Changes abound for the upcoming Miami Art Basel week 2005. 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.
The North American Premiere Of Isaac Julien’s Commission For The Rolls-Royce Art Programme To Be Shown During Art Basel In Miami Beach
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 | MiamiHerald.com
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. bridgehouseevents.com.
LITTLEST SISTER FAIR
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.; littlestsister.com. 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Falls, Katharina Grosse, Jacob Kassay, and Hank Willis Thomas to the lush lawn.
D. Nautilus, a SIXTY Hotel
1825 COLLINS AVENUE
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
40 ISLAND AVENUE
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
B. EDITION Hotel
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
A Short List of Miami Art Week Events
Gagosian, Stallone and even Edvard Munch are bringing it this year
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 observer.com/art
MONDAY NOVEMBER 30
Isaac Julien | Commission for Rolls-Royce Art Programme in Miami for Art Basel in Miami Beach Opening 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) tobe 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)
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.
TUESDAY DECEMBER 1
“Unrealism” 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.
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.
THURSDAY DECEMBER 3
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.
FRIDAY DECEMBER 4
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.
–HAMPTONS MAGAZINE What to Expect at Art Basel in Miami Beach This Year
By Matt Stewart | November 20, 2015 | Culture
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.
5. 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.
4. 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.
3. 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.
2. 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.
1. 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).
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; bardotmiami.com. Tickets cost $15 to $20 plus fees via showclix.com.
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; wallmiami.com. Tickets cost $50 to $70 via wantickets.com.
Wednesday, December 2
Behrouz & Friends Art Basel Edition with Damian Lazarus, Behrouz, and Bedouin, Wall Lounge, 2210 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets $50 via wantickets.com.
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 superfine.design/tickets.
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 residentadvisor.net.
Connan Mockasin, Bardot, 3456 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Doors 10 p.m.; tickets $15 to $20 via showclix.com.
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 superfine.design/tickets.
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; churchillspub.com. Tickets cost $25 plus fees via eventbrite.com. 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 residentadvisor.net.
tINI and Bill Patrick, Heart Nightclub, 50 NE 11th St., Miami. Tickets $20 to $30 via residentadvisor.net.
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 residentadvisor.net.
Miami Nice Art Basel, All-White Yacht Party, South Beach Lady, Hyatt Dock, 400 SE Second Ave., Miami. Tickets $60 via wantickets.com.
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 showclix.com.
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 superfine.design/tickets.
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 showclix.com.
Nakid Magazine Issue Release Party celebrating Jen Stark. 10 p.m. Friday, December 4, at Libertine, 40 NE 11th St., Miami; 305-363-2120; libertinemiami.com. 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 residentadvisor.net.
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 residentadvisor.net.
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 superfine.design/tickets.
David Squillace. 11:30 p.m. Saturday, December 5, at Wall Lounge, 2201 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-938-3130; wallmiami.com. Tickets cost $40 to $70 via wantickets.com.
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 residentadvisor.net.
Dark Basel with Necro and Madchild. 7 p.m. at Churchill’s Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami; 305-757-1807; churchillspub.com. Tickets cost $20 plus fees via eventbrite.com. Ages 18 and up
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
Isa Genzken, Schauspieler, 2013
NO MAN’S LAND
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:
Nina Chanel Abney
Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Iona Rozeal Brown
Cristina Lei Rodriguez
Hannah Van Bart
Paloma Varga Weisz
Carrie Mae Weems
AT THE WAREHOUSE
OPENS TO THE PUBLIC
WITH NEW EXHIBITIONS
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.
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.
ALSO ON VIEW AT MANA WYNWOOD
PINTA Miami 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 www.manacontemporary.com
Preview Reception Tuesday, December 1: 6pm – 9pm: By invitation only
Public Hours Thursday, December 3: 11am – 8pm Friday, December 4: 11am – 8pm Saturday, December 5: 11am – 8pm Sunday, December 6: 11am – 6pm
Admission to Mana Contemporary’s events at Mana Wynwood is complimentary, unless otherwise noted. For tickets and information regarding PINTA Miami, please visit pintamiami.com.
PAPER MAGAZINE’S 2015 MEGA GUIDE TO ART BASEL MIAMI BEACH WEEK
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
https://player.vimeo.com/video/142146817 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.
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
Frieze London and Frieze Masters saw numerous million-dollar sales over the past week. At Frieze London, 2015 Damien Hirst went for over $1.2 million at Frieze London this week. The piece, “Holbein (Artist’s Watercolours),” was sold at White Cube’s booth within the first hour of the art fair, and depicts the hues of the renowned Japanese watercolor manufacturer. Lisson Gallery sold Ai Weiwei’s “Iron Root” for €500,000, while at Kurimanzutto, a Gabriel Orozco went for $900,000. At David Zwirner, British artist Chris Ofili’s “Midnight Cocktail” painting went for $750,000.
Over at Frieze Masters, Marlene Dumas’s “Magdelena” went for £3.5 million at the Hauser & Wirth/Moretti Fine Art booth. Other million dollar sales include a $2.27 million Gunther Uecker, called “Weibe Spirale,” a latex-and nails-on-canvas piece, at Cardi. David Zwirner sold Bridget Rilley’s (2009/1970) work “Vapour 3” for $1.4 million. At John Gunther Rare Books, a Simon Bening went for €3.8 million.
The 13th edition of Frieze London comes to a close today. With the economic forecast hazy, especially for increasingly important art market centers in Asia, worry was rife ahead of the London fair’s opening that 2015 would be a slow year for collecting. But despite sales not being the feeding frenzy that not so long ago characterized several fairs across the art market calendar, a steady stream of five- and six-figure acquisitions left Frieze dealers more than satiated as the week’s action wound down.
With Frieze London and Frieze Masters opening on the same day for the first time since Masters was introduced in 2012, new artistic director for the Americas and Asia Abby Bangser told Artsy, “Attendance on preview day of VIPs was record-breaking, and that’s continued throughout the rest of the week.” Exact opening day figures for Frieze London remain pending. However, the fair did report a whopping 260% increase in collectors and VIPs attendance to Frieze Masters on opening day, including Eli and Edythe Broad, Benedict Cumberbatch, Diana Picasso, and Budi Tek.
And indeed, as is the norm, Tuesday’s sales led the pack where price was concerned. White Cube partner Daniela Gareh reported continued success with “two new bodies of paintings by Damien Hirst,” including the $1.2 million sale of Holbein (Artist’s Watercolours) (2015). (Bangser confirmed via telephone on Friday evening that such levels were representative of the high end of transactions reported to the fair thus far.) “Sales across the board were good throughout the week,” added Gareh on Saturday morning, noting further sales of works by Andreas Gursky, Tracey Emin, Theaster Gates, Imi Knoebel, Christian Marclay, Cerith Wyn Evans and Eddie Peake, among others.
David Zwirner placed Chris Ofili’s Midnight Cocktail (2015) in a collector’s hands for $750,000 on Tuesday. Among other sales, Kerry James Marshall’s Untitled (Toe Painter) (2015) also went on opening day for an unreported sum, ahead of a retrospective next April at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, which will then travel to the Met Breuer, and MOCA L.A.
L.A., London, and Berlin’s Sprüth Magers placed Jenny Holzer’s LED sign sculpture All Fall (2012) in a U.S. collection for $500,000. The artist’s redaction painting TOP SECRET NOFORN 11 (2011) also sold, this for $250,000. The booth presents several mini-solo exhibitions, from which two works by Thomas Scheibitz—Portrait Marco Dente (2015) and GP 160 (2011)—found takers for €63,000 and €35,000, respectively; as did four pieces by Thea Djordjadze for between €24,000 and €28,000. The gallery also sold their striking selection of pieces by Ryan Trecartin, ranging from $18,000–45,000.
Lehmann Maupin had a banner start to the fair. The gallery sold no fewer than six works by YBA Tracey Emin (price: £15,000–225,000), a pair of panel paintings by Mickalene Thomas from $125,000–175,000, and Nicholas Hlobo’s Chwetha (To Poke) (2015) for $80,000–120,000 and Isilima sesinambuzane phezu kwechibi (2015) for $40,000–60,000, among others. Do Ho Suh was the star of the booth, however, with four of the artist’s thread works on paper and fabric installations finding takers. Hub, London Studio (2015) was the pinnacle of the group, selling on the range of $350,000–450,000.
Suh is also prominently showcased at Victoria Miro’s stand. This Frieze, the gallery presents just three artists: “We wanted to do a more focused presentation this year, going in-depth to give a much better sense about what each artist is up to,” said Oliver Miro, who described the response as “really fantastic.” Sculptures by the Royal Academy’s youngest artist, Conrad Shawcross, were a particular hit, priced at £30,000–70,000. Each of the gallery’s five monumental canvases on view by Spanish painter and rising star Secundino Hernández had sold, priced from £25,000–75,000. Several of those pieces went to museums, one in the U.K. and one “in the southern Hemisphere,” a discrete Miro offered.
Paris’s kamel mennour saw huge success with works by Camille Henrot. “The show is sold out,” said the gallery’s Helena Mierzejewska on Friday afternoon. All eight editions of the booth’s central sculpture, Retreat From Investment, were spoken for, priced at €150,000 each. “It’s the first time she worked in such a big scale,” said Mierzejewska of the work, which is redolent of Henry Moore. Numerous watercolors on paper, mounted on dibond, ranged in price from €22,000 to €60,000. “They explore the everyday indignities that we encounter: nail biting, virtual sex, situations that remind us of our human side,” added Mierzejewska.
“There’s a real moment for Camille right now,” said KÖNIG GALERIE’s Sarah Miltenberger, who was also showing new works by Henrot. The French artist’s exhibition “The Pale Fox” runs through November 1st at KÖNIG, which sold both ceramics (now sold out at €45,000 apiece) and large-scale works on paper by Henrot from her 2014-2015 series, “The Tropics of Love.” Kiki Kogelnik’s painting Woman and Scissors (1964) also sold for $82,000, building on momentum from her inclusion in Tate Modern’s current show “The World Goes Pop.” A number of pieces by Jeppe Hein, Jorinde Voigt, Alicja Kwade, and Katharina Grosse had also found their way into collectors’ hands by Friday afternoon.
mennour wasn’t the only gallery to sell out its booth. Shanghai’s Antenna Space, which presents a solo installation of Guan Xiao, quickly saw the three-part work Documentary: From National Geographic to BBC (2015) sell to the Zabludowicz Collection. “This is a sequel to the work shown at the New Museum Triennial,” said director Simon Wang. “This is the third edition. The others were collected by Adrian Cheng and another very prominent private Chinese collection,” out of their concurrent show of Guan at the gallery, Wang added. “But we wanted to place one into an influential European connection.” Price? On the range from €30,000–40,000.
Sales across the fair’s Focus section were a mixed bag, reflecting a current tendency away from very young, and thus potentially financially risky, work. Several gallerists cited that a lack of urgency in purchasing was indeed making itself felt. But nonetheless, works from many, such as High Art’s solo presentation of Pentti Monkkonen were finding their way to collectors. High Art co-founders Romain Chenais and Jason Hwang, and fellow galleries Crèvecoeur, Antoine Levi, High Art, Sultana, and Gregor Staiger, will launch their own fair next week—Paris Internationale, an event hotly anticipated among several of Frieze Focus’s hipper exhibitors. “It’s really going to be young, emerging art,” said Chenais. “We don’t know how people will react, whether they will just visit or if they will buy, but there is a lot of excitement around it at the moment.”
One imagines Frieze might be surprisingly pleased that a group of Focus exhibitors would be starting an art fair themselves. It’s one more event to add to the already nearly-300-line-long tally of fairs on the annual calendar. But the London fair’s lifeblood (at least where branding is concerned) and roots remain its unparalleled selection of young dealers and new practices. And that which contributes to the health of the emerging market will, ultimately, be to Frieze’s benefit.
Frieze and Frieze Masters Open With Steady Sales
BY Judd Tully | October 14, 2015
Left to right: Chung Sang-hwa’s “Untitled,” 1987, and Albert Oehlen’s “Untitled,” 1991, both on view at Frieze Masters.
LONDON — The 13th edition of Frieze London in Regent’s Park opened to V.I.P. cardholders on Tuesday morning, the same moment as its younger sister fair, the four-year-old Frieze Masters, opened its doors far across the manicured park.
Since it’s impossible to be in two places at once, choices were made and it appeared the bigger queue was at the contemporary fair where visitors were greeted in the entry hallway by rather grim collaborative sayings painted in white on black backgrounds, including “Overcome your challenges or they will reappear” and “Don’t Stop Now—The End is Near.”
That sobering, black on black hallway, dotted with what appeared to be reclaimed prisoner benches, complete with stationary metal hoops to accommodate handcuffs or chains, wasn’t exactly inviting. But things perked up once in the central meeting point of the grandly proportioned and bespoke tent, as the more familiar rituals of art commerce slowly kicked into gear.
At London’s White Cube, a brand new Damien Hirst, “Holbein (Artists’ Watercolours)” from 2015 in couch enamel and sign writing paint on canvas, sold right away for £750,000 to a US collector. The piece could be viewed as a very distant cousin to the stunning “Gerhard Richter Colour Charts” exhibition at London’s Dominique Levy, which includes nine paintings from the original 1996 series. Hirst’s mammoth chart at 94 by 158 inches consists of rectangular shaped color swatches running nine rows across and nine rows down the busy canvas.
At New York/London’s David Zwirner Gallery, Kerry James Marshall’s exuberant figurative painting “Untitled (Toe Painter)” from 2015, in acrylic on PVC panel and measuring 60 by 60 inches, sold to another American collector, but the gallery declined to disclose the price. The gallery now represents Marshall in London. Also at Zwirner, Chris Ofili’s large-scale painting “Midnight Cocktail” sold for $750,000.
At London’s Lisson Gallery, a vibrantly colored and patterned abstraction by New York painter Stanley Whitney, “Inside Out” from 2013, scaled at 96 by 96 inches in oil on linen and representing his debut at the gallery, sold for $85,000. At least three of the artist’s six untitled smaller works, each measuring 12 by 12 inches, sold for $15,000 apiece during the first hour of the V.I.P. preview.
Lisson also sold Ai Wei Wei’s purple hued “Iron Root,” in cast iron and auto paint from 2015, for around half a million euros to a Middle Eastern client, according to the gallery. The artist is currently featured in a survey exhibition at the Royal Academy, including an inviting ensemble of sculpted trees installed in the courtyard.
New York/London/Zurich/Los Angeles’s Hauser & Wirth presented small scale sculptures by gallery artists on identically sized pedestals, affording pleasurable, 360 degree views of the little forest of sculptures that gallery partner Paul Schimmel described as “field of dreams.” A coated glasswork by Larry Bell, “Cube #10-1-92” from 1992 and standing 10 inches high, sold for $135,000.
At Paris/Salzburg Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery, a huge Robert Longo diptych, “Untitled (Holy Tree/Cedar)” in charcoal on paper from 2015 and measuring 102 by 128 by 4 inches, sold to a European collector for $650,000, and a 72 by 72 inch landscape by Alex Katz, “The Road” from 2015 and evocative of the Maine woods and its stellar light, sold for $390,000. Ropac also sold Sturtevant’s appropriated damsel, “Warhol Licorice Marilyn” from 2004, for around $275,000.
“I was very impressed with the energy of the fair this year,” said Polly Robinson Gaer, executive director of Ropac in London, “especially since our price points are very high compared to the other booths, so we’re really pleased with the outcome.”
It was about at this juncture, some 2 ½ hours into Frieze London with its 164 galleries, that I remembered my mission was across the park at Frieze Masters.
A brisk 15-minute walk later, the dirigible-like silver outline of the Masters’ tent appeared and London’s mini-answer to TEFAF, the European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht, but with better 20th-century art, unfolded.
It quickly became evident that last year’s iteration with Helly Nahmad Gallery’s exquisitely entertaining “The Collector” installation has gone viral here, with a number of galleries trying it on, bringing a mix of art and furniture together with a patron saint dealer or character added to the flavorful mix.
London’s Richard Nagy Gallery did it with German Expressionist works and vintage Austrian furniture, Dickinson staged an ambitious “Masters of Cubism” art salon as a homage to Paris dealer Leonce Rosenberg, and cooperating dealers Moretti (London) and Hauser & Wirth combined 14th-century Italian painters with a modernist and contemporary cast of Hauser & Wirth’s deep back room, including a sultry yet somehow religious Marlene Dumas, an ink on paper of a nude girl, “Magdalena (de Pelsie)” from 1996. The Dumas hung alongside the 14th-century Luca de Tomme’s “Madonna and Child with Christ Blessing” in tempera on panel. It doesn’t take long to get the idea that the dealers and Frieze Masters would like you to embrace (and collect) the sweep of those centuries.
The acquiring pace at Frieze Masters appeared slower this year as even top guns, such as New York’s Van de Wegh Gallery, with works by Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Acquavella Galleries, armed with a stunning Claude Monet landscape of Monte Carlo from 1883 and a rare and beautiful family portrait by Edgar Degas (“Henri Rouart et sa fille Helene”) from circa 1877, priced at $10.5 and $8 million respectively, had no initial takers.
There was some action at New York/London’s Skarstedt Gallery, usually a hotbed of notable transactions, as Alighiero Boetti’s “841/ Beige Sahara” from 1967, consisting of industrial spray paint on cardboard and cork lettering at 27 1/8 by 27 1/8, sold in the $500,000 range and Albert Oehlen’s untitled and rather biomorphic abstraction from 1991 sold for around $700,000 to a European collector.
“It’s O.K.,” said Per Skarstedt, shortly after chatting with American painter Eric Fischl, who was visiting the stand. “We’re hoping to sell more art.”
Similarly, at New York’s Sperone Westwater Gallery, an early and rarely seen Joseph Kosuth, “One and seven-Description II” from 1965 and consisting of seven acrylic on canvas panels, each measuring 15 by 15 inches, sold for $300,000.
The hottest sector sales wise appeared to be the so-called “Spotlight” section of galleries hosting one-person stands, led by Seoul/Beijing’s Hakgojae Gallery and the Minimalist, Robert Ryman-esque work of Korean artist Chung Sang-hwa. The booth sold out, with the seven featured paintings from the 1970s and ’80s going for $500,000 to approximately $1 million.
“His prices have jumped five times what they were last year,” said Eunsoo Woo, Hakgojae’s art director. “Still, we were surprised at how quickly they’ve sold.” Buyers for Sang-hwa hailed from the US, Europe, Korea, and China. His name will become more familiar to Westerners soon, as Dominique Levy and New York’s Greene Naftali will mount joint New York shows in 2016.
The Dominique Levy stand here also sold a Chung Sang-hwa, “87-12-7” from 1987 in acrylic on canvas for $540,000, the first work of the artist the gallery has sold.
Back to the Spotlight stands, London’s Stephen Friedman sold New York sculptor Melvin Edwards’s untitled installation from 1970, comprised of hung barbed wire and chains, and installed here for the first time, for $300,000 to an American collector. The gallery also sold a group of Edwards’s spray paint and watercolor on paper works from 1974 at $25,000 each.
In that same rich and relatively undiscovered vein, the late African-American abstract painter Sam Gilliam was featured at Los Angeles’s David Kordansky Gallery with a lyrical presentation of the artist’s Drape series, which sold at prices ranging from $225,000 to $500,000. Of those uplifting works, “Swing Sketch” from 1968, comprised of acrylic on canvas with a leather cord, sold for $350,000.
Frieze and Frieze Masters run through October 18.
What Sold on Day One at Frieze London 2015
Lorena Muñoz-Alonso, Thursday, October 15, 2015
With the queue to access the preview of Frieze London at the coveted 11 a.m. slot stretching all the way towards the entrance of the park, the hotly anticipated 13th edition of the London fair got off to a great start. Or did it?
In terms of attendance at least, there is little doubt that each successive edition of the fair is more successful than the year before. Perhaps even too much so for its own good. Many collectors complained about the queue to the supposedly exclusive early viewing, huffing and puffing as the crowds trundled towards the tent’s doors. Others took a more practical approach. “I saw the queue and decided to start by Frieze Masters instead, and come back to Frieze London later,” Turin-based super collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo told artnet News. Norwegian collectors Venke and Rolf Hoff, from KaviarFactory, also seemed slightly overwhelmed by the crowds.
But the hordes did translate into a flurry of early sales for many blue chip galleries. London’s White Cube—which barely ten minutes into the preview was packed with people, including actor Benedict Cumberbatch and his wife, Sophie Hunter—sold a new work by Damien Hirst, entitled Holbein (Artist’s Watercolours) and with a price tag above $1.2 million, within the hour. Another canvas by Hirst, Super Centre (2014) also sold during the first hours, proving that the notorious YBA is ripe for a comeback, and that his new museum Newport Street Gallery is helping to rekindle his market. White Cube also sold works of heavy weights like Andreas Gursky, Antony Gormley, Theaster Gates, and Christian Marclay in the first hours.
Over at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, things were looking rather peachy. By Tuesday afternoon, an Alex Katz painting, Road (2015), had sold for a price in the region of $400,000. A large drawing by Robert Longo changed hands for $650,000, while Tony Cragg‘s sculpture Runner sold for €300,000. Nearby, Sturtevant‘s Warhol Licorice Marilyn (2004) found a new owner for $250,000.
Collectors like Valeria Napoleone, Eskandar and Fatima Maleki, and Anita Zabludowicz were spotted scanning the booths, as were Candida Gertler from the Outset Contemporary Art Fund, the director of Tate, Nicholas Serota, uber-curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Simon and Michaela de Pury. The mood on the aisles was enthusiastic, with many dealers waxing lyrical about the diversity of collectors descending upon Regent’s Park from all four corners of the world.
Galerie Max Hetzler reported a slew of sales in the first day, including Raymond Hains‘s Il est recommandé de fermer la pochette avant de frotter l’allumette (1968), which sold for €70,000 to a European collector, Albert Oehlen‘s Untitled (Baum 31) (2015), which sold for €450,000 to London-based collectors, and Günther Förg‘s Untitled (2008), which sold for €300,000 to an Asian collector looking to buy works by established artists from Germany and France.
At Lisson Gallery, Ai Weiwei was benefiting from his fantastic blockbuster exhibition, running concurrently at the Royal Academy of Arts. Ai’s Iron Root (2015) sculpture sold for around €500,000 to a Middle Eastern client. Meanwhile, a large diptych by Richard Long of china clay on linen mounted on plywood sold for £100,000-200,000, while a silkscreen on linen by Allora & Calzadilla sold in the region $100,000-200,000. A large painting by Stanley Whitney sold for around $85K, with other few smaller works left on reserve at the end of the first day.
Nearby, David Zwirner, which had presented a stunning and subtle booth, began the preview selling Chris Ofili‘s Midnight Cocktail for $750,000, as well as a number of works by Carol Bove, Marlene Dumas, and Wolfgang Tillmans. Los Angeles-based David Kordansky sold all the works in its Mary Weatherford dedicated booth by Tuesday noon, with prices in the range of $125,000-215,000. All the works went to institutions, according to a representative of the gallery.
At São Paulo’s powerhouse Galeria Fortes Vilaça, two works by the young Brazilian painter Marina Rheingantz sold in the range of $6,000-10,000, while a 2006 photograph by Mauro Restiffe, Mirante #2, sold for a price between $30,000-40,000. Brazilian galleries were indeed in top form at the start of the fair. Vermelho reported the sale of Lia Chaia’s Transfusion G duplo (3), which was bought by a UK-based collector for $5,000, and of Odires Mlaszho’s book-based piece Martindale – Hubbell, international law directory, 1991 for £10,000.
Martin Aguilera, head of sales of the Brazilian blue-chip Mendes Wood DM, was positively beaming by lunch time. The generous booth of the São Paulo gallery made a strong bid for French artist Neil Beloufa, and it had certainly paid off. The large-scale video installation The Office (2015) had sold for €40,000, another sculpture had changed hands for the same amount, and two smaller sculptures, also by Beloufa, had found new owners, at €12,000 a pop. A beautiful and subtle wall-based sculpture by Paloma Bosquê also sold for $12,000, while a small painting on wood by the coveted Brazilian artist Celso Renato was on reserve for €65,000. “We want to make sure we place it in a good collection or museum,” Aguilera told artnet News. “Renato’s body of work is small, so it’s important for us to care of it.”
A similar sentiment was echoed by Ricky Manne at Marianne Boesky Gallery, which had a gobsmacking trio of large-scale Frank Stella works on display, Suchowola I, II, and III, superb hybrids of painting and sculpture dating to 1973 and selling together for a combined price tag of $5 million. “We’ve had offers today, but we really want to make sure they go to the right place, whether a public museum or private foundation,” Manne told artnet News. Meanwhile, five works by Donald Moffett, also inhabiting a beguiling realm between sculpture and painting, had sold for prices between $65,000-85,000 each, while another one was placed on reserve. “We’re done here!,” joked Manne halfway through the first day.
Sprüth Magers had got off to a very strong start. Besides the works sold to David Roberts Art Foundation, the Berlin and London gallery sold a Thomas Scheibitz painting for €35,000 to a US collector, another Djordjadze painting for €28,000, and two additional sculptures by Djordjadze for €24,000 and €26,000, to a US-based collector and a European collector, respectively. The gallery also sold a selection of digital print-based works by Ryan Trecartin, ranging from $18,000 to $45,000.
Parisian gallerist Kamel Mennour certainly pleased the crowds during his London debut with a fantastic booth dedicated to French sensation Camille Henrot. The works on display—gathered under the title “Minor Concerns” and done in preparation for Henrot’s forthcoming takeover of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris in 2017—included a large group of watercolors and a stunning large bronze sculpture of Modernist overtones, which sold for €200,00o to a European collector. “I’m really happy,” beamed Mennour on the second day, when a number of the works had already found new homes, including a large watercolour displayed on an easel for €60,000. “Frieze London is really different to FIAC, there really is an international crowd here, and the response to Camille’s works has been outstanding.”
Amid the blue chip furore, smaller galleries experienced slow (but steady) starts. London’s The Approach sold an eye-catching mirrored glass sculpture by Gary Webb in the shape of a palm tree for £18,000, while Laura Bartlett sold a large painting by Alex Olson for $42,000 and a blackboard work by young Berlin-based artist Sol Calero for £6,000. Madrid’s MaisterraValbuena sold a photo by Maria Loboda, a sculpture by B.Wurtz from 1979 and two works by Néstor Sanmiguel Diest, all in the range of €3,000-15,000.
Meanwhile, at the Focus section, which showcases young galleries, Carlos/Ishikawa had sold a number of cushion-sculptures by Ed Fornieles, in the range of £6,000-12,000, an Instagram-based piece also by Fornieles, for £7,000, and a photograph by Marie Angeletti for £5,500.
By the second day, New York-based gallerist Simone Subal had sold all the displayed works by the young artist B. Ingrid Olson, with prices ranging between $4,000 and $4,500, and had had a number of conversations with institutions about Kiki Kogelnik, of whom she was exhibiting two paintings, Hi ($32,000) and Green Machine ($78,000), as well as the one of Kogelnik’s brilliant Hangings ($72,000). “It’s going really well,” Subal, who is participating in Frieze London for the second time, told artnet News. “I have sold mostly to new clients, from America, Italy, and France, which is really exciting.”
Now Reading: Billionaires Shrug Off Volatile Markets for Art Shopping SpreeBillionaires Shrug Off Volatile Markets for Art Shopping Spree
October 14, 2015 — 10:00 AM PDT
`You’d think there are no troubles’ in world, Eli Broad says
Murakami sells for $1 million; Stella sought by three buyers
Art dealer David Kordansky checked his wristwatch nervously. It was 45 minutes into the opening of the Frieze Art Fair and his booth, with large abstract paintings intersected with neon light tubes by Mary Weatherford, was mostly empty.
“I am waiting for the individuals these paintings are on reserve for to show up,” Kordansky said on Tuesday, tapping his timepiece. “Is there a line outside?”
Kordansky didn’t need to worry. Neither the 15-minute line snaking through the fair’s Regent’s Park location nor the roiling financial markets could deter the international jet set from its annual art shopping spree in London. The displayed five paintings by Weatherford sold at the VIP preview, with prices ranging from $120,000 to $220,000.
Billionaire Eli Broad, jeweller Laurence Graff, heiress Nicky Hilton Rothschild and actor Benedict Cumberbatch joined the throngs of established and wannabe collectors who descended on Frieze and its nearby sister fair, Frieze Masters, on this crisp October day. The fair is the first test of the art market since auction houses sold a record $2.7 billion of art in New York in May, and after the stock market rout in August and September that rattled global investors.
Broad, who navigated the aisles in a wheelchair following back surgery, said he was cautious about the financial markets and bullish about the art market.
“Russians are in trouble. Brazil is in trouble. Commodities are way down,” Broad, who opened his $140 million private museum in Los Angeles last month, said in an interview. “The art market is very strong. You’d think there are no troubles anywhere in the world.”
Established in 2003, Frieze has become one of the world’s leading art fairs, competing with Art Basel and expanding geographically with a Frieze New York edition in May. The event now anchors London’s biggest art week of the year, with several concurrent fairs, auctions and exhibitions at galleries and museums. Frieze runs through Oct. 17; Frieze Masters until Oct. 18.
“This is the prime time in London,” said Pilar Ordovas, whose gallery on Savile Road organized an exhibition of sea-themed works, ranging from a fragment of a Roman sarcophagus to Damien Hirst’s sculpture of a pickled shark, priced in the region of $10 million.
“Galleries, museums and auction houses are trying to put their best shows,” Ordovas said. “There is a much greater concentration of international collectors in London now than at any other time of the year.”
Frieze, which has 164 exhibitors, shows works by living artists. New York’s Anton Kern Gallery’s booth had a solo show by American artist Chris Martin, including recent paintings made with neon colors and glitter, and drawings dating to 1977. Buyers snapped up three paintings, priced at $45,000 to $55,000 and 10 drawings, at $4,500 and $5,000.
Sculptures by Huma Bhabha
Photographer: Linda Nylind/Frieze Art Fair
Nearby, another New York gallery, Salon 94, had a solo presentation of totem-like sculptures, photo collages and water colors by Huma Bhabha. A carved cork sculpture sold for $195,000; and another totem, cast in bronze though looking like its cork neighbor, sold for $275,000.
Cumberbatch, whose interpretation of Hamlet is drawing crowds to London’s Barbican theatre, strolled with his wife, Sophie Hunter. The couple stopped by Gagosian Gallery to view a $600,000 sculpture by British artist Glenn Brown, which resembled a tower built with brush strokes.
Paintings by Stanley Whitney, who is the subject of a retrospective at the Studio Museum Harlem in New York, were offered by several galleries. London-based Lisson Gallery sold one large, colorful grid painting for $80,000; a smaller canvas sold for $60,000 at Galerie Nordenhake, with branches in Berlin and Stockholm.
“Sold,” Timothy Blum, co-owner of Blum and Poe, based in Los Angeles, Tokyo and New York, kept telling clients inquiring about a $600,000 painting by Yoshitomo Nara. The gallery also placed a new painting by Takashi Murakami for $1 million.
Marianne Boesky Gallery paired the works by mid-career artist Donald Moffett with a 1973 trio by Frank Stella, a 79-year-old American artist whose retrospective opens at the Whitney Museum of American Art on Oct. 30.
The two-person booth paid off as the gallery sold six of the eight cut-out sculptures by Moffett, priced at $65,000 to $85,000. Three buyers — one European foundation and two private collectors — wanted Stella’s “Suchowola I, II, and III,” priced at $5 million.
“It’s a very safe place to go,” said Marianne Boesky. “You are buying quality, not something untested.”
Across Regent’s Park, Frieze Masters offers historic material presented by 130 art dealers. Several Old Master galleries placed marble busts and gold-ground paintings next to fashionable contemporary art icons.
Old Master and contemporary art “belong in the same room,” said Richard Feigen, who hired interior designer Juan Pablo Molyneux to give his booth the feel of an Italian palazzo where Pablo Picasso hangs next to Renaissance paintings. Feigen’s early sales included a $35,000 collage by Ray Johnson and a $75,000 solid gold trash can by Pop artist James Rosenquist.
Several art dealers staged elaborate displays. London’s Helly Nahmad gallery’s booth was a set worthy of a West End production — to complement the gallery’s solo booth of Jean Dubuffet paintings.
Photographer: Mark Blower/Frieze Art Fair
Designer Robin Brown re-imagined asylum cells Dubuffet visited in France and Switzerland in the 1940s. The artist was inspired by art created by the patients, coining the phrase Art Brut to describe their “primitive” style. The booth’s walls are covered with scribbles, drawings and doodles. A moody 1940s French song plays in the background.
Three of the eight Dubuffet works were sold, with prices ranging from $650,000 to $3.5 million.
Frieze London Vernissage’s Throngs Defy Market Trends
Frieze London opened to throngs of VIPs on Tuesday, ringing in the 13th edition of the U.K.’s biggest art fair—with 164 galleries from 27 countries. This year marks the fair’s first edition under the direction of Victoria Siddall, who was tapped from her post as director of Frieze Masters to helm all three Frieze Fairs, including spring’s Frieze New York.
By all accounts, Tuesday’s preview was among the busiest in recent memory. “It’s packed this year,” said collector Kamiar Maleki. “I’ve never seen so many people at Frieze.” Maleki was among art–world insiders on the hunt for works by the crème of emerging art, in keeping with Frieze’s long-held dominance in the category. But he was also quick to note pundits’ apprehensions about the health of that market segment as the busy fall season commenced. For Frieze, at least, he speculated only positive results were ahead: “We’ll have to see with the sales later, but it seems like it’s definitely booming.”
Booming in noise-level, at the very least. Such was the din during the peak afternoon hours that works incorporating subtle elements of sound, such as Inge Mahn’s Stuhlkreis (2000), on offer at Berlin and Paris’s Galerie Max Hetzler, could barely make their presence known. The kinetic sculpture created by the relatively unknown, 70-year-old Mahn sees one wine glass placed on each of the 17 plaster-covered wooden chairs placed in a three-meter circle, while two crystals slowly rotate on opposite ends of a motorized aluminum tube, tapping the glasses to create a sonic effect. According to Paris director Samia Saouma (also Hetzler’s wife), the dealer rediscovered the artist at a museum show in Germany and recalled seeing her work years before in Harald Szeemann’s Documenta 5 in 1972.
The work was unsold as of Tuesday evening. But a large-scale Günther Förg from 2008 had been sold to an Asian collector for €300,000, Albert Oehlen’s U.D.O. 7 (2001/2005) to an American for €250,000; an Edmund de Waal went to a French collection for €75,000; and a Raymond Hains to a European for €70,000. An above-seven-figure painting by Glenn Brown—who’s been given a solo at Gagosian’s front-and-center booth at Frieze’s entrance—was on reserve.
At least one work did crest into the million-dollar range during Frieze’s preview: a $1.2 million Damien Hirst, titled Holbein (Artist’s Watercolours) (2015), from London’s White Cube. It’s a fitting note for the fair. The YBA’s 1988 show “Freeze,” including Sarah Lucas, Gary Hume, and Mat Collishaw, among others, served as inspiration, in part, for Frieze founders Matthew Slotover and Amanda Sharp back in 2003. And just last Thursday, Hirst opened his own private gallery in London’s Newport Street with a show of John Hoyland. Works by Andreas Gursky, Antony Gormley, Theaster Gates, and Christian Marclay were also acquired from White Cube’s stand on opening day.
“It’s going incredibly well,” said fellow London mainstay Maureen Paley. The gallerist was keeping mum on what exactly from her booth had found its way into collectors’ hands (save for saying that “several” had). However, she noted that viewers and exhibitors alike were once again impressed by the “real sense of openness in the fair this year,” and the “generosity in terms of how everything was laid out,” no doubt thanks to continued refinements brought to the fair’s layout by Universal Design Studio, the firm that revamped Frieze London last year.
Paley shows new work by Liam Gillick (currently with a show in her Bethnal Green gallery), David Salle, Wolfgang Tillmans, and current art–world darling Michael Krebber, among others. “I’ve known him for 30 years and I’ve been working with him since the ’90s, but he’s developing in a very strong way at the moment,” said Paley of Krebber. Of particular note of the works on show is a sculpture, Pitch (2014), by photographer Anne Hardy, who is “at an exciting crossroads,” according to Paley. The artist, who has long photographed models and staged environments, recently began displaying these structures as sculptures in and of themselves, as well as experimenting with works employing audio.
Outside of Focus, Frieze London’s section for young galleries and emerging artists, new media gets relatively little play in 2015. Pilar Corrias, whose gallery is among a handful to show video, sold most of her solo booth of works by Ken Okiishi. The works—single screens priced at $35,000 and diptychs at $50,000—pull their source material from ’80s VHS tapes and more recent television series, which play on flat screens swiped with expressive brushstrokes. “The simplest way you can record a gesture is by making a brushstroke,” said Corrias. “Another is through video. But both the brushstroke and the footage don’t convey the reality of the movement. Nothing is adequate.”
Corrias’s early success aside, the majority of work at Frieze this year falls well within the dominant art world trends of the moment: loose and line-driven figuration, ceramics, and remixed readymade sculpture perhaps the most prevalent among them. The fair remains undeniably fresh–faced in the works it puts forward. But it’s also high on pedigree—like London, more a young royal than the rough-necked renegade it once was. On one hand, that appearance could be due to the complacency that the art world’s proliferation of highly curated presentations, new young artists, and recently rediscovered old ones can quickly induce. But there is also a demand-side component that—along with the rising tide of the market that pushes prices for young contemporary ever higher—would indicate that this is a real, rather than perceived, shift.
“Frieze was very cutting edge in the beginning. I came here to look at things that were so advanced compared to what you would see at Basel or FIAC,” recalls French collector Sylvain Levy, standing across from ShangART’s booth. “But now, the people are asking for something different. In times like we are currently in, which are not so easy, people are looking more to be reassured than to be challenged.” That means artists with a solid lineup of upcoming museum and gallery shows and a certain level of market momentum, among other factors often pitched. “The median price of contemporary art is quite high now. So it’s not just an impulse buy,” Levy continues.
Some would likely want to mark this as a failing on Frieze’s part, but it’s not. Frieze remains the most variegated of the blue chip fairs—by far. It is cutting edge, but it’s cutting edge at a time when everything, from the High Street to Regent’s Park, is a little bit more the same than it once was.
FINANCIAL TIMES LONDON
The Art Market
October 16, 2015 4:50 pm
The Art Market: the good, the not so good, and the very, very expensive
The most frantic week of the year in London opened this Monday with a VIP preview for the Pavilion of Art and Design (PAD), the French-organised fair combining mainly modern art and design, and with a strong showing of this year’s hottest ticket, modern Italian art. The fair’s tent is cunningly sited in Berkeley Square, within a wallet’s throw of the Connaught and Claridges, and its opening attracted the hordes of art world denizens in town for Frieze.
“We have seen French, American, Russian and Brazilian collectors,” said Andrew Duncanson of the Swedish gallery Modernity. Among them was Sheikh Hamad Al Thani, who has a home nearby, jeweller Laurence Graff and fashionista Valentino.
Italian art sold well, too: Mazzoleni (with a marvellous Alberto Burri show in its nearby gallery) reported placing the artist’s “Rosso Plastica” (1966) for around €2m. “This fair is very successful commercially; dealers and collectors buy here for their homes, it’s convenient to visit on foot, and it’s on a human scale,” said photography dealer Michael Hoppen, who sold Sarah Moon’s “Fashion 4” (1999) for £35,000. PAD closes Sunday, October 18.
“Welcome to Purgatory” says a slogan scrawled on the blacked entrance corridor to Frieze this year. This is one of the projects at the fair, thanks to US artist Lutz Bacher. On Tuesday, invited guests quickly tripped along the sinister entry and pushed through inky plastic fronds into the brightly lit and spacious fair, which has evolved far beyond its gritty, edgy beginnings.
Today’s Frieze is a slick, professional affair exemplified by the Gagosian stand. Packaged in a smart grey booth is an impressive solo show by Glenn Brown, from highly detailed drawings ($75,000-$120,000) to sculpture ($300,000- $450,000), with a number of the drawings immediately sold.
Some (but not all) admired Sadie Coles’ booth featuring a giant ostrich/ aubergine sculpture by Darren Bader and a large Laura Owens painting that collector Donald Marron, on his first visit to Frieze, just missed out on buying — by five minutes, he said.
“Dealers are definitely making extra efforts to curate their booths, and the market is getting so competitive that they have to — to stand out,” said art adviser Lisa Schiff after trawling the two fairs and making manifold purchases. She admired the Coles stand, as well that of Mary Mary and Hauser & Wirth, with a forest of small sculptures on plinths: the gallery said a number sold in the first hours, citing a Phyllida Barlow for £25,000.
. . .
Unanimity reigned about the marvellous Frieze Masters, which opened the same day as Frieze London — this is the strongest year ever for the classic fair, which features a number of “crossover” displays. Standouts include the collaboration between Hauser & Wirth and Moretti Fine Art, spanning the 14th to the 20th centuries. Helly Nahmad has reimagined the lunatic asylums that inspired Jean Dubuffet and his espousing of Art Brut. Also on the stand are for-sale Dubuffet works, one asking for £750,000. The usually classic Simon Dickinson celebrates Cubism with a re-creation of Léonce Rosenberg’s 1930s “Galerie de l’Effort Moderne”.
Sales at Frieze Masters are inevitably slower, but gallery Eykyn Maclean immediately sold “Propaganda” (1975-78) by Mario Schifano from its “Pop Dialogues” display price in the region of $750,000), while Stephen Friedman found a US collector for a hanging sculpture of chains by the African-American Melvin Edwards, for about $300,000. Frieze London ends today, October 17; Frieze Masters runs until Sunday.
. . .
Despite all this, the sheer number of events on in London this week and the quantity of art for sale rattled dealers — particularly on the second day of Frieze, which was quiet after the storm of the opening. As well as the fairs there were plenty of auctions: on Wednesday Christie’s and De Pury disposed of the rambling Lambert collection, raising just under £15m.
However, Phillips’s apparent triumph with its “white glove” sale of contemporary art on Wednesday night needs qualifying. Of the 36 lots on offer, 18 came from the estate of the “Baron of Botox”, Dr Frederic Brandt, who ended his life earlier this year. The cosmetic surgeon’s tick-the-boxes compilation of brand-name artists was guaranteed by a third party, so in effect the works were pre-sold. Nevertheless, Phillips achieved £31.5m for its sale — double its tally in October last year — and set new price highs for Yoshitomo Nara (£1.9m), Mark Bradford (£3.8m) and Danh Vo (£602,500).
. . .
Chinese collectors were in evidence in London this week — one group even visited 1:54, the African art fair. Retail billionaire and strong promoter of Chinese art Adrian Cheng picked up works at Frieze by Alicja Kwade, Do Ho Suh and Trevor Shimizu. As active was the Indonesian-Chinese Budi Tek, who opened the vast Yuz museum in Shanghai last year. Accompanied by adviser Jeffrey Deitch, he bought three paintings by Mira Dancy at Los Angeles’s Night Gallery, for a project show planned for Yuz. Tek also wanted a number of works by Camille Henrot from new exhibitor Kamel Mennour from Paris. Henrot’s pastel-coloured figurative paintings and a sculpture, priced at €22,000-€150,000, sold out at the opening, with Tek snaffling just one. But he consoled himself later with a wine tasting at the Royal Academy, featuring, among other vintage tipples, a 2006 Romanée-Conti.
Fiac director Jennifer Flay, who has been awarded France’s Légion d’Honneur
Renowned art collector, financier and philanthropist Donald Marron, founder of Lightyear Capital, offered advice for collectors in a talk he gave this week. “Firstly, you need to have a passion for art,” he said. “Then you need to do research — lots of it, books, the internet — there is so much information available today. You need to be in touch with knowledgeable people: museum curators, and also dealers. And before buying something, make sure you’ve seen all the available works by an artist. There’s nothing worse than buying something and then later seeing a better work somewhere else.”
. . .
Finally, congratulations to Fiac director Jennifer Flay, who was decorated this week in Paris with the Légion d’Honneur by foreign minister Laurent Fabius. New Zealand-born Flay is acknowledged as the driving force behind the success of the fair, which she has run since 2004. Its off-site event Officielle opens this Tuesday and Fiac proper on Wednesday, running until next Sunday.
Georgina Adam is art market editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper
Photographs: Jason Mandella; Henri Garat
An Insane Asylum inside Frieze Masters Unlocks an Untold Niche of Art History
There are perhaps few better exponents of art at the fringes of sanity than the late French dramatist Antonin Artaud. “Words say little to the mind… But space thundering with images and crammed with sounds speaks,” Artaud famously wrote in 1933.
These sentiments ring true when considering the 2015 Frieze Masters booth of Helly Nahmad London, no doubt the most talked-about sight across both Frieze fairs on their first two days. The stand is split halfway down the middle, presenting works by French painter and sculptor Jean Dubuffet (a friend and contemporary of Artaud’s) opposite a reimagining of three interiors—mocked-up versions of spaces in sanatoriums and asylums that Dubuffet visited while in search of inspiration in 1945. Staring upon the mental wreckage of people’s lives, visitors are invited to take in walls scrawled with impromptu images; textbooks and dolls belonging to imagined patients; medication contained in cabinets; invisible convalescents’ sleeping quarters and bedspreads. Separated from the rest of the fair by tall white walls, viewers also find themselves transported by period music.
The aim is to juxtapose Dubuffet’s work—tessellated, almost cubist renderings of scribbled, segmented figures—with the scenarios that inspired it. “I think it’s fantastic to be able to reconnect the works we wanted to show with the original source of that inspiration,” says gallery spokeswoman Georgia Gilbert. Dubuffet coined the term “Art Brut,” for which he is most famous, after visiting places such as those recreated here. These visits also heightened Dubuffet’s interest in German psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn’s 1922 book Artistry of the Mentally Ill, which showcases the work of 10 “schizophrenic masters.” This art form, claims the gallery’s official accompanying material, “embraced the outsider, including the ‘primitive,’ the eccentric, and the untrained.” Dubuffet built his career around such sentiments, eschewing painterly tradition for a more frenetic style.
“Dubuffet naturally falls into the territory of art outside the mainstream, so we wanted somehow to cover his interest in that,” says production designer Robin Brown, who worked with producer Anna Pank on the booth. “When Dubuffet went to meet Prinzhorn and visited various asylums—that seemed like the perfect time to set our installation, because it was just on the cusp of Art Brut. We didn’t want to just put Dubuffet opposite some outsider art, as it doesn’t explain anything.”
Brown’s aim, he says, was to “create a backstory,” ultimately to entice people to stick around. The designer achieved this at last year’s booth with his staging of a fictional 1968 collector’s apartment, where real art merged with a faked interior. Fontana gaped above a desk and ashtray; Picasso’s sharp elbows tried to make room between socialist-style posters. This year is arguably more conservative. The booth’s art is displayed separately against a white background, with no side-by-side mixing of the factual and fictive.
So how accurate is Brown’s recreation? “We had a picture researcher in Paris and we spoke to some asylums,” he says. “Patients did decorate their cells and it felt appropriate that you should see someone’s vision. The main room is more of a fiction, though, the idea that they expressed themselves all over the walls.”
While its motivation is apparently commercial, the booth asks complex questions about what it is to be inspired by those who lack equal agency. Would it be more acceptable if Dubuffet, like Artaud, was mentally ill, and felt that an appreciation for “the living whirlwind that devours the darkness” (as Artaud wrote) was a necessary part of life and art? And what does it mean to be spectators to this—especially those who are economically buying into it?
“At some point these artists and the doctors involved sort of exploited the patients,” says Brown. “And some of the patients’ conditions were encouraged by doing mad things. André Breton and Dubuffet were both friends with Artaud, who committed suicide. You could say that encouraging someone like that to produce more tormented art could contribute to his illness.” There is also the flipside, he says, referring to the snobbery among those who don’t believe outsider art should be considered within the art world’s traditional firmament.
How should we parse Dubuffet’s influences, then, while looking on ourselves? This year, the booth is less accessible, but arguably more challenging and brave in the uncomfortable questions it poses. “I’m not aware that any of the artists involved in this ever donated money to mental health or helped mental health in any way,” concludes Brown. “But then Dubuffet did spend his entire life promoting and collecting their work. So there is some balance.”
World Goes Pop, Tate Modern, review: ‘exhilarating’
Six years ago, Tate Modern staged a major exhibition exploring the legacy of Pop Art. Called Pop Life: Art in a Material World, it took as its mantra Andy Warhol’s notorious pronouncement that “Good business is the best art”, and argued that the soul of the Sixties movement was, in essence, a cold, hard dollar sign. Many of the featured artists working in Pop’s shadow – Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami – were shown to be interrogating moneymaking and capitalism, producing glossy art, precision-engineered for our era of high finance.
Now Tate Modern is examining Pop Art once again – yet the new exhibition is so radically opposed to its predecessor, you’d think it was considering another movement altogether. As a result, I have no doubt that The World Goes Pop will prove divisive: for some it will be a revelation, for others it will be intolerable. Either way, this courageous and enterprising exhibition gleefully rails against the oft-told orthodoxies of Pop Art like nothing I have witnessed.
To understand what I’m talking about, consider two oil paintings, in the final room, produced in 1973 by the Russian artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid. In each case, an “icon” of American Pop Art appears damaged by an unspecified apocalypse. Warhol’s tin of Campbell’s tomato soup is a sorry-looking, charred and threadbare thing. A fragment from Roy Lichtenstein’s 1964 comic-book painting As I Opened Fire fares little better. These images are as close as the exhibition comes to presenting Pop Art’s big-hitters. The Tate owns Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych and Lichtenstein’s Whaam! (1963), two out-and-out masterpieces of classic American Pop. Yet, surprisingly, there isn’t room for either in the 10 galleries, containing around 160 artworks, of the new exhibition. In a sense, then, Komar and Melamid’s paintings represent the polemical argument of the exhibition as a whole. Incendiary and confrontational, The World Goes Pop puts a torch to everything we thought we knew about Pop Art.
Yet if none of the well-known grandees of Pop Art are on show here, then who is? The answer is: a raft of artists you’ve never heard of. The point of this exhibition is to move away from the hoary story of Anglo-American Pop Art, which was invented in London during the Fifties by the Independent Group, including Richard Hamilton (another notable absentee from the Tate show), before exploding in New York in the early Sixties.
Accordingly, The World Goes Pop showcases little-known artists from all four corners of the Earth, from Brazil to Japan, who engaged with Pop’s “spirit” during the Sixties and Seventies.
Hands up if you were already well versed in the oeuvre of the Polish artist Jerzy Ryszard “Jurry” Zielinski (1943-80). I certainly wasn’t. Yet here, in the opening gallery, is his brilliant painting Without Rebellion (1970): a close-up of a sickly white face, with two Polish eagles in front of red suns in place of eyes. From its bottom edge, a scarlet pillow, representing this unfortunate ghoul’s tongue, lolls out into our space, pinned in position by an enormous metal spike.
Like another work by Zielinski on show nearby, The Smile, or Thirty Years, Ha, Ha, Ha (1974), in which three ominous blue crosses stitch shut a pair of red-and-white lips floating against navy, Without Rebellion attacks censorship in the People’s Republic of Poland with great economy and formal poise – and a brutal frisson of menace. As Lichtenstein might say: KA-POW!
Zielinski is typical of the many artists in this exhibition who worked within the Pop mode pioneered in London and New York, but adapted it to their own political ends. In fact politics – in the sense of raging protest and mass demonstration – is an essential part of the curators’ new vision of global Pop. Everywhere we turn we find hard-left dissatisfaction with the political status quo. American imperialism, the Vietnam War, nuclear bombs, the corrosive promises of capitalism: all come in for a drubbing. Jeremy Corbyn would be in seventh heaven.
When it works well, as in Zielinski’s case, this sort of militant Pop is memorable: Norfolk-born Colin Self’s Leopardskin Nuclear Bomber No 2 (1963) is also a good example. This ambiguous artefact – part toy US bomber, part pink phallus – is clad in leopard skin, and sprouts alarming nails from its snout. It’s a Surrealist Object reconceived for the post-nuclear Pop age: horrifying – and great.
Too often, though, the politicised artworks offer little more than one-liners of protest – the sort of thing that would work well as a slogan on a placard, but is less interesting in a gallery. Indeed, some of the pieces in this vein are laugh-out-loud bad: Spanish duo Equipo Realidad’s Divine Proportion (1967), a pastiche of Leonardo’s famous Vitruvian Man as a US soldier, is both so woeful, aesthetically, and blunt, in terms of meaning, that it would barely pass muster as a newspaper cartoon.
Aside from politics, the other, arguably more successful theme is sex – specifically, the way that women are presented in the media. In the past, Pop Art has occasionally been criticised for being sexist. Recently, though, a number of forgotten female Pop artists have been rediscovered. Half a century ago, they were making important work focusing on their own subjective experiences, rather than presenting women as sex objects. The Tate exhibition offers a primer on their output.
Martha Rosler’s punchy photomontages fuse titillating fragments of naked bottoms, bellies, and breasts with white goods, including dishwashers, refrigerators and hobs. French artist Nicola L mines a similar seam in her playful yet acerbic “furniture”: her vinyl Woman Sofa (1968) is a jumble of female body parts.
Feminist Spanish artist Eulalia Grau is represented by her nightmarish but unforgettable Ethnographies series: in Pànic, the boot of a swish pink car opens to reveal the surreally large face of a woman stuffed inside, silently screaming, like the victim of a serial killer. Vacuum Cleaner is just as disturbing: a vacant, doll-like bride lies stiff on a carpet, at risk of being dusted into oblivion by a gigantic suction nozzle above her.
Judy Chicago, meanwhile, who attended an auto-body school in Los Angeles as the only woman in a class of 250 men, spray-paints vibrant patterns evoking wombs and women’s genitals onto car bonnets with acrylic automotive lacquer – at a stroke deflating America’s macho car culture. Chicago’s work appears in a small section towards the end called “Pop Folk”. This is a deliberately provocative oxymoron, since sleek, mechanical Pop is usually seen as the antithesis of homespun, handcrafted folk art.
For some, this gallery will prove too much – extending an already elastic definition of Pop Art to snapping point. Moreover, while revisionism may be a good thing, full-on regicide – omitting founding fathers of Pop Art such as Warhol and Lichtenstein – is strange. Warhol is a god of 20th-century art because he forged the visual language so readily adopted, consciously or not, by most of the artists in this exhibition. The final room, for instance, showcases German artist Thomas Bayrle’s Laughing Cow wallpaper from 1967, which makes sport of the logo of a famous brand of processed French cheese. Yet there is no mention of the fact that it would have been inconceivable without the precedent of Warhol’s own wallpaper, featuring huge pink cow heads floating against bright yellow, exhibited a year earlier.
Too many of these artists, then, are dressed in borrowed robes. They are the Pop equivalent of the Salon Cubists, who worshipped at the altar of those pioneering explorers of form, Picasso and Braque.
Other objections could be raised too. But, I suppose, this is par for the course with a show like this, which re-imagines Pop Art from top to bottom, transforming it from a nimble, knowing art form, specialising in flip irony with an ambiguous attitude towards capitalism, to a right-on movement of one-note sincerity and radical political beliefs. Such a profound overhaul will not be everyone’s tin of Campbell’s soup.
Overall, though, this raucous exhibition not only provides an exhilarating snapshot of the global counter-culture during the Sixties and Seventies, in all its neon, vinyl, faux-leopard-skin glory. It also refuses to tell the same old story.
And such an original approach – challenging accepted taste, as Pop Art did from the start – deserves respect.
Thurs -Jan 24; info: 020 7887 8888
Alastair Sooke’s Pop Art: A Colourful History (Viking) is out now
The World Goes Pop at Tate Modern: How pop art was used as dissent
Tate Modern’s autumn show changes ‘the traditional story of Pop Art’
xxx by Andrzej Zieliński Todd-White
Monday 14 September 2015 17:06 BST
In his 1975 autobiography Andy Warhol wrote: “The most beautiful thing in Tokyo is McDonald’s. The most beautiful thing in Stockholm is McDonald’s. The most beautiful thing in Florence is McDonald’s. Peking and Moscow don’t have anything beautiful yet.” Perhaps he was being ironic, which is worse.
I’ve never been taken by the mystique of Warhol, the most famous exponent of Pop Art. Rather, I think the rage of the late art critic Robert Hughes in his 2008 documentary The Mona Lisa Curse was righteous. Hughes hated the cult of wealth and emptiness which is Warhol’s legacy to the art world. Thankfully, there are no soup tins and Marilyns in the new exhibition, The World Goes Pop, at Tate Modern, London, though Warhol’s shadow is everywhere.
The intentions of the exhibition are good: rather than focus on the British and American tradition, the curators have searched hard for lesser-known artists from around the world who made Pop Art in the Sixties and Seventies as a form of dissent against systems of power: military dictatorships in Latin America, the war in Vietnam, the oppression of women. The aim here is not to idealise consumerism, but to “explode the traditional story of Pop Art”. Unfortunately, the exhibition is a mess.
The term Pop Art was coined in Britain in the 1950s. The British artist Richard Hamilton described it as “Popular (designed for a mass audience); Transient (short-term solution); Expendable (easily forgotten); Low Cost; Mass Produced; Young (aimed at Youth); Witty; Sexy; Gimmicky; Glamorous; and Big Business”.
Few works by American artists are included in the exhibition, but the works by international artists often use the visual language of American pop culture to critique American political and cultural domination. In this way, America remains the focus. A lot of the work feels too much in thrall to the charisma of the bully.
The walls are painted in lurid colours: bubble-gum pink and sour yellow. The aesthetic is often migraine-inducing, a frenzied mix of high and low culture, with hysterical montages that rail against their own raw material: the mass media. It’s great that so much feminist art is included, but a lot of it is not very good. This is a shame: the exhibition could offer an important archive of a period of intense female creativity.
A whole room is dedicated to the Czech artist Jana Želibská’s installation, Kandarya-Mahadeva (1969), named after a Hindu temple in India. The walls are adorned with huge, white, female figures and garlands of flowers. The genitals of the figures are covered by mirrors in which the viewer can see herself. It is a mystical homage to female eroticism. This is not a good use of space; it feels dated.
The novelist Angela Carter wrote on this tendency within the women’s movement: “If women allow themselves to be consoled for their culturally determined lack of access to the modes of intellectual debate by the invocation of hypothetical great goddesses, they are simply flattering themselves into submission (a technique often used on them by men).”
More successful is Consumer Art (1972-75), a film fragment by the Polish artist Natalia LL, which plays on a loop. It shows a close-up of a beautiful young blonde woman seemingly experiencing sexual ecstasy as a white foamy liquid dribbles out of her mouth. The film is a parody of the use of pornographic imagery in advertising, which gained force alongside the sexual revolution of the time. But it is not just absurd; it is magnetic. In this way, the artist ensnares the viewer in a trap of desire. She makes you want what she is mocking.
Some of the best works in the exhibition come from Spain. The Punishment (1969) by Rafael Canogar is simple and stark. It is a sculpture of a man in a black suit who has fallen at the feet of an authority figure. The latter is no more than a dark shadow on wood, truncheon raised. The fallen man’s face is hidden. Perhaps the title of the work refers to the possible consequences of making the artwork itself. Franco had not yet died. This is art with much at stake.
A painting which hints at the horror beneath the surface of Franco’s Spain is Isabel Oliver’s Happy Reunion (1970-3). It shows a scene in a middle-class living-room: women are laughing and talking. It’s polite. But outside the window, a Dali-esque landscape of melting forms and swirling colour can be seen; it appears a psychosis, held at a distance. The image is undermined by the inclusion of a giraffe on fire. This makes the whole seem tacky.
Another striking work from Spain is Concentration or Quantity becomes Quality (1966) by the collective Equipo Crónica. The series of nine paintings shows a transformation from isolation to collective strength. In the first painting, a few solitary individuals are surrounded by vast grey space. Over the course of the series, the space fills up with people. In the last painting, there is a dense crowd. This work, too, was made in the last decade of the Franco regime: at that time, it perhaps reflected hope, rather than reality.
One of the worst paintings is Big Tears For Two (1963) by the Icelandic artist Erró. It shows a cartoon version of Picasso’s painting The Weeping Woman (1937) alongside a Disney cartoon of a weeping train. It is awful. The implication is that high art and low art have been levelled; one is no more profound than the other. Both expressions of grief are equally valid. Except that they are not.
Picasso’s painting conveyed the pain of a woman who was living through the Spanish Civil War. Her tears were representative of all those who had lost their loved ones during the fight against fascism. The crying cartoon train is an aberration in this context. It is offensively facile. The painting is quite hateful.
Yet Erró also made the American Interior series (1968), some of the most affecting anti-war images in the exhibition. These paintings on fabric show calm American suburban homes invaded by Viet Cong soldiers. They articulated a primal fear of American society, and reversed the reality: American soldiers were invading the homes of the Vietnamese at the time.
Some of the best works use graphic design in the service of activism. The French artist Gérard Fromanger’s Album the Red (1968-70) includes an image of a “bleeding” French flag. The red stripe drips into the white and the blue. It symbolises the wounding of the French establishment in the era of May 1968. Another imaginative protest work is The Red Coat (1969) by the French artist Nicola L. Made of bright red vinyl, this vast, tent-like coat can be worn by eleven people at once. They share a “collective skin”.
Several feminist works seem ripostes to the British artist Allen Jones’s female furniture, which caused outrage at the time because it showed women in positions of extreme submissiveness. Woman Sofa (1968) by Nicola L is a silver vinyl assemblage of female limbs, designed to be sat on. Whereas Jones’s fibre‑glass female dummies on all fours were grotesque but stylish works of art, Woman Sofa is just ugly. Perhaps ugliness here is a political principle.
Man Chair (1971) by the Czech artist Ruth Francken is a chair in the shape of a headless man. It is sleek and white and elegant, but it does not point to a new dawn of equality. Rather, it reverses the old power dynamic of master/slave. Mattress (1962) by the Argentinian artist Marta Minujín is simply a dirty old striped mattress; it shouldn’t have been included in the exhibition.
While much of Pop Art rejected the idea of “good taste” as elitist, good taste is badly needed in this exhibition. Too many of these works are nostalgic at best.
Tate Modern, London, 17 September to 24 January (www.tate.org.uk)
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Sep 18 2015 at 12:15 AM Updated Sep 18 2015 at 12:15 AM
Tate Modern exhibition reveals the dark side of Pop Art
In a new exhibition at Tate Modern in London, the political, purposeful side of the Pop Art movement comes under the spotlight.
by The EconomistBernard Rancillac’s At Last, a Silhouette Slimmed to the Waist (pictured) contains a clear visual pun. Painted in 1966 and set against bright green jungle, it shows a soldier plunging a Vietcong prisoner headfirst into a large water vessel. Pushing his boot down on his captive’s back, gripping his twisted leg, the soldier submerges the man to the waist. At the top of the canvas, floating above this scene, five women stretch and pose in body-shaping lingerie. Labels point out their slimming corsets.
The work is at the heart of The World Goes Pop, a new exhibition about the global dimensions of Pop Art that opens at Tate Modern in London on September 17. The painting imitates magazines’ juxtaposition of fashion and news reporting, and pulls them together tightly with the title. The work can be hung either way up, the reversible composition presenting each exhibitor with a difficult decision: highlight the horrors of the Vietnam war or go for the latest fashion fad?
The choice encapsulates the paradox that is Pop Art, a movement that adopted the aesthetic of commercial design and popular culture – with its clear figuration, distinct colour, neat outlines, bold text and humour – for its own ends. Every work can read as eye-candy or erudite criticism; it can show froth or fury or both.
The World Goes Pop addresses this dialectic. Bringing together 160 works from the 1960s and 1970s and from across the world, it contests the idea that Pop was merely an adoring reflection of consumer culture and places the political, purposeful side of the movement under the spotlight. Its geographical range also forces a reassessment of the idea that Pop Art radiated solely from a small nucleus of artists based in New York and London.
There are works here from Japan, the Soviet Union, Latin America, the Middle East and Europe. Barely any of the names frequently associated with it – Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Peter Blake – are included. Filling the colourful rooms instead is work that has never been shown in Britain, by artists whom most visitors will not have heard of (many of them, through ignorance or through active indifference, did not even see themselves as part of a Pop Art movement).
Despite the diversity, a striking, playful aesthetic unifies the show. There are works that echo Warhol in their use of primary colours, brand logos and press photography. There are also the hard-edged lines, Ben-Day dots and comic-strip figures that frequent Lichtenstein’s work, and three-dimensional collages similar to Blake’s.
But the messages that these artists seek to convey are various, a point made straight away by the work in the introductory room. Among them is Ushio Shinohara’s Doll Festival, a striking triptych, three metres wide, in which blank-faced figures in traditional Japanese dress surround a man in a black Stetson in a surreal, yet prescient, comment on the Americanisation of Japanese culture. There is Evelyne Axell’s Valentine, in which a zip runs down a sinuous, painted silhouette, in a provocative gesture of female sexuality unleashed. Big Tears for Two, 1963, by Erró, an Icelandic artist, transmutes Picasso’s Weeping Woman into a jaunty cartoon, looking to expose the myths behind image making. Each represents a type of protest against the established norms. Passing through themed rooms with titles such as Pop Politics, Pop at Home and Folk Pop, it becomes clear that, across the world, artists were using a particular visual vocabulary, learnt from popular culture and commercial art, to give voice to political, personal and local concerns.
This is not a comprehensive exhibition; Pop was not always protest. A lot of it celebrated everyday culture. Tate deliberately underplays these frivolous dimensions – it chooses the Vietnam war, not the underwear models. But this is a timely reassessment, given that works of Pop Art have become astoundingly expensive commodities, representative – cliches even – of a powerful luxury market. By throwing light on the darker side of Pop, Tate reveals its hidden depths.
Monday 14 September 2015 11.38 EDT Last modified on Monday 14 September 2015 19.40 EDT
Work by female artists from the 1960s and 70s that was marginalised and ignored by a sexist art establishment is finally getting recognition in a major pop art show at Tate Modern.
“It’s never too late,” said Jessica Morgan, curator of the World Goes Pop exhibition, explaining how she and her fellow curators spent five years uncovering the hidden stories from an art movement largely remembered as Anglo-American and male.
Asked how sexist the art establishment was in the 60s, Chicago threw up her arms and exclaimed: “Oh my God! When I left graduate school I was exhibiting in a climate that was unbelievably inhospitable to women. It was a real struggle.”
Chicago, whose work will be displayed at Tate Modern 50 years after she started it, recalled the response of her male teachers to the work. “There were wombs and breasts … eurgh! In the early 60s, I was just emerging from graduate school and making images like this and my male professors hated them – hated them! I had to change what I was doing or I would not have gotten my masters.”
The works are personal stories – represented by imagery that includes reproductive body parts – spray-painted on to car bonnets or hoods, but her teachers’ response meant she did not complete them until 2011.
The Tate Modern exhibition contains about 160 works, most of which are going on display in the UK for the first time. Some of the pieces by both female and male artists are from parts of the world not normally associated with pop art – including eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East.
“This show is fabulous, it’s wonderful,” said Chicago. “You think about pop art, you think about the white boys from America celebrating consumer culture. Who knew that the language was allowing artists around the world to bend it, to critique the policies of America, to critique the use of women in popular culture. Who knew?”
Morgan, meanwhile, said the art establishment of the 60s was undeniably sexist and many female artists were often doubly misunderstood because they were thought to be telling the same stories as their male counterparts.
The French artist Dorothée Selz is featured in the show with works from 1973, in which she recreates the poses of three pin-up girls. “It is the only time in my entire career that I used myself,” she said. “Pop art objectified women but I do this … it is another vision. There are excellent male pop artists like Allen Jones and Andy Warhol, but normally the woman is to be nice and beautiful and ready to eat. Here I am questioning that with humour.”
The idea of the exhibition is to show how pop art was far more than a celebration of western consumerism – it was also a subversive international language for criticism and protest.
Most of the works never made it into public collections and the majority are being lent to the gallery by artists or their estates.
Morgan said many of the pieces had a far harder edge than traditional pop art and were ahead of their time. “If you are based in Latin America and living through the junta taking place in Argentina and Brazil, your relationship to news media [and] to US commercial culture has a much more abrasive quality to it than the celebration we associate with most work in the US and the UK.”
She said the curators had been like excavators, discovering little-known works and stories from all over the world. “We encountered such an incredible bounty of work from all these different places. Much of it completely unfamiliar to me and my colleagues.”
• The EY Exhibition: The World Goes Pop is at Tate Modern 17 September-24 January.
A new exhibit at London’s Tate Modern examines pop art not only in America but around the world. The 67 artists in the show reveal the movement’s spread well beyond headliners like Warhol and Lichtenstein
Mary M. Lane
Updated Sept. 15, 2015 4:39 p.m. ET
Mississippi painter Joe Overstreet was flipping through a magazine in 1964 when he spotted an article about a former slave named Nancy Green. At the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, advertisers had hired Ms. Green to dress up as a servant to promote Aunt Jemima pancake mix, which was named for a fictional black cook. Mr. Overstreet, who is black, viewed the publicity stunt as racially charged and created “The New Jemima,” an oversize plywood pancake “box” portraying Green with a machine gun that shoots out pancakes.
“I liked the idea that she would cook with the machine gun and then if somebody [was] messing with her she’d be shooting them with the machine gun,” says Mr. Overstreet, now 82 years old.
Mr. Overstreet’s piece is one of 160 works in “The World Goes Pop,” an exhibition of 68 artists at London’s Tate Modern. The show, which opens Sept. 17, is the first to explore in-depth how artists in many other countries interpreted the movement dominated by white, male icons in America and the U.K. Works by women artists make up 40% of the exhibition. Previous major museums on the subject have focused on figures such as Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, andRoy Lichtenstein.
“Like everyone, I traditionally associated pop art with those big American names,” says Tate curator Flavia Frigeri.
Scholars characterize the pop-art movement, which began in the mid-1950s and reached its zenith in the 1960s, as preoccupied with politics, the American dream and consumer products, often depicted in sleek styles and bold colors. Ms. Frigeri sees these motifs in the works in the Tate show. But while Warhol and Lichtenstein reveled in ambiguity “about whether or not they were complicit with creating a consumer society or pushing back against it,” most pop artists she discovered opposed consumerism and sexism.
Joe Overstreet’s ‘The New Jemima,’ 1964 Photo: Joe Overstreet
The Vietnam War, which began in the 1950s and concluded in 1975, was another topic for major American artists including the Swedish-born Oldenburg. But it also resonated in Europe and Latin America, where artists watched the conflict unfold on recently purchased televisions and opposed violence in Vietnamese communities.
For “the first time, the brutality of the war, the suffering of their people, was coming directly to me,” says octogenarian Brazilian artist Teresinha Soares who has two works in the show from a 1968 series titled “Vietnam.”
German artist Ulrike Ottinger says she had to retrieve her 1967-68 triptych featuring wars as pinball games from her mother’s storage area when the Tate asked to borrow the piece. Though Ms. Ottinger found success as a filmmaker, she and most pop artists in the show struggled to sell their work. Many of the artists haven’t sold their works at auction. Those who have generally fetched their highest prices between $6,000 and $30,000, according to auction analyst artnet. Some careers were hamstrung by the lack of strong ties between international dealers and the powerful New York pop scene.
“America was absolutely sovereign. There was no doubt already that it was dominating” the market in the 1960s and 1970s, says German artist Thomas Bayrle. His 1967 “Laughing Cow” wallpaper, inspired by Warhol’s 1966 silk-screen of cow heads, drew a cult following in Germany but didn’t take off elsewhere.
Mr. Overstreet, the Mississippi creator of “The New Jemima,” enlarged his work and sold it for $8,000 in 1970 to the Menil Collection in Houston. Andy Warhol’s “Race Riot,” a silk-screen portrait of violence against civil-rights protesters, sold last year at Christie’s for $62.8 million.
Specialists from Christie’s and Sotheby’s plan to see the show. Sotheby’s specialist Cheyenne Westphal says some of her North American clients are hoping to expand their pop art collections beyond famous names.
For the last 13 years, Frieze London has been the biggest contemporary carnival in London’s art calendar. It’s the place to see and be seen, taking in all that the international art word has to offer under one roof. Then four years ago it was joined by its sister fair, Frieze Masters that bridged the gap between ancient and mid-century, making the Frieze Fair phenomenon a force to be reckoned with. So with thousands of artworks to see, where do you start? Here are just a few of the exhibits that you don’t want to miss.
Get down like Beyoncé to Frieze Masters
Frieze Masters 2014: Helly NahmadPhoto: Stephen Wells, Courtesy Stephen Wells/Frieze.
Last year, the stand-out booth of Frieze Masters came from Helly Nahmad who worked with a set designer to create a spectacular installation of a fictional collector’s home. Ol’ Beyoncé Instagramed her heart away at this exhibit and the gallery has promised something truly outstanding again this year, but what else can you expect? Lisson Gallery (E7) has dedicated their entire stand to the Cuban-born, New York-based artist Carmen Herrera in celebration of her 100th birthday. Richard Green (E2) will be bringing the Cornish coastline to the capital on his stand showing Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson together. And LA-based David Kordansky (C6) is going all colourful with a solo display of twentieth century American artist Sam Gilliam.
Each year Frieze London wows audiences with bright, diverse, glitzy, unexpected and Instagrammable presentations of contemporary art. With 164 galleries under one roof, where do you start? Whether you like to strategically follow the grid layout or are more inclined towards an unorthodox approach, make sure you catch Los Angeles-based Night Gallery (G27), a new addition to the fair, with their solo display of Mira Dancy. If unconventional is your thing then seek out Jeremy Herbert’s underground chamber as part of Frieze Projects – there be stairs to we don’t know where! And why not get involved at some of this year’s live events that include a processional piece by Tunga at Galeria Franco Noero and Luhring Augustine (L6). At Arcadia Missa (L3) security guards will be asking for your mobile phones before you can encounter Amalia Ulman’s performance and Ken Kagami will be creating free portraits at Misako & Rosen (G19).
Catch your breath with some free outdoor art
Frieze Sculpture Park 2014: KAWS Galerie Perrotin. Photo: Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind/Frieze.
After you’ve had enough of traipsing up and down the aisles of the fairs, you can take the free Frieze Sculpture Park set within Regents Park’s English Garden. It’s the perfect outdoor autumnal respite, and Claire Lilley of Yorkshire Sculpture Park has once again selected an impressive line-up of new and historical works. There’ll be a major installation by Richard Serra who does monumental like no-one else and Anri Sala presents his ‘Holey Wall’ around which live performances have been programmed.
The cliché around Frieze Art Fair is glitz: trophy art collectors with budgets the size of a luxury yacht swoop down on the capital to attend opening parties sponsored by Gucci. It’s a voyeur’s glimpse into a gilded dream life where one might buy a photograph by Jeff Wall, which is on show with a price tag of £1m, or there’s a Wolfgang Tillmans for just over £50,000. A sculpture titled recklessdisasters(1) by Phyllida Barlow is £25,000 from Hauser & Wirth.
For five days the international art world is squashed into a giant tent in Regent’s Park. Like in the television series The Great British Bake-Off, the showstopper is an important part of Frieze. More subtle artworks can disappear in the mass of aisles and booths, which welcomes an audience of 60,000, from the most influential collectors and curators to curious tourists and art enthusiasts. For gallerists, curators and artists, the pressure is on to shine.
Lisson Gallery has imported a sculpture titled Iron Root by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. It’s a tree root from southern China cast in iron and then painted with custom colours used for the Chinese market by car manufacturers –this sculpture is purple. The price is a secret but Ai set a record earlier this year with a series of gold- plated animal heads that went for £2.8m.
“There’s a lot of noise around Frieze so we try to do something that excites us, that excites the artists and hope that this then translates to the audience,” says Iwan Wirth, of London gallery Hauser & Wirth. “We try to do it in a way that we enjoy and that artists enjoy and it’s not just bringing stuff to a fair, or work by some hot young artist. You’ve got to be smart and make your booth work for a fair where the attention span is so small. We try to make a difference, raise the bar a bit.”
Hauser & Wirth has organised an exhibition based on the theme of a field for their booth at Frieze London this year. With sculpture by Isa Genzken (around £22,000) and Jason Rhoades (around £100,000) among others, the idea is that the booth becomes a field of carefully selected sculptures, all on pedestals, in which visitors can get lost for a while – rather like the experience of Frieze itself.
“We try to approach it with humour,” says Wirth, “because when you think about it, it’s funny that the fair happens to be in field in the middle of town and we all come to camp out in it. Quite often it’s the worst weather, and the service is lousy.”
This year as part of Frieze Projects there’s a chamber beneath the main tent, which contains a room designed by artist Jeremy Herbert, who as a set designer built stages for Madonna. It’s art as experience rather than object, and Herbert is the pioneer of a silent wind machine. Visitors will be buffeted by soundless gusts, like being hit by the Invisible Man.
Frieze Masters, now in its third year, is usually a cut above, a place where serious money changes hands, and museums scout out important artworks. This year there’s an emphasis on collecting and not just conventional artworks. Sir Norman Rosenthal has curated a section titled Collections in which fascinating oddities such as collection of 19th-century Pacific fish hooks made of shell and turtle shell are on show.
There will be an elegant display where Moretti Fine Art and Hauser & Wirth have joined booths to show work by recent greats along with old masters. There’s sculpture by French artist Louise Bourgeois and paintings by Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch whose radical artworks echo the human body with orifices and blood-red drips – his prices at auction have varied from £8,000 to £50,000, which is cheap for such a seminal artist. There’s an opportunity to buy an 18th-century painting by Bernardo Bellotto, which belonged to the Earl of Carlisle at Castle Howard before it was sold for just over £2.5m in auction earlier this year. Top-end sales in both old master and contemporary art grab attention but they are more rare than it might seem.
“It’s a few very hot artists who are expensive,” says Wirth, “and that has always been the case. The primary market is not expensive, and original unique works by younger artists start under £1,000. My advice is unless you can afford it be a contrarian and look in the other direction where you’ll find plenty of great artists that are reasonable.”
For smaller galleries, Frieze is their most important date of the year. Hannah Robinson, director of Mary Mary, points out that there’s no real art market in Glasgow, where her gallery is based. Frieze is a chance to introduce new artists to an international market as well as meet collectors and curators. “It’s not only about sales,” she says, “but touching base with clients or meeting new clients.” For those who can’t make the trek to Glasgow, it’s a chance to see work by less well-known talents such as painters Jonathan Gardner and Helen Johnson, as well as elegant drawings by LA-based Milano Chow. Robinson also shows Jesse Wine, a British artist who works with ceramics. His smaller sculptures of vessel-shaped objects that spew tomato vines are priced at £7,000.
For Wine, Frieze is a chance to get his work seen by a huge audience. His sculpture Let Me Entertain You is a tall thin ceramic tower of shapes based on dried citrus fruit – “with the occasional apple”, as the artist points out. It’ll be on show in the Frieze Sculpture Park, curated by the Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s Clare Lilley, and his smaller ceramics will also be in Limoncello gallery. Wine says: “The tough side is that it is about sales. If it goes well you’re really happy because you’re getting paid and you need to get paid in order to continue your projects. If it doesn’t go well then it’s weird, it’s quite confusing, and then you begin to wonder why the hell you’re there.”
“Artists can be ambivalent about art fairs,” says London gallerist Maureen Paley, “but if you trust your gallery you know they will make every effort to give the work more space to breath. That’s the challenge.”
This year Paley will show artists Rebecca Warren, Liam Gillick, Anne Hardy, Gillian Wearing and Wolfgang Tillmans in her booth. In a new photograph, titled Me As Ghost, Wearing has projected her portrait on to a puff of smoke.
For most commercial galleries, the best outcome is for work at Frieze to be bought by a museum or foundation .“It’s always exciting,” says Paley, “because it means that work will be taken into the public domain, which makes it available to a broader group of people. However, all collectors and their varied interests make a strong contribution.”
More modest collections might begin with a limited-edition print from Allied Editions – a print of an elegant architectural drawing by Pablo Bronstein is available for £350, or another, by painter Matt Connors, is £1,000.
The signs for Frieze 2015 point to a strong year for sales. Wirth says: “There is some concern as to the effect from China and the slowdown of the emerging economies but the contemporary market is very healthy, very robust and people are very optimistic.’
However, for most people Frieze is simply an opportunity to look at art and have a good time: “You get to see a lot of stuff very quickly,” says artist Ryan Gander, “and get a really good overview of what people are up to, not in terms of their wider practice and big projects but of what they’re interested in and what’s happening in their studio. Most artists are critical of art fairs because it seems overly commercial but it’s a good chance to meet your friends from all around the world. It’s like a school reunion.”
Frieze Art Fair, London NW1 (friezelondon.com) 14 to 17 October
Five artists to look out for:
Chicago-based Jonathan Gardner’s paintings draw from the era of bygone greats (Picasso, Matisse and Léger) to create scenes of languid and long-limbed girls with geometric breasts. (At Mary Mary)
Jesse Wine’s ceramic sculpture follows no logic: red gilets and shorts suspended in the air above ceramic footwear; odd-shaped bulbous forms with surfaces like moss or rust; a tower of giant citrus fruit. Witty and joyful, they embody craft as much as concept. (At Limoncello)
She celebrated her 100th birthday this year, and Cuban abstract painter Carmen Herrera remains on top form. The Lisson Gallery booth in Frieze Masters is dedicated to her colourful geometric forms. (At Lisson)
A pioneer among artists who engaged with race and the civil-rights movement, Melvin Edwards works with welded steel, chains and barbed wire. Abstract sculpture like cool clean minimalism from the Sixties. (At Stephen Friedman)
Samara Scott Samara Scott’s installation for The Sunday Painter resembles a pond with a bedazzled surface beneath the water. Titled ‘Lonely Planet’, it contains a mass of materials: noodles, tights, wine, nail varnish, food colouring, insulation foam. A shimmered surface becomes a meditation on consumption and waste. (At The Sunday Painter)
Parties to be seen at:
Institute of Contemporary Arts
The ICA hosts the first official Frieze bar during Frieze week.
Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Mall, London SW1
East End Night/ West End Night
On Wednesday evening, East End Night means galleries stay open until 8pm. On Thursday, West End Night, repeats the same idea in the West End.
On Thursday, the Royal Academy hosts the private view for Ai Weiwei’s exhibition.
Royal Academy, Burlington Gardens, London W1
Delfina Foundation’s opening party happens the Friday before Frieze.
Delfina Foundation, Catherine Place, London, SW1
Maureen Paley gallery
An opening party on Monday of Frieze week celebrates a new body of work by Liam Gillick, the star of Joanna Hogg’s film ‘Exhibition’.
Maureen Paley, Herald Street, London E2
Frieze Week, collateral Art Fairs, Guide
Frieze Art Week & Alternative Collateral Events Guide 2015
Artlyst is excited to announce the release of their essential, online, Frieze and Frieze Week collateral Art Fair Guide, for London 2015. This includes important information about the main fair and the collateral events launching the week of 12 October, with the main fair opening to the public on the 14th running till the 17th October.
Each year we curate indispensable information about the best exhibitions and events on offer during Frieze week. This year we are fortunate to be media partners with three must see events: ‘The Future Can Wait’ an exhibition established in 2007 by curators Zavier Ellis and Simon Rumley, launching the Art Bermondsey Project Space ‘Silent Movies’ in the Cavendish Square Car Park curated by the Artists Vanya Balogh and Cedric Christie and Art Below who provide posters in various underground stations. our capital is over-run with the international art set, who flock to this once a year cultural phenomenon. Frieze and Frieze Masters promises to showcase an up to date overview of the current art market allowing art lovers to pay homage to the best (and some of the worst) in visual art. Like Art Basel and Art Basel Miami these fairs make no bones about being massive art trade shows. The galleries involved are there to sell and this year the main Frieze fair showcases 160 of the worlds leading contemporary art galleries. What ever you do don’t miss the smaller art fairs and events that are springing up like dandelions all around the capital next week.
We will be updating this page all week, so pop back again for more listings!
The Main Frieze Art Fair
Frieze showcases 160 of the worlds leading contemporary art galleries. Participating Galleries (PV 13 Oct.) 14-17 Oct 2015 Public openings Closed Sunday – Regents Park Tube Station
Frieze Masters 2015(PV 13th Oct.) 14-17 Oct. Public opening – Camden Town Tube Station and long walk ….
Frieze Masters is described as an art fair that offers a contemporary lens on historical art. The fair features leading galleries showcasing art made before the year 2000, ranging from the ancient era and Old Masters to the late 20th century.
Frieze has announced their 2015 Projects, where they will be presenting seven new commissions for the London fair. Along with the support of the LUMA Foundation, this year’s programme is inspired by Frieze London’s temporary structure in The Regent’s Park and explores propositions for mobile architectures and alternative realities. Nicola Lees, Curator of Frieze Projects, has invited practitioners and collectives from disciplines including architecture, publishing and theatre design to transform, subvert, and interact with the social, structural and cultural dynamics of the fair. Initiated in 2003, Frieze Projects is an unique non-profit commissioning platform for emerging, under-represented and innovative practices within one of the world’s leading contemporary art fairs. The Frieze Projects participants at Frieze London 2015 are: ÅYRBRB, Lutz Bacher, castillo/corrales, Thea Djordjadze, Jeremy Herbert, Asad Raza and Rachel Rose, winner of the 2015 Frieze Artist Award.
The artists participating in Frieze Film 2015 are: Charles Atlas with Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener, Xavier Cha, Gery Georgieva and Thirteen Black Cats.
Frieze Focus 2015: (13th Oct) PV 14-17 Public
Focus continues to evolve into the definitive destination for young galleries, with seven exhibiting at Frieze London for the first time, from Antenna Space (Shanghai) to Hopkinson Mossman (Auckland). Curated by Raphael Gygax (Migros Museum, Zurich) and Jacob Proctor (Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, University of Chicago), Focus provides an unparalleled insight into the world’s emerging talents and will include solo presentations by Harold Ancart (Clearing, New York); Stano Filko (Galerie Emanuel Layr, Vienna); Maria Pininska-Beres (Dawid Radziszewski); Samara Scott (The Sunday Painter, London) and Amie Siegel (Simon Preston Gallery, New York).
Frieze Live (13th Oct PV) 14-18 Oct Public opening
‘Live’ is dedicated to ambitious performance-based installations and will include works specially conceived for Frieze as well as the re-staging of a number of important historical pieces. Live Artists include: Arcadia Missa, London Amalia Ulman, Luhring Augustine, New York / Franco Noero, Turin Tunga , Meyer Riegger, Berlin Eva Koťátková
Misako & Rosen, Tokyo Ken Kagami, Southard Reid, London Edward Thomasson & Lucy Beech, Kate Werble Gallery, New York Rancourt / Yatsuk
Talks include Energy as Clickbait: Douglas Coupland in conversation with Emily Segal, Wednesday 14 October, 1pm, Tania Bruguera: Aesth-ethics: Art with Consequences Wednesday 14 October, 5pm, The New Museums: Coming Soon to a City Near You, Thursday 15 October, 1pm, Anicka Yi in conversation with Darian Leader, Thursday 15 October, 5pm, Bad. Planetary-scale. Delicious: Metahaven in conversation with Justin McGuirk Friday 16 October, 1pm, Off-Centre: Can Artists Still Afford to Live in London? Friday 16 October, 5pm, Heart of Darkness in the City of London: Fiona Banner in conversation with Emily King Saturday 17 October, 12pm, Viv Albertine in conversation with Gregor Muir, Saturday 17 October, 1pm, Keynote Lecture: Vivienne Westwood Saturday 17 October, 5pm
Frieze Week Satellite Art Fair and Events Guide 2015
THE FUTURE CAN WAIT presents London’s biggest independent curated exhibition.
Established in 2007 by curators Zavier Ellis and Simon Rumley, THE FUTURE CAN WAIT returns for its 9th year as a collaboration with State Media to launch Olympus’ Art Bermondsey Project Space at 183-185 Bermondsey Street SE1 3UW. Located adjacent to White Cube Bermondsey, the exhibition will take place over three floors of the former Victorian paperworks.
13-17 October 2015 at Art Bermondsey Project Space, 183-185 Bermondsey Street SE1 3UW
Patron, Geoff Leong once again joins forces with dynamic artist-curator duo Vanya Balogh and Cedric Christie plus a new team of international guest curators to support one of the highlights of London’s Frieze week. This non profit exhibition featuring over 100 artists in the circular 20000 Sq ft multi storey car park beneath Cavendish Square.
18-19 October runs 24 hours non-stop at Q PARK, Central London Cavendish Square , London, W1G 0PN.
Sixteen of the most dynamic female artists in London together for TAKE! EAT!, an exhibition put together by Artist/Curators Diana Chire & MC Llamas. Situated on the door step of Frieze Art Fair, St Marylebone Parish Church will act as the backdrop for TAKE! EAT! which is anticipated to be one of the most notable guerrilla exhibitions of the year.
SUNDAY is anything but a Sunday art fair! It is a gallery led art fair created as a platform for an intimate group of like minded emerging commercial galleries to present work by a diverse range of artists within a relaxed environment. The fair will return to London for its sixth edition showing a selection of 20 young international galleries. SUNDAY is recognised as an integral part of the London, UK and international cultural landscape. Housed in Ambika P3, a 14,000 square foot, triple height subterranean space, SUNDAY is free and open to all and last year welcomed over 6000 visitors.
14-18 October 2015, at Ambika P3, University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Rd, NW1 5LS, Baker St Station.
The Other Art Fair takes place at The Old Truman Brewery on 15-18 October 2015. This artist led fair is situated in the heart of London’s cultural East End, The Old Truman Brewery is a landmark arts venue and hosts a hive of creative businesses, galleries and events and provides the perfect new home for the fair during what is London’s most important and internationally renowned art week.
15-18 October 2015 at Old Truman Brewery, Hanbury Street E1 6QR
The Moniker Art Fair returns to Shoreditch from 16-18 October 2015. Moniker 2015 features designated artist project spaces combined with a commercial element. Each space is individually curated presenting a twist to the traditional art fair format. As the contemporary and urban art worlds increasingly overlap Moniker has continued to evolve, resulting in the most diverse array of artists to be showcased at Moniker to date.
16-18 October 2015 at Old Truman Brewery, Brick Lane E1 6QL
Set in the vibrant heart of Mayfair right in the middle of Berkeley Square, PAD is London’s leading fair for 20th Century art, design and decorative arts. From 14-18 October 2015, PAD inspires a unique spirit of collecting, PAD epitomises how modern art, photography, design, decorative and tribal arts interact to reveal astonishing combinations and create the most individual and staggering interiors. Prominent international galleries from major cities across Europe, North America and Asia come together to offer an exceptional panorama of the most coveted and iconic works available on the market today.
Dedicated to the 54 countries that make up the African continent, the fair represents the multiplicity and diversity of contemporary African Art. Now in its third year, the fair takes place from 15-18 October 2015 at Somerset House having returned from a successful New York debut earlier this year.
15-18 October 2015 at Somerset House, The Strand, WC2R 1LA
This autumn the biennial Sluice_fair returns to London with 35 artist/curator-run emerging galleries from around the world. Since its inception in 2011, Sluice’s emphasis has been on open and collaborative practice, with a strong program of education, performance and publishing.
16-18 October 2015, Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, South Bank SE1 9PH
This October Art Below are showcasing the work of 20 international artists across billboard spaces at Regent’s Park underground station. This is the fifth year running which coincides with Frieze Art Fair situated right beside Regent’s Park tube. The artists’ work will also be on show at London’s Gallery Different, located in the heart of Fitzrovia, just off Tottenham Court Road.
9-19th October, Gallery Different, 14 Percy St, London W1T 1DR.
A major exhibition of works by the late John Hoyland, one of Britain’s leading abstract painters, is the first show at Damien Hirst’s newly-built London gallery Newport Street Gallery. Well worth a trip to see this impressive new space.
8th October 2015 – 3rd April 2016, Newport Street Gallery, Newport Street, London SE11 6AJ
Charles Richardson’s animated videos of male identity and the absurdities of human existence alongside Canadian born artist Jon Rafman’s playful series of installations that immerse visitors within his video and sculptural works.
Until 20th December 2015 at 176 Prince of Wales Road, NW1 3PT.
Throughout Frieze week, the ICA partners with Frieze Art Fair and K11 Art Foundation to host London’s first official Frieze ICA Bar. Taking place over a five-day period, special guests will host an evening of music and DJs in collaboration with NTS Radio. Plus daily musical performances from Chinese artist Zhang Ding who transforms the ICA Theatre into a ‘mutating sound sculpture’ with mirrored surfaces and suspended sound panels.
12 Oct 2015 – 16 Oct 2015, ICA, The Mall, SW1Y 5AH
This first UK survey of artist Emily Jacir focuses on her dialogue with Europe, Italy and the Mediterranean in particular. Known for her poignant works of art that are as poetic as they are political and biographical, Jacir explores histories of migration, resistance and exchange
Until 3 January 2016, Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel High Street E1 7QX
London’s largest art fair returns to Regent’s Park
By Victoria Kingdon 11 October 2015
Ken Okiishi, gesture-data (feedback), 2015. Oil Paint on flat-screen televisions. Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias Gallery.
The 13th edition of the contemporary art fair returns to Regent’s Park from 14-17 October, with over 160 leading galleries exhibiting at the event. Here’s what not to miss…
Established names such as Cheim & Read, Galerie Kamel Mennour and Hauser & Wirth (who’ll be focusing their attentions on sculpture), will inhabit the same space as newcomers like the Sunday Painter Gallery, part of the burgeoning Vauxhall art scene. At the latter, the upcoming British artist Samara Scott exhibits her intriguing ‘water relief’ installation, Lonely Planet; she is one of seven artists exhibiting for the first time in the Frieze Focus space, so head here for the fresh talent. Elsewhere look out for the Paris-based artist Camille Henrot, another one to watch, whose installation Grosse Fatigue (2013) was awarded the Silver Lion at the 2013 Venice Biennale, and Jeff Wall’s Woman and Her Doctor (1980-81) photograph, largely for the eye-watering €1.4 million price tag.
Camille Henrot, Bad Dreams (Minor Concerns), 2015, Watercolor on paper. Courtesy of the artist & Kamel Mennour, Paris.
The Performance Art
This year, Frieze has ramped up the focus on performance and participatory art in their curated section Frieze Live. Keep your eyes peeled for the processional performance Xifopagas Capilares (1984), translating as ‘Capillary Siamese Twins’, by the Brazillian artist TUNGA: two twin girls, umbilically connected by long braided hair will be walking around the fair. At the Misako & Rosen stand, the Tokyo-based artist Ken Kagami will be inviting visitors to a live portrait session (with a humorous twist).
Tunga, ‘Xifópagas Capilares’, 1984, fine art. Image courtesy of the artist and Galleria Franco Noero, Torino and Luhring Augustine, New York
The Sculpture Park
The Sculpture Park returns to the English Gardens, this year curated by Clare Lilley of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. There will be artwork by Richard Serra of Peter Freeman in New York and Carol Bove of David Zwirner in London, as well as a 11–14th century AD pre-Ekoi monolith from Western Africa, courtesy of the Didier Claes gallery in Brussels. Entry is free so you can visit the beautifully adorned gardens as many times as you wish.
This year the seven new commissions for Frieze Projects are by AYRBRB, Lutz Bacher, castillo/corrales, Thea Djodjadz, Jeremy Herbert, Asad Rasa and Rachel Rose. On entering the fair you’ll be greeted by the work of the American conceptual artist Lutz Bacher. The enigmatic artist (he’s renowned for never making a public appearance) has transformed the entrance hall using found objects from film sets. The space underneath the fair will be occupied by Jeremy Herbert, best known for his experimental theatre sets; he has built a sensory space inspired by the Valley of the Kings and the experience of entering a tomb. Those interested in the increasing impact of technology should visit the stand of AYRBRB. The London art collective are exploring the concept of the ‘smart home’ and raising questions about privacy and control. Taking kids? They’ll love this year’s Frieze Artist Award winner, Rachel Rose. Rose has created a scale-model of the fair structure, including sonic and visual depictions of the animals that live in Regent’s Park.
This year’s Frieze Talks programme features speakers Tania Bruguera, Prem Sahib, Adrian Searle, Dame Vivienne Westwood and Anicka Yi, among others. On Wednesday, the artist and author Douglas Coupland will talk with Emily Segal of trend-forecasting group K-HOLE about how we generate personal and interpersonal energy, alone and together, and on Saturday, the keynote lecture will be held by Vivienne Westwood. The designer will be speaking about the changing relationship between art and her practice, the influence of children’s art on her work and her commitment to environmental and social activism. For those unable to visit the fair, an archive of Frieze Talks, including speakers such as John Baldessari, Boris Groys and Yoko Ono is available online at friezeprojects.org/talks and on iTunes.
In the second decade of the 20th century, abstraction became the holy grail of modern art. It was pursued with feverish intent by all kinds of creative types in Europe, Russia and elsewhere, responding to assorted spurs: Cubism and other deviations from old-fashioned realism, the beautiful whiteness of the blank page, communion with nature, spiritual aspirations, modern machines and everyday noise.
Painters, sculptors, poets, composers, photographers, filmmakers and choreographers alike ventured into this new territory, struggling to sever Western art’s age-old link with legible images, narrative logic, harmonic structure and rhyme. It was a thrilling, terrifying process, and in terms of the history of art, it is one of the greatest stories ever told.
“Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925,” a dizzying, magisterial cornucopia opening on Sunday at the Museum of Modern Art, captures something of that original thrill and terror, in a lineup of works that show artists embracing worldliness and, in some cases, withdrawing into mystical purity. The show brings new breadth and detail and a new sense of collectivity to a familiar tale that is, for the Modern, also hallowed ground.
The 350-plus works on view include numerous paintings — most of the major ones from outside the museum’s collection — as well as stained glass, needlepoint, film, sculpture and illustrated books. Arranged loosely by nationality, they represent a herculean feat of orchestration on the part of Leah Dickerman, a curator in the Modern’s department of painting and sculpture, and Masha Chlenova, a curatorial assistant.
This is the kind of sweeping historical survey of a big chunk of modernism for which the Modern is justly celebrated, and in many ways it is a sequel to one of the first and most famous of the type, the pioneering “Cubism and Abstract Art” show mounted by Alfred H. Barr Jr., the museum’s founding director, in 1936. Barr’s effort sprawled over 50 years, from Cézanne to Surrealism. Ms. Dickerman has tightened the stylistic brackets and the time frame considerably and, perhaps in keeping with the Modern’s current performance-centeredness, deftly insinuated early dance films and recordings of poetry and music into the galleries.
She has also added American artists to the mix, and increased the numbers of British and Italian artists and women. As a result, it is at once more focused and more inclusive.
Ms. Dickerman places new emphasis on abstraction as a great collective endeavor that emerged simultaneously across several mutually influencing art forms, from the hands of players who often knew one another. She gets specific, adorning a wall outside the exhibition with an immense chart dotted with the names of the show’s 84 artists, all connected by radiating lines that represent relationships between correspondents, friends, spouses and collaborators. (The most connected, catalytic creators, highlighted in red, include Sonia Delaunay-Terk, Francis Picabia, Wassily Kandinsky and Alfred Stieglitz.) No artist is an island, the chart seems to say.
The first artist we encounter in the show itself is Picasso, represented by a stark Cubist painting from 1910 that — free of his characteristic legible details — flirts with total abstraction. It was a rarity for him, and is the only Picasso here; he left it to others to carry Cubism to its logical conclusion.
Next comes a key moment of cross-fertilization: The Munich concert of Arnold Schoenberg’s music, in January 1911, that inspired Kandinsky to broach abstraction, after pondering it for years. Two comical sketches of the event, with figures and instruments clearly visible, are here (along with its music, in both written and piped-in form), and so is the semi-abstract and rather Thurber-esque painting that resulted, “Impression III (Concert).”
From there the show has an urgent pace, its rhythms set by constant shifts and pivots in scale, medium, locale and style, as well as by different notions of form, space and even speed. Startlingly large canvases by Frantisek Kupka, Picabia, Morgan Russell and David Bomberg punctuate the proceedings, proving that the Abstract Expressionists were not the first to scale up abstract painting — it was born that way.
Equally stunning are clusters of small works, foremost a small gallery where 11 paintings by Piet Mondrian show him progressively flattening and magnifying the Cubist grid to reach pure abstraction, and a wall of nine Suprematist paintings by the Russian master Kazimir Malevich. In one of the show’s more astute juxtapositions, Malevich’s drifting, implicitly spiritual geometries confront three relatively crowded, boisterous German Officer paintings by the American Marsden Hartley, a canonical arriviste; their face-off is refereed by the earthy severity of an early, nearly seven-foot-tall version of Constantin Brancusi’s “Endless Column.”
The show has flaws and omissions. Paul Klee is absent because of a reneged loan; also missing is Joan Miró (too Surreal?), who might have brought a breath of whimsy to its sometimes earnest tone.
But there are numerous compensations, among them the sight of so much substantial work by women. We see not only Robert Delaunay but also his formidable wife, Delaunay-Terk, represented by her daring illustrations of the poetry of Blaise Cendrars and one small, radiantly prismatic example of Orphism — Guillaume Apollinaire’s name for a color-saturated, aggressively abstract kind of painting that echoed Cubism — that outshines her husband’s four works.
We see Hans Arp’s sly biomorphic wood relief next to the needlepoint abstractions of his wife, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, and Marcel Duchamp’s subversive incursions into art juxtaposed with his sister Suzanne’s subtly recalcitrant painting-collage “Funnel of Solitude,” from 1921.
There are also works by the German choreographer Mary Wigman, the little-known Russian-Polish sculptor Katarzyna Kobro and the English painters Vanessa Bell (sister of Virginia Woolf) and Helen Saunders. Georgia O’Keeffe is here too, of course, represented by, among other things, a mysterious watercolor of swirling blue from 1916.
This show is an experiential deluge, and unfortunately the labels don’t always illuminate the connections among artists. But slowing down and considering everything around you at any given point yields immense rewards.
At one of my favorite spots in the show, you can listen to a reading of poems by Apollinaire, abstraction’s first defender, while paging through a rare copy (in digital form) of the modest book in which they first appeared. Shifting slightly, you can peruse the actual book — concocted on a mimeograph-like machine that easily reproduced the poet’s visually eccentric arrangements of handwritten words — in an adjacent vitrine. Or you can take in a wall of paintings and drawings from 1913-14 by Fernand Léger that convert the delicacies of Cubist structure into fields of tumbling black lines and arcs, which are bulked up by brusque touches of white or color.
The Légers culminate in Picabia’s “Spring,” from 1912, a large, roiling abstraction whose blocky forms and terra-cotta tones connote a figureless but fleshlike expanse that seems intended as a response to the angular pink ladies of Picasso’s 1907 “Demoiselles d’Avignon.” Adjacent to it are two smaller paintings brimming with splintery forms — more decimations of Cubism — made in Russia in 1912 and 1913, one by Mikhail Larionov and the other by his wife, Natalia Gonchorova.
If you turn around, you’ll face the friendly giant that is Morgan Russell’s 11-foot-high “Synchromy in Orange: To Form,” from 1913-14, with its big fans of bright color and its painted frame, visiting New York from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo for the first time since 1978. To the right is a gallery devoted to the Italian Futurists and their clattering, brittle paintings, and a wall covered with some of their magical language drawings. In the opposite corner, a group of small colored-pencil drawings and a painting by Giacomo Balla might have been made yesterday.
All of which is to say that “Inventing Abstraction” is itself a marvel of a diagram, a creative circuitry variously visual, aural and kinetic, whose radiating lines yield new sights and insights at every juncture. Bravi!
Early-twentieth-century abstraction is art’s version of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. It’s the idea that changed everything everywhere: quickly, decisively, for good. In “Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925,” the Museum of Modern Art’s madly self-aggrandizing survey of abstract art made in Europe, America, and Russia, we see the massive energy release going on in that moment. Organized by Leah Dickerman, the show is jam-packed with over 350 works by 84 painters and sculptors, poets, composers, choreographers, and filmmakers. The sight of so much radical work is riveting.
Yet art of this kind still poses problems for general audiences. They look on it warily. Indeed, even we insiders sometimes don’t get why certain abstraction isn’t just fancy wallpaper or pretty arrangements of shape, line, and color. It can take a lifetime to understand not only why Kazimir Malevich’s white square on a white ground—still fissuring, still emitting aesthetic ideas today—is great art but why it’s a painting at all. That’s the philosophical sundering going on in some of this work, the thrill built into abstraction. Insiders will go gaga here. But I wonder whether larger audiences will grasp the way this kind of art thrust itself to the fore in the West, coaxing artists to give up the incredible realism developed over centuries by the likes of Raphael, Caravaggio, Ingres, and David.
For 400 years, starting in what we now call Italy round 1414, a highly codified form of picture-making took hold in Europe. It was based rigidly on perspective, and all subject matter was soon depicted in the same perspectival space. Surfaces got smoothed out; traces of process all but disappeared. Thus came into being one of the greatest picture-making cultures of all time. By the nineteenth century, decadence was setting in. You could see it, painfully clearly, in the sea of stylistically similar salon paintings: frolicking children, middle-class life, society ladies, romantic views of nature and animals, and lots of voluptuous nude women seemingly worn out from masturbating. Constable, Corot, Courbet, the Impressionists, the Post-Impressionists, Cézanne, and others loosened the pictorial stranglehold. Yet by the early-twentieth century their painterly perestroika was no longer enough. A total break had to happen. Even Cubism, as radical as it was, wasn’t enough to do the trick: As the painter Robert Delaunay put it, “Cézanne broke the fruit dish, and we should not glue it together again, as the Cubists do.”
Which brings us to the first work in “Inventing Abstraction.” This being MoMA, I don’t have to tell you that it’s by the museum’s macho honcho Picasso. It’s Femme à la Mandoline, an intriguing, dusky-colored 1910 work with cubistic compartments, shapes, and slants. Apart from a curve that could be from a mandolin or a hint of hip, there are almost no defining real-world features. This is Picasso coming this close to pure abstraction. Then he blinks. “There is no abstract art,” he stated. “You must always start with something … even if the canvas is green—so what? In that case, the subject matter is greenness!” He’s right, of course. Even so, the rest of the show is dedicated to artists who didn’t blink.
Some sights that follow overwhelm. A wall of nine 1915 Malevich paintings wows with its all-out commitment to form, shape, and color arranged in ways that will never look like intellectual wallpaper. Back up, so you see these punctuated by Brancusi’s rough-hewn Endless Column, and you’ll witness astral geometric visions through some metaphysical Teutonic timberland. The sight of these two artists going for broke is unforgettable. As is the alcove of eleven Mondrians that lets us witness this Dutchman taking Cubism beyond the nth degree, transforming it into one of the most instantaneously recognizable and clear visual styles since the ancient Egyptians’. Starting with a 1912 rendering of bowing trees, Mondrian moves through fields of waterlike marks to crosshatched grids of wavering space, all the way to pure geometry. Absorb yourself in his infinitely rendered edges; see how your inner eye perceives pings of light (visible, but not painted; they’re all in your retina and your mind) where Mondrian’s lines cross. This isn’t just abstraction. This is the movement of visual elements, micron by micron, in ways not seen since Van Eyck.
A large Picabia from 1912 is so deadpan, ironic, and visually aggressive that you see in it future artists like Polke, Kippenberger, and Oehlen. Not far from there, seven different-colored geometric shapes, each on a white ground, by Russian Ivan Kliun radiate calibration and nuanced surface, and point directly to artists like Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, and Robert Mangold. The British painters (Wyndham Lewis, David Bomberg, Lawrence Atkinson) all surprised me by looking better than I’ve ever seen them. They’re still self-conscious to the core, contriving every effect, much as recent British artists do. Even the Futurists like Giacomo Balla and Francesco Cangiullo, whose cartoony ideas about movement can be annoying, look good confined to a small space in small numbers. Their posters and diagrams far outshine their paintings.
The show will still leave general audiences in the dark about why abstraction came into being. But careful observation reveals how powerful abstraction can be, how it is still a tool that circumvents language, disrupts identification, dissolves narrative, delays the crystallization of meaning, and becomes a reality unto itself. These days, abstraction is normal, not shocking, the expected thing in schools, galleries, and museums. Too many artists still ape the art in this show, throwing in Abstract Expressionism, post-minimalism, or surrealist twists and tics, adding things their teachers have told them about. Their work is as boring as it is derivative. The exciting news is that artists are doing away with purist cant, getting rid of academic dogma, dumping Clement Greenberg’s rigid nonsense about “flatness.” Artists are polluting and expanding abstraction in fabulously impure ways, bending its armature into whole new configurations. And abstraction, old and new, can still leave us floored. These days, I am stunned by Uri Aran’s sculptures, which conjure the logic of imaginary maps with objects laid out on tabletops, and by the painter Lisa Beck, who hangs pairs of canvases in corners, one with a mirrored surface that reflects the other; somehow the parts meld, become a whole that seems to act as a telescope into unknown dimensions.
At MoMA, it’s great that Dickerman allows masterpieces to share the stage with lesser-known works. She smartly puts stained glass, needlepoint, wood carving, posters, photos, and illustrated books on equal footing with painting and sculpture. For MoMA, which rarely mixes and matches media in its permanent collection, this is a big, praiseworthy step. Yet even with much to love, there’s something demented, even dangerous about this show. Only an institution this besotted with its own bellybutton would title a show “Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925.” Abstraction wasn’t invented in the West in those years. Abstraction has been with us since the beginning. Westerners discovered it, or rediscovered it. In many cases, it soon became insular and overpurified. Consciously, conceptually, purposefully, fervently. Abstraction is there in the caves. It’s been practiced ever since, all over the world. All two-dimensional art is abstract, in that it’s a representation of something in the world rather than the thing itself. Neolithic stone sculpture and Chinese scholar rocks are as abstract as Brancusi’s Column and Vladimir Tatlin’s tower monument. Missing at MoMA are visionaries like Adolf Wölfli, whose manic abstraction can make Kandinsky look tame; George Ohr’s biomorphic ceramic configurations; Rudolf Steiner’s cosmic diagrams; and Olga Rozanova, who was making Rothkos and Newmans of her own. What about Antoni Gaudí, who’s about as out-there abstract as it gets, on a giant scale? All would have dovetailed perfectly with the wild-style work here by Nijinsky. The American sculptor John Storrs is MIA. Ditto Hilma af Klint, who was making fantastically abstract paintings as early as 1906. The deeper you dig, the worse it gets. There’s an empty gallery devoted to music by Stravinsky, Debussy, and others: Fine. But there’s no Scott Joplin! No Dixieland, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, or Jelly Roll Morton. All are as original and as “abstract” as these Europeans.
Really, the title of MoMA’s show could be “High Museum Abstraction: History Written by the Winners.” Or “White Abstraction.” On some level, this show is MoMA talking to itself, looking for ways around its ever-present deluded, limited narrative. If it doesn’t open up this story line soon, MoMA will be doomed to examine the imagined logic of its beautiful bellybutton, alone and forever.
Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925. Museum of Modern Art. Through April 15.
*This article originally appeared in the January 14, 2013 issue of New York Magazine.
NEW YORKER MAGAZINE
The Art World January 7, 2013 Issue
Shapes of Things The birth of the abstract.
By Peter Schjeldahl
Suprematist paintings by Kazimir Malevich, and Constantin Brancusi’s “Endless Column, version 1” (1918), at MOMA.
Suprematist paintings by Kazimir Malevich, and Constantin Brancusi’s “Endless Column, version 1” (1918), at MOMA. Credit Photograph by Raymond Meier
In “Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925: How a Radical Idea Changed Modern Art,” a splendid historical survey at the Museum of Modern Art, the most beautiful work, for me, is “Vertical-Horizontal Composition” (1916), a small, framed wool needlepoint tapestry by Sophie Taeuber-Arp. Rectangles and squares in black, white, red, blue, gray, and two browns, arranged on an irregular grid, generate a slightly dissonant, gently jazzy visual harmony that is pleasantly at odds with the tapestry’s matter-of-fact, nubbly texture. The work bespeaks a subtle eye, a sober mind, and an ardent heart. If you could make something like that, you would drop everything else and do it. You wouldn’t need any great reason. I was mildly shocked by how unshocking Taeuber-Arp’s work is, amid rooms of strenuous sensations from the epoch of abstract art’s big bang. But, in a show that raises the question “Why?” at every turn, I kept coming back to it.
What possessed a generation of young European artists, and a few Americans, to suddenly suppress recognizable imagery in pictures and sculptures? Unthinkable at one moment, the strategy became practically compulsory in the next. Many of the artists had answers—or, at least, they cooked them up. The trailblazing Wassily Kandinsky and the bulletproof masters of abstraction, Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich, doubled, tortuously, as theorists. They initiated what would become a common feature of determinedly innovative art culture to this day: the simpler the art, the more elaborate the rationale. That’s easily understood. We need stories. When they are banished within art, they re-form around and about it. But most interesting to me are the early abstract artists’ personal motives.
The Swiss Taeuber-Arp and her husband, Hans Arp, from Alsace, were Dadaists in Zurich during the First World War. They seem to have been excited by the prospect of a passably pure, toughly modest aestheticism that jettisoned the traditions of a Europe gone mad with slaughter. Arp was making sprightly geometric and free-form collages and reliefs, often composed by games of chance—for example, shapes in colored paper dropped onto sheets of white paper and glued down more or less where they fell. The couple took comfort and delight in carefully irrational, morning-fresh ways of creating. Abstraction, for them, was a haven and a test of character. Little else in the show makes such humanly grounded sense, though there’s no gainsaying the appeal of the abundant flavors of an international aesthetic cuisine: French color, Italian locomotion, Russian tectonics, Dutch severity, American pep. There are more than three hundred paintings, drawings, prints, books, photographs, films, and music and voice recordings, but they barely summarize the phenomenon’s fantastic variety.
The invention and contrariety of that brainstorming age—in a rewarding introduction to the catalogue, the show’s curator, Leah Dickerman, cites “cars, photography, relativity, and the death of god”—conferred a special prestige on creators, in all of the arts, who dramatized the effects of change. Music led the way, as is often the case when cultural foundations shift; the composer David Lang, one of twenty-five essayists in the catalogue, tracks the abandonment of “functional harmony” from Wagner to Debussy and then, with a lurch, to the atonal Arnold Schoenberg. Analogies to music enabled painters to escape from the logical stylistic developments in their field—at the time, mainly Cubism, which Picasso and Braque derived from suggestions in the work of Cézanne. An ecstatic mess of a painting by Kandinsky, “Impression III (Concert)” (1911), registers his response to a Schoenberg concert, with sketchy hints of audience members assaulted by shapeless floods of black and yellow. There is something forced, a hysteria of the will, about the work, as there is about the drive of the Italian Futurists to represent motion, which stumbles on the fact that paintings hold dead still. But the intensity of ambition of the Futurists and of Kandinsky batters misgivings.
The show opens with a surprise to me: Picasso, as a closet inceptor of abstraction. He painted “Woman with Mandolin,” and a few similar pictures, in the summer of 1910. It is a typically early-Cubist, dun-colored congeries of arrowing lines and shaded planes, nudging in and out of shallow pictorial depth. But it lacks any visible subject matter: no discernible woman, nary a mandolin. It is, in a word, abstract. So, it seems from Picasso’s own testimony, were at least some of his later Cubist works, before he added what he called “attributes”—a bottle, a mustache—to make them still-lifes or portraits. This fleeting episode in his career is obscure, because he would never take credit for conceiving non-figurative art, an idea that exasperated him.
Picasso’s arguments against abstraction still carry weight. He reasoned that there can be no such thing as non-figuration. “All things appear to us in the form of figures,” he said. “A person, an object, a circle are all figures; they act upon us more or less intensely.” (One early term for abstraction, “non-objective,” is especially fallacious in this light—as if any function of the human brain, let alone a work of art, could evade subjectivity.) Picasso also said that, without reference to things we experience as real, art sacrifices its one indispensable quality: drama. Such was the challenge for artists who embraced the racy new looks: how to make the manipulation of circles, say, or of fugitive marks seem to matter. A few—certainly Kandinsky, by fits and starts; Malevich, for a torrid spell; and Mondrian, with steadily growing command—faced down the Spanish basilisk. They did it by activating a figure outside the work: the viewer.
The MOMA show, though exquisitely selective, is unconcerned with rankings of quality. It aims to inform. Mere coincidence in time puts grandly scaled but clumsy painterly cadenzas by the Czech František Kupka, the Frenchman Francis Picabia, and the American Morgan Russell on an undeserved equal footing with Kandinsky. Pretty-good color compositions by Robert Delaunay—which the dashing poet-propagandist Guillaume Apollinaire fancifully termed “Orphism,” after the mythic bard—are no match for Fernand Léger’s joyously tumbling forms in red, white, and blue. A wonderful sequence of Mondrians—from a 1912 picture of semi-abstracted trees to the dawn, in the early twenties, of his mature manner of taut horizontal and vertical black bands, and of blocks of primary colors, all keyed to a physical sense of gravity—far outshines the designy efforts of Theo van Doesburg and his colleagues in Dutch Neo-Plasticism.
Just one movement, that of the Russian avant-garde, after it was cut off from Europe by war and revolution, achieved something like collective genius. A stunning array of Malevich’s thumpingly material, lyrically gravity-defying Suprematist paintings affirms him as the first among equals, including Vladimir Tatlin, who is memorialized by a reconstruction, from 1979, of his gigantic maquette for the “Monument to the Third International” (1920). It is a symbol, like none other, of twentieth-century aspiration and tragic folly. Striking works by Liubov Popova, Alexandr Rodchenko, Ivan Kliun, and other Russians make for a superb cameo survey within the show.
Dickerman and her curatorial crew have worked up a flowchart of affinities and influences, along the lines of the famous chart that MOMA’s first director, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., created for the modern movements, circa 1936. Neuron-like webs converge on “connector” individuals, socially adept Pied Pipers who fostered the formation of the time’s avant-gardes. The prime artists include Picasso, Picabia, and Léger, in France; Mikhail Larionov and Natalya Goncharova, in Russia; and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, in Italy. There are two poets, Apollinaire and the Dadaist honeybee Tristan Tzara, and one dealer, New York’s Alfred Stieglitz, the shepherd of the native modernist painters Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, and Georgia O’Keeffe, and of the photographer Paul Strand. The chart is an effective aid to memory, a free-fire zone for disagreements, and fine intellectual fun.
On the point of intellect, the show makes an awkward but compelling case that Marcel Duchamp stands centrally in the history of abstraction. Some of his jarring provocations—including a film he made with Man Ray, “Anemic Cinema” (1926), in which spinning, optically disorienting patterns alternate with punning French wordplay—share a room with works by Americans, in the Stieglitz orbit, on whom he exercised a catalytic influence. Dickerman, in the catalogue introduction, analyzes Duchamp’s mordant take on the problem, which bedevilled early abstraction, of finding meaning in art that had no recognizable subjects. Far from trying to close the gap, he made it abysmal. His readymades give meaningless objects meaning-laden titles—most notoriously, the urinal called “Fountain” (1917). “The readymade was thing plus text,” Dickerman writes. With abstraction as the hinge, Duchamp opened a trapdoor at the bottom of Western thought and feeling.
Between Picasso’s conservative critique and Duchamp’s radical one, abstract art was sternly tested. This returns me to Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s humble, radiant tapestry, which obliterates all skepticism. The proof of any art’s lasting value is a comprehensive emotional necessity: it’s something that a person needed to do and which awakens and satisfies corresponding needs in us. Such a payoff remained intermittent in the abstract art of the period covered by the MOMA show. It came to full fruition later, in the singing expanses of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and other Abstract Expressionists. But that’s another story. ♦
When Alfred H. Barr Jr launched the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1929, it was a paradoxical enterprise: a museum for an avant-garde art that was very much a work in progress. Nevertheless, for his landmark show Cubism and Abstract Art in 1936, Barr drew up a flow chart that funnelled the various streams of modernist practice to date into two great rivers that he named ‘geometrical abstract art’ and ‘non-geometrical abstract art’. In effect the diagram was a confident projection of a history that the museum would move, strategically, to display and to define. If modernist art was first made in Europe, it was first narrated in the US, and abstraction was its Geist.
Flash forward 77 years. For Inventing Abstraction, 1910-25 (until 15 April), the curator Leah Dickerman offers a different diagram: not a diachronic chart of tributary movements but a synchronic network of charismatic ‘connectors’, such as Vasily Kandinsky, F.T. Marinetti, Guillaume Apollinaire, Francis Picabia, Tristan Tzara, Theo van Doesburg and Alfred Stieglitz, all of whom were polemicists (critics, editors, exhibition-makers) as much as they were artists. Like the diagram, the exhibition looks back to the period when abstraction emerged, not forward to its eventual triumph; rather than project a telos to come, it historicises a moment a century ago. In doing so, the show suggests, perhaps involuntarily, a closure to this practice. Is abstraction ‘a thing of the past’, a form of art that, however world-historical once, is well behind us now?
Liubov Popova, ‘Painterly Architectonic’ (1917).
Inventing Abstraction opens with a complicated Cubist figure by Picasso. It is a conventional enough beginning (recall the title of the Barr show), yet there is no way around it, nor should there be: even if Picasso never went abstract (neither did Matisse, for that matter), Cubism was the fountainhead of abstraction, and key protagonists like Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich felt they had to work through it. Dickerman features Kandinsky next, but she does not present abstraction as having a simple origin. Its sources are transhistorical and multicultural (modernist inspirations include African art, Byzantine icons, and Islamic ornament): abstraction is always discovered as much as it is invented. That said, the purview of the show is strictly European (including Russia and Britain), though the selection is broad and various within this frame, with many provocative juxtapositions and far more women than in past shows (Sonia Terk and Sophie Taeuber, for example, get equal billing with their husbands, Robert Delaunay and Hans Arp). At long last such movements as Italian Futurism and Polish Constructivism are given their due, and lesser figures like the Britons Lawrence Atkinson and Duncan Grant, and the Americans Stanton Macdonald-Wright and Morgan Russell, have their day too. Given the cost of insurance, conservation concerns and political problems (Russia has an embargo on loans), we are not likely to see such an extraordinary gathering of abstract art from this period ever again.
Although Inventing Abstraction includes sculpture, photography and film, it runs heavy on painting. It wasn’t obvious how absolute abstraction was to be achieved in those other media, and the modernist project of ‘purity’ – of an art freed from both resemblance to the world and function within it – privileged painting in any case. At the same time, many painters needed the aid or at least the analogy of the other arts, music and poetry above all. Music had long been seen as the most abstract (‘all art constantly aspires to the condition of music,’ Walter Pater had said), and Dickerman points out the importance not only of Wagner’s chromaticism and Schoenberg’s atonality for Kandinsky (a Schoenberg concert in Munich on 2 January 1911 was an epiphany for the artist) but also of the structural reflexivity of Bach for Paul Klee (who was a gifted musician). As for poetry, Mallarmé had already announced a crisis, and the next generation took the attack on conventional sense to an extreme in Futurist parole in libertà (‘words in freedom’), Russian zaum (transrational) texts, and sound poems (Kandinsky, Arp, van Doesburg and Kurt Schwitters all produced important examples).
The tension between medium-specific and cross-media impulses was generative for early abstraction. Against formalist critics, from Roger Fry through to Clement Greenberg, who stressed the decorous ideal of painting as strictly visual and spatial, Inventing Abstraction shows how abstract artists were concerned often with the tactility of materials (faktura or ‘texture’ was a watchword of the Russians) and sometimes with the temporality of animation (alongside abstract films by Hans Richter, Viking Eggeling and László Moholy-Nagy, there are unexpected projects by Grant and by Léopold Survage, an artist of Finnish descent active in Paris). ‘Tested by abstraction, the boundaries of painting and other media began to dissolve,’ Dickerman argues in a riposte to the medium-specific position. For one thing, abstract painting prompted a loosening of the ground under the viewer: Malevich suggested aerial perspectives in some of his early abstractions, and El Lissitzky rotated his diagrammatic Prouns as he painted them in order to confound any sense of orientation. Such experiments led some painters – Kandinsky, Lissitzky, van Doesburg – to abstract interiors, both actual and projected, and there were other crossings as well. Dickerman opposes medium-specificity and cross-media exchange, but the two principles are not in complete contradiction: however opposed in method, the Gesamtkunstwerk and the pure painting are both committed to the idea of aesthetic autonomy.
Artists were on the verge of abstraction well before the breakthrough year of 1912: why was it such a difficult concept to accept, even for champions like Kandinsky? The principal reason was that it seemed to expose art to the arbitrary, the decorative, the subjective. If art was no longer rooted in the world, what might ground it? If it was no longer governed by the referent, what might motivate it? By and large artists sought a basis for abstraction at the two extremes, in the transcendental realm of the Idea (usually Platonic, Hegelian or theosophist) or in the material register of the medium; in this respect abstraction provided an aesthetic resolution to the philosophical contradiction between idealism and materialism, either of which it could serve. Against the arbitrary, artists like Kandinsky also asserted the ‘necessity’ of abstraction – history demanded it, art required it – and such assertions in turn prompted a flood of words: individual proclamations, group manifestos, lectures, treatises, journals. Dickerman views this visual-verbal relation as a symptomatic ‘split’, even a dissociation of sensibility: ‘This structure – of images and words existing in parallel spheres, the two held at a distance – suggests a division in modernism.’ Yet one might also see it as a relation of supplementarity, and deconstruct it accordingly: which term in the binary truly determines the other in each instance? However parsed, the insight that practice and theory (or, for that matter, performance and publicity) would thereafter compensate for one another in 20th-century art is an important one.
Abstraction had recourse not only to artistic analogies and textual reinforcements but also to radical developments in the sciences of the time, such as the theory of relativity, quantum physics and non-Euclidean geometry; yet more germane, Dickerman argues, were new philosophical paradigms like phenomenology and semiotics. According to phenomenology, perception is not detached and objective – not ‘realist’ in this sense – but subjective and embodied and thus to an extent ‘abstract’. So, too, semiotics discarded the belief that language referred directly to the world (here the intimacy of the linguist Roman Jakobson with Malevich is very telling). Although Dickerman alludes to the impact of new technologies and culture on abstraction, one would like to hear more on this score. The exhibition offers a strong sense of the ambiguous attractions of the abstract world of the industrial machine, as differently evoked by the Futurists, Fernand Léger and Marcel Duchamp, but little sense of the abstractive force of the mass-produced commodity, the becoming-abstract of capitalist life, as variously explored by Georg Simmel, György Lukács and Alfred Sohn-Rethel. After Greenberg (not to mention Theodor Adorno), we often think of abstraction as a withdrawal from the modern world, almost a safehouse for art, but the converse is just as true: the modern world became too abstract to represent in the old ways.
Dickerman revises Barr dramatically, but not when it comes to the affirmation of abstraction, in which MoMA is still very invested. ‘The propositions were many, and at times contradicted each other,’ she concludes, ‘but in their aggregate they marked the demise of painting in its traditional form and its opening to the practices of the century to come.’ But was abstract painting as absolute a rupture as this makes out? Dickerman insists on its fundamental break with the old model of the perspectival picture, with its metaphor of a window onto a world, its sublimation of the materiality of the painting, its assertion of ‘the primacy of the visual’, its assumption of ‘a discarnate gaze’ and so on. This is true enough: for some artists, such as Aleksandr Rodchenko, abstraction did put paid to the project of representation. Yet for others it was the purification of painting, not its end but its epitome (this is an essential meaning of ‘pure painting’). Given the Hegelian cast of some theorists, abstraction might be understood in large part as the sublation of representation, that is, as its simultaneous negation and preservation. Thus, even as abstractionists like Kandinsky, Malevich and Mondrian cancelled any resemblance to reality, they also affirmed an ontology of the real; even as they rejected painting as a picture of the epiphenomenal world, they insisted on painting as an analogue of a noumenal world: appearance was sacrificed at the altar of transcendence. So, too, even as these artists broke with representational painting, they often did so in a way that continued the tradition of the tableau, reaffirming its criteria of compositional unity for the artwork and epiphanic experience for the viewer. In this respect the glorious Windows of Delaunay reflects on picturing in a way that rivals any self-aware painting by Velázquez or Vermeer.
Robert Delaunay, ‘Windows’ (1912).
So if ‘the demise of painting in its traditional form’ was not total, what about the ‘opening to the practices of the century to come’? Inventing Abstraction contains examples of avant-garde inventions nearly coeval with abstract painting, such as non-objective collage, relief and construction (an impressive model of the unbuilt Monument to the Third International by Vladimir Tatlin dominates one gallery). For Dickerman, abstraction prepares these devices and others too, including all that we comprehend by the name ‘Duchamp’: the readymade, experiments with chance, the artwork as idea and so on. Yet this strong claim is open to argument: already in the chart drawn up by Barr for MoMA, and later in the theory of ‘modernist painting’ promulgated by Greenberg, abstraction comes to displace these other strategies, and it would not be until after the dominance of abstract expressionism, in the neo-avant-gardes of the 1950s and 1960s, that they returned with any force. Abstraction was a break, to be sure, but it was also used to defend against other breaks that were perhaps more radical.
The final gallery of the show suggests the mixed fortunes of abstraction: there is a testament to abstraction as the necessary future not only of modernist art but of modern life tout court in the form of experimental pieces by Moholy-Nagy, a near travesty of abstraction as a kind of Dadaist nonsense in ornamental objects by Taeuber and Arp, and a set of essays in abstract form by Katarzyna Kobro and Władysław Strzemiński which, however exquisite, also appear stunted, with nowhere to go historically. And what about abstraction today? It does not pretend to the great ambitions – revolutionary, utopian, transcendental – of this early period; that is obviously not our mode. Many artists treat abstraction as a distant archive to cite more than as a continuous tradition to develop – but then nothing can be world-historical twice.
Avant Garde Without Borders: Inventing Abstraction at MoMA
by Kevin Kinsella
Back-dated art works, Picasso’s frustration, and the transnational creation myths of Abstract art.
Exhibition view of Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925. Photo by Jonathan Muzikar. Photo courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art, Imaging and Visual Resources Department.
According to Gabrielle Buffet, her husband Francis Picabia invented abstract art in July 1912 on a drunken drive across France with Claude Debussy and Guillaume Apollinaire. Mix equal parts artist, composer, and poet in a car at the dawn of the modern age, let it bump around for a while, then throw the doors wide, and out pours a brand new cocktail of color, space, and time.
Of course, Vasily Kandinsky might have begged to differ—and he did. An often-told anecdote has it that the Russian-born painter and critic had stumbled upon Abstract art as far back as 1896. One evening, just after arriving in Munich, Kandinsky saw one of his own paintings leaning on its side in his unlit studio. He couldn’t make out the subject of the work in the darkness, but the forms and colors before him nonetheless struck him—an event sparking the revelation that “objects harmed my pictures.” Despite this epiphany, it took Kandinsky nearly 15 years to bring an abstract painting into the light of day, so to speak. It is perhaps more illuminating that this story started going around in 1913, just as the same lightbulb seemed to be switching on in everyone’s head.
Everyone, it seems, wanted to be associated with abstraction’s creation myth—and some went to extraordinary lengths to secure their positions, including going so far as to backdate key artworks as proof of their having been there since the very beginning. For example, an untitled piece from 1913 by Kandinsky was given a new birthday in 1910; Robert Delaunay’s Soleil, Lune, Simultante 2 (Sun, Moon, Simultaneous 2), which was originally shown by the artist in 1913, was reassigned to 1912, as well as Le Premier Disque (The First Disk). The Russians seemed particularly sensitive to their own role in the development of abstraction, with pieces by Natalia Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov, and Kazimir Malevich all receiving reverse facelifts to suggest that their works were anywhere from two to five years older than they actually were. Given the geographic and political barriers at the time faced by these Russian artists, one might understand their insistence that they receive a handicap when it came time to assigning credit for what Leah Dickerman, curator of the Museum of Modern Art’s Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925 exhibition, calls the “greatest rewriting of the rules of artistic production since the Renaissance.”
Abstraction is now so central to our conception of art that it’s hard to imagine a time before the idea of an abstract artwork. But until 1911, it was impossible for artists and the public to let go of the long-held notion that art is supposed to describe things in a real or imaginary world. So, when examples of nonreferential artworks started popping up about a hundred years ago by the likes of Kandinsky, Picabia, Robert Delaunay, František Kupka, and Fernard Léger, observors didn’t know what to make of them. With such unexpected and dazzling glimpses into the Fourth Dimension, these early exhibitions in the so-called real world were felt almost immediately. Within five years, other artists from across Eastern and Western Europe, as well as the United States—Hans Arp, Vanessa Bell, Sonia Delaunay-Terk, Arthur Dove, Goncharova, Marsden Hartley, Paul Klee, Mikhail Larinov, Malevich, Franz Mark, Piet Mondrian, Hans Richter, Wyndham Lewis, and more—were producing abstract artworks. Things happened so suddenly that comparisons with the past were impossible.
Inventing Abstraction, which runs at MoMA until April 15, 2013, explores abstraction as both a historical idea and an emergent artistic practice. But while it is tempting from a historical perspective to nail down just who “invented” it, the story of the movement’s sudden proliferation may have something more to say about the nature of innovation itself. Abstraction was not the inspiration of a single artist working in isolation, rather it was, according to Dickerman in her introduction the show’s catalogue, “incubated, with a momentum that builds and accelerates, through a relay of ideas and acts among a nexus of players, who recognize and proclaim their significance to a broader audience.” Indeed, the central tenant of the exhibition is just how much the phenomenon of abstraction was the product of ideas moving between artists and intellectuals working in different media and between far-flung places. If abstraction was “invented,” it was “an invention of multiple first steps, multiple creators, multiple heralds, and multiple rationales,” says Dickerman.
From its start in the years immediately before World War I, Abstraction was an international phenomenon. With less-restrictive passport regulations and increasingly porous borders, people were traveling internationally more than ever before. And when they weren’t traveling, the availability of telegraphs, telephones, and radios kept them in touch and up to date with cultural and scientific developments across Europe and the Atlantic. Within the art world, specifically, the notion of a borderless avant garde was fed by the flourishing of artistic and literary journals—in Paris alone, some 200 “little reviews” of art and culture were being published in the decade preceding the war.
Accordingly, Inventing Abstraction takes a transnational perspective. Surveying key episodes in the movement’s early history, including works made across Eastern and Western Europe and the United States, the exhibition explores the relationships among artists and composers, dancers and poets, in establishing a new modern language for the arts. It skillfully brings together a wide range of art forms—paintings, drawings, printed matter, books, sculpture, film, photography, sound recordings, music and dance footage—to draw a rich portrait of this moment that brought us that hopelessly frustrating question: “Yes, but what does it mean?!”
Above the entryway to the gallery, visitors are confronted with the central question of Kandinsky’s seminal theoretical text On the Spiritual in Art, which first appeared in 1911: “Must we not then renounce the object altogether, throw it to the winds and instead lay bare the purely abstract?” It’s almost a cue to brace oneself before entering the gallery, which isn’t a bad idea when one is about to step into a whirlwind of color, space, and time.
Of course, one can’t confront art at the beginning of the 20th century without first paying respect to Pablo Picasso, represented by the starkly Cubist Girl with a Mandolin from 1910. A rare flirtation with total abstraction for the Modernist master, one is left with a sense that he wasn’t particularly serious about it. And Picasso was the first to admit it, announcing at the time: “There is no abstract art. You always have to begin with something”—a statement which appears on the painting’s label. In the end, Picasso pronounced the painting unfinishable and so too his experiment with abstraction.
With Picasso out of the way, visitors are free to move on to Kandinsky. Without himself realizing an abstract painting in 1910, Kandinsky had described Picasso’s early foray into abstraction as, “splitting the subject up and scattering bits of it all over the picture,” an effect that was “frankly false” but nonetheless an auspicious “sign of the enormous struggle toward the immaterial.” According to Dickerman, “Kandinsky could theorize abstraction before he was capable of doing it. Picasso, on the other hand, was dissecting the mechanics of identification, when he came to abstraction, he was horrified by it.” But things came together for Kandinsky after attendng a performance of composer Arnold Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet on January 2, 1911.
Impression III (Concert) depicted Kandinsky’s first encounter with the Austrian composer’s pioneering atonal compositions. Two sketches for the painting, though with figures and instruments clearly visible, demonstrate that Kandinsky was depicting neither the particular concert he had experienced that fruitful evening nor a particular composition; rather, the pictures portray his overall impression of a musical performance. The dominant contrast of the picture is apparently the clash between two color masses: black (the piano) and yellow (the audience). Completely lacking in depth, the yellow is bold, a typically “worldly color,” as Kandinsky described it in a letter to Schoenberg. Black, on the other hand, “is the most soundless color to which any other, including the weakest one, would therefore resound more powerfully and more precisely. . . Bright yellow contrasted with black has such an effect that it appears to free itself from the background, to hover in the air and to jump at the eyes.”
From there, the pace and progression of the show suggests that as soon as Picasso and Kandinsky helped work through the initial theoretical kinks, abstraction gained viability as a movement. The 400-odd works on view include numerous paintings—a majority from outside the museum’s collection—as well as stained glass, needlepoint, film, sculpture and illustrated books. At once open and intimate, the layout reveals a panorama of works of varying scale and media installed in different galleries, giving the impression that the ranging artworks are part of a single rich moment or narrative. The effect can only be described as dizzying.
A bit down from Kandinsky, visitors encounter Sonia Delaunay-Terk and Blaise Cendrars’s stunning text-image collaboration La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France (Prose of the Trans-Siberian and of Little Joan of France, 1913) The book, illustrated in loose and sensual geometric shapes of blues, yellows, orange, and black, features a poem by Cendrars about a journey through Russia on the Trans-Siberian Express in 1905, during the first Russian Revolution, printed on an abstract picture by Delaunay-Terk. Cendrars himself referred to the work as “a sad poem printed on sunlight.”
Kazimir Malevich. Painterly realism of a boy with a knapsack color masses in the 4th dimension, 1915. Oil on canvas, 28 × 17 1/2 inches. Photo courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art, Imaging and Visual Resources Department.
Pushing on, the grouping of Marcel Duchamp’s broken glass painting, To Be Looked at (from the Other Side of the Glass) with One Eye, Close to, for Almost an Hour (1918), his kinetic sculpture, Rotary Demisphere (Precision Optics) (1925), the wooden objects of his 3 Standard Stoppages (1913-1914) and his oil and pencil on canvas Network of Stoppages (1914) demonstrate the Frenchman’s vaunted range. In these quirky works, it’s as though meaning is excised from the objective world. For instance, in 3 Standard Stoppages, Duchamp challenges the French metric system as an intellectual construct rather than an universal absolute by undoing the metric standard through a random placement of three meter-long threads. In Network of Stoppages, he complicates that idea, by reproducing each one of the three threads three times and positioning them in a diagrammatic arrangement on a previously used canvas (a sketch for his ongoing The Large Glass). By painting over the threads and the images of a female figure and a somewhat mechanical drawing from the earlier work, the visible and semivisible layers oppose three systems of representation: figurative, chance, and the diagram, which maps the world without picturing it.
The Russian wall, a tribute to the earth-shattering 1915 exhibition 0,10: The Last Futurist Exhibition of Painting, where Malevich introduced geometric Suprematism to Petragrad, and so the world, is a show in and of itself. Dickerman and assistant curator Masha Chlenova went to great lengths to bring together the original works to recreate as close as possible the original wall, including the iconic Painterly realism of a boy with a knapsack color masses in the 4th dimension, White on White and Self-Portrait in Two Dimensions. Placed opposite French-born Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi’s oak Endless Column, version 1 (1918), consisting of a single symmetrical element, a pair of truncated pyramids stuck together at their base, then repeated to produce a continuous rhythmic line that suggests infinite vertical expansion, it offers one of the most arresting views of the exhibition.
Exhibition view of Inventing Abstraction, 1910â€“1925. Photo by Jonathan Muzikar. Photo courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art, Imaging and Visual Resources Department.
And just around the corner looms a model of Vladimir Tatlin’s staggering Monument to the Third International (1920) a work whose original-yet-unrealized plans called for a structure taller than the Eiffel Tower and made out of steel and glass to show the transparency and modernism of the new Soviet party. Still, anchored confidently among El Lissitsky’s cathedral-like Prouns, MoMA’s scale model, itself is a soaring temple to the future, and a near-religious experience to behold, which could be said for much of the exhibition itself.
In many ways, Inventing Abstraction is a sequel to one of the first and most famous of the types of exhibitions for which MoMA is so well-known: the pioneering Cubism and Abstract Art show mounted by Alfred H. Barr Jr., the museum’s founding director, in 1936. Barr’s show covered some 50 years, from Cézanne to Surrealism. Dickerman’s is tighter yet also more ranging, including early dance films and recordings of poetry and music into the galleries. Another difference is that she also included American artists (Hartley, Morgan Russell, Arthur Dove, Georgia O’Keeffe, Paul Strand), and increased the numbers of British and Italian artists and women.
Dickerman also places new emphasis on abstraction as a collective endeavor that emerged simultaneously across several art forms, from artists and intellectuals who knew and influenced each other. The story of the origins of abstraction is about relationships, of collective participation. The network through which abstraction spread is suggested in a diagram, made with a nod to the famous chart that appeared on the cover of Barr’s catalog for Cubism and Abstract Art. Visitors are confronted with Dickerman’s own diagram before they enter the Joan and Preston Robert Tisch Exhibition Gallery. Vectors link individuals who knew each other, suggesting the unexpected density of contacts among the movement’s pioneers, by turns casting shadows and throwing light upon those who claimed to have invented abstract art.
Kevin Kinsella is a writer and translator (from Russian) living in Brooklyn. His latest book, a translation of Sasha Chernyi’s Poems from Children’s Island, is now available through Lightful Press.
It has been a long time since I saw museumgoers as fully engaged as the crowds moving through “Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925,” the visual and intellectual banquet at the Museum of Modern Art this winter. Visitors are wide-eyed, attentive, quietly exhilarated. And why not? They are having the kind of full-out artistic experience on which the Museum of Modern Art built its legendary reputation, but which it has rarely managed to produce in recent years. From the first work you see, Picasso’s austere Woman with Mandolin (1910), through to the final room with its wealth of work by Jean Arp, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, and László Moholy-Nagy, this is a show that electrifies through its sure-footed presentation of the early abstract avant-garde in France, Germany, Russia, England, and the United States. Leah Dickerman, the MoMA curator who organized the exhibition, knows how to install works of art, and that’s a far rarer talent than is generally acknowledged. The grace with which Dickerman juggles a wide range of material is thrilling to behold. She never allows the many extraordinary books and more ephemeral items on display to detract from the explosive power of gatherings of paintings by Robert and Sonia Delaunay, Léger, Mondrian, and Malevich. “Inventing Abstraction” is almost too good to be true. And that’s where the trouble begins. Dickerman has achieved this end-to-end visual coherence by denying the dizzying heterogeneity that characterized the early years of abstract art
“Inventing Abstraction” is packed with tremendous works and formidable ideas. That the exhibition is also, at least in my view, deeply wrongheaded does not in any way detract from its importance. “Inventing Abstraction” is so forcefully, lucidly, and persuasively wrongheaded that it achieves its own kind of intellectual glory, instantly recognizable as the latest in a great Museum of Modern Art tradition of shows that make arguments that practically beg to be contradicted. “Cubism and Abstract Art,” the legendary 1936 MoMA exhibition with which “Inventing Abstraction” has much in common, was in its day said to be wrongheaded by many people, including Meyer Schapiro, at the time a very young art historian. Alfred H. Barr, Jr, the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art who organized “Cubism and Abstract Art,” would most likely have agreed with Leah Dickerman when, in the opening wall text of the present show, she declares that “Abstraction may be modernism’s greatest innovation.” I certainly agree. The trouble begins when Dickerman goes on to define abstract art as an art that “dispensed with recognizable subject matter.” And the trouble only deepens later in the show, when in a wall label for Marcel Duchamp’s 3 Standard Stoppages, we are told that “the emergence of abstraction spelled the demise of painting as a craft and its rebirth as an idea.”
As Dickerman tells the story, abstract art is a prescription rather than a permission. This is a terrible mistake. She is fascinated by work by Mondrian and Malevich, where at least for a time it seems that abstraction is a way of limiting and thereby intensifying the possibilities of painting. She banishes from the exhibition Paul Klee and Joan Miró, two seminal figures whose profoundly abstract visions did not exclude “recognizable subject matter.” What Dickerman cannot admit is that abstraction in fact released painters to approach experience in an extraordinarily wide variety of ways.
Dickerman weaves so many fascinating strands into her story that some museumgoers may not even notice what has been left out. She has found a remarkable early abstract painting by Vanessa Bell, a compact composition of rectangular forms that has a blunt, pragmatic integrity. And although she could have perhaps done with a little less Georgia O’Keeffe and Marsden Hartley, Dickerman is right to emphasize how early and how forcefully American artists come into the story. The trouble with the way Dickerman tells this story, however, is that abstraction becomes too much of an absolute. She emphasizes the nobility of artists who were either on the verge of entirely banishing recognizable subject matter or had already done so. But abstraction, which arguably originated with the symbolist impulse in late-nineteenth-century art, was always less a matter of banishing reality than it was a matter of creating new realities, each of which had its own relationship with what the painters who in the nineteenth century set up their easels out of doors referred to as reality. In order to maintain the scheme of “Inventing Abstraction,” it sometimes seems that Dickerman is forced to willfully ignore the evidence before her eyes. If Miró and Klee have been excluded for the sin of recognizable subject matter, then why is it that Léger’s Les Disques, with its evocations of machinery and wrought iron, makes the cut? If “recognizable subject matter” has been banished, how is it that so many of the works in the exhibition contain letters or numbers, which are recognizable to any child?
The absolutism that this exhibition imposes on abstract art is not an absolutism that many of the artists embraced, at least not for very long. Arp, one of the heroes of Dickerman’s story, spent his later years carving abstracted human torsos in marble, neoclassical visions that owed as much to Ancient Greece as to cubism and abstract art. Mondrian in the 1920s and 1930s did paintings that excluded pretty much all associations with the recognizable world, yet when in his later years he titled paintings Place de la Concorde, Trafalgar Square, and Broadway Boogie Woogie, I think you can certainly argue that he was encouraging his audience to recognize some fundamental relationship between abstract form and particular local realities. If Duchamp was a critical figure in the history of abstract art—and this is the formulation of Dickerman’s that strikes me as most wrongheaded—what does she make of the readymade, which is arguably the most realistic of all works of art?
As for Klee and Miró, the two most egregious absences from this exhibition, they believed that abstraction liberated the artist to embrace nature—or “the nature of nature,” as Klee put it—in a whole new variety of ways. Dickerman would perhaps file Miró under Surrealism, which many would say is itself a form of abstraction. And she did apparently intend to have one Klee in the exhibition, his Homage to Picasso, although the truth is that Klee should have been as central a player in this exhibition as Léger, Malevich, or Arp. The longer I consider the exclusions of Miró and Klee, the more difficult they are to comprehend. Some will say that “Inventing Abstraction” reflects an old orthodoxy at the Museum of Modern Art, where sometimes (although by no means always) abstraction has been regarded as a one-way street leading to ever increasing purity. But if MoMA’s vision of abstraction embraces the work of the Abstract Expressionists, then it makes no sense whatsoever to exclude Miró and Klee, whose richly poetic understanding of the content of abstract art left such a deep impression on the American avant-garde in the 1940s.
Leah Dickerman’s enthusiasm for the work that she embraces here is so heartfelt that it can’t but be infectious. When she places the dark silhouette of Brancusi’s Endless Column before a wall of preternaturally lucid paintings by Malevich, she produces a theatrical effect that museumgoers are going to remember long after this show has closed. And it is pure dramatic genius to set Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International under a skylight, so that the thrusting form seems to be taking off into the stratosphere. Yet in this instance the brilliance with which Dickerman puts together an exhibition—and we have seen it before, with her involvement in exhibitions devoted to Dadaism (when she was at the National Gallery) and to the Bauhaus and the murals of Diego Rivera (at MoMA)—tends to tie the story all too neatly together. The technique of dedicating parts of galleries or entire galleries to work done in particular geographic localities, which brought coherence to heretofore chaotic material in her great Dada show, makes the story in “Inventing Abstraction” look more logical and seamless than it really was. At times, by shifting from one country to another, she seems to be trying to draw our attention away from what might be uncomfortable thoughts. Léger, one of the heroes of her story, would be painting figure compositions well before Dickerman’s closing date of 1925, but before we can even consider that uncomfortable fact we’ve been whisked off to Russia and Malevich’s abstractions. And so it goes.
Considering that many of the artists Dickerman includes had at best a passing interest in her definition of abstract art, you might think Dickerman herself would have begun to ask a few questions. The problem begins at the very beginning of the show, when in the label for Picasso’s Woman with Mandolin, Dickerman quotes Picasso’s famous statement: “There is no abstract art. You always have to begin with something.” For Dickerman, these are fightin’ words, dividing the non-abstract artists (beginning with Picasso) from the abstract ones. Interestingly, Dickerman does not include Picasso’s next line, which in fact complicates the story because what he says is that in the end “you can remove all traces of reality.” In a catalogue essay, the well-known scholar Yve-Alain Bois makes the same point even more aggressively, proclaiming Picasso’s “loathing of abstract art.” My feeling is that both Dickerman and Bois are drawing the lines a little too sharply. Picasso was quite evidently fascinated by Mondrian’s most radically simplified compositions of the 1920s, a fascination reflected in the white expanses, black lines, and primary colors in his Painter and Model series of the late 1920s. And as for the revolutionaries who are the subject of “Inventing Abstraction,” as I moved through the show I found myself coming back to Picasso’s statement, because more often than not the artists were precisely “begin[ning] with something.” If Dickerman really believes what she says, why on earth has she included photographs by Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand, which merely look at recognizable sights in a fresh way?
As for the interesting emphasis that Dickerman places on the art of dance—with vintage footage of modern dance performances toward the end of the show—this also raises serious questions about the exhibition’s basic assumptions. Modern dance, with its dramatic reconsideration of the human body’s potential for movement, might be said to be the most realistic art of all, grounded as it is in an exploration of immediate physical experience. Perhaps the point of modern dance was not to regard the body abstractly, but to regard the body in a radically different way than classical ballet, which is arguably the more abstract art in that it imposes on the individual an ideal order, a physical discipline in many respects highly impersonal. By comparison, the modern dancer Mary Wigman, seen here in a performance from 1930, establishes a veritable cult of personality—a naturalism or an expressionism, take your pick, grounded in her own private reality. Dickerman is on far more solid ground when she turns to the relationship between the visual arts and music, a theme at the very beginning of the exhibition, where Vasily Kandinsky and Arnold Schönberg are paired. It is true that music is the most inherently abstract of all the arts, and certainly provided a model for many painters, going back to Fantin-Latour in the nineteenth century. But even here the situation is more complex than Dickerman may allow, because the avant-garde interest in music was also an interest in the Wagnerian unity of the arts—in Gesamtkunstwerk—and even as this encouraged the abstractness of the visual arts it encouraged new forms of symbolic storytelling and image making, which deeply affected the subject matter of Klee, Kandinsky, and many others.
The more I think about “Inventing Abstraction,” the more I find myself arguing with its fundamental assumptions, but the pleasure of the argument is grounded in the intricacy and solidity of Dickerman’s work. Like the great Museum of Modern Art shows of the past—like “Cubism and Abstract Art” (1936), “Dada, Surrealism and their Heritage” (1968), “Primitivism’ in 20th Century Art” (1984), and “Picasso and Portraiture” (1996)—“Inventing Abstraction” challenges us to think our own thoughts. I am left thinking about how often the will to abstraction returns us to representation of one kind or another. I am left thinking that a broader definition of abstraction—a definition that fully embraced the achievements of Miró and Klee and the later work of Kandinsky (which with its symbolic forms may strike Dickerman as insufficiently abstract)—would make it easier to see the art of the twentieth century as a whole. And I am left thinking that a more honest and inclusive view of early modernism would render irrelevant all the talk of postmodernism, because so many of the values we tend to associate with postmodernism—narrative, symbolism, heterogeneity—are in fact aspects of early modernism. As for Picasso’s comment that “you always have to begin with something,” this may reflect not so much a rejection of abstract art as a rejection by this supremely pragmatic and skeptical artist of the spiritual longings that were so often associated with abstract art. The fact is that every artist in “Inventing Abstraction” began with something, even if that something was only a rectangular shape. The invention of abstraction was not about replacing something with nothing or craft with idea (as Dickerman would have Duchamp telling us). Abstraction was the new reality. Apparently we are still catching up with that reality.
14 February 2013
Written by Ben Wiedel-Kaufmann
‘The movement of abstract art is too comprehensive and long-prepared, too closely related to similar movements in literature and philosophy, which have quite other technical conditions, and finally, too varied according to time and place, to be considered a self-contained development issuing by a kind of internal logic directly from aesthetic problems. It bears within itself at almost every point the mark of the changing material and psychological conditions surrounding modern culture.’ Meyer Shapiro, Nature of Abstract Art, 1937
‘The answer to the question “How do you think a truly radical thought?” seems to be you think it through the network’. Leah Dickerman, Inventing Abstraction, 2012
The first quote is taken from Meyer Shapiro’s response to the vision of abstraction put forward by Alfred Barr in his exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art, at the Museum of Modern Art, in 1936. The importance of Shapiro’s objection, or indeed Barr’s formalism, bear little repeating here – both trace long and embellished histories across the last 75 years of art historical thinking. Upon crossing the five-storey high bridges of the new MoMA to enter into the show Inventing Abstraction, however, one might be forgiven for questioning where exactly this last 75 years has led us – aside from across a narrow gangway towards attendant vertigo.
At the entrance one is confronted by a diagram that looks like the remnants of a secret service briefing on Al-Qaeda cells (minus the mug-shots), or a potential app for Facebook: in fact the now forgotten ‘friend circle’ on said social networking site is pretty much exactly what it is. The roughly geographical diagram, connecting individual names (or nodes?) by confusing yet impressive webs of red lines is central to the conception of an exhibition whose subtitling claims to present ‘How a Radical Idea [Abstraction] Changed Modern Art’: ‘How do you think a truly radical thought?… you think it through the network’ asserts curator Leah Dickerman (backed up by social scientists) in the perhaps understandably sweeping tones of the catalogue introduction. This explanation might carry in the context of a secret service briefing, or a study of group dynamics. For the purposes of exploring the genesis of abstraction, however, it seems wildly deficient.
This is particularly evident if we place the diagram (as we are invited to do) in contrast to the famed diagram Alfred Barr presented on the dust jacket of the catalogue for the aforementioned exhibition. From Barr’s perhaps simplistic, but nonetheless reasoned, exploratory and propositional map of formal influence are reduced to a geographically inspired dot-to-dot.
The absence of an axis of time and the exclusion of any attempt to penetrate the ideas that flowed through the maze of red communication channels are troubling. If Shapiro could criticize Barr’s model for excluding the myriad historical factors external to formal progression, what are we to make of this presentation, where surrounding cultural and historical influence is reduced to an annotated who’s who of abstract practitioners. It is – one might say – a very cogent embodiment of the loss at which, one hundred years after the advent of abstraction, the art world finds itself. Isolated and distanced from both historical and formal analysis, enthralled by the pretences of postmodern social sciences and encumbered by the uncritical trappings of the cult of celebrity we seem unable to form a cohesive historical framework; and are left facing an infographic.
It would be unfair to unfold an entire analysis of the exhibition on the basis of this diagram alone (although as with Barr’s it may yet stand as the most permanent visual reminder of the historical vision proposed). It is a relief, therefore, after the vertigo of the entrance well, that the exhibition presents one of the more impressive and complete displays of early 20th century abstract painting that is likely to have been compiled anywhere in the world (though Paul Klee is notably absent owing to a failed loan). Accumulated are a huge range of breakthrough works from Arp, Dove, Duchamp(!), Kandinsky, Malevich, Mondrian, Kupka, Leger, Picabia, Popova, O’Keeffe and many more besides. Laid out in an unfolding succession of roughly geographically grouped rooms, this breadth, and much else, makes the exhibition worthy of repeated visits (difficult, of course, from this side of the pond).
If far from all emerge as heroes, grouping together so many artists makes apparent the incandescence of fifteen years of production which witnessed what the exhibition’s organisers and many more before have described as ‘the most dramatic rewriting of the rules of artistic production since the Renaissance’. Looking through the works I was struck by how many of the formal enquiries of the succeeding century were prefigured in that brief period. Picabia’s The Source (1912) and Morgan Russell’s Synchromy in Orange: To Form (1913-14) put pay to the myth that abstract painting owed a monumental scale to Abstract Expressionism (the suppression of scale surely, therefore, falling at the feet of early 20th gallerists); Carlo Carra and Robert Delaunay were, albeit tentatively, raising the possibilities of shaped canvasses some half century before Richard Smith and Frank Stella; and right across the rooms we see multiple investigations into surface tactility, grids, colour theory, deep space, suppressed space, frontal composition, word images and hermetic attempts to forge abstract languages.
For all this vitality, I could not help but feel distanced by MoMA’s presentation. In their attempts to emphasise abstraction’s commonality and novelty they have excluded its historic roots. Whilst a 1910 Picasso (‘abstract in all but name’) bars the entrance wall to the exhibition, its inclusion is intended to attest to abstraction’s ‘conceptual impossibility in 1910’ rather than its artistic lineage. (A usage which conveniently sidesteps Picasso’s continued assertion of abstraction’s conceptual impossibility). And throughout the show works have been selected and organised not to show the evolution and continuity of ideas – the multiple paths which led towards abstraction – but to emphasise the drama and commonality of the conclusions. The Futurists, Leger and Delaunay appear stripped of their evolving interests in simultaneity, urban experience and light and are presented as in some manner homogenous with Kandinsky’s spiritualism. The Americans are presented as Parisian voyagers or strange floating nodes in the network and Dada’s assaults on rationality appear uncritically alongside O’Keeffe’s floral close-ups and Matissean Bloomsbury paintings.
It is unfortunate that the extensive and beautifully produced catalogue (in which a unifying introductory essay is followed by a series of specific studies) does little to underpin and investigate the foundations of these often quite distinct explorations. Whilst the now standard references to the linguistic experiments of sound poetry, non-Euclidean geometry, Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, parallel editing in film and breakdowns in subject / object relations in psychology are all present, they are awkwardly pushed into the background by the continued insistence on viewing abstraction as a monolithic invention, pulled from the rib of the network. In this worryingly ahistorical model we are left with very little idea as to the proposed relation of these wider events to the works on display; very little concept of the extent to which such ideas constituted the fabric of the artists’ interests or communications; little to no idea, in short, of the multiple contexts in which the move to abstraction was sown.
Paradigmatic of this approach is the emphasis on cross-media exchange as an apparent source of abstraction. Time and again we are presented with moments in which this exchange is said to have spurred abstraction; be it in the form of Kandinsky’s reaction to a Schoenberg concert or a car journey involving Francis Picabia, Apollinaire and Claude Debussy. But rather than a consideration of the common interests aired in such exchanges we are more often than not left with reductive parables: ‘Put a modern artist, a poet and a composer in a car, rumble along, and what do you get? Abstraction’ states Dickerman. In placing emphasis on such moments without exploring the wider discursive frameworks which informed them, the actual contents of the exchanges remain shrouded in mystery, even as the concept of cross-media exchange (and indeed exchange of any kind) is exalted. As such, for all the attempts to channel music into the gallery (far fewer than I had, in fact, anticipated), we do not move far beyond the problems which Shapiro identified in Barr’s model: for whilst the definition of artistic endeavour is broadened, ‘The history of modern art is [still] presented as an internal, immanent process among the artists.’ (Shapiro)
The contexts in which abstraction came to flourish are of course diverse and complex. Nonetheless, by shortcutting them I cannot help but feel that we move towards reinforcing myth rather than understanding and leave abstraction as a fragile and awkward edifice. In investigating these roots we are not aided by the dissolution of the Marxist certainty that underpinned Shapiro’s analysis nor (and perhaps more disruptively) by the distance which has emerged between the comments and thoughts of so many of the pioneers of abstraction and our own time. It is striking that whilst so many of the formal concerns of the last hundred years seem prefigured in these early works, the pronouncements of many of the leading figures now seem hopelessly distant. Take Kupka’s thoughts on straight lines, ‘a taut cord, energetic beyond nature. Solemn, the vertical is the backbone of life in space’, ‘the horizontal is Gaia, the grandmother’, or Kandinsky’s general spiritual waffle.
Whilst the current catalogue’s writers (and many art historians before) have attempted to push Kandinsky and Kupka into a contemporary framework by casting their spiritualism as a matter of secondary importance, it seems clear that these spiritual interests provided an essential context for several of the artists who pushed towards abstraction. Kandinsky, Kupka and Mondrian all referred repeatedly and explicitly to the influence of Theosophy on their adoption of abstraction. That these three, coming from different countries and different backgrounds – and not directly connected by the network chart – should all find inspiration in a hybrid form of Eastern mysticism which cast the material world as an illusory fiction seems to offer a more concrete and illuminating path of enquiry into the genesis of abstraction than a million unexplained lines on a diagram. Yet it has been consistently ignored and sidelined.
In presenting the case for abstraction as a ‘radical’ product of the network without acknowledging the heterogeneity of wider interests surrounding the network, the curators belittle the truly radical aspects of abstraction and the exchanges upon which it was built. For whilst Theosophy does not, of course, offer a comprehensive handle by which to approach all of the artists grouped in this exhibition, the shattering of the long-dominant modes of Western thought, which Theosophy’s popularity across Western Europe points towards, surely does. It seems self-evident that, ‘the most dramatic rewriting of the rules of artistic production since the Renaissance’ did not spring magically from the internal logic of the network, but from an equally dramatic shift in social conditions. Ironically, in their obsession with the social scientist’s network theory the curators have, in fact, veiled the influence of a much wider social exchange in which non-Western concepts of spirituality and an increasing familiarity of non-Western modes of art had a transformative role in the evolution of European art.
Writing in his introduction to the third edition of his landmark 1906 study Abstraction and Empathy Wilhelm Worringer described ‘the one-sidedness and European-Classical prejudice of our customary historical conception and valuation of art’ which his study attempted to redress. It is a contribution which has made his study a key text of the period – paralleling as it does a similar shattering of historical conceptions across the arts. Be it through Picasso’s study of African sculpture, Leger’s enthrallment with urban experience or the Russians’ pursuit of a ‘non-objective’ painting, time and time again we witness the artists of the period pulling away from the model of representational aesthetics which had become predominant over the preceding half a millennium. It is a withdrawal which is at once distinct from and bound up in abstraction, a wider centrifugal movement in which abstraction formed a vector. In their vague attempts to present abstraction as the transformative Invention and Idea of the age, however, the curators have lost sight of this context, disembodying abstraction from its wider historical sources and producing a hollowed structure in which diverse experiments are reduced to a series of amorphous and clipped exemplars of abstraction’s networked rise.
The most jarring and perhaps explanatory example of the dismembering of abstraction from the wider contexts of modernity comes at the end of Dickerman’s catalogue introduction. Here she presents Duchamp as the rightful heir of abstraction, the figure who more than anyone else has ‘played out the implications of abstraction in his practice’. She continues: ‘In its inscription of artwork as idea, its expansiveness across media, and its divided structure in which work and text are integrally linked but held apart, and the artist is a producer of both images and words, its implications are vast. In all of these senses, abstraction is a form of ur-modernism: it serves as a foundation for what follows. Today, when we see an obdurate object, an encompassing media installation… text presented as image, or a conceptual script, we see the legacy of the invention of abstraction’.
Here Dickerman reveals the underlying motives of a context stripped focus on abstraction as an ill-defined Idea. In merging abstraction with the wider pull away from ‘historical conceptions of art’ of which it was a part, she attempts to brand abstraction as the progenitor of the conceptual movement. To do so overlooks the fact that Duchamp’s ‘anti-retinal’ work is, at best, only tangentially aligned with the wider logic of abstraction. For whilst Duchamp was undoubtedly a product of the same historical movement away from tradition, his assaults upon visuality (often launched through playful modes of representation) were by no means intrinsic or central to the wider moves towards abstraction. In merging abstraction with Duchamp’s legacy, whilst stripping it of its wider relations to society, Dickerman disinherits much of the greatest artwork of the previous century, condemning its visuality and social relevance as anachronisms.
Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925 is on at the Museum of Modern Art until the 15th of April. You can download Meyer Shapiro’s Nature of Abstract Art here
Wild Things: What Was Abstract Art?
MoMA’s monumental exhibition recalls the time when abstraction affected people like love or revolution.
February 19, 2013
Sometime around 1912, painting changed. Artists from Moscow to Westport, by way of Munich and Paris, began making abstract works. “Observers spoke of the exhilaration and terror of leaping into unknown territory,” Leah Dickerman writes in the catalog for “Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925: How a Radical Idea Changed Modern Art,” the monumental exhibition she has curated at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, on view through April 15. This saut dans le vide, she notes, was “accompanied by a shower of celebratory manifestos, lectures, and criticism, a flood of words flung forth perhaps in compensation for their makers’ worry about how the meaning of these pictures might be established.” It also brought a deluge of labels: “pure painting,” “nonobjective painting” and many more, with “abstraction” being merely the stickiest. In the century since then, the squalls of talk haven’t stopped, with art historians and cultural critics joining artists, their promoters and detractors in worrying at the meaning of abstraction. That so much has been said about abstraction has itself become a topic of discussion. In his 1975 book The Painted Word, Tom Wolfe dismissed contemporary art as mere illustrations of art theory—which some of it has been. What’s more striking to me, though, is that after 100 years of abstraction, no one has been able to state conclusively just what it is.
Sometimes I think that indefinability is the defining feature of abstraction: if you can identify what a painting depicts, then it’s not abstract. The problem is that this notion excludes a good deal of the art normally categorized as abstract. I can say that a Josef Albers painting depicts some squares or a Gene Davis painting shows some stripes, and this ought to disqualify them from being called abstract—just as much as my being able to identify a Philip Pearlstein painting as showing some nude models or one by Rackstraw Downes as depicting an industrial landscape would rule out those works.
At other times, I think the opposite. Although abstraction may have been a thrilling venture into the unknown, it could not remain so. Falling in love leads to marriage; there are no permanent revolutions. In the long run, far from being ineffable, abstraction is an artistic genre like any other, like still life or history painting. If a definition is hard to come by, the general parameters are not: abstraction means paintings of things like squares and stripes, brushstrokes and drips, the basic elements of pictorial form and painterly activity.
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I don’t much care for this second definition, but it’s hard to avoid. The virtue of ”Inventing Abstraction” is that it seductively reminds us of the time when abstraction was still a leap, when it affected certain people like love or revolution. And more like revolution than love, for it was a group effort instigated by a determined, committed few, a pivotal fact that “Inventing Abstraction” gets wrong. “Abstraction was not the inspiration of a solitary genius but the product of network thinking,” announces the opening text panel. This seems to promise a new outlook on what is, after all, a pretty familiar history, of which MoMA has been the central proponent for many years. The problem lies in trying to realize it through the evocation of “network thinking,” a trendy concept that tends to downplay the importance of agency—and not only of individuals, whether or not they are “solitary geniuses,” but also of organized groups, movements, coteries. Many of the key nodes of Dickerman’s proposed network are, as she says, “editors of little reviews,” thanks to their ability to connect far-flung artists and writers. Boosters of networking seem to assume that it is always advantageous to accumulate more and more “weak ties,” as they are called—but the classic avant-gardes who contributed to the invention of abstraction valued intense connections and decisive action. As Renato Poggioli pointed out long ago, “the avant-garde periodical functions as an independent and isolated military unit, completely and sharply detached from the public, quick to act, not only to explore but also to battle.”
For all the trendy lingo, MoMA is repeating the story about abstraction it has always told, only with a few of the details filled in differently, and with a concerted effort to point out connections to parallel developments in music, poetry and dance rather than cordoning off the visual arts as a self-contained realm. Dickerman’s appeals to “network thinking,” and her borrowing of terminology from the likes of Malcolm Gladwell—Guillaume Apollinaire as “connector”—are more decorative than transformative. And despite abjuring “solitary genius,” Dickerman begins the story with Picasso, Mr. Genius himself, where MoMA’s tales of modern art so often begin. Picasso, as is well-known, periodically flirted with something like abstraction but consistently pushed it away, even denying its existence: “There is no abstract art,” he once said. “You must always start with something. Afterwards you can remove all appearance of reality; there is no longer any danger, because the idea of the object left an indelible mark.”
Yet beginning with Picasso does make sense, and especially with one of his early Cubist paintings from which the “appearance of reality” has been so successfully effaced that, if not for its title, Femme à la mandoline (Woman With Mandolin; 1910), we could not make out its subject—or is it just that we imagine we can discern it? In any case, our effort to reconstruct the image helps us see the painting as a whole. Such paintings, as well as slightly later ones like “Ma Jolie” (1911–12), which Picasso endowed with a few more visual cues about the possible subject, are still amazing: solidly constructed and entirely evanescent. As Yve-Alain Bois explains in the exhibition catalog, “Each facet, each plane, whether included in the grid or contravening it, is lit and shaded independently, to the effect that no solid is depicted in the round yet at the same time a sense of depth”—and, I would add, a sense of concreteness—“is conveyed.” The wonder of these paintings is not just that the real-world referent has been nearly expunged, but that the painting itself has been endowed with such a distinct sense of presence.
For painters across Europe, Picasso proved that a different kind of painting was possible, one that would no longer have to “start with something” other than the gestures and materials of painting. Even Arthur Dove, in relative isolation in Westport, had seen in New York City a Picasso drawing that Edward Steichen described at the time as “certainly ‘abstract’ nothing but angles and lines that has got [to be] the wildest thing you ever saw.” Yet these painters continued to look to real things as inspiration for paintings that would no longer depict real things. Consider a painting from 1911 by Vasily Kandinsky, who knew Picasso’s work from photographs; he thought that something about the Spaniard’s paintings was “frankly false,” but also constituted a “sign of the enormous struggle toward the immaterial.” Kandinsky’s Impression III (Konzert) (Impression III [Concert]) announces its subject in its subtitle, yet that clue proves insufficient. It takes a comparison with a sketch Kandinsky made that year at a performance of Schöenberg’s music to see how literal a transcription the work really is: the large black shape that rises toward the upper right is nothing other than a piano lid; the oval blobs and fingerlike forms below it are members of the audience. Unlike Picasso’s painting, Kandinsky’s gains little from being sourced; on the contrary, it seems stronger if seen entirely as an implacable assertion of the force of color and texture. Kandinsky needed an abstraction that would no longer have to “start with something,” and having gone this far, he would reach that goal soon enough, for instance in his Komposition V (Composition V), also from 1911. Note not only the lack of subtitle, but also that the musical reference (this is not a depiction of a concert) is conveyed not visually but structurally. Just as, in the nineteenth century, Whistler had given his paintings titles incorporating words like “symphony” and “nocturne” to suggest that his real subject was not the depicted scene but pure form, Kandinsky invokes a musical analogy to tell the viewer not to look for a depicted subject, but rather the relations between the various “notes” of color.
The pairing of Picasso and Kandinsky presents in a nutshell all the dilemmas of abstraction. Whether starting from something already seen was better than starting with the materials of painting was a new problem for painters, but it didn’t spare them the old ones, such as the age-old conflict between the primacy of drawing (as seen in Picasso’s early cubism) or of color (as with Kandinsky). And that’s only the start. Does abstraction, by eschewing pre-established conventions, offer an expression and celebration of “those things that make us individually different and separate from each other,” as MoMA’s former chief curator Kirk Varnedoe once claimed? Picasso might have been pleased to father an art of this sort, just as he would probably have smiled on hearing Vanessa Bell describe a visit to him, in 1914, as one in which “the whole studio seemed to be bristling with Picasso”—where each thing, however unfinished, presented its maker back to himself. But abstraction can also be the herald of whatever is common and universal, as Kandinsky must have believed when he later threw in his lot with the Bauhaus. On this view, the point of abstraction was not just to level the old academies but to supplant them with a new one propagating the new shared values.
In an all-too-contemporary fashion, the metaphor of the “network” allows Dickerman to finesse such disagreements. A network is not an individual, but it’s not a collective either. It is a function neither of inner will or insight nor of shared decision-making. And it lacks discrimination, tending to accept far more than it rejects. But by the same token, Dickerman’s LinkedIn approach makes the exhibition—as Willem de Kooning once said of art itself—seem “like a big bowl of soup,” because “everything is in there already, and you stick your hand in and you find something for you.” At the same time, through its density and the way so many unexpected differences and similarities are provoked, the exhibition communicates something of the giddiness that artists must have felt upon realizing that the rule book was being torn up and would possibly be pieced back together differently. The galleries hum with the feverish mood of a gold rush.
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All the marquee names are here: not only Picasso and Kandinsky, but also Malevich and Mondrian, Duchamp and Léger, Arp and Schwitters, Albers and Lissitzky. They may not have been solitary artists, but that’s no proof they weren’t geniuses. Some play a bigger role than might be expected. Because Francis Picabia gets routinely associated with Dada and Giacomo Balla with Futurism, we may not remember them as great proponents of abstraction. This exhibition tells us otherwise. It also cogently charts the way abstract painting gave birth to abstract sculpture—not so much because sculptors imitated what painters were doing, but because abstraction drew the attention of painters toward the tactile substance of their materials, which turned many of them into sculptors.
But as an exhibition on this scale should do, it also offers surprises. I didn’t know that abstraction had found a toehold in Bloomsbury as early as 1914, when Duncan Grant created a long, scroll-like Abstract Kinetic Collage Painting With Sound and Vanessa Bell made several abstract paintings—including one, with floating rectangles of various colors against a yellow surround (now in the collection of the Tate), that is far more thoroughly reduced, flat and frontal than anything anyone else, even Mondrian, had made at that time. Yet Grant and Bell must have found these experiments unsatisfactory (I certainly do), because they soon returned to making figurative art.
Also from 1914 is a striking Chromatische Phantasie (Chromatic Fantasy) by Augusto Giacometti, cousin of the far more famous Alberto Giacometti. The very few of his works I’ve seen before have been landscapes and still lifes of a broadly post-Impressionist stamp, and no more abstract than a work by Gauguin or Bonnard. But this piece—made, it seems, by roughly dabbing colors onto the canvas with a palette knife—is not only resolutely nonrepresentational but also an abstraction of a sort that seems out of place with anything else in the show, and out of time. With its confident formlessness, and the way touch and color become one, I’d have guessed it to be the work of a tachiste of the 1950s.
For a contrast to Giacometti’s cultivation of the near-random-seeming placement of quite physically distinct bits of paint, there are three drawings by Wacław Szpakowski. Made in 1924, they describe patterns formed by continuous black lines undergoing incessant movement, though always at right angles: the line is always moving either horizontally or vertically, but the patterns created include diagonals. If Giacometti is an unheralded precursor of tachisme, then I suppose Szpakowski plays the same role in relation to Op Art, which makes much of similar optical effects. But as with Giacometti, what’s exciting is not that Szpakowski anticipated a later development; it’s that even within his own time, there is something inexplicable about his having done what he’s done. Using ideas and information similar to those of his peers, he’s arrived at something that is abstract in the strong sense of remaining somehow uncategorizable and even, in a deep sense, unknowable—abstract in a way unlike anything else in “Inventing Abstraction.”
Unfortunately for an exhibition goer who wants to know how Giacometti came to make his Chromatische Phantasie or why he didn’t continue along this line, there’s not a word about him in the catalog. In Szpakowski’s case, one can learn from Jaroslaw Suchan’s contribution that he “was drawn to abstraction by his fascination with the mathematical laws observable in nature” and that “he developed his work not just in isolation from the Polish avant-garde but in complete indifference to the art of the time.” You might find his drawings difficult to distinguish from the kinds of mathematical, scientific or even spiritualistic images that Dickerman insists “are not art at all” because “they were intended to produce meaning in other discursive frameworks.” But that is part of what makes his drawings unsettling and strong. Szpakowski died in 1973, and his works were first exhibited in 1978. The network isn’t everything, and isolation can be necessary even to those who may not quite be geniuses. Szpakowski wasn’t concerned, as Picasso was, with expressing his own anxiety; he was searching for impersonal patterns of universal order. Yet his art was distinctly personal, with a flavor peculiar to itself. Perhaps this is the great lesson of abstraction: that sometimes it can overcome its own antinomies.
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For curators, the inconsistencies between an exhibition and its catalog can be hard to overcome. Anyone who has seen Dickerman’s previous blockbusters for MoMA—on the Bauhaus in 2009 and on Dada in 2006—knows that she is adept at organizing complex exhibitions with scads of material in a lucid way. The same is mostly true here: only the attempt to integrate music into the story falls flat. However, such exhibitions have a particularly symbiotic relation with their catalogs, which need to fill in and give perspective to the historical narrative. In this respect, “Inventing Abstraction” is a disappointment. Perhaps in deference to her fascination with networks, Dickerman’s substantial but fairly succinct introductory essay is followed by thirty-six brief texts on various topics by twenty-four authors (including herself)—not only art historians but luminaries from other fields, such as the composer David Lang and the historian of science Peter Galison. As a result, there is insufficient mediation between her overview and the multitude of details it ought to encompass, and which have been parceled out to the various contributors, who do not always agree with each other or with her.
In her introductory essay, Dickerman seems to take at face value Picasso’s assertion that his first Cubist paintings were done more or less as “pure painting, and the composition was done as composition,” with any identifying “attributes” added only as an afterthought. But in his entry, Yve-Alain Bois refutes this, concluding that Picasso’s interlocutor, Françoise Gilot, had either misunderstood the painter or that he had been indulging in some kind of “convenient” fib. At times, for that matter, Dickerman’s introduction doesn’t even agree with the exhibition. She ends her essay with a brilliant stroke, by claiming Duchamp’s readymades as products of abstraction, and she’s right—but then why isn’t one of them on view? I don’t normally think of Duchamp as a great painter, but really, it’s good to be reminded that Le passage de la vierge à la mariée (The Passage From Virgin to Bride; 1912) is as ravishingly painted as anything in the show. Even so, the inclusion of his Bottle Rack (1914) or his snow shovel, In Advance of the Broken Arm (1915), would have shown another outcome of his interest in abstraction altogether. Like much of the best abstraction, those works are at once paradigmatic and almost inscrutably idiosyncratic.