word as an overstatement. As if in the work of Luc Tuymans Hegel’s prophecy about the spiritualisation of art comes true once more, against Schopenhauer’s claim that art has to overcome the shortcomings of the ‘Begriff’ through the ‘Idee’.

The question is why Luc Tuymans continues to resort to the image altogether. Why not become a writer or a philosopher rather than a painter? The answer is obvious. Without the prestige of the image, Luc Tuymans’ ‘philosophy’ would not be heard at all. In that Luc Tuymans entrusts his ideas to paintings, he not only gets a forum, but good money as well. That would not bother us too much, if Luc Tuymans had to tell us some epoch making insights. But that is not at all the case. Take ‘The Architect’ (1998). Only after reading the title and the comments, we see that a skier has fallen; that the skier is Speer, the architect of Hitler who also designed the concentration camps; that the original image is a snapshot made by his wife during one of their holidays; and that there is a blue hue around the image intended to suggest that the image is projected on the canvas as a screen. In the comments, we read something about ‘the banality of evil’. Hannah Ahrend has written an entire book on the subject already in 1963, and the idea has become widely accepted in matters of the Nazi era. Luc Tuymans’ painting only repeats a commonplace. Rather than the vehicle of epoch making insights, Luc Tuymans paintings are not more than a kind of illustration of the ideas of others.

The discrepancy between the painting and the train of thoughts is sometimes rather ridiculous. A painting from the series ‘Passion’ with a yellow canary on a blue background (‘Bird’,1998) is supposed to be ‘travesty of Christian symbolism’ – in casu: the symbol of the Holy Ghost. Luc Tuymans says that he has deliberately chosen a ‘domesticated image and an unusual colour to profanise the idea of the sacred dove’. To the this time genuine doves ‘in dumb disarray’ on ‘Pigeons’ (2001) – a banal animal piece – the comments read: ‘Dirty and disease-ridden, they’re a strangely curious mob, a metaphoric stand-in for ourselves… Luc Tuymans offers a chilling ultimate truth about humankind. He makes a cold comedy of a terrifying thought.’ Speaking of an assault! Not in that the seemingly banal suddenly turns out to be horrendous, but in that a banal image is purported to be freighted with a deeper meaning!


The seizure of power by the word devalues the image: it is no more than an occasion to a flight of thoughts and representations in the dark room of the skull. That has everything to do with Luc Tuymans’ already mentioned distrust in the power of the image. That distrust goes further than a mere distrust in some kinds of images. The criticism of the propagandistic image, which, in a first phase was extended to a criticism of history painting or the ‘pretentious myth of the image as a synopsis of reality’, develops in a second phase into a criticism of the image as such: the painting as a mirror of reality would not at all be able to hold a mirror to reality. As a reaction to September 11th, Luc Tuymans painted his ‘Still life’ (2002). No ‘zooming away’ from the banal here, but a resolute substitution of history painting with a still life, that has nothing whatsoever to do with the Twin Towers: a pastiche on Cézanne as a symbol of painting as such. In this painting, the lowest of the academic genres is no longer an occasion to a flight of thoughts and representations that presumably cannot be caught in the image, but rather an example of the impotence of the image to tell something about the real world altogether. Such conception of the painting as a blindfold is accentuated by the magnifying of the size of the image – a gesture that up to now had been alien to Luc Tuymans. As if this non-subject also wanted to attract all the attention. “I had great fun making the painting because, although it is by far my largest, it represents the least” (Heynen*). Only here does it become clear how far reaching the seizure of power of the word has become. For, whereas the banality of what is to be seen on many of Luc Tuymans’ paintings hints at a reality behind the picture – with a little help of the text – in this case, there is nothing whatsoever in the image that might suggest that it had something to do with the Twin Towers. We learn that only from the comments.

That goes even more for those other paintings, where Luc Tuymans paints a mirror. In ‘Mirror’ (1999), we see a nearly monochrome rectangle. In the upper corner on the right, there is a lighter rectangle, and on the left a kind of cube. It is impossible to identify what is represented here. Unless we read the title, but above all the comment: apparently, we are looking at a mirror, a mirror where there is nothing to be seen. In ‘Mirror 1’ (1992) Luc Tuymans paints a stain on a mirror. We see only a stain, not the face that is normally reflected in the mirror. And in ‘Slide’ (2002), we see a rectangle of light on a wall. In the textbook, we learn that we are dealing with a projector without slide installed. Or, to phrase it with Berg: ‘a bottomless and unfathomable ground is the substrate of a motif that itself exhibits nothing but its own absence’ (Berg*).

In these ‘mirror paintings’ the role of the word is, if possible, even more constitutive than in ‘Still Life’. In the first place, it is only the text that turns the stains on the images into reflections in a mirror. In ‘Still Life’, it is at least our very own eyes that discern a still life. And, second, the image itself is no more than a non-verbal statement – a variant of the painting of Magritte, where we see a rectangular window where we would expect a canvas. In paintings like these, the images are not only totally dependent on the word, the word usurps the role of the image. The painting is no more than a non-verbal statement on the image as such or on the relation between the image and reality.

Next to the image as a mere occasion for the flight of thoughts and representations, then, there is also the image as a mere non-verbal statement or as an example to Luc Tuyman’s discourse on the image.


‘Was mann nicht malen kann, das muss man nicht malen wollen.’
(free after Wittgenstein…)

An obvious objection is that the image is always dependent on the word. But that is only a modern fable, that has become popular ever since it has been so eloquently advocated by Roland Barthes. When looking at Goya’s Kronos, you need not know who the man eater is – the title rather diverts the attention from what there is to be seen in the image. And that goes equally for the Venus of Urbino. Things are different when we are dealing with paintings like the Primavera of Botticelli or with paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. These pictures ask for an explanation, simply because the figures are non-verbal symbols. The image is here reduced to a mere vehicle. Not surprising that it resists its subordination: the three graces continue to seduce the eye, also when it does not know that it is looking at the Three Graces and what their function in the non-verbal statement is.

There is also another way in which the image can become dependent on the word. Every image is embedded in a cultural context. As long as that context is shared by the onlookers, there is no problem. Problems arise only when the image is isolated from the environment in which it originated. It is obvious that non-Belgians have to get the required information when they are confronted with a hint at the ‘Vlaams Blok’ or at ‘ Mwana Kitoko’. The problems become principial when we are dealing with images from the past. These have to be placed in the appropriate context through art-historical explanations. And, since most great art works stem from the past, and hence have to be embedded in an art historical discourse, the totally erroneous impression grows that art as such deserves explanation. Many modern artist abuse this state of affairs when they have their meanwhile obligate exegetes explain what their pictures do not convey. Luc Tuymans goes even further: he has become his own exegete and simply cannot stop to spin an ever growing web of comments around his paintings

Whereas, in the allegory, the word distracts from the image, with Luc Tuymans, the word is rather constitutive of the image: only when reading the comments do we see the monochrome surface as a mirror, and as a mirror in which there is nothing to be seen. The same goes for the lamp of which we read in the booklet that it is made of human skin. One might object that there is no other means of making it clear that we are dealing with a lamp made of human skin. But the conclusion should be that such a subject is not appropriate to be painted – there is so much left that can be painted properly. Genuine painters are not looking for images that could convey their preconceived ideas, they create images that speak for themselves.

And, to deal with still another modern fable: wherein precisely does the image fail? Is it not in the first place photos and images which revealed the horror of the holocaust to the world? And did they not do so precisely in being indexical/causal – ‘narrative’ par excellence? Paintings cannot rely to the ‘ça a été’ to the same extent. Of course, a picture – whether painted or photographed – is not reality itself: it may be more disturbing or more reassuring, more superficial or more profound, and that only depends on the intentions and the competence of the maker. But in any case, it holds that a good image can be more speaking than even the best word – but above all: more speaking that even the most eloquent reality. Precisely therein lies the function of art, and precisely therefore will we always need art.

Again: suppose the image fails, why should it do so only after the holocaust? As if history is not one endless series of atrocities perpetrated with ever new destructive strategies and through ever new forms of organisation, of which the administrative/technological genocide by the Nazis is a meanwhile somewhat obsolete phase. And what would have prevented Goya from denouncing them in his ‘Desastres de la guerra’ – not to mention Brueghel in his ‘Dulle Griet’? The truth is that painters, misled as they were by the slogan that painting should not be narrative, have relegated the task of history painting to the photographers and the filmmakers. They thereby lost the necessary experience to make convincing history paintings. Already the images during and after the First World War, often partake of the caricature. And towards the outburst of the Spanish Civil War, the problems with which Picasso was confronted in his ‘Guernica’ testify to the impasse in which history painting had landed. Where a resistance against the narrative did not exist – think of the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany and Franco’s Spain – the tradition remained alive, although, equally as a consequence of the anti-narrative fervour, it was undermined in that the artist used an obsolete language. This stylistically outdated tradition lost every credibility in that it praised rather suspected regimes rather than criticising them, like Goya and Brueghel did. The combination of obsolete ‘academic’ technique and propaganda for unconvincing regimes, made it all to easy to equal ‘history painting’ and ‘propaganda’ – and the CIA could not wait to proclaim abstract art to the very hallmark of the ‘free world’.** Thus, the genuine tradition of formally progressive and contentually critical history painting, like that of Brueghel and Goya, was gradually undermined and betrayed. For, apart from the problem of style, there is the central problem of the quality of the world view of the artist. The truth is that most painters simply do not have a world view that is worth conveying. For, to have problems with the old and the new Right, imperialism, the sexual abuse of children and the Jesuits is one thing, to reveal the deeper reality that expresses itself in all these phenomena, quite another. There is no purpose, then, in contending that it is impossible to paint a history painting in this ‘most horrible of all times’. The truth is simply that Luc Tuymans not only is incapable to paint one, but above all that he has no insight in our present ‘condition humaine’ that is worth mentioning (or painting). Which is not to say that figures like Richter, or Kiefer and Immendorf would have succeeded better. There is, finally, still another factor that deters many a painter from history painting. A painting that would tell something interesting about say the widening divide between the rich and the poor in our world, is not sellable to a multimillionaire that has to invest his dollars in a painting. And I can imagine the problems of an atheist confronted with an outstanding history painting advocating the restoration of spiritual values…

Rather than admitting that he is not able to produce a convincing history painting – or that it is too dangerous or too little commercial – Luc Tuymans prefers to argue that it is painting itself that is no longer appropriate. He thus delivers another fatal blow to painting: for Luc Tuymans does not more than spinning a web of words around the image, to take his place in the mid of it as a kingly spider that, in a veritable act of auto-castration, bereaves his own images of their very substance. The old allegories were so strong as images, that they tended to shed of the cobweb woven around them or to discard it altogether in the end. With Luc Tuymans, the image has become so dependent on the word, that we are only left with an empty carcass when the web is removed.


‘I am not interested in aesthetics; I am into meaning and necessity’

Tuymans (from Aliaga*).

Luc Tuymans resorts to the word for other reasons than the supposed shortcomings of the image. The factual impotence to make a self-contained image is in the first place the result of the restrictions that the artists imposed on themselves by adopting the dogma of the inartistic nature of the narrative element, the pursuit of abstraction and ‘musicality’. But, on a deeper level, Luc Tuymans is also the executor of a much older version of the mimetic taboo: the contempt for the image as such, that has become endemic in the plastic arts ever since Duchamp’s saying that art is not a question of the retina, but of the brain. Henceforward, more and more artists begin to philosophise about art through making images – through painting about painting, or more general: through making art about art. Again and again, ever more pseudo-philosophers come to echo Duchamp’s dictum, which is in its turn a profane echo of Hegel’s version of the mimetic taboo. One of Luc Tuymans’ variants sounds: ‘The small gap between the explanation of a picture and a picture itself provides the only possible perspective on painting.’ That these artists-philosophers express themselves non-verbally – not with words on paper, but with the brush on the canvas, if not with objects on pedestals, yes even with entire constructions in real space called installations – has as a consequence that the already long racks reserved for the philosophy of arts in the libraries, are now extended with the cellars in the museums, where all these voluminous considerations are stocked.

If to any, then Luc Tuymans certainly belongs to this tradition. That is apparent from the constitutive role of the word as analysed above. It is also unambiguously testified by the many assertions of Luc Tuymans where he speaks or art as of a statement, as when he says about Ad Reinhardts ‘Black Square: ‘It is the representation of nothingness. A black square, no more. A clear statement. Just like Duchamp’s Fontaine’. Or when he describes his own ‘Still Life’ (2002) as a ‘Western European statement’ (Tusa*). And it becomes more than obvious when we compare Luc Tuymans’ painting with verbal statements painted on canvas like those of Ben Vautier and Baldessari, or with On Kawara’s dates painted on canvas. Also these statements and dates are no more than occasions for flights of thoughts and representations. That Luc Tuymans’ statements have more in common with painting than mere letters and numbers painted on canvas, makes it all the more easy for devotees of art who are fond of philosophising, to uphold the impression that their hobby has something to do with art. In that sense, Luc Tuymans’ paintings are only more ‘artistic’ versions of the very conceptualism that he is supposed to reject. Luc Tuymans: a crypto-conceptualist. The cliché about the man who put painting on the agenda again in a climate where painting was declared obsolete – just think of Cathérine David who, on occasion of the Xth Documenta (1997) declared that painting is at its best academic and at its worst reactionary – only obfuscates the contrary truth: that Luc Tuymans still taps old wine from new wineskins. That the wineskin looks old – bleached-out, yes even ‘craquelé’ – should not make us believe that we are dealing with new wine in old wineskins…


Bad artists copy. Good artists steal

 Pablo Picasso

Luc Tuymans not only resorts to the word, he has also a distinct predilection for photography. Let us therefore, in a second section of this text, examine this predilection.

We already pointed to the fact that the heirs of history painting are not to be found in painting, but in photography and film. A vague consciousness thereof will certainly have driven Luc Tuymans to the camera. It remains a riddle why, after his return to painting, he not just inscribes himself in the tradition of Brueghel and Goya. For, despite his return to painting, Luc Tuymans continues to resort to photos and film stills. He thereby refers to Spilliaert. But more obvious is the example of Gerhard Richter, who, in the vein of Pop Artists, uses advertisements and all kinds of illustrations as raw material for his paintings.

Richter openly declared that painting after photos freed him from the necessity of selecting or constructing a motif. Luc Tuymans’ justification sounds that everything has already been painted. Well known is the story how he saw the self-portrait, with which he had won a competition, reproduced in the book on Ensor that he received as a prize. Luc Tuymans came to the conclusion that it is no longer possible to make an original. That the Neue Wilden could only feast their return to painting in resorting to the manner of the ‘Fauves’, will only have strengthened him in his conviction. And, if there has to be painting nevertheless, the only option is to repeat what has already been done – to forge existing works, but openly and, like Van Meegeren, in an own recognisable style. ‘Authentic forgery’, as Luc Tuymans phrases it. But, otherwise than Van Meegeren, Luc Tuymans does not forge paintings, let alone history paintings of old masters – which would have made it clear once and for all how absurd his undertaking is. No, Luc Tuymans makes ‘authentic forgeries’ of photos, by transforming them in paintings. Which is legitimised in its turn by the contention that painting can only be a representation of a representation – think of Richter’s ‘second order representational strategy’. Painting as re-presenting photos hence, as a mirror of an image rather than of ‘nature”. Which is, again, another variant of the widespread practice of making art as a reflection on art, rather than as a mirror of reality. To escape the reproach of making art that only refers to itself – did he not in the first place attract the attention by his subject matter? – Luc Tuymans concocts the construction that the ‘reconstruction of the photographical image’ is not just ‘history painting’, but the ‘the realising of history’ as such (Tusa*).

Let us leave the justifications for what they are. That Luc Tuymans proceeds from photos betrays that he is aware of the fact that, in matters of history painting, you better rely on photographers. On the other hand, that he transforms photos in paintings betrays that he ranks painting higher than photography. The question remains why Luc Tuymans does not resort to this superior technique for his history painting? When reality, as it is misrepresented by photographs, can be re-constructed, why not construct it right away on the canvas? Why make the detour over photography?

The answer is that Luc Tuymans is not so much interested in history painting as rather in something totally different: the trench war between photography and painting. By repainting photographs, he unambiguously states that only the hand of the painter can work the wonder that – in Luc Tuymans’ mind – remains out of reach of the photographer. That is why he so conspicuously borrows his motif from the photographical image in view of transforming it in a painting. No doubt, after such transformation, the painting tells something totally different from the photo. But so would re-photographing – of the same photo or the same motif! And we are still talking in terms of the image. For, since it is the comments that constitute Luc Tuymans’ images, embedding the photo in an appropriate context of comments would also do! On closer view, it cannot be a contentual concern that lies at the roots of this undertaking. It rather seems that we must conclude with Marshall McLuhan that the medium is the message here. And that message sounds that an image is art only when it is painted. It is only through repainting the photo in view of conveying this message, that also a vague reminder of what used to be called ‘history painting’, can be smuggled into the museum again.


How much the medium is the message, appears from the kind of interventions Luc Tuymans makes when re-presenting his photos.

To begin with, there is the obligate blurredness of his images. From the very beginning of photography, ‘le fini’ has become increasingly suspect in painting. Not that painting would not be able to produce ‘high definition’ – suffice it to refer to the Flemish Primitives, so much admired by Luc Tuymans, or in a more recent past to Salvador Dali and the ‘sharp focus’ of photorealists like Richard Estes, Robert Bechtle, Chuck Close (who, by the way, do not feature in Luc Tuymans’ discourse). It is apparent that Luc Tuymans’ conception of painting is indebted to the aversion for this aspect of the photographic image and therefore prefers brush strokes or texture above the cult of the detail, as it comes to its fetishist apogee in the photography of Andreas Gursky. Richter introduced a new version of the rejection of overall-sharpness – the ‘flou’, that, already from the Pictorialists onwards, has been regarded as ‘artistique’. Luc Tuymans’ obsession with photography – or his eagerness to obfuscate his indebtedness to Richter – goes so far that he even understands this characteristic of anti-photographic painting in terms of photography: to him, the absence of ‘fini’ is not so much a characteristic of painting since the invention of photography, but in the first place of Polaroids that are not fully developed. Precisely therefore, he regards them as more credible – artistic – that the fully developed end products. As if the image would lose its credibility in becoming sharp. Nevertheless, Luc Tuymans does not proceed to making Polaroids. Already in ‘Arena’ (1978), that he considers to be a central work in his development, the effect is obtained by covering the figures with plastic foil…

A similar analysis applies to the bleached palette that has become Luc Tuymans’ hallmark. Also this is borrowed from not fully developed Polaroids, and is especially appropriate to distinguish the image from photography, that excels in its ability to render the full gamut of colours in all its richness. Let us remark that the aversion for ‘technicolor’ appears only after the invention of colour photography. As long as photography was only able to render black and white, painting profiled itself through playing off colour, preferably unbroken by the rendering of tone: exemplary in the cloisonné technique of Gauguin or the pointillism of Seurat. We conclude that Luc Tuymans’ mania of washed-out colours originates in his endeavour to distinguish himself from photography. In addition, it also distinguished him from other painters like the Neue Wilden, that made a furore when he began with his ‘retour à la peinture’.

Also deformation is, equally from the very beginnings of modern art, the most obvious way to distinguish painting from photography, which is renown for its true-to-nature rendering. That is why Luc Tuymans does not project his images on the canvas, like Richter and the Photorealists, but draws them with a pencil on the canvas. To deformation belongs also the omission of details: ‘In order to show something, I paint a lot away’ (Maja Naef in Dexter*)

Finally, the small Polaroids are magnified. Until Jeff Wall and Andreas Gursky, photography equalled small formats, whereas painting, especially after the Second World War, increasingly came to prefer larger sizes. Luc Tuymans’ choice of the size is determined by an effort to distinguish himself as well from the smaller formats of photography as from the larger formats of painting.


In the above, we have shown that Luc Tuymans ranks painting higher than photography, how much he might be devoted to the latter. But also his high esteem is at least ambivalent: it goes hidden behind an overt contempt for painting, a special variant of the contempt for the image as such.

To begin with, Luc Tuymans experiences painting as ‘antiquarian’. To accentuate that, he often produces a artificial ‘craquelé’, like in ‘Body’ (1990). Also the age worn colours, apart from the fact that they allow to distinguish his painting from commercial photography and expressionistic painting, have to convey the impression that the image is bleached by light. How much Luc Tuymans thinks in terms of photography is evident from the fact that bleaching is the fate of photos rather than paintings, which rather tend to darken.

The contempt shows itself also in his handling of what, according to the analysis above, he considers to be the distinguishing characteristic of painting: the brush stroke. Promoted to psychogram by the Action Painters, aseptically banned from the surface by Pop Art and the New Abstraction, it is triumphantly welcomed again by the Neue Wilden. Also Luc Tuymans welcomes the brush stroke. But the expressive stroke of the Neue Wilden is resolutely denied. Elsewhere he ridicules the magic of the pre-expressionistic ‘figurative’ brush strokes, where the brush made some self-contained movement on the canvas, that, from a distance, turned out to be some figurative motif. Also this form of ‘becoming image’ – mimesis par excellence – is resolutely denied with Luc Tuymans. His brushstrokes cannot achieve the mimetic miracle, from whatever distance you look. Exemplary is the painting ‘Wiedergutmachung’ where you see a kind of eggs sunny-side up. According to the booklet, we are dealing with eyes. But even when you know that, the stains never succeed in becoming eyes. Precisely the brush stroke, that was mobilised against the photographic ‘fini’, is bereaved of its expressive and mimetic potential and reduced to a pure referent for the message ‘this is painting’.

It is certainly no coincidence that Luc Tuymans seems to have a predilection for horizontal brushstrokes. They cannot but remind us of the lines of a text. Even when painting, Luc Tuymans writes – think of Dotremont and Cy Twombly. Also on this level, painting is turned into writing.

The irony is that also these anti-expressionistic strokes of Luc Tuymans acquire an expressiveness that is not intended, but not less real. This is the whole dilemma of ignorance: also clumsiness has an expressive value of its own. You are always right, hence, as already the artists of Cobra understood. Although it applies also here that one clumsiness is not the other: it suffices to compare Picasso with Appel.

The same applies to composition, precisely the domain where the hand made image is superior in principle to the photographical image. Take ‘Tentje’: Luc Tuymans wants to achieve a sense of discomfort through an inadequate position within the rectangle. To be sure: an inadequate composition has an expressiveness in its own right, just like a clumsy brush stroke. But how little Luc Tuymans is interested in composition, is apparent from the fact that he has no problems with having ‘Silence’ embroidered or silk screened on a shirt designed by Walter van Beirendonck. Of course, the dialogue between the figure and the frame falls away. If there was any altogether. For Luc Tuymans paints his images on a large canvas on the wall (like Pollock on the ground). When finished, he frames it in a rectangle by painting the rest away! That reminds not so much of Pollock, as rather of the photographer.

And it is above all evident, finally, from the way his works are conceived. Luc Tuymans images do not originate during painting itself – from a permanent dialogue between the unforeseeable effects of the brush and the deliberate intentions of the hand. Luc Tuymans’ has a clear cut concept in mind when he begins to paint -and executes this concept within a few hours: ‘I use drawings and before I begin painting the imagery is completely finalized. So the execution of the painting goes very fast, but the work before the painting, the conceptualizing of the image itself is a long period of time.’ (interview with ‘The scene’).

Jan Van Eyck

All this talk about the impotence of the image is not only an expression of the mimetic taboo, but also a construction to mask Luc Tuymans’ inability, that only testifies to the secret, but frustrated desire to walk in the wake of the real masters of painting: to become Antwerp’s new Rubens, if not Flanders’ new Van Eyck. Several contradictions betray such secret desire.

To begin with, Luc Tuymans prides himself that he has been a virtuoso painter in his academy years and that he afterwards intentionally denied the ‘aesthetic’ aspect of painting. However, not much of this virtuoso manner seems to have survived, not even in its negation. We cannot but surmise that the negation is nothing more than an alibi to conceal that he is not really good at using the brush stroke in a convincing way, neither in the mimetic, nor in the expressive, nor in the constructive sense.

The same goes for his bleached colours. Luc Tuymans declares: ‘A tone can grow, a colour cannot’ – as if to excuse himself for the fact that he denies himself the use of a full colour palette. Authors like Berg* echo: ‘His painting seem pale and monochromatic, but nonetheless reveal an abundance of colourful nuances and distinctions’. But, even when many art lovers breathed again when they saw the pastel colours of Luc Tuymans light up in the museums, his paintings are rather ‘grey holes’ than a seemingly neutral background from which eventually colours begin to light up. Some awareness of the lack of lighting power of his paintings may have led at the base of his sneer on Morandi, whose work he called `poetic bullshit’. That does not prevent thinning down with white from being a proven way of circumventing all the real problems with colour. And even within this thinned-down colour palette, Luc Tuymans mostly restricts himself to elementary dyads of complementary colours: he seldom lets triads resound, let alone still more complex combinations of colours. With the same self-confidence, Luc Tuymans declares that he resigns from full colours because ‘depth deals mostly with the idea of tones and not with full colours’ (Tusa*). In reality, lack of depth, perhaps more that those bleached out colours of him, is the hallmark of all the paintings of Luc Tuymans.

Also the shying away from ‘full’ history painting is based not only on contentual impotence, but above all on a lack of compository skills. For, painting a fragment of a mirror is one thing, composing a painting with many figures another. Not for nothing did Renaissance artists regard history painting and ‘compositio’ as synonyms. Against this background, we understand that other sneer, this time on Rubens, whom Luc Tuymans called the ‘Cecille B. de Mille’ of the 17th century.

Luc Tuymans has also his problems with the portrait. The man who was rewarded at the academy for a self-portrait, repeatedly confessed that he is not interested in the psychological portrait (Aliaga*). In the comments on ‘Der diagnostische Blick’, we read that it was the intention to make it clear that a portrait cannot reveal anything about inner life. One can conceive of many reasons to cover the eyes of Heydrich (Die Zeit, 1988) with sunglasses, or to frame the face out of the picture altogether, like in ‘Body’ (1990), or to concentrate on the re-presentation of photos meant to show the symptoms of disease on the face, like in ‘Der diagnostische Blick’. But is is also a convenient trick to conceal impotence. No wonder that Luc Tuymans prefers to paint moods directly, like in the series ‘Embitterment’ (1991) which the describes as ‘an emotional self-portrait’ ‘showing the inside of the body’.


Despite all the verbiage about the impotence of the image, the image always takes revenge on its allegorical or instrumental abuse. And that goes also for the images of Luc Tuymans. Although they are conceived as a mere occasion for the breakthrough of ‘something terrifying’, in the last resort, only their ‘sense of cosiness’ remains intact. Luc Tuymans complains that many onlookers read his paintings as intimistic and poetic (Heynen*), and tells the anecdote of the German collector who had interpreted his ‘Gas Chamber’ as a cosy bathroom. But also the informed art lover all too readily overlooks the contentual freight of Luc Tuymans’ paintings. Suffices it to refer to Bunny Smedly* who bluntly declares: ‘It was perfectly possible to look at these works and see them not as sinister, brutal and horrific, but rather as evocative, nostalgic — even rather beautiful.’ Bitterli* muses that, despite the explicit intentions, Luc Tuymans work ‘is about light’. Andrew Lambirth experiences ‘Embitterment’, meant to convey rage as ‘rather pleasing’ and adds ironically :’I am responding visually to it, rather than intellectually’. And, whatever story Luc Tuymans might have to tell about ‘TV Set’ (2000), in the catalogue to the auction at Sotheby’s, it is simply described as ‘an eery, Munch-like landscape that has a nice feeling of mystery.’ …

It is only the question whether we are dealing here with a wrong lecture or rather with a lucid perception of an undercurrent in the work of Luc Tuymans that runs counter his explicit intentions. The sole fact that Luc Tuymans continues to resort to the brush betrays an addiction to painting that belies every conceptual rapture. And that goes also for his description of the act of painting: ‘Caressing the painting, flattening it out. Painting wet in wet. I would not say that every act derives from sexuality, But a lot is triggered by it’ (Aliaga*)

We cannot escape the impression that also the painter in Luc Tuymans himself is increasingly joining the German collector who descried a cosy bathroom in ‘Gas chamber’.

To begin with, Luc Tuymans seems increasingly reluctant to spin a verbal cobweb around his paintings. On occasion of his exhibition in the Tate, he declared: ‘Compared to my older paintings, where I tone down the virtuoso element for the sake of the content, now the painterly aspect of my work almost has the upper hand’ (Heynen*). And indeed, whereas in the Zeno X, Luc Tuymans has an exhibition old style around the theme of the Jesuits (Les Revenants, 2007), there is – apart from the already mentioned smoking room – no trace of political commitment in the parallel show ‘I don’t get it’ (2007) in the Museum of Photography in Antwerp. There are no paintings there, only photos and prints (monoprints, silk screens, lithos) and the focus is on purely plastic qualities. It is significant that Luc Tuymans images are often better when the photos, transformed in painting, are transformed in print in their turn – were it alone for the fact that those clumsy brush strokes of him do not survive the transformation (not to mention the mastery of the printer….). And, as the stories around the pictures tone down, the images become all the more eloquent: just think of a picture like ‘Bent over’.

Also the explicit denial of the virtuoso painting seems to gradually weaken. Already on some documentary films, we see Luc Tuymans show off some ‘virtuoso’ movements with the brush. And it is also apparent from his increasing preoccupation with the mimetic power of the brush stroke described above.

It will, finally, not have escaped Luc Tuymans’ attention that not only the uninformed onlookers, but also countless commentators read his portraits as psychological portraits. For, just like clumsy brushstrokes can be read as expressive nevertheless, also portraits of people who are concealing their inner life can be read as psychological portraits. To be sure, the alibi of transforming photographs continues to be invoked, like in the series of portraits drawn from memorial photographs (2000). But it speaks volumes that an informed commentator like Hans Theys describes Condoleezza Rice’s portrait – although it belongs to the series ‘Proper’ (2005) that deals with ‘fragile America and the crumbling state of current affairs’ – as a ‘tribute to a mighty woman of Afro-American descent’. Also figures like Jerry Saltz do not hesitate to praise that same portrait as a ‘modern Mona Lisa’! Granted, there is worlds apart from the photo of Heydrich with sunglasses and this modern Mona Lisa from the Bush administration. I rather prefer Duchamp’s ‘LHOOQ’… Also the portrait of that young boy from the series ‘Les Revenants’ is widely praised. It is painted after a still from the film ‘The valley of the doomed’ (Road of the Giants). It reminded me immediately of a photo of Luc Tuymans as a young boy in his Sunday best, and of a more recent photo where the now adolescent Luc Tuymans points a revolver to the camera. And also of Luc Tuymans’ confession in Trends: that he has always dreamed of having three costumes made by a top tailor – of being able to wear the uniform of the more modern elites so to speak. Talking about self-portraits…

The image takes its revenge. And that revenge is more than sweet. For, if we leave the overstatements for what they are, Luc Tuymans’ works are no longer understatements, but just paintings like all the other which have to compete with those of the great masters in the museums. And that comparison will never be in favour of Luc Tuymans: just hang the ‘monumental’ ‘Still Life’ next to Brueghel’s modest ‘Dulle Griet’…. That is why Luc Tuymans will never let dry out the verbal ether in which his paintings thrive. Presently, he is working on a series “Disneyworld”, where this time not the power of the Jesuits is at stake, but that of advertising. Perhaps some self-reflection would be nice….


Luc Tuymans’ painting is much like the relation between his mother in the resistance and his collaborating father: ambivalent and contradictory. The man would like to be a painter, does not believe in painting, dedicates himself to conceptualism, does so with paintings, draws his motifs from photos, represents them on the canvas, while overtly despising painting. No outright painter, hence, but rather a conceptualist/photographer plagued by homesickness for painting. His work is a half-hearted compromise between an endeavour to revive the image and the desire not to lose access to the temples of art where, ever since Marcel Duchamp, the mimetic taboo has been installed. There, he is all too welcome, precisely because of his flirting with painting, to alleviate the bad conscience of all those who had all too readily referred painting to the dustbin.

And, since he is not a genuine painter, it is somewhat out of place to assert that he would have put painting on the agenda again. Besides, painting has only been removed from specific agendas: those of that handful of curators that fly around the world only to meet each other everywhere. The irony of the whole story is that painting – or the image – has rather been put on the agenda again by the very black sheep that has initiated the anti-mimetic spiral in modern art: photography. From the eighties onwards, it began its unstoppable conquest of galleries and museum under applause of the public. Also photography had to pay its lip service to the there reigning anti-mimetic ideology (see Joel Peter Witkin and Andreas Gursky). But it is telling for the havoc that has meanwhile been wreaked, that it is not longer the painters that object to the ever more severe ban on the image. When the Action Painting threatened to reduce painting to a kind of expressive writing, it was Pop Art that tried to restore the image, and when Minimalism (see Judd) and Conceptual Art (see Weiner) got the upper hand again, it was the Neue Wilden that tried to reverse the tide. The advent of figures like Luc Tuymans, on the other hand, is only the epiphenomenon of a fare more strong countercurrent that was initiated by photography. The wait is only for a genuine revolution, that would set free painting and photography alike from the deadlock in which they have ended up after a meanwhile more than hundred years old trench war, far away from the image that they were supposed to produce.

There is not much to be expected from a Luc Tuymans here: if he would ever turn out to be the virtuoso painter he pretends to have been – which we only wish were true – he would only price himself out of his image and of the market.


It remains to be explained why Luc Tuymans has become so popular, not only with the art lovers, but also by an increasing number of disciples.

Wherein resides that secret charm?

The enthusiasm of the disciples is easy to understand. It is based on a misunderstanding. Ever since Luc Tuymans made painting respectable again, they can unabashedly resume painting, with our without the accompanying stories. Except that of the photos. For these release them of the difficult task ‘of selecting or constructing a motif’, as already Richter confessed. Next, there is the already mentioned ease of painting in a muted palette and the often cheap charms of wet-in-wet painting. That explains the fierceness with which the Tuymans-adepts denounce the Tuymans-clones: they would not have the same profundity. But the profundity that would discern Luc Tuymans from his clones, is only disclosed by the verbal comments. Without these comments, we are left with paintings like all the others, without the discerning profundity. Precisely because the Tuymans-clones need not bother about spinning stories around their pictures, their brush work is often far more interesting. With that breath down his neck, it becomes increasingly difficult for Luc Tuymans to persist in his ambivalent stance on painting. Which perhaps explains why he increasingly seems to prefer to paint without all that conceptual and photographic fuss.

The enthusiasm of the art lovers is based on the same misunderstanding. Precisely because what at first sight presents itself as a banal animal piece with a bunch of city pigeons, can be sold as a horrifying history painting that reveals ‘a chilling truth about humankind’, they can unabashedly enjoy the charms of painting, in the full conviction that they are reflecting on major world problems or on the essence of the image.


But there is more. Many a devotee of Luc Tuymans seems to be addicted to that nostalgic atmosphere that hangs around Luc Tuymans’ paintings – to the Hopper rather than the Richter in Luc Tuymans. The zooming away from what is really at stake – the regression from history painting to the cosiness of the lower genres – is only a first move that clears the way, not only for the seizure of power by the word, as described above, but in many cases also for another move, that threatens to remain unnoticed: the projection of private stories – the gas chamber as a metaphor for the children’s room, as we phrased it earlier. That explains Luc Tuymans predilection for themes of the past: they pave the way for a condensation with themes of infancy and youth. There are numerous examples, but exemplary is the image of Mwana Kitiko – ‘the beautiful boy’ – descending from the plane: poor King Bouduain, treated so stepmotherly by the successor of his beautiful Swedish mother Astrid and by a father who collaborated with the Germans, who, nearly adult, got the yoke of the Imperialist heritage of his forefather Leopold II around his neck! This story not only condenses the political themes of Imperialism and Nazism, it foremost contains all the elements for a secret identification of Luc Tuymans with this shy king. For, behind the now so self-confident Luc Tuymans, a rather shy boy goes hidden, like the one on the portrait from the series ”Les Revenants’, that could just as well have been a portrait of the young king Bouduain or of Luc Tuymans as a young boy. While the vague figures and hinted at themes on Luc Tuymans’ canvasses conjure up all kinds of reminiscences in the private unconscious, the bad conscience about that is alleviated in the conscious by the the big stories that are woven around the image. Thus, the onlookers can secretly indulge in self-complaint about the dawn of the prince in them – in the full conviction that they are dealing with World Problems.

The emphasis with which Luc Tuymans and his commentators contend that he would be a history painter, in combination with Luc Tuymans contention that he is not at all interested in the psychological portrait, and that he removes himself from the image altogether, reveals a second, more fundamental misunderstanding: Luc Tuymans’ history painting, reduced to genre painting, is in many cases only a travesty for the enactment of the infantile drama. There is nothing wrong the latter, even less with a deliberate combination of the personal and the social or political level, quite the contrary. Problematic is only the travesty, which does serve the purpose nor of the gas chamber, nor of the children’s room. That is already apparent from the remarkable lacunas in the subject matter handled, as pointed out in the beginning of this text.

Thus, it appears that Luc Tuymans is not only a misunderstanding in the sense that he would have put painting on the agenda again, but also in the sense that he is not at all dealing with the very subject matter that made him famous. Or to phrase it otherwise: Luc Tuymans is not only a crypto-Duchamp, but also a crypto-Hopper.

And in this double misunderstanding resides the double secret charm of Luc Tuymans: while they can keep up the appearance that they are reflecting on the essence of the image and the world problems, his devotees can not only unabashedly indulge in the forbidden charms of painting, but foremost indulge in a secret self complaint on the child in them that has been abused. By….

© Stefan Beyst, August 2007;

* See ‘some references’ below.
** SAUNDERS, Frances Stonor: ‘ Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War’, Granta Books, London


BERG, Stephan Ed.: ‘Luc Tuymans, the Arena’, Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2003
DEXTER, Emma en HEYNEN, Julian: ‘Luc Tuymans’, Tate, 2004.
LOOCK ulrich, ALIAGA Juan Vincente, SPECTOR, Nancy: ‘Luc Tuymans’, Phaidon, 1996.
SMEDLEY, Bunny: ‘Luc Tuymans at Tate Modern’
STORR, Robert,PIROTTE Philippe en HOET jan (Ed): ‘Mwana Kitoko, SMAK, Gent 2001?
VERMEIREN, Gerrit: ‘Luc Tuymans: Proper’, David Zwirner, 2005.
TUSA, John: Intervieuw with Luc Tuymans

Added July 2008:
RAUTERBERG, Hanno: ‘Schach gemalt, Schwach gedacht’ (24.03.2003)
RAUTERBERG, Hanno: ‘Was bedeuten diese Bilder’ (08.05.2008)
KOENOT, Jan: ‘De macht van de Jezuïeten en de onmacht van beelden’, Streven, November 2007.
LAUREYNS, Jeroen: ‘Geschilderde geruchten”, Knack, 6 juni 2007.




Luc Tuymans on His Tormented Relationship With Abstraction, His Views on Geopolitics, and Why His Catholic Upbringing “Doomed” Him

By Mat Smith

Nov. 25, 2015

Luc Tuymans on His Tormented Relationship With Abstraction, His Views on Geopolitics, and Why His Catholic Upbringing "Doomed" Him

The painter Luc Tuyman (photo by Waqas Farid)

Although he is an accomplished figurative painter, the Belgian artist Luc Tuymans has always had a strong abstract element in his work. His paintings, he likes to say, “border on the idea of abstraction.” Nonetheless, he has struggled with the artistic approach from time to time. Over the years he’s found abstraction “existential” and “tormented,” and has felt “suffocated” by it, as he said in his Phaidon monograph of 2003.

That has not stopped him from curating a show of abstract artists, “The Gap,” for the small London gallery Parasol Unit, on the borders of Shoreditch and Islington. The show, which runs through December 6, features 40 works by two generations of Belgian artists in a variety of media. It mingles contemporary abstractionists with historical practitioners of the art—a number of whom were exhibited in the show “G58,” held in the year and the town in which Tuymans was born (Mortsel, 1958).

“In that show you had some of the people I’m showing here. There were links with the Zero movement, and also with Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni. They were up front with this type of avant-garde after the war,” he says. “Then it dispersed itself, the scene became isolated and all these links sort of disappeared.”

“The Gap” is his attempt to restore those ties between the Belgian avant-garde and its counterparts elsewhere in Europe, at a time when works by Fontana, Manzoni, Yves Klein, and others in their Italian and French circles are being pored over in academic circles and coveted by collectors. Below, Tuymans discusses the show, the history of postwar abstraction, and his upcoming retrospective in Doha with Phaidon digital editorial director Mat Smith.

Luc Tuymans credit Waqas FaridAll photos by Waqas Farid

Belgium has a fine history of figurative painters, yet here you are doing a show of abstraction.

Yeah, well just because I’m a figurative painter that doesn’t mean I don’t like abstraction. I’ve always been, quite adamantly, an admirer of Mondrian—who actually was a very good figurative painter to begin with. He was a good painter altogether from the start, a bit better than Malevich or Cézanne. And then I was always mad about the black works of Ad Reinhardt, which I still love, or the Seagram paintings of Rothko, of which you have beautiful pairings in the Tate Modern. And even my work, although figurative, sometimes borders on the idea of abstraction.

Many of the artists you’re showing are friends; your wife, Carla Arocha, is included as well. Is it okay to bring the personal into the curatorial process?

It’s probably not what curators do, but a curator that works in an art historical way would probably not do this show in a similar way. He would make different connections that would be more art historical and less visual. So, in that sense, I’m not a curator. It’s not that I’m competing with that or fighting or opposing that—because I think we need curators—but this is an artist-curated show so of course you will have that visual element.

What are the other elements can an artist-curator bring to the table, as opposed to a “professional” curator?

Well, the speed at which I can work is far greater than that of any curator. The very first show I curated was the “Trouble Spot” painting show in Antwerp in 2000. It was a far larger show, but there, if I needed a Robert Gober, I just phoned him. I had Michelangelo Pistoletto come over and install his work, and Ellsworth Kelly and Robert Ryman too, for that matter. They’re colleagues and in that sense there’s a collegiality and so there’s a different understanding.

Early in your career, you turned your back on abstraction for a time and went into filmmaking.

Yeah, but my sense of abstraction was a little bit ridiculous in the sense that it was juvenile and colorful and gestural. Not that it didn’t show any talent—it probably did in terms of how the paint was applied and how I pushed it around­—but in a sense it didn’t really sufficiently cover what I was trying to do and therefore I just stopped it and went filming and the filming experience sort of influenced and informed the work that came after that.


Luc Tuymans credit Waqas Farid


Do you think Belgium’s abstractionist history been underrecognized—overlooked in favor of its contribution to Surrealism, and overshadowed by the history of abstraction in America?

Clearly so. At the end of the Second World War and at the beginning of the ’50s, the CIA went into a covert operation where they actually made American art. After they won the war they were on top of the world in every which way and they needed a cultural stance to accompany that, so they had this fantastic idea to do this covert operation. Of course Jackson Pollock and Rothko didn’t know that because they would never have agreed to go along with it. And ultimately it seemed to be quite an altruistic proposition in a way. I think it’s quite interesting that the same thing is happening in China. The Chinese have always taken culture as a quite important element in their society—the emperors even wrote poems.

When you think back to Abstract Expressionism you think of that defining moment, the aftermath of the Second World War. Is there an event or period that defines contemporary abstraction?

Well, there are several takes on this. If you go to South America you will see that the idea of modernism has had a completely different life. The element of the hard edge is a different signifier than it is in European or even American abstraction. I think also the empowering effect of Minimalism—which became a sort of new classicism within the realm of the art world, an art that was clearly meant to institutionalize itself—has, on the one hand, made a ring of protection. On the other hand it has also opened up a formal element which is, in my opinion, quite ambiguous.

I think most abstraction comes out of the element of dispersion, and this was already clear in 1925 when Mondrian made the remark that you could not perceive the world as a whole anymore—you could only see it in particles. Now if we think about the size of particles at the reactor in Cern, where they found the “God particle,” this is something that you can’t even see.

But to bring it back to one particular moment in time, in terms of abstraction now I would say that it is actually also has a lot to do with the digitalized world.

Your fellow artist and friend Ai Weiwei has embraced this world—perhaps for no other reason than because, until very recently, he was physically excluded from the real one by the Chinese government.

Yeah, his blog was already ongoing years ago when we met. I think that was a very self-evident thing to do in China because it’s the thing that’s very difficult to control—although they tried to control it. I know other artists who only make art in that medium and work in a way that is far more difficult to detect. In that way they are actually enemies of the state in China. That’s not what Ai does.

My proposition to him was that he could have his blog until he was 86 and become a clown or we could actually delve ourselves into the system and see what could be done.

You worked with Ai on “The State of Things,” a show of contemporary artists in Brussels and in Beijing in 2010, didn’t you?

Yes. I had two experiences there. The first one was an extremely brutal one, because they totally destroyed the entire concept of the show [a look at the traditional art of Flanders from the 15th century to the 20th century in collision with old Chinese masters]. I told myself this was not going to happen twice. So that’s why I also asked Ai to help me the next time because he has an element of power that I needed—not that he is a bully. His position is a position of power, any way you look at it, and that power is mainly lionized by the West, and the West lionizes that power without knowing how things really happen in China.

How do you think things happen there?

Either way you look at it, that centralized power has never changed. Even under Mao it was still centralized power—so everything can change with extreme speed in terms of decision-making—but it is so large and so complex that it can take time. Five years ago there was still an element of slapstick. You would see girls on the street with t-shirts saying “Sexy Girl” or “Diet Cock,” and now they know how to use the iPhone, they are learning English, so this society is in uproar. And they are extremely efficient.

Next month you’re showing new work as part of a retrospective in Doha which has the rather combative title of “Intolerance.”

Yes. In terms of the title there are two links. There is the link with [The Birth of a Nation director] D.W. Griffith. It was one of the biggest super-productions ever made in the realm of film, with real elephants and the whole orientalist, exotic whatever. He was quite an authoritarian filmmaker. And for the painting, which is far smaller than that film in terms of format, I just assembled all my mother’s candlestick holders—the most horrible candleholders from the ’70s—and put them on the chimney on the mantelpiece. If you look at all these mantelpieces, they look like altars in a sense. So I lined them all up and you get a sort of Giorgio Morandi-like feel. That painting is also called Intolerance [the title of Griffith’s follow-up film to The Birth of a Nation]. Coming from a Catholic upbringing doomed me.

The whole idea is to give them a show about something they don’t have, which is Western image-building. It’s a clear stance toward the ideas of power and religion and it’s also by far the biggest show of my work ever done—160 loans and there were six works made especially for the show. They’re called The Arena.

You’ve used this title before in a show and book called Arena, which center on the Holocaust and religious belief. Is there a link?

No. The interesting part about it is that this new group of work came about because the sheikh, on one of my preparatory visits for this show, said, “You’re some kind of a political artist. Why don’t you make something about the region?” That is quite difficult because it’s like opening a can of worms. So I said, “I don’t think I’m ready for that, so I will make something for the region.”

Two months later my wife and I were visiting friends in Madrid and I was of course again in the Prado and looking at the “Pinturas negras,” the black paintings of Goya, and some of them—levitating figures, one with a scissor and a sort of loop—struck me as having something to do with the region. Immediately that sort of triggered other imagery, namely of an old work which is going to be in Doha which is a mixed-media work. It’s actually a collage, painted with a screen in front of it. I liked the idea of the sort of “unsharpness” to it, and its depiction of the idea of violence. I also remembered that before closing that off I once took the screen away and filmed it, and out of those film stills I created a group of paintings also called The Arena, which is interesting because then the show goes nearly full circle.

Your work centers on photographic source material. What photos would we find on your phone—a pretty abused-looking iPhone 3—at the moment?

Well I don’t know if it will be interesting—wait a minute. [He flips to a photo of a painting in his studio.] This was taken before I left to come here. It’s called Murky Water. My next show, actually, is going to be about photographs that family members of mine took in Zundert, the village where my mother was born, which is also where van Gogh used to live as a kid, and it’s about flower parades and murky water. And the title of the show is called “Le Mépris,” or “Contempt.” It’ll happen in January [at David Zwirner] in New York.


Luc Tuymans interview: ‘You can feel a threat, and the threat is imminent’

Luc Tuymans is famous for painting washed-out images derived from photographs that skirt around incendiary issues such as colonialism and the Holocaust. He tells us about his new show, ‘The Shore’

Tuymans’s new exhibition includes portraits of Scottish enlightenment figures, a creepy film-still-inspired canvas depicting figures caught in a searchlight, and a disconcerting view from the artist’s bed. The show comes shortly after a court case in his native Belgium, in which Tuymans was found guilty of plagiarism in his use of a press photograph as source material for his 2011 painting ‘A Belgian Politician’. He tells us about his latest work and how he intends to fight against the ruling.

You’ve billed this as a show for London but there’s a strong Scottish element. Why?
‘Three portraits are derived from paintings by Henry Raeburn in the University of Edinburgh, where I’m going to show later in the year. The show is generated out of these portraits. It’s on two levels with two distinct atmospheres. Downstairs is about domesticity and status. Upstairs is more about the disquietness of things.’

What do you like about Raeburn?
‘I like the way that, once you’ve cropped his images and enlarged them they look contemporary. It has to do with his touch, the strokes he made.’

He was said to have a ‘square’ touch, which is something I recognise in your work.
‘Yes. I don’t like the lyricism of Rubens or that kind of thing. He’s a great artist. It’s just not my painting mode. That’s about the virtuoso. Some people are great at it, like Marlene Dumas. Edvard Munch was also great at it but a lot of people aren’t. For me it’s dangerous – it’s very scary to do that I think because it can work but it can also fail, radically.’’

Did you make the work during the Scottish referendum?
‘Yes. So, it’s intended to be a bit of a kick in the ass for people here. It would have been a disaster for Scotland and England to split, just as it would be for my country to split; it’s totally ridiculous.’

What’s going on in the large, dark painting ‘The Shore’?
‘I was looking for imagery, trying to find a war movie on YouTube and, by accident, I saw the beginning of a film from 1968, a British film called “A Twist of Sand”. The film is not very interesting but at the very beginning you see a succession of imagery. The painting is from the second scene, of people isolated within this black nothingness. That’s what the disquiet is all about, because you can feel a threat, and the threat is imminent. It instils a state of mind, something we’re actually living in a way now. If you see the film, in the third scene you hear the shots.’

You’ve said that this is one of your blackest paintings, why do you think it’s taken until now to make such a dark work?
‘Some things really have to incubate for a while. Goya, for example, is an artist who is still growing on me. I was in the Prado recently looking at his black paintings. But actually this painting isn’t black, because I don’t use black: it’s quite a warm colour.’

Do you expect people to get all your references?
‘The work isn’t really serial in terms of how you connect the dots. But it’s tailor made for this gallery because it’s a house. I like that element of domesticity, the human proportions. It’s not like you go into a gigantic space and you first see the space and then see the work, which is mostly the case now. Here there’s a sense of intimacy. In the portraits, you’ll recognise the colour of the skin, the blue that comes out, the temperature.’

How do you go about transforming a photograph or film still into a painting?
‘You can work from websites, you can work with Photoshop. I work with my iPhone. I don’t take Polaroids any more but I still draw, and all that comes together. I think it’s ridiculous to fight new media. You can’t win, so you just have to incorporate it into your toolbox and make a painting out of it, which is fantastic.’

You’ve used press photographs as source material for many years, were you surprised by the recent plagiarism case?
‘Not really. But this one painting is generating so much coverage, which is insane: it’s only one painting. It’s going to be a very famous painting.’

You’re not allowed to show the painting or make any more ‘reproductions.’ How does that make you feel?
‘It’s interesting because it has generated so many caricatures, it’s like going back to the nineteenth century, to Manet’s “Olympia”, so actually it is really funny. We’re going to fight this because what’s at stake is freedom of speech and freedom to criticise what’s in the world. If you’re no longer be able to do that how can you be a contemporary artist? It’s just not possible.



Luc Tuymans: dark visions and enlightenment

‘Europe’s most important, provocative history painter’ talks about the new works in his forthcoming London show

Luc Tuymans in his studio with ‘The Shore’

The sky is leaden, the rain relentless, the wind so fierce that the bridges over the Scheldt are closed on the day I make my way to see Luc Tuymans in Antwerp. Across a courtyard behind a 19th-century terrace, a glass door opens on an expansive, L-shaped, dirty-white studio. A pale wintry sheen flickers through ceiling windows but a large, long painting on the dominant wall is so black that it commands the space: menacing, heavy, driving out light and hope. Only close up do you see a row of tiny blotchy white figures, stranded in darkness. The picture is called “The Shore”.

Before it, in a torn low armchair, slumps the painter, dressed in black sweater and trousers, dragging on a cigarette, looking grey and exhausted. Tuymans, who has just finished the works for his first exhibition of 2015, opening at David Zwirner London this month, rises sluggishly as I admire his monumental night painting.

“For ages I tried to make a really dark painting,” he explains. “This is the moment before these people are shot.”

Opposite hangs a depiction of an expressionless Japanese man in a hat, painted in Tuymans’ familiar bleached-out palette. “That’s a cannibal,” says the artist with relish. “Issei Sagawa. He was a student at the Sorbonne, he lured a young Dutch woman to his apartment, cut her up and ate her. He was found in the Bois de Boulogne with two suitcases full of her remains and extradited to Japan. Now he roams free.”

‘After Raeburn: William Robertson’ (2014)

While making this “mask of terror”, Tuymans thought of Goya. “He is growing on me because he is one of the painters I don’t understand, the old master who was on the brink of being modern — and he was living alone because the Enlightenment stopped. I really like Velázquez but the positions are up and down: Velázquez looks down [as if to say], ‘You’re just shit.’ Goya’s paintings are insane: “The Execution” [“The Third of May”], that’s iconic, no one did that before. And the awkwardness — a still life, the eyes of a fish, so aggressive. The virtuosity, bravura, I was opposed to this for years: it was clearly anger management.”

Is it the same for you?

“I suppose so. You get old … ”

Tuymans is 56. Since 1986, when he depicted a bare, musty room and called it “Gas Chamber”, a response to taboos about Nazi collaboration in the Flanders of his youth, he has become Europe’s most important, provocative history painter. Aestheticising horror, he approaches his subjects obliquely, creating memorable images of injustice and terror as diverse and unexpected as “Leopard” (2000) — a luxurious animal skin used as a power symbol in the Congo, a former Belgian colony — and a five-metre colour-drained “Still Life” of apples, Tuymans’ wry 2002 memorial for the assault on western values of 9/11.

It seems to me that “The Shore” — its source image is “a very bad 1960s movie”, A Twist of Sand, with a colonial theme — and “Issei Sagawa”, fraught with ambivalence and threat, are about current fears of otherness and violence coming from dark, premodern cultures. The Enlightenment theme is underlined in London’s forthcoming show by Tuyman’s engagement with Goya’s contemporary, the Scottish portraitist Henry Raeburn.

I still indulge in the perversity of painting, which remains interesting

Aged 16, Tuymans encountered, in Ghent, Raeburn’s portrait of Alexander Edgar, Scottish landowner and Jamaican plantation owner, and “what shocked me then and still does is the blue of the eyeballs”. Last summer, during the build-up to Scotland’s independence referendum, Tuymans stayed in Edinburgh and revisited Raeburn to make paintings that “give the idea that there’s an element of disruption to the isle”.

Tuymans always uses photographic or film found images; this time he created his own, shooting Raeburn’s portraits with his iPhone, printing them out, photographing them again until “you get a real face that doesn’t feel of that time”.

In Tuymans’ faux-digitised close-up renderings, the cold blue eyeballs are creepily echoed in a luminous blue back-glow, evocative of computer or phone screens, which “has to do with the printing. What is weird is, once you blow them up, you get something contemporary. Raeburn’s factual, dry, persistent strokes are very decisive and, therefore, very modern: there’s no Gainsbooooorough” — Tuymans rolls the syllables dismissively — “going on. Raeburn is quite Calvinist, in the element of reduction: such precision, harshness, unforgivingness.”

We tour his Raeburn portraits: university rector, mathematician, scientist. Tuymans says they “create a sort of presence of social structures of power. They are clearly educated people: the gaze of this one is self-indulgent, he clearly didn’t have a problem with self-esteem, he’s stern, aware of his status. This one’s more romantic, there’s the ego, megalomania. They’re all Scottish, so there’s the idea of splendid isolation, the element of class. And then I painted tea at the Balmoral Hotel” — he indicates a queasy painting called “Cloud” — “that big floating croissant: that is the disgust we have for the class society!”

‘Wallpaper’ (2014)

These go on show in Zwirner’s elegant 18th-century townhouse gallery along with other works of “suffocating domesticity”, strange back-lit effects and conceptual credentials, including a depiction of a fake orange chimney based on “an installation shot of a Mike Kelley installation of a fireplace painted on a cardboard box”, and “Diorama”, a peephole landscape close-up centred on “a hole which is not a hole, a suggestion of [Marcel Duchamp’s] ‘Etant Donnés’: I really like Duchamp by the way.”

Distrust of the image underpins Tuymans’ entire oeuvre but in these new works he builds that questioning for the first time into rich, painterly brushwork, with a paradox that the light from the internet and iPhone images returns as layers of oil on canvas, asserting the power of paint. Is Tuymans ultimately a northern European realist?

“Realism, modernism, postmodernism, post-postmodernism: that is a discourse for people who have no visual sense. I mean, these people have to get by. I still indulge in the perversity of painting, which remains interesting.

“Painting is about time. It’s belated time. The image can linger for decades before it comes out. Then there’s the physical trace, stalling, freezing things. It works with time, through time. Belgian art is all about realism. There’s nothing as horrid and strong as Van Eyck: the first secular artist, he got away from Christianity, opened it up in scientific way. His motto was, ‘If I can’, which means I’m high on humility but I have great ambition.

“That’s very true to the region, it’s a back-up game, we’re over-run by so many foreign powers that we have to be opportunistic to survive. I can’t get a show in Paris, because I’m le petit Belge, the infectious type. The Parisians don’t understand what globalisation is about. People ask me, ‘Why do you paint?’ I reply, ‘I’m not fucking naive.’ Painting is the oldest form of conceptual artmaking, it goes from the caves to here. Since it’s now the loop perceived as not central, in the periphery, it’s the more powerful.”

‘Luc Tuymans, The Shore’, David Zwirner, London, January 30-April 2




Luc Tuymans. Photo: Louise Mertens

Art is Created from Reality. Interview with painter LucTuymans

Produced with the support of ABLV Charitable Foundation 

Interviewed by Elīna Čivle-Üye

Antwerp-based painter Luc Tuymans (1958) belongs to the circle knows as “the masters of contemporary art”. His works – the characteristic features of which are relationships between pale, almost smeared paints and laconicism – can be found in the collections of the most noteworthy museums and institutions, as well as in famous private collections. Tuymans’ art is liked by both curators of prestigious exhibitions and so-called “A-class” gallerists. It is a source of inspiration and a touchstone for numerous young, and not-so-young, artists. And Tuymans is also loved by the public, his works almost constantly available for viewing in both solo shows and group shows being held the world over. And there’s more – in the art world, Tuymans himself is also a highly regarded curator (he studied art history at Brussels’ Vrije Universiteit in the mid-80s).

Luc Tuymans’ creative biography contains practically all of the “medals” of the art world: the Venice Biennale (2001); Documenta (2002); a solo show at Tate Modern (2004); and a retrospective that started its journey in 2011, at the prestigious BOZAR in Brussels, and then continued through several cities in the US. Having attracted numbers usually associated with rock festivals – 90,000 visitors, it completely turned on its head the 21st century’s mistaken declaration of painting being a “dead medium”.

At the beginning of August, a retrospective of the works of the famous Italian modernist Giorgio Morandi opened at BOZAR (ongoing through 22 September), with Luc Tuymans as invited guest artist. The dialog between Morandi and Tuymans draws the viewers into an exciting discussion on influences and their role in the creative work of an artist. interviewed the artist in his studio, which is located on the first floor of a brick building in a slightly shabby corner of Antwerp. Actually, the buildings on Korte Schipperskapelstraat are either undergoing renovations, or they’re being decimated – there are pieces of scaffolding here and there, but then there’s a window that looks as if it was smashed just last night. Right around the corner is Antwerp’s red-light district – Schipperskwartier, with its piquant “window dressings”.

We both are sitting at the side of a long, white table. The studio’s wide windows and walls are also white in shade. It seems as if the only bright accent in the room is the colorfully red packet of Marlboroughs next to Mr. Tuymans. It is continually being emptied – the last ember of one cigarette serving as the light for the next one, the stream of smoke cut-off for not even a moment.

I don’t get to see the artist’s works in the holiest of holies itself. We meet in the office part of the studio, and as I soon find out, the artist doesn’t like to find himself in close quarters with his finished pieces. Tuymans answers the questions fully and deeply. When he listens, it seems as if he’s judging all that was left unsaid…

You have never left Belgium. In addition, you’ve practically spent the whole of your life in your hometown. Famous artists usually head to London, New York…

First of all, I was born here and am somehow linked to this place. Secondly, it’s really great to work in a small city! Of course, I could live in New York, Berlin or Paris, but famous artists have the bad luck that someone always needs something from them. And Belgians are a reserved people. Even though they are proud of me, they’re not obtrusive; that’s why I can feel unbothered here.

I do travel for five months of the year. Belgium is a very small and central country. Brussels, which is just a 20-minute drive from here, is the capital of Europe, and from there I can fly to anywhere in the world. We’re close to the Netherlands, Germany, France…

Antwerp itself is a lively and important city for artists and for art itself. That’s the way it’s always been. Don’t forget that already back in the 17th century, Antwerp’s harbor was one of the largest in Europe. When Bruges lost its importance, many artists headed here.

How would you comment on today’s art scene in Antwerp?

Jan Fabre still lives and works in Antwerp, as does German-born Kati Heck, who’s lived and worked here for a long time; and there are many, many more.

The creative sphere in Antwerp has always been, and still is, lively. That includes the music scene – with the rock-group dEUS and Tom Barman at the forefront. It’s own kind of “underground” branch of artists is also active here. Like in any small city, everybody knows each other and they work together – they create art, put out their own musical recordings, hold parties. It’s a group of young people, around 30 years old, and their works can also be seen in the collection of Antwerp’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MuHKA).

I must say, though, that right now the Museum of Contemporary Art isn’t functioning the way it should, and many artists are forced to go to Brussels. It’s a moment of transition right now. It’s connected to the political climate, in large part – the activities of Belgium’s Flemish nationalist party, which has now taken the reigns of government in Antwerp as well.

Brussels’ Center for Sculpture (BOZAR) is currently showing a retrospective of the Italian modernist Giorgio Morandi, in which your paintings have also been included. There was a discussion held in connection with the exhibition – “Talking about Giorgio Morandi”. What did you speak about, and what does Morandi’s art mean to you, personally?

This retrospective has been curated by an expert on Morandi – the Italian curator Maria Cristina Bandera. Among other things, the exhibition shows that even though Morandi was seen to be a master of still-lifes, he didn’t paint only those. Still-lifes are only a part of the artist’s work. He also painted self-portraits and landscapes. This exhibition reveals this diversity for the first time, allowing people to observe his evolution.

Also represented in the exhibition is Morandi’s phase of metaphysical painting (Pittura Metafisica, 1918-1922), as is his joining of the German New Objectivity Movement (Neue Sachlichkeit) between both World Wars, which he also lived through.

A huge question mark appears here – what was Morandi’s position in relation to the fascist regime in Italy? It’s always been presumed that he was sympathetic to it, but that is not completely clear. More likely, it could have been a form of political escapism.

That was one of the subjects we discussed.

Since Morandi is still able to influence today’s artists, including me, Mrs. Bandera asked me to share five of my works in which a link to Morandi’s works could be seen. And the writer Joost Zwagerman has written a lot about Morandi. So, that’s how we brought Morandi’s idea about silence to the forefront. What did it look like in his works? And, of course, about Morandi’s paintings themselves – he practiced a very enigmatic form of painting.

Luc Tuymans. Still Life. 2002

For you, contemporary art is mainly a form of expression in which to reveal the most salient occurrences in contemporary life. An exception is your latching on to a more meditative theme, in which you created your famous “Still Life” (2002). What was the motivation behind creating this piece?

Still Life (2002) came about shortly after the 11 September, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US. My wife and I were in New York at the time – we were really there and we experienced that atmosphere. I saw how the planes hit the Towers from all possible points of view.

The documenta exhibition was nearing, and I started to think about how I could make an answer to this terrible thing – what is it that I should paint right now… I came up with an idea that was completely opposite to the socio-politically acute events of 11 September, and to what was expected of me in the exhibition. I chose to go the way of something totally idyllic, something calming, something that didn’t have the slightest thing to do with the Twin Towers. The painting is actually quite ironic. It kind of imitates Paul Cezanne’s work, and modernism, as such. Concurrently, it is my own still-life, and as everyone knows – in the hierarchy of painting genres, still-lifes are on the lowest rung. In response to this, I created this painting in a gigantic format (347 x 500 cm). It’s impossible not to notice it; it’s not even possible to take it all in.

Are there other still-lifes among your creative works?

Well, maybe kitchen of a Los Angeles serial killer could be seen as a still-life. Intolerance (1993), which is in the Morandi exhibition right now, could also be a still-life.

And even if they are still-lifes, they contain a slew of iconic, meaningful and ambiguous elements. In that way, I differ from Morandi.

You, as an artist, pay a lot of attention to other artists. You are also an experienced curator. What is it that links you to other artists?

I’ve curated eight exhibitions in total. But I’d like to say that none of them were done at my own initiative. People asked me to do it. The latest and largest project was “Luc Tuymans: A Vision of Central Europe. The Reality of the Lowest Rank” – an exhibition in Bruges that I was asked to do by the festival organizers of the Brugge Centraal. It was a parade of Eastern and Central European art – from WWII to the modern day. Along with the Polish artists Miroslaw Balka and Pawel Althamer, American artists were also shown – Andy Warhol, the son of Slovak immigrants, and the artist Alex Katz, who is of Russian-Jewish ancestry.

For me, it’s interesting in the sense that it is a possibility to work with art that I haven’t created myself. The opportunity to work with notable artists who are still alive, and whom I know personally, is exciting.

When curating, if I speak as an artist to another artist, it’s possible to get the project moving forward much faster than a professional curator could. If the artist in question is even interested in the project, than a much higher return can be expected from him in terms of cooperation – that’s on the level of solidarity among colleagues.

The reason why I involve myself in these sorts of projects is also due to my observation that, in a large number of exhibitions that have been organized by curators, one can sense the one and the same discourse – which seems to have been pounded into all of the curators during their study years. A kind of pseudo-intellectualism. The exhibitions they make are more documentary than visual. And in terms of curating exhibitions which are based on a look back into art history, they are often created from only the visual viewpoint – not from the artistic viewpoint.

You are well-informed about what’s going on. But there are artists who maintain that they never watch TV and that they don’t go to the shows of other artists – so that they don’t pollute themselves and they can retain the ability to think only about their own ideas. Do you look upon them as real representatives of contemporary art?

I think that’s foolish. It’s the same as saying that you’re against the new mediums, and that you will fight them. That’s impossible!

I think that you have to include these opportunities and knowledge in your arsenal of instruments.

And then there’s always been this foolish discourse on authenticity. In my case, it’s about how I use the new mediums in my works… Stupid!

We can paint by following a certain movement, we can also develop our individual style – which, in my opinion, is rather dangerous – but the most important thing is the meaning that we create in our works. Everyone can use the possibilities offered by today’s technologies to create their own images and meanings. Because, in my opinion, art cannot be created from art. It is created from reality. The reality in which we live, the reality that has been created by history. They are connected.

If people are talking about Belgium and they’re thinking about art, they always think about James Ensor and his grotesques, and René Magritte as a surrealist. But Ensor wasn’t a master of grotesques, and Magrite wasn’t a surrealist. They were realists.

People forget that realism has had a special place in Belgian art history since the time of this region’s most influential artist – Jan van Eyck. He was the first one who finally broke away from the exact copying of images and the religious dogmas of the Middle Ages. He created realism from reality, by portraying the truth.

This country has been under the rule of so many foreign powers that there has never been room for romanticism here.

And that only strengthens my belief that art is created from reality, from what you experience and see.

Sometimes, one needs quite a bit of knowledge and background information to understand your works. What if your audience isn’t in possession of this?

When I began to show publicly, I thought that it was important to supply the audience with informational materials. The journalists were especially happy about this, since then they always knew what to write about. Until it went so far that people began to think: if Mr. Tuymans hasn’t spoken about this piece, then you can’t even look at it.

Now I am certain that it isn’t necessary to know everything – you just have to look. I don’t want to encourage everybody to see the same things that I have seen, what was important to me. A work must be multi-layered, it must have room for people’s interpretations. And the piece’s visual aspect must come first.

When the painting “Mwana Kitoko: Beautiful White Man”, which was a portrait of Patrice Lumumba, was first exhibited in New York, African-American society thought that it was a portrait of Malcolm X – a passionate defender of minority rights in America. But when the Guggenheim was interested in acquiring the piece, they wrote in their e-mail that they very much like the work with the man in the white uniform – Augusto Pinochet… In Belgium, everyone knew who the person in the painting was.

There was a sort of link between Malcolm X and Patrice Lumumba – they were both linked by power, which was symbolized by a uniform, they were both black, both were murdered.

I’m happy that the painting has made people think on an individual level, instead of pointing out what is what.

I also don’t completely believe that it is possible to create universal images. Perhaps Morandi tried to do that, but I don’t think that’s possible.

When I created the portrait of Condoleeza Rice (she was still the Secretary of State at the time), people interpreted it as my critique of the Bush administration. From my viewpoint, that’s what it was, but on the other hand: we’re talking about a fascinating woman  – the first African-American Secretary of State – a strong, intelligent persona. While some interpreted this portrait as a critique, others saw it as an iconic tribute to Rice – similar to Warhol’s Marylin Monroe.

Luc Tuymans. The Secretary of State. 2005

How do you, yourself, feel in front of your works?

All of my pieces are created in one day – I paint fast; that necessitates concentration. When the piece is done, and I feel that it is has been done successfully, I go on to the next one. But before I begin to paint something, there’s a long and quite painful thought process – until I arrive at the point where I know what I want to paint and how. My works include both brain- and hand-intelligence.

I don’t have a single piece of mine in my house – I couldn’t stand it. If I see my work in a museum collection, among the works of others – fine; but if I’m in the dining room of a collector, and my painting is the only one on the wall – I will turn my back to it. Because I always see mistakes.

Is it easy to speak about your work? And does the telling change every time, depending on who is listening?

I am not my art work. What I say is only that what I say. Those are two different things.

Does being a famous artist mean that people really understand your art?

No, not at all. And overall – there are so many people who buy art for the wrong reasons. But contemporary art now is so expensive that only a select few can afford to acquire it.

Another important thing that I’m trying to work on with my dealers – Frank Demaegd, with whom I’ve worked for 27 years in Antwerp, David Zwirner, with whom I’ve worked for 20 years in the US, and Kiyoshi Wako, with whom I’ve worked for 17 years in Tokyo – we try to hinder and discourage profiteering in the art market by buying back pieces from auction houses and controlling prices that are inappropriate for their quality. It is important to steer pieces towards collections in public museums or fund-collections. In America, there are eleven museums who have from one to three of my works, and who travel across the globe with them.

Of course, I work with private collectors, but I always follow along to make sure that they are trustworthy. That’s why I don’t like to sell to Russian collectors, and the same goes for the Chinese. There’s always something to think about – will there or won’t there be a speculative maneuver again…

Luc Tuymans. Gaskamer. 1986

What, in your opinion, are the mutual responsibilities of the artist and the gallerist?

It’s difficult to follow everything that’s going on in the art market. That’s why I need someone trustworthy – a consultant from the same Russia or China – who can help me find the path to the right people, to those who are really interested in art.

That’s why an artist needs dealers and gallerists, because it’s not possible for him to control everything. And I’ve been lucky with having trustworthy people in my longterm cooperations, who not only sell my work, but also protect it. There are people who don’t do this, and who only do cold-blooded buying and selling.

The art world underwent a stark change when the art market – as we know it now – was established in the mid-80s in New York, which was flooded with Japanese yen at the time. The bubble burst, of course, but the machinery continued to churn on. The new generation of artists joined in, and now this system has become a gigantic business. Never has so much money been spent on art as in the last 15-20 years.

The art market is similar to the diamond market – they are both largely based on trust. If you loose it once by doing something wrong – you’re out of the game. This same principle applies to the art market, even though it’s full of speculators. Because actually, you’re buying and selling air – symbolic capital. A diamond is also judged by such qualities as clarity, color and cut – it’s value and worth is in the finishing/creative process.

How do you see the future of the art market?

If people continue to invest at the same rate as now, then everything will go on. Interestingly enough, even though the world is on the brink of a gigantic economic crisis, the art market certainly isn’t.

Even though there’s constant talk that painting is a dead medium…

I think that this talk has been borne from misunderstanding. From the mistaken interpretation of some critics’ writings.

When we talk about progress, we’re talking about new and newer mediums, which can make it seem as if the oldest of them has died – but that’s not true. We use a medium because of the medium – because of its characteristics. In order to create meaning. If a medium is used correctly – everything is alright. Even if it’s the same painting. In this case, painting can still create meanings.

After touring in several American cities, my first retrospective in Belgium, in cooperation with the Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Wexner Center for the Arts, was held in the BOZAR center two years ago. It drew 90,000 people. The exhibition of the German Renaissance-era painter Lucas Cranach, in this same venue, drew 80,000 people. This means that the interest in painting is marked.

Entitled, Allo!, the exhibition of  Luc Tuymans was displayed at David Zwirner’s brand new Mayfair gallery, opened  last autumn in London. This was Tuymans’s first solo show in London since his 2004 retrospective at Tate Modern. Photo: Stephen White; David Zwirner, London

Luc Tuymans, Allo! I, 2012, Oil on canvas, 133.7 x 182.6 cm, Courtesy David Zwirner, New York London

You did leave painting, once. You turned to film. But then you returned to painting…

In the first half of the 80s, I felt as if I were working too existentially in painting, too personally, and it was becoming suffocating. I took a break. By chance, my friend showed me a Super 8mm camera, and I began to film. Indirectly, this experience changed the way that I painted when I returned to it. Very literally – through the camera lens.

How do you comment on the phenomenon when an artist becomes the central persona of an art- manufacturing plant – in which his next “masterpiece” is being created?

I do everything myself.  I don’t have any assistants. This isn’t the kind of art that Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst make. And that isn’t the kind of art that I’d want to create. I don’t want to criticize – it’s just not the way that I work. For me, painting is a very physically present activity; it belongs to a person.

But some art works are so technically complex that their realization requires the involvement of several people. Take, for example, my friend, the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami – I think he works differently than Koons or Hirst. About 250 people work for him. Murakami’s hand-drawn sketches are digitally remastered, and then the printed material is silk-screened onto fabric. One image uses 500 screenings, and that’s a very technical process. At first, it may seem like very superficial work, but it’s not – in Murakami’s case, his work is truly a passive-aggressive attack on the West. Unhealed war wounds.

The idea of an art factory was started by Andy Warhol in the 60s and 70s. But if we look even further into art history – Rubens also had apprentices.

Overall, parallels can be drawn between the modern-day art world and that of the Renaissance – Titian was a millionaire, Michelangelo left riches behind, and Da Vinci is seen to be one of the founders of capitalism. In their time, society had influential people who wanted to acquire art with money, and artists who wanted to acquire riches with their work.

It was only in the 19th century that the idea of a lonely and poor artist arose.

Then there were all those people who played that “bohemian shit”… Yes, they came from good families and could afford to do it. Duchamp came from the bourgeoisie, and he could afford to play around his whole life long.

The way an artist has worked notwithstanding – either as a craftsman or as a businessman – he is morally responsible for his work. Both during his life, and after it. He is the one who thought it up and whose thought was realized, and he retains the responsibility for it.

I think that being an artist is also a profession. It is not only a hobby and a dream, and a thing that one likes to do. Today, the creation of art is a complex process that embodies organization – transportation, preparing lectures, printing catalogs. We do all of that here, in my office – a team of several people. Museums should be doing that, but they don’t.

Luc Tuymans in his studio. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York London


Flemish Master

A Luc Tuymans retrospective.

The Belgian Luc Tuymans is the most challenging painter in the recent history of the art, if recent painting can still be said to have a history, and not just a roll call. A retrospective of the fifty-one-year-old artist at the Wexner Center for the Arts, in Columbus, Ohio (it will travel to San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago, and Brussels), invites a verdict. Mine is a thumbs-up. Tuymans’s thinly brushed, drab-looking (but sneakily lovely) canvases, usually based on banal photographic images with wispy political associations, do two big things at once. First, they dramatize the fallen state of painting since the nineteen-sixties, when Andy Warhol merged it with mechanical reproduction, and Minimalism petrified it with a basilisk stare. Not for Tuymans the tragic pathos of the previously preëminent Gerhard Richter, whose several styles, alternately realist and abstract, have acknowledged the collapse of any coherent tradition in painting, but have done so with defiant bravura, clinging to the old, grand manners. Tuymans’s grayish daubs announce that the war against mass media and Minimalist skepticism is truly over, because it’s truly lost. Second, Tuymans discovers in the very humiliation of the medium a vitality as surprising as a rosebush on the moon. He does so with nothing-to-lose audacity, in terms of subject matter. If painting has nothing significant left to say, he seems to reason, it might as well say nothing about significant things. He works in thematic series, whose topics have included the Holocaust, disease, Flemish nationalism, Belgian colonialism, post-9/11 America, and the mystique of Walt Disney. It’s hard to tell how invested he is in his subjects, but he is plainly fascinated by the power of images to roil minds and hearts.

One of Tuymans’s first definitive works, from 1986, is a small painting of the gas chamber at Dachau, copied from a watercolor he made at the site. Its perfunctory splotches and smears, on a yellowish ground, indicate the wide door, the fake showerheads, and the floor drain in the awful room. Whatever feelings and thoughts you have about it are only your own. Tuymans leaves you alone with them, and with the innate sensuousness and sensitivity—the physical appeal to the imagination—of paint on canvas. The first-person touch of his brush is the work’s sole, and frail, emotional anchor. By being detached, it attains an utterly unsentimental, anti-rhetorical poise that would seem scarcely possible in art that touches on atrocity. I have wondered, in front of paintings by Tuymans, why I was looking at anything apparently so desultory. Minutes later, I have found myself still wondering, unable to tear myself away from a delicate engagement that mysteriously feels as necessary as a raft in a flood. The flood is the noise of the world. The work is perfectly silent.

Tuymans is Flemish, a native and lifelong resident of Antwerp, in the region that speaks a dialect of Dutch and is congenitally at odds with the Francophone south of Belgium. He studied art there and in Brussels. He identifies with the historical bounty of Flemish painting. (Tuymans opined in a recent interview with that since Jan van Eyck promulgated the use of oil paints and the aesthetics of methodical realism, nearly six centuries ago, all painters, himself included, have been “dilettantes”—a reckless enough sally, but I will look anew at the master of the “Arnolfini Wedding.”) After struggling with an early style of aggressively crude portraiture, Tuymans quit painting for several years in the early nineteen-eighties to pursue filmmaking, with a Super 8 camera and a spirit so obsessively experimental that only one finished work resulted. (A video monitor in the show samples scattershot bits and pieces of film.)

He resumed painting in 1985, with cinematic lessons learned. His ways of framing images within his series—long shots, establishing shots, closeups—evoke the movies, although with a softly blurry look suggestive less of film stills than of videotape paused on a primitive VCR. In that year, burstingly ambitious, he sent out a thousand invitations to his first solo show, which was installed for one day in the swimming pool of a derelict luxury hotel in the seaside resort town of Ostend (James Ensor’s home town). Nobody showed up. The impressive failure pays witness to Tuymans’s independence of the Belgian and, for that matter, the international art world of the time, when swaggering Neo-Expressionism still set the pace for new painting.

Hunger for notice may have motivated Tuymans’s Holocaust-related works, including a sketchy painting of a modernistic structure and the words “our new quarters.” (It is from a postcard issued to inmates of the Theresienstadt concentration camp, a fraudulent showplace that was, in truth, a way station to Auschwitz.) His far less sensational works since then prove that he would rather whisper than shout, though always in the vicinity of raw nerves. Two series touching on Belgian politics—“The Flag,” mocking a recurrence of separatist agitation in Flanders, and “Mwana Kitoko: Beautiful White Man,” alluding to the dénouement of colonialism in the Congo—are exotic to my mind. But then Tuymans makes me feel exotic to myself, as an American, with “Proper” (2005), a suite responding to this country in the era of George W. Bush. Clouds of dust (“Demolition”) and a naggingly familiar face (“The Nose”) evoke, without representing, the towers’ fall and Osama bin Laden. Ballroom dancers in the rotunda of the Texas State Capitol are viewed from above. A dinner table is set with genteel precision. Condoleezza Rice squints from a gorgeously painted closeup, “The Secretary of State.” I’ve looked long and hard at this last painting, testing one interpretation after another; each seems plausible at first, then not quite right. Does Tuymans like Rice or not? Does her appearance “stand for” something? Many things? Nothing? The painting both demands and rejects answers. I suspect that it’s a masterpiece but cede the judgment to a less politically distracted posterity.


A tireless exegete of his own work, Tuymans articulates a modern tradition that gives equal weight to the dazed German Romanticism of Caspar David Friedrich and the wide-awake Parisian modernity of Manet—bridging a fault line that still divides the soul of Western taste. He is Manet-like in his smart synopsis of borrowed images. His smoldering colors are Friedrichian: pale blue-greens, wan oranges, dusty lavender, violet, muddy vermillion. There are no true grays, because he eschews black for a blackish mix of reddish brown and emerald green. He claims to make each of his works, albeit after lengthy rumination, in a single day—sometimes a very long day—painting wet-in-wet with dark-over-light colors, forming the image as he goes. He insists that this is so, even in the case of “Turtle” (2007), an immense picture, about twelve feet high by seventeen feet long, from a photo of a Disneyland parade float. He compares his method to the self-developing of Polaroids. He told Artnet that in his initial hours of work, “until I get to the middle of the process—it’s horrific. It’s like I don’t know what I’m doing but I know how to do it, and it’s very strange.” Now, that—uncertain ends, confident means—is about as good a general definition of creativity as I know. It illuminates and justifies Tuymans’s eccentric work rule, with its distant redolence of Jackson Pollock’s odd decision to paint in the air above a canvas. The unities of form and feeling in Tuymans’s work may be shallow—as, under time pressure, he seizes upon whatever resolution of a picture first beckons. But the effect is thrillingly open-ended, as if the work were still in the act of coming to its point, dragooning the eyes and the minds of viewers to that enterprise.

Tuymans is vastly influential among younger painters, but none have gone much beyond imitating his look of laconic dash and sang-froid. The next painter who greatly matters may or may not recall him in style but will—must—take a particular attitude toward him. Of course, such a painter might not appear. Tuymans’s feat may prove hybrid, unable to propagate. Meanwhile, he is not apt to become popular. There is an air of penitent mortification about his work, which frustrates even as it arouses our childish yen to be told exciting stories. He conveys a very dim view of the world today and scant trust in our capacity to cope with it. But, if you like painting enough, you will gamely tolerate the bitter flavor of this artist’s amazingly intoxicating brew.


The Rectangular Canvas is Dead: Richard Diebenkorn and the problems of modern painting (written by Jed Perl/The New Republic 9.7.2013)

Rose Mandel Archive

The Rectangular Canvas is Dead
Richard Diebenkorn and the problems of modern painting
By Jed Perl
September 7, 2013

You have probably never heard of the young painter Eleanor Ray, but she is a virtuoso, no question about it. She also has a bad case of what I would call the teensies. Frankly, I worry that it may be terminal. Fresh out of graduate school, with a show at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects on the Lower East Side over the winter, Ray brings a tightly controlled painterly panache to her itsy-bitsy glimpses of the view through a window, or some empty shelves, or a bicycle locked to a post. The sizes of the panels on which she paints—one is two and one-quarter inches by two and three-quarters inches and the biggest is five by seven inches—suggest a reverse hubris, a pride in how much she can do with so little. There is something about Ray’s hunkered-down facility that strikes me as symptomatic of a fearfulness that overtakes all too many serious painters today. As much as I worry about the power of the trashmeisters who now dominate so many of our galleries and museums, I worry more about an atmosphere that makes it so difficult for painters who are actually engaged with the possibilities of brushes and pigments to feel free.

Eleanor Ray is in her mid-twenties. That is a time in artists’ lives when they ought to be trying things out, unafraid to make a bad painting. The best artists—the greatest artists—are not afraid to fail. As for Ray, instead of allowing herself to experiment, she remains armored inside her minuscule vignettes. Why this should be I can’t say for sure. But I have a theory. I wonder if Ray, coming of age at a time when painting is said by so many to be dead or dying, believes that the best she can do as a painter is keep a few tiny embers alive. You cannot help but feel a certain respect for her perfectly ordered minuscule vignettes, with their meticulously modulated grays and their knowing allusions to Morandi’s compositional strategies. When Ray paints light reflected off snow or coming through a crack in a door, she goes for a dashing verisimilitude—a sort of painterly déjà vu. The trouble is that the sizes of the paintings are designed to wrap up any unresolved conflicts in a perfect little package. You cannot really access these paintings. They’re so damn small that they feel as if they’re in lockdown. There is a sensibility here, but it is imprisoned. Whatever interesting conflicts and contradictions the subjects might provoke have been squared away without ever really being addressed.

Painting, which for centuries reigned supreme among the visual arts, has fallen from grace. I am quite sure that Eleanor Ray is aware of this. Every serious painter is. Which is not to say that painting is dead, or dying, or even in eclipse: excellent paintings have been done in the last few years, and there are masterpieces that date from the past quarter of a century. But the painter’s basic challenge, the manipulation of colors and forms and metaphors on the flat plane with its almost inevitably rectangular shape, is no longer generally seen as art’s alpha and omega, as the primary place in the visual arts where meaning and mystery are believed to come together. Everybody I know who paints or cares about painting worries about how we are going to respond to this turn of events. Ray is not alone in going into a defensive posture. With her lyrical painterly postcards, she strikes me as too willing to accept the idea that what has vanished in recent years, perhaps never to return, is painting as an expansive and foundational value or idea—as something worth boldly working for. There is no fight in her work. Behind the elegance of her effects, I sense the sadness of defeat. She is much too young for that.

What is to be done? Nothing at all, some would say. Many people who closely follow the visual arts subscribe to a cheerful chaos theory. And judged from such a perspective, anything goes: painting’s fall from grace is an interesting data point, nothing more. But the how and the why of that fall from grace remain to be understood. And understanding what has happened is an urgent matter, not only for the painters whose work still dominates many of the contemporary galleries but also for the gallerygoers and museumgoers who still look to their work. The arrival of a new painter in a blue-chip gallery can even now inspire enthusiasm, as Julie Mehretu’s first solo show at Marian Goodman’s New York gallery did this spring. Brett Baker, a painter who had an incisive and boisterous show of small abstract paintings at Elizabeth Harris this past winter, edits an online magazine called Painters’ Table, which reflects the invigorating range of intellectual conversation still inspired by the painter’s art. Painting’s fall from grace has precipitated quite a few exhibitions dedicated to revisionist and alternative histories of painting, including “Reinventing Abstraction: New York Painting in the 1980s,” organized by the critic Raphael Rubinstein at Cheim & Read in New York over the summer. This show examines the work of fifteen artists, including Carroll Dunham, Bill Jensen, and Joan Snyder, with the goal of rethinking the state of painting in light of transformations in abstraction that began a generation ago. For those who want to look even farther back for promising directions that painters might further explore, there are certainly insights to be gained from an important survey of Richard Diebenkorn’s work from the 1950s and 1960s, currently at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.

Ever since the Renaissance, painting has been the grandest intellectual adventure in the visual arts, a titanic effort to encompass the glorious instability and variability of experience within the stability of a sharply delimited two-dimensional space. I think there is no question that the increasing marginalization of painting in recent decades has everything to do with a growing skepticism about even the possibility of stability. This skepticism now dominates thinking in the art schools, art history departments, museums, and international exhibitions where the shape of the artistic future is by and large determined. As every painter knows, of course, a certain amount of skepticism is part and parcel of the creative act, and the grandeur of painting’s stability has everything to do with all the ways in which the artist challenges and complicates that stability. Painting predicates an irrevocable fact—the plane of the canvas or panel on which the artist works—and then challenges that fundamental truth in an endless variety of ways. And that paradoxical situation may bring us to the reason why painting has fallen from grace. To uphold an absolute as well as all the arguments against that absolute, and to entertain both those positions at the same time, is something that our go-with-the-flow culture finds exceedingly uncomfortable.

Painters are aware of the problem. Nearly everybody now agrees that Clement Greenberg’s brief for the irrevocable stability of painting, a brief at once elegantly plainspoken and maddeningly pontifical, paid far too little attention to the varieties of instability that painting can embrace. There is a widespread suspicion that painting’s fall from grace can be blamed on the artists and the critics who conceived of its history in overly exclusionary terms. And so a thousand alternative histories have bloomed. The painter Carroll Dunham—who exhibits his widely praised and darkly comic canvases at Barbara Gladstone and also writes from time to time for Artforum—recently observed that “there are all kinds of parallel or shadow histories of the twentieth century that are constantly being reshuffled and rediscovered.” Who can disagree? You can find Dunham’s comment in a conversation with the painter Mark Greenwold, published in the catalogue of Greenwold’s show at Sperone Westwater in the Bowery this past spring. Greenwold’s show marked something of an apotheosis for an artist who is nothing if not a re-shuffler of histories and has until now mostly been admired by other artists. Greenwold’s paintings are deranged contemporary Boschian soap operas, in which the artist and his family and friends are represented with overgrown heads, crammed into claustrophobic interior spaces. In his recent paintings Greenwold has allowed bits of abstract imagery—what Dunham calls “Martian peacock” elements—to erupt in front of a face or above a person’s head. Greenwold is rejecting what he calls “this kind of sanitized notion that abstraction is on one side and figuration is the other side, and God forbid they should ever mix in art or in anything.”

Although I sometimes enjoy the finicky punctiliousness of Greenwold’s painterly technique, his work ultimately strikes me as sodden and melodramatic—Kafkaesque kitsch. But Greenwold is obviously an immensely intelligent man, and his conversation with Dunham reveals a good deal about how a serious contemporary painter grapples with the conflict between painting’s stability and painting’s instability. Greenwold struggles with what he describes as his training in “Greenbergian modernism.” While his work is loaded with local color, knotty narratives, psychological suggestions, and wacky humor, he comments somewhat confusingly that he is “not interested in, as I said, narrative and all that stuff. So my premise is Greenberg’s.” What I surmise he is trying to say is that he is interested in the construction of a painting as a formal act. In Greenwold’s case, the formal act is informed by a range of concerns that some might label literary. In addition to speaking about other painters, he comments on Philip Roth, the Yiddish theater, and Woody Allen’s roles in the movies he directs. He obviously admires Allen’s ability to do double-duty as director and actor. Greenwold similarly likes to take a starring part in his own compositions, with his round, bearded, bespectacled head and (often) buck-naked body front and center in his crazed conversation pieces. That Greenwold wants to present life as a freak show does not strike me as strange, not at all, but he fails to integrate the dissonant elements into a convincing whole.

This brings us to the crux of the problem. What is a stable whole that sufficiently acknowledges painting’s life-giving instability? That is the question that preoccupies painters today. And it comes as no surprise that Carroll Dunham, who obviously relishes his conversation with Greenwold, appears as one of the protagonists in the critic Raphael Rubinstein’s exhibition exploring the varieties of instability that nourish recent abstract painting. Looking back to what more than a dozen abstract artists were doing in the 1980s, Rubinstein discovers something rather like Dunham’s “parallel or shadow histories”—what Rubinstein calls “an alternative genealogy for contemporary painting.” Seen at Cheim & Read, “Reinventing Abstraction” certainly has its pleasures. These include Dunham’s elegantly eccentric Horizontal Bands (1982–1983), the cool formal title giving no hint as to the jam-up of witty, bulbous, bulb-and-root forms; Joan Snyder’s rapturous lyric pastoral Beanfield With Music (1984), with its luxuriantly orchestrated cacophony of greens; and Bill Jensen’s The Tempest (1980–1981), a floating enigma like an astral starfish with a sci-fi snout, at once melancholy and oracular. The other artists in the show are Louise Fishman, Mary Heilmann, Jonathan Lasker, Stephen Mueller, Elizabeth Murray, Thomas Nozkowski, David Reed, Pat Steir, Gary Stephan, Stanley Whitney, Jack Whitten, and Terry Winters.

Rubinstein wants to move beyond the shopworn talk about the death of painting or the return of painting to “the urgent task of building a bridge from the radical, deconstructive abstraction of the late 1960s and 1970s (which many of [the artists in the show] had been marked by) toward a larger painting history and more subjective approaches.” What Rubinstein is arguing for is the polar opposite of Eliot’s impersonal view of the past in “Tradition and the Individual Talent”—the “larger painting history” he advocates is nourished by a wide range of highly personal, subjective approaches. The fact that the works included in “Reinventing Abstraction” look very different from one another is precisely the point. If the artists are joined in their taste for heterogeneity, that taste also divides them, for each is heterogeneous in his or her own way. We find here more or less painterly ways of painting, experiments with a range of flat and relatively deep spaces, and the incorporation of elements ranging from nearly naturalistic to thoroughly nonobjective. If I understand Rubinstein correctly, he wants to rediscover avenues in recent artistic tradition too little seen or understood, and in so doing to excavate routes from the more distant past to the present.

I am sympathetic with Rubinstein’s project. Certainly you can make a strong case that the history of painting consists of nothing more than the individual histories of painters. But as Rubinstein is also well aware, the history of painting must ultimately be something more than an anthology of individual histories. If the danger of a totally integrated history of painting is that it degenerates into a frozen academicism, the danger of a thousand individual histories is that painting becomes no more than another competitor in the bazaar that is contemporary art, a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, with no more claim on our attention than anything else.

One would hope that some more general principle could be derived from the personal histories that rivet us. It is precisely the possibility of discovering the general within the particular that drew me to San Francisco, for a major exhibition at the de Young Museum of the work that Richard Diebenkorn did as a relatively young man in the 1950s and 1960s. “Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years: 1953–1966” was organized by Timothy Anglin Burgard, a curator at the de Young (which is part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco); the exhibition goes to the Palm Springs Art Museum in the fall. While everybody knows that Diebenkorn painted his figures, still lifes, and landscapes under the impact of Matisse, the lessons that he drew from Matisse are far richer and more paradoxical than has generally been acknowledged. Diebenkorn cuts straight through the reductive formal strategies that are all too often said to be Matisse’s central gift to twentieth-century art, and recovers Matisse’s concern with the painting as symbolist experience.

Beginning with the abstract landscapes of the early 1950s, Diebenkorn refuses to allow his paintings to make sense either in purely naturalistic or purely abstract terms. He walks a tightrope in his figures and landscapes of the late 1950s and early 1960s—the best work he ever did—as he moves from passages of almost atmospheric tonal color to strident arrangements of full-strength red, orange, purple, yellow, green, and blue. He convinces me that it is the force of his feelings that precipitates his hyperbolic colors and forms. And his feelings seem to keep changing, even within a single painting, so that sometimes a woman’s arm is a woman’s arm and a wedge of sky is a wedge of sky, and sometimes a woman’s arm is a dead weight and a wedge of sky is an abyss.

Particularly fascinating is the relationship between Diebenkorn’s paintings and the considerable number of drawings in the de Young show, especially of female figures clothed and nude. Although most of the drawings included date from after the preponderance of the figure paintings were done in the late 1950s, a photograph of Diebenkorn at a drawing session in 1956 and another photograph, this one by Hans Namuth, of Diebenkorn drawing his wife in 1958 make it clear that drawing and painting proceeded at least on parallel tracks. Diebenkorn’s drawings of women, whether still quite young or on the cusp of middle age, reveal a considerable range of emotions: sexual charm and challenge are mingled with anguish, anxiety, and ennui. With their casual haircuts, unselfconscious glances, and long, sexy legs, these women suggest all the tensions and roiling excitement of the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the Eisenhower years were ending and ambitions erotic and otherwise were increasingly openly expressed. (The only other artist whose drawings of that time suggest such a grown-up feeling for male-female relations is R. B. Kitaj, and the two painters became friends when Kitaj spent time in California in the 1960s.) If Diebenkorn always regarded drawing and painting as separate activities—and is generally more of a naturalist on paper than on canvas—we can also see how the psychological crosscurrents in the drawings are enlarged and in a way allegorized in the paintings, where the increasingly abstract use of color and shape take on an emblematic power.

I have heard it said by some painters that Diebenkorn was unable to place his figures in a legible three-dimensional space. But he was perfectly capable of doing so in the drawings—so who can doubt that when he turned to painting he wanted to do something rather different? In Woman on a Porch (1958), one of the finest of the paintings in which figure and landscape are joined or juxtaposed, we do not know that the woman is on a porch, and that is probably what Diebenkorn intended. The figure, seated in what looks like a wicker chair, seen from the knees up, her head downward cast, is set against a landscape of strong horizontal forms. The color is extravagant, maybe gaudy, with oranges that verge on the lurid and with blackish, purplish blues. The woman’s body, solid and sensual, is monumentalized. She is a totem, an icon, a pure contemplative power merging with the blocky forms of the landscape, a human puzzle knit into the puzzle of the landscape. Although certainly not abstract, the painting is also not exactly representational, certainly not a representation of reality. The landscape’s strong colors and enigmatically simplified forms become emblematic of the woman’s state of mind. What does she feel? The answer is to be discovered in how the colors and forms feel. And if that is difficult to determine—well, aren’t a person’s feelings often difficult to explain?

In the late 1950s, Diebenkorn said that “all paintings start out of a mood, out of a relationship with things or people, out of a complete visual impression. To call this expression abstract seems to me often to confuse the issue.” Diebenkorn is associating himself with a tradition that I would characterize in the broadest sense as symbolist. The enigma of human consciousness is revealed indirectly, through a pictorial environment in which naturalistic perceptions have been transformed by the myriad processes and pressures of the imagination. The frame of a window becomes a prison. The blue of the horizon becomes a promise. Diebenkorn’s figures are a considerable contribution to a modern symbolist tradition that includes Redon’s phantasmagorical portraits, Vuillard’s luxuriantly perfervid interiors, Matisse’s studies of Madame Matisse crowned by extraordinary hats, and Bonnard’s climactic painting of his wife in the bathtub, in which the white tile walls explode in a riot of ardent color.

Considering how unwilling Diebenkorn was to retreat to the safety of a format or a formula in the 1950s and early 1960s, it is thrilling to realize how many good and maybe even great paintings there are. Santa Cruz I (1962), a view of ocean and ocean-side buildings, is as convincing a portrait of the California coastline as I know, a worthy successor to Matisse’s views of the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Some tiny still lifes done in 1963—a knife in a glass of water, a knife cutting through a tomato—are in the tradition of Manet’s quick little compositions and may well be superior to them in their firm architecture and unsentimental lucidity. There are some extraordinary interiors in which a human presence is suggested with haunting circumspection by means of a painting of a woman’s head leaning against a wall or a group of figure drawings pinned to the studio wall. Diebenkorn’s restlessness is one of the fascinations of midcentury art, as he moves from the almost crude figural style of Coffee (1959) to the Ingresque sensuality of Sleeping Woman (1961). Diebenkorn is of course hardly alone in the directions he took in those years. On the East Coast quite a few artists who had emerged amid the culture of abstraction were evolving original figurative styles, among them Fairfield Porter and Louisa Matthiasdottir—but Diebenkorn may be the only artist who at least for a time managed to impose so insistently abstract and symbolic an imagination on the figure and the landscape without yielding to simplistic solutions.

Diebenkorn’s figures, landscapes, and still lifes from the late 1950s and early 1960s are a reminder of how much instability must be encompassed within the stability of a painting. As for the Ocean Park series that preoccupied Diebenkorn as he grew older (he died in 1993), I wonder if the more formalized and regularized abstract processes involved in those paintings did not reflect the worries of an artist who had once upon a time put stability at such considerable risk. I would not want to press too hard on a psychological interpretation of Diebenkorn’s development. Suffice it to say that the conundrum for painters in the past several decades has been how to maintain some dependable conception of what painting is all about while insisting on the freedom of action needed to keep that concept alive. To do so successfully involves quite a juggling act. In the past couple of years I have sensed in the work of painters who hold a particular interest for significant numbers of other painters—they include John Dubrow, Bill Jensen, Joan Snyder, and Thornton Willis—the sobering challenges involved in maintaining both some reliable standard and the freedom to take fresh risks. There is always the necessity to hold the line even as one goes over the line, to maintain some sense of what painting is before all else in the face of an environment in which anything goes.

The evolution of painting is inevitably as much a matter of repetition as it is a matter of change. But what is too little change and what is too much? As Rubinstein observes in the catalogue of “Reinventing Abstraction,” it is significant that after all the talk in the 1960s and 1970s of the shaped canvas and the end of the tyranny of the rectangle, the artists in his show—with the exception of Elizabeth Murray—have found themselves loyal to the framing rectangle. With painting, we recognize the excitement of the new not so much through its distance from earlier work as in the extent to which the old ways are given some new sting or attack or power. The wide panoramic abstractions in Julie Mehretu’s show at Marian Goodman this spring, with their layering of architectural elements and their dramatically deep space, put me in mind of Al Held’s later work, which also had a cinematic and even a sci-fi quality. And that connection interested me, reviving as it did unresolved feelings I have always had about Held’s pictorial dramaturgy. As for the lush, thickly applied color in Brett Baker’s small abstractions, at Elizabeth Harris over the winter, they brought to mind Paul Klee’s Magic Squares and the weavings of Anni Albers and Sheila Hicks—the question became how Baker’s own feeling for sensuous coloristic hedonism is strengthened and deepened by the restraining power of a grid. The beauty of painting is that we experience the individualism of the painter but never exactly in isolation. The painter is always simultaneously in the community of painters, of the present and of the past.
The trouble is that you cannot really get down to the business of painting when you are forced into either a defensive or an offensive pose.

To assert that painting is a great tradition is to assert the obvious. Nobody would disagree, even those who take no interest whatsoever in contemporary painting. The problem for contemporary painters begins with the collapse of the framing rectangle as the artist’s essential way of experiencing the world. I am not sure to what degree the stabilizing supremacy of that rectangle has been undermined by the technology that surrounds us, whether the layered space of the computer screen, the roving eye of the digital camera, or the increasing ubiquity of 3-D movies. But even if the rectangle remains essential, its centrality unexpectedly reaffirmed by the shape of the iPad and the iPhone, there is no question that we are increasingly encouraged to regard continuous visual flux as the fundamental artistic experience. When the Dadaists in the 1920s and even the postmodernists in the 1970s and 1980s turned their backs on painting, they tended to assume that it was still there, behind them, a stable fact. Now painting itself is frequently seen as simply another dissident form, a way of turning one’s back on moving images or performance art or assemblage. All too often today, when painters walk out of their studios, they find themselves in a defensive posture or an offensive one, with painting their shield or their battering ram. The trouble is that you cannot really get down to the business of painting when you are forced into either a defensive or an offensive pose.

The great question now is how to preserve and even honor the age-old stability of painting without falling into the trap of a frozen academicism. Richard Diebenkorn, in his figure and landscape paintings of the late 1950s and early 1960s, suggests a provocative balance, one worth reinvestigating. The bottom line is that each artist must now begin pretty much from scratch, obliged to develop both a personal conservatism and a personal radicalism. This is the painter’s predicament.

Jed Perl is the art critic for The New Republic and the author, most recently, of Magicians and Charlatans (Eakins Press Foundation).
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Frank Stella’s Whitney Museum Retrospective – Reviews, Images and Texts




Frank Stella’s decline: on the artist’s Whitney Museum retrospective

Critical conviction regarding Stella’s work has fallen with the quality of the art

by Pac Pobric  |  7 December 2015

Frank Stella’s decline: on the artist's Whitney Museum retrospective

Frank Stella painting in 1964. Photograph by Ugo Mulas

One measure of an artist’s worth is the writing he or she inspires. By that test, Frank Stella is no longer so worthy. Critics of his current retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York have treated him as everyone else has since the close of his early period (1958-1966), with high esteem and little critical rigor. There is much cognitive dissonance. The reviews are full of gushing admiration for an artist who is rightly considered foundational for the history of post-war art, but there is barely any exegesis. In the New York Times, Roberta Smith wrote that “the totality of the show can make the mind reel with ideas, insights and arguments,” but what those ideas, insights and arguments were was left unaccounted. It seems there is nothing new left to say.

For this, Stella is to blame. For the past 40 years his art has put little pressure on critics, making it easy to pass over without commentary. This was not always the case. His best pictures, fr om the pre-Black Paintings (1958) until the Irregular Polygon series (1965-66) motivated fierce polemics. “Carl Andre and I were fighting over his soul,” the critic Michael Fried remembered of the 1960s, because with Stella, back then, everything was at stake. His stripe pictures—which include the Black Paintings (1959-60), the Aluminum series (1960) and Copper series (1960-61), the Notched V series (1964-65) and Running V series (1964-65), which are each represented in the exhibition—led either to a new Gilded Age of painting, as Fried demanded, or opened into the expanded field of Minimalism with Andre and Donald Judd.

Frank Stella, Empress of India (1965). © 2015 Frank Stella/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY.

The debate, though often technical (Fried especially was perhaps too fine a formalist, too minute in his descriptions), was at bottom a question of tradition versus apostasy. For Fried, writing in 1963, nothing less than “the entire dialectic of modernist painting from Manet to the present” was at play in Stella’s work. Fried believed in divine continuity. The pictures carried forward a great tradition with renewed religious zeal. To not see the work this way was to not see the work at all. In the epigraph to Art and Objecthood, Fried’s 1967 attack on Minimalism, he quoted the American Theologian Jonathan Edwards to equate the longevity of painting with sacred vision: “We every moment see the same proof of a God as we should have seen if we had seen Him create the world at first.”

For Judd, this was lunacy. Stella had cut all ties. He was no painter, but the inventor of the Minimalist totem. “I thought of Frank’s aluminum paintings as slabs, in a way,” he told the radio DJ Bruce Glaser in 1964. Stella’s works were “specific objects”, in Judd’s phrasing, and they insisted on new vocabulary. There was nothing divine here, nothing that could be explained with reference to continuity: “We recognize that the world is 90% chance and accident,” he told Glaser, speaking on behalf of his Minimalist contemporaries.

Even critics who reviled Stella elevated their rhetoric. In a 1964 New York Times review of Stella’s show at Leo Castelli gallery, Brian O’Doherty wrote that the paintings “announce that a new kind of human animal is around, a new response to living life—one that is anti-emotion, anti-human, anti-art (by trangressing its limits of expression or non-expression) and that is even anti-anti.”

In the heady 1960s, arguments over Stella’s work were about first principles, the foundations on which everything else is built. What do we value? Tradition or revolution? Continuity or “chance and accident”? Humanism or structuralism? Fundamental questions lead to fundamental claims and the best pictures at the Whitney—Black Paintings like Die Fahne Hoch! and the Marriage of Reason and Squalor (both 1959), or the Running V picture De la nada vida a la nada muerte (1965)—are built on a solid formal foundation. In these works, one stripe determines the rest. They are just “one thing after another,” as Judd one wrote. Here is Stella’s conviction pure and clean: the knowledge that one move can have enormous implications.

Frank Stella, redjang (2009). © 2015 Frank Stella/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

For Michael Auping, the Whitney show’s curator, little has changed, conceptually, between 1959 and today. Although a work like redjang (2009) may look little like a stripe picture, Auping writes in the exhibition catalogue that the painter’s later bombast is “fundamentally not that far from Stella’s earliest visions of abstract painting.” He wants to draw a straight line through the work with space as the common denominator. Already in the Black Paintings, Auping sees “the illusion of a gentle vibration, like the strings of an instrument that have been plucked.” The pictures for him are not as flat as they seem. It is a slow evolution, not a break, that leads to physically invasive work like redjang. “There is an illusionism that a lot of people don’t see in the Black Paintings,” Auping told me when I interviewed him in September. “You’ll see that accelerated.”

The point extends throughout the installation. Although it is roughly chronological, there are moments wh ere radically different works stand together. We are meant to see correspondences between, for example, De la nada vida a la nada muerte and The Whiteness of the Whale (IRS-I, 2X) (1987) from the Moby Dick series (1986-97), which are hung across from one another in one gallery.

This is a tedious tinkering. Auping is a fine curator with impeccable taste and his loyalty to Stella is beyond doubt. But his narrative, in which one work justifies another in a long historical chain, is proof of how feverish arguments about tradition and revolution—about the revelation of God in painting, about the “new kind of animal” borne of Stella’s work—have cooled into simple explanation. Auing’s assertions cannot countenance histrionic work like Talladega (1980) from the Circuit series (1980-84), with its garish design. No justification will make this Rococo confection into a serious work of art. In a review of Stella’s 1987 Museum of Modern Art survey in New York, Arthur Danto wrote that three similar works were each “a furious razzle of dashing curves” which looked “as if they had been picked by Cyndi Lauper to knock your eyes out.”

Frank Stella, Gobba, zoppa e collotorto (1985). © 2015 Frank Stella/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Frank Stella, Gobba, zoppa e collotorto (1985). © 2015 Frank Stella/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Stella, at this point, could only inspire such ridiculous criticism. His art could no longer foster rigorous debate, let alone compel conviction. Talladega carries no principles. It makes no appeals. It is enough to write of it what Jason Farago in the Guardian recently wrote of another piece by Stella, that it is “a ghastly pileup of cast aluminum painted with wavy, tie-dye patterns”.

The artist got to Talladega because pictures like Die Fahne Hoch! are at the end of painting, both formally and conceptually. From there, unless Stella was to repeat himself, there was nothing left to do but begin putting back in everything he had taken out. The Minimal solution was unsustainable. Between 1959 and 1965, Stella drove the stripe paintings through every conceivable variation. Shape became a dimension with the Aluminum series after Stella’s friend, the painter Walter Darby Bannard, suggested he cut away the corners of his pictures. The V series put colour in focus, as with a work like Empress of India (1965). Movement became a factor with the Running V pictures. But then Stella ran out of options. Philip Leider, the founding editor of Artforum and one of Stella’s most vocal supporters, saw the problem clearly in 1978: “It is a matter of having taken things as far as possible, only to find oneself trapped in an outpost of art, with work threatening to come to a standstill, thin and uncreative.”

Frank Stella, Chocorua IV (1966). © 2015 Frank Stella/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Stella avoided the standstill with his Irregular Polygon pictures of 1965-66 but at tremendous cost. These paintings broke with his earlier work. Gone was simplicity, replaced by boisterous shape and ostentatious colour. First principles were jettisoned as was “one thing after another”. It is impossible, from the orange parallelogram of Effingham II (1966), to imagine the necessity of the rest of the work. The Irregular Polygons were no longer foundational. They added to the history of painting, but not at its bedrock. The pictures were creative, yes, but frivolously so. The work lowered the stakes. Hilton Kramer summarised it best in his 1966 review of these paintings: “It leaves me with too great a sense of all that has been lost from the universe of artistic discourse.”

Stella has made some agreeable pictures since then and some of them are included in the show. Gur I (1968) from the Protractor series (1967-71) is a handsome work, largely because the black outlines of certain shapes hold together the otherwise flashy colour. Gobba, zoppa e collotorto (1985) from the Cones and Pillars series (1984-87) is similarly kept in check by its cleaner lines. The Whiteness of the Whale (IRS-I, 2X) in particular has some raw, if uncoordinated, power. But it too is appetizing only because it has large, flat areas of unmediated colour.

At bottom, these works are undemanding. Agreeable, handsome, appetizing: these are gentle terms devoid of passion because the art inspires little. Still, it is not that Stella lost ambition. He was brave to leave behind the stripe pictures and risk his career, critically and financially, on radically new work. Nor did his imagination fail. Only an inventive, if eccentric, mind can picture work like The Whiteness of the Whale (IRS-I, 2X). The problem, instead, is structural. The bones of his work for the past 40 years have not been able to support any polemics.

Frank Stella in his studio in the mid-1960s. © Frank J. Thomas Archives.

Stella, to his credit, refuses to see so. He works with the wilful myopia any self-respecting artist must cultivate. “And like all artists, I believe what I’m doing now is the best,” he told the Telegraph in 2011. He does not make art for us anymore, but for himself and for the future. Jerry Saltz was right to say in his New York magazine review that this work is directed towards “the superorganism of art history.” Perhaps taste will expand in years to come and Stella’s later art will become more palatable. Yet that would be a small success. Critics to come may find pleasure in this work, but it is difficult to imagine them feeling that the art is necessary. That is true only of Stella before 1966. Today we look to that period simply for the preservation of whatever ideals we once fought over. It is those ideals we must find a way to fight over again.

Frank Stella, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, until 7 February 2016

the guardian london

Frank Stella at the Whitney – from impassive abstraction to riotous baroque

Whitney Museum, New York
One of the longest careers in American art has produced everything from tasteful nonagons to bombastically lurid steel sculptures – but collected into this epochal show, it all starts to make sense

Frank Stella: a career with more twists than the track at the Monaco Grand Prix
Frank Stella: a career with more twists than the track at the Monaco Grand Prix. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA

You can wait your whole life for your paintings to win attention, and another life again before anyone calls them masterworks. Or, if you’re Frank Stella, it can happen to you at 23. In 1959, a year out of Princeton, he was included in Sixteen Americans – a landmark show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art that pulled the plug once and for all on abstract expressionism and set the stage for the multifarious art of the 1960s. Stella, young and unafraid, was the star, represented by four large paintings composed of nothing but taut, uniform black stripes.

Fifty-six years later, and in the home stretches of a career with more twists than the track at the Monaco Grand Prix, Stella has another epochal New York museum show, this one all his own. This weekend, the Whitney Museum of American Art opens the doors for Frank Stella: A Retrospective, the first showcase for a living artist in its admirable new riverside home. It comes at a decisive moment for abstract painting in the United States, booming again after years of false death notices. And it affords a valuable, at times vexing, but ultimately rewarding opportunity to map one of the longest careers in American art, one that has gyrated from impassive two-dimensional abstractions to riotously baroque reliefs and sculptures. (The show is organized along with the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, to which it will travel in 2016 before heading to the De Young in San Francisco.)

The show is, by necessity or choice, smaller than presupposed: just 120 works in the career of a frighteningly prolific artist. (A chronology of Stella’s exhibitions in this show’s catalogue runs to 67 pages.) But three of the four black paintings he showed in Sixteen Americans are here: The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, Arundel Castle, and Die Fahne Hoch, the last acidly titled after a Nazi anthem. (Titles are the only domain in which Stella gets expressive: paintings are named after his friends, or allude to authors, or get as obscure as Balinese anthropological jargon.) Stella painted the stripes with a housepainter’s brush, and instead of oil paint he turned to commercial enamel. Each one featured stripes running in a pattern derived from the shape of the canvas and the size of the brush, laid out in certain formats: a cross, a diamond, a series of concentric arches.

A viewer and one of Frank Stella’s paintings of concentric squares.
A viewer and one of Frank Stella’s paintings of concentric squares. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA

The gestural expression of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning or Franz Kline still admitted flights into psychological or biographical interpretation. Stella slammed that door shut, in favor of rules, repetition, method. “What you see is what you see,” he notoriously declared in 1966. But what do you actually see in Stella’s black paintings? Not the exacting precision of later minimalism – a designation Stella always hated, and would flamboyantly rebel against soon enough – but a more irregular, more painterly surface. Stella’s stripes were made without the aid of masking tape, and often the black paint bleeds into the white gaps, or gets thicker and thinner as Stella applied differing pressure or various numbers of coats. They suck in space, but create space too. They’re unexpectedly tactile and full of depth. They are so much more than a philosophical argument about the nature of painting – they are paintings, basta, and damned good ones.

In 1960 Stella started introducing right angles into his stripes, but a funny thing happened: on a rectangular canvas, once you change the shape of the stripes, you’re left with a blank space. Stella’s ingenious solution was to cut away the leftover parts of the canvas, and to stretch the remainder on a shaped armature, with corners incised or a central hole evacuated. They were his first forays into a career-long obsession with diagonal, twisted, or otherwise irregular canvas shapes. Stella’s supports are as important as his surfaces. With his irregular polygons, the stripes were gone, replaced by angular expanses of hot pink and deep green on canvases in the shape of wonky nonagons. Then came curved canvases, in the form of his protractors: concentric arcs of the sort of solid colours found in posters for Woodstock, and which have graced decades of pages of Architectural Digest.

Stella’s sculptures are ‘a torrent of aluminum and steel’
Stella’s sculptures are ‘a torrent of aluminum and steel’. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA

It was a strange development for an abstract painter at first derided for making nihilistic paintings-about-painting. Yet Stella was unfussed. As he told the MoMA curator William Rubin in 1969: “My main interest has been to make what is popularly called decorative painting” – decorative being the ultimate insult in western modernism, though no bad thing in other traditions – “truly viable in unequivocal abstract terms”. The protractors thus form a first salvo in the next, and not always loved, phase of Stella’s career, in which minimal impassivity gives way to an unruly, sometimes outrageous merging of painting, sculpture and even architecture. Often the results were extraordinary, especially in the true knockouts of this retrospective: his Polish Villages (1971–73) and Brazilian Birds (1974–75), which cunningly slot multiple geometric pieces into fitted arrangements. (One of the Polish Villages here is so rewardingly constructed that Stella didn’t paint it at all, and allowed us to see the untreated wood.)

Just as often, though, Stella’s move into painted reliefs went bust, as in his bracingly hideous Khar-pidda 5.5x (1978), featuring pretentious cutouts of French curves painted with rebarbative splotches. Later standalone sculptures are uneven, too, though he has improved in recent years. In the 1990s they often felt like wannabe paintings; a torrent of aluminum and steel, immodestly named Raft of the Medusa after Géricault’s giant painting, offers little reward from different angles. He does much better when the accepts medium’s three-dimensionality, as in two elegant starbursts on one of the Whitney’s many balconies, both from 2014 and among the most impressive works on view here.

Stella’s more minimalist work: ‘it’s OK if you don’t love both’
Stella’s more minimalist work: ‘It’s OK if you don’t love both.’ Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA

And what of the baroque, swooping, miles-over-the-top works of the 1980s and 1990s, above all the painted aluminum riffs on Moby-Dick? Reviled – I mean, reviled – in their day as mere adornments for corporate office lobbies, they have happily matured with age and now appear much more pugnacious, seething with rainbow stripes and graffiti-like markings that spill from the frontal panels on to the sides. (Always smarter about space than colour, Stella got his chromatic groove back here.) Even the clunkers, such as a ghastly pileup of cast aluminum painted with wavy, tie-dye patterns, exhibit prodigious, indeed Melvillian, ambition. They are the works of an artist unwilling, unable, to sit still.

It has become a commonplace that Stella peaked too early, and that the deep-thinking black paintings and other inexpressive canvases of the 1960s have more virtue than the hulking late works, whose swooping forms seem more pedestrian. Yet art history is not a one-way street. Wide-open gaps in the gallery walls of this important exhibition, which offer glimpses of future works from earlier bays and vice versa, allow us to conceive of Stella’s career as a single, unceasing effort to grapple with painting’s potential. So does the judicious hang, in which a few key works from Stella’s early days pop up in the later galleries; a 1962 painting of concentric rainbow squares hangs next to a colossal 2009 assemblage of fibreglass and steel. It’s OK if you don’t love both. No one could love every work from such a wildly inconstant artist. But it’s his boundless and commendable evolution, rather than some static mastery, that is the mark of Stella’s seriousness.

  • Frank Stella: A Retrospective, on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York until 7 February




October 30, 2015 9:15 a.m.

Toward a Unified Theory of Frank Stella


Chocorua by Frank Stella Photo: Courtesy of Whitney Museum of Art

Let the museum begin. With its brand-new fifth-floor-filling Frank Stella retrospective, the recently christened Whitney Museum of American Art jumps into the fray to see if and how its new rawish spaces will work for big surveys of contemporary art. Along with Jasper Johns and Ellsworth Kelly, Stella is among the last great living postwar foundational artists, one of the creators of Minimalism itself. Yet beginning with a Stella show is risky museum business. Even stalwart Stella aficionados find this axiomatic artist all over the place and hard to parse. While his early work is worshiped as among the clearest and most convincing in the Minimalist canon, many of the same people abhor his later paintings, which look like giant curving caramelized flying carpets or Jurassic triceratops heads jutting off walls. For many, Stella’s maximal art, his lapsed Minimalism, is seen as a betrayal of his canonical early geometric paintings. Few artists have ever seemed to execute such an about-face.

No matter. For 15 years this artist was as unstoppable as an icebreaker in his painterly progress, churning out series after series, building on and advancing not only his art but painting. Stella changed art history in those years; the first hard-core Minimalist painter, he set the table for all of the hard-edged and geometric painters and all those who’ve explored shaped or unbound painting ever since. He was among the first to deal as directly as possible with the perception of material, form, and color. Soon thereafter, no less, he expanded his terms so far and so fast that he also became a primary forerunner to the pluralistic, expansive, and unfixed Postminimalism that defined the late 1960s and 1970s.

That decade-and-a-half period began in 1958 — when this exhibition begins, too — with four muddy-colored, sodden strippy paintings that look like walls divided into fuzzy strata. You see him riffing on art history, using text and brush-y gesture. But you also see the Minimalism that is incipient. Then, from 1959 to his Diderot Series of 1974, Stella hits the equivalent of 15 years of almost all home runs. That’s a run longer than Cubism; and in between there, between 1971 and 1973, is my favorite of all of his paintings, the Polish Village Series, in which Stella breaks the flat surface of painting, begins working on constructed, shifting planar three-dimensional surfaces. Between 1970 and 1987 he’d had not one but two Museum of Modern Art retrospectives. Everyone had to deal with Stella; the theory crowd revered him, ditto curators, critics, decorators, architects, and museums.

But around 1977 Stella had gone off the optical-topological reservation, making art that made his critical support evaporate almost overnight. All of a sudden this most logical-looking, orderly, reasonable artist turned his work into what looked like willy-nilly expressionistic chaos to his critics. I think all of Stella’s work is of a piece; even when I don’t like them, the recent crazy-quilt contorting optical organisms of high-intensity color — these blistered fissures, furrows, and abstract flying buttresses — contain much of the protoplasmic concreting structure and clarity of the early work. But in those days there were wars over the canon, with critics lining up on one side or another of arguments; if you were for one thing, this necessarily pitted you against other things. Critics made careers championing artists and villainizing apostates. Stella, once the origin point of Minimalism, was now seen as a traitor to the faith. As critic Andrew Russeth recently pointed out, by 1981 bigwig theoretician and art historian Douglas Crimp used the words pure idiocy in connection to Stella. By now even those who admire him admit to being exhausted by his art. The most common joke about Stella is that many wish that his career had played out in reverse, ending up at the beginning so that everyone could understand him again.

I’m a Stella fan who can’t deny his importance but who also wouldn’t want to live with most of these things. From his gigantic, early fluorescent-colored Protractor Series ­— one at the Whitney is 50 feet long (!) — to the late tarantula-like psychedelic-colored hyperconstructions, Stella’s art doesn’t have human scale; it’s not really for people so much as the superorganism of art history. Or skyscraper lobbies, public spaces, the Vatican. And let’s face it: Due to his wild-style sense of color, pocked lava-flow surfaces, and cacophonous compositions that look like three-dimensional maps of Pangaea, Stella’s art can be really garish. So allow me to prepare Whitney viewers to be tested by this exhibition. You are going to have to deal with stringent high Minimalism and Swiftian compositional morphologies. Plus, the show is installed only quasi-chronologically, so it’s difficult to simply track his development. But this survey isn’t about linear progress so much as it’s about showing all the rhizome-like connections between everything Stella has done. The same ideas are almost always in play. Still, the later work will have many thinking that these things are only painted scrap metal, while the early, logical-looking hard-edged work will make many others wonder if they aren’t just geometric illustrations and diagrams that anyone could make. Just math. Finally, the show as a whole might also leave people wondering if anything abstract blown up this big and made this colorful might command momentary attention. My advice: Embrace the paradoxes, go with the flow, see if you can find the cosmic through line that allows you to see why Minimalism is so important and why the artist who helped fashion it went so far in a seemingly contradictory direction to pursue all of its implications.

Photo: Jerry Saltz

A pep talk to all viewers before they begin the show: Remember that all artists start by establishing a set of internal rules or structures that they can build on and work against but that they cannot predict. As conceptualist Sol LeWitt put it, “The idea becomes the machine that makes the art.” Stella is emphatically not a conceptual artist, but he worked similarly. He said, “I don’t make Conceptual Art. I need the physical thing to work with or against.” So, when considering the systems and strategies he established to produce his work, think physically, in surface and space, not just reflexively about ideas. And see color as a structural element, a material in itself.

Stella’s rudimentary rules immutably and immediately appear in the four Black Paintings from 1959 that begin this show. Stated simply: Stella follows the shape, plane, surfaces, and structures of the painting. Thus, these works are black enamel house paint on raw canvass, each consisting of concentric bans and blank areas that follow and repeat the outside shape of the painting, like two-dimensional nesting bowls: rectangles within rectangles, squares within squares, radiating diamonds, and the like. Each ban is the width of one paintbrush with a hair’s-breadth of raw canvas evident between the bans; this gives the paintings a misty atmospheric perspective. To me it also implies the art-historical perspective Stella is trying to extend: the flattening of space that takes place in painting from the mid-19th century through the Cubists, Mondrian, and Malevich to the shattering all-over nonhierarchical composition of Jackson Pollock. Stella was 23 years old, a graduate of Princeton, having just arrived in New York, when he seemed to breech this space further. Stella’s Black Paintings were so radical in their self-elaborating, just-the-facts structure that while they were instantaneously included in an important 1959 MoMA show called “Sixteen Americans,” the museum’s PR department refused to distribute photos of them to the international press, for fear, Stella said, of “embarrass[ing] the museum.” But contrary to claims that Stella was reacting against Abstract Expressionism, he says the Black Paintings were his “own version of Ab-Ex.” I think that they most closely resemble the big bang of Jasper Johns’s 1954-1955 Flag — its stripes, repetition, structure, concreteness, and direct way of painting — even down to the sense of the flat-footed careful way it’s painted. In a sense, much of Stella’s early works are really abstract flags.

Please do not get hung up on this touchstone series the way many historians have, fetishizing this work to the point where these works have not only been deemed “the last paintings,” but seen as Stella’s best work. It’s true that almost all perspectival armature and part-by-part composition fall away in these paintings. This is truly the “plain power” that Donald Judd championed in art. But in fact this was only the beginning of Stella’s thought; he rightfully calls this merely his “early work.” Instead, try and see the Black Paintings as essentially presenting the rules and structures that Stella will follow and work against through the rest of his career — and that are ever present in the rest of this crazed show. Within the borders and on these surfaces Stella is suggesting that composition is inherent before the painter makes any mark on it; that present in every painting is a geometry that the artist simply elaborates or works against — physical and planar conditions that are already there, that are, in a sense, self-creating. Think of cave paintings and how the artist is always in dialogue with surface contour. Or a tattoo artist. The revelation of this work is seeing a painting that has seemingly been determined by itself, commanded to be this way by universal laws of geometry. What gets really dicey is when the geometry and structures in his later works get so chaotic and convoluted that we begin to glean a kind of dark matter of mathematics, things that don’t fit the script but are there nevertheless.

In addition, there’s another plus to the Whitney’s semi-chronology that helps channel another big thing about art that is mostly unacknowledged and maybe a little embarrassing to the art world: Most artists can barely follow what they’re up to anyway and are mainly trying to just keep up — or not fizzle out or hit a dead end or fall into habit. Here, in just the first 15 years of his development, you see Stella unspool, using either notched, metallic, zigzag, irregularly shaped canvasses, polygons, chevrons smushed together or alone, broken-up protractors, sail shapes, and a whole atlas of approaches. In the Polish Village Stella goes for it, forsakes two-dimensional flatness, and breaks the plane into three dimensions, applying paint, felt, and other materials to surfaces that cut and slant into and out of eccentric shapes, elaborating internal geometries that you can barely keep track of. From here Stella just keeps following the forms, materials, colors, structures, techniques, spaces, and surfaces of his art — creating a schism and then burrowing as deep into it as he can. What’s interesting about the critical rejection of Stella that commences once he moves on from strict Minimalism is that when other early Minimalists, like Robert Morris, moved on, these same critics explained it by saying that Morris and others were working in the “expanded field of sculpture.” Cool. But Stella is simply working in the “expanded field” of painting.

To me this is where some of the later bodies of Stella’s work fit in. And why, even though he’s prone to cranking out a lot of work that looks like God-awful space junk, I always pay attention to this artist, from the transcendental undulations and pretty pulsating swoops of the Indian Bird Series (1977–79) and the Circuit Series (1980–84) to the mutating topologies and operatic geometry-in-a-wind-turbine of the Moby Dick Series (1986–89). Or maybe the Romantic in me can’t resist an artist who says he loves Melville’s epic “voyage around the world and battling God all the way.”

Even with all the fireworks, many will wonder, why do a Stella show now? In truth, I recoiled when it was announced that the Whitney’s maiden big retrospective was to be Frank Stella. What a pain, I thought. Stella is always having big gallery shows; his off-and-on-again art is always available. And the arguments around it have grown annoying and rote. The thought of performing all of this at the new Whitney seemed awry, at best. It also rubbed me the wrong way that this first gigantic retrospective was co-curated by Whitney director Adam Weinberg. “He should get out of his curator’s ways,” I groused.

It turns out, however, that as with many decisions made on Weinberg’s watch, this Stella show stirs up interesting issues. First, Weinberg began as a curator, and his obsessive hands-on experience of working with tricky living artists serves this show well; he reins in Stella’s all-over tendencies just enough. (Although there will still be many who rue the chronological laxness.)

More important, it’s impossible not to consider Stella in this time of abstract painting and sculpture. Stella is the artist who launched 10,000 careers; artists as varied as Peter Halley, Sarah Morris, Ugo Rondinone, Matthew Ritchie, and Thomas Scheibitz, who have used Stella’s structures, compositional strategies, and specific colors, to Isa Genzken, Mark Grotjahn, Jessica Stockholder, Katharina Grosse, Steven Parrino, and countless others who’ve followed Stella into the expanded fields of painting. Not to mention dozens of Zombie Formalists who owe Stella lots.

And beyond that, this show is an interesting declaration from the Whitney itself, saying, “Move over, other big New York museums — while we’re delving into American art history and drilling into current art, we’ve also now got this new space to do the big-gun shows big.” Indeed, the Whitney’s former Breuer home would never have been able to house this show on one floor. Perhaps this Whitney retrospective is also a way of laying a greater claim to Minimalism in general and more specifically Stella, who has long been thought to have a more natural home at MoMA. Or maybe it’s that he doesn’t fit neatly anymore into the Modernist party line now that he’s a lapsed Minimalist. Or MoMA is saying that two surveys of one artist not named Picasso or Matisse is more than enough for one institution. Whatever you think, go to the Whitney’s Stella-verse; see when you have to bail on him. It’ll tell you a lot about yourself.


The Art World November 9, 2015 Issue
Big Ideas
A Frank Stella retrospective.
By Peter Schjeldahl



“Effingham II” (1966). Stella’s swagger made him a god of the sixties art world. Credit Courtesy The Glass House / Ars, NY

The Frank Stella retrospective at the Whitney Museum will likely provoke varied opinions, on a scale from great to god-awful. The crowded installation of huge abstract paintings, reliefs, sculptures, and painting-sculpture hybrids, augmented by works on paper, tracks the New York artist’s fifty-seven-year career. At the start is the deathly glamour of Stella’s Black Paintings—bands in matte enamel, separated by fuzzy pinstripes of nearly bare canvas—which shocked everyone with their dour simplicity when they appeared in a show at the Museum of Modern Art, in 1959. Those works, which Stella began making when he was a senior at Princeton, amounted to tombstones for Abstract Expressionism and heralds of minimalism. The new show ends with one crazy-looking mode after another, mostly in the form of wall-hung constructions, created since the early nineteen-seventies. In between are too few of the swaggering compositions—of target-like concentric stripes, designs based on compasses and protractors, and shaped canvases that echo the shapes painted on them—that made Stella a god of the sixties art world, exalting tastes for reductive form, daunting scale, and florid artificial color. His impact on abstract art was something like Dylan’s on music and Warhol’s on more or less everything.

Nothing that Stella has made since exercises such authority. His last works to cause much critical stir, dating from the early seventies, extend the lexicon of his shaped canvases to reliefs of angled planes, made from wood and covered with colored paper, corrugated cardboard, and felt. The surfaces are seductive, seen close up, and the configurations are majestic, all but flying across the wall, when beheld from a distance. The works suggest a racy rebirth of Cubism, but trends in post-minimalism and conceptualism were taking center stage in the art world at that time, and Stella’s ripostes were strained. In the mid-seventies, he opened up his painting to actual space by fragmenting it into floating cutout metal shapes that he slathered with paint and sometimes glitter: disco modernism, you could call the work, but it’s more strenuous than ecstatic. There followed ever more aggressive free-form assemblies of jutting planes, twisted pipes, cones and cylinders, and hectic brushwork, the effect of which was like very loud music that has neither tune nor tone.

In “Working Space,” a book derived from a series of lectures that Stella delivered at Harvard in the early eighties, he framed his new work as an answer to a crisis in abstract painting. He saw a precedent in Caravaggio’s invention, in around 1600, of Baroque spatial illusion, in which the space in a picture appears continuous with the space outside it. But Stella’s theory proved more gripping than his practice. Caravaggio, in service to the militant piety of the Counter-Reformation, devoted his dramatic style to fervently envisioned religious content, such as the appearance of the risen Christ at Emmaus. The story told and the manner of its telling conjoin in Caravaggio’s work. Stella’s fealty to abstract art as a cause and an ideal—the only content that his art allows—can seem remarkably frail by comparison. It led him into willful eccentricities that may raise unkind questions about the cogency of his early triumphs.

Stella was precocious and exceedingly well schooled, qualities that are now the norm but which were rare among earlier generations of American modern artists, whose routes to fame tended to be serpentine. He was born in 1936 and grew up in Malden, Massachusetts. His father was a gynecologist, his mother a housewife who had attended design school. They both liked to paint. Stella graduated from Phillips Academy, Andover, where his classmates included Carl Andre, whose sculpture later came to define minimalism. Stella immersed himself in art history and was inspired by sophisticated elders, including Bartlett H. Hayes, Jr., a painter who was the director of the nearby Addison Gallery of American Art. Hayes promoted the art of two German-American painters who were also pedagogues: the proto-Abstract Expressionist Hans Hofmann, who had his own school in New York, and the Bauhaus-nurtured color theorist Josef Albers, at Yale. Stella absorbed a bias for painting as a systematic and even calculated enterprise. His good fortune in mentors followed him to Princeton, where he was encouraged by Stephen Greene, a minor painter and legendary teacher. A visit to New York in 1958 introduced him to Jasper Johns’s sensationally phlegmatic paintings of flags and targets, a model that he tentatively adapted to large-scale abstraction. Then came the Black Paintings, which, besides rocketing him to fame, promulgated a new idea of what art can do and, more to the point, what it can do without.

The idea—of painting limited to its essential means—was powerfully espoused by the critic Clement Greenberg, and was further refined by Michael Fried, an art historian and critic who was Stella’s classmate at Princeton. Fried championed Stella and other artists, notably Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski, who hewed to Greenberg’s doctrine of modernist painting as progressive art for art’s sake. “Frank Stella’s new paintings investigate the viability of shape as such,” Fried wrote in an influential essay, “Shape as Form,” in 1966. Such thumping rhetoric, here with a faintly bizarre metaphor of paintings performing like a team of detectives, typifies the confidence of what came to be called “formalist” art and thought. The issues involved, which led Fried to attack the bluntness of most minimalist art as vulgarly “theatrical,” were esoteric but, for those in the know, galvanizing. In those days, serious critics could still at least seem to exert real worldly power. Leo Castelli, whose Olympian gallery Stella joined in 1959, took careful note of their tendencies, even as he began to eclipse them as the pilot of a soaring art market that didn’t trouble itself with theoretical distinctions.

Stella’s cynosure then, and perhaps his problem now, was a coolness beyond cool. In a telling passage from “Working Space,” he recounts a youthful misgiving about the grand masters of Abstract Expressionism, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, whom he revered. He writes, “I sensed a hesitancy, a doubt of some vague dimension which made their work touching, but to me somehow too vulnerable.” The older artists had established New York as the imperial court of artistic innovation. It was time for their heirs to start behaving with an impunity befitting emperors. The stars of Pop and minimal art did so, though in most cases with some degree of irony. Warhol’s Factory poked fun at itself as a cottage-industry miniature of commercial mass culture. Minimal art related itself to new forms of public space—corporate lobbies and plazas, airports, malls, and freeways, synopsized in white-box galleries—which seemed to render obsolete the contemplation of discrete pictures and sculptures. But Stella wanted to maintain the grandeur of post-Renaissance Western painting, updated through the elimination of the muss and fuss of religion, politics, psychology, and other all-too-human weaknesses.

I don’t know what to make of Stella’s later works. His most famous apothegm—“What you see is what you see”—is no help, if seeing is supposed to imply comprehending. Looking is futile except as an inspection of the wizardly ways in which Stella made the works, with welds, flanges, castings, and, increasingly, computer-generated patterns. Always, there are self-consciously poetic titles, a habit of Stella’s since he gave the Black Paintings names like “Die Fahne Hoch!” (“The Flag on High!,” from a Nazi anthem) and “The Marriage of Reason and Squalor II.” In the eighties and nineties, he made works referencing the hundred and thirty-five chapters of “Moby-Dick.” The titles function as apostrophes of meaning. Meaning exists. It’s just not “what you see,” except through tortuous efforts of association.

Stella made a permanent difference in art history. He is extraordinarily intelligent and extravagantly skilled. But his example is cautionary. Even groundbreaking ideas have life spans, and Stella’s belief in inherent values of abstract art has long since ceased to be shared by younger artists. His ambition rolls on, unalloyed with self-questioning or humor. The most effective installations of Stella’s later works that I have seen are in corporate settings, where they can seem to function as symbols of team spirit. Rather than savoring his work now, you endorse it, or not. ♦

‘Frank Stella: A Retrospective’ Review

A retrospective of Frank Stella’s work at the Whitney traces the winding career of an artist who solves problems at every turn.

Photo: Frank Stella/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY

New York

As the first artist to receive a one-person retrospective at the new Whitney Museum of American Art, Frank Stella is an odd choice. Closely associated with the Museum of Modern Art, where he has had two retrospectives, one when he was only 34, the 79-year-old artist could hardly be more different from Jeff Koons, whose bright and shiny Pop was the subject of the final retrospective in the uptown Whitney. Mr. Stella’s abstract paintings and sculptures are fiercely self-involved, bristling with hard or jagged edges, and so lacking in sentimentality and cute jokes that they dare to be unlovable.

Frank Stella: A Retrospective

Whitney Museum of American Art

Through Feb. 7, 2016

This honor, however, accomplishes two strategic goals. It recommits the museum to the High Modernism of Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism that the apotheosis of Mr. Koons had cast in doubt. And this tightly edited presentation of about 100 works in its light-filled rooms and on one of its open-air terraces allows the museum to brag to its rivals: Anything you can do, we can do better.

Guest curator Michael Auping advances the Whitney’s case with his cogent decisions. Given the task of comprehending one of the most analyzed artists alive—the list of previous exhibitions and articles in the catalog runs 30 pages—he has presented Mr. Stella as a relentless worrier, arguing with himself for more than 50 years about how best to represent or mold space.

The two canvases that face the elevator as you enter—the square, labyrinthine, black-hearted “Pratfall” (1974) and the panoramic hurricane of candy-colored whorls and reticulated blobs “Das Erdbeben in Chili, N#3” (1999)—set up a dialectic that runs around the floor: between closed and open forms, rigorous geometry and brash improvisation, the optical and the material, two and three dimensions, material fact and pictorial illusion, flat and curved, painting and sculpture.

The show is chronological, punctuated by out-of-sequence works that suggest that the past is never really past for Mr. Stella. The many turns in his career, while unpredictable, are seen as the logical outcome of problems he has wrestled with and never pinned to the mat.

As Mr. Auping writes in the catalog: “Everything about Stella’s art is physical—a process of building things up, tearing them down, and reworking them.”

The first surprise for those who know the work mainly through reproductions is how brushy his early canvases are up close. His black, so-called Pinstripe Paintings in the late ’50s and those that followed in aluminum, copper and purple made him famous. Like the targets and numbers of Jasper Johns, they were hailed by some as rebukes to the mystical rhetoric and grandiosity of Pollock, Newman, and Rothko.

Mr. Auping believes otherwise—that Mr. Stella built upon the abstract vocabulary of the New York School. “The Black Paintings are as much Rothko as Johns in their moody and ambiguous depth,” he writes.

The shaped canvases of the 1960s and ’70s, with their cheerier hues, made Mr. Stella’s art safe for the corporate boardroom. The scale of his work ballooned in these years. “Damascus Gate, Stretch Variation III” (1970) is 50 feet long and 10 feet tall. At the same time his paintings were pushing away from or gouging into the wall, as in “Kamionka Strumilowa IV” (1972).

Photo: Frank Stella/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

The series from the late ’80s based on chapters from “Moby-Dick” brought forth some of his most exuberant works, such as “The Whiteness of the Whale” and “The Grand Armada.” But his reliance on narrative and geographic meanings, when by choosing abstraction he has sacrificed them, can suggest insecurity as well as ambition.

His most quoted maxim, “What you see is what you see,” is as plain a declaration of Yankee pragmatism as you can find. And yet, perhaps no American artist of his stature has drawn more from European and Russian art. The enthusiasm for Caravaggio expressed in his 1986 book, “Working Space,” caught many off-guard.

Growing older has made him even more responsive to his times. In work from the ’70s and ’80s, one sees the glitter of disco and the aggressive spatterings of subway graffiti. In the past two decades he has generated bent shapes with aid from computer programs.

The next-to-last room features a group of pieces as silvery gray as the Hudson River, visible through the windows. “K. 459” (2012), a bundle of Plexiglas and steel pipe, is coyly perched with two thin legs on the floor; “Raft of the Medusa (Part I)” (1990) needs a steel armature to hold up the coruscation of shredded aluminum. (It could be the remains of a jet engine reconstructed by the NTSB after a midair disaster.)

After years of denying that his wall protrusions were sculpture, the artist has finally admitted as much. The museum’s third-floor terrace has two examples from 2014. Both are stars. One is solid, armored in black carbon-fiber plates, half matte, half shiny. The other is a lattice of wood. One is warlike, a death star; the other lets the city breathe through its open spaces.

Whether seen as just another set of formal oppositions or as something more, they’re further evidence that Mr. Stella continues to move forward by contraries.

Mr. Woodward is an arts critic in New York.

Miami Art Basel 2015 – Must See Exhibitions, Best Parties and Events – Updated Dec. 2, 2015

Changes abound for the upcoming Miami Art Basel week 2015. The NADA Art Fair has a new home – the spectacular billion dollar upgraded historic Fontainbleau Hotel. In all previous locations the fair was free to enter – no more; it now $20 a head. The Rubell Family Collection stays in the forefront of the pulse of the artworld with an all woman artists exhibition that will rotate works over the duration of the show. The Marguiles Warehouse will feature a massive four custom built room exhibition of the work of Anselm Kiefer, whose retrospective I saw at the Royal Academy in London in the fall of 2014. The ICA Miami will be getting its new building in 2017 – meanwhile it will have a show of the NYC video artist Alex Bag. The de la Cruz Collection is doing a survey show loaded with art stars working in abstraction. With NADA, Scope, Pulse all having returned to Miami Beach, the major art fair action on the Miami side is now Art Miami and its Context Art Fair. Miami Projects has also moved to Miami Beach into the Deauville Hotel, which NADA just left after last year. Also up will be three stellar shows at Mana Contemporary – including the Frederick Weisman art foundation in Los Angeles, a selection of the Jorge Perez collection, and a selection of Latin America art. There will also be work from artists working in Bushwick. The other major offering will be the exhibition of representational and realist art curated by Jeffrey Deitch and Larry Gagosian that will be in the Moore Building in Miami’s white-hot Design District, and the Nari Ward retrospective at the Perez Art Museum, now under the direction of Franklin Sirmans. Isaac Julien’s 15 screen video project commission for Rolls Royce makes its North American debut at Young Arts in Wynnwood.
Miami has a couple of new gallery districts – Little River and Little Haiti, that offer warehouse sized exhibition spaces.
Up the road we can look forward to the opening of the Faena Arts Center in Miami Beach, the new ICA Miami building, and the Museum of Latin American art by Miami gallerist Gary Nader.
Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles. he recently interviewed William Pope L. at MoCA in Los Angeles for the November 2015, 15th Anniversary issue of FROG magazine.

Art Basel 2015 Sketch Book: 8 Artists to Watch

Mega Guide To Art Basel Miami Beach 2015: Tuesday

Gary Pini

Yves Behar is the recipient of the 2015 Design Miami “Design Visionary Award” and he’ll be honored with a special exhibit in the D/M venue behind the convention center through December 6. The VIP preview is today, December 1st. A student team from Harvard was chosen to design the fair’s entrance for their submission, “UNBUILT,” a collection of foam models of unrealized design projects. Expect thirty five exhibitors inside including Firma Casa from Brazil, showing new works by the Campana Brothers, and Italian gallery Secondome, with hand-crafted limited editions.

The Miami Project is also launching a new spin-off this year called SATELLITE that will show various “experimental” projects in unoccupied properties up near their 73rd Street base. One of those, “Artist-Run,” will fill the rooms in the Ocean Terrace Hotel (7410 Ocean Terrace, Miami Beach) with different installations from 40 artist-run spaces, curated by Tiger Strikes Asteroid. It’s open from December 2nd to 6th, with a VIP/media event today, December 1st, from noon to 10 p.m. ALSO: Trans-Pecos, the music venue out in Queens, New York, and Sam Hillmer from the band Zs, are putting together a 5-day music program in the North Beach Amphitheater, emphasizing “musical practitioners with some form of art practice.”

X Contemporary launches their inaugural fair in Wynwood running from December 2nd through Sunday, and a VIP opening on December 1st from 5 to 10 p.m. Twenty eight exhibitiors will be on hand, plus special projects including “Grace Hartigan: 1960 – 1965” presented by Michael Klein Arts; a look at the “genesis of street art” curated by Pamela Willoughby; and “Colombia N.O.W.” presented by TIMEBAG.

Target Too InstallationPULSE Miami Beach returns to Indian Beach Park (4601 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach) starting with a big “Opening Celebration” at 4 p.m. today, December 1st, featuring a panel discussion put together by Hyperallergic; an interactive piece by Kate Durbin called “Hello, Selfie!” and a live performance by Kalup Linzy. On December 5th, PULSE celebrates the City of Miami via a talk at 5 p.m. on “Future Visions of Miami” and a “Sunset Celebration” from 5 to 7 p.m. Fair visitors can check out “TARGET TOO,” an installation referencing items sold at the stores, originally on view in NYC last March. There’s a complimentary shuttle from the convention center, and the fair is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Saturday.

Wynwood Walls (2520 NW 2nd Avenue, Miami) has a lot planned this year including “Walls of Change” with 14 new murals and installations and the debut of a new adjacent space called “The Wynwood Walls Garden.” The walls are by Case, Crash, Cryptik, el Seed, Erenest Zacharevic, Fafi, Hueman, INTI, The London Police, Logan Hicks and Ryan McGinness. Over in the “garden,” the Spanish art duo Pichi & Avo are doing a mural on stacked shipping containers and in the events space, Magnus Sodamin will be painting the floors and walls. The VIP opening is on December 1st in the early evening, but then it’s open to the public from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. Goldman Properties’ CEO Jessica Goldman Srebnick talks about how art transformed the Wynwood neighborhood in THIS Miami New Times piece. We also hear that New York developer (and owner of Moishe’s Moving, Mana Contemporary etc.) Moishe Mana is planning a new mixed-use development on his 30 acres of land in the middle of Wynwood.

Jeffrey Deitch and Larry Gagosian are co-presenting an exhibition of figurative painting and sculpture called “UnRealism” at 191 NE 40th Street, Miami. The opening is on Tuesday, December 1st, but it will be on view all week. According to the NYT, artists featured in the group show will include Urs Fischer, Elizabeth Peyton, John Currin and David Salle. In conjunction with the exhibition, the artist Rashaad Newsome will lead an “art parade” starting at 6:30 p.m. today at 23 NE 41st Street, Miami and ending at 4001 NE 41st Street.

CONTEXT Art Miami will feature 95 international galleries this year, along with several artist projects and installations including 12 listening stations dedicated to sound art; areas dedicated to art from Berlin and Korea; solo exhibitions by Jung San, Satoru Tamura, Mr. Herget and four others; and a “fast-track” portrait project of workers at Miami International Airport. Context and Art Miami — celebrating its 26th year — open with a VIP preview benefiting the Perez Art Museum Miami on Tuesday, December 1, 5:30 to 10 p.m., at 2901 NE 1st Avenue in Midtown, Miami. The fair is open to the public from December 2nd through the 6th.

ICA Miami (4040 NE 2nd Avenue, Miami) opens a major survey of works by the video and performance artist Alex Bag — including her interactive installation “The Van” — on December 1st. The museum recently announced the appointment of Ellen Salpeter, Deputy Director of NYC’s Jewish Museum, as its new director and they’ve just broken ground on a new, permanent home in the Design District. The 37,500 -square-foot building was designed by the Spanish firm Aranguren & Gallegos Arquitectos and is scheduled to open in 2017. Shannon Ebner also has a show, “A Public Character,” on view in the museum during AB/MB and up until January 16, 2016. This is the inaugural program in the museum’s new performance series.

The fourth edition of UNTITLED Miami is on the beach at Ocean Drive and 12th Street from December 2 to 6, with a big VIP preview on December 1st from 4 to 8 p.m. They’ve got 119 international galleries along with non-profit orgs from 20 countries. New this year will be an UNTITLED radio station broadcasting via local Wynwood Radio with interviews, performances and playlists by artists, curators etc.

PAPER Magazine is hosting (and participating in) several events during AB/MB. On Tuesday, December 1st, 6 p.m., David Hershkovits will be “in conversation” with Fab 5 Freddy and David Koh on the topic, “Art On Film,” followed by a special screening of Koh’s film “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict.” The Tribeca Film Festival Shortlist is presenting the event at The Miami Edition (2901 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach) and SOTO sake sponsors. On Tuesday night (late) and also at the EDITION, PAPER, Silencio, A Hotel Life and One Management host the one year anniversary of the hotel’s BASEMENT nightclub with DJs Seth Troxler, Nicolas Matar and Orazio Rispo.

The Wolfsonsonian FIU Museum (1001 Washington Avenue, South Beach) is open all week with several exhibitions including “An Artist on the Eastern Front: Feliks Topolski 1941,” “Margin of Error,” “Orange Oratory,” “Philodendrum” and “Miami Beach.”

Moishe Mana’s Mana Contemporary (318 NW 23rd Street, Miami) in Wynwood plans several exhibitions during AB/MB including “Made in California,” featuring selections from L.A. collector Frederick R. Weisman’s Art Foundation; “A Sense of Place,” with over 60 works from the collection of Jorge M. Perez; and “Everything You Are Not,” key works of Latin American art from the Tiroche DeLeon collection. All are up from December 3rd thru the 6th, with a VIP preview on December 1st. Mana Urban Arts is also doing a collab with The Bushwick Collective at the former RC Cola Plant (550 NW 24th Street, Miami) that includes over 50 artists — so far the list includes Ghost, GIZ, Pixel Pancho, Case Maclaim and Shok-1 — plus skateboarding, DJs, live music etc.

Bortolami Gallery is opening a year-long exhibition called “Miami” by the French conceptual artist Daniel Buren on December 1st in the M Building (194 NW 30th Street, Miami). The show marks the 50th anniversary of his works with fabric and the 8.7 cm stripe. By periodically installing new works, Buren will also alter the exhibition during the year.

Previewing their upcoming South Beach studio, SoulCycle will pop-up poolside at the 1 Hotel (2341 Collins Avenue, South Beach) starting on Tuesday, December 1st. They plan to open permanently in the hotel in January 2016. The 1 Hotel also offers a fitness and wellness line-up for guests and visitors all week.

Miami gallery Locust Projects (3852 N. Miami Avenue, Miami) returns with their “Art on the Move” series of artists’ projects in public spaces around Miami during December. This year’s work, “NITE LIFE,” by LA-based artist Martine Syms, includes a series of prints displayed on the backs of buses and at bus stops, based on “Chitlin’ Circuit” concert posters by Clyde Killens. There’s a reception for the project, curated by PAMM’s director Franklin Sirmans, on December 1st, 7 to 10 p.m. Also check out the gallery’s site-specific installation “PORE” by Martha Friedman and “Beatriz Monteavaro: Nochebuena” in the project room.

Brickell City Centre (750 South Miami Avenue, Miami) is giving a sneak peek at their work-in-progress development in downtown Miami with an invite-only event, “Illuminate the Night,” on December 1st featuring the unveiling of “Dancers,” a sculpture by UK artist Allen Jones; () music from Wooden Wisdom DJs (Elijah Wood and Zach Cowie) and a 150,000 square-foot glass, steel and fabric structure called “Climate Ribbon” by Hugh Dutton.

The Bass Museum (2100 Collins Avenue, South Beach) is closed for renovations until next year, but they’re still hosting “outdoor activations” in the surrounding park including the AB/MB PUBLIC sector and the display of a neon sign, “Eternity Now,” by Swiss artist Sylvie Fleury. They are co-hosting a private dinner with Salon 94 Gallery on Tuesday in the Miami Beach EDITION Hotel.

Zurich’s Galerie Gmurzynska hosts an invite-only cocktail party at The Villa Casa Casuarina (1116 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach) on December 1, with Sylvester Stallone and Germano Celant. The gallery will be showing a retrospective of works by Karl Lagerfield in their stand at AB/MB, curated by Celant.

The DREAM South Beach (1111 Collins Avenue, South Beach) hooked-up with Brooklyn-based artist — and new GQ “style guy” — Mark Anthony Green for an exhibition of, according to Green, “what 2015 meant to me in both a macro and micro sense…wins, losses, heartbreak and promotion.” The hotel will have a pop-up shop curated by the artist, and guests will get a complimentary print. There’s a welcome reception on Tuesday, a private dinner and afterparty with the Green and A$AP Rocky on Friday and a pool party hosted by YESJULZ on Sunday afternoon.

FLAUNT Magazine and Guess host a private dinner at the Nautilus Hotel in December 1 in honor of their latest cover stars Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas and Julie Mehretu. After dinner, there’s a poolside party with a screening of “ME” and music by the Martinez Brothers and Pusha T. Expected guests include “ME” writers Susan Taylor & Jefrey Levy and Gina Gershon.

The 2015 edition of Elle Decor’s Modern Life Concept House premieres with a VIP breakfast on December 1st at 250 Wynwood (250 NW 24th Street, Miami). Visits from December 2 to 4 are open to the public with a $35 donation to pediatric cancer research and a reservation via The 6,000 square-foot home will showcase 4 leading designers selected by ED editor-in-chief Michael Boodro.

An exhibition called “LAX – MIA: Light + Space” opens on Tuesday, December 1st, 5 to 8 p.m., at the Surf Club (9011 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach). The show was curated by Terry Riley, Joachim Pissaro and John Keenan of PARALLEL and is hosted by The Surf Club and Fort Partners. It’s on view until December 12th, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, closed on Sunday.

Art Basel Basecamp (46 NW 36th Street, Miami), hosted by HGABmag, returns with a space to “re-group, re-fresh and re-energize” featuring charging stations, information booths, giveaways and art installations. Stop in from December 1 to 6, 4 p.m. to midnight daily; and don’t miss their “Alice in Wynwood” closing party on Saturday night.

The first edition of the Curatorial Program for Research Film Festival takes place on December 1, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Cannonball (1035 North Miami Avenue, Suite 300, Miami). The program, “Earthbound,” was curated by Niekolaas Johannes Lekkerkerk in collaboration with Dwelling Projects. There will also be a silent auction.

New York-based developer Robbie Antonio debuts his REVOLUTION collection of pre-crafted structures during Design Miami/2015. The limited edition homes and pavilions have been designed by 30 noted architects and designers including Zaha Hadid, Richard Gluckman and the Campana Brothers. The VIP launch is in the Design Miami tent on Tuesday evening.

NYC club No.8 pops-up in the Rec Room at the Gale Hotel (1690 Collins Avenue, South Beach) with DJs including JusSke, Fly Guy and Ross One; the hotel’s Regent Cocktail Club features live jazz, Cuban cocktails, Samba and soul tunes. They’ve also got a digital art installation by Aerosyn Lex.

White Cube’s kick-off party is tonight at Soho Beach House with Giogio Moroder spinning and lots of Moet.

NYC/LA art collective Collapsing Scenery presents “Metaphysical Cops,” a one-night-only video installation on December 1st, 5 to 10 p.m., in the Surf Med Pharmacy (7430 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach). It’s a part of the new Satellite Art Fair.

Chloe Sevigny by Pamela Hanson“ICONS,” an exhibition of photos by Pamela Hanson opens at the Shore Club.

BOHO Hunter (184 NW 27th Street, Miami) hosts Monica Sordo’s SS 2016 collection with music from Bea Pernia on December 1st, 7 to 10 p.m.

Miami’s Diana Lowenstein Gallery (2043 N Miami Avenue, Miami) is showing new works by Udo Noger in a show called “Geistlos.” On view all week.

Alejandra Von Hartz Gallery (2630 NW 2nd Avenue, Miami) has their second solo show by Marta Chilindron, “Temporal Systems,” on view during AB/MB. The multi-dimensional sculptures “explore basic geometric forms, color, transparency, light, space, time and perspective.”

When you pass through Art Miami, look for copies of Jerry Powers’ new Art Miami Magazine, that fair’s first dedicated publication,

STK Miami (2311 Collins Avenue, South Beach) hosts The Drip Factory pop-up gallery featuring artist Louis Carreon doing live painting and music by DJ What on December 1st, 8 to 11 p.m. Invite only.



Must-See New Media at Miami Art Week

Yesterday Kate Durbin’s ‘Hello!Selfie’ performance at PULSE Miami Beach, Photo: Rollin Leonard, 2015

This time of the year, the whole art scene gathers in Miami to—let’s be honest—enjoy the beach, often more than the overwhelming art-filled fairs. Many of our longtime favorite creators converge at this year’s festivities, so to support their efforts, we’ve compiled a coup d’oeil of some quality digital art happenings.

Swapping its successful one-shot hypersalon satellite project for a PULSE Miami Beach booth, TRANSFER gallery offers a more streamlined way to reach a wider audience. “The collaborative experiment that was hypersalon set in motion so many amazing exhibitions and exchanges that unfolded in the past year. But in the end, we managed to create a mostly non-commercial format amidst the biggest feeding frenzy of the commercial art world—not a sustainable project in the ABMB environment,” Kelani Nichole, founder and director of TRANSFER tells The Creators Project.

Transfer gallery’s booth under the massive PULSE Miami Beach tent, 2015

“This year, I went for the exact opposite, securing a white cube in a tent on the beach. TRANSFER is quite fortunate to have the support of PULSE to open their fair to a challenging format of social-media based performance, and their Conversations curated section gave us the perfect opportunity to present two artists working with issues of technology and the body,” Nichole adds. TRANSFER showcases recent works by Faith Holland and Kate Durbin with support from Giovanna Olmos. Both artists will be taking part in panels and screenings.

Faith Holland ‘Sub/emissions’ 2015 40″ x 40″ Digital Painting on Canvas, Edition of 3 + 1AP, Transfer gallery, 2015

Kate Durbin’s Hello!Selfie performance yesterday at PULSE Miami Beach, Photo: Rollin Leonard, 2015

Holland brings her orgasm-inspired and cumshot-generated bodies of works—including her figurative and dynamic Visual Orgasms GIF series and juicy abstract Ookie Canvas paintings, comprising a never-seen-before composition called Peter North. Kate Durbin will present video pieces created from footage of previous iterations of Hello!Selfie, a social media-rooted performance that explores and questions selfie culture in public spaces.

DiMoDa VR installation at Satellite Projects fair, 2015

Alfredo Salazar-Caro and William James Richard Robertson offer Satellite Projects, giving fairgoers the chance to experience DiMoDA, an Oculus Rift-powered VR installation. Filled with delightful digital works by artists Claudia Hart, Tim BerresheimJacolby Satterwhite, as well as Aquanet 2001 by Salvador Loza and Gibran Morgado, the nonlinear virtual exhibition opens new perspectives in terms of curation and museum experiences.

On the other side of the bay, Wynwood-located X-contemporary provides viewers with a bunch of activities ranging from panel discussions, art, and DJ performances, to one-of-a-kind projects in addition to the many artworks showcased by the 30 or so worldwide exhibitors.

Dye sublimation on aluminum, Sara Ludy, Fin (Heat sander), 2015, bitforms gallery

Taking over the beach with its huge tent designed by architects John Keenen and Terence Riley of K/R, the new edition of UNTITLED features many international exhibitors—including the NYC-based bitforms gallery—who explore contemporary curatorial cohesion through today’s wide-ranging art practices.

“bitforms gallery has been a part of the contemporary art world for 14 years,” Steven Sacks, director and owner of bitforms gallery tells us.“We have a very specific focus on new media artists covering a wide range of generations and media types.” His booth brings an impressive roster of artworks by artists such as Manfred Mohr, Daniel Canogar, Jonathan Monaghan, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Sara Ludy, and Quayola, artists who all strongly contribute to the solidification of new media art within the ruthless contemporary art landscape.

Inkjet print mounted on Dibond, Jonathan Monaghan, Dorilton, 2015, bitforms gallery

“The art fairs are an amazing place to reach thousands of art-centric people and introduce and educate them about our unique program, which typically does stand out amongst more traditional galleries. UNTITLED art fair is a smaller, curated fair with more experimental artists, compared to the larger Art Basel fair, which has a lot more traditional art,” Sacks concludes.

Computer, Kinect, display, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, 1984×1984, bitforms gallery, 2014

bitforms gallery’s booth at UNTITLED, 2015

Most of the fairs will run through the December 6, 2015.

Click here for more details about PULSE, and here for more on UNTITLED. Click here to check out TRANSFER booth, and here to check out the bitforms booth.



The Definitive Guide to Art Basel Miami 2015, Part One

By  | December 1, 2015

So you’ve made it to MIA for Art Basel 2015, but have you secured a coveted spot on the event’s hautest guest lists? Fear not—we’ve got intel on all the can’t-miss pop-ups, star-studded bashes, and gallery celebrations of the week. Check back for part deux, tomorrow. We hope you remembered to pack your VIP card with your sunnies…

Tuesday, December 1

PAPER Magazine & The Miami Beach Edition Bash
Intel: Celebrate PAPER magazine’s December cover girl Paris Hilton at an intimate, seated dinner.
Location: 2901 Collins Ave., 9:30 p.m. RSVP to

Bello Magazine Kicks Off Art Basel
Intel: The fashion and entertainment mag, with BRAVOTV philanthropist and art gallerist Adriana De Mourainvites Art Basel, invites visitors to join stars from Pretty Little Liars and America’s Next Top Model) for a celebration.
Location: Suitsupply Penthouse, 1000 17th Street., Miami Beach, FL 33139, 6:30 p.m.

W Magazine and Roberto Cavalli Party
Intel: W mag and Roberto Cavalli celebrate the opening of No Man’s Land: Women Artists From the Rubell Family collection.
Location: Rubell Family Collection, 95 NW 29th Street, 7:30-9:30 p.m.

Locust Projects Celebrates “Martha Friedman: Pore”
Intel: The nonprofit space Locust Projects is hosting a cocktail reception celebrating Martha Friedman’s new site-specific installation Pore, which includes four sculptures made from 1,000 pounds of rubber (they’re attached to costumes that will be activated during an experimental performance by dancer Silas Reiner).
Logistics: 3852 North Miami Avenue, 7-10 p.m.

MANA Contemporary VIP Dinner
Intel: MANA Contemporary is hosting an exclusive dinner (Zaha Hadid, Dasha Zhukova, Salman Rushdie, etc.) to preview its new exhibitions. Also on tap is a performance by the Miami Symphony Orchestra.
Location: Mana Wynwood Convention Center, 6-8 p.m. Invitate only.

Galerie Gmurzynska Dinner
Intel: Galerie Gmurzynska hosts a cocktail dinner with Germano Celant and Sylvester Stallone.
Location: 1116 Ocean Drive, 8:30 p.m. Invite only.

Faena Hotel Unveiling Party
Intel: This exclusive unveiling of the hotel owned by art collector, developer, and hotelier Alan Faena promises a start-studded crowd.
Location: Faena Hotel, 10:30 p.m. Invite only.

SLS South Beach Gallery and Pop-Ups
Intel: The building transforms into a mixed-media gallery for hotel guests, collectors, and tastemakers showcasing artists and collaborations. The series of installations will vary from public art displays to pop-up retail shops. Par example: Laura Kimpton Property-Wide Installations, Africa Aycart Portraits at The Bazaar by José Andrés, Never-Before-Seen Andy Warhol Pieces at Sam’s Lounge, J. Open HeART Installation at Katsuya & Hotel Pool Duck, Poolside Retail Pop-Up Shops.
Location: 1701 Collins Ave.

Brickell City Centre Bash
Intel: Brickell City Centre is transforming one block of its three-block construction site into an event space. Wooden Wisdom (Elijah Wood + Zach Cowie) will set the vibe. VIPs and local influencers will join Brickell for a lighting ceremony of its newly completed Climate Ribbon (150,000-square-foot glass, steel and fabric by designer Hugh Dutton).
Location: Brickell City Centre, 67 SW 8th St., 7 p.m. RSVP to

Boho Hunter Basel Kick Off
Intel: Monica Sordo invites those in MIA to visit Boho Hunter for cocktails, music by Bea Pernia, and a selection of her collection with sales to benefit The Duerme Tranquilo Foundation.
Location: Boho Hunter, 184 NW 27th St., 7-10 p.m.

Tribeca Shortlist “Art on Film”
Intel: The movie streaming service from Lionsgate and Tribeca Enterprises hosts “Art on Film” with hip hop pioneer, visual artist and filmmaker Fab 5 Freddy (Fred Brathwaite), independent producer David Koh (Submarine Entertainment) and moderated by PAPER Magazine founder/editor David Hershkovits. Following will be a special screening of the film Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict.
Location: The Miami Beach EDITION, 2901 Collins Ave., 6 p.m. RSVP to

SoulCycle Pop-Up
Intel: Get your fitness fix at the SoulCycle pop-up studio, which features live art by Brooklyn-born, L.A.-based Gregory Siff.
Location: 1 Hotel South Beach (2341 Collins Ave., Miami Beach), December 1-4

Architectural Digest “Refuge” Preview Party
Intel: Margaret Russell, editor in chief of Architectural Digest, is throwing a preview party with 1 Hotel’s founder Barry Sternlicht and CEO of the LeFrak Group Richard LeFrak.
Location: 1 Hotel South Beach, 6-9 p.m. Invite only.

The Surf Lodge x Art Basel Miami Beach
Intel: Hamptonites, find solace in Miami this week—The Surf Lodge pop-up offers artist-hosted dinners, poolside cocktail parties, pop-up shop, and wellness classes from Equinox Wednesday through Friday at 10 a.m. Expected guests include Jeremy Scott, Rocky Barnes, Rosario Dawson, Daniel Arsham, André Saraiva, Shepard Fairey, and Jayma Cardoso. Pop into the Surf Lodge Pop-Up Shop to peruse brands including Studio 189 from Rosario Dawson and Abrima Erwiah, Reds, and Del Toro shoes, each day from 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Location: The Hall South Beach (A Joie de Vivre Hotel), December 1-6, 8-10 p.m. Invitation only.


Wednesday, December 2

Jeremy Scott Party
Intel: Jeremy Scott hosts his annual exclusive bash.
Invite only.

W Magazine and Faena Art’s Roller Disco Beach Party
Intel: Stefano Tonchi and Ximena Caminos celebrate the opening ofAngeles Veloces Arcanos Fugaces, an immersive roller-disco installation by Assume Vivid Astro Focus at Faena Beach.
Location: Faena Beach, 36th Street and the Ocean, 7:30-9:30 p.m.

VH1’s The Breaks Lounge
Intel: Join for a private press preview and a VIP performance by Mack Wilds.
Location: The Breaks Lounge, 801 Ocean Drive at 8th Street. Press preview 4-8 p.m., performance 8-9 p.m.

Burberry + Art Hearts Fashion Miami Art Basel Week at Spectrum Opening Night Gala Presented by Planet Fashion TV
Intel: Join for a VIP cocktail reception before a Burberry fashion show, an artistic runway presentation by Art Hearts Fashion featuring designers Amato Haute Couture, House of LiJon Sculpted Couture and Mister Triple X by Erik Rosete. Stick around for a performance by Island Def Jam recording artist Cris Cab.
Location: Spectrum Miami, 1700 NE 2nd Avenue (NE 2nd Ave. at NE 17th St.), 6-9 p.m.

Kim Hastreiter and PAPER Magazine Party
Intel: Grab a drink and crash some cymbals with Kim Hastreiter, Pink Martini’s Thomas Lauderdale and China Forbes, and PAPER’s Mr. Mickey at a singalon featuring accompanying percussion and singing by art and design luminaries.
Location: Meridian Ave. and 19th St., 5-7 p.m. RSVP to


Thursday, December 3

PAMM Presents: Dimensions, by Devonté Hynes and Ryan McNamara
Intel: Flock to Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) for a one night only performance by Ryan McNamara and Devonté (“Dev”) Hynes, including an original multi-part composition by Hynes, an internationally-acclaimed musician and producer, and sculptural elements and choreography by McNamara, a celebrated performance artist
Location: 1103 Biscayne Boulevard, 9 p.m. to midnight

Brown Jordan and Sunbrella
Intel: The two join photographer Gray Malin for a celebration of art, design and travel, for a first look at the new Miami Design District flagship, an 8,600 square-foot, three-level store of re-imagined native Florida materials, which officially opens January 2016. The event will serve as a “first look” and the store will officially open in January 2016.
Location: 3650 North Miami Avenue

El Tucán
Intel: EL Tucán hosts an exclusive performance by actress and singer Cucu Diamantes, amid trompe l’oeuil murals designed by artist Happy Menocal.
Location: December 3-5, 8 p.m.

The Four Seasons Hosts Antonio Dominguez de Haro
Intel: A retrospective of 17 paintings by Spanish painter Antonio Dominguez de Haro.
Logistics: Four Seasons Hotel, December 3, 6-9 p.m.

EDITION Gallery Pop Up
Intel: EDITION Hotel hosts a pop-up with Bill Powers’ Half Gallery & Harper’s Books and Louis B James Gallery, including book signings by Justin Adian and Sue Williams. On the second floor, virtual artist Jeremy Couillard offers an otherworldly experience with an interactive exhibition.
Location: Bungalow 252, Miami Beach EDITION, 2901 Collins Ave. December 3-6. By appointment only.


Friday, December 4

Wall at the W Hotel: Paris Hilton
Intel:Paris Hilton spins alongside Mr. Mauricio for an evening presented by Belvedere Vodka.
Location: 2201 Collins Ave, 11 p.m. RSVP to

Partner \
A Guide to Art Basel: The Must-see Shows and Showcases
Now in its 14th year, Art Basel is bigger and swankier than ever before
Presented By //
T.M. Brown // December 1, 2015

Every year around this time, thousands of dealers, buyers, artists, and scenesters descend on South Florida for Art Basel Miami. Now in its 14th year, the stateside spinoff of the Swiss art fair—and let’s be honest, calling Art Basel an art fair is like calling the Pope a priest—is bigger and swankier than ever before, attracting galleries from all over the globe and providing one of the world’s biggest stages for upcoming artists.

Before we get to all the shows you should be heading to while you’re in Miami, we here at SPIN want to hook you up with an exclusive invitation to K-PAX, a launch event to showcase the collaboration between PAX + K-HOLE, on the rooftop of the Gale South Beach this Friday, December 4th at 5:00 PM, brought to you by the folks at PAX vaporizers.

III Points Art Basel Concert Series (Thursday, December 3 — Saturday, December 5 at Mana Wynwood)

If SXSW moved to Berlin for a year, started wearing a lot of Acne and Gosha Rubchinskiy, and got really into DJ Rashad and Rødhåd, you’d have III Points. The three-year old art, tech, and music festival is quickly becoming a compulsory event for people who have traditionally flocked to Austin in March, so when they decide to throw a three-night concert series in the middle of Art Basel, you know it’s going to be good.

Life and Death Showcase with Richie Hawtin (Thursday, December 3 at 9:00 PM)

III Points Art Basel’s opening night brings iconic label Life and Death to Miami for the fourth time in as many years and the Italian powerhouse did not disappoint with its lineup. The showcase at Mana Wynwood brings Tale of Us, Mind Against, and Thugfucker to the DJ booth, providing a collection of artists that weave the worlds of pop, house, funk, and disco into a singular soundtrack. Oh, and techno legend Richie Hawtin just announced he’ll be joining the Life and Death crew as a special guest so those tickets are going to be hard to come by.

Jamie XX and Four Tet (Friday, December 4 at 9:00 PM)

Jamie xx and Four Tet combine forces once again to provide the centerpiece of III Points concert series. If you haven’t heard what these boys can do when they’re in the booth together, listen to their exceptional BBC One Essential Mix from March and prepare to be blown away by the effortless combination of everything from jungle to electro pop to soul into one smooth set. Both are finishing years filled with international acclaim so this set will be something of a victory lap and we’re all the richer for it.

A$AP Rocky and Kaytranada (Saturday, December 5 at 9:00 PM)

A$AP Rocky and Kaytranada close out the III Points concert series but this Saturday night set is anything but a come down. Rocky is fresh off a huge year including his sophomore release At. Long. Long. Last. ASAP and rumors that he’s working on a project with Kanye West, while Kaytranada has been pounding the DJ circuit, plying his funky house trade at every club worth its salt the world over. Both should be in rare form at Mana Wynwood.

Fuck Art Let’s Dance (Thursday, December 3 at The Electric Pickle at 10:00 PM)

By far the best name of any party happening in Miami during Art Basel week—or any party in any city during any other week—the yearly shindig is bringing Kim Ann Foxman, Justin Strauss, and Miami Players Club to the Electric Pickle in Wynwood for a suite of DJ sets mixing deep house tracks with just the right amount of tropical groove. To cap the night off, Miami staples Psychic Mirrors will be playing one of their legendary live sets, mixing together soul, funk, and psychedelic sounds into something singularly South Beach.

Superfine! Jet Set Jubilee (Thursday, December 3 at 8300 Northeast 2nd Avenue at 7:00 PM)

Ever wanted to see Shamir perform while surrounded by an “immersive” 3000 square foot chandelier designed by the Miami-born, Brooklyn-based artist Diego Montoya? Yeah, that’s what I thought. The minds at Superfine! have put together another expertly curated series of concerts in tandem with their impeccable for contemporary art and design. This time around they’ve brought in Shamir—fresh off his acclaimed debut album Ratchet—for a performance that is larger than life. Literally. That chandelier is going to be huge.

Green Velvet and Tiga (Friday, December 4th at Trade at 11:00 PM)

Any show featuring Green Velvet promises to be as strange as it is fantastic. Techno’s resident oddball is ready to take on Miami alongside Tiga, a 1-2 punch that will satisfy hardcore techno purists and newcomers alike. This show is flying slightly under the radar but don’t sleep on it, these two are the real deal.

DJ Mustard and Fabolous (Saturday, December 5th at Toejam Backlot at 9:00 PM)

DJ Mustard’s fingerprints have been all over the pop and hip-hop landscape for the last year and change so it makes sense that he’s the headliner at this Saturday night show. He’ll be joined by rap stalwart Fabolous for a night of throwback hits mixed with Mustard’s signature sound. RSVP at CLSoundtrack[at]


Fashion, Featured

The Fabulous 5.5: Art Basel Planning Guide #3

December 1, 2015

Under the Radar 2015

With dozens of places to go, thousands of things to see, and a million elbows, here are a few special spots. For those of you who make a career at this, or a career out of bragging about this, or travel to go where fewer have gone, here are 5.5 selections.

#5: Ai Weiwei pops up at Basel more than a pop-up. Why 2015? Colored vases from the Mary Boone Gallery at Art Basel. Protesters: please leave Mr. Wei’s vases alone.

Colored Vases

#4: Say my name; say my name: Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri. New York’s Salon 94 brings this Aboriginal Australian’s oil paintings to life mirroring textiles and mimicking sand sculpture. If you know about dreamtime, here it is in reality. Also at Art Basel.


Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri


#3: Joris Van de Moortel: This Belgian artist from Antwerp will present his solo work for the first time in the USA presented by the Denis Gardarin Gallery at UNTITLED. The art teacher’s question, “What is going on in this picture?” earns a lengthy response with works from Rotten Sun, Van de Moortel’s sculpted, painted, musical installation.


Jan Van de Moortel image by WeDocumentArt

#2: Larissa Bates at NADA in the Fountainebleau. Out of Vermont, Costa Rica, St. Augustine’s Monya Rowe Gallery and ARTADIA, there is something of Italy 1450, Ubud 1980, and Tokyo 2005 in one painting, then outback, desert, and prep school in the next.


Larissa Bates

#1: Jennifer Rubell is always on point. Over the years, she has fed Miami’s Art Basel crowd breakfast a dozen times – things like oatmeal, Sun Maid raisins, yogurt, dripping honey, and massive portions of delicious creativity. This year’s food-based installation: Devotion – bread, butter, and a couple to be married later. 9-11am on December 3 at The Rubell Family Collection 95 NW 29th Street.

Jennifer Rubell


.5: The weather forecast is bad, on the radar, not under it.



The North American Premiere Of Isaac Julien’s Commission For The Rolls-Royce Art Programme To Be Shown During Art Basel In Miami Beach

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

GOODWOOD, England, Nov. 17, 2015 — Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, in partnership with the National YoungArts Foundation, will present the North American debut of Isaac Julien’s work Stones Against Diamonds (Ice Cave) during Art Basel in Miami Beach 2015. The work by the Turner Prize nominated artist, commissioned as part of the Rolls‑Royce Art Programme, will be shown from 1-5 December 2015 at the National YoungArts Foundation ­– located at the nexus of Miami’s Wynwood Arts District, Arts and Entertainment District and Edgewater. The video installation will fill the interior of the magnificent YoungArts Jewel Box across 15 screens, the largest and most impressive presentation of the work to date.

UBS Art Collection Highlights

This year’s annual presentation of work from the UBS Art Collection explores the theme of Inside:Out, complementing and drawing inspiration from the bright, airy and sophisticated redesign of the UBS Lounge and its new hanging garden. The installation features approximately 30 works of art by 15 artists that reflect the notion of bringing the outside in, breaking down barriers between fiction and reality and between public and private space to create images inspired by fantasy, pleasure, sensation, nature and alternative landscapes. A highlight is the newly acquired Native Land (2014), a lightbox by Doug Aitken. Filled with a mosaic of colorful roadside signs, this work highlights the intrusion of advertisements in the American landscape. Additional featured artists include Vija Celmins, Francesco Clemente, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Gilbert & George, Andreas Gursky, Catherine Opie, Marc Quinn, Caio Reisewitz, Gerhard Richter, Pipilotti Rist, David Schnell, Simmons & Burke, Xaviera Simmons, Thomas Struth and Corinne Wasmuht. The works, selected by UBS Art Collection Curator for the Americas Jacqueline Lewis, represent a globally diverse range of artists, themes and media, including installations, kinetic sculpture, painting, drawing and photography.

Miami Herald |


Unrealism: Exhibition of figurative art organized by mega-dealers Jeffrey Dietch and Larry Gagosian. The Moore Building-Elastica, 191 NE 40th St., Design District. 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Free.


Gallerist Anthony Spinello launches his Little River space with the fourth Littlest Sister, a “faux” invitation art fair featuring 10 unrepresented women-identified Miami artists in a presentation curated by Sofia Bastidas. Each artist has a solo booth; the fair also includes a sector on sound and performance presentations and a series of critical panels exploring arts and real estate, writing, design and collecting. 7221 NW Second Ave.; 8-11 p.m. Monday; noon-7 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Free.

 Sean Kelly X Chrome Hearts: Work by Marina Abramović, Los Carpinteros, Jose Dávila, Robert Mapplethorpe, Mariko Mori, Alec Soth and Kehinde Wiley. Chrome Hearts, 4025 NE Second Ave., Second Floor. Free.

100+ Degrees in the Shade: A Survey of South Florida Art: Work by South Florida artists. 3900 N. Miami Ave., Design District. 11-9 p.m. daily. Free.



Your All-Encompassing Guide to Miami’s Sprawling Art Scene

By Alexxa Gotthardt

To the contemporary art set, Miami is a place of annual pilgrimage, where productivity and decadence play nice. Each December, gallerists, collectors, artists, and curators make their way to the palm-studded metropolis to sell their wares, mount exhibitions, and party in duds that would make Miami Vice’s Crockett and Tubbs proud. Art Basel in Miami Beach might be considered the nucleus of this activity, but with satellite fairs and ephemeral exhibitions opening in Art Deco monuments and beach bungalows alike, it’s high time to take a comprehensive look at what’s happening across the city’s sprawl, from South Beach to Little Haiti.

Diana Nawi, photo by Mylinh Trieu Nguyen; Emmett Moore, photo by Gesi Schilling; Nina Johnson-Milewski, photo by Gesi Schilling; Jorge Perez.

With guidance from four Miamians—gallerist Nina Johnson-Milewski, artist Emmett Moore, curator Diana Nawi, and collector and philanthropist Jorge Perez—we highlight the art spaces and watering holes of a city where beaches and swamps, American and Latin American traditions, and collections of rare palm trees and blue chip art collide. Our take away: even after the art-crowd’s dust settles, Miami is a mysteriously enchanting place where cultural output of all persuasions churns.


Miami Beach

Photos by Gesi Schilling.

Edged by sherbet-hued high-rises and beaches dotted with hotel lounge chairs, this skinny strip of land—some call it a sandbar on steroids—is where Miami’s more flamboyant character traits originate. Separated from the mainland by Biscayne Bay, this is the sandy ground on which the holiest Art Deco edifices, flashiest clubs, and the smallest bathing suits consort. It’s also home to sprawling art fairs, beachside pop-up projects, old-school restaurants, and dive bars heralded by glowing neons that look like they were forged in the ’50s.

A. Art Basel in Miami Beach

Miami Beach Convention Center, 1901 Convention Center Drive

After Art Basel expanded to Miami in 2002, settling into the Miami Beach Convention Center (between the beach and the Botanical Garden), the city quickly became an annual stop for collectors and artists. As the parent of an ever-growing brood of art fairs that crop up during the first week of December, this mainstay is the first stop for many people, thanks to its mix of booths from the biggest, bluest-chip galleries and ambitious younger spaces, curated projects, and a constant flow of programming.

B. Design Miami/

Meridian Avenue & 19th Street, adjacent to the Miami Beach Convention Center

Across the street from Art Basel, this sophisticated fair hosts a robust cohort of galleries focused on contemporary and historic design, from immersive architectural environments to jewel-like light fixtures that fit in the palm of your hand, created by the world’s most inspired designers—Giò Ponti, Maria Pergay, and Julie Richoz among them.

Rendering of UNBUILT: Design Miami/ Harvard GSD Pavilion. Courtesy of Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Insider tip: Don’t miss Kengo Kuma’s nomadic tearoom, rendered completely in plastic, at Galerie Philippe Gravier, or Jean Prouvé’s 1939 military hut—the only one of its kind still in existence—at Galerie Patrick Seguin.

C. Bass Museum of Art


Though this museum, founded in 1963 and housed in an impeccably preserved Art Deco structure, is currently under renovation, conceptual artist Sylvie Fleury is hanging her site-specific Eternity Now on the building’s facade from December 1st through May 31st, 2016.

The glowing neon sign is a part of Art Basel and the Bass’s five-year-running public art collaboration in Collins Park, which is adjacent to the museum. This installment, curated by Public Art Fund’s Nicholas Baume, brings works by Sam FallsKatharina GrosseJacob Kassay, and Hank Willis Thomas to the lush lawn.

D. Nautilus, a SIXTY Hotel


Two blocks away and right off the beach, a shiny renovation of this hotel is accompanied by activations from “Greater New York” breakout artist Mira Dancy (with a sprawling mural), Katherine Bernhardt (with a plucky fresco on the floor of one of the pools), Eddie Peake (with a mirrored rooftop installation), and other works tucked playfully into idiosyncratic spaces throughout the compound. Curated by Artsy’s Elena Soboleva, Artsy Projects: Nautilus is a collaboration between Artsy and the hotel.

E. The Standard Spa Miami Beach


Swing by the swank Standard hotel, just off Miami Beach on Belle Isle, for a snack on its expansive deck, or pick up one of Miami-based artist Jim Drain’s limited-edition posters, released for fair week.


South Beach


Ocean Drive and 12th Street

This curatorially driven satellite fair on the beach boasts booths by The Hole, Taymour Grahne, Steve Turner, and even Aperture Foundation. Throughout the week, performances move through the tent and its surrounding landscape. Don’t miss artist and choreographer Madeleine Hollander’s MILE, beginning each day on the east side of the structure at 4 p.m. Also on our radar is UNTITLED Radio, a series of daily radio shows that replace traditional art fair panel discussions.

B. Scope

801 Ocean Drive

This year marks Scope’s 15th anniversary in Miami. They bring 120 exhibitors along with curated sections Juxtapoz Presents, the Breeder Program, and FEATURE, the last featuring 10 booths that highlight new approaches to photography.

C. La Sandwicherie

229 14th Street

For a much needed dose of sustenance after a long day of fair hopping, grab a stool at La Sandwicherie’s counter, where you’ll likely devour one of their signature sandwiches—all available on a croissant in lieu of bread or bun. Wash it down with a smoothie or early evening beer. Or come back late night for a snack and hazy conversation with the post-party art crowd. It’s one of the few places in South Beach that’s open very late—until 5 a.m.

D. Mac’s Club Deuce

222 14th Street

Miami’s oldest bar, Mac’s Club Deuce is also the city’s greatest dive, offering a swirl of whiskey and jukebox tunes to colorful regulars, pool sharks, and wobbling newbies alike. Last year, its Hawaiian shirt-sporting owner, Mac Klein, turned 100.

Exterior of The Wolfsonian-FIU. Courtesy of The Wolfsonian–FIU.

E. Wolfsonian-FIU

1001 Washington Avenue

This museum is one of the crown jewels of Miami curiosities. Founded by Miami philanthropist and passionate collector-wanderer Mitchell Wolfson in 1986 to house his ever-growing collection of decorative art and propaganda—his collecting habits famously began with a stockpile of treasured vintage hotel keys—this wunderkammer is housed in a boxy, stunningly beautiful Mediterranean Revival building. Up now, don’t miss “Margin of Error,” which takes a look at “cultural responses to mechanical mastery and engineered catastrophes of the modern age—the shipwrecks, crashes, explosions, collapses, and novel types of workplace injury that interrupt the path of progress.”

F. Puerto Sagua

700 Collins Avenue

Insider tip: For a quick, low-key, and delicious bite (don’t miss the flan), take a seat at this Cuban diner—and take home one of their fantastic paper placemats, complete with a vintage Miami map. Take note: after a kitchen fire, Puerto Sagua has temporarily closed its doors but is set to reopen on November 30th, just in time for fair week.

G / H / I. Joe’s, Milo’s, and Prime 112

11 Washington Avenue; 730 First Street; 112 Ocean Drive

Insider tip: For a longer, more luxurious meal, try one of Jorge Perez’s favorites: Joe’s for stone crabs, a local delicacy (everyone wears bibs); Milo’s for fresh fish; and Prime 112 for a nice big steak.


North Beach

A. Faena Hotel

3201 Collins Avenue

Collector and hotelier Alan Faena’s newest complex fuses a freshly minted hotel with an ambitious art space called Faena Forum, designed by Rem Koolhaas’s OMA. While the Forum won’t open until spring 2016, its programming kicks off—and into the streets, during the first week of December, when assume vivid astro focus installs a kaleidoscopic roller-disco on the beach. It’s open to the public, who can take a spin to DJ sets.

Rendering of assume vivid astro focus’s roller rink. Courtesy of FAENA ART.


2901 Collins Avenue

While it might be best known for the long lines that amass outside its club (cool-kid magnet BASEMENT), EDITION hosts a set of diamond-in-the-rough projects in its poolside bungalows. If you can find them through the long marble lobby and stand of towering potted banana plants, Louis B. James (Bungalow 262) shows virtual reality-laced works by Jeremy Couillard, and Harper’s Books (Bungalow 252) hosts a signing with artist Sue Williams of her new, gorgeous monograph on December 2nd.


The Fontainebleau Miami Beach, 4441 Collins Avenue

Making a move from the charmingly retro Deauville Beach Resort way uptown to the high-gloss Fontainebleau marks a big shift for the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) fair, which is focused on younger galleries. From L.A.’s Anat Ebgi to Berlin’s SANDY BROWN to New York’s Karma, its exhibitors are known for bringing an inspired mix of new work into the fold.


Indian Beach Park, 4601 Collins Avenue

A couple of blocks north is another fair that’s carved a place for itself on the main drag. From mainstay galleries like Yancey Richardson to groundbreaking nonprofits like Visual AIDS and RxArt, most booths here mount focused presentations of works of two to three artists. Don’t miss the fair’s curated section, PLAY, surfacing innovative video and new media selections from idiosyncratic New York-based curator Stacy Engman.

E. Miami Project and Art on Paper

Deauville Beach Resort, 6701 Collins Avenue

Take a cab a few minutes north, and you’ll find satellite fairs Miami Project and Art on Paper, taking NADA’s place at the Deauville Beach Resort. Also filling this hub is a dynamic selection of performance, installation, and new media interventions from SATELLITE, a multipart curatorial effort. We’re especially excited that Brooklyn bar and concert venue Trans Pecos is setting up shop there with sets by Fade to Mind and Michael Beharie, among others.

F. Sandbar Lounge

6752 Collins Avenue

Insider tip: Across the street, visit Sandbar Lounge, a sand-covered dive bar for a drink and game of pool after a long day trekking up the beach.


Design District

As you pass across the causeway that traverses Biscayne Bay, Downtown Miami’s skyline comes into focus. Behind it lie some of the city’s most dynamic cultural spaces. You might first land in the city’s Design District, just north of highway 195, where boxy warehouses and parking garages have, in recent years, been converted into sharp design shops, art galleries, and restaurants.

A. ICA Miami

4040 NE 2nd Avenue

While its new Aranguren & Gallegos Arquitectos-designed building begins construction, the one-year-old ICA brings a strong assortment of contemporary exhibitions to its temporary home. This season surfaces a solo exhibition by radical video artist Alex Bag, which Diana Nawi is keenly anticipating. For his part, Emmett Moore is looking forward to future programming: “I’m excited to see the new ICA building. They’ve managed to put on some great shows in their temporary space so I can only imagine what’s in store.”

B. de la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space

23 NE 41st Street

Around the corner, visit one of Miami’s acclaimed private art collections, brought into the public sphere by Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz. This year, the group show “You’ve Got to Know the Rules…To Break Them” promises irreverent highlights from the couple’s encyclopedic holdings of today’s most influential work.
Insider tip: “The private collections in Miami are amazing troves of contemporary art,” says Diana Nawi.

Installation view of “Beatriz Monteavaro: Nochebuena.” Courtesy of Locust Projects.

C. Locust Projects

3852 North Miami Avenue

Since its founding in 1998, this artist-run nonprofit space has produced a steady stream of experimental projects. This month, it’s a platform for ambitious work by a bevy of young artists—sculptor Martha Friedman, choreographer Silas Riener, installation artist Beatriz Monteavaro, and conceptual artist Martine Syms.

Insider tip: And as you traverse the city, look out for Syms’s NITE LIFE—graphic prints, emblazoned with phrases like “Darling It Won’t Be The Same Always” plastered on city buses and bus stops. They resemble mid-1900s “Chitlin’ Circuit” posters, which advertised shows at venues where black musicians could perform freely and securely during segregation.

D. Jeffrey Deitch and Larry Gagosian’s “UNREALISM” at the Moore Building

191 NE 40th Street

Sometime rivals Jeffrey Deitch and Larry Gagosian embark on their first collaboration over four floors (about 28,000 square feet) of this Design District architectural gem. Their joint curatorial project, “UNREALISM,” brings together artists—from John Currin to Elizabeth Peyton to Jamian Juliano-Villani—representing a renaissance in figuration.

Larry Bell’s 6 x 6 An Improvisation. Copyright of Larry Bell. Photo by Alex Marks, 2014. Courtesy of Chinati Foundation.

E. Larry Bell’s 6 x 6 An Improvisation at the Melin Building

Suite #200, Melin Building, 3930 NE Second Avenue

White Cube brings Larry Bell’s 6 x 6 An Improvisation—an ethereal installation built from towering, reflective glass panels—to Miami. The Light and Space pioneer’s masterwork promises a quiet, contemplative reprieve from the teeming fairs and sprawling collection shows.

F. Mandolin

4312 NE 2nd Avenue

Insider tip: For lunch or dinner, try one of Nina Johnson-Milewski’s favorites, Mandolin: “It’s such a lovely atmosphere, owned and operated by the nicest people.” It also serves some of the city’s best seafood, on a hidden patio dotted with sky blue chairs and fresh flowers.

G. Michael’s Genuine

130 NE 40th Street

Insider tip: Or for heartier fare in an equally unhurried environment, grab a seat at Michael’s Genuine, opened by James Beard-honored Michael Schwartz. It’s one of Jorge Perez’s favorites. You’ll have no regrets after devouring the Harris Ranch black angus burger (don’t dare skimp on the brioche bun).


Little Haiti / North Miami

In the 1800s, this area, north of downtown Miami, was covered with lemon groves, from which it drew its first nickname, “Lemon City.” Today, it’s defined by its Haitian immigrant population and burgeoning art scene.

A. Gallery Diet

6315 NW 2nd Avenue

Founded by impresario Nina Johnson-Milewski in 2007, this Miami mainstay recently moved north from Wynwood to a four-building, 15,000 square-foot compound in the heart of Little Haiti. “I’m loving our new home,” says Johnson-Milewski. “For the first time in nearly ten years I have windows and outdoor space. Who knew Vitamin D was so essential?” “Trees in Oolite,” the gallery’s first design exhibition, uses this fresh air to its full advantage. In the complex’s courtyard, brutalist furniture by Emmett Moore, Katie Stout, and Snarkitecture sits among lush mango, avocado, and oak trees. Inside, don’t miss Ann Craven’s solo show of lush skyscapes she painted en plein air in Maine, with the moon and the occasional candle as her only light sources.

B. Spinello Projects

7221 NW 2nd Avenue

This experimental space is up to its old boundary-pushing tricks during fair week with “Littlest Sister,” a conceptual exhibition that calls itself a “faux” art fair, with the tagline “Smallest Art Fair, Biggest Balls.” The project gathers “booths” by 10 women-identified artists, all unrepresented and working in painting, installation, new media, and performance.

C. Michael Jon Gallery

255 NE 69th Street

This gallery’s roster is chock full of up-and-coming artists from across the country—Paul Cowan, Math Bass, and JPW3, to name a few. This month, Sofia Leiby brings bright, active paintings that resemble letters and words breaking out of alphabetic confines and wiggling their way to abstraction.

D. Fiorito

5555 NE 2nd Avenue

Insider tip: Travel south past Little Haiti Park and you’ll find Fiorito, a small Argentinian restaurant that’s “a good local spot for a low key dinner,” says Emmett Moore. “I have dreams about their grilled octopus.”



Haas & Hahn mural in progress at Wynwood Walls. Courtesy of Wynwood Walls. Photo by Martha Cooper.

Wynwood has become the poster child for the rampant expansion of Miami’s art scene to the mainland, and likewise into the city’s streets. Over the last six years, murals have spread across the concrete walls of the district’s abandoned factories and warehouses. Galleries and private collections have followed suit, marking a cultural renaissance for this formerly industrial neighborhood, nicknamed “Little San Juan” for its still-vibrant Puerto Rican community.

A. Wynwood Walls

2520 NW 2nd Avenue

Pioneered by vociferous street art advocate Jeffrey Deitch, along with late real estate developer Tony Goldman, the murals that make up Wynwood Walls were some of the first carrots to draw the international art set to Wynwood in 2009. Every year, new murals are added to the colorful cohort that includes street art’s most influential names—and some of its undisputed masterworks—from Aiko to Shepard Fairey to Futura to Os Gemeos. This year, 14 new murals and installations (by Fafi, Crash, Logan Hicks, and more) are unveiled.

B. Rubell Family Collection

95 NW 29th Street

Amassed by charismatic patrons Donald and Mera Rubell, this expansive collection is housed in a monumental 45,000-square-foot space that was once owned by the Drug Enforcement Agency. This year, they present “NO MAN’S LAND,” focused on the influential output of female artists ranging from Michele Abeles and Jenny Holzer to Shinique Smith.

Insider tip: Don’t miss Jennifer Rubell’s Devotion, one of the artist’s signature interactive food-based installations that, this year, explores buttering bread as an act of intimacy and interpersonal connection, on December 3rd from 9–11 a.m.

C. The Margulies Collection at the WAREhOUSE

591 NW 27th Street

Housed in a repurposed Wynwood warehouse, this must-see private collection belongs to Miamian Martin Z. Margulies. This year, don’t miss new exhibitions of work by Anselm Kiefer and Susan Philipsz, as well as recent acquisitions of pieces by Mark Handforth, Lawrence Carroll, and more.

D. Spencer Finch’s Ice Cream Truck

3401 NE 1st Avenue

Insider tip: While strolling through the neighborhood, drop by artist Spencer Finch’s ice cream truck. “His solar-powered truck will provide anyone in the area with edible frozen works of art free of charge,” explains Jorge Perez.

Mana Wynwood’s facade. Image courtesy of Mana Contemporary.

E. Mana Wynwood

318 NW 23rd Street

This year, Mana Contemporary unveils a 30-acre campus—every corner devoted to contemporary art and culture—that rivals its much talked-about New Jersey compound. Large-scale exhibitions highlighting three influential private collections (the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation, the Jorge M. Pérez Collection, and the Tiroche DeLeon Collection) herald this new mainstay on the Wynwood circuit.

F / G. Art Miami and CONTEXT Art Miami

3101 NE 1st Avenue

These sister art fairs, the 26-year-old Art Miami and the four-year-old Context, are must-see stops in Wynwood.

H / I. Panther Coffee, Gramps

1875 Purdy Avenue; 176 NW 24th Street

Insider tip: For a caffeine boost, pass through a the doors of a Barry McGee mural-swathed building to Panther Coffee. Or for a stiff drink among creative Miamians, try Gramps, “pretty much the only bar I got to,” says Emmett Moore. “It has a lot of the qualities of old Miami dive bars with some silly artsy stuff mixed in.”


Park West/Downtown

Taking the southern route from Miami Beach to the mainland, across the MacArthur Causeway, you’ll land in Park West, with Downtown Miami just south of you. Here, skyscrapers house big business and club culture alike. In recent years, the adjacent waterfront, formerly monopolized by the run-down Millennium Park, has transformed into Museum Park, an impeccably manicured landscape of gardens and cultural centers.

A. The Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM)

1103 Biscayne Boulevard

This stunning museum, which opened its Herzog & de Meuron-designed doors in 2013, recently brought star curator Franklin Sirmans on as director to helm its ambitious program. This fall, don’t miss Nari Ward’s mid-career retrospective, “Sun Splashed,” curated by Diana Nawi, and Miami-based artist Nicolas Lobo’s “The Leisure Pit,” which showcases large-scale concrete sculptures, festooned with the occasional flip-flop, that he forged in a swimming pool.

B. Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation

1018 North Miami Avenue

This stunning building, its facade covered in over one million tiles that together resemble a verdant junglescape, houses patron Ella Fontanals-Cisneros’s comprehensive collection of primarily Latin American art. Up now, don’t miss Cuban artist Gustavo Pérez Monzón’s “Tramas.”

C / D / E. The Corner, NIU Kitchen, and Zuma

1035 N. Miami Avenue; 134 NE 2nd Avenue; 270 Biscayne Boulevard Way

Insider tip: For a cocktail (we recommend their Hurricane, complete with passion fruit shrub and pineapple) pop into The Corner, Diana Nawi’s “go-to bar.” For dinner, head south to NIU Kitchen’s beautiful nook for delicious Catalan fare. Or for a more dramatic dining experience, make a reservation at Zuma for elegant Japanese plates enjoyed from a perch overlooking the water.

Photo by Gesi Schilling.

—Alexxa Gotthardt

A Short List of Miami Art Week Events

Gagosian, Stallone and even Edvard Munch are bringing it this year

Isaac Julien’s Stones Against Diamonds (Ice Cave) at Art Basel in Miami Beach 2015. (Photo: Courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars)

ven Isaac Julien’s Stones Against Diamonds (Ice Cave) at Art Basel in Miami Beach 2015. (Photo: Courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars)

Miami Art Week gets a bad rap for being a nonstop rager, what with the Cristal, the caviar and the unicorn rides (trust me, Peter Brant can make that happen). But, in salute to the fact that what’s on view (I’m talking about art, not bikini models) can be just as intoxicating, we picked out just a handful of events that put the emphasis on art.
For a huge and updating list of events, see


Isaac Julien | Commission for Rolls-Royce Art Programme in Miami for Art Basel in Miami Beach
Jewel Box, National YoungArts Foundation
2100 Biscayne Boulevard
And we’re off! Rolls-Royce, the choice car of haughty old Englishmen and ’90s rappers, has commissioned a new work by influential British artist Isaac Julien titled Stones Against Diamonds (Ice Cave) to be shown at the YoungArts Jewel Box as part of Art Basel Miami Beach 2015. Covering 15 screens, Mr. Julien’s tour-de-force was shot inside isolated glacial ice caves in the Vatnajökull region of Iceland. The artist interpreted this remote landscape as a metaphor for the subconscious, a place of rich beauty that can only be accessed through psychoanalysis and artistic reflection. Damn that’s deep! So if you’re rollin’ through Miami’s Wynwood District this year in your souped up KIA, maybe stop into this exhibit for a much-needed ego (and id) check.

A moon painting by Anne Craven. (Photo: Courtesy of Maccarone, New York)

A moon painting by Anne Craven. (Photo: Courtesy of Maccarone, New York)

Gallery Diet
Ann Craven’s I Like Blue 
Opening reception
6315 NW 2nd Avenue
5-8 p.m.
A teacher’s influence lasts a lifetime. Prime example: One of painter Ann Craven’s former students from a class in 2004 eventually decided to open a gallery in the Basel host-city of Miami. That student was Nina Johnson-Milewski, owner/director of Contemporary art collector favorite, Gallery Diet. Cut to 2015, and that student is about to open a show of her former teacher’s work at her new location in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Little Haiti. Ms. Craven’s painterly goodness is reason enough to see this show—she has serious chops—but this will also be the best place to find crusty die-hard Miami locals, the art lovers who run this city for more than just one week out of the year.


Jarry Deigosian.

Jarry Deigosian.

Organized by Gagosian Gallery and Jeffrey Deitch
Moore Building
3841 NE 2nd Avenue, Miami
Opening reception 5-8 p.m.
This is kind of like when the Penguin and the Riddler teamed up for the very first time: it was fearsome yet wildly entertaining. But what has finally brought former art world foes Larry Gagosian and Jeffrey Deitch together under one Design District roof? Figurative painting, of course. You just know it will be a humdinger, too, with works from both the older guard like John Currin, Elizabeth Peyton and David Salle and the very new guard, which includes young hotshots like Jamian Juliano-Vilani and Ella Kruglyanskaya. It’s all part of the evil duo’s diabolical plot to reallocate collector funds to their secret offshore lair, part of a grander scheme to take over the world… Can nothing stop them?

Yo! Adrian, Picasso, et al.

Yo! Adrian, Picasso, et al.

Galerie Gmurzynska ‘dinatoire’ for Germano Celant and Sylvester Stallone
Villa Casa Casuarina
1116 Ocean Drive
8:30 p.m. Private
Guest curator Germano Celant organized the Art Basel Miami booth for this Zurich gallery with some top-notch artists (Picasso, Dubuffet, you know, the usual masterworks) and there’s a party in honor of this fact. It will be held at the sumptuous Villa Casa Casuarina, better known as the former castle-like home of the late fashion designer Gianni Versace, a.k.a. the Versace Mansion. Oh and the star of such mega-hits as Stop or My Mom Will Shoot! and Rhinestone should be making the scene…Mr. Stallone is an accomplished painter himself, f.y.i. Sadly, the event is invite only, but if you Netflix Rocky in your hotel while drinking little bottles of booze from your mini-fridge, you can convince yourself it’s more or less the same thing.


NADA Miami Beach 2012 Photo by Andrew Russeth)

NADA Miami Beach 2012 (Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Russeth)

NADA Miami Beach art fair
Private preview
Fontainebleau Miami Beach 
4441 Collins Avenue
10 a.m.-2 p.m.
The market for emerging art is as dead as Dean Martin, right daddio? Wrong. That’s exactly what these fat cats want you to think so they can get all the primo goodies for themselves. Well, we can’t let that happen, can we? This is what you do: set four alarm clocks the night before. Print out your list of potential emerging art targets. I suggest you wear something that you can move well in (a track suit maybe) and show up to the Fontainbleau a few hours early. You might even want to wear some elbow and kneepads. The Horts are not afraid to throw an elbow or two when jockeying for position in front of the Canada gallery booth, and you shouldn’t be either. Okay, deep breath… Let’s do this.


8d609ec7922ef783ea8a71772a967092 A Short List of Miami Art Week Events

Miami meet Munch.

Edvard Munch Art Award
Shelbourne Hotel South Beach
1801 Collins Avenue
By invitation, or Art Basel First Choice
VIP card
Now this is a big deal. The Edvard Munch Art Award is back after an almost 10-year hiatus, and the winner will be announced in Miami during Basel Week (yes, that thud is the sound of  Munch rolling over in his grave.) The 500,000 NOK award (roughly $58,000) is given to “an emerging visual artist, no older than 40 years of age, who has demonstrated exceptional talent within the last five years.” The award also includes a solo exhibition at the Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway. Not a bad haul. That, plus the fact that the reception should be filthy with good-looking Scandinavian models, has us considering this party a rather hot ticket.

What to Expect at Art Basel in Miami Beach This YearBy Matt Stewart | November 20, 2015 | Culture

Art & Culture

The Fabulous 5.5: Art Basel Planning Guide #2

November 17, 2015

Top Art Basel Bar Escapes 2015

Walking around during Art Basel exhausts everyone. Feet hurtin’, eyes burnin’, throat in need. Like a European museum tour, it doesn’t take long for one to burn out. If you are of age, liquid respite beckons.

Who has what it takes near the venues?

Consider these 5 places to escape, and a few semi-non-suggestions.


Do Not Sit5. Do Not Sit On the Furniture is not a command, but a location at 423 16th Street and the premier beach club for the subterranean set. It’s dark, tight, and a global DJ hideout/paradise. It’s designed like Europe — unpretentious and built for dance.

Regent4. The Regent Cocktail Club: On the corner of 17th and James right in the thick of all things on the Beach rests the regent in the rear of the Gale. No place on the Beach feels this much like the famous old-time, pricey, classy New York City barrooms like the King Cole in the St. Regis or Bemelman’s at the Carlyle. If Cleaveland Jones and his Trio are playing like they often do on Thursday nights, settle in for a few delightful, stirring Brazilian-tinged sets. They got skills.

Radio Bar3. Radio Bar South Beach: All those burnt sienna, earthy tones minus any vestiges of natural light make for a good post-modern, post-apocalyptic vibe. It’s both contemporary and sci-fi Twilight Zone – if something happens outside, you might drink your way through it. Easter Island mugs, a pool table, and stylish cocktails contribute. 814 1st Street and looking very different outside from inside.

Broken Shaker2. Broken Shaker: The old Indian Creek Hotel became the Freehand Hostel and these Bar Lab dudes, Gabriel Orta and Elad Zvi got semi-famous and started making freaky cocktails and suddenly, yeah like, you know, the place got very hip. Amid the gorgeous patio garden are serious cocktails making waves like this one a while back: Kale and Pineapple Caipirinha. 2727 Indian Creek Drive. You can also chill upstairs at 27.

Repour1. Repour: Established in 2015, Repour has developed serious rapport going as far as the bar in Miami Beach least likely to reveal photos showcasing it. Laid back on the beach, lots of handwritten stuff, rarely overcrowded, and beautiful drinks make this locally popular spot in the lobby of the Albion a champion.

.5 Less than worthy: Take your pick. Cool bad-secret is out backroom Bodega, gorgeous view/too tight dresses at Juvia, UFC/NRA/armed to the teeth/hidden entrance Foxhole, no one can stand it but Anthony Boudain Club Deuce, but none of which could ever be worse than rock-bottom Clevelander (except maybe Mangos).



Art Basel Miami Beach 2015 Party Guide

Art Basel Miami Beach 2015 Party Guide

Photo by Nate “Igor” Smith/

Spring break forever.

Yes, art world, Art Basel in Miami Beach is almost here. And you can pretend all you want that you’re coming to Miami exclusively for the high-brow art and lectures, but nobody’s going to judge you if you manage to get some serious partying done while you’re in town. This is Miami, and if there’s one thing we’re really good at, it’s partying.

And rest assured, there will be tons of parties during Miami Art Week. From the completely free to invite-only, here is the most complete collection of musically driven, nightlife events — with a dash of art thrown in, because, you know, we aren’t savages. And thanks to a generous 5 a.m. closing time — 24 hours in Miami’s Park West district — there’s plenty of time for you to make an Art Basel mistake. (Good news is that mistake probably has a flight back to New York to catch on Sunday.)

Check back often for updates, because we will continue to update this list as more events get announced. Don’t see your event listed here? Send us an email.

Tuesday, December 1

Slap & Tickle Art Basel with Dave1. 10 p.m. Tuesday, December 1, at Bardot, 3456 N Miami Ave, Miami; 305-576-5570; Tickets cost $15 to $20 plus fees via

Favela Beach with Mr. Brainwash, Jus-Ske, Ruen, and Reid Waters. 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, December 1 at Wall Lounge, 2201 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-938-3130; Tickets cost $50 to $70 via

Wednesday, December 2

Behrouz & Friends Art Basel Edition with Damian Lazarus, Behrouz, and Bedouin, Wall Lounge, 2210 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets $50 via

A Very Superfine! Kickoff Party with Baio (of Vampire Weekend) and Lauv, presented by Superfine! House of Art and Design, the Citadel, 8300 NE Second Ave., Miami. Tickets $25 via

Thursday, December 3

PAMM presents “Dimensions” by Devonté Hynes (Blood Orange) and Ryan McNamara, Pérez Art Museum Miami, 1103 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Open only PAMM Sustaining and above level members as well as Art Basel Miami Beach, Design Miami, and Art Miami VIP cardholders.

Life and Death Art Basel with Tale Of Us, Mind Against, Thugfucker, and special guest Richie Hawtin, Mana Wynwood, 318 NW 23rd St., Miami. Doors 9 p.m.; tickets $15 to $66 via

Connan Mockasin, Bardot, 3456 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Doors 10 p.m.; tickets $15 to $20 via

A Jetset Jubilee with Aeroplane with a super special guest (TBA), presented by Superfine! House of Art and Design, the Citadel, 8300 NE Second Ave., Miami. Tickets $25 via

Immortal Technique with Hasan Salaam, DJ Static, and El B. 7 p.m. at Churchill’s Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami; 305-757-1807; Tickets cost $25 plus fees via Ages 18 and up.

Friday, December 4

When Pigs Fly presented by Link Miami Rebels with artists TBA, Trade, 1439 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets $15 to $35 via

tINI and Bill Patrick, Heart Nightclub, 50 NE 11th St., Miami. Tickets $20 to $30 via

Safe Off/Basel 2015 with Martyn, the Black Madonna, and Diego Martinelli, Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Tickets $18.35 to $21.15 via

Miami Nice Art Basel, All-White Yacht Party, South Beach Lady, Hyatt Dock, 400 SE Second Ave., Miami. Tickets $60 via

Jamie xx and Four Tet, presented by III Points and Young Turks, at Mana Wynwood, 318 NW 23rd St., Miami. Doors 9 p.m. Tickets $25 to $400 via

Miami Hearts Design, hosted by Karelle Levy with a KRELwear living installation, with Afrobeta and Millionyoung, presented by Superfine! House of Art and Design, the Citadel, 8300 NE Second Ave., Miami. Tickets $15 via

Avey Tare (Animal Collective) DJ set with Byrdipop and Uchi (live), Bardot, 3456 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Doors 10 p.m.; tickets $15 to 20 via

Nakid Magazine Issue Release Party celebrating Jen Stark. 10 p.m. Friday, December 4, at Libertine, 40 NE 11th St., Miami; 305-363-2120; Admission is $10.

Saturday, December 5

Danny Howells, Do Not Sit On the Furniture, 423 16th St., Miami Beach. Doors 10 p.m.; tickets $20 via

Crew Love Art Basel with Soul Clap, PillowTalk (live), Nick Monaco, Navid Izadi, Jeremy Ismael, and Miami Players Club, Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Tickets $15 to $35 via

Big Times in Little Haiti with Jeffrey Paradise (of Poolside), Gilligan Moss, and Krisp, presented by Superfine! House of Art and Design, the Citadel at 8300 NE Second Ave., Miami. Tickets $25 via

David Squillace. 11:30 p.m. Saturday, December 5, at Wall Lounge, 2201 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-938-3130; Tickets cost $40 to $70 via

Sunday, December 6

The Visionquest Experience with Visionquest (Lee Curtiss, Ryan Crosson, Shaun Reeves), DJ Three, Behrouz, and more, Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Tickets $20 to $30 via

Dark Basel with Necro and Madchild. 7 p.m. at Churchill’s Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami; 305-757-1807; Tickets cost $20 plus fees via Ages 18 and up


Market News

NADA Miami Beach Will Move to the Fontainebleau Hotel


The Fontainebleau lobby.


NADA Miami, the New Art Dealers Alliance’s fair during Art Basel Miami Beach in December, will be moving to the Fontainebleau Hotel on Collins Avenue for its 2015 edition. NADA opened in Miami in 2003, and in 2009 moved to the Deauville Beach Resort, in North Miami Beach, where the fair remained through last year.The de la Cruz Collection is doing a survey show loaded with art stars working in abstraction.

The ICA Miami


On view December 1, 2015 – January 31, 2016

ICA Miami will present a solo exhibition dedicated to video and performance artist Alex Bag during Art Basel Miami Beach in 2015. On view in ICA Miami’s Atrium Gallery, The Van (Redux)* centers around one of Bag’s key videos, The Van, 2001, and features a dramatic new site-specific installation. This exhibition marks the first major U.S. presentation of the artist’s work since 2009.



The Rubell Family Collection

Genzken I Schauspieler
Isa Genzken, Schauspieler, 2013


Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection

December 2, 2015, through May 28, 2016


The Rubell Family Collection/Contemporary Arts Foundation is pleased to announce its upcoming exhibition, NO MAN’S LAND: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection, on view in Miami from December 2nd, 2015 through May 28th, 2016. This exhibition will focus on and celebrate work made by more than a hundred female artists of different generations, cultures and disciplines. These artists will be represented by paintings, photographs, sculptures and video installations that will entirely occupy the Foundation’s 28-gallery, 45,000-square-foot museum. Some galleries will contain individual presentations while others will present thematic groupings of artists. Several installations have been commissioned specifically for this exhibition.

In order to present the exhibition’s scope and diversity the Foundation will rotate artworks on view throughout the course of the exhibition, presenting different artists at different times. All of the artworks in the exhibition are from the Rubells’ permanent collection.

Other exhibitions organized by the Foundation include 30 Americans, which is currently on view at the Detroit Institute of Art through January 18, 2016 and 28 Chinese which is currently on view at the San Antonio Museum of Art through January 3, 2016. 30 Americans has now been presented at 9 institutions and seen by over one million people.

A fully illustrated catalog with essays will accompany the exhibition. A complimentary audio tour will also be available.

To celebrate the opening of NO MAN’S LAND, Jennifer Rubell will be presenting Devotion, her 12th annual large-scale, food-based installation on December 3, 2015 from 9 to 11 a.m. Devotion will explore the everyday gesture as a medium for the expression of love. Using bread, butter, and a couple engaged to be married as her media, Rubell will transform the simple act of cutting and buttering bread into a poetic exploration of repetition as devotion


List of artists:

Michele Abeles
Nina Chanel Abney
Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Kathryn Andrews
Janine Antoni
Tauba Auerbach
Alisa Baremboym
Katherine Bernhardt
Amy Bessone
Kerstin Bratsch
Cecily Brown
Iona Rozeal Brown
Miriam Cahn
Patty Chang
Natalie Czech
Mira Dancy
Karin Davie
Cara Despain
Charlotte Develter
Rineke Dijkstra
Theo Djordjadze
Nathalie Djurberg
Lucy Dodd
Moira Dryer
Marlene Dumas
Ida Ekblad
Loretta Fahrenholz
Naomi Fisher
Dara Friedman
Pia Fries
Katharina Fritsch
Isa Genzken
Sonia Gomes
Hannah Greely
Renée Green
Aneta Grzeszykowska
Jennifer Guidi
Rachel Harrison
Candida Höfer
Jenny Holzer
Cristina Iglesias
Hayv Kahraman
Deborah Kass
Natasja Kensmil
Anya Kielar
Karen Kilimnik
Jutta Koether
Klara Kristalova
Barbara Kruger
Yayoi Kusama
Sigalit Landau
Louise Lawler
Margaret Lee
Annette Lemieux
Sherrie Levine
Li Shurui
Sarah Lucas
Helen Marten
Marlene McCarty
Suzanne McClelland
Josephine Meckseper
Marilyn Minter
Dianna Molzan
Kristen Morgin
Wangechi Mutu
Maria Nepomuceno
Ruby Neri
Cady Noland
Katja Novitskova
Catherine Opie
Silke Otto-Knapp
Laura Owens
Celia Paul
Mai-Thu Perret
Solange Pessoa
Elizabeth Peyton
R.H. Quaytman
Aurie Ramirez
Magali Reus
Marina Rheingantz
Bridget Riley
Cristina Lei Rodriguez
Pamela Rosenkranz
Amanda Ross-Ho
Jennifer Rubell
Analia Saban
Lara Schnitger
Collier Schorr
Dana Schutz
Beverly Semmes
Mindy Shapero
Nancy Shaver
Cindy Sherman
Xaviera Simmons
Lorna Simpson
Shinique Smith
Lucie Stahl
Jessica Stockholder
Sarah Sze
Aya Takano
Fiona Tan
Mickalene Thomas
Rosemarie Trockel
Kaari Upson
Hannah Van Bart
Paloma Varga Weisz
Marianne Vitale
Kara Walker
Mary Weatherford
Meg Webster
Carrie Mae Weems
Jennifer West
Sue Williams
Haegue Yang
Anicka Yi
Lisa Yuskavage



2015 16 sponsors 2


OCTOBER 28, 2015 THROUGH APRIL 30,, 2016


What are the new acquisitions on exhibition this year?
Anselm Kiefer, Susan Philipsz, Meuser, Lawrence Carroll, Mark Handforth, Liat Yossifor

Who are the artists new to the Warehouse collection?
Susan Philipsz, Mark Handforth, Liat Yossifor

What artists have permanent installations at the Warehouse?
Pier Paolo Calzolari, Anthony Caro, Willem de Kooning, Donald Judd, Olafur Eliasson, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Flavin, Michael Heizer, Donald Judd, Amar Kanwar, Kiefer, Jannis Kounellis, Sol LeWitt, Joan Miró, Isamu Noguchi, Michelangelo Pistoletto, George Segal, Richard Serra, Tony Smith, Franz West

Checklist of Artists in this year’s Exhibitions
Magdelena Abakanowicz, Ronald Bladen, Martin Boyce, Pier Paolo Calzolari, Anthony Caro, John Chamberlain, Willem de Kooning, Willie Doherty, Ursula Schultz Dornburg, Olafur Eliasson, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Dan Flavin, Kendall Geers, Antony Gormley, Mark Handforth, Michael Heizer, Pieter Hugo, Hans Josephsohn, Amar Kanwar, Anselm Kiefer, Jannis Kounellis, Sol LeWitt, Richard Long, Meuser, Domingo Milella, Jackie Nickerson, Joan Miró, Isamu Noguchi, Michelangelo Pistoletto, George Segal, Richard Serra, Tony Smith, Simcha Shirman, Alec Soth, Michael Spano, Franz West, Pavel Wolberg, Manabu Yamanaka


Miami’s art museums are grabbing headlines with splashy staff hires and well-heeled additions to their boards. Yet when it comes to actual artwork, the city’s marquee collectors — and their personally run exhibition spaces — continue to steal the show. The latest example of “The Miami Model”? A sprawling retrospective from the German blue-chip artist Anselm Kiefer that fills nearly a quarter of the 45,000-square-foot Margulies Collection at the Warehouse — a garment factory transformed into a showcase for art holdings of the real estate developer Martin Margulies.The exhibit opens Wednesday, but “it will be up forever,” Mr. Margulies said. “If you think I ever want to go through this again … .” he trailed off, motioning to the flurry of activity throughout the Warehouse this week. Mr. Kiefer directed a small army of art handlers whirring about on hydraulic lifts, racing to install an array of 25,000-pound detritus-filled sculptures, 10-feet-high neo-runic paintings, and charcoal wall inscriptions, just hours before a dinner benefiting the Lotus House homeless shelter. The works include the new sculpture, “Ages of the World,” a 17-foot stack of 400 unfinished canvases, lead books, rubble and dried sunflowers.Mr. Margulies played down the show being any kind of aesthetic shot across the bow of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, despite his public feud with that institution over its continuing to receive millions in tax dollars from a struggling community rather than relying solely on private contributors. Instead, Mr. Margulies hoped visiting schoolchildren would learn from Mr. Kiefer’s handiwork: Don’t let meager materials limit your vision. “They should realize this is the creative process of an artist.”Mr. Kiefer, 70, remains a controversial figure within the art world, alternately lionized and denounced for artwork invoking both World War II Germany and the kabbalah. Some see transcendent statements, others a reduction of the Jewish experience to kitsch. Both factions will find plenty of grist at the Warehouse, where Mr. Kiefer’s works refer to everything from the poet and Nazi labor camp survivor Paul Celan to the Old Testament’s Lilith.“Important work always creates polarization,” Mr. Kiefer explained. “The victims understand. Those people who see in me a glorifier of fascism — when you look into them, you find they have something to hide themselves.” As for the distinction between having his work shown in a “private” versus public museum, Mr. Kiefer hoped the former would proliferate. Collectors should be free to bypass museum curators, he said, and lavishly pursue their own tastes. He compared the phenomenon with the early 20th-century construction of public libraries by moguls like Andrew Carnegie: “I think it was J. P. Morgan who said, ‘If you die rich, it’s a mistake.’ ” BRETT SOKOL

The de la Cruz Collection

The de la Cruz Collection presents their 2016 exhibition “You’ve Got to Know the Rules…to Break Them.” Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz have selected a group of artists from their personal collection who have been associated with defining 21st century practice. Self-aware of the influence that technology and the rise of consumerism has had on their work, artists exhibited follow the cool forms of Minimalism, Conceptualism and Abstract Expressionism, while injecting their works with subtle negations of their own process. Looking at traditional techniques behind painting and sculpture, these works co-exist timelessly as strategies of stylistic appropriation raise questions of subjectivity and originality.

“You’ve Got to Know the Rules…to Break Them” contextualizes New American Abstraction with German Neo-Expressionism, revealing earnest explorations of the artists technical acumen.Through experimentation, they antagonize accepted practices by drawing upon a variety of themes including cultural, historical and sociopolitical modes.

Per contra, the third floor contains a study in portraiture and memory with the works of Félix González-Torres, Ana Mendieta and Rob Pruitt. By transforming everyday objects and using energetic gestures and repetition, González-Torres, Mendieta and Pruitt accept diverse ideologies and reject the notion that art has a single vantage point.

By merging a variety of styles and mediums, the works selected for this year’s exhibition mirror contemporary culture while allowing an open-ended conversation of various interpretations and possibilities. Artist in the exhibition: Allora & Calzadilla, Tauba Auerbach, Walead Beshty, Mark Bradford, Joe Bradley, Dan Colen, Martin Creed, Aaron Curry, Peter Doig, Jim Drain, Isa Genzken, Félix González-Torres, Mark Grotjahn, Wade Guyton, Rachel Harrison, Arturo Herrera, Evan Holloway, Thomas Houseago, Alex Israel, JPW3, Alex Katz, Jacob Kassay, Martin Kippenberger, Glenn Ligon, Michael Linares, Nate Lowman, Adam McEwen, Ana Mendieta, Albert Oehlen, Gabriel Orozco, Jorge Pardo, Manfred Pernice, Sigmar Polke, Seth Price, Rob Pruitt, Sterling Ruby, Analia Saban, Josh Smith, Reena Spaulings, Rudolf Stingel, Cosima von Bonin, Guyton/Walker, Kelley Walker, Christopher Wool.


Mana Contemporary Announces Its 2015 Miami Art Week Program

Presenting exhibitions from three of the most prestigious private art collections in the United States.

Nov 03, 2015, 16:01 ET from Mana Contemporary

MIAMI, Nov. 3, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — Mana Contemporary is pleased to announce its second edition of programming during Miami Art Week, taking place from December 3 to 6, 2015. Held at Mana’s 30-acre campus in the Wynwood arts district, this event will inaugurate the central 140,000-square-foot building’s new role as the Mana Wynwood Convention Center.

Mana Contemporary will present a diverse roster of exhibitions and programs, including:

Made in California: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation
Made in California—a phrase popularized in Ed Ruscha’s groundbreaking text/image works—will be a must-see exhibition during Miami Art Week. Frederick R. Weisman was a pioneering Los Angeles collector of California art as it emerged as a center for contemporary art in the 1960s. He built a collection that includes many of the artists that rose to prominence under the legendary Ferus Gallery, and who went on to define art movements such as Light and Space, Finish Fetish, Postmodernism, and beyond. Under the direction of Mrs. Billie Milam Weisman, the foundation continues to amass a substantial collection of Los Angeles and California art. On view will be works by John Baldessari, Mary Corse, Ron Davis, Sam Francis, Joe Goode, Tim Hawkinson, Robert Irwin, and Ed Ruscha, among many others.

A Sense of Place: Selections from the Jorge M. Pérez Collection
Co-curated by Patricia Hanna and Anelys Alvarez
Including a selection of over 60 works from the collection of Jorge M. Pérez, A Sense of Place is an exhibition that explores cultural identity by way of the collection’s recent acquisitions of works by artists from Latin America. Despite the fact that these artists are working in a globalized world, where technology and communication transcend physical boundaries, many of these artists continue to construct personal and cultural identities by exploring ideas that are specific to their contexts of origin. The show will examine the idea of building cultural identity, and how artists use abstraction, architecture, politics, and memory to carve out a sense of place, and how those concerns are reflected in Pérez as a collector and Miami as a developing city. Pérez, named one of the most influential Hispanics in the U.S. by TIME magazine, is considered a visionary for incorporating the arts into his South Florida real estate developments.

Everything you are I am not: Latin American Art from the Tiroche DeLeon Collection
Curated by Catherine Petitgas
Everything you are I am not presents a selection of key works of Latin American contemporary art from the Tiroche DeLeon Collection. Borrowed from a piece in the collection by Argentine artist Adrian Villar Rojas, the title of the exhibition alludes to the common practice among contemporary artists from the region to subvert the canons of mainstream art to produce thought-provoking, often humorous works. With 55 pieces by 30 artists, the exhibition will explore several different facets of this approach. The Tiroche DeLeon Collection was established in January 2011 by Serge Tiroche and Russ DeLeon with a focus on the up and coming art scenes of Asia, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. London-based Petitgas is one of the world’s most respected collectors of Latin American art, as well as a writer, lecturer, and art historian.

Mana Urban Arts x Bushwick Collective
Mana Urban Arts Project is collaborating with Bushwick Collective to bring live graffiti painting by 50 influential artists to Mana Wynwood’s RC Cola factory. Renowned artists include: Ghost (New York), GIZ (New York), Pixel Pancho (Italy), Case Maclaim (Germany), and Shok-1 (England). The industrial space adjacent to Interstate 95 will transform into a vibrant scene featuring a skateboarding exhibition, breakdancing, DJ performances, and live music.


PINTA Miami is the only curated boutique art fair with a specific geographic focus that looks to be an international platform for Ibero-American art identities and issues. The fair will showcase the best of abstract, concrete, neo-concrete, kinetic, and conceptual art movements. PINTA has updated its format to present a fully curated fair, featuring an international team of recognized curators chosen to direct each of the five newly designated sections of the fair.


VIP Preview Reception
An exclusive preview dinner will feature a performance by the Miami Symphony Orchestra.

III Points Music Festival
In partnership with III Points, Mana Contemporary will present a series of after-hours music events in Mana Wynwood’s 36,000-square-foot sound stadium.


Mana Contemporary
December 3-6, 2015
Mana Wynwood Convention Center
318 NW 23rd Street
Miami, FL 33127

Preview Reception
Tuesday, December 1: 6pm9pm: By invitation only

Public Hours
Thursday, December 3: 11am – 8pm
Friday, December 4: 11am – 8pm
Saturday, December 5: 11am – 8pm
Sunday, December 6: 11am6pm

Admission to Mana Contemporary’s events at Mana Wynwood is complimentary, unless otherwise noted. For tickets and information regarding PINTA Miami, please visit


Art Basel is just a month away. Last year the fair attracted 73,000 visitors to the Miami Beach Convention Center and this year’s 14th edition looks to be even bigger and better, with 267 galleries from 32 countries exhibiting from December 3rd to the 6th — plus the former head of NYC’s Armory Show, Noah Horowitz, is now running the fair.

Rendering of the new Miami Beach Convention Center
Work on the $615 million renovation of the convention center is scheduled to begin as soon as AB/MB ends, so look for big changes next year. The $20 million re-do of Lincoln Road is also moving along with NYC’s James Corner Field Operations, the firm that did The High Line, winning the contract to update the original Morris Lapidus design from the 1950s.

All the AB/MB side-sectors return, including SURVEY with 14 booths showing “historically informed” works; NOVA, where you’ll find 34 younger galleries showing new works; and sixteen POSITIONS galleries focusing on emerging artists, including Villa Design Group‘s installation of 10 doorways derived from the scene of the 1997 murder of Gianni Versace on Ocean Drive and, “Polyrhythm Technoir,” a filmed “allegory to contemporary electronic music” by Henning Fehr, Danji Buck-Moore and Phillip Ruhr, presented by Galerie Max Mayer.

UNBUILTYves Behar is the recipient of the 2015 Design Miami “Design Visionary Award” and he’ll be honored with a special exhibit in the D/M venue behind the convention center from December 2 through 6. A student team from Harvard was chosen to design the fair’s entrance pavilion for their submission, “UNBUILT,” a collection of foam models of unrealized design projects. Expect thirty five exhibitors including Firma Casa from Brazil, showing new works by the Campana Brothers, and Italian gallery Secondome,with hand-crafted limited editions.

Several changes and new editions are coming to the numerous — 18 and counting — satellite fairs: Miami Project and Art on Paper move into the Deauville Beach Resort (6701 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach), the former site of the NADA fair; while the 13th edition of NADA heads down the street to the Fontainebleau (4441 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach).

The Miami Project is also launching a new spin-off this year called SATELLITE that will show various “experimental” projects in unoccupied properties up near their 73rd Street base. One of those, “Artist-Run,” will fill the rooms in the Ocean Terrace Hotel (7410 Ocean Terrace, Miami Beach) with different installations from 40 artist-run spaces, curated by Tiger Strikes Asteroid. It’s open from December 2nd to 6th, with a VIP/media event on December 1st from noon to 10 p.m. ALSO: Trans-Pecos, the music venue out in Queens, New York, and Sam Hillmer from the band Zs, are putting together a 5-day music program in the North Beach Amphitheater, emphasizing “musical practitioners with some form of art practice.”

Grace HartiganX Contemporary also joins the crowd with their inaugural edition in Wynwood running from December 2nd through Sunday, and a VIP opening on December 1st from 5 to 10 p.m. Twenty eight exhibitiors will be on hand, plus special projects including “Grace Hartigan: 1960 – 1965” presented by Michael Klein Arts; a look at the “genesis of street art” curated by Pamela Willoughby; and “Colombia N.O.W.” presented by TIMEBAG.

Kate Durbin’s “Hello Selfie” / Courtesy of the Artist/Photographer Jessie AskinazPULSE Miami Beach returns to Indian Beach Park (4601 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach) starting with a big “Opening Celebration” at 4 p.m. on December 1st featuring a panel discussion put together by Hyperallergic, an interactive piece by Kate Durbin called “Hello, Selfie!” and a live performance by Kalup Linzy. On December 5th, PULSE celebrates the City of Miami via a talk at 5 p.m. on “Future Visions of Miami” and a “Sunset Celebration” from 5 to 7 p.m. Fair visitors can check out “TARGET TOO,” an installation referencing items sold at the stores, originally on view in NYC last March. There’s a complimentary shuttle from the convention center, and the fair is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Saturday.

Wynwood WallsWynwood Walls (2520 NW 2nd Avenue, Miami) has a lot planned this year including “Walls of Change” with 14 new murals and installations and the debut of a new adjacent space called “The Wynwood Walls Garden.” The walls are by Case, Crash, Cryptik, el Seed, Erenest Zacharevic, Fafi, Hueman, INTI, The London Police, Logan Hicks and Ryan McGinness. Over in the “garden,” the Spanish art duo Pichi & Avo are doing a mural on stacked shipping containers and in the events space, Magnus Sodamin will be painting the floors and walls. The VIP opening is on December 1st in the early evening, but then it’s open to the public from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. Goldman Properties’ CEO Jessica Goldman Srebnick talks about how art transformed the Wynwood neighborhood in THIS Miami New Times piece. We also hear that New York developer (and owner of Moishe’s Moving, Mana Contemporary etc.) Moishe Mana is planning a new mixed-use development on his 30 acres of land in the middle of Wynwood.

The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum at FIU (10975 SW 17th Street. Miami) will have 5 exhibitions featuring 4 Miami-based artists: Carola Braco, Rufina Santana, Carlos Estevez and Ramon Espantaleon. Plus there will be a show called “Walls of Color” with murals by the post-war NY artist Hans Hofmam and, this year, the annual “Breakfast in the Park” on Sunday, December 6th, 9:30 a.m. to noon, honors American sculptor Alice Aycock.

Pauchi Sasaki’s speaker dressThe Mandarin Oriental Miami (500 Brickell Key Drive, Miami) and Peru’s gallery MORBO host an exhibition called “Pure Abstraction” by Peruvian artist Alex Brewer, aka HENSE, in the hotel’s Peruvian restaurant, La Mar by Gaston Acurio. There’s a VIP preview in the restaurant on December 3rd featuring a violin performance by Pauchi Sasaki who’ll be wearing her dress made from speakers.

A previous food installation by Jennifer RubellThe Rubell Family Collection (95 NW 29th Street, Miami) will present a big exhibition called “No Man’s Land” featuring women artists from their extensive collection. It’s up from December 2nd until the end of May and will include paintings, sculptures, photos and videos by over 100 female artists. Because of the large number of works, artworks will be rotated throughout the course of the show. Jennifer Rubell will present her twelfth large-scale, food-based installation,”Devotion,” on December 3rd, 9 to 11 a.m. She’ll be using “bread, butter, and a couple engaged to be married” as her media.

Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty” from the air.

“Our Hidden Futures” is the overall theme for this year’s AB/MB film program. Over 50 films and videos will be screened on the giant projection wall outside of the New World Center (500 17th Street, South Beach), plus over 80 more can be accessed in the convention center film library. The Colony Theater (1040 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach) will be showing director James Crump’s Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art on Friday, December 4, 8:30 p.m., followed by a panel discussion with Crump and Basel film curator Marian Masone. The evening screenings in SoundScape Park include short films with program themes ranging from “Speak Easy” to “Vanishing Point.”

Rachel in the Garden (2003), by John Currin; © John Currin. Photography by Rob McKeever. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

Jeffrey Deitch and Larry Gagosian are co-presenting an exhibition of figurative painting and sculpture in the Moore Building (3841 NE 2nd Avenue, Miami). The opening is on Tuesday, December 1st, but it will be on view all week. According to the NYT, artists featured in the group show will include Urs Fischer, Elizabeth Peyton, John Currin and David Salle.

Since 2005, the KABINETT sector of AB/MB has invited galleries to display curated installations. This year, there are 27 exhibitions including a new work by L.A. artist Glenn Kaino called “The Internationale” that re-interprets the iconic Pierrot character — and his “only friend,” the moon — interacting with visitors via “seminal texts on post-colonial theory.” Galerie Krinzinger will be showing Chris Burden’s “Deluxe Photo Book 1971 -1973,” documenting the first three years of his performances. And Galerie Lelong will present a selection of shaped, “erotic” canvases by the Puerto Rico-based artist Zilia Sanchez.

CONTEXT Art Miami, the sister fair to Art Miami, will feature 95 international galleries this year, along with several artist projects and installations including 12 listening stations dedicated to sound art; areas dedicated to art from Berlin and Korea; solo exhibitions by Jung San, Satoru Tamura, Mr. Herget and four others; and a “fast-track” portrait project of workers at Miami International Airport. Context and Art Miami — which is celebrating its 26th year — open with a VIP preview benefiting the Perez Art Museum Miami on Tuesday, December 1, 5:30 to 10 p.m., at 2901 NE 1st Avenue in Midtown, Miami. The fair is open to the public from December 2nd through the 6th.

“Coven Services” (2004) by Alex Bag

ICA Miami (4040 NE 2nd Avenue, Miami) presents a new theatrical performance called “Artist Theater Program” by Erika Vogt, Shannon Ebner and Dylan Mira on Thursday, December 3rd at 4 p.m. Ebner also has a concurrent show, “A Public Character,” on view in the museum during AB/MB and up until January 16, 2016. This is the inaugural program in the museum’s new performance series. Also opening on December 1st is a major survey of works by the video and performance artist Alex Bag, including her interactive installation “The Van.” The museum recently announced the appointment of Ellen Salpeter, Deputy Director of NYC’s Jewish Museum, as its new director and they’ve just broken ground on a new, permanent home in the Design District. The 37,500 -square-foot building was designed by the Spanish firm Aranguren & Gallegos Arquitectos and is scheduled to open in 2017.

Installation by Alan SonfistMiami’s “art hotel” The Sagamore (1671 Collins Avenue, South Beach) has a new installation by environmental/landscape sculptor Alan Sonfist on view all week, along with their incredible Cricket Taplin Collection of contemporary art. The hotel’s annual VIP brunch — featuring a new Electronic Arts Intermix installation — is on Saturday, December 5th, 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“Subway Station” by Louis Lozowick

The INK Miami Art Fair celebrates their 10th anniversary and maintains their exclusive focus on printmaking and works on paper. They’re back in the Suites of Dorchester (1850 Collins Avenue, South Beach) from Wednesday, December 2nd, through Sunday. Highlights include a lithograph by Louis Lozowick called Subway Station, NYC (1936) at Susan Teller Gallery’s booth and A World in a Box (2015) by Mark Dion published by Graphicstudio/U.S.F.

New York-based branding and event collective FAME is popping-up in Miami from December 2 to 6 with their ” Superfine! House of Art & Design” (8300 NE 2nd Avenue, Miami) in Little Haiti. They’re promising “the arty party of the year” with a big opening night December 2nd, 6 to 10 p.m, featuring a gigantic chandelier installation by Diego Montoya and music all week from Gilligan Moss, Lauv and more TBA. Plus, Afrobeta plays on Friday at a party hosted by PAPER fave, textile artist Karelle Levy.

The fourth edition of UNTITLED Miami is on the beach at Ocean Drive and 12th Street from December 2 to 6, with a big VIP preview on December 1st from 4 to 8 p.m. They’ve got 119 international galleries along with non-profit orgs from 20 countries. New this year will be an UNTITLED radio station broadcasting via local Wynwood Radio with interviews, performances and playlists by artists, curators etc.

Mega Guide to Art Basel Miami Beach 2015: Part 3


Things are really starting to come together at Argentine developer Alan Faena’s new residential and arts district between 32nd and 36th Streets on Collins Avenue. By the time AB/MB rolls around, the Faena Hotel Miami Beach should be up and running, and construction is now complete on the Foster + Partners residential tower. The Faena Forum (above), designed by OMA Rem Koolhaas, should be open in April 2016. For Basel Miami 2015, they’ve planned a series of cool events including: A roller-disco installation by assume vivid astro focus that will be open to the public daily on the beach and feature local and international DJs; a “theater curtain” installation called “A Site To Behold” by Spanish artist Almudena Lober that lets visitors play alternate roles of “actor” and “performer”; and a site-specific “sand and light” installation by Jim Denevan.

The Perez Art Museum Miami (aka PAMM) — designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron — had it’s big debut in 2013 in downtown Miami’s Museum Park. On December 3rd, 2015, 9 p.m. to midnight, they’ll be premiering a collab performance by Devonte Hynes of Blood Orange and Ryan McNamara called “Dimensions” that includes elements of dance, music and sculpture. Also, during this open house for members and VIPs, you can check out their current exhibitions including Nari Ward’s “Sun Splashed,” Firelei Baez’ “Bloodlines,” and a show of Aboriginal Australian abstract painting.

Moishe Mana’s Mana Contemporary (318 NW 23rd Street, Miami) in Wynwood plans several exhibitions during AB/MB including “Made in California,” featuring selections from L.A. collector Frederick R. Weisman’s Art Foundation; “A Sense of Place,” with over 60 works from the collection of Jorge M. Perez; and “Everything You Are Not,” key works of Latin American art from the Tiroche DeLeon collection. All are up from December 3rd thru the 6th, with a VIP preview on December 1st. Mana Urban Arts is also doing a collab with The Bushwick Collective at the former RC Cola Plant (550 NW 24th Street, Miami) that includes over 50 artists — so far the list includes Ghost, GIZ, Pixel Pancho, Case Maclaim and Shok-1 — plus skateboarding, DJs, live music etc.

Lots of music events and parties are starting to come in, including a show with Jamie xx and Four Tet on Friday, December 4th, in the Black Room at Mana Wynwood (318 NW 23rd Street, Miami), presented by III Points and Young Turks. Tickets are available HERE. At the same venue, Life & Death records presents Tale of Us, Mind Against, Thugfucker and “special guest” Richie Hawtin on December 3rd. Tickets are HERE. We also hear that Danny Howells will be spinning at Do Not Sit On The Furniture (423 16th Street, Miami Beach) on Saturday, December 5th; and Marco Carola and Stacey Pullen are at Story (136 Collins Avenue, South Beach) on Saturday, December 5th.

Photo via

Two young London-based artists, Walter & Zoniel, will set up a large, hand-built camera in the Delano Hotel (1685 Collins Avenue, South Beach) from December 2nd to the 5th for a performance piece called “Alpha-Ation.” They’ll be creating exclusive, hand-colored portraits of “high-profile” figures all week and have already shot Lindsay Lohan and Tinie Tempah. The work is presented by the UK gallery Gazelli Art House. There’s also an invite-only reception with the artists at the Delano on Saturday night.

Hans Ulrich Obrist

AB/MB’s Conversations and Salon series brings together artists, curators, gallerists, historians, critics and collectors for 23 talks and panels all week. Jenny Holzer and Trevor Paglen kick things off on December 3rd, 10 to 11 a.m., in the Hall C auditorium. Other “conversations” include London’s Serpentine co-director Hans Ulrich Obrist on Friday morning and Genius Grant winner Nicole Eisenman on Sunday. In the Salon series, Obrist will also moderate a conversation between artist Alex Israel and author Bret Easton Ellis on “the evolution of the L.A. art scene.”

L.A. painter and installation artist Lisa Solberg will preview her latest project, “Mister Lee’s Shangri-La,” at Soho Beach House (4385 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach) on Saturday, December 5th. The work — “an immersive exotic dance club sheltered inside a greenhouse” — will then be on view at MAMA Gallery (1242 Palmetto Street, Los Angeles) in L.A. as of December 19th.

Photo by Julian Mackler/

Adrien Brody isn’t just a great actor. He’ll be showing several of his paintings during AB/MB in a show called “Hot Dogs, Hamburgers and Handguns” at Lulu Laboratorium (173 NW 23rd Street, Miami) in Wynwood. The show was curated by Spanish-American artist Domingo Zapata and the big opening party starts at 10p.m. on December 2nd.

Calypso St. Barth Beach Boutique pops-up in the Soho Beach House (4385 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach) all week from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. They’ll also be hosting VIP events for artists including Jen Stark and Mira Dancy.

The National YoungArts Foundation‘s (2100 Biscayne Blvd., Miami) current show, “The Future Was Written,” features an interactive work by Daniel Arsham that asks visitors to use any of 2,000 chalk objects to draw on the gallery walls. On view until December 11th.

Chrome Hearts celebrates their new collaborators, Laduree and Sean Kelly Gallery, on December 2nd, 8 to 11 p.m., in the Chrome Hearts (4025 NE 2nd Avenue, Miami) shop in the Design District with a private, VIP party featuring works by Sean Kelly artists including Marina Abramovic, Los Carpinteros, Jose Davila, Robert Mapplethorpe and many more. Also there’s a special performance by Abstrakto and DJ set from Atlanta de Cadenet Taylor.

The MoMA Design Store and online skate deck site, The Skateroom, will open a pop-up in the Delano Hotel (1685 Collins Avenue, South Beach) from November 30th to December 6th. The “immersive installation” will sell limited-edition skateboard decks featuring Andy Warhol artworks including his Campbell’s Soup cans, Guns, Car Crash etc. A portion of the proceeds will go to Skateistan, a non-profit org that uses skateboarding to empower youth. The private VIP opening is December 2, 8 to 11 p.m.

Louis Vuitton (140 NE 39th Street, Miami) will be presenting “Objets Nomandes” — a new collection of foldable furniture and travel accessories — in their new store in the Design District during AB/MB, as of December 3rd. The pieces are collabs with international designers including the Campana Brothers, Maarten Baas and Nendo. You can also check out the world-exclusive unveiling of a lounge chair designed by Marcel Wanders.

ArtCenter/South Florida has an “off-site” installation called “D.O.A.” by the Israel-based artist Dina Shenhav over in Miami’s Little River District at 7252 NW Miami Court. Shenav will create a hunter’s cabin filled with “hunter” paraphernalia sculpted from yellow foam. Up from November 29th until the end of January.

Mega Guide to Art Basel Miami Beach 2015: Part 4

Gary Pini

One of our fave AB/MB sectors, PUBLIC, just announced this year’s list of 26 artists who’ll be doing site-specific installations and performances all week in Collins Park. Several caught our eye: a jemstone-encrusted “Healing Pavilion” enhanced with “metaphysical properties” by Sam Falls; a group of tall chairs from the original production Robert Wilson’s “Einstein on the Beach;” a giant set of red lips by Sterling Ruby; and a monumental deer lawn ornament by Tony Tasset. Opening night is Wednesday, December 2nd, 7 to 9 p.m., and it features a female tai chi master, male bodybuilders, men on skateboards, a dandy hobo and an evening performance by Yan Xing.

Tony Tasset, Deer, 2015Photo cred. Kavi GuptaSCOPE returns to South Beach from December 2 to 6 (VIPs get in on the 1st) with 120 exhibitors from 22 countries, plus several special sections including Juxtapoz Presents, the Breeder Program for new galleries and FEATURE, showcasing photography. For a fourth year, the fair collabs with VH1 on a music series featuring up-and-coming artists. There’s also an invite-only party with recording artists Mack Wilds and Lil’ Dicky on Friday night at Nikki Beach, sponsored by SCOPE, VH1 and BMI.

As usual, there are lots of cool things happening at The Standard Miami (40 Island Avenue, South Beach) during the week including: The Standard X The Posters launch of their collab poster by Miami-based artist Jim Drain to celebrate the hotel’s 10th anniversary (available in the hotel’s gift shop), a VIP-only cocktail party hosted by Andre Saraiva, a book signing with Cheryl Dunn for her “Festivals Are Good,” a “chopped art” party with the Bruce High Quality Foundation and, of course, there’s the annual Lazy Sunday BBQ hosted this year by Creative Time on December 6th.

The design team of George Yabu & Glenn Pushelberg return to the BASEMENT nightclub in the Miami Beach EDITION Hotel (2901 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach) for an invite-only party with London’s Horse Meat Disco crew and special guest Giorgio Moroder on Thursday, December 3rd. They’re also hosting a private luncheon in the hotel’s Matador Room on Friday and launching a biannual “bookazine” called YP: Transformation, with the first issue available exclusively in the EDITION Hotel during AB/MB.

The EDITION also hosts pop-up exhibitions by NYC galleries in two of their fab bungalows: Half Gallery and HarperCollins Publishers will feature paintings by Daniel Heidkamp, an installation by Tom Sachs and book signings by Justin Adian, Sylvie Fleury and Sue Williamson; Salon 94 will have an installation by Jeremy Couillard.

JJeremy Couillard, Bowery Video Wall, 2014PULSE Miami Beach (4601 Collins Avenue, Indian Beach Park) just announced their 2015 series of special projects including: a neon installation by Texas artists Alicia Eggert and Mike Fleming, a sculpture called “Trees” by Gordon Holden, a faux apartment building by Chris Jones, “Over and Under” by Francis Trombly and a small architectural piece inspired by Corbusier by New York artist Jim Osman. The fair’s PLAY section for video and new media will be curated by Stacy Engman.

Francis Trombly, Over and Under, 2015Bortolami Gallery is opening a year-long exhibition called “Miami” by the French conceptual artist Daniel Buren on December 1st in the M Building (194 NW 30th Street, Miami). The show marks the 50th anniversary of his works with fabric and the 8.7 cm stripe. By periodically installing new works, Buren will also alter the exhibition during the year.

Daniel BurenSpanish luxury fashion house LOEWE (110 NE 39th Street, Miami) opens a group show called “Close Encounters” on Wednesday, December 2nd, 6:30 to 9 p.m. The artists are Anthea Hamilton, Paul Nash, Lucie Rie and Rose Wylie; and the hosts for the evening are Jonathan Anderson, creative director of Loewe, with Don and Mira Rubell. Invite only.

Anthea Hamilton, Dance, 2012

Previewing their upcoming South Beach studio, SoulCycle will pop-up poolside at the 1 Hotel (2341 Collins Avenue, South Beach) starting on Tuesday, December 1st. They plan to open permanently in the hotel in January 2016.

Absolut Elyx, Sean Kelly Gallery, Paddle8 and Water For People celebrate WATER, “the most important drink in the world,” with a private charity auction and party at the Delano Hotel (1685 Collins Avenue, South Beach) on Thursday, December 3rd, 7 to 10 p.m. Look for a live performance by the Swedish singer Elliphant and a DJ set by Jasmine Solano.

ElliphantPhoto Cred. Corey OlsenRicardo Barroso and Eva Longoria celebrate the launch of “Ricardo Barroso Interiors” at Casa Tua (1700 James Avenue, South Beach) on December 3rd. The book includes 240 color photographs of his past and present work, with an accompanying text by Barroso and Fionn Petch and a foreword by Longoria. Invite only.

Ricardo BarrosoMolteni (4100 NE 2nd Avenue, Miami) celebrates their 80th anniversary on December 3rd, 7 to 10 p.m., with a VIP soiree featuring “Amare Gio Ponti,” the first film about the legendary Italian architect and designer.
Libertine, one of the new clubs in downtown Miami’s 24-hour party district, hosts a release party for Nakid Magazine‘s latest issue and their cover artist Jen Stark on Friday night, December 4th. Stark recently collab’ed with Miley Cyrus on MTV’s VMA Awards and has a new installation at Miami International Airport.

Jen StarkCorona brings their “Electric Beach” to the Clevelander Hotel (1020 Ocean Drive, South Beach) on December 5th, 3 to 8 p.m., with a live performance by Chilean artist DASIC, and tons of music from Craze, Astronomar, Ape Drums and TJ Mizell.

DasicBrown Jordan and Sunbrella are getting together to showcase photographs by Gray Malin at a sneak-peek preview of Brown Jordan’s new store in the Design District. The invite-only opening is on Thursday, and the store should be open at the beginning of the new year. Some of the photos from the show will be on view there permanently and others are from Malin’s personal collection.

Gray Milan, A La Plage, 2012The Surf Lodge pops-up all week at The Hall South Beach Hotel (1500 Collins Avenue, South Beach) with a series of invite-only artist dinners, events and performances.

Gerhard Richter: Articles, Information, Images (2015)

The Art of Gerhard Richter

Hermeneutics, Images, Meaning

By: Christian Lotz
Media of The Art of Gerhard Richter

Published: 10-22-2015
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 256
ISBN: 9781472589019
Imprint: Bloomsbury Academic
Illustrations: 16 colour illustrations in plate section: pp.180-181
Dimensions: 6 1/8″ x 9 1/4″
List price: $112.00
Online price: $78.40
Save $33.60 (30%)


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Gerhard Richter Colour Charts in London – Presented by Dominique Lévy First Time Since 1966

Amy Lin

Gerhard Richter’s Colour Charts will be on display for the first time in the last five decades at Dominique Lévy gallery in London. The exhibition will present some of the best colour panels by the celebrated German artist. Colour Charts exhibit highlights a crucial moment in the artist’s career and works that are situated across several leading art movements of the twentieth century. Gerhard Richter has embraced industrial materials and commercial serialism designating the series as Pop Art although he has once stated that “Colour Charts manifest the influence of a Duchampian model of Conceptual Art“.


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Sample Card for Enamel Paint from Ducolux, 1963

Paint Sample Cards by Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter was inspired by a collection of paint sample cards noticed in one Düsseldorf hardware store. The artist was captivated by the chromatically rich industrially designed selection that was completely deprived of any aesthetic motives. He had copied the originals exactly and the composition of colors was random throughout the process. At first, Gerhard Richter’s friend Blinky Palermo would visit the artist’s studio and randomly call out the names of sample color cards, which were then incorporated into the artwork. Later the artist himself had chosen the colours randomly in order to remove the artistic impact on the compositions. These colorful paintings have been the initiator for Gerhard Richter’s renowned multi-colored abstract paintings created in the following decades. The series was crucial for the artist’s future works partly because for the first time in his carrier, Gerhard Richter was able to capture a referent and its symbolic representation in the same painting. On a visual level, Colour Charts series is pure abstraction but the paintings are also a representation of industrial color sample cards that inspired the artist and therefore and object in its own right.


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Left : Gerhard Richter – Fünfzehn Farben (Fifteen Colours), 1966 – 1996, photo by Tom Powel Imaging / Right : Gerhard Richter – Sechs Gelb (Six Yellows), 1966, photo by Volker Naumann, courtesy of Museum Frieder Burda

The 50th Anniversary of the Colour Charts

The exhibition at Dominique Lévy will mark a 50 years anniversary of Colour Charts series. Each painting consists of multiple monochromatic rectangles or squares of glossy enamel painted onto a white background. The size of the canvases varies and while some are only few feet tall others almost reach human height. The installment will include single Colour Chart painted in 1971. when the artist begun to expand the series after a five-year break. This monumental 180 Farben (180 Colours) painting that consists of twenty panels with a three-by-three white-based grid, will be provided by Gerhard Richter Archive in Dresden. Museum Frieder Burda in Baden-Baden will lend one of the artist’s biggest single-panel paintings Sechs Gelb (Six Yellows) for this occasion.


Dominique Lévy, page germany, book, home, book, 2014, quotes, film, group, London

Gerhard Richter – Fünfzehn Farben (Fifteen Colours), 1966 – 1996, photo by Tom Powel Imaging

Abstract Painghtings and Archival Documents at Dominique Lévy

Gerhard Richter’s Colour Charts exhibition will open on October 13th at Dominique Lévy gallery in London. Apart from enamel on canvas paintings the exhibit will feature a selection of archival documents related to the series, including an original 1960s Ducolux paint sample card that inspired the artworks. Additionally the exhibit will be accompanied by a comprehensive publication dedicated to the series. Exhibition of some of Gerhard Richter’s best Colour Chart paintings will close on January 16th, 2016


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Featured image: Gerhard Richter – 180 Farden (180 Colours), 1971, photo by David Brandt, courtesy of Gerhard Richter Archive
All images courtesy of Dominique Lévy gallery


“Gerhard Richter: Colour Charts” at Dominique Lévy, London

October 18~2015

Dominique Lévy is pleased to announce “Gerhard Richter: Colour Charts,” an exhibition featuring a vital group of paintings selected from the artist’s original nineteen “Colour Charts” produced in 1966. Presented with the support of the Gerhard Richter Archive, the exhibition is the first to focus on the earliest works of this series since their inaugural appearance at Galerie Friedrich & Dahlem, Munich in 1966. At once paradoxical and coalescent, the “Colour Charts” highlight an important moment in the artist’s career and are situated across multiple leading art movements of the twentieth century.

In celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Colour Charts’ inception, the exhibition brings together works from multiple prominent international institutions. These include the Hamburger Kunsthalle, who is lending 192 Farben (192 Colours), 1966, Richter’s earliest fully realised Colour Chart and the only work from this series executed in oil, and the Museum Frieder Burda in Baden-Baden who is lending Sechs Gelb (Six Yellows), 1966, one of the largest single-panel “Colour Charts,” originally exhibited at Friedrich & Dahlem in 1966. “Gerhard Richter: Colour Charts” also features an earlier work, Sänger (Singer), 1965/1966, a Photo Painting with a colour chart of various shades of red painted on the obverse side of the canvas, which provides an integral insight into the artist’s conception of the series. Additionally, Richter’s 180 Farben (180 Colours), 1971, has generously been provided by the Gerhard Richter Archive in Dresden. Comprised of twenty panels, each with a three-by-three grid, this work is the first Colour Chart Richter produced when he returned to the series in 1971, after a five-year hiatus. “Gerhard Richter: Colour Charts” is accompanied by a comprehensive book featuring newly commissioned essays by Dietmar Elger, Head of the Gerhard Richter Archive; Hubertus Butin, curator and author of several key texts on Richter; and Jaleh Mansoor, Professor at the University of British Columbia, whose research concentrates on modern abstraction and its socio-economic implications. This book is the first publication dedicated to the original “Colour Charts.”


at Dominique Lévy, London

until 16 January 2015

“Gerhard Richter: Colour Charts” installation views at Dominique Lévy, London, 2015

Courtesy; Dominique Lévy, London.

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Painting in the Gap between Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art

In the mid-1970s, Gerhard Richter began making large, colorful, tactile abstract paintings whose sketchy, rough, and blurry effects make us aware of the tools and techniques used and the complicated pictorial thinking involved.1 Sometimes paint is applied with brushes, but more often it is smeared, dabbed, rubbed, blotted, streaked, and dripped with house painting brushes, palette knives, squeegees, and pieces of wood or glass. The emphatic paint textures created may be sensuous or plain, coarse or smooth, even or inconsistent. The shapes created are irregular, vague, incomplete, overlapped, and compressed. These paintings have been described as “gestural” or “painterly,” although Richter refers to them as his “Abstracts,” and they now constitute the largest and most consistent portion of his enormous, erratic oeuvre. They have made him one of the leading abstract painters of the last 40 years and have been the subject of much discussion, yet a cogent, plausible understanding of them is still needed. How should we interpret, respond to, and contextualize them art historically?

These works have been associated with Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Conceptualism, and Neo-Expressionism, but are not easily situated in any of these. They are most frequently interpreted as examples of the problems and complexities of postmodern painting. Scholars have concluded that Richter’s work demonstrates that painting since the 1960s has become meaningless and irrelevant and that expression and content are no longer possible, intended, or desired. They claim that he is causing this deconstruction of painting, that his work is as much a part of the process as it is indicative of it. The problem with these interpretations is that they are counter intuitive to the creative impulse and replace it with postmodern theoretical discourse. How is it possible for an artist to devote his life to such a nihilistic project as destroying the importance, appeal, and efficacy of his own creations? These interpretations linger even though Richter has refuted them in numerous statements and interviews over the years. Scholars often mistakenly take Richter’s comments about his technical process and visual thinking as explanations of meaning and purpose.

These interpretations relate Richter’s abstract paintings to Conceptual Art since they claim his works explore ideas about contemporary painting and are not important as individual images. The supposed historical self-awareness and reflexive ontology of Richter’s paintings are basic to postmodernism and related to Conceptual Art. Although they do not seem as expressive, emotive, spiritual, or philosophical as the mid-century abstract painting to which they are visually most similar, they are not as detached, aloof, and impenetrable as usually thought. Realizing this requires looking at them without imposing theoretical agendas on intuitive responses or substituting them for artistic purpose. We must remember that artworks that are connected stylistically sometimes convey or elicit very different ideas, responses, and feelings. The connection of Richter’s abstractions to Neo-Expressionism seems logical at first because this movement originated in Germany around the time Richter began making these works. However, if Richter is questioning and undermining expression and meaning, how is he part of a movement that supposedly revitalized painting and its expressive capabilities?  Moreover, Neo-Expressionism is such a broad and varied movement that it seems almost a moot point to debate Richter’s place in it.

Richter’s abstract paintings have definite stylistic affinities to Abstract Expressionism in their painterliness, residual evidence of technical processes, bold and powerful effects of color and light, and large scale. Yet they are obviously different in their aesthetic, emotive, and expressive effects. What explains their ambivalent similarity to Abstract Expressionism? They are better understood if their relationship to Pop Art is reconsidered. Pop Art is the mitigating bridge to earlier abstraction that helps explain this complex relationship. This is not surprising since Richter’s career blossomed in the early 1960s, shortly after he moved to West Germany and immersed himself in modernist painting and abandoned the Socialist Realism he studied in his youth. This was just when Pop Art was rapidly gaining attention and acclaim and Abstract Expressionism was falling into historical context. In the 1960s Richter was very interested in Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein. His abstract paintings evolved as he absorbed, reinterpreted, and synthesized various aspects of Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. The connection between Richter and Pop Art is rooted in his blurry paintings based on photographs of his youth, family, Germany during and after World War II, current events, and political issues, such as “Uncle Rudi” (1965), “Eight Student Nurses” (1966), and “October 18, 1977” (1988). Since these emulate but distort mass media imagery, they have been associated with Pop Art, and Richter became a major proponent of the style in Europe. Over the years, critics have related everything Richter has done to Pop Art in one way or another. Richter’s drastic shifting among different painting styles has further complicated how his work has been interpreted. He demonstrates how stylistic development has become so complex, unpredictable, and erratic since the 1960s. In spite of widely accepted postmodernist theories which suggest otherwise, we still expect an artist to develop in a rather linear, orderly, logical way and are surprised when he does not.

Lichtenstein’s paintings of brushstrokes, such as “Little Big Painting” and “Big Painting No. 6” (both 1965),2 make us acutely aware that a painting consists of brushstrokes and marks of paint deliberately created. Done in the wake of Abstract Expressionism, they seem to be satirical criticisms or expressions of doubt about the philosophical and spiritual capabilities of painting, especially abstraction, and attempt to demystify its aesthetic and expressive possibilities. Lichtenstein’s diagrammatic isolation of a few brushstrokes in the manner of comic book illustration parallels Richter’s fascination with paint marks and brushstrokes, which often led him to a curious arbitrariness and ambivalence in his disconnected, barely modeled paint application. Whereas “Red-Blue-Yellow[Catalogue Raisonné 330] (1972) is a jumble of squiggly brushstrokes, “Abstract Painting” [CR 398–1] (1976) and “Abstract Painting” [CR 432–8] (1978) feature distinct brushstrokes described emphatically while evading emotion. In the earlier painting the scattered gray and white paint lines are most noticeable, while in the later painting the most conspicuous brushstrokes are the intersecting broad areas of blue and yellow. Many of Richter’s early abstract paintings were based on photographic close-ups of paint surfaces.In “July” [CR 526] (1983), narrow strokes of green, broad patches of lightly shaded gray, red, yellow, and scribbles of orange create a composition with sharply discordant colors and textures and unevenly dispersed shapes. Richter has discussed his pursuit of “rightness” in pictorial composition, color, and technique, but this idea about painting seems anachronistic today.  “July” offers an elusive resolution of purely abstract elements rooted in Pop Art’s vivid, gaudy colors.

In “Abstract Painting” [CR 551–6] (1984), swirling streaks of gray and green and broad, thick, slightly modulated brushstrokes of dark green and brown allude to the evocative possibilities of painterly abstraction, but never achieve the potent feeling or genuine sensitivity of Abstract Expressionism because Richter’s technique is not as fluid and elegant. This composition is rather similar to Gottlieb’s Bursts (1957 – 74), except the irregular, brushy forms across the bottom of Gottlieb’s paintings are more nuanced and indicative of the artist’s presence and feeling. Richter is receptive to Lichtenstein’s skepticism about the mystique of painting but does not completely agree with it. The complex relationship between Richter and Abstract Expressionism is apparent if Richter’s “Abstract Painting” [CR 587–5] (1985) is compared to de Kooning’s large abstractions of the late 1950s, such as “Palisade” (1957). In de Kooning’s painting, violently brushed areas of blue, brown, and tan streak, twist, and crash into one another, while Richter’s painting features a large red blotch, spiky black lines, and broadly scraped marks of green. Both have lots of blue and brown, but Richter’s are so smoothly rendered as to suggest a landscape background, while de Kooning fluidly integrates these colors spatially with more spontaneous, liberated rendering and traditional blending of different colors and tones. De Kooning achieves a cohesion of forms, textures, and colors that Richter fails to achieve and probably never attempted. In the de Kooning we sense genuine self-revelation and feeling. This is much less apparent in the Richter, and Pop Art’s filtration of earlier abstraction is the reason.

From 1969 to 1972, Lichtenstein did numerous paintings about mirrors and their reflections that used the Ben-Day dot system and various illustration techniques to explore these complex visual phenomena. These paintings may be mildly satirical comments on Greenbergian modernism’s ideas on the absence of space when total flatness is achieved. This series led to the merging of the mirror surface with the painting surface in works like “Mirror # 3 (Six Panels)” (1971),3 which are purely abstract in their own right. Richter has often explored the picture surface in similar ways. “Abstract Painting” [CR 554–2] (1984) has broad areas of blue, gray, and yellow-green that are smoothly rendered in most areas, except their intersecting, overlapping contours make it seem as if they squirm against one another as they confront or cling to the picture plane. The long, bent marks of green and orange on the left are similar in pictorial effect to the short parallel lines commonly used in illustrations to indicate reflections in mirrors and other shiny surfaces. “Abstract Painting” [CR 630–4] (1987) has rectangular areas of evenly-textured blue and yellow-green applied with a paint roller that engage the picture plane and attempt to merge with it. In the late 1980s and after, with the enormous “January” [CR 699] (1989) and “Abstract Painting” [CR 840–5] (1997), Richter’s fusion of painting and picture plane is virtually complete. Both Lichtenstein and Richter flaunt the mass printing methods that they have employed or imitated. Richter uses squeegees, sponges, wood, and plastic strips to scrape, flatten, abrade, and congeal paint in an even, consistent way over the entire canvas. The use of various implements creates systematic, mechanical effects of textures and colors that mitigate the expressive connection usually expected between a painter and his media.

Warhol demonstrated for Richter some of the most salient aspects of Pop Art, like serial repetition, even dispersal of compositional elements, the blunt presentation of the subject, and the quasi-expressive distortion possible with vivid, garish colors and other visual effects derived from advertising, packaging, and mass printing. Richter absorbed these innovations into a more expressive, abstract mode. He has said he was particularly fascinated with Warhol’s ability to obscure and dissolve images and that he was moved emotionally by his Death and Disasters series. This series consisted of paintings in which Warhol silkscreeened photographs of electric chairs, automobile accidents, suicides, murders, and similarly disturbing subjects onto canvases and probed their meanings by repeating the same photographs, adding vivid colors, blurring, fading, and shifting the photographs while printing them, and altering their scale. Serial repetition and the strict emulation of commercial imagery are first apparent in Richter’s abstractions in his color chart paintings of the late-1960s, in which many small rectangles of single hues are evenly dispersed on the canvas. These were based on color charts produced by paint manufacturers. Although their subject is typical of Pop Art, their flatness, composition uniformity, and large size are just as characteristic of Color Field painting. They are a virtually perfect merger of these separate but concurrent movements.

Warhol’s influence on Richter’s abstract paintings is most apparent in his work of the past 25 years. “Abstract Painting” [CR 758–2] and “Abstract Painting” [CR 759–1] (both 1992) are two examples of how serial repetition across the composition is the primary visual effect. In the first, silvery gray vertical streaks cling to the picture plane as paler tones between them suggest depth. In the second, a sketchy grid of purple-gray blotches and streaks has the look and feel of an early Warhol silkscreen painting. “Abstract Painting” [CR 795] (1993) is a good example of Richter’s success in combining serial repetition with deliberate fading and blurring. Vertical strips of green, red, blue, and orange rendered as fuzzy, hazy forms create horizontal vibrations on the canvas. This suggests that the painting presents a frame from a film of totally abstract images or a ruined and stained film, forever changing yet never really doing so. Warhol used repetition, fading, and blurring for emotional resonance very effectively in “Marilyn Diptych” (1962),4 creating an elegiac mood appropriate for the untimely death of the actress. Richter often uses blurring and fading in his paintings based on photographs, where their emotional impact is similar. In the past 25 years, he has often used the same pictorial devices in his abstractions to evoke similar emotions.

“Abstract Painting” [CR 778–2] (1992) is particularly interesting because it is an expressive abstract image based heavily on what Richter learned from Warhol. It features a grid-like array of white square areas tainted with blue and yellow. Oil paint has been textured methodically but creatively with large brushes and squeegees on the smooth metallic surface to create long, thin lines that make the shapes appear to shimmer and vibrate horizontally. Small areas of bright red are dispersed across the composition; some are rectangular blotches of thick, smooth paint and others are drips and streaks of fluid paint. This manipulation of red conveys a sense of shock, danger, and violence similar to Warhol’s Death and Disasters. A good comparison with Richter’s painting may be made with Warhol’s “Red Disaster,”5 in which a photograph of an electric chair is drenched in red ink and repeatedly printed as blurry in a grid-like arrangement on the canvas. Richter has admitted to his concerns about social malaise, psychological alienation, death, loss, and self-doubt, which he observed during his childhood in post-World War II Germany as the damage done by the war to many Germans became apparent. Warhol’s “Statue of Liberty” (1962),6 is intriguingly similar to Richter’s painting in its emotively suggestive impact. This painting repeats a photograph of the American monument as blurred, hazy, and tilted with empty space on the left while large areas of blue and gray and smaller areas of bright red stain the printed and altered photographs. Warhol has shocked the viewer with the unsettled, endangered, and violated presentation of this American icon. However, his blunt repetition and lack of personal touch ultimately render his meaning uncertain, and our initial emotional response is quickly halted. Warhol said that emotional responses to these provocative and disturbing photographs were neutralized by their abundant reproduction in the news media, that this desensitized viewers to the horrors shown. Richter’s abstract paintings often do very much the same thing.

The vivid, garish, and clashing colors in many of Richter’s abstract paintings were probably inspired by those Pop artists who exaggerated the simplified, bold, and eye-catching qualities of magazine illustrations, posters, signs, and billboards. Rosenquist’s billboard paintings demonstrate how the intense, vibrant, and sensuous qualities of his subjects are made acutely obvious, gaudy, overwhelming, and chaotic through abrupt and improbable juxtapositions of forms, the extreme distortion and intensification of shapes, colors, and textures, and compositions where crowding, overlapping, and bizarre scale play with our recognition and interpretation of the familiar. Richter has known Rosenquist since at least 1970, when they met in Cologne, and he saw his work there and in New York City that year. Some of Rosenquist’s billboard paintings of the 1970s and 1980s are quite similar to Richter’s abstractions from the mid-1970s to the late-1980s. Since the 1970s, Rosenquist has explored an increasingly wider range of subjects, including the cosmic, supernatural, and imaginary, and his style has often become more abstract, with lurid, dazzling, and startling colors as well as extreme, surprising textures that often clash visually.

Richter’s “Clouds” [CR 514–1] (1982) is a large horizontal canvas with broad brushstrokes of dark green across the top, smoother, wider areas of blue across the bottom, and dabs and streaks of orange textured with squeegees and trowels on the right. The most jarring aspect of this painting is that the blue which we would assume is the sky is illogically located in the bottom of the composition, as if the world is upside-down. Such bizarre transformations and dislocations are common in Rosenquist’s paintings and have become more extreme over the years. They are apparent in “Star Thief” (1980), in which a sliced view of a woman’s face, bacon, and various metallic forms float in outer space, and “The Bird of Paradise Approaches the Hot Water Planet” (1989), in which a colorful bird-insect creature passes through layers of thick clouds with the radiant yellow light of a sun filling the space behind it. Richter’s “Pavillion” [CR 489–1] (1982) consists of firmly isolated areas of disparate colors and textures with irregular, barely described contours, including smooth areas of blue and green, mottled lava-like orange, and wavy strokes of gray. This painting seems to contain abstract equivalents to the atomic blasts, clouds, astronauts, and canned spaghetti in Rosenquist’s “F-111” (1964 – 65). Richter’s “Abstract Painting” [CR 591–2] (1986) is a tour de force of vivid, explosive colors and extremely rich, sensuous textures, which vary from flowing, lava-like orange on the right to darker tan on the left, plus dry streaks of green and indigo scattered across the composition but mostly gathered in the left and center. A precisely rendered, dark triangular form that resembles a designer’s ruled square juts into the foreground through an opening in these clumps and masses of paint. It is similar to many of Rosenquist’s later paintings in its vivid, lush, and unrealistic textures and colors.

Although Richter’s abstract paintings were affected greatly by the aesthetics of Pop Art, they have no connection to most of the subjects that Pop Art usually explored. Despite being visually related to Abstract Expressionism, they are not particularly spiritual, philosophical, introspective, cathartic, or existential. The best explanation of what they mean actually comes from Richter, but it has long been buried under verbose theory. He has said that these abstract paintings are visualizations of imaginary places and experiences, of what has been conceived and invented by the artistic imagination. This is similar to the changing themes in Rosenquist’s works in the 1970s and 1980s, to his bizarre, fantastic, and dreamlike subjects, although Rosenquist’s paintings have always remained representational. Richter’s pursuit of pictorial “rightness” in his abstract paintings, of organizing and balancing the components of a composition for visual, emotive, and expressive impact, is also essential to their meaning. This is as traditional as it is timeless, but some of his works are clearly more effective than others in this respect. “Abstract Painting” [CR 591–2] and “Abstract Painting” [CR 778–2] seem to have this elusive pictorial “rightness,” when colors, textures, shapes, and forms come together in an image that is whole, appealing, and captivating.


  1. To see the Richter paintings discussed in this essay, consult
  2. See, respectively,,
  3. See
  4. See
  5. See
  6. For the works by James Rosenquist, see


Herbert R. Hartel, Jr.HERBERT R. HARTEL, JR. received his doctorate in modern, contemporary and American art from the CUNY Graduate Center and his B.A. in studio art and art history from Queens College. He has taught at Hofstra University, Baruch College, John Jay College, and Parsons School of Design. He has published articles in Source: Notes in the History of Art, Journal of the American Studies Association of Texas, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, and New York History, and numerous reviews in The Art Book and Cassone: The Online Magazine of Art. He is particularly interested in 20th century American art, abstraction, and symbolism

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